§ House again in Committee, on Clause 3.
§ Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 18:
Page 3, line 34, at end insert ("and
(d) the broad economic, social and environmental benefits derived which are not limited to public transport users").
§ The noble Lord said: It will be noted that the words of this amendment are somewhat the same as the words of a previous amendment, but this is in a different context. Whereas the previous amendment referred to the "social, economic and environmental transport advantages", this refers to "the broad economic, social and environmental benefits derived which are not limited to public transport users". One can think of these as the benefits and advantages which they give to persons who are not necessarily users of transport: the possible relief of congestion and the assistance given to shops, to which I referred earlier; although that seemed to be dismissed by the Minister, it is a very important point. Emphasis has been laid on the question of rating values. The Liverpool shops' committee pointed out that they are also affected by rates and if they are doing no business because people cannot afford to travel in obviously they are at a great disadvantage. Therefore it affects shops. It affects those people who are going to entertainments or sports and so on. Therefore, there are quite a number of people who are not necessarily transport users but who can be affected by the economic, social and environmental aspects of passenger transport.1002
Without repeating all the previous arguments, may I refer to a letter sent by the Chartered Institute of Transport to the Secretary of State—the Minister will be well aware of this—dated 18th January, which has some relevance to this particular amendment. If I may read an extract from page 2 of the letter, they say:
We assume it is still your intention that authorities should determine public transport expenditure in the wider context of overall needs and of their statutory duties to prepare and implement comprehensive transportation plans.
They go on to say:
Our anxieties about this narrowness of the approach are increased by the way in which benefits of subsidy are handled in the Bill.
They draw attention to the need for amendments to Clause 3(1) and Clause 4(1). The letter continues:
An example that occurs to us is that the Government's policy of reviving decaying central areas could well be assisted by reduced fare levels. At the same time many aspects of social benefits can be measured. For example, road accidents, traffic congestion, fuel and time savings, etc. But in describing the contents of the plan in the Bill, Clause 3(4)(c) only asks for estimates of the benefits to potential users. This seems in conflict not only with the White Paper but also with the broader wording at the end of Clause 3(3).
It would appear that the Chartered Institute of Transport fully agree with the terms of this amendment, and therefore, without going into all the arguments produced on the previous amendment, I beg to move Amendment No. 18.
§ Lord Northfield
May I intervene for one brief moment to say this? One of the worries I have is that nowhere in this Bill are the problems of the general effects on the environment adequately dealt with. The Council of Europe Assembly, of which I am a Member, has just passed a recommendation to Ministers, backing up a recommendation of the EEC Commission in Brussels, that we should now press all Governments, at every point we can, to enforce in policy-making of all kinds, right on the ground floor from the very beginning, that environmental considerations shall be taken into account. Too often, especially in transport, the problem has been that the environmental damage occurs—in this case my noble friend is talking about environmental benefits of switching from cars to buses—but the whole problem of benefits and disbenefits has been that the environmental disadvantages occur and we then rush in with fire-fighting (not in the literal sense) activities to try to stop it being at its worst.
For example, in the case of public goods transport, to which I will refer in parenthesis, a very good study by Mr. Nigel Haig, who is known to many people in this Chamber, estimates that if you take the very large truck and project the growth in usage to the end of the century, on a low growth economy hypothesis we are going to get a 53 per cent. increase, and on a high growth we are going to get a 71 per cent. increase. This is absolutely frightening. This does not mean to say that I am against liberalisation of goods transport policy, but it does point to the fact that, as in transport generally, we have to start bringing in environmental considerations at every point we can. I suggest to the noble Lord that if he cannot accept this amendment he ought to tell us this: when these plans are prepared by an authority, where is it going to be enforced on them that environmental considerations must be brought in, whether they are the benefits to which my noble friend 1003 refers or disadvantages of the kind to which I am referring? We all know that the GLC at the moment is looking into the whole problem of stopping large trucks in London. The pressure is growing all the time, and we really must insist that the kind of thing we are talking about is brought into this part of the Bill.
§ Lord Bellwin
I am interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, has said. May I think about that and see what the current thinking is on the point he makes? I will certainly do that, and of course I will get in touch with him, as he knows I always do. As to the amendment, let me first say that the Government entirely accept that the factors of the kind outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, ought to be and must be taken into account when planning the provision of transport services. Our difficulty in accepting the amendment is that Clause 3(4) is concerned with the duty of the executive to submit precise estimates of those factors which are directly related to the services which they provide, the cost, level of demand and the benefits they produce. The wider considerations listed in the amendment are different in kind from this and would be largely outside the control of the executive. We do not, therefore, believe it would be appropriate to insert a reference to them in Clause 3(4).
May I remind your Lordships that under Clause 3(3) the executive, when submitting proposals for revenue support, is required to accompany them with particulars of the benefits expected to accrue from such support. It is certainly our intention that these particulars should include consideration of the kind of factors listed in the amendment in so far as it is within the power of the executive to take them into account. In addition the authority can call for estimates of benefits under Clause 4(2)(b). For these reasons, without going into the matter in great detail—and I hope the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, will agree with me—we cannot accept the amendment. I think he will follow the point I am trying to make.
§ Lord Underhill
The Minister really has said two important things; the first, is that to add these points would be to include matters which are outside the control of the executive. That is one of our complaints about the Secretary of State dealing with the executive. He also said that he would take certain things into account as far as the executive may do so, or words to that effect. Again, that was one of the complaints in the previous group of amendments; that it is the executive that is being asked to supply these various items.
The amendment is related, of course, to Clause 3(4) where,The plan shall be accompanied by estimates of" —then (a), (b) and (c) are listed. If the Minister says that it is commonsense that the economic, social and environmental benefits should also be considered in the plan, surely there should be some estimate of what benefits will be secured when the plan has been submitted. That is why we are asking for an additional paragraph, paragraph (d), to be added to (a), (b) and (c) in subsection (4). I have noted what the Minister has said. I hope he will do as he said he would; that is, pay the most careful attention to my noble friend Lord 1004 Northfield. If he will also look at this whole question of the economic, social and environmental benefits which were brought up on the previous amendment, that would be useful. On that basis I beg leave to withdraw.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Earl Cathcart)
In calling Amendment No. 19, I should point out that if that amendment is agreed I cannot call Amendment No. 20.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 19:
§ Page 3, line 35, leave out subsection (5).
§ The noble Lord said: For the benefit of the Chair, I shall not be moving Amendment No. 20 as that was covered by the first group of 19 amendments. This is a second group of amendments. In case your Lordships think we are going over completely the same ground, it is rather different because we are proposing here the deletion of some subsections. Although the discussion on the previous group of 19 amendments roamed fairly wide, even, as we said, almost to a Second Reading debate, we were only debating amendments which dealt with the desirability of the plan to be prepared jointly. That was all that the group of 19 amendments was concerned with.
We are going a little further in this amendment. It deals with the question of the relationships of the PTEs with the executive and the proper relationships of the PTE with its public transport authority. Concern has been expressed by the body to which I have already referred on the previous amendments, the Chartered Institute of Transport, because in that same letter to the Secretary of State, as recently as 18th January, just over a month ago, in the penultimate paragraph they said:
Our final point concerns the position of professional transport people, particularly the Members/Directors of the Executives within the statutory processes envisaged in the Bill".
The letter goes on to say:
In this context the direct links envisaged in the Bill between the Executives and the Secretary of State in various aspects of these procedures could well bring Executives into conflict with their Authorities".
That is the Chartered Institute of Transport saying that, not Lord Underhill on behalf of the Opposition. The letter continues:
This would not only initiate against the effectiveness of public transport but would also frustrate the successful operation of the system set out in the Bill and even the provisions of the 1968 and 1969 Acts".
§ We have that very effective and influential body, the Chartered Institute of Transport, saying, in far better language, what I want to say in justification of these amendments. So that the Committee will know precisely what is proposed in the amendments, it proposes the deletion of Clause 3(5). That was the section in which, as we explained previously, the executive has to take into account the advice under various subjects given by the Secretary of State. We also propose leaving out Clause 4(6). That again is where guidance will be given by the Secretary of State under Clause 4(5), on three particular points that are listed there.1005
§ We also propose the deletion of lines in Clause 6(2) and (3). All these relate to matters which we dealt with on the previous group of amendments; that is, the request to the executive for information, the supply of the information to the Secretary of State and those kindred matters which we dealt with last time, which I will not go over again except to explain that on the previous occasion we did not move these particular deletions. We dealt just with the question of the joint plan. Now, in order to safeguard the position of the executive with its authority, in order to safeguard the constitutional position of the authority with the Secretary of State, we propose these amendments, with the full influential support of the Chartered Institute of Transport. I beg to move.
§ Lord Bellwin
This group of amendments seeks to remove the role of the Secretary of State in the planning process and his initial advice on the preparation of plans and final guidance on the appropriate levels of the revenue support. I do not believe that they are in the best interests of the executives or the authorities. The main purpose of the Secretary of State's initial advice and final guidance figures is to inform the planning process which leads on to the time when the authority decides on its plan and on the level of subsidy, knowing that subsidy up to the Secretary of State's guidance is protected from legal challenge. That surely is a good thing. If authorities keep within that guidance they would be able to provide transport services in a stable atmosphere and protected from challenge.
I cannot emphasise too strongly that the Secretary of State's guidance is no more than that, guidance as to what he considers to be an appropriate level of revenue support. If authorities disagree—and I believe they can in all the circumstances justifiably do so—they are perfectly free to provide revenue support over and above that guidance. To remove the protection provided by the guidance in Clause 5(2) and to limit the Secretary of State's guidance to the general principles on which grants should be based, as the amendments would do, cannot be in the best interests of the authorities. We would be back to the position where any level of revenue support is liable to challenge and the law would be as uncertain as it is today. Challenge would be more likely, given the intentions of authorities to increase revenue support next year.
It is also quite right and proper that the Secretary of State should be able to provide advice to the executives as to the form and content of the plan. If the Secretary of State is to be able, after considering the plan, to provide guidance as to the appropriate level of revenue support, it is sensible that he should at least give advice as to certain matters which he considers the plans should take account of. This will ensure that the executives provide their plans on a common basis and with certain common facts. It is also important that advice to the executives should be copied to the authorities, not least because the authority itself has to take account of this in considering the draft plan.
In removing the executive and the authority's obligation to take the Secretary of State's initial advice and final guidance into account will remove their obligation to take note of the level of expenditure 1006 which the Government are prepared to protect from legal challenge, and would remove that protection. The Secretary of State's role in this planning process is not one of direction or dictation, but one of giving advice and guidance. Authorities will remain finally responsible for the levels of fares and services and for getting value for money from the subsidy and services to be provided. This is why we cannot accept the amendments.
The debate earlier went, and no doubt before the Bill is finished will come back again, to the supposed attack on local democracy. A quarter of a million pounds, £½ million—more money, astonishing, is it not?—has been spent on campaigns to try to create an atmosphere, to try to create opposition to the Bill and, in my view, it really is totally misguided. The fact is, as I said when we were speaking on Second Reading—I do not want to go into a Second Reading speech—that it is important on this group of amendments to say again that this whole situation comes about simply because we have reached a stage where there is an imbalance. There is an imbalance in fairness to all concerned. As I said before, it was always a maxim of local government that one represents all the people, the minorities as well as the majorities, and all the interests. We must not go to such extremes as we have seen in so many local authorities, where there is an excess of subsidy, and reach the point, as in South Yorkshire, where since 1975–76 there has not been a penny increase in the fares and the subsidy next year will be about £70 million.
There is not just an impact upon the ratepayers, bad though I think that is, but it takes away from the other districts within the county the opportunity for them to decide what level of support they want to give to different services. When the precept is so high it takes away the freedom for them to decide. How can we talk about a tax on democracy when here we have a situation which has gone to such extremes as to become ludicrous? Who is to protect not just the ratepayers and taxpayers but the minorities and to give back to local government a freedom which it is itself giving up in this way?
I do not want to go on because I do not want to get into a Second Reading speech, but we are at fundamentals here. I have said all along, and your Lordships know, that I have a feeling for those who are genuinely worried about this. In turn, I ask them to respect that I, too, believe very deeply that what has been happening is very wrong and that it is time to reach a sensible basis where, if the authorities decide at the end of the day that they have to do something, then so be it. But the Secretary of State will have set the level which will protect them up to that point and beyond that they are on their own. I think that is not unreasonable.
§ Lord Sefton of Garston
I do not want to go into a Second Reading speech, either, but if an amendment conflicts with something said from the Government Front Bench on Second Reading, then it is right to examine that amendment.
I made the point on Second Reading that I considered that the way the plan was to be operated would not comply with the Government taking local factors into consideration. I was discounted by the 1007 noble Lord sitting opposite, who said that the Government would give consideration to local factors. Here we have a situation where the guidance is to be given by the Ministry before the local authority even sees the plan. While the executive is drawing up the plan—I begin to think that the Government Front Bench has not read the Bill—the Ministry will give guidance. At that stage the local authority will not be considering it. The local authority will consider it after the initial plan has been drawn up between the Ministry and the executive.
How on earth can the Ministry give consideration to the points that the elected members wish to raise if the elected members have not even had the opportunity to put those points forward at that stage? The situation will be that we will have faces set and the whole of the Ministry will be behind the Minister, telling him, "Don't give way. We decided this with the executive committee". That is a negation of democracy and proves the point made on Second Reading that the Bill emasculates local government.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I thought that the Minister made a most extraordinary speech, and some of its extraordinary nature has been brought out by my noble friend. We are finding ourselves fighting cotton wool in this debate. Every time that we say that the Secretary of State—central Government—is interfering too closely in the affairs of the executive and in the plan prepared by the executive, the Minister says, "Don't worry, this is a matter for the authority in the end to decide." Every time we ask, "On what principles and on what basis is the Secretary of State or local government intervening in the planning process?" the Government say, "Don't worry, we will make up our minds as time goes on on what those principles will be". Meantime, the Government say they will oppose any attempt from this side of the Committee to introduce into legislation the principles on which they will intervene.
Therefore, we ask: on what basis can an executive or an authority have any idea of what is in the mind of Government other than the most detailed pernickety interference, as the planning model says, in the disaggregated analysis of different services? That is exactly the level at which central Government ought not to be involved. Central Government ought to be involved at the level, let us admit it, first of saying that beyond a certain point central Government subsidy will go no further. But that is not the point of this Bill, because the Bill is not about central Government subsidy. Secondly, the Government ought to be saying that in the national interest this is the kind of public transport service in the country as a whole, not just in the metropolitan counties, that the country can afford in the present economic circumstances.
On neither of those points do the Government give any idea of their thinking or any idea of what they expect from authorities or executives. They give no idea of the development, over a period of years, of better public transport systems to serve the public of this country. Instead, the Government are taking the classic course of saying, "We are concerned with the detail. We are concerned with route 31A after nine o'clock at night". That is literally the kind of thing we 1008 shall get into if we accept the Bill unamended. Every attempt that we make to try and winkle out of the Government some set of principles about public transport is wafted away in a maze of friendly words from the Minister which do not mean anything.
§ Lord Bellwin
The noble Lord may say what he says, and I say what I say. The fact is that we are being pressed to try to keep matters broad and not to pin things down. Then the noble Lord says, "No, what we want is chapter and verse, written in every move you make, so that you specify exactly what will be the list of criteria, and so on". He will not get that at all from me. The noble Lord should look carefully at the Bill. We had a long debate earlier when there was a difference on form and procedures, and there is still a difference about that and the understanding of it. But the one thing we will not do is try to give chapter and verse for the kind of criteria. It would make no sense to do so.
The fact is that there will be guidance and submission of the plans. The guidance will go back and it will then be up to the authority to decide what it wants to do. The noble Lord may call it cotton wool or what he likes, but as far as I am concerned that is the proper and reasonable way to go about it. My points about local democracy are absolutely valid, but I do not want to elaborate because there have been debates lasting for an hour or two already and I do not want to go into this again unless pressed. However, they are important. As I said, there are concerns that are deeply held by noble Lords opposite and which I respect. Equally, I expect them to respect the fact that I do not agree with them.
§ Lord Pitt of Hampstead
I know that the Minister does not have a closed mind and will, therefore, listen to the points that I put to him. The scenario we have at the moment is that under this Bill the transport executive, in consultation with the Ministry, prepares a plan which the authority sees and then considers. The authority also receives advice from the Minister. It is at that stage that the plan is finally decided by the authority and goes to the Ministry. I think I am right. But, in view of the fact that the Minister has himself admitted that many of the considerations which are necessary to draw up a proper plan are not things that the executive can in fact consider, or is competent to consider, would it not be better for the scenario to be the other way round? The Government and the authority could discuss the matter first and the authority then give instructions to the transport executive, so that the executive prepares a plan under the direction of the authority and that plan is eventually agreed upon and submitted to the Ministry. Would that not be a better scenario?
§ Lord Bellwin
The problem with that scenario would be that the authority would have no indication of the Government's thinking, which is what they would need to have. When the debate took place earlier I wrote down a few comments. I did not speak then because my noble friend was dealing with the matter. But I very carefully wrote down a few lines as to the exact route, if I can call it that, of how it proceeds, The plan is prepared by the executive after 1009 consultation with the authority and after receiving advice from the Secretary of State under Clause (5). The executive prepares the plan, which routes via the authority which can then modify it. It then goes to the Secretary of State after it has been modified, if the authority so wish. After the Secretary of State gives his PEL, the authority decides whether to keep within it or not. That is the batting order; that is the way it goes.
I should have thought that all along the line there is opportunity for the authority to make sure that it is stepping in and having its say. I pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Sefton, about the local situation. I am anxious that that should be part of the whole procedure in reaching a conclusion. I do not think that that is too different from what the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, really wants. I wonder whether we are really understanding each other as to the way in which it would work.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ Lord Mishcon
I wonder whether at this stage I can intervene usefully, or, if not usefully, then at least briefly? I could understand the Minister—I would not necessarily agree with him—saying that he has (and certainly it is in accordance with his tradition) a respect for the autonomy of local government, if I could find somewhere in the Bill a clause which provided that before the plan finally went to the local authority for its endorsement, it should go both to the Minister—the Secretary of State—and to the local authority, and it should be the duty of the executive to take into account the advice of the Minister and also the advice of the authority. If one saw that in the Bill one would say that at least the Minister was making a fair point. He is making the point that these are only guidelines; that the executive need not follow them; and that, after all, it is not the end of the day because it is the authority that has the last word. We know in fact what that means: it means that they have the last word provided they are prepared to run a risk, and a very severe risk, if they decide that their word dictates that the transport needs are going to go above the limit.
If we want to try to keep a balance at least between local government and national Government, the words here in this, to me, invidious subsection (5) are a compulsion. At the stage before the authority endorses there is an injunction—it is not permissive—that the executive shall take into account the advice of the Secretary of State. If that means—and I repeat it—purely something harmless, that it is just a benevolent Secretary of State who says to the executive, "Come, come!; this is the guidance I would respectfully give you, throw it out of the window if you feel that it is impertinent or not relevant to your local needs, but accept it if you feel that it is relevant"—if that is all it means, what defence has the Minister to the question that I ask in criticism? Indeed, that is why I use the word "defence". The question is this: Why is there not a clause here which says that the executive, before preparing the final plan to be put to the authority for its final view, is to take the advice not only of the Secretary of State but also of the authority in regard to what are the needs and what are the policies? The only answer can be that the Government have the courage to go so far as to emasculate the rights of authorities 1010 but have not got the courage to go before the country and take transport away from local government completely. That is really the challenge.
If the noble Lord the Minister thinks that I am making a party point and an exaggerated one, I commend him—as I tried to do on Second Reading—to the leading article in, of all papers, the Economist, which criticises the Government for lambasting and curtailing the rights of authorities without having the courage, having regard to the way in which authorities are behaving, to take transport from the local authority aegis. To do that and to say that it is the Secretary of State alone who gives advice at that preliminary stage and the executive has to take this into account, without at least having a parallel of right to the authority to give advice and the executive to be asked to take it into account, shows, with respect, the insincerity of the Government in trying to give that answer to this amendment.
§ Lord Bellwin
I just do not see it that way at all. The fact is that the authority does not just endorse the plan; it considers it and it decides upon it. The fact is that the Bill requires the executive to consult the authority before making its plan. This is really a continuation of the discussion that we had previously—
§ Lord Mishcon
I interrupt the Minister, if he will forgive me, for the following reason. I beg of him to deal with the point. If we are merely talking about guidance and consultation, why is there not a clause in the Bill which does not just talk about "consult with the local authority" but uses the words, "shall take into account the advice of the authority" in the same way as the executive has to take into account the advice of the Secretary of State? If "consult" equals "take into account the advice" can we have the same words used for the authority and for the Secretary of State, because then at least we shall know that there is honesty so far as the Government are concerned?
§ Lord Bellwin
Clearly, we are not going to agree on this. I did not respond to the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, on the same point when he said that the executive prepares its plan in consultation with the Ministry. That of course is not the case at all. There is no provision for consultation with the Ministry, only for advice from the Secretary of State. But there is a requirement for consultation with the authority. That is the key point which I keep coming back to all the time. Clearly, we just do not agree.
§ Lord Mishcon
I am not going to let the Minister off the hook, if he will forgive me for saying so. If I am bidden by the Minister in a letter to consult with the Minister, he knows as well as I do that that means that I express my view, he expresses his, and I can come to any conclusion that I like. If I have a letter from the Minister telling me that, under an Act of Parliament, I shall have to take into account his advice, he knows as well as I do that that goes beyond consulting because I am bidden to take into account his advice before I come to my decision. There is a world of difference between the two. Any judge on a judicial review will recognise the difference between the two. Indeed, it does not take a judge; it takes a person of ordinary common sense who knows common English to see the difference between the two.
§ Lord Bellwin
The fact is that if the authority decides that it does not want to take the advice, it does not have to; but if it does not—and we come to the point that is being lost here—then it has to realise that it leaves itself open to legal challenge. Up to the point that it takes guidance on the levels of subsidy, then it is absolutely protected in a way in which it is not protected today. That surely is critical. That is one of the absolute tenets of the whole Bill—that there is protection up to a point if this advice is taken, but if the authority decides not to take the advice, so be it. At the end of the day the final decision lays with the authority. They are the people who have to decide it.
§ Lord Underhill
First, I have an apology to make to the Committee, because in moving the first amendment I then detailed all the other items which were to be left out by other amendments but I did not give the numbers of those amendments. For the sake of the record, I had better give the numbers. In addition to moving Amendment No. 19, I have spoken to Amendments Nos. 34, 42, 44 and 47, and I believe that other noble Lords have spoken to those amendments in making their observations.
I am almost tempted to join in the first part of the Minister's reply, which was a Second Reading speech, because I have not given a Second Reading speech the whole evening. There has been continual reference as to why the Bill? Up to this stage we have not challenged the principle of the Bill, although we may do later on. We have been trying to introduce amendments to improve the Bill in the way in which it will handle the whole process. When the noble Lord referred to South Yorkshire and other authorities, I could make the easy reply that these people went through the democratic process of going to their electors with what they had done, asked for approval and received it at the subsequent election. The electors have approved the policy South Yorkshire have been following.
The Minister keeps saying that the authority has the final responsibility. I think that my noble friend Lord Mishcon has endeavoured to say, "Yes, that is so, but", and reference must be made to the first subsection that we wish to delete, subsection (5) of Clause 3, although I do not want to read it to the Committee. It is quite clear that the executive must take into account advice given by the Secretary of State; first, as to the amounts of revenue grant; then advice on the method of determining the benefits that will arise, and generally as to the form and contents of the plan. That means details—real details—of transport services on which the Secretary of State can give advice, and the executive must take this into account. So the subsection continues in that language.
But what has been overlooked is a subsequent provision—to which I referred in a previous amendment—that when the authority comes to consider whether it is to approve the plan, it must take into account the advice which was given to the executive. So, again, we get the situation that the authority is free, provided that it does what the Secretary of State has advised the executive. It is this direct link-up with the executive about which we are complaining and why the Minister must have this direct contact with the passenger transport executive 1012 and not the authority. In all the replies that we have had there has been no explanation as to why. I repeat, why does the Minister want to go to the executive and give this advice, which it must take into account and which subsequently the authority must take into account? It is this about which we are complaining. We can talk as much as we like about the authority having the last word, but it is subsection (5) to which we take the gravest exception, which the PTEs do not like either and which, as I have already said, the Chartered Institute of Transport dislikes as well.
At this hour it would be unwise to divide the Committee. The Minister knows that I respect his views, although I do not always follow his guidance. We shall look very carefully at what he said and see whether, in the light of failure to answer our points, we might come forward with an amendment which would be acceptable to the Minister. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 20 not moved.]
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 21:
Page 3, line 43, at end insert—
("(6) Any advice given by the Secretary of State under this Act shall be given no later than the 31st March of the year preceding the first year of the relevant period.")
§ The noble Lord said: With the leave of my noble friend Lord Underhill, I rise to move this amendment. Like so many of the amendments moved from this side of the Committee, it is a modest and helpful amendment and I hasten to say that it is designed not just to be helpful to the Government, but also to be helpful to the authorities and executives which would, if this Bill were passed unamended, have to try to cope with it.
§ As I indicated in referring to an earlier amendment, the timing is absolutely critical for the efficient operation of a Bill of this kind. Perhaps I may refer to the experience of the Greater London Council. On behalf of my Greater London Council colleagues I apologise to those who have heard at least enough, and probably too much, of the experience of the Greater London Council this afternoon and this evening. If I may refer to the recent experience of the Greater London Council, perhaps it will give your Lordships an idea of the complexity of the timing problems facing transport authorities.
§ I refer to the period of the past 12 months after the decision of the Law Lords that the Fares Fair policy was not legally acceptable and that amendments had to be made to it. They had to be made very rapidly, and in a period of only three months after the judgment a substantial increase in the fares—a doubling of the fares—was, in fact, enacted. It took from then right up until the end of the year for the London Transport Executive and the Greater London Council together to consider what could be done to restore some level of sanity in the setting of fares and the setting of revenue grants for London Transport over the succeeding years. It was apparent to everybody, I think including the Government, that the simple doubling of fares would not be rational transport policy. It did, in fact, result in serious loss of 1013 "ridership". It did not, in fact, achieve the objectives of their Lordships which was a break even operation of London Transport, and could never have done. So some means had to be found to find a more rational solution.
§ At that time, the approach of the Greater London Council was to look back at its obligations over a longer period of years based on wider legislation, going back to the London Government Act 1963, and to say: "If, under the London Government Act 1963, the Greater London Council is obliged to take into consideration in its transport policy all of the wider isssues which we on this side have been trying to bring into this Act as a principle for the operation of public transport authorities, and if one of the major tasks of the Greater London Council over this period has been the production, publication and final agreement of a Greater London development plan, which looks at the issues of employment, of journeys to work and of improving the economic efficiency of the running of our capital city, then surely that is the starting point for public transport policy also: that public transport policy ought to be directed towards our wider obligations"—"our" being in this sense the Greater London Council.
§ So the London Transport executive, at the instigation of the Greater London Council, produced a series of options, one of which at one extreme I am sure the Government would say was the revival of the Fares Fair option which had already been outlawed; the other of which was an attempt to get as close as possible to the breakeven, to which it appeared the Law Lords wanted to adhere. In the middle—and I really do mean in the middle, because it was a compromise policy from both a political and a transport operator's point of view—they came to the view of a balanced fares policy which took into account the wider implications of the Greater London development plan, how it was and how it should be that London is an efficient, viable, economic entity in which people's aspirations for change are recognised and not constrained by planning policies and in which at the same time people's aspirations for not having their environment destroyed by unwise planning policies were also recognised.
§ They put that balanced point of view to the London Transport Executive and said, "These are the kinds of objective which you ought to be looking for in producing a transport plan". The London Transport Executive said, "Yes, in transport terms we like this but, as we understand the Law Lords' judgment, it will not be legal". Therefore, a legal action was fought, if fought is the right word, in the Divisional Courts. The result of that was that in January of this year the Divisional Court found that that balanced fares policy, which took into account the wider implications which the Government appear to be totally unwilling to have written into this Bill, was legal.
§ It is going to take until the end of May for that decision to take effect, because a fares policy which includes not only a reduction in fares, that is one part of it, but also a substantial rationalisation—a very welcome rationalisation—of fares in Greater London takes time to get into operation with all the necessary changes made. It is always going to take that time. This 1014 is the point. We ought not to be rushing into decisions about fares policy. We ought not to be rushing into decisions about the level of revenue grant without thinking about the implications not only for transport services but also for the rates.
§ The immediate implication of this amendment would be that advice would have to be given for the year 1984–85 by 31st March of this year. I accept that that may cause some difficulties to the Government, and I am sure that the noble Lord the Minister will say so and suggest some constructive alternative. I am sure at the same time that he will also recognise that the timescale which passenger transport executives and passenger transport authorities have to produce reasonable, realistic fares and service policies, and to fit that programme into the setting of the metropolitan counties' and the GLC's precept, requires more time than appears to be provided for in the Act at the moment. I commend it to the Government, and hope that they will see their way to accept this amendment which is intended to make for a smoother working of any new transport system. I beg to move.
§ Lord Bellwin
May I say first that the Government fully accept that the Secretary of State must issue his advice in good time for authorities and executives to take account of it. Indeed, as a target the dates set in the amendment are, I think, not unreasonable. The problem, however, is that the amendment goes further than setting a target. It creates a statutory limit. The noble Lord recognises that that is the difficulty. In unforeseen circumstances the Secretary of State would be bound to issue his advice even if all concerned were agreed that there needed to be a delay.
While I cannot accept the amendment I offer the Committee the assurance that the Secretary of State will do his best to meet the timetable it would require. If there is concern that the executives, for example, may find themselves held up in carrying out their duty to prepare their plan by delaying the giving of advice by the Secretary of State, I would point out that they are required only to take into account any advice given. If advice is not given then they can proceed without it. If it is given very late in the day, then probably not much account can be taken of it. I should have thought that this would be a considerable spur to ensure that where advice is to be given it will be given promptly.
I am not without sympathy on this, as I am sure the noble Lord appreciates, because so often I have had to work within timescales and found it so difficult when we could not get the information we needed. But I fear that the real problem in trying to accept the amendment is the creation of a statutory limit as opposed to what really is not an unreasonable target at all. I am sorry not to be able to be more helpful to the noble Lord on this.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I am sure that what the noble Lord the Minister has said will be read word for word and letter for letter by the Greater London Council and the metropolitan authorities in considering what they have to do about fare levels over the next three months or so. He has given some encouragement for them to think that if advice is given late there is not very much—and I use the Minister's words—they can do about it. I remind him that, once 1015 he said that, of course all the metropolitan authorities by the time this Bill reaches the statute book will already have had to set their precepts, and those precepts will already be in the works and will start to be collected by the district and borough councils. What he has said will be read with great attention.
Looking over a longer period, Government response to submissions for rate support grant and for transport supplementary grant—and I speak without any party political aspect here because this has been true under both Governments—has become progressively delayed. The gap between submission and decision has got longer and longer. There has been a frantic scramble before Christmas for transport supplementary grant over a number of years under Governments of both complexions. It is a thoroughly undesirable state of affairs, particularly for an executive like the London Transport Executive which orders its affairs financially on a calendar year basis. However, recognising the sincerity of what the noble Lord the Minister has said, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 22:
§ Page 3, line 43, at end insert—
§ ("(6) Any advice or guidance given by the Secretary of State under this Act—
- (a) shall only be given in accordance with principles to be applied to all Authorities and Executives;
- (b) shall set out the matters taken into consideration in preparing the advice or guidance and contain a reasoned justification and the matters taken into consideration for each item of advice or guidance.
§ (7) Before giving any advice or guidance under this Act the Secretary of State shall consult—
- (a) such associations of local authorities or Executives and any Authority who wish to make representions;
- (b) the British Railways Board, the National Bus Company and any other operator of public passenger transport services with whom an Executive has an arrangement under the Act of 1968 or the Act of 1969;
- (c) such trade unions and employers' associations whose members are involved in the provision of public passenger transport services or the manufacture or supply of vehicles or equipment for use in connection with such services;
- (d) local authorities in the area of the Executive in relation to contributions under section 138 of the Transport Act 1968 (travel concessions for the elderly, blind and disabled);
- (e) local education authorities in the area of the Executive in relation to the transport of pupils;
- (f) local authorities outside the area of the Executive in relation to public passenger transport services provided within the area of those authorities by or by arrangement with the Executive.
§ (8) The Secretary of State shall allow each of those consulted under subsection (7) above a reasonable opportunity to express their views and shall in giving any advice or guidance under this Act have particular regard to the views expressed in response to such consultations.").
The noble Lord said: Again with the leave of my noble friend I beg to move this amendment. The wording of this amendment will be familiar to the Government and to many noble Lords. In the new (6)(a) the phrase
shall only be given in accordance with principles to be applied to all Authorities and Executives
is of course one which applies to the rate support grant at the moment. It again has been sanctified, if that is the word, by Governments of all political persuasions over a period of years, and I can imagine that there would be no difficulty in agreeing to that: that there should not be discrimination between one authority, or one executive, and another on the basis, as it may be under some Governments, of political prejudice, or indeed of any other wish to make a distinction.
Subsection (6)(b) says:
shall set out the matters taken into consideration in preparing the advice or guidance and contain a reasoned justification and the matters taken into consideration for each item of advice or guidance.
That is a phrase which already occurs in the transport policies and programmes procedure, and that has been sanctified by usage. It has not caused any particular difficulty and goes some way towards requiring the Secretary of State for his part to come clean with the authorities and the executives in the advice, or guidance, that is given.
§ I do not want in a Committee stage to refer back excessively to previous amendments, but I must remind the Committee that there has never been a satisfactory answer to the question which has been put over and over again from this side of the Committee: what is the basis of the advice or guidance that is going to be given by the Government? How is the authority, or the executive, going to evaluate that advice or guidance? Can there be any common understanding of the factual basis on which the advice or guidance is given? Can there be some meaningful basis for negotiation, or discussion, between the Secretary of State and the authorities and the local authority associations about the nature of that guidance? Is there any way in which local authorities together can come to the Secretary of State and say, "This is the guidance you have given us. We understand from what you have said the basis of that guidance. May we put it to you, Secretary of State, that the factual basis is erroneous, and that the conclusions you draw from it may not properly be drawn."
§ At the moment the Secretary of State is exonerated from any responsibility whatsoever to give reasons, to give chapter and verse, for the advice or guidance given. Forgive me if I am repeating myself. I do so because the Minister replies, "It is only advice or guidance, and you can ignore it if you like", although he goes on to say, "At your peril, because you are then subject to legal process"—the most undesirable possible state of affairs for local government.
§ As we go on trying to make similar helpful amendments to the Bill, we find ourselves more and more in the position of discovering the Government to be like King Lear, saying in effect, "I shall do such things. I know not what they are, but they shall be the terror of the earth". The publicly-stated intention of the Government as frequently expressesd on Second Reading and in Committee, is to bring to heel rebellious and extravagant local transport authorities. When you look at the Bill, you see there is no relationship between that publicly-expressed sentiment and the actual provisions of the measure. The suggestions made in our subsection (6) should commend themselves to the Committee as being helpful in trying to get the Government to "come clean".1017
§ As for subsection (7), I should not have thought that any of its provisions could be considered unhelpful or unreasonable. Once we have established the principle to which the Minister has already agreed—that there should be the maximum possible time for a proper consideration of the advice and guidance—it then becomes possible to have the kind of consultation with the outside bodies (not just with the associations of local authorities but those otherwise affected, like the British Railways Board, trade unions, employers' associations and those concerned with concessionary fares) that is not only proper but possible within a reasonable timescale. I cannot think it would be the wish of the Government not to agree to that sort of consultation.
§ Regarding the proposed new subsection (8), I cannot think it would be the wish of the Government to have such consultation and not take into account, and give a reasonable opportunity for the expression of, the views of those who have been consulted in order to make it a real consultation process. My noble friend Lord Mishcon referred to the consultation process as, "I say what I think and you say what you think, and then I will go and do what I like". I am summarising, perhaps unfairly, what he said; but I hope that on issues of such importance as those we are now discussing there will be something rather more real arid more in recognition of the variety of interests that are involved in public transport in Britain. I beg to move.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Lord Sefton of Garston
I support the amendment and perhaps I should begin by telling a story arising from an experience last week. I met an old friend of mine who is still a member of Merseyside County Council and one of the district councils, and he asked me whether I was pleased to have come to your Lordships' House. I replied, "No. On reflection, I think I would sooner be back in local government, because there you appear to be doing something even if you are not". He said, "It is almost four years since you were in local government. I suggest you think again because the attitude in local government now is really not worthwhile".
That strikes at the very heart of this Bill because it is leaving local government members, who have given a lifetime of service to local government, with the feeling that, as from now, they have ceased to count. I believe that the first part of the amendment is extremely important from that point of view; it will at least give local government members the idea that they have reasons for being dictated to. There will be something for them to argue about. I urge the Minister not simply to rise and blandly oppose the amendment. He should think about it because, even if the amendment is not acceptable, there must be a compromise by which he can introduce a new element of trust between central and local government, because at the heart of our democracy is the relationship between central and local government. If the Minister rejects the amendment out of hand, that trust will be almost completely destroyed, and, goodness knows! it has almost gone already.
1018 As for the powers of consultation in the amendment, I can imagine the Minister telling himself, "If we have to go through all that consultation, by the end of three years we shall not have concluded the consultation and will not be able to make a decision". I urge him not to give an answer now but to take a little time to consider the amendment, to see what he can do about approaching local authorities on the sort of basis that is proposed.
Let me give an example of what is worrying many people on Merseyside—and I refer not to Labour politicians or members of the Church but to people in the retail trades, the social services, charities and so on. They are all very worried about the new disadvantaged and disabled people. They are not usually called the disabled; they are usually referred to as redundant or unemployed people. Unfortunately, we have moved many of these people away from the centre of activity. I received a letter today from the Archbishop of Liverpool, who is very keen that the unemployed of Liverpool should be seen in the same way as disabled people from the point of view of transport facilities. Whatever view is taken of concessionary fares for the aged and disabled, the unemployed should receive such concessions because they are suffering just as much a disability, and the removal from them of a subsidised system of fares to enable them to get from their homes to centres of activity is the same as inflicting a penalty on them.
If the amendment were accepted, the Government would have a means of being able to make a reasoned case for the views they are taking, in discussions with local authorities. On the other hand, if the amendment is not carried, it will mean that the Government are turning a stony face to appeals for reasonableness, and everybody will say that and the damage being done to local government will get even worse.
§ Lord Bellwin
I admired the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Sefton, with its underlying sympathies, and I like to think that the attitude underlying it is very much my own. I too am very concerned about the central-local government relationship, and anything that can be done to improve that relationship must be a very big plus, because goodness help us should the day ever come when local government becomes as he feared it might become. I do not think that local government is like that. Perhaps it has been moving in that direction, but this is not the occasion to philosophise, though dearly I should like to do so because I feel very deeply about the matter. Perhaps there will be another occasion on which to do so, rather than at this time of night, tempted though I am.
The problem with the amendment is that its wording does not recognise the fact—I am aware that the noble Lord who moved the amendment certainly recognises it, since he knows the subject so well—that metropolitan areas, their local authorities and transport executives differ so much. They very much vary one from the other. I understand that there were lengthy debates during Committee proceedings in another place, with Opposition members explaining that diversity and arguing that, because of its special circumstances, each authority should be excluded from the Bill. In these circumstances I cannot see how the guidance given by the Secretary of State under the 1019 Bill could do justice to each area, and yet—as the new subsection (6)(a) in the amendment would require—be based on principles applied to all. The amendment seeks the application of a standard formula or formulae, and I wonder whether that would be in the best interests of the authorities and executives.
I should like to give an example of the point that I have in mind. The PELs that we have proposed for 1983–84, as set out in the White Paper, take account of Tyne and Wear County Council's desire to see a proportion of the operating deficit of its PTE next year funded not by grant, but from the PTE's reserves. A formula approach might have meant that it would have been impossible for us to take these special circumstances into account.
The new subsection (6)(b) would require the Secretary of State to provide detailed explanations of his reasoning in arriving at his advice and guidance. I am not without sympathy for that point, and I only wish that there had been greater consultation with the local authority associations, especially the AMA. The Government sought such consultations, but the AMA, for internal reasons—and I know how it operates—felt unable to consult at all with the Government. Perhaps, had the normal kind of consultation taken place, it would have been easier for me to give answers to some of the points raised tonight in a chapter and verse style by certain Members of your Lordships' Committee.
We are not dog-in-the-manger about this question. We are not playing a game. We are trying to get the best possible Bill, the one that will work best, and I say on behalf of the Government that we shall be having discussions. We want to discuss these issues further with the local authorities concerned, both before and after the Bill comes into effect. Then perhaps we can come to some of the kind of points that the noble Lord, Lord Sefton, was making. If discussion of that kind could take place it would be helpful, but how on earth we would be able to do it if we were pinned to a formula basis, I really do not know. Nevertheless, this is precisely the kind of problem that can best be hammered out in consultations.
Part of what is proposed in the amendment would involve detailed comments from the Secretary of State on the proposals of the authority, and some people would say that that would amount to an increased degree of interference. Again, one cannot have it both ways. One has to try to get it just about right, and this is not the first time that I have come across a contradictory situation, well-meaning though the intention is.
I should now like to turn to the part of the amendment that would require the Secretary of State to consult a wide range of organisations, both before issuing his advice under Clause 3(5), and again before announcing his guidance under Clause 4(5). He would then be required to give a reasonable opportunity for comments to be made, and he must then take any comments into account. Much as I respect the objective of requiring the Secretary of State to consult persons affected by his decisions, there are two main reasons why I cannot accept these proposals. First, they would considerably delay the announcement of the advice and guidance, and I believe that they would 1020 hinder the authorities and executives in their forward planning. There would be uncertainty while the consultations took place; and that cannot be a good thing.
But there is a more fundamental objection. The consultations proposed for the Secretary of State are surely more properly a matter for the authority. As I keep saying—I am sorry to keep going back over the same ground, but all along we have known that there is considerable overlapping in the amendments and the clauses—at the end of the day it is for the authority to decide who should be consulted over its proposals. The amendment would seriously undermine the responsibilities and accountability of the authority regarding its plans and the provision of local public transport, if the Secretary of State were required quite independently to consult organisations on an authority's plan, and then, when formulating his advice and guidance, to take into account any representations made.
§ 9.14 p.m.
§ Lord Tordoff
I take the point that the noble Lord is trying to make. Surely subsection (7), as in the amendment, refers to the advice and guidance given by the Secretary of State, which is a different matter. What we are trying to get at in this amendment is to feel at the end of day that the Secretary of State has come to his advice and guidance on some rational basis. We are making legislation here for some time to come and Secretaries of State change. One may have the greatest possible confidence in the present Secretary of State, even if others have not. This is what we are trying to probe with this amendment: what rational process is going on in the mind of the Secretary of State when he comes to the decision to give advice or guidance? It relates to that advice and guidance which we all know is semi-mandatory at the end of the day. But even if it is not, how does he arrive at that decision? It may be that the details in this amendment are not the right ones. Perhaps some of the people to be consulted are not here; perhaps some of the people who are here do not need to be consulted. He needs, surely, to take some advice from outside in reaching his decision on what advice he shall give.
§ Lord Bellwin
Again, the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, explains why there is concern. I think that I understand that. The proper course for the authorities to carry out consultations if they wish to do so would surely be to do this and incorporate the views expressed in the plans before the plans are submitted to the Secretary of State. I shall come in a moment to the point which the noble Lord made, but I should like to follow the thread. So they might wish to consult after receiving guidance from the Secretary of State and before determining the grant and approving the plans. The final responsibilities for the plan and for the provision of public transport lie with the authorities. It is for them to decide whom to consult over the provision of those services.
Regarding the new subsections (7) and (8), I can see no need for the Secretary of State to consult the authorities before announcing his guidance figures. They would have advice from the Secretary of State as to his views on the form and content of the plans, and 1021 they would have the guidance. As I have said, they would be free to exceed this guidance if they wished. There is no point in adding further statutory requirements for consultation to the procedures in the Bill. We seem to have become bogged down with the procedures.
May I come back to the point that the noble Lord made: I accept that that is a basic one. What will be included? What is the basis? I come back to my earlier point: there has to be more consultation. I have given an assurance on this and this will take place before and after the Bill is on the statute book. More consultation should have taken place now. In my time, we often had Bills coming before the AMA which we did not like; but we always felt that we would get much further down the line if we made sure that we put our 10 cents in as best we could. Here, unhappily, this has not been the case. It could well be that there is room for further talks.
I should like to pick up the point that the noble Lord. Lord Sefton, made when he said, "At least have a look and do not close your mind". That is a fair point to have made, especially on this issue, which is obviously giving a lot of concern. I cannot accept the amendment. The noble Lord knows that I can make no commitment at all. There is some merit in this particular point about how to get a balance between not wanting to get a lot of chapter and verse in, with all the problems it presents as regards delays, and the diversity that there is in areas. That is on one side. Yet, on the other side, there is wanting to give as much advance "guidance"—if I can use the word in that sense—as possible. So I should want to think and talk about that because I think it is right. Beyond that, I cannot go.
§ Lord Underhill
I must make one or two points in support of this amendment. I do not want to detract from the amendment by bringing in the AMA. The Minister said "if the AMA had had consultations". As he knows, I am the president of the AMA. I was reading certain documents only last night. There was a meeting with the Secretary of State, and there was also one meeting at which the Under-Secretary of the department attended at the start of the meeting. I shall endeavour to turn up the dates and give them to the noble Lord in case he thinks I am not giving him the correct facts.
On consultation, the Minister keeps referring to the determination of revenue grants as if that is the only matter on which advice and guidance is to be given. Clause 3(5) gives a number of items on which advice and guidance is to be given. I must come back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff. If the Secretary of State is going to disagree generally as to the form and content of the plan, if he is going to disagree with levels of demand or with certain levels of services whom is he going to consult? Is it merely the officials of the department, excellent though they may be?
The Minister says that it is up to the authority to consult these bodies, but I doubt whether they will. But if he is going to turn down the points that are in the plan, whom is the Minister going to consult? Or is he going to be the all-powerful person sitting in Marsham 1022 Street? We have tried to avoid melodramatics on this subject, but the point is that the Secretary of State is all-powerful in giving advice and guidance. Then, as regards guidance and advice, they can deal with details of the plan and not just the question of the level of revenue grant. The noble Lord said metropolitan areas vary. We know that only too well. The size is different; the make-up is different; and some have vast rural areas. Surely, that makes it even more important that when the Secretary of State gives advice and guidance, disagreeing with certain points in the plan, he ought to tell the local authority the reasons why he disagrees with certain things. Surely, this is where confidence grows. If that is not done, the impression will develop that the purpose of the Bill is to prevent authorities from spending more than the Secretary of State thinks is right. He will be able to turn items down and give no reasons whatever for doing so—because there are many points of detail covered in subsection (5), as I think the Minister will agree.
§ Lord Mishcon
This is an important amendment because it deals with something we have touched upon, and indeed accentuated during this afternoon's debates on the various amendments: namely, the very important matter of the relationship between national and local government. I want to revert to that for one moment. I regard it as somewhat extraordinary that so many comments should have been made by the noble Lord the Minister about the desirability of this principle: yet when it comes to every amendment which tries to patch up this relationship, which is in a very difficult state at the moment—let us not have any doubts about that—may I quote again from King Lear, from which my noble friend quoted so learnedly? I remember two things from King Lear. One is his angry and pain-ridden cry to his youngest and nicest daughter: "Nothing comes of nothing". That appears to be the fate of every single amendment we have put to this Committee. Now I plead with the Minister, if I may, by using another poignant quotation from Lear, which is: "Make me not mad".
On that note, I would say this to him, because this is sanity. We are walking into a situation where, rightly or wrongly but nevertheless understandably, local authority associations are definite in the view that this Bill, added to other Bills that have been passed by your Lordships in this Chamber and in another place at the instance of this Government, will ensure that local authorities are being denied their democratic rights and are being put almost into oblivion. I quote the noble Lord, Lord Sefton, who said so well that this was possibly making people who wished that they were back in local government, talking to present members of local government, feel that maybe it is not such a good thing for people with intelligent and independent views to go into, with all their powers clipped.
This is what I am trying to say to the noble Lord the Minister: let not nothing come of nothing in regard to this amendment. He has offered to think about it, without commitment. That is a generous thing to say but not over-generous, because there is no commitment and it is not a terrible liability that a Minister has to think. It may be embarrassing or too heavy for them at times—
§ Lord Mishcon
Nevertheless, it is not such a grave responsibility for him to have to think. What I am saying to the noble Lord the Minister, and I am saying it with great sincerity on behalf of my noble friends and myself, is this: there is an opportunity to build into this enactment a compulsory consultative procedure. Consultation can be had, if you like, within limits of time so as not to postpone things indefinitely. Consultation can take place—to use the Minister's own phrase—without commitment. But consultation ought to take place—and I am sure that the noble Lord the Minister will, on reflection, agree with this—because it is written into the Bill, not as a matter of benevolence and not, if you like, at the instance of the local authority associations. This dignity local authority deserves, before the advice is given on the plans and in other ways that are mentioned in this amendment.
I am borrowing from another speaker on this amendment. This is not my original thought, although I felt it even before the noble Lord said it. This may not be the ideal formula. It may very well be that another consultation formula ought to be hit upon by the Government, to which they can agree, without the limitation on timing, without the delay factor and without the difficulties of different local authorities and the problems of various areas.
I ask the Minister to say openly, before this amendment is finally debated in Committee, that he sees merit in writing into this Bill a consultation procedure with the local authorities at a vital time, and to say that he will do his best before Report stage to put down a Government amendment of some kind which deals with that consultation procedure. Then I believe that the Committee may well be satisfied with such an assurance, without binding him to the nature of the formula, and we shall feel that something hats been achieved by the long hours in which your Lordships have been trying hard to debate this matter and to improve this Bill in this vital respect.
§ The Duke of Norfolk
I apologise to the Committee for the fact that I have been here for only the last half-an-hour, but I have had many letters from Archbishop Warlock on Merseyside about the representations of the noble Lord, Lord Sefton, and I have studied the matter very carefully. I should like to come down very strongly on this matter in this way. It has been suggested by many very serious noble Lords, who have quoted King Lear and others to support them, that the seven metropolitan counties will look after the disabled, the aged and the poor much better than central Government. This Bill will in no way affect them. The poor, the disabled and so on will still have their free transport and all the assistance given to them by the special benefits.
Is it not true to say—I ask this most sincerely, because I have had correspondence about it—that this Bill will in no way penalise the poor, the disabled or the others who have been quoted, because it is simply saying that the way in which transport is governed will be reformed, as will the allotment of money given by central Government to transport? But, in no way—and the metropolitan counties are suggesting this—will any living person be harmed by this Bill. I think that the Minister will bring that out, as I gather he brought it out previously today.
§ Lord Tordoff
We always listen with interest and respect to the noble Duke's interpretation of the views of the hierarchy, but I am not entirely sure of its relevance to this amendment. I want to follow the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, and to say that, although what he says is important, and we hope that the Minister will give some assurance along these lines, I hope that, in addition, he can give some assurance in relation to paragraph (6)(b) of the amendment, because it seems to me that, almost more importantly than what he says—and, as usual, he put the case very clearly—the need to set out those matters which have been taken into consideration in giving advice is, perhaps, at the heart of so many of our worries.
If we could have an assurance that the Government will find a means of expressing that in an acceptable way—the noble Lord said earlier that he is reaching towards this side of the Committee in order to come to an understanding—it would be a great help to us. This aspect might even take priority over the consultation point which the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, made.
§ Lord Bellwin
One is of course trying to be helpful. When the noble Lord quoted from King Lear that this shall be the terror of the earth, I was tempted to say that what has been going on up to now is very much the terror of the earth, but if I did so I should be getting back to Second Reading and into philosophy. The hour is late. Because the central Government—local government relationship is so much at the heart of what I have to deal with on a day-to-day basis, I should have liked to say to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, how sad I am about so many of the things which local government have done to contribute to this situation. But this is not the time. I cannot give the assurance which the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, asks of me. I can only repeat what I said I would do. I understand fully the points which have been made. I shall read them carefully, talk to colleagues and then see exactly what is the current thinking. At this stage I cannot go further than that.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
Keeping to King Lear, I am tempted to start by saying "Down, wantons, down". We have made some progress. Clearly we are at the beginning of a new drafting process which deserves the attention of the Committee. I would only say to your Lordships that in considering consultation about drafting the Government should realise that in the last few years the issue of consultation for local government has become not just a matter of more importance but of more legal importance than it ever has been in the past. The judgment of the Law Lords in the Greater London Council's Fares Fair case rested, in major part, on the allegation that the GLC had not consulted the counties outside London about their fare structure. No matter that this policy had been pursued by the Labour Party for at least five years before that, that an election had been fought on the issue and that all the elements in the Fares Fair policy had been a matter of public debate over a period of many years. The courts found that the lack of formal consultation with people who were only marginally consulted was a significant reason for ultimately finding the decision illegal.
Local authorities cannot therefore afford to be reassured by reasonable statements of the noble Lord 1025 the Minister. He is a reasonable man. But when we are dealing with legislation of this kind it needs more than reasonable statements and expressions of goodwill. We need the assurance that the obligations which are very clearly placed upon local authorities in their consultation shall be taken with equal seriousness by Government. Only in that way shall we be satisfied at Report that any significant progress has been made. In view of the statements which have been made, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 3 agreed to.
§ Clause 4 [Approval of financial plans and determination of revenue grants]:
§ [Amendments Nos. 23, 24 and 25 not moved.]
§ Lord Denham
We have probably reached the appropriate stage at which to finish this evening's business. If noble Lords opposite agree, I beg to move that the House do now resume.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.
§ House adjourned at twenty-five minutes before ten o'clock.