HL Deb 07 July 1983 vol 443 cc649-51

3.18 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many appointments held by officials of the Greater London Council are remunerated at a rate in excess of £20,000 a year; and what steps are being taken to restrict the filling of these appointments pending the possible dissolution of the Greater London Council.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Bellwin)

My Lords, the information requested is not held by central Government. We shall be considering what arrangements are needed to ensure a smooth transition to the new system of local government in London. These arrangements will take full account of the interests of the staff affected. In the meantime I hope it is not unreasonable to expect the GLC to act responsibly in the light of the Government's proposals.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that a Labour member of the Greater London Council was the other day extremely critical of the multiplicity of these highly-paid appointments being made at County Hall? Is not my noble friend being a little naive in expecting the GLC to behave reasonably in respect of making more of these appointments in advance of its dissolution with the knowledge that this multiplicity of highly paid appointments will add greatly to the compensation payments that will have to be made?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, my noble friend asks if I am not being a little naive. First, perhaps I should say that one can always hope! The GLC is subject to the same disciplines, including audit scrutiny, as are other local authorities. We shall be considering what arrangements are necessary, but we are not proposing any immediate action. Irresponsible behaviour by the GLC in this or in any other area would only serve to underline the case for abolition.

Baroness Gaitskell

My Lords, while I have some sympathy for the noble Lord's Question, I should like to ask why we should not go into the situation as regards bank managers, people who own stores and newspaper proprietors? There are any number of people who earn enormous sums of money who are in the same position; there is no difference between them.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, the simple answer is that we are not proposing to abolish them.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I certainly do not think that he is naive—unfortunately? In fact, I believe that he has never been naive and I do not think that he is likely to be. Is he aware that only 1 per cent. of total GLC expenditure is spent on administrators and that those people who are remunerated in excess of £20,000 are a very small proportion? Is it not also true that, if the GLC were abolished, only the responsibilities would be changed, but not the functions, which would still require a number of highly paid and experienced officials?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I hear what the noble Baroness says and I, too, read the same comments in the paper this morning by Mr. Stonefrost. I make no comment on that at this stage. The case for abolition will surely be debated at much greater length when the White Paper comes out and when the legislation comes to your Lordships' House and to another place. But the basic underlying fact is that the size of the authority has become increasingly inappropriate to the limited functions which it performs. It no longer has sewerage, which has gone to the water authorities. It no longer has housing, which has gone to the boroughs. It no longer has the ambulance service. There is no doubt in the Government's view that, by abolishing it and passing most of its remaining functions to the boroughs, we shall secure more economical and effective local government in London.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, when the housing function was transferred from the Greater London Council to the boroughs, the only way in which agreement could be reached with the staff in this matter was to upgrade almost all who were being transferred to the boroughs, but that the boroughs then found it a most costly exercise to receive staff being paid at a higher rate? Can he inform me what type of attitude he would take as regards this, because he must have either staff agreement or redundancies, and either would prove costly?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I hear what my noble friend says and I respect her observations not least because of the specific position she holds with that authority. I would only say to her that many lessons about reorganisation have been learnt and we are very sensitive to the points that she makes. The problem is that one has to safeguard the staff who will be transferring, and at the same time one has to make quite sure, as she has said, that we do not finish up at the end of the day with something which will not in fact be more efficient and less costly. I am confident that we shall do this.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the Minister aware that it was his party which created the GLC in an endeavour to gerrymander Labour out of power in London, but now that that endeavour has failed, they want to abolish it? If he wants to look at the government of London, would he not do better to abolish the rotten borough of the City Corporation, which is elected on a very narrow majority, instead of the GLC, which is elected by the people of London?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, once again I hear what the noble Lord says and it leaves me, as it usually does, completely unimpressed. The fact is that there is the situation which now pertains with the GLC. The historical aspects of it interest me not unduly except in so far as they are a guide to us as to what we must beware of falling into in the future.

Lord Monson

My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether the Government have any plans to prevent the GLC from imposing massive rate increases in 1984?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, we are cognisant of this kind of thing happening. We hope that it will not happen but one has to choose one's words carefully in saying more at this stage than that we are alert to that possibility. I hope that it will not come about. As I said in my opening Answer, we are entitled to expect that there will be a responsible attitude at the end of the day.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, can the Minister inform the House what other local authorities and local government organisations that have offended the Government, in the Government's eyes, and what other local authorities and local councils who may offend central Government in the future, will suffer the punishment of being abolished?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, the noble Lord has phrased his question in such a way that it is really moving away from the original Question to take in a much wider subject. The fact is that it is not a question at all of offending. On more than one occasion during the previous Parliament I was asked what would be the basis for deciding whether or not there should be abolition. I have said more than once, as the record will show if the noble Lord looks at it, although I suspect that he remembers it, that the criterion at the end of the day must be whether or not it is an efficiently run authority. It is not a question of who controls it or what antics they get up to—and believe me they do get up to some antics, but I shall not expand on that today although I would dearly love to do so. The fact is that the criteria are the ones which I suspect most of your Lordships know and on another occasion I shall be glad to expand on that matter too.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, will my noble friend, in considering the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, on the Front bench opposite, to the effect that officials would have to be transferred with functions, bear in mind that some of these highly paid officials at County Hall are employed on functions in respect of which the GLC has no responsibility whatever—such as the police?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I am grateful, as always, to my noble friend for those helpful remarks. Yes, we do note what he says.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, in the Government's further consideration of this matter and before the Minister gives any more incautious replies, will he give due weight to the views of Mr. Alan Greengross the Conservative Leader of the Opposition in the GLC, who argues against the abolition of the GLC not only on the grounds of democracy for Londoners, but also on the grounds that the alternative is likely to be more expensive and more bureaucratic?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I always give weight to what Alan Greengross says.