HL Deb 30 April 1984 vol 451 cc337-97

2.59 p.m.

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

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Bellwin.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]

Clause 3 [Expenditure levels]:

Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 35: Page 3, line 21, after ("shall") insert ("in consultation with, and taking into account any representations received from, that authority").

The noble Lord said: I move Amendment No. 35 standing in the names of my noble friends Lady Birk and Lady Nicol. It will be recalled that on Thursday I put forward Amendment No. 27 which dealt with consultation on principles for the designation of local authorities for the selective scheme. The amendment that I now propose is also concerned with consultation but relates to Clause 3(1), where the Secretary of State shall determine a level of the total expenditure of a designated authority for the purpose of enabling him to prescribe the rate to be made. Obviously noble Lords will appreciate that this is most important; but the Bill places the sole responsibility for determining this on the Secretary of State.

The amendment provides that the Secretary of State shall make this determination in consultation with the authority concerned, and that he shall take into account any representations that that authority may make to him. I am certain that noble Lords will regard this as being fair, common-sense and very equitable. In fact, on Second Reading the Minister gave me the justification for proposing this amendment.

It will be recalled that on Second Reading I outlined the extent of deprivation and the problems facing the London Borough of Hackney. In column 1017 of Hansard for 9th April, the Minister gave what many noble Lords will have considered to be a blistering reply to the points that I made. I do not want Hackney to be debated here, but there are some points which I must make regarding what the Minister said to show why it is absolutely necessary for a local authority to be consulted before its expenditure level is fixed. I have the official reply to me from Hackney.

First, the Government compelled the council to take responsibility for 18,000 former GLC dwellings and to fulfil the duties associated with them—that is, maintenance and servicing—427 staff were transferred to the borough of Hackney. Remember, the Minister attacked Hackney because it has employed 993 additional staff in the past 21 months. In addition, another 100 staff were recruited to provide administrative support and services which were lacking in connection with the 18,000 houses. That is a total of 520. That is over half the figure which the Minister quoted. There are another 50 people in the highly successful Powell House training scheme, which is Government funded.

On Second Reading I stressed in my remarks that one-third of the people in Hackney are either black or from the ethnic communities and that previously the council had no race relations staff whatever. The council has recruited 32 people to deal with race and ethnic issues, and all of these, except three, receive a 75 per cent. grant from the Home Office; yet that authority is being criticised for engaging extra staff.

Then there is consumer protection. In 1982 Hackney was part of a consumer protection consortium with neighbouring boroughs. It now employs 16 staff direct. That is reorganisation, not growth. The Minister criticised Hackney for engaging architects, design staff and quantity surveyors. The reason is that the council decided not to go to consultants but to deal with these matters in-house. It costs nothing because, it is emphasised to me, salaries are paid out of capital projects on all those three items. I could go on. The information I am giving shows how vital it is that the authority must be consulted before total expenditure is determined.

It may be that the Minister will say that all this is nonsense, although it came from the leader of the council who discussed this with his staff. But surely it shows that in fairness, and if we are to do the job properly, it is absolutely essential that a local authority should be consulted before a decision on its total expenditure is made. That is a thorough justification of this amendment. I hope the Minister will recognise that in the light of his own criticisms on Second Reading and readily accept the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Bellwin

As we have heard, this amendment seeks to extend the degree of formalised consultation with local authorities on rate limitation which the Bill requires of the Secretary of State. He would be obliged to consult individual designated authorities in determining their expenditure levels. I should like to make it clear that the Government are always willing to discuss with individual local authorities matters of concern including financial issues, and there are many important matters where consultation with local authorities through their associations would be both proper and helpful. But I do not think this is an appropriate matter for consultation with individual authorities. There are three reasons.

First, Clause 3 provides for expenditure levels to be determined on common principles. This gives all authorities fair and comparable treatment from the outset. Each will be asked to make similar savings—although allowance may be made for differences in the services provided by different classes of authority. It would be wrong to depart from the fairly applied principles in setting the expenditure levels.

Secondly, if there are special circumstances which make it very difficult for an authority to budget within the expenditure level first set, the Bill does allow them to seek a redetermination of that level from the Secretary of State. It is at that stage, not in first setting the level, that the Secretary of State will consider carefully and in depth any representations which the authority may make and decide whether to go outside the general principles to take account of specific local points.

The third point is that I am opposed to this amendment because it would inject delay into the process of selective rate limitation. I do not mean that this would be inconvenient for the Government; I am thinking of the designated authorities. The Secretary of State wants to give authorities the earliest possible notice of their expenditure levels so that they have enough time to plan for the necessary savings. The kind of consultation proposed here would eat into that time.

Those are my reasons why we cannot accept the amendment. I had not intended to debate Hackney, but as the noble Lord raised some points I am very glad to pick them up and make some other observations. There were many points that I did not make on Second Reading about Hackney that I could have made, had I wanted to do so. Although the noble Lord gives reasons why the authority felt able to take on some several hundred people, it does not explain, by any means, why an authority which claims to be—indeed is—so deprived in many ways can feel that there is a priority to take on 40 more people into their personnel department. The noble Lord did not touch on that. I did not mention on Second Reading the fact that the main committee chairmen in that authority all now have personal political advisers and research assistants. In my definition of local government I find that quite incredible. Your Lordships can see that my list is also long, and I could extend it.

It also does not explain why the borough feels a priority for spending—this so deprived borough, with which I do not quarrel—thousands and thousands of pounds on political campaigns and on litigation with Government; nor why it is not willing to look at the possible ways of providing services, as others are doing, by going out to tender—not necessarily to take on the tender but to see what other people can do. Why is the council not willing to look, as others are, at achieving the saving of hundreds of thousands—not to say millions—of pounds? Unless a council is prepared to see what else can be done—and if it is so bound with dogma that it is not willing even to look—how can it claim to be providing services at a comparable level with others? The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and I have much common ground in that point at least; but they are not my reasons for rejecting this amendment. I have given the three reasons.


Lord Graham of Edmonton

The Minister has given us illustrations of other aspects upon which it might have been helpful to have a dialogue, for instance with Hackney, and it is quite clear that, as often as he gives them, a refutation of them can be found, whereupon the Minister will bring others. For instance, he has referred not only today but at other times to how surprised he is that other than Ministers of the Crown can find it useful to have political advisers and researchers. The Minister, in fact, ought to move on. He may be remembering his days as the leader of a large authority, when advisers and researchers may not have been required, and they certainly were not required in his day or mine when I was the leader of a comparably sized council. But the situation has changed and if in fact what the Minister is saying is that in 1984 the whole concept of political advisers is not required, where does one begin and where does one stop? These are judgments that are made by local people and they are answerable to local people for what they spend and also at the ballot box.

In my view, the Minister is hiding from the real issue here. He talks in terms of general principles. He talks in terms of consultation with the associations. What this amendment is talking about is representation from the individual authorities who are affected, and who better than those individual authorities to plead their case?

I, of course, with my noble friend, visited Hackney at the invitation of the Association of Municipal Authorities. It was only a fleeting visit, simply topping up the knowledge that he and I have about the conditions that exist there, but in the short response that my noble friend gave I believe he effectively demolished the very broad brush which the Minister gave at Second Reading, where he certainly rocked me back on my heels when he mentioned the totality of the figures. Yet my noble friend has pointed out that more than half of them can be seen not as a result of direct initiatives by Hackney but as a result of this Government's decisions which meant that Hackney had to pick up the tab in that particular way.

As far as we are concerned on this side of the Committee the whole matter of consultation has become a big question mark between this Government and local government. The Government have brought the meaning of consultation into disrepute. The Minister has only to speak to his own political colleagues to find just how much credence they give, not to the personal words of the Minister, but to the net outcome of consultation because the Minister may believe that consultation is, when he is driven to it, to sit round a table, to present a paper and to listen and, when he has listened, to say, "This is what we have decided", with no change whatsoever in the original proposals. That is what is happening in the negotiations between central government and local government these days. Quite frankly, consultation is not worth the candle. We happen to believe that the Minister is prepared to listen and not merely listen to representatives from a central organisation but representatives from the individual authorities concerned.

What in fact are we asking the Minister to do? First of all we are asking him to move marginally once, for the first time, on this very big issue. It is a big issue when we look at the individual authorities. I use the phrase, "life and death", which can certainly be ascribed to the consequences of rate-capping on some of these authorities. What we are saying to the Minister is that, when the authorities are designated, whether it is 12, 14 or 16, at the earliest possible moment—and certainly before the drastic action of making the budget that is going to be rate-capped—he should invite these people in for discussions.

The Minister says that consultations can take place and are taking place all the time. We believe that it would give confidence to local government and would certainly be no skin off the nose of the Minister if these words were written into the Bill. The Minister says there may not be time. The Minister says that consultations may be the cause of delay. If in actual fact 12 authorities were designated and a whole day was given to each of them to plead their case—I am talking about seven or eight hours, at the end of which meaningful consultations would have taken place—what are we talking about? Two or three weeks on whatever timescale the Minister has.

We genuinely believe that this is a fair and a reasonable amendment. It will provide for the Government to say that if local government really believes that consultation has been sidetracked, here is the opportunity, and, if the opportunity is taken and the Minister speaks very strongly, bluntly, forcefully, fairly and truthfully and so do the local people, they will then be able to go back and say, "We managed to put one or two things right". The Minister must know that the research given to him by civil servants, given to him by letters, cannot possibly be a substitute for facing the people from Hackney or Enfield or anywhere else and saying, "This is what I have been told", and the local people saying, "Minister, you have got it wrong, and here is how you have got it wrong". I think the Minister himself and his nostrums challenged at 2 Marsham Street might very well be improved and certainly from a local digestion point of view would be better received, because at the moment there is a very strong feeling that the Minister, the department, the Government, the party opposite, have made up their minds and are not prepared to listen.

The Minister talks about opportunities that will be taken. Last week on the first day of Committee we were looking at the extent to which Parliament is going to be consulted, and we on this side think that the Minister has paid scant regard to the authority of Parliament and certainly of both Houses. I would say to the Minister in all honesty that it is not Parliament that will be crucially affected by these matters. It is people in areas where their local councils have been at their wits' end not merely for this year, and not merely for the last four years, but certainly for a lot longer period than that.

I very much hope that the Minister will prove not only that he can listen but that he is prepared to listen. I admit that these few simple words written into the Bill will perhaps delay the final coup de grace by two or three weeks, but if at the end of that day the Minister can say, "We have denied no one any opportunity of presenting his case", I believe he will have more credibility in local and central Government relationships.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

I cannot support this amendment and I should like to explain why. The noble Lords have spoken on this point. Lord Graham has just mentioned how the situation has changed in Hackney. The situation has certainly changed very dramatically in Hackney and very much for the worse due to the extravagance of the authority there. My surgery is in Islington. My catchment area of patients is Hackney. For years I have been treating very large numbers of people from Hackney; and most of my staff, too, come from Hackney. None of them is too thrilled about the deterioration that has been going on there. I can tell you that the housing manager appointed immediately post-war did much most effectively and cheaply really to provide housing for people there. The standard of maintenance and care of the housing is not value for money at the present time. The money is being thrown away on other things which the Minister referred to.

I think it is also slightly puzzling that the noble Lord, Lord Graham, has said how important it is that people should have this right to consult before a figure is determined, because, under the proposals in the Bill, it is quite clear that, after the determination is made—and I support the point of view of the Minister that it should be as soon as possible so that people know what sort of budget is being suggested—they immediately have the right under subsection (4) of Clause 3 to reapply for redetermination. Surely it is at that point that they can come foward with any points that they have and any further information and it is at that point that the Minister would consider it.

I did think that in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, there was one highly relevant comment, and I think that this should be taken up under some other section, or I hope that the Minister may look at it himself. This was when he referred to the grant which was being funded 75 per cent. by the Home Office.

I think that there is a case for looking separately at, or putting aside, those issues such as urban aid, funding from the European Community, and possibly joint funding with the DHSS, but I am not sure exactly how that works. Where there are cases that have already been through one careful sieve in a Government department, it seems strange that they would be reconsidered and brought back into a total. I fear that we might lose those items and local authorities might not apply for them if they had to be taken into their total. But I do not think that this amendment is the place for that point to be considered, and I oppose it.

Lord Spens

I have listened very carefully to the two noble Lords who have spoken from the Opposition Front Bench, the noble Lords, Lord Underhill and Lord Graham. I do not think either has mentioned the body of ratepayers who have to pay more than 40 per cent. of the total rates; namely, the business ratepayers. They talked a lot about consultation, but there never has been consultation with the business community. Until that happens, I cannot see why we should support an amendment of this kind.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

May one for a brief moment leave Hackney aside and seek to come to grips with the principle of this amendment. There are two parts. There is the part which seeks to enjoin consultation, and the other part which seeks to enjoin the taking into account of representations. Surely there is a case for consultation. There is a case, as a matter of due and orderly administration, that there should be consultation and that this should be brought into the text of the Bill. With the greatest respect to my noble friend the Minister, the point that he takes on redetermination on Clause 4—I shall not trespass on your Lordships' time—perhaps when one looks at it does not quite meet the point on consultation, or the principle.

But I would submit that the other facet of the amendment is wholly unacceptable. It is difficult to understand what, taking into account any representations means, or could mean, in terms of any concept of legal enforcement. It would not be useful to seek to encumber a statute with mere words of exhortation.

Although for those brief reasons—I hope that they are brief—I oppose this amendment, I respectfully ask that the Government might perhaps think again on the important issue of consultation at the first stage.

3.23 p.m.

Lord Bellwin

We have a long, long way to go through this Committee stage. I do not want to make long speeches, if I can avoid them, or to keep coming back to an issue. One is tempted to talk of what really are Second Reading matters. I say only this to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway about consultation. I think that this point will come up again and again. We should bear in mind just what we are talking about. We are talking about authorities in this range of possible selection which are spending far, far above any other comparable authority. No one can even begin to say that they have no idea that they might be concerned.

What level does one set for what is reasonable? Most authorities spend at or round about their GRE levels. Let us take that as one criterion. Are we talking about authorities that spend 5, 10, 15 or 20 per cent. above that level? Where do we draw the line? Do we go on to 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80 or 90 per cent. above? Yes, there are authorities which are that much above. Is it really suggested that they have no idea and that they must have special consultation because it is a surprise? They know very well, and have known for years, what has been going on and what it is all about.

I tell your Lordships' Committee that many Labour-controlled authorities around the country resent the fact that those authorities have brought about the present situation, and the whole of local government is now involved because of that. Let us not assume that we are talking about pure and innocent authorites which surprisingly find themselves in this area. If you come to equity, you come with clean hands. Here there are no clean hands.

There will be the opportunity for these authorities to make known their situation and to give reasons why they need special alleviation or allowance. I think that that is right, and I am all for it. That is what the legislation is all about. It is about 12 or 20 out of 430-odd authorities. That is the whole story. I could go on. I could talk more about Hackney. I have a lot of information in my head about Hackney and other authorities, but I do not think that it would add to this debate. I fear that I can go no further.

Lord Underhill

I am disappointed with the Minister's reply. He went beyond his normally generous language when he talked about coming with clean hands. I shall put that down to the heat at present. The Minister says that we are talking about only 12 to 20 authorities, yet he talks of considerable delay. If he was on one of the authorities, surely he would want to be consulted before the total expenditure figure was fixed.

The noble Lord the Minister talked about determination. We are not talking about designation. I lost on designation. We are not talking about the authorities to be designated. We are talking about fixing the total level of expenditure for authority X. I am asking that authority X should be brought into consultation before the figure is determined. The very fact of the difference of opinion on Hackney shows that that is necessary. Surely it is far better to have determination by joint consultation at the start, than to have to go through a redetermination later on. The Minister talks about delay, but redetermination would involve as much of a hold-up as would determination at the outset. Therefore that argument falls completely to the ground.

I, too, could take up other points on Hackney. I dealt with only one page. I have others. I dealt with it only to show this point. The reply on Second Reading seemed to be devastating, but when we get the other side of the picture we see that there is a case to put. I want the authority to have the chance to put that case. It has not had that chance.

As my noble friend, Lord Graham, made quite clear, this amendment is to try to get a sense of balance into the matter. We should not assume right at the start that a certain authority is a rogue authority. It has been designated. Now let us have a look at it, talk to the authority, and see just what should be its expenditure level. That seems to be fair and equitable. It would give confidence to the local authorities.

I do not think that it would be a good thing to divide the Committee on the first amendment, though a very important principle is involved. We shall beg leave to withdraw the amendment, and look carefully at what the Minister has said. I am certain that he must realise that there is justice in what we are putting forward. In the Minister's own words, we are talking about only 12 to 20 authorities. Let us consult them first, before we fix their total expenditure level. Strangely enough, Whitehall may be wrong. It may have its facts wrong, and consultation with the people in the area would help. But we shall look at what the Minister has said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Stedman moved Amendment No. 36: Page 3, line 21, after ("expenditure") insert ("excluding expenditure which by virtue of section 8(4) of the Local Government Finance Act 1982 is to be disregarded for the purpose of section 59(6)(cc) of the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 and section 8(3)(c) of the said Act of 1982").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment, if accepted, would ensure that any expenditure for which the Secretary of State decides not to penalise a local authority under the targets and the penalties is also left out of account when determining the level of expenditure under rate limitation.

In the Local Government Finance Act 1982 Parliament recognised that it would not be fair to penalise a local authority for incurring certain expenditure such as that resulting from an emergency or a hard winter, or unavoidable expenditure which could not have been foreseen, such as large increases in police pay or expenditure on items like civil defence carried out at the behest of the Government. Under that Act the Secretary of State has power to "disregard", so that when he is calculating the total expenditure for comparison with target certain expenditure of the sort I have detailed is not taken into account—is disregarded.

The powers have not been readily used, and the disregards have only been granted for increases in police pay over and above the amount built into the RSG settlement; and increases in urban programme expenditure, but only on those projects which grant is still being paid. This causes problems for non-partnership authorities and for partnership authorities when schemes become time expired. The scheme then becomes reckonable for penalty. Increases in the joint finance schemes with the National Health Service are only disregarded when the National Health Service contributes; so when their funding ceases, then that scheme becomes liable for penalty.

In the present tight financial situation many authorities are becoming less and less eager to enter into either urban programme or joint financing commitments. Disregards have been requested for 1983-84 for many items of expenditure, and I have been given a list of some 45 requests. They all have some merit; but we are not trying to extend the categories for disregard, and this is not a wrecking amendment. What we are seeking to ensure is that there is some consistency in the Government's attitude to local government finance. All we are asking is that if the Secretary of State has exercised his discretion and has said that some items of expenditure should not count for penalties, then those same items of expenditure should not count for rate limitation. I beg to move.

Lord Broxbourne

I am sure that the Committee will have derived great aesthetic enjoyment from the little gem of English prose which this amendment characterises. I would think that it has also provoked a considerable use of the wet towel over the weekend by those of your Lordships who have found it necessary or expedient to understand the amendment and what it seeks to do. With respect to the noble Baroness, there is of course an error on the face of the amendment, which refers to Section 59(b)(cc). That should of course be Section 59(6)(cc); there is no (b)(cc).

If I may say so, there is another criticism of the form of the amendment and its language. It would be a classic case of legislation by reference if this were put on the statute book, and I think all right-thinking people, whatever their political persuasions, depreci-ate the use of legislation by reference. I fully concede to the noble Baroness that to some extent it is imposed upon her in this context by the interrelationship of the 1982 and 1980 Acts. I cannot think that Parliament can really claim much credit for having gone thus far in putting those two Acts in that language on the statute book.

As I understand the effect of the statute law which this is intended to amend, subsection (1) of Section 59 of the 1980 Act gives the Secretary of State a power to vary the amount of block grant payable. But subsection (5)(b) of that section limits the exercise of that power to the purposes specified in subsection (6). There is further provision in regard to those purposes in Section 8 of the Local Government Finance Act 1982, both by way of a new paragraph (cc) for Section 59, referred to in the noble Baroness's amendment, and also Section 8(3)(c), which I am sure your Lordships have digested. Subsection (4) of Section 8 is the one on which the noble Baroness seeks to build her amendment. That is the subsection which provides for the possibility of disregards. It is that provision which Amendment No. 36 seeks to apply and enlarge.

But I want respectfully to query whether the language really is correct. The language of the amendment reads, "is to be disregarded"; but there is in fact no statutory prescription of disregard in the 1980 and 1982 Acts. What subsection (4) of Section 8 does is to give a discretionary power of disregard. I am glad to see my noble friend Lord Renton nod in assent; that reinforces me in my view on this difficult matter. That subsection gives a discretionary power of disregard to the Secretary of State if he is in receipt of representations as specified in that subsection. But that is all; there is no statutory provision for disregard, as would be thought by anybody reading and comprehending Amendment No. 36.

It would therefore seem to me—at first blush, at any rate—that the language of Amendment No. 36 is not appropriate and that it would not make a desirable addition to our statute book, quite apart from its complex terms and legislation by reference. Of course, I may well be wrong in this as in many other things, and perhaps more probably in this than in most things because, as Sherlock Holmes would have said, These are deep waters, my dear Watson", and it is very easy to flounder in them. But that is as I see it, and that is as I put it to the Committee. I will await the explanations and judgment of my noble friend the Minister and be guided then by what he has to say.

Baroness Birk

I rise to support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman. Although the noble Lord, Lord Broxboume, may be right on some of the points he has made, as far as the wording of the amendment is concerned I do not like legislation by reference any more than he does. We had a number of exchanges over that, in which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, took part, on the Housing Bill. Nevertheless, I think the aim of this amendment is of extreme importance. Following this amendment we have a series of amendments dealing with rather more specific disregards, covering voluntary organisations and statutory duties, health and so on. Further on there is one in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, on law and order, on the police. This amendment, which sets the whole series up, is of very great importance.

I think we should look at it and at what it means and what it sets out to do, and not at this moment necessarily at the drafting and at the small corrections which the noble Lord made, which I am sure he would agree can all be altered later. But the main point, surely, is that the precedent has been set in legislation which is currently on the statute book. Therefore, all that is being asked in this amendment is that there should be some consistency. The Minister may well say that of course the Secretary of State will be consistent; but this piece of legislation is fraught with instances where we are being told that of course the Secretary of State will do things in a particular way and that of course the Secretary of State will take account of particular details, whereas surely the truth of the matter is that the Secretary of State has a totally free hand if the words of the legislation are considered. As I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Broxbourne, will agree, in the end it comes down to the fact that only the words on the face of the Bill, and not what has been discussed very reasonably, and recorded in Hansard, will count when any of these decisions have to come before a court. With respect, while promoting legislation Ministers have in the past given assurances that have either been quickly forgotten, or largely delayed when it has come to implementation. The more that we progress through the clauses of the Bill, the more discretion is accorded to the Secretary of State and the more demands are placed on local authorities. The amendment at least places some form of accountability and consistency upon the Secretary of State.

The noble Lord, Lord Broxbourne, drew attention to the local government Act to which reference is made in the amendment and the disregards that have been within discretionary power. Expenditure on which disregards have been requested for 1983–84 covers 45 items, including the urban programme and urban development grant spending, the residual costs of the housing benefit scheme, expenditure on joint finance schemes with health authorities, the cost of repairing storm and flood damage, the increased cost of the 1982 police pay award, all additional expenditure on MSC schemes, the cost of initiatives taken under the Race Relations Act, and expenditure on art gallery and library services. Those are just a handful of items on a list with which I shall not tire your Lordships' Committee.

The noble Baroness, in moving the amendment, was absolutely right when she stressed the point that it is designed to ensure that any expenditure for which the Secretary of State decides not to penalise a local authority under targets and penalties is also left out of account by the Secretary of State when determining the level of spending under a rate limitation regime. I cannot believe, as I am sure the noble Lord who objected to the amendment cannot believe, that it is not possible, or not within the capabilities of the parliamentary draftsmen, to draft an amendment that deals with the very point that we are considering, to make sure that the disregards are taken account of and spelt out.

Lord Renton

In speaking for the first time on this Bill, may I say plainly that I am fully in support of it. However, having said that, I have a good deal of sympathy with the case put by the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman. I have sympathy with her on two grounds. The first ground is that the method that she felt obliged to choose involved the most appalling legislation by reference, as my noble friend, Lord Broxbourne, has so lucidly pointed out. I do not think that the Government could or should conceivably accept the amendment as it stands.

I have broad sympathy with the noble Baroness on another ground, which arises from the fact that she and I are both ratepayers in the county of Cambridgeshire—a county that is increasing its population year by year, and has been doing so for some years, at a rate 10 times faster than the national average. That is not entirely due to a high local birth rate, although the birth rate is high. It is due mainly to the service to the nation that Cambridgeshire renders by accepting town development and bringing in people who live in more crowded conditions elsewhere, including people from the areas of authorities where the rates have been exceptionally high. Cambridgeshire is in a very difficult position. I hope that the Government will recognise this and do something about it. Clause 3 is the right place at which to discuss the matter. The amendment gives us a proper opportunity for doing so.

I should like briefly to explain the position that arises. Cambridgeshire spends less each year, and has done so for several years, than the Government's estimate of its needs. Its needs are largely based on the ever-increasing population. But, strangely enough, Cambridgeshire spends more than the Government target. It is therefore theoretically an overspender and becomes eligible to be clobbered by a very heavy penalty, running into millions of pounds.

I do not think it is right for the Government to ignore this situation. I hope that we shall hear from my noble friend Lord Bellwin that the situation is not ignored and that the Government will be able to give assurances that a county with such problems, which has behaved so well financially, will most certainly have its needs taken into consideration when the Secretary of State is exercising the very flexible power given to him, and to him alone, and without any trammel on the exercise of that power, under Clause 3(2). Therefore, though I support my noble friend Lord Bellwin in resisting the amendment on technical grounds, I hope that he will show sympathy towards its motives.

Lord Bellwin

As the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, said, this amendment is the first of a whole series of amendments, all of which seek to provide special arrangements within the rate limitation system for spending by a designated authority on particular types of services. Specifically, Amendment No. 36 seeks to carry forward into rate limitation the procedures for dealing with exceptional circumstances in the target and holdback system. Before dealing with the detailed topic within the amendment itself, because this is the first of a series of amendments and because I am anxious not to repeat the same thing each time, I think that it would be appropriate if I were to say a few words about the basic concept behind all these amendments providing that certain types of expenditure should be protected in some sense from rate limitation.

The key point is that rate limitation starts from the overall spending of an authority. The rate limit that will be set is calculated from that overall spending level. But, within that overall amount, it will remain the responsibility of the local authority, as is right and proper, to decide its own priorities. The rate support grant, so far as the authority is concerned, is unhypothecated revenue. It is most important that that principle should be undisturbed. But if certain types of spending, such as that on voluntary services, family services, or whatever, were to be excluded from consideration, that would simply mean that expenditure for that purpose was not being counted in setting the authority's rate limit. In fact, there would be no better way of preventing spending on precisely those services that we are anxious to protect. I have to say therefore that the whole concept behind this series of amendments is fundamentally misconceived.

The Government, like those moving the amendments, are most anxious to preserve the services provided in particular to the most vulnerable sections of the community. But the Government also believe strongly in the right of local authorities to make their own decisions on policy priorities. The posters and the advertisements that talk about "Whitehall deciding" and all that are really the big lie. The whole purpose of both an unhypothecated rate support grant and all the proposals that will continue within the Bill is that authorities will have to make their own decisions. But from the time that the Bill comes on to the statute book this selected number of authorities, 12 to 20 out of the 438 or so, will have to contain the totality of their spending in exactly the same way as the other 400-odd authorities now do; and most of them try very hard.

It has been argued that these authorities will cut services for the most vulnerable people in the community. When we were discussing the last amendment I illustrated the enormous extent to which, by comparison, these authorities are the highest of all the spenders. If we were looking into detail I would certainly want to give the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, many instances where nobody really concerned about deprivation, about the needs of the most needy in the community, could justify spending vast sums of money on those particular things, including the political advisers and the advertising. What kind of priority is that for people who really have need?

The fact is that at the same time these authorities have special and greater needs than many others; that is why the GREs allow for that. I explained in our last debate that the average personal social services GRE in Hackney—I do not know why we always seem to come back to Hackney—happens to be four times greater than the national average or the average even for similar authorities. It is right that it should be so; the need is there. But the GRE makes allowance for that and it is only when we get enormously, excessively above that that we suddenly find ourselves with the problem of an authority likely, although not certain, to be selected.

It is important to get right the setting for this whole series of amendments on this topic. The decision for specific spending will be that of the authority itself. I maintain that by definition these are the authorities who have the greatest scope to save great sums of money if they really wanted to do so. But the will has to be there and it involves being willing to look at what others can do and all the rest that goes with it. I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Broxbourne, and I compliment him on having followed through the very difficult text of the 1980 and 1982 Acts. I accept the basic argument which he puts forward in criticising the amendment.

But this particular amendment, saving what my noble friend said, seeks to carry forward into rate limitation the procedures for dealing with exceptional circumstances in the target and hold-back system. In my view it is unnecessary to do so because rate limitation already incorporates its own arrangement —the derogation system which will allow expenditure levels to be redetermined after the council has made a case based on its own particular circumstances. As my noble friend Lord Broxbourne so cogently pointed out, the expenditure disregards provided for in the 1982 Act are more broad-brush and require to be based on principles applying to all authorities. Therefore, they cannot respond to the particular needs of an authority in the same way as will be available under Clause 3.

As I have said, it is also important that the expenditure level set should reflect fully the expenditure to be financed in the coming year because it will be a key ingredient in the determination of the rate limit. If the expenditure level is understated by an unknown amount for disregards this could mean that the council might run into financial difficulty at a later stage. Of course, expenditure disregards are settled fairly late in the year, usually with the RSG settlement in December, and even then the Secretary of State must keep his mind open on the subject until the final report. Therefore, there could be no certainty about the expenditure level until quite late, which would not help a council trying to make the necessary economies.

My noble friend Lord Renton talked about Cambridgeshire. He will know that the name is deeply engraved on my mind. I take the points he makes. Basically he was referring to their actual settlement under the RSG. There are some other shire counties in a similar position. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State said in another place that we have to find ways to take the problems into account, and intend so to do. I have no hesitation at all in giving that assurance to my noble friend. It is a repetition of what was said in another place.

It is true that an authority like that tries very hard. I have personally looked into the nuts and bolts of that, so I concede that point. Yet we said all along that rate limitation and all that flows with it will help that situation because the whole of the RSG settlement is about the distribution of a finite sum of money. When there are gainers there have to be losers, but it is a question of trying to distribute equitably some £12 billion or £13 billion among some 430-odd authorities so as to take account of their needs, and to equalise. It is not an easy task and it is one that requires, and will always require, constant revision to achieve equity.

I cannot accept the amendment. I say so not just on the grounds of its technical failures, as have been pointed out—I suspect the noble Baroness would not quarrel with that—but because of the underlying principles which flow from it.

3.56 p.m.

Lord Sandford

I should like to comment on what my noble friend has just said before the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, decides how she wants to wind up this debate. I hope she will not press the amendment because I think it could be drafted better to achieve the purpose she has in mind. I agree with my noble friend Lord Broxbourne and my noble friend Lord Renton that the noble Baroness has a point of some substance and I am afraid 1 do not think my noble friend on the Front Bench has met it.

We are about to deal with a whole series of amendments concerned with various special factors which apply to one or more authorities and are disregarded when it comes to the assessment by reference to GREA or target and to the rate support grant. The argument for disregarding them again in this particular situation with which Clause 3 deals is a very strong one indeed. In so far as the Minister's right honourable friend in another place has already given an indication that he will look into some aspects of the kind of matter which concerns Cambridgeshire, Essex and other counties which find themselves well below GREA but a long way above target, I think the Minister ought to give an offer to the Committee to reconsider the same matter in this context as well. My noble friend speaks with some confidence as though he had to hand, in GREA and target, instruments, mechanisms of considerable precision with which he can distinguish—

Lord Graham of Edmonton

That is right.

Lord Sandford

—clearly and without any question the extravagant overspenders from all the rest. I beg leave to differ with him on that. If that were so, if that could be done, by now we should not be being told about 12 or 20 authorities who might or might not be designated; we should be told quite clearly who they are. We know they include the GLC, almost certainly Hackney, and possibly Basildon, but that is about as far as it goes. As to the rest, there is no great certainty as to which they are because these two instruments of GREA and target have been shown over and over again, ever since they were introduced, to be grossly imperfect. They were imperfect for the purposes for which they were introduced. They are now being used for quite different purposes, and they are even more imperfect.

The only way of getting them into any sort of shape for the purposes for which they are going to be needed is by the application of a whole range of disregards for quite new factors which are always coming up. One which my noble friend Lord Ridley is certain to mention in a moment is the cost of providing the constabulary to deal with the miners' pickets. That has got to be taken into account. GREA and target do not begin to take them into account. The same thing goes on all the time. There is no perfection whatever in either GREA or target.

I have here a list of a whole range of authorities, some of which are miles over GREA and on target while others are miles over target and on GREA. It simply will not do as a precise instrument by which this legislation can be implemented. I think that it would be better for my noble friend to say that he recognises their imperfections in this particular context, and that he will look at this matter in the same way as his right honourable friend has indicated that he will look at other situations of this kind.

Lord Bellwin

I should like to say a brief word about this point. My noble friend is very wrong. If he is right to talk about the imprecision of GREA by itself in relation to its assessment for the rate support grant settlement, then he has an argument with which personally I have expressed sympathy. But let us remember what we are talking about. We are not talking about a difference of 1 per cent. or 2 per cent. more or less as between one authority and another as regards its GREA. We are talking about authorities whose spending is so far above that of all the other authorities. When we talk of excessive spenders we are referring to 12 to 20 authorities. How imprecise, or how precise, does my noble friend want us to be? Five per cent. for these purposes I concede; 10 per cent. I concede; 15 per cent. I would concede. But how much more? We could have 20 per cent. We can go on and on. We could get into the region of 60 per cent., 70 per cent., 80 per cent. and 90 per cent. How precise do we need to be? Indeed, that applies only to the GREAs.

We have said that that is not the only factor that will apply here. In addition, we want to look at targets. What do we want to set as the "target percentage above"? Again we begin to talk about the handful of authorities that are so extreme. There is no need to talk about precision or imprecision in that context at all. Those authorities are far away from anybody else. The very authorities about which my noble friend Lord Renton is so concerned are the very authorities that are in need of protection from the effects of the actions of the few authorities that are streets away from everybody else. The whole purpose of this Rates Bill is to give protection to many of the authorities. That is why I am so sad about the misunderstanding that there is about the Bill.

One does not want to go on and on, because we have so many matters to debate, but I must say that I disagree. The disregards that are included here are a fundamental part of the proposals that the Government are putting forward in this particular legislation.

Lord Sandford

I should just like to round off this matter. We must not go on too long on this particular point. But if my noble friend feels as strongly as he does, would it not be very simple to spell out the principles by which we can determine these 12 or 20 authorities, and have their names, and then we should know where we stood? That is the way in which to justify the argument that my noble friend is putting forward.

Viscount Ridley

Did not my noble friend put forward the best argument yet—much better than I did last week—for capping only 20 authorities? He seemed to put the case rather well.

Lord Prys-Davies

Whether it is 10 per cent., 15 per cent., 80 per cent. or 90 per cent., we can become extremely emotional about the matter. We must have regard to the real needs of the communities. I agree very much with what has been said by the last two speakers on the other side of the Committee. Can a satisfactory total expenditure, within the meaning of this Bill, be calculated at all? That must depend upon whether objective criteria of need can be drawn up and whether, having regard to the words of my noble friend who moved the amendment, they retain a sufficient degree of flexibility to survive the short-term fluctuations. It seems to me that the Government have not demonstrated that these two requirements are met by the Bill.

It also seems to me, judging from the role played by the concept of need in the calculation of rate support grant, that the concept of need is not a very precise concept, whereas the Minister's reply appeared to assume that it is a precise concept. Indeed, according to the Department of the Environment in its evidence to the Layfield Committee, Assessments of need often involve subjective judgments; many aspects of need cannot be measured; indicators may sometimes be misleading and an average can conceal wide local variations. Variations in the quantity and quality of the available stock of social and environmental investment pose a particular problem".

Lord Bellwin

Will the noble Lord give way? Would he acknowledge that the Layfield Report came out in 1976 and that that was long before there was such a thing as block grant, which introduced 63 factors which are set out? In those days the criteria involved the multiple regression analysis. What applied in 1976 was certainly not the same as what applies under the block grant today.

Lord Prys-Davies

Of course one must accept that the Layfield Committee Report was in 1976. But the point I was trying to make was that the varying expenditure needs of individual authorities cannot all be identified objectively or measured precisely. It can never be shown that the maximum rates of each authority—to use the words of the Minister—"are completely equitable". Therefore, there is reason to believe that the determination of the maximum grant by the Secretary of State will be no less subjective than it was pre-1976.

Baroness Stedman

I have listened to the reply of the noble Lord the Minister and to other noble Lords who have spoken. I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, has now joined us in the Cambridgeshire lobby to try to get a better deal for our county. But this amendment was not put forward as special pleading for Cambridgeshire. It was put forward in the hope that we could have some sense and some consistency in legislation, so that factors that are disregarded for one part of the rates should continue to be disregarded now that we are setting up this new procedure. That seems to me to be a fairly logical suggestion, even though perhaps I have not used quite the right wording—but that is something of which most of us on the Opposition Benches are guilty when we try to put down rather complicated amendments.

I am not asking for the "disregards" to be widened unreasonably. I am asking only that, on the grounds on which they have been received up to now, they shall at least be taken into account and shall be allowed. Where they are allowed for penalties and targets I am asking that they should be disregarded for those purposes as well. The Minister says that GRE allows for all these things within the financial make-up of a county. But again I must refer back to Cambridgeshire. If we had spent up to our GRE, it would have cost Cambridgeshire another £11 million. It is more than £1 million over target, having cut back as far as it can. There is nothing more to cut and it is now liable for rate capping. While we have these silly things called targets and GREs, which do not bear any real relationships, there is danger for the counties. We cannot accept what the noble Lord's colleague in another place has offered; namely, jam tomorrow—when we have got the rate capping right, we can give something out to the shire counties. That may, or may not, come about.

We shall later come to the question of redetermination and we shall want to know much more about the principles that will be at stake when redetermination is considered. At this stage I should like to withdraw the amendment because it is technically deficient and because of what has been said. Perhaps we could get together between now and the next stage, and perhaps the Minister could offer us some help through his officials, so that we can understand what he is seeking in order to help these counties and he can understand what we are seeking; then perhaps we, or he, can come forward with an amendment at the next stage. But for now I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


Lord Ennals moved Amendment No. 37: Page 3, line 21, after ("expenditure") insert ("excluding any expenditure which is, or is proposed to be, incurred by a designated authority in the making of grants or loans to charities and bodies whose activities are carried on otherwise than for profit, for purposes which, in the opinion of that authority, are calculated to facilitate, or be conducive or incidental to, the discharge of any of that authority's functions").

The noble Lord said: It was helpful of the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, to have touched upon a number of the issues concerning exceptions, which we shall examine. I deeply regretted what he said because he makes my task more difficult, for I aim not only to persuade Members on both sides of the Committee but also to persuade the Minister himself. He has been unbending on many other issues, and I hope that that will not be the case here.

In this amendment we are talking about the role of voluntary organisations in relation to our local authority services. We are talking about voluntary organisations with which Members in all parts of your Lordships' Committee are themselves actually involved. Certainly I am involved in four voluntary organisations in the social services field. I believe that not only is there a feeling among many noble Lords present that the position of the voluntary organisations—and of course there are limitations—should be protected, but that the voluntary organisations should be protected in the interests of the people whom they serve, and that the widespread concern which now exists across the country by service-providing voluntary organisations should be ended, and could be ended if the noble Lord the Minister were to accept this amendment.

What kind of organisations are we talking about in this amendment? We have tried to draft the amendment very carefully. If the noble Lord says that it should be drafted in another way, I should be most interested to hear it. However, the amendment does not aim to exclude grants to all voluntary organisations; it aims to exclude grants to voluntary organisations which are made by local authorities in the discharge of any of the authorities' functions. We are talking about bodies such as the Spastics Society; MENCAP—the Royal Society for Mentally Handicapped Children and Adults—MIND; the National Association for Mental Health; Age Concern; the citizens advice bureaux; the Royal National Institute for the Blind; NACRO; volunteer bureaux of one sort or another; community service volunteers, and family service units. Those are organisations which are carrying out services partly for social service departments and partly in terms of other tasks for which a local authority has a responsibility.

I am certain that many noble Lords in all parts of this Committee have received representations on this issue. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, referred to this matter in his Second Reading speech in a very short reference, which I did not think actually dealt with the problem at all. First, why are voluntary organisations worried about the effects of this Bill, and this part of the Bill, upon them? I want to give a number of reasons. Voluntary organisations fear that those local authorities which face rate limitation and consequent cuts in expenditure—and sometimes very substantial cuts—will give priority to their statutory obligations over their discretionary tasks. I do not want to enter into the argument as to whether or not they should do that. Of course statutory obligations have to be fulfilled. They fear that those local authorities which face rate limitations will give priority to their directly employed staff, to whom they have a legal and a moral obligation. One can understand that point of view.

Further, many of these voluntary organisations deploy individual volunteers, supported and organised by a very small number of paid workers. The citizens advice bureaux is a very good example of that, and so too is Age Concern. Voluntary organisations fear that even relatively small cuts in grants may undermine the necessary support for large numbers of volunteers working in the community among the most needy of the population.

As your Lordships will understand, many projects run by voluntary organisations are funded from a number of different sources, including local authorities. Voluntary organisations fear that, if the local authority contribution is withdrawn or reduced as a result of rate limitation, this will lead to a withdrawal of, or reduction in, other contributions. I have no doubt that that is right. Although, as the Minister has said, rate limitation may apply to a relatively small number of authorities, they are frequently in parts of the country that suffer the highest degree of deprivation. As a result, there is a concentration of services provided by voluntary organisations in those areas, and high-spending authorities often contribute very generously to those services provided for them by voluntary organisations. Perhaps I may give the example of Lambeth, which spends 47 per cent. of its urban programme allocation on voluntary projects, which is more than any other partnership or programme authority.

The final reason is as follows. There is a particular problem in the GLC and the metro-county areas, where voluntary organisations will be encouraged to look to the boroughs or districts for alternative funding after they are abolished, if that threatened legislation goes through another place and your Lordships' House. They will then look to the boroughs, and the boroughs will not be able to meet the needs if the legislation goes through without changes. One could think of many examples, and they are not just in the London area.

The Newcastle-upon-Tyne Social Services Committee currently pays to local voluntary organisations over £1.5 million a year. I have visited Newcastle and seen the way in which those voluntary organisations are magnificently serving the needs of the community more effectively than if the local authority did the work itself. One of the great arguments for voluntary organisations is that they are often able to perform a service in a more human, more understanding and more comprehensive way than can be provided by the statutory local authority itself. Grants from Newcastle include £112,000 to the Newcastle Council of Voluntary Service, with which I have had a great deal of contact in the handling of Vietnamese refugees in that part of the country; £55,000 to the citizens advice bureaux; £79,000 to the Newcastle family service unit; £48,000 to the Council for the Disabled; and £18,000 for workshops for the disabled. One could go through this list in extenso.

I want to say a few additional words about the citizens advice bureaux. I believe that they meet a very real need in our community. As a fairly recent former Member of Parliament, I know the tremendous value of the citizens bureau in Norwich, which is run largely by one full-time person and a whole team of volunteers. If one takes away the one full-time person, what can the volunteers do? The citizens advice bureau performs its task economically and efficiently.

The report of the Lovelock Review, which was published only a few months ago, said: The persistence of relatively high levels of unemployment and tight controls on public expenditure mean that the demand for the service will probably continue to grow". Can anyone believe that that is not true? These demands are already going unmet in some parts of the country, and are being inadequately met in others". The Lovelock Report continues: The main reason for these deficiencies… is the inadequate funding of the service at local level".

I believe that this is an argument of tremendous importance. If one looks further at the situation of the citizens advice bureaux, one sees that in 1983–84 the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux received £5.7 million from the Department of Trade and Industry—and all credit to them—to fund central and area support services for 900 citizens advice bureaux up and down the country. But local authorities are responsible for a great part of the funding of the citizens advice bureaux. If any noble Lords think that, even with the extra million for which the Lovelock Report asks, the citizens advice bureaux would somehow or other be protected, they really do not understand the situation.

One final quotation from the Lovelock Committee's report: We are in no doubt that the level of funding to bureaux needs to be raised. This is the level at which advice is delivered and where extra funds can most usefully be deployed".

The demands upon the bureaux all over the country, particularly in areas of greatest need, are steadily increasing. It would be a tragedy if the advice that they are able to give were in these designated areas to be reduced, because often they are the areas where the need is greatest.

At risk too are many local projects, or organisations, receiving funding from a variety of sources. For example, as was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, the urban programme projects are funded 25 per cent. by local government and 75 per cent. by the Department of the Environment. The DoE contribution, which amounts in England and Wales to £38.4 million, is contingent upon the local authority contribution. If the local authority contribution is not there the grant from the Department of the Environment does not come, and a whole list of vital projects for the elderly, for the mentally frail and mentally ill, and the workshops, falls to the ground.

I would submit in conclusion that this is an issue which strikes at the heart of our British society. Nowhere else in Europe have we a structure of voluntary organisations comparable with that in Britain rendering service, by contract with local authorities, to meet the needs that a local authority realises require to be met. Whether the other forms of expenditure are right or not, I am looking at the moment only at the money that is available to assist voluntary organisations, and if that is going to be limited then the whole philosophy of the Government opposite—and I happen to share the philosophy that we should be promoting in our society voluntary effort, promoting individual voluntary activity as well as voluntary organisations—would be undermined. An essential principle which I know the Government espouse, and which on this occasion I agreewith, would be undermined if the Minster were not to accept the amendment that I beg to move.

Lord Seebohm

The noble Lord the Minister has already made clear his attitude to all these disregards, and the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, has said enough in his speech to melt his stony heart, if that organ were in any way soluble, which I doubt. I should nevertheless like to make one or two comments in supporting this amendment which from my long experience in the voluntary sector I think are pertinent. The local authority which has to make considerable reductions in its expenditure will go for the easy targets, and this is obviously an easy target. It will not cause any unemployment among local authority employees. It seems to me that this is probably a great inducement for this to be one of the first things that they would tackle. On the other hand, it is important to realise that this particular expenditure made to the voluntary bodies is probably the most cost-effective of all expenditure made by local authorities.

It is also important to consider unemployment at the present time. The voluntary bodies are at the moment engaged in making plans—and in some cases have already made plans—to find some useful and important activity for the unemployed. This is something that is going to grow, and it can only be done by more finance. I hope that this will be given some serious consideration, because this is one of the sectors where we can make some impact, not in curing unemployment but in finding some useful and meaningful activity for those who are necessarily and unfortunately unemployed.

Naturally all local authorities, whether they are the good spenders or the bad spenders, will look carefully at the grants they make to voluntary bodies. But what I ask people to think about is that the amount that is given to the local bodies, the voluntary bodies, must be given on a rational assessment and not simply to support expenditure on irrational spending.

4.25 p.m.

Lord Beloff

In rising to oppose this amendment I hope that I shall not be thought to be wanting in sympathy for the various voluntary bodies, particu-larly the charities, to which the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, referred, in the admirable and indeed indispensable work which they are doing in our community. The trouble about this whole group of amendments is that it illustrates what has been a problem in dealing with the finance of local government in this Bill, as no doubt will be the case on other occasions, which is to say the degree of confusion that has arisen in recent years about the respective roles of national and local government.

To some extent it works both ways. Because of the organisation of our affairs national government occasionally impose upon local ratepayers burdens that arise wholly from the need to implement a national policy. The ratepayers of Thames Valley, of whom I am one, clearly feel somewhat aggrieved—and will go on feeling somewhat aggrieved—by the excessive police expenditure necessitated by the activities of the misguided ladies of Greenham Common.

There are other occasions—and I think that Amendment 40A obviously has these in mind—where it is pure chance that expenditure occasioned by a question of national policy happens to fall upon the ratepayers of a single local authority. But it is equally true—and this amendment illustrates this—that local government itself trespasses, in its view of what it may spend money upon, on matters which are wholly, and should be wholly, the province of central government. Otherwise I find it difficult to understand why the wording of this amendment does not confine itself to grants and loans to charities—perhaps that could be spelled out a little as to the kind of charities that would be relevant—but includes bodies whose activities are carried on otherwise than for profit, for purposes which, in the opinion of that authority, are calculated to facilitate, or be conducive or incidental to, the discharge of any of that authority's functions". If one looks at some of the grants to voluntary bodies other than charities, made by the GLC or the Borough of Camden, one finds all sorts of purposes: changes in our defence policy; changes in our relations with the Irish Republic, or its supporters in the North; all sorts of areas which are not, in the eyes of most people, part of the responsibilities or duties of local government. Local government can do very little in the way of direct expenditure to deal with these matters, but it gives grants to bodies which, it argues, facilitate purposes which in its view are in the interests of the people whom it represents.

It is the breadth of this amendment which leads one to the reflection that, even if it were desirable to do something in order to ensure that these great charities can continue to fulfil their functions—and I believe that it may well be desirable—this is certainly not the way to bring that about.

Lord Renton

The noble Lord, Lord Ennals, in eloquently moving this amendment, referred to MENCAP, and I thought that your Lordships' Committee might be interested to know the true position with regard to that body. From the earlier days, when the noble Earl, Lord Longford, was chairman, right up to the time when I became chairman—which I was from 1978 to 1982—we spurned any kind of outside help. We did not receive help from central Government or from local authorities except that, as a charity, we were entitled to rate rebates; and in the context of this amendment your Lordships' Committee should not forget that all charities are entitled to a rebate of their rates. That is a relevant financial factor, and quite a large one, sometimes. Certainly, it would be a very large one in the case of our headquarters, which is in the northern part of the City of London. But when I became chairman in 1978, I found that inflation was our principal enemy, and so for the first time we started to see what help we might obtain from the central Government. At first we got none. The noble Lord, when he was Secretary of State, did not give a penny to MENCAP, but MENCAP last year received over £200,000 from the DHSS and—

Lord Ennals

Will the noble Lord give way? I am most grateful. He said, I think, that at the stage when I was Secretary of State he did not seek a national grant. I am referring in this amendment only to grants by local authorities.

Lord Renton

The noble Lord might be interested to know why we had to seek a national grant. It was because of the inflation that took place during the last part of the 1970s; otherwise, we could not have carried on. One of the reasons I am a keen supporter of this Bill is that I regard it as an essential part of the fight against inflation. Given the choice between the control of inflation and getting some marginal further help through local authorities—if that is the choice, and I am not claiming that it is quite such a stark choice as that, but we must consider that as a possibility—I say that, in order to help us as a major charity, with a turnover of £3 million a year, let us have control of inflation above everything else. Our grant from the DHSS was not the first grant we had had from them since this Government came to power in 1979. The rate rebates must also be considered in terms of the help given by local authorities—and we do not get help at. the centre in that way; our branches get some help, but the pattern varies very much. I say that control of inflation is what matters most.

But that is not the only factor that arises on this amendment. The noble Lord was good about saving time, and I do not want to take up too much time, either, but this amendment goes much further than help to charities. It would give help to bodies, whose activities are carried on otherwise than for profit, for purposes which, in the opinion of that authority, are calculated to facilitate, or be conducive or incidental to, the discharge of any of that authority's functions". We know that there are some Left-wing local authorities which are already giving help to bodies which are non-profit-making and which are presuming to do so in the interests of their ratepayers because in their opinion it is right. The CND is one such body. This amendment, of course, would give carte blanche to any local authority to give money to the CND if, in the opinion of the local authority, that was thought to be right. Then, if a local authority thought that it ought to aid its own political party locally to help in the discharge of that authority's functions, help could be given under this amendment to political parties. I do not wish to stretch the imagination of your Lordships too far, but really this amendment is a very wide one indeed.

Baroness Faithfull

I rise to speak about this amendment and, with your Lordships' permission, I should like also to speak to Amendment No. 38, in order to save the time of the Committee. I agree with the spirit in which the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, has spoken, and also with the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm. But I question the wording of the amendment because for different reasons both the noble Lords, Lord Beloff and Lord Renton, have given different reasons as to how these words could be misinterpreted.

It seems to me one must ask oneself what exactly the words mean. Do they mean that one can give to a wide number of voluntary organisations, or are they trying to cut down the number of organisations? In one way it could be interpreted as meaning that they could give only to the voluntary organisations which are helping the local authority with its statutory duties. I am not quite sure what it is that the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, is trying to interpret. If it is to give to voluntary organisations in order to help the local authorities with their statutory duties, then on that argument there will be a number of voluntary organisations which are giving a great service to the community but which will not come under that umbrella. I mention the Samaritans, for instance.

I think that possibly Amendment No. 38, which tries to spell out exactly for which areas voluntary organisations could receive grants, is not as well worded as it might be. But while I support the spirit of the amendment, I cannot see that without further interpretation, it can be implemented.

I should like to make one or two comments. If some voluntary organisations are going to go out of business—and some may, if they are not helped by the local authority—as the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, has said, we shall lose out in two ways. The local authorities will have to spend extra money doing the work that the voluntary organisations are not doing or, alternatively, we shall find ourselves losing an enormous number of people who do voluntary work, as volunteers, organised perhaps by one paid person. Therefore, as the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, has said, that is cost-effective.

There are many other matters that I could go into. For instance, it does not come within the remit of local authorities' statutory duties to give advice on money, particularly in areas where there is redundancy and in areas where there is the need for money advice centres. That does not come under the statutory duties, but it gives enormous help to the community at very little cost.

I have mentioned the Samaritans, and I should also say that when the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, talks about money from local authorities for the citizens advice bureaux, I am not quite sure whether he is interpreting the clause, on a narrow basis, as fulfilling the statutory duties of the local authority. Under which statutory Act do the citizens advice bureaux fall? I am not quite sure; and therefore I am in some difficulty because, while I want to support Amendment No. 37, I cannot see the interpretation of it being clear to the local authorities one way or the other—either more, or less.

On the other hand, I admit that in Amendment No. 38 we have tried to be specific, and perhaps this has not always been acceptable. However, reverting to Amendment No. 37, while agreeing with the principle I do not agree with the wording of the amendment.

Lord Kilmarnock

The noble Lord, Lord Ennals, wrote to ask me if I would support this amendment. I was abroad at the time and I did not get his letter. I must say that, although I am in complete agreement with the spirit of the amendment (as are many other speakers this afternoon), he has put us in a slight difficulty in the very wide phrase that he uses at the end: the discharge of any of that authority's functions". I am sure that Lord Ennals did not intend this to cover political activities, but as it reads perhaps it could do so. I should have thought that if the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, could give us the assurance that in fact he means the statutory functions and that perhaps this would be the phrase used at a later stage of the Bill, then we should be able to support it. I should have thought also that then the worries of the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, that certain bodies which are not covered by statutory obligations—and I think that she mentioned a number of them—would not be covered by this amendment, would be covered by a separate amendment along the lines of No. 38, to which she referred. Personally, I shall listen with the greatest interest to the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, when he comes to wind up to see whether he can clarify the wording.

4.42 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

I find this to be one of the most dangerous amendments of any that are before us. I find it is very dangerous because it has been presented in such a charming and eloquent way, and yet it completely conceals the hidden pitfalls which really alarm me. I am worried when I read that this will cover any body the activities of which are carried out other than for profit, and when I recall that in the last 10 months the GLC has handed out £47 million mainly to such bodies and that these are not at all the type of voluntary organisations or charities which the noble Lord would have us believe are covered; and that in order to determine that these bodies are in accordance with the discharge of the authority's functions all that is required is a piece of paper handed out with each draft grant that is being offered and that that paper says that it is for the committee to decide if this is in the interests of Londoners. If this is considered by the majority party of that committee to be in the interests of Londoners, nothing else matters and it is accepted by the district auditor and the money is handed out.

We have so often in this Chamber heard of the type of organisation we have in mind: the very many anti-police bodies which have been set up, the extremist political groups, the "gay" groups and the lesbians. I will not go into the names further because we have been through this so many times. Each of those would be covered by this present suggestion. The statement was also made that people like to go to their local boroughs. At the present moment, when you go to your local authority and ask for money they say: "We do not want to lose any element of grant by giving you money, because you may or may not be someone we are entitled to give it to. Take your request to the Greater London Council". There is a management agreement and an agency agreement whereby many of the Labour London boroughs, to save their own skins, refer everything to the Greater London Council, which does the overall handout of money—literally millions of pounds. As I have said, it was £47 million in the last ten months.

The noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, said that a local authority may not choose to fund the voluntary sector. I am absolutely for the voluntary sector, but I think that one argument here is that where the voluntary sector is cost-effective, a reasonable local authority will opt for that funding—and, by that, I mean a voluntary organisation that does not request a 100 per cent. grant. If a local authority feels that, by giving funds to a genuine voluntary organisation, that voluntary organisation is going to multiply those funds and for every £ 1 received from the council they will produce a equal amount, then the output at the end of the work done by that voluntary organisation would be greater than if the work had been done by the council themselves, and I believe they will get the money.

Where it breaks down is where the voluntary organisation is not really voluntary at all. It asks for a 100 per cent. grant and then acts in one way whereas the council might prefer to have acted in another. The GLC, on the other hand, does not approve of true voluntary organisations of the type that I am talking about. Indeed, when there was an application for just £5 per session from the Free Schools Playgroup Association we were told that, as this was the first time, the grant would be made but that never again must anyone apply for so little. In future, grants would be considered only if all the people who worked in the playgroups were being paid full trade union rates. There were no rights for mothers who voluntarily wanted to look after their own children. In future, every grant application of this type must come in at the full rate; but that is a different thing.

I really think that this is quite worrying. I think it is set too widely. Every penny that I have seen thrown away in recent years on the Greater London Council would qualify precisely under this amendment. Indeed, if this amendment were accepted I think that the whole rate-capping procedure would be thwarted and the Bill would be a waste of time.

Lord Prys-Davies

I believe the noble Baroness goes too far in her criticism. I support the general thrust of the argument advanced by my noble friend Lord Ennals, but I am mindful also of the reservations which have been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull. Of course, it is difficult to determine what is the role of central government and what is the role of the local authorities. I would suggest that in a rough and ready sort of way central government have to determine what should be the minimum standards for groups of the kind for which they stand, as it were, in loco parentis. It seems to me that the local authorities who have evinced an interest in such groups are in a very good position to determine whether those standards are being maintained or increased in their localities.

What worries me is that the method of determining the maximum grant embodies the assumption that the present pattern of expenditure is an accurate reflection of need. In the words of a learned commentator—and many Members of your Lordships' Committee will recognise this—this equation applies sophisticated methods to dubious material because it does not take into account the fact that current expenditure patterns may well not reflect the current needs. Therefore, the formula—and the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—may have restrictive implications because it will imply that existing patterns should be maintained and not increased.

To go back to where I started, I would say that in my experience the voluntary bodies are in the best position to demonstrate that existing expenditure is not necessarily related to need. The local authorities should not be penalised under the terms of this Bill, if it is enacted, to the extent that they have given support to voluntary bodies which have flushed out—and it is a case of flushing out—and accommodated local needs. Therefore, I would go along very much with the thrust of the amendment proposed by my noble friend. But I should have thought that in the last two or three lines it ought to be amended to take account of what the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, have said.

Lord Bellwin

May I say straight away—and the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, was fair enough in his presentation of this amendment to make the point himself—that the Government not only have the greatest sympathy with the work of the voluntary sector, but in a practical way have done and are doing much to enable it both to function and to grow in many ways. I am personally very much concerned with the urban programme. I see the programmes of many of the inner city authorities and I have big responsibility for adjudicating upon particular applications, so far as the voluntary sector is concerned.

I can assure the noble Lord—though I know from what he said that he does not need an assurance—and the Committee that we take a very relaxed view of this. There are those who would accuse us of taking too relaxed a view about it. There are many projects which some feel should not be supported. We try to be careful, because we have an obligation. Nevertheless, we really are willing to be helpful wherever we can in these areas. I ask your Lordships to remember that it is quite true that those are areas with the greatest needs in the general thrust of things and that we really do support.

The noble Lord was pushing against an open door when he talked about the merits of the organisations to which he referred, although I have to say that my noble friend Lady Gardner touched upon many others with which I would certainly not agree; and I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, might not agree about some of those either. But certainly the role played by, and the cost-effectiveness of, the voluntary sector is beyond doubt. To me, the best of all—and the citizens advice bureaux come into this category—are where you bring out, for the involvement of a number of paid staff, those who are genuine volunteers in the sense that they are not paid. When you do that, you get the best of all that the voluntary sector does. So there is no argument as to that.

But there are two main reasons why I cannot accept the amendment. First, I do not believe that it could achieve the purpose which it seeks to achieve, as I explained when we discussed the previous group of amendments. If, in setting a rate or precept maximum, my right honourable friend were to have regard to the expenditure on grants and loans to voluntary bodies, the expenditure level set under Clause 3 would be lower and, as a direct consequence, the rate maximum under Clause 4 would also be lower, as would the rate income to the authority. In that sense, the amendment would make matters worse rather than better.

But the second and more fundamental point is the one that I touched on earlier. I say again that it is no part of this legislation in any way to interfere with the priorities of local authorities in deciding how to spend the money available to them. I have to say that an authority—and I am picking up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm—which wished to meet its rate maximum by cutting expenditure on support to voluntary bodies, and to those who are often providing services to the most vulnerable in our community, would be free to do so under this Bill. But it is free now to do exactly that, if it so wishes. The argument goes: yes, but because they will have a limitation on the totality of their spending, as the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, said, they will be inclined to go for what he called the easy target. Yes, that is a possibility and I shall not say other than that.

But I feel that we have to take this into consideration and, again, I come back to the earlier point. Who are we talking about? We are talking about the authorities who are, by definition, those who are spending the most. I referred earlier to their need to spend and why they receive the GREA, which gives them extra grant for that purpose. We should look carefully at these 12 or 20 authorities out of the 430-odd and see what they spend money on. My noble friend Lady Gardner touched on this and she was right, because you cannot say that all the purposes for which they give money are really deserving.

It is a matter of priority. What kind of priority is it, for instance, that says that you spend £3 million, £4 million or £5 million, as one authority is doing right now, on a political campaign? There are millions of pounds that could go to voluntary bodies—never mind the £47 million about which my noble friend reminded us. Some of those will be worthy and some will not. You cannot get away from the fact that millions of pounds are being spent on campaigning and on political broadsheets. But I do not want to base my whole case on that, because my case is much stronger than that.

Also, I am convinced that under rate limitation we shall see an awakening to reality. Some authorities are already doing that and many are saying "All right, rather than that we should have to forgo some things, let us look at what it is costing us to provide services. Why is so-and-so, 40 or 50 miles away, able to do this better and provide the same service at less cost?" That is the thrust of what we are seeking to do in this Bill.

My noble friend referred to his support for this Bill, because of its effect on inflation. That is part of the argument but it is not the whole thing. The Bill is about rates, about enabling the Government to keep their expenditure within overall limits which they feel the country can afford, and about inflation. But it is also about getting some of this handful of authorities to face the reality of what they spend money on. It will be for them to decide, in the end, whether to forgo some of the support which they give to certain voluntary bodies. 1 make no secret of that. But my view is that most of them, when it comes to this sector of the community, are not irresponsible though they are in the other things they do, and they will awaken to that fact.

The noble Lord, Lord Ennals, made my case very well when he talked about Lambeth's spending of 47 per cent. of its urban programme on voluntary bodies. The Government have to approve every item of that expenditure, so the Government are not against the spending of that particular authority on voluntary bodies. That shows we are concerned. The noble Lord does not have to say how worthy they are. We are with him on this and there is no difference, so far as that goes. The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, said that the formula may have restrictions. I would only say to him that, at the end of the day, the local authority will itself decide, as it decides now. There is nothing new in that. All that will be new is that those few authorities will have a ceiling on the totality of their spending—

Lord Prys-Davies

If the words in line 5 of this amendment, "in the opinion of that authority", are deleted, is there not a great deal of common ground between the Minister and my noble friend Lord Ennals?

Lord Bellwin

If you narrow it down to that, yes, to a point. But not the whole thing. I would then have to fall back on my anxiety about the total effectiveness of the legislation. I have the concern, but I do not have the same fear as to what will be the impact. I do not think that I want to say anything else. There is not a great deal between us, certainly on what we all want to see. There is just a concern as to what will be the effect of the legislation. I do not have the concern, for the reasons I have given.

I shall not bore the Committee by going over it all again. There is great opportunity here for local authorities. I think that reality will make them face up to it and they will go on supporting the really worthwhile projects. There are some projects which should not be supported under the heading of the voluntary sector. Certainly, the citizens advice bureaux, which get so much money from the centres, have no need to worry. They get lots of help through the urban programmes. So I do not have the fear of the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, and that is why I cannot accept the amendment.

Lord Howie of Troon

Before the Minister sits down, may I say that I have great sympathy with what he has said. In the course of his reply he deplored certain expenditure upon what he called a political campaign. The Minister did not say what that campaign was, but it is quite possible that he was referring to the advertising campaign by the Greater London Council which is intended to continue that council's existence. We may or we may not approve entirely of the Greater London Council. We may all have doubts about it. But surely that would be a justifiable expense. If a great local authority is under open threat from the Government, it must be entitled to incur political expenditure of that kind. It is not the kind of political expenditure to which the noble Lord, Lord Renton, referred earlier. If that is the kind of expenditure which the Minister meant, surely it is justifiable. If it was indeed what he meant, surely he was hitting a little below the belt by referring to it.

Lord Bellwin

I do not usually hit below the belt, but I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, that that is part of it, because at the end of the day one has to ask what is reasonable. Everything has to be reasonable. How many millions of pounds of ratepayers' money is it reasonable to spend on this campaign? Not £10, £20, £30, £40 £100, £200, £300 or £400 are being spent upon this campaign, but millions of pounds. Everything has to be reasonable. I do not happen to consider that that is reasonable, but that is only part of the general campaign to which I have referred.

Lord Howie of Troon

The Minister and I often agree about what is reasonable. He must agree with me that to spend £1 million or £2 million against the threat of death must be, if not reasonable, not totally unreasonable.

Lord Ennals

I do not want to become involved in the argument about whether the GLC should spend money on arguing that it should be allowed to continue in existence. I want to welcome some of the points which have been made by the Minister. He said that there is not a great deal of difference between us and he paid tribute to the voluntary organisations. However, the Minister was a little awry when he implied that some of these authorities would be able, if their rates were cut, as has been suggested, to sustain the work of the voluntary organisations at a local level. In my view, they will be unable to afford to do so.

However the most fundamental issue which has been raised is absolutely proper: what kind of organisations are we referring to? I said that this was a carefully drafted amendment and I hope that we shall be able to improve it. I am not including grants paid by voluntary organisations to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament or to the Greenham Common ladies. I may sympathise with them but that is not what local authorities are there for. I cannot conceive, under the terms of an amendment which I should like this Committee to agree to, that we should approve of grants for political parties for political purposes.

I am concerned with the service providers. Your Lordships must accept the sincerity with which I listed the kind of organisations that I was thinking about. I am sure that the noble Lord would not seek to imply that I was listing those organisations which would arouse sympathy. What I meant were the nasty little grants which a number of noble Lords, and the press, have played up. I should not want my amendment to move in that direction. As I have already said, I am concerned with the service providers.

I am sure that at a later stage in the consideration of the Bill we could provide a better definition. It may be, to test my contention, that it should include those organisations which are affiliated to the National Council of Voluntary Organisations, or those which are affiliated to local councils of social service or volunteer bureaux. Those are the bodies which this debate is about. As the noble Lord the Minister has said that there is not much between us, I hope that he will say to us now that he will come back, with all the drafting skills which I know he has behind him, with an amendment to deal with the issues which I have raised and which the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, and the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, have raised. I hope that the Minister will say, "Yes". If he says, "No", then it would be right to test the temperature of your Lordships' Committee on the question and the principle which I have presented—that it is the service-providing organisations with which I am dealing.

I can give an assurance, if the Minister does not give one, that at Report stage—with, I hope, his collaboration—it will be possible to bring back an amendment which will make it absolutely clear what it is that we are talking about. The task of this place as a legislative assembly is to. get the legislation right. If we know what we want to do and if we know what we wish to exclude, then it is the task of your Lordships—of those who sit on both sides of the House and of those who sit on the Cross-Benches—to find the right wording. I hope that the Minister will agree to come forward with an amendment. If he does not, I shall press this amendment to a Division, with the absolute commitment that we will come back at Report with something which has been carefully negotiated that will include what we want to include but will exclude what we do not want to include.

Lord Bellwin

The noble Lord speaks very fairly, but he misses the one difference between us. I said that we were close to one another in what we are seeking to achieve. In that we are not only close; we are at one. But the basic problem with an amendment of this kind, quite apart from the problems associated with its wording, is that it misses the underlying point which the Government are making. The Government have said expressly again and again that they cannot tell local authorities what they should spend their money on. The decision must be theirs. The posters about taking decisions away from local authorities and giving them to Whitehall, and all the rest of that nonsense, are dreadful. The fact is that local authorities must have the power to decide what they should spend their money on. We cannot direct them to spend it in a way they do not choose. That is the nub of the matter.

5.7 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 37) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 92; Not-Contents, 125.

Airedale, L. Kilmarnock, L.
Amherst, E. Leatherland, L.
Ardwick, L. Listowel, E.
Attlee, E. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Aylestone, L. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.
Banks, L. Longford, E.
Barnett, L. Lovell-Davis, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Mayhew, L.
Birk, B. Molloy, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Nicol, B.
Bottomely, L. Ogmore, L.
Brockway, L. Oram, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Phillips, B.
Caradon, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. [Teller]
Collison, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Cooper of Stockton Heath, L. Robson of Kiddington, B.
Darcy (de Knayth), B. Rochester, L.
Darling of Hillsborough, L. Ross of Marnock, L.
David, B. [Teller] Sainsbury, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Seear, B.
Denington, B. Seebohm, L.
Diamond, L. Sefton of Garston, L.
Ennals, L. Serota, B.
Evans of Claughton, L. Shackleton, L.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Shepherd, L.
Ezra, L. Simon, V.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Stallard, L.
Fulton, L. Stedman, B.
Gaitskell, B. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Gallacher, L. Stone, L.
Gladwyn, L. Strabolgi, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Grey, E. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Hale, L. Tordoff, L.
Hampton, L. Underhill, L.
Hanworth, V. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Hatch of Lusby, L. Whaddon, L.
Hooson, L. White, B.
Howie of Troon, L. Wilson of Rievaulx, L.
Hughes, L. Winchilsea and Nottingham,
Irving of Dartford, L. E.
Jacques, L. Winterbottom, L.
John-Mackie, L. Wootton of Abinger, B.
Kennet, L. Young of Darlington, L.
Airey of Abingdon, B. McFadzean, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Allerton, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Alport, L. Mancroft, L.
Ampthill, L. Margadale, L.
Auckland, L. Marley, L.
Avon, E. Marsh, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Bellwin, L. Maude of Stratford-upon-
Beloff, L. Avon, L.
Belstead, L. Melville, V.
Bessborough, E. Merrivale, L.
Booth by, L. Mersey, V.
Broadbridge, L. Molson, L.
Brookes, L. Monk Bretton, L.
Broxboume, L. Monson, L.
Bruce-Gardyne, L. Mottistone, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Mountevans, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Chelwood, L. Norfolk, D.
Cockfield, L. Northchurch, B.
Coleraine, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Cottesloe, L. Onslow, E.
Cox, B. Orkney, E.
Craigavon, V. Orr-Ewing, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Pender, L.
Daventry, V. Perth, E.
Davidson, V. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
De Freyne, L. Plummer of St Marylebone, L.
De La Warr, E. Porritt, L.
Denham, L. [Teller] Rankeillour, L.
Digby, L. Renton, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Ridley, V.
Ebbisham, L. Rochdale, V.
Ellenborough, L. Rodney, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Romney, E.
Elton, L. St. Davids, V.
Ferrier, L. Sandford, L.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Gainford, L. Soames, L.
Gainsborough, E. Somers, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Spens, L.
Geddes, L. Stamp, L.
Gibson-Watt, L. Strathalmond, L.
Glenarthur, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal,
Glenkinglas, L. L.
Grantchester, L. Strathspey, L.
Gray of Contin, L. Swinton, E. [Teller]
Gridley, L. Terrington, L.
Hailsham of Saint Teynham, L.
Marylebone, L. Thorneycroft, L.
Harmar-Nichols, L. Townshend, M.
Hood, V. Tranmire, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Trefgarne, L.
Kaberry of Adel, L Trenchard, V.
Kinloss, Ly. Trumpington, B.
Lane-Fox, B. Vaizey, L.
Lloyd of Hampstead, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Long, V. Vickers, B.
Loudoun, C. Waldegrave, E.
Lucas of Chilworth, L. Ward of Witley, V.
Lyell, L. Westbury, L.
McAlpine of Moffat, L. Whitelaw, V.
McAlpine of West Green, L. Young, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

5.16 p.m.

Baroness Faithfull moved Amendment No. 38: Page 3, line 22 at end insert— ("( ) In prescribing a maximum the Secretary of State shall exclude from consideration expenditure incurred on information and advice services, the physically and mentally handicapped, family services, children, the elderly, housing and the homeless and ethnic minorities.")

The noble Baroness said: We have just had a long debate on the previous amendment and therefore I will not keep noble Lords very long.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

Hear hear!

Baroness Faithfull

Thank you for that support—I hope that you will support me in the rest of it! I must just take up two points which were made by my noble friend the Minister. The first concerns the fact that the local authorities must decide. As an ex-local government officer, I of course support what he says; but I am bound to comment to the Committee that I have had personal experience of local authorities who take the stance that there should not be a voluntary sector and that welfare services should be run entirely by the welfare state. They are therefore hoping to get rid of the voluntary organisations in their areas. I very much fear that this is something that might happen. When my noble friend the Minister says that local authorities are free to decide, I have to draw to the attention of your Lordships' Committee the possibility that local authorities could decide against the voluntary sector on political grounds.

The second point concerns the question of expenditure. I am bound to say that there are some things done in partnership between local authorities and voluntary organisations. That partnership is productive not only of money but also in terms of relationships and community responsibilities. If the local authorities find that they are short of money and may have to ask staff to declare themselves redundant it is possible and likely—and in fact very understandable—that the local authorities will feel they must support their own staff and not the voluntary sector. If the work has to be done, they will give that work to local authority officials and not to voluntary organisations.

I must say also, again, that the voluntary sector gives much more than money. It gives support and it gives a sense of responsibility. I may say also that the voluntary sector innovates. Often, under the statutory laws of a local authority there is no place for innovation, whereas the voluntary sector can carry out innovation which later the local authority may take over. I very much fear that unless we heartily and strongly support the voluntary sector, we shall lose that area of innovation which we have previously had. Therefore, I beg to move.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

Perhaps I may add a few words because I feel strongly on this issue and I did not have the opportunity to speak in the last debate. There is no doubt at all that the contribution which the voluntary organisations make to local authority work cannot be overestimated. I spent 29 years of my life in local government and I know how much help one receives from voluntary organisations. It is a way of bringing the community into the work which is going on. It is invaluable not only in monetary terms and it does not cost anything like the amount that it costs to do everything using paid officials. I am not suggesting that there should not be paid officials, but obviously one can have tremendous assistance from voluntary organisations in all the areas which my noble friend Lady Faithfull has outlined.

I listened with great interest to what the Minister said. Of course, he is right. We certainly do not want to dictate to local authorities. But if there is real support for the voluntary organisations from the department that, at least, will help to get the support which we want for them. I remember perfectly well, as my noble friend Lady Faithfull also mentioned, when local government did not support voluntary organisations. I can remember long before the war touring the country, when running the youth clubs, and getting local authorities to support the youth club movement, which was then only in its infancy, so to speak. It was extremely hard work and jolly difficult to do. But we got that help and support, and it would be a thousand pities if, now that this reorganisation is taking place, the Government do not realise that it is essential that they should support all that has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, and by my noble friend Lady Faithful on this matter. It is not a party political point. It is vital to the whole community spirit and to community work in this country. I very much hope that the Minister will think again and not leave what happens merely to chance.

Lord Marsh

I hesitate to interrupt the coming together, as it were, of all sides of the Committee on this amendment, but I find the amendment very easy to oppose, and to oppose totally. On originally reading the amendment I felt that it was easy to draw attention to the fact that, as drafted—and we well understand the problems a party in opposition has in drafting an amendment—at first sight it seemed to enable some of the bad practices, which have been castigated by all sides, to continue; for example, to exclude expenditure on information and advice services. A great deal of money is wasted on what are called information and advice services, which are frequently party political broadsheets produced at the taxpayers' expense. That would not be so bad if it was confined to the taxpayers who support the party concerned. The noble Lord, Lord Ennals, clarified the argument. It is not about that kind of expenditure at all. Therefore, I make no attempt to argue about the drafting of the amendment.

The debate we have heard is worrying in its implications because it goes right to the root of the whole problem which causes this Bill to be before us this evening; that is, the fact that, and the extent to which, local authority expenditure has become virtually uncontrolled and uncontrollable. The debate is about trying to get some kind of control. Noble Lords on both sides have drawn attention to the fact that some of these monies go to very worthy causes. As the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, said, we are concerned with these causes—we all know what they are—however one defines the amendment; they are the very good causes.

The argument is based on a frightening fallacy in modern society. It is based on the belief that everything that is desirable is affordable. Oh that it were so! Every noble Lord in this Committee could spend hundreds of millions of pounds on totally worthwhile good causes. Like many other noble Lords, currently I chair a charity which is seeking to raise £500,000 which is frequently described as "peanuts" in modern parlance. It is required to provide a blood pathology research unit at King's College Hospital because it cannot otherwise be afforded. We could spend money on the sick and the mentally handicapped and not a person in this Committee would oppose it. But why is that money not already being spent by the state in many cases? It is not being spent because, as every former Minister in this Committee knows, one sits around the Cabinet table agonising precisely because, in the real world, one has to deprive worthy and good causes of money.

We could all spend more money on investment in industry and on a whole range of things, but I shall not detain your Lordships Committee. I simply repeat my strong belief that it is extraordinarily dangerous and, if I may say so, virtually naive to believe that because something is desirable and defensible, it is necessarily affordable. The evidence in this country, with its social services declining in many areas, is that it has not been able to afford to maintain the standards which it ought to be able to afford. As the noble Lord, Lord Renton, said earlier, that has a great deal more to do with inflation than with this Bill.

Lord Broxbourne

I am glad for two reasons that I gave way to the noble Lord, Lord Marsh. First, he made such an interesting contribution and, secondly, as he may recall when we first met in 1951 he was trying to prevent my return to the House of Commons. Having frustrated him in that no doubt laudable undertaking, I can, at any rate, make this small recompense today.

I am not proposing to follow him on the wider theme of the dichotomy between the affordable and the desirable. It is obviously an important theme, which has been referred to from time to time in the debates on this Bill and, no doubt, will be again. I want to make only one short point, and the Committee will no doubt be relieved to know that I can make it in less technical terms than those in which I was constrained to make my earlier contribution on Amendment No. 36. Indeed, it is not technical at all and is, briefly, this. I can see, and the Committee can see, looking at this amendment, the enormous width of its range and its comprehensiveness. I can well envisage that the noble Lord the Minister in charge of the Bill might say that to adopt this amendment and to exclude this large range of services would place us in danger of putting a coach and horses through its objective, or making the maximum procedure prescribed by this clause something of a brutum fulmen.

Therefore, I respectfully ask him and the Committee to consider whether it is possible to select any particular item, or items, from this long catalogue as being especially deserving of consideration and which would not perhaps meet the objections which the adoption of the amendment would as a whole. The one which I particularly commend to him and to the Committee is that regarding the physically and mentally handicapped, which is included in this catalogue of services from which it is sought to exclude expenditure.

I do so for a number of reasons. My noble friend the Minister correctly referred twice, in his speech on Amendment No. 36, to what he called the most vulnerable people in our society; the most vulnerable sections of the community. I think there can be little doubt that among the various sections which may be considered vulnerable none is more vulnerable than the physically and mentally handicapped. So, if only one of these categories can be included, adopting the criteria of my noble friend, this category is facile princeps in any selection for priority treatment. I have some interest in the matter, in particular in the mentally handicapped, as has my noble friend Lord Renton, and I should say the noble Earl, Lord Longford. I am, and for a long time have been, associated with the Royal Society for Mentally Handicapped Children and Adults (as it now is) though of course not with the distinction with which they are associated with it. My association with that Society and this subject started many years ago when I had the opportunity and the privilege of presenting to the House of Commons, and steering through Parliament to the statute book, what is now the Mental Health Act of 1959. There is now no doubt as my noble friend, Lord Renton, has testified in the debate on the earlier amendment as to the good work done in this regard by the Royal Society—MENCAP, as it is known for short—and other bodies.

It may be said that it is not appropriate to single out one category. I do so only in deference to the clear arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, that obviously it would be desirable to include them all; but if it is not affordable—and I would think it is not affordable to include them all without doing grave prejudice to the object which Ministers have in mind in prescribing a maximum under this clause—then this would be the most suitable one for seeking to exclude. It could not afford a precedent. It is easily identifiable. They are the most vulnerable section of the community, and in effect, they are sui generis, and considerations apply to them which would not apply to the others.

I should not like it to be thought that I am at all unsympathetic to these other categories. For example, as I said in my maiden speech in the House, I have a lifelong interest—and indeed a hereditary interest—in housing; and so far as the elderly are concerned I am poignantly reminded from day to day of my increasing and personal interest in this subject. But I submit that the handicapped stand in a special category, and I would respectfully invite my noble friend to give consideration between now and the Report stage whether he can have discussions with those who are promoting this amendment to see if that would be a realistic, narrower base on which to put it forward to the House at Report stage.

5.32 p.m.

Lord Kilmarnock

The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, was complaining in his speech on Amendment No. 36 about all these attempts to exclude certain services. He should not be surprised that these claims are put forward, for in not permitting any statutory exclusions in this Bill the Government are putting into reverse their stated policy on care in the community, particularly in relation to the elderly and the mentally infirm and handicapped, to whom my noble Lord, Lord Broxbourne has referred. For this policy to work the Government need the local authorities' co-operation, and the local authorities also need the co-operation of those services which are provided by voluntary bodies. Whether now or at a later stage,—probably it will be at a later stage—we shall have to get something into this Bill along those lines.

There is only one specific point that I want to make, I raised it at Second Reading. It is the question of the probation service. I have been particularly asked by my noble friend, Lord Hunt, who is not able to be in the Committee this afternoon, to express the following twofold concern. The first is the possible effect of rate capping on local authorities' financial provision for their area probation services, which are funded by the Home Office at the rate of 80 per cent. and 20 per cent. by the local authority.

The second area of concern is that these cutbacks are likely to lead to a restriction in voluntary initiatives in this particular sphere such as community-based schemes involving young offenders and other juveniles who are at risk of getting into trouble.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has written to me as follows: As chairman of the Government-financed intermediate treatment fund, I am greatly concerned lest its primary purpose, which is to encourage voluntary initiatives and support by volunteers for the statutory services dealing with deliquency and juvenile crime, may be thwarted by the lack of essential statutory financial support. Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, was kind enough to write to me on this point in response to my remarks at Second reading. If I may, I will quote what he says: Finally, you referred in the debate to the position of the probation service and the difficulty you believe they will experience in getting funding from rate-capped authorities for special projects. Even at a time when it is determined to contain public expenditure, the Government have shown firm evidence of their support for the Probation Service. That support continues. This is particularly true in the case of the development of non-custodial measures to deal with crime. Naturally, in operating selective rate limitation, we will be in the closest touch with the Home Office and the other departments of State responsible for the services financed by local authorities. The same would be true, if, as we hope will never happen, we were obliged to seek Parliament's approval to the implementation of Part II of the Bill. The whole of Lord Bellwin's letter is written in the same terms of sweet reason, but I am afraid that the assurances that he gives are not adequate for the purposes that we seek to achieve, and the things that we seek to get protected under this Bill. So this is certainly a point that we shall come back to at a later stage of the Bill.

Viscount Ridley

I think we must all sympathise very deeply with the aims of the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, in trying to create what might be called a herd of sacred cows in the field of social services. We are all deeply involved in this one way or another, and we all support what she is trying to do. I think it could be very counter-productive to go ahead with this line. It means they will be exempt. That means the pressure of rate capping when it may come will fall on all the other services, and there will be resentment in other parts of the community. Even my noble friend Lord Broxbourne's suggestion that the mentally and physically handicapped should be exempt, whereas all the rest in the list should not be exempt, could create a possible dissention between the various persons affected and could be counter-productive to the aims. I hope very much that the amendment can be at least more carefully drawn if it does have to come back.

The Earl of Onslow

I sincerely hope my noble friend will resist this.

Noble Lords


Baroness Serota

The noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, has spoken the first words during our discussion on this Bill that I have disagreed with. So far, I had found myself in total agreement with all that he said. As one of those who put their name to this amendment I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, with her great record in both statutory and voluntary social services, will agree with me that this amendment does not seek to give special privilege to the services that are named in the amendment. On the contrary, I think that our anxiety stems, and those of the voluntary organisation stem, from the need to give special help to all those in the community who need the help of these particular services. Certainly, in my experience in both the statutory and the voluntary sector, that has never been resented by the other services in local government.

The difficulty that I think all of us are in in accepting the arguments which the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, attempted to put forward, both at the winding-up of the Second Reading debate and again here on the previous amendment, No. 37, was that rate limitation should not affect what he, I believe, called a sensible level of spending on voluntary organisations. But the issues here are what is sensible and who is to decide. All my life in local government I have been brought up to believe that members were elected to exercise their value judgments and were accountable to the electorate for those value judgments.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

Not any more.

Baroness Serota

But if the Government are determined—and so it seems through the passage of this Bill—to limit the overall amount that local authorities spend, as every housewife knows, if you bake a smaller cake the slices will be smaller and you may not be able to give one to everybody. That is why I fear for the future of the voluntary organisations in local areas.

As many noble Lords have already said today, local authorities are bound to have regard to their statutory duties. When I was the Commissioner for Local Administration I looked at allegations of maladministration. I should have found a prima facie case of maladministration if a local authority had failed to fulfil a statutory duty. That is the difficulty.

If the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, is right, perhaps he can tell me why the voluntary organisations are so concerned that the services they give to what we all agree are the most vulnerable groups in the community will be at risk in the areas subject to rate limitation. That is the question he has not answered today. I support this amendment, with all the inadequancies of its wording and all the difficulties that noble Lords on all sides of the Committee have pointed out. I support it in principle. When the noble Lord comes to reply to it, I hope he will answer that argument, because it is the one that concerns many hundreds of people up and down the country and not merely in the inner city areas.

The Earl of Onslow

If this amendment is passed, it will basically drive a coach and horses through the whole Bill. I do not think that the Government are saying that local authorities may not spend money on voluntary services. Of course they are not. As I understand it, they are saying that there is only a finite pot of money that can be found, as the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, said. We cannot then go on to exclude housing, which is an enormous expenditure, and services for the physically and mentally handicapped. If those items are excluded from the limits, we might as well all pack up, send the Bill back and not have this legislation at all. It would make the Bill valueless. We cannot have exceptions to run-of-the-mill expenditure, even for the mentally and physically handicapped. In run-of-the-mill expenditure we have to make value judgments the whole time—difficult and harsh value judgments. But perhaps special expenditure, such as that during the miners' strike, is different. That is special and extra expenditure produced by something totally outside the control of local authorities.

The Government are not being uncaring. They have spent more money on the health services. Those budgets are tuned as finely as they possibly can be. All that one is asking is that local authorities take the same—and very good—care of their expenditure and do not deliberately go outside it to cause embarrassment to central government.

The amendment mentions ethnic minorities. We have heard the remarks about gay lesbian leprechauns, or whatever group Ken Livingstone has been giving money to. That is the sort of expenditure that will be covered by this amendment, and that certainly should not be allowed. I sincerly hope that my noble friend will resist the amendment.

Lord Wells-Pestell

I am stirred into action by the vehemence of the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, when he talked about the information that the various organisations give. We have known each other for a good many years, and I hope that he will not take this amiss. But it suggests that he really does not know what is going on in the community. If he did, he would not have made that statement that he made.

There is probably only one other person in your Lordships' House—though I may be wrong about this—who has served for 40 years as a professional, fully trained social worker in various fields. I am referring to the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull. I think that we both spent about 40 years as professionally trained social workers in different fields of social work, and then on retirement gave a good deal of time to voluntary social work.

If people only knew how many in the community were ill-informed, uninformed and misinformed to the extent that at present I do not think that any benefit is being taken up 100 per cent! Thousands of people are not aware that they are entitled to them. We have to rely upon the social services advice centres to tell people that they should be able to get so and so. Had it not been for the advice centres and the voluntary organisations spending a considerable sum every year setting out the benefits that people are entitled to over a very wide field, there would be a vast army of men and women today who were financially worse off.

Lord Marsh

I totally take the point that the noble Lord makes about the valuable work done by a lot of the advice bureaux, but will he address himself to the point that I was trying to make? It was not opposed to those services, but how can one justify a situation where there are cut-backs in national expenditure on the social services but at the same time unlimited social expenditure through local authorities? That seems a palpable absurdity.

Lord Wells-Pestell

Perhaps the short answer is that it is unfortunate that the noble Lord dealt with and referred to the written and printed information that certain groups give to people in the community. We should be very worried about the ordinary person who is living below the poverty line and, by virtue of the fact that he or she does not know what he or she is entitled to, is not getting the benefits. The noble Lord included that section and the leaflets and information made available by advice services and other organisations. I feel that we have to have a kind of priority. I ask the Minister to acknowledge that and not give us, so to speak, a few well chosen words, paying lip service and saying, "We still cannot do it". If he does not mind my saying so, there are certain things which must take priority. Informing the people in the community who are in need is much much more important than are perhaps some other forms of social service.

Baroness Phillips

I should like to support the amendment. I recognise that it is not perhaps as explicit as it should be. The noble Baroness who introduced it made the point that she was speaking particularly of the voluntary services. I, too, have had the privilege of being a worker in the voluntary services for a large part of my life. The important factor which we will miss, as the noble Baroness said, is that you can have pioneer services in the voluntary sector which you would never have in the state sector. We should not have had pre-school playgroups had the voluntary sector not first gone into that. Many of us tried for years to get the state to move on that and it did not do so. That is to name but one aspect.

If the voluntary services are not allowed to carry out their role because they do not have the backing, more people will be thrust on the statutory services. As the noble Baroness said, the voluntary services are always cheaper. None of them is asking for the whole grant. I do not know of any voluntary movement that gets all its money either from local government or from the state. They merely want the basic grant which will give them the feeling of stability that they can go on to do other work.

Like my noble friend, I must say I was shocked by the utterances of the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, who said that what is desirable is not always affordable. What kind of society are we living in? If we are going to use that kind of measuring stick, some of us would suggest that perhaps we are affording too great a sum in armaments, and is that desirable? If you are really going to widen the argument that far, I would say that of course the test of a Christian civilised society is the way they care for the groups who are vulnerable in this society. It would be quite shameful if, as a result of the rate capping, any of these groups lost out.

5.50 p.m.

Lord Stallard

I will not detain the Committee for too long but I move to support my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell when, in reply to Lord Marsh, he mentions information and advice. While the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, was speaking, I was thinking about the excellent work carried on by an organisation like Age Concern, who have produced a first-class pamphlet of information that lists all the available services, or most of them, to pensioners. I was thinking of the excellent publication by the National Federation of Old-Aged Pensioners, which does something similar but goes even further; the specialist booklets and leaflets published by the organisations for the deaf, for the blind, for epileptics, and a whole long list that would take another half an hour to mention, who are not covered by anybody else other than the voluntary organisations.

I know exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, was hinting at; I know what he was getting at. He has the whole thing totally out of perspective when he is aiming at the one or two local newspapers which are pushed through the door free. This is probably his major criticism. But to lump all these other excellent publications, advice services and information services into the same pot is not doing justice to the amendment or to the mover, the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull.

As I have said, I am only too well aware, as a member of a number of voluntary organisations —including those covering mental health, the disabled, and many others—of the excellent work that is done. I have at this moment a Question down on the Order Paper drawing attention to the lack of information being put out by the Government on certain services for pensioners. I know that some of the information is given by voluntary organisations. I am asking for the Government to do it. They are saying, "We have not got the money; Let voluntary organisations do it". Now we are saying, "Do not let the voluntary organisations do it because we are not going to allow them any money to do it with". So I say the opposition to this amendment is really barking up the wrong tree. They are getting the whole issue totally out of perspective in chasing these hares that have been started by a number of people.

I therefore hope that the amendment will be accepted, not only because of the voluntary organisations that I have mentioned. I could also mention CHAR. The amendment mentions housing and the homeless. God knows! there is a job to be done among the homeless. I could put in special pleading—as the noble Lord, Lord Broxbourne, did—for the mentally handicapped. I could put another specially pleaded case for the homeless because we all know the terrible problems that exist among the homeless, particularly in the inner city conurbations. We have spoken about that many, many times in both Houses. All governments have pledged their sympathy and support and have said that local authorities ought to be spending more money in this direction. They have no said, "We will give them more money". They have said, "We support it and they ought to be spending it". Now it would seem that the opponents of this amendment do not think we ought to be spending even that or doing that kind of service.

I say this is a particularly reasonable amendment for those of us who have continued to support the voluntary organisations. I hope that the Minister will take very much the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, made in her opening remarks: that this may well strengthen those people who have always opposed the voluntary movement. There are many on both sides of the Chamber who think, for a number of reasons, that voluntary organisations ought not to exist at all. The kind of opposition that we have heard today strengthens those people in their views, and I hope the Minister will not listen to it.

Lord Pitt of Hampstead

May I just ask the Minister whether he has had any representations from the Commission for Racial Equality? As I listened to this debate my mind went back to the days when we were establishing the community relations councils, and the Committee will know I had a major hand in that. We had a lot of trouble getting the local authorities to play their part, and to make the contributions that they should make. In fact to this day, the contribution varies considerably: from my borough of Camden—which is the one being criticised so regularly—which makes a good contribution regularly, to boroughs that make no contribution at all and some that give as little as £ 100 a year.

The reason for making this point is this. If we pass an amendment like this, we will be able to encourage the boroughs that are recalcitrant to do what they ought to be doing in this field. On the other hand, if we have rejected an amendment like this, I have no doubt that some of the boroughs that are at the moment borderline, will use it as an excuse for not making a contribution.

Lord Prys-Davies

May I make a very quick point? I am sure that the Minister wants to get on with the proceedings. There is one point which I think ought to be made. If the Minister feels that he is unable to accept this amendment, I would invite him, once again, to consider those client groups which are listed in this amendment to which the state stands in loco parentis. They are minority groups. Often their requirements are overlooked by the majority on the local authorities. I would have thought that because of their weakness, the state has a special responsibility for the mentally handicapped, for the mentally ill—possibly for the elderly—and the state ought to ensure that their minimum requirements are observed. The Minister may shake his head, but they have no power to fight for themselves and the legislator therefore has a duty to ensure that their minimum standards are observed.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My contribution will be—

Noble Lords


Baroness Fisher of Rednal

We are in Committee and my contribution will be brief. I think the point that is being made by the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, and others that have spoken is that there is this need for information. Who can give it, except those people that are volunteers in the field, who are taking up specialisms? I speak primarily, in the few minutes that I will be taking—and I will be very brief—regarding the blind, the blind handicapped, the blind physically handicapped and the blind mentally handicapped. These categories of people can only speak for themselves. The people that are working inside those particular voluntary bodies will be the ones that will be speaking up.

In Birmingham I know that there is a very good co-ordination between the Birmingham Royal Institution for the Blind (of which I am the president) and the local authority. But that is not true up and down the country. The needs of the blind handicapped are very, very neglected by local authorities in many parts of the country. The provision of accommodation for them is sadly lacking. It is true to say, though, that we have care in the community and people are now moving out of mental hospitals, but there are no figures available of anybody who is blind and mentally handicapped that has been moved from a mental hospital into a local authority or only into the charitable places for them.

So my words would be that if these organisations that are specialist in the field are not able to give that advice, either by pamphlets, by meetings, or anything else, those needs will be very, very badly neglected, and that will be tragic for those less fortunate in the community.

6 p.m.

Lord Bellwin

May I say at the outset that the Government need no strictures at all on their role in connection with, or support for voluntary organisations. The Government's record over the last five years stands so far ahead of anything done previously for voluntary organisations—I make that statement categorically—that in no way do I feel the need to be defensive: quite the opposite. I understand when your Lordships stand up, one by one, in connection with a specific organisation with which you may individually be concerned. That is quite in order. I suspect that one could take every single voluntary service in the country and find someone in this Committee, or more than one person, willing and wanting to speak and say something about the good work that it performs. There is no argument about this. Nor was there any argument when the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, and myself were discussing an earlier amendment. Certainly there is no argument with my noble friend Lady Faithfull.

I should like to comment on some individual observations that have been made before coming to the general point. The noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, who I believe is not now in his place, talked about cutbacks. I wish he would not talk about cutbacks. This is not about cutbacks. I see now that the noble Lord has returned. The noble Lord talked earlier about cutbacks. I wish that he had not done so. I am repeating what I have said for his benefit. This is not about cutbacks at all. This is about restricting the ability of a small number of authorities to spend in total beyond a certain amount. At present they are spending in total so much more than any other comparable authority that it is affecting the people who pay the rates in those areas and affecting the overall economic strategy. We are talking of some £850 million this year. This needs to be said to remind your Lordships of what is involved.

Although the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell—I should like to comment in a moment on something else that he said—took to task the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, he was not right to do so. What the noble Lord, Lord Marsh said was absolutely right. It is true that "desirable" and "affordable" have to go together. We do not live in a Utopian world. Indeed, I go further. It is because, in the past, we did not allow "affordable" and "desirable" to go together that we were in the mess that arose in 1979 and why we are now having to do some of the things that we do not necessarily want to do but cannot avoid doing.

The noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, talked about the probation service and said that I had written to him with sweet reason but that my assurances were inadequate. I wish I had the letter to read out to your Lordships, or the time to do so. I do not think that it was inadequate. I try always to respond to anything that your Lordships say at any stage of the Bill. I did so to all those who raised a point at Second Reading. I try to do the best I can. If it does not always satisfy your Lordships—

Lord Kilmarnock

Will the noble Lord give way?

Lord Bellwin

If the noble Lord will allow me, I have sat here for three-quarters of an hour and listened to everyone. Perhaps I might be permitted to finish, or perhaps I can give way just before I sit down.

Lord Kilmarnock

I wish only to assure the noble Lord of something. I merely wish to say that I cast no doubt on the good intentions of the noble Lord, or on his sweet reasonableness. However, it will not necessarily always be sweetly reasonable and well intentioned people who will hold his office.

Lord Bellwin

I am grateful to the noble Lord. It only shows that one should be careful to allow everyone to speak all the time.

My noble friend Lord Broxbourne talked about MENCAP. I have personally had dealings with MENCAP. The dilemma is simply that it is not possible for me to achieve protection for particular services. At the end of the day, it is for the authority to decide on its expenditure priorities. Even if it were possible to arrange a more generous rate limit for authorities specifically in respect of service for the disabled, there would be no way to ensure that those services were, at the end of the day, protected. We are talking about a very fundamental thing, the right of an authority to decide. As the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, said, what is a sensible level? Why are the voluntary organisations concerned? They are concerned because they see in every publication on this subject that they are going to be disadvantaged, and that they will have to suffer this, that or the other.

I stated frankly in debating the matter with the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, that it could be so. I cannot deny that an authority might decide that its priority was not to help the mentally handicapped and the disabled but that its priority, if you like, was to maintain its attitude to the provision of services in such a way as to disregard anything that might give them more funds to help the mentally handicapped and the disabled. But it would be a funny kind of authority which, at the end of the day, decided that this was not much of a cause to support; that is all that I can say. We are talking of the 12 to 20. If that was their idea of priorities, I hope that the people whom they represent would take good notice of it.

The noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, used the word "priorities"—and he is right; this is a matter of priorities. The whole of what we do is about priorities. But look how, again and again in this series of debates, I have to make the point that we are not in a position, and we are not willing or able to tell the authorities what should be their priorities. I happen to have confidence even in some of the weirdest authorities, with which I certainly do not agree and which certainly do not agree with me. However, when we are talking about the blind, the mentally handicapped and the really vulnerable, I happen to believe that most people do have a feeling for them. There is the opportunity, without it being at the expense of cutting into statutory services and without it meaning that you have to put up the rates.

I come back to what I call, all the time, the third option. That option is to do it better. And there are those who are doing it better. Is it not significant that none of those doing it better is anywhere within light years of rate capping?

I should like to take this chance, because I was hoping that there would be a moment, to reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, who actually talked about Cambridgeshire possibly being rate capped. I have checked since she spoke. Cambridgeshire does not even spend up to GREA. It is below GREA in expenditure. So when I talk of who-knows-what percentage, let me give her the assurance that I am sure she will be glad to have and which the good folk of Cambridgeshire will be even more glad to have: that it is not within light years of being rate capped.

Baroness Stedman

It is below GREA. I said that. But it was £1.5 million above its target. If it is going to be rate capped on target, it will be rate capped. What is it being rate capped on? That is what we do not know yet.

Lord Bellwin

I give the noble Baroness the message for Cambridgeshire—I say it again that it is not anywhere within striking distance or even for consideration on the figures that it is itself producing.

I am grateful to all who have spoken on this amendment. It is clearly an emotive issue. I am grateful most of all, of course, to my noble friend Lady Faithfull, who introduced the amendment. I have talked to her about the whole subject. My noble friend, like the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, and all who have spoken, is concerned to ensure that this legislation will not disadvantage the voluntary sector. I say again, slowly and carefully, that it does not have in any way to do so. The funds that come from the centre will not in any way be diminished. The fact is that the GLC will not receive its money for the voluntary sector, but that same money—no less money, but that which would have gone to it—will go to the boroughs. And, yes, the boroughs will have to decide. How often am I preached to in your Lordships' House (not that I need it) that local people are best equipped to decide? I am told they are locally elected; they have to answer to local people. That is exactly what they will be doing when they decide this matter. The handful who are spending so much will have the greatest opportunity to do the most because they can most afford to do it if they will only get down to running their authorities as others are running theirs.

Baroness Faithfull

In the terms of Gilbert and Sullivan, I speak to your Lordships' House as a good little Conservative. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, and to the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, that we cannot afford not to afford and not to support voluntary services. We must be careful not to throw away a resource. The voluntary sector is an enormous resource, financial and in every other way.

I am conscious of the fact that personal experiences take a long time to relate. I shall therefore be brief. As a local authority director of social services, I was told by my authority that I could have no more money and that I must keep within a certain budget, which meant that I could not have staff. What did I do? I enlisted volunteers to carry out the work that the local authority could not do. Finally, the work was done, but in the voluntary sector. Had there not been the voluntary sector to apply to, I should have had to ask for more staff and overspend my budget.

I am very conscious of the fact that, as many noble Lords have said, the amendment is not worded as well as it might be. I am also very conscious that there are certain feelings in the Committee about certain sectors that need help among the vulnerable in society. Therefore at this stage I think I will withdraw the amendment with a view to bringing it up at the next stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.11 p.m.

Lord Ennals moved Amendment No. 39: Page 3, line 22, at end insert— (" ( ) In prescribing a maximum the Secretary of State shall exclude from consideration any expenditure undertaken by a local authority under joint-financing arrangements with the Health Authority, regardless of whether that Health Authority's contributions have come to an end or not.")

The noble Lord said: It has been extremely helpful and salutary that there has been as long a debate as there has on the problems of the most disabled and the most deprived in our society, together with the role of the voluntary organisations working with the local authorities to try to bring help to them. It may very well be that with all the wisdom we have heard—there was great support from all sides of the Committee for the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull—there may be a coming together of the amendment that she has withdrawn and the amendment which I pressed to a vote, because it may be that her definition or her version of it is what the Committee wants; and it is the will of the Committee that prevails.

My task at the moment is to move very briefly Amendment No. 39, which tackles a small proportion of local government expenditure, initially financed very largely from the National Health Service funds, for projects approved jointly by health authorities and local authorities. What makes it special is that these have been decisions taken jointly by a health authority and a local authority. If one looks at many of the projects that have been jointly sponsored, one sees that enormous amounts of good work would not have been done and some projects that were going ahead would have fallen apart if it had not been for the introduction of joint financing.

I had the honour of introducing the scheme of joint financing, and it has been sustained by the Conservative Government in power; there is no party issue here. I will not go into details, but in joint financing we are dealing with schemes for the elderly, home helps, home help co-ordinators, good neighbour schemes, disabled people, mentally handicapped, care attendants. All these are projects which fall within this category of jointly financed schemes.

We are dealing with two issues here. First, we are dealing with those schemes that are still jointly financed partly by the health authority, partly by the local authority. I must say to the Minister that he seems to fail totally to understand the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, that the problem for the local authorities is often going to be that because of their statutory duties they will not be able to fulfil the things that he says he hopes they will do in all good faith. I believe that if in joint finance schemes local authorities were unable to fulfil their share, then the schemes would fall apart.

Secondly, there are those schemes that are now being financed fully by local authorities and in which there ceases to be any National Health Service money going in at all. Apart from the value of the projects in helping the most needy in our society I believe that it would be wrong to stop projects that have been financed after capital expenditure by the National Health Service. Therefore it is these special schemes that must be protected. In the course of this year Government expenditure on them amounts to about £44 million. The bulk of the money is being paid by health authorities, not by local authorities. I beg to move.

Lord Bellwin

I know that the Government's initiatives in community care are supported by all sides. It is right that we should encourage local authorities to take on responsibility for caring for people whose needs are not best met in the institutions of the health service. Those institutions provide a valuable and important service but do not suit all needs. Many people are best cared for out in the community and that is what the initiative "Care in the Community" seeks to achieve.

The Government stand by that initiative and we have encouraged its success by exempting from the effects of grant holdback increases in expenditure on jointly financed schemes; that is, as the noble Lord said, the schemes run jointly by the local authorities and the National Health Service during the transfer of a function to the local authority. I know that we have received representations to go further and extend this disregard to cover projects which had been jointly financed but which are 100 per cent. local authority-funded in 1984–85. We are considering these representations and we will announce our decision before implementing grant holdback for 1984-85 in the summer.

This amendment is trying to take forward into rate limitation the idea of a disregard for jointly financed schemes between local authorities and health authorities. I have sympathy with the intention, but I have to oppose this amendment for much the same reasons which made Amendment No. 36 unacceptable. First, disregards for targets work by exempting from penalty certain types of expenditure when the budgets of local authorities have been properly verified. The adjustment is made after the budgeting process and is brought up to date subsequently as the actual pattern of spending becomes clearer. We have to set expenditure levels before the authorities set their budgets, well before a financial year begins. Not even the authority knows where it will spend its money until it is much too late for rate limitation to take account of it.

As I have said, because a particular service is desirable it does not mean that there are not efficient and inefficient ways of providing the service. We all believe in providing proper care for children, care in the community, but this must be done in the most cost-effective way. I am not suggesting that this is an area in which the major search for economies must be made. But I cannot accept that absolutely every aspect of care in the community should be exempted from the search for economies.

Unfortunately the earlier amendments could not achieve the effect which those who moved them seek to achieve. The reason is simple. If in setting an expenditure level my right honourable friend were to have no regard to expenditure on community care the expenditure level set under Clause 3 would be lower than it would have been otherwise. And, as a direct consequence, the rate maximum under Clause 4 would also be correspondingly lower since the expenditure level is to be directly translated into the rate or precept limit having regard to the factors set out in the clause.

We do provide in Clause 3 for authorities to make representations to the Secretary of State for a larger expenditure level, and it would be possible for authorities which felt themselves to be in real difficulty in jointly financing community care to seek a relaxation of their expenditure level. Surely that is the key to the whole thing. As I said when we were discussing the earlier clauses of the Bill, it will always be up to the authority to make its representations. There will be no shortage of opportunities for it to do so. The Secretary of State will be reasonable—he will have to be reasonable—and therefore I have not the fears that are in the minds of the movers of the amendment, which we do not want to accept.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

I should like to ask the Minister whether this amendment is not quite different from a lot of the others. It has been said in the Committee that all these amendments are dealing with the same thing—trying to exempt a particular group or a particular service. This amendment is different from the others because here is a situation where in actual fact the Government fund the joint financing as part of the National Health Service expenditure. They give the National Health Service money for the joint financing of projects between the local authority and the National Health Service.

I should like to make three points. There is enormous danger that that money will not be used unless that particular part of local authority expenditure is excluded from the rate limitation that is being proposed. We could then fund ourselves with money which the National Health Service itself could not spend, although it was needed. If I were a local authority and I was being squeezed as regards the amount of money that I was allowed to spend, I would look at what the National Health Service was at present doing for people who should be cared for in the community and I would say to myself, "Well, they are in an institution; they do not have to come into the community, and so that is something on which I can save money". All of us in this Committee have subscribed to Care in the Community, and unless we allow the exemption asked for in the amendment we are saying that we do not believe in Care in the Community.

Baroness Faithfull

I rise briefly to support the amendment on the ground that it is cost-effective. I speak particularly about the friends of various hospitals who have made it possible, together with the joint financing, to get patients out of hospitals and to keep them in the community. In that way accommodation has been made available in hospitals, particularly the long-stay hospitals—the mental hospitals—where patients have been helped to leave those hopsitals by the voluntary sector, thus cutting the costs of the hospitals. However, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, will understand me when I suggest that, as we have taken back the previous amendment, he should consider taking back this amendment also, so that the two can be considered together.

Lord Kilmarnock

It is not often that I disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, but I would not give the same counsel to the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, as the noble Baroness has just given. As the noble Lord himself pointed out, he introduced the joint financing arrangements, and in fact they were renewed and extended by the present Government by the Health and Social Services and Social Security Adjudications Act 1983.

I want to refer to the same letter of sweet reasonableness to which I have already referred and which the noble Lord was kind enough to write to me. He said: You should know that we have received a number of representations for the scope of this disregard to be extended to cover projects which had been jointly financed but which are 100 per cent. local authority funded in 1984–85. We shall be considering these suggestions carefully before implementing grant holdback for 1984–85 in the summer". No doubt what the noble Lord says is very true. He has said that the Government will take reasonable decisions. The point that I made to him when he was winding up on the last debate remains valid. The noble Lord might take reasonable decisions, his immediate successor might take reasonable decisions, but we do not know who his successor will be, and that is why we want these things on the face of the Bill and that is why we are pressing the noble Lord on this point.

The noble Baroness, Lady Robson, made a very good point indeed. This is a specific point; it is not a great widening to include a vast number of services. It could not in any sense be described as driving a coach and horses through the Bill. In fact, to some extent it will help the Government to implement some of their own legislation concerning joint funding. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, will decide to press this amendment. It seems to me that we need just this particular assurance on the face of the Bill. I hope that the noble Lord will press it.

Lord Ennals

I thought at one stage I was going to achieve what I had set out to achieve when the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, began to reply. He said at one stage that the Government would be considering these suggestions carefully before implementing grant holdback for 1984-85 in the summer. If the noble Lord had said that these matters were being considered and that before the Report stage he would come back with the type of assurances that have been asked for, then I would have felt disposed to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

I must say to the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, that I respect the view that she holds, because she gave great support to this amendment. I should like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Robson, who also spoke from her own experience. We have heard from a former health authority regional chairman and a former director of social services. Who better—except a former Secretary of State for Social Services—could know whether or not it is right that this should be protected? Even though I may not have made the most powerful case to be made, I believe that it has been made by others, and I think I should press the matter to a vote. If the Minister will now say that he will alter his words and that he will consider these suggestions carefully before the Report stage then, of course, I will withdraw the amendment, sit down and take his word for it. Would the noble Lord be prepared to do that?

Lord Bellwin

No, I will certainly not do that. I simply want to say—and I think that this ought to be said before the Division takes place—that the Government have announced that they will exempt jointly financed schemes from the effects of grant holdback increases in expenditure. There have also been requests that this disregard be extended to cover projects which had been jointly financed previously but which are 100 per cent. local authority funded in 1984–85. Those representations are being considered at the present time.

Lord Ennals

I am sorry that the noble Lord did not feel that he could make the concession that I asked of him. In all my experience—and I say this with some depth of feeling, having spent many years as a Minister—I have not known a Committee stage in which a Minister has not been prepared to give way on one single issue that has been raised, from whatever side of the Committee it comes. Thus I feel, that of course, I should press the matter to a Division.

Lord Bellwin

Before the noble Lord sits down, I must point out that we have now been nearly three and a half hours on this Bill, and this is our fifth amendment. We have quite a way to go yet.

6.27 p.m.

On Question Whether the said amendment (No. 39) shall be agreed to?

Their, Lordships divided: Contents, 89; Not-Contents 117.

Airedale, L. Houghton of Sowerby, L.
Amherst, E. Howie of Troon, L.
Ardwick, L. Hughes, L.
Attlee E. Jacques, L.
Auckland, L. John-Mackie, L.
Aylestone, L. Kilmamock, L. [Teller]
Banks, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Barnett, L. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Lovell-Davis, L.
Birk, B. McCarthy, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Bottomley, L. Mayhew, L.
Briggs, L. Molloy, L.
Brockway, L. Nicol, B.
Bruce of Donington, L. Ogmore, L.
Caradon, L. Oram, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove. L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Collison. L. [Teller.]
Craigavon V. Prys-Davies, L.
Darcy (de Knayth), B. Robson of Kiddington, B.
Darling of Hillsborough, L. Rochester, L.
David. B. ROSS of Marnock, L.
Denington, B. Sainsbury, L.
Diamond, L. Seear, B.
Donnet of Balgay, L. Sefton of Garston, L.
Ennals, L. Serota, B.
Evans of Claughton, L. Shackleton, L.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Simon, V.
Faithfull, B. Stallard, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Stedman, B.
Fitt, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Fulton, L. Stone, L.
Gaitskell, B. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Gallacher, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Gladwyn, L. Tordoff, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Underhill, L.
Grey, E. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Grimond, L. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Hale, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Hampton, L. Whaddon, L.
Hanworth, V. White, B.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Hatch of, Lusby, L. Young of Darlington, L.
Hooson, L.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Beloff, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Belstead, L.
Allerton, L. Bessborough, E.
Avon, E. Boothby, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Brabazon of Tara, L.
Bellwin, L. Bridgeman, V.
Brookes, L. McFadzean, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Broxbourne, L. Macleod of Borve B.
Bruce Gardyne, L. Mancroft, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Margadale, L.
Carnegy of, Lour, B. Marley, L.
Chelwood, L. Marsh, L.
Cockfield, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Coleraine, L. Maude of
Colwyn, L. Stratford-upon-Avon, L.
Cox, B. Merrivale, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Mersey, V.
Daventry, V. Monk Bretton, L.
Davidson, V. Mottistone, L.
De, La Warr, E. Murton of, Lindisfarne, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Newall, L.
Digby, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Onslow, E.
Elles, B. Orr-Ewing, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Pender, L.
Elton, L. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Erroll, E. Plummer of
Fairfax of Cameron, L. St. Marylebone, L.
Ferrier, L. Quinton, L.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Rankeillour, L.
Gainsborough, E. Renton, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Rochdale, V.
Geddes, L. Rodney, L.
Gibson-Watt, L. Romney, E.
Glenarthur, L. St. Davids, V.
Gowrie, E. Sandford, L.
Grantchester, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Gray of Contin, L. Somers, L.
Gridley, L. Spens, L.
Hailsham of Stamp, L.
Saint Marylebone, L. Strathalmond, L.
Halsbury, E. Swansea, L.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Swinfen, L.
Hood, V. Swinton, E. [Teller.]
Hornsby-Smith, B. Teynham, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Thomas of Swynnerton, L.
Ingrow, L. Thorneycroft, L.
Kaberry of Adel, L. Townshend, M.
Killearn, L. Tranmire, L.
Kinloss, Ly. Trefgarne, L.
Lane-Fox, B. Trenchard, V.
Lawrence, L. Trumpington, B.
Lindsey and Abingdon, E. Vaizey, L.
Long, V. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Loudoun, C. Vickers, B.
Lucas of Chilworth, L. Waldegrave E.
Lyell, L. Ward of Witley, V.
McAlpine of Moffat, L. Whitelaw, V.
McAlpine of West Green, L. Young, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

6.35 p.m.

Baroness Seear moved Amendment No. 40: Page 3, line 22, at end insert— ("( ) In prescribing a maximum the Secretary of State shall exclude from consideration expenditure incurred on adult education.").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I must declare an interest as I am Chairman of Morley College which is one of the oldest and, I think I can say, one of the most respected colleges of adult education. I know precisely what the Minister will say in reply to what I am about to say. He will tell me that this is a matter for the local authority and that one cannot make an exception for one particular service, such as adult education. After all, I have heard him say this a good many times this afternoon; I am sure that he is very tired of saying it, which leads me to believe that he will say it again, and that we shall hear him say it once more, or perhaps more than once.

However, I believe that there is a very special case in regard to adult education about which the Committee should be informed and of which people as a whole are probably not very well aware. As we all know, education comprises a very large part of the expenditure of local authorities. But adult education has no statutory backing. Unlike all other aspects of education—with the exception of certain parts of nursery education, which they are obliged to provide—there is no statutory obligation on a local authority to provide adult education. It is obvious that if there is one part of a service for which there is no statutory obligation and other very expensive services for which there is a statutory obligation, that service which has no statutory backing is liable to be very severely squeezed indeed.

It is particularly for that reason that we ask that an exemption should be made with regard to adult education. Not only is adult education likely to suffer very severely, but at the present time the kinds of services which adult education offers the community are quite peculiarly important. In times of unemployment and in times of very rapid industrial and social change, adult education can make a quite unique contribution. For example, the adult colleges have been providing special courses earmarked for local needs for severely disadvantaged groups of one kind and another. They have played a very great part in the literacy campaign. They have played a very great part in "second chance" courses for people who, for one reason or another, have not got off to a good start in the first career on which they embarked.

Of course, at a time of unemployment among all sections of and types within the community, the adult colleges provide the opportunity for something that gives life a meaning when one has lost one's job and sees precious little opportunity of getting another. It may be in the field of the arts or of music; it may be in a study which people have not taken up before, or in a language. Right across the whole spectrum of society there are people who are taking the opportunities that adult education offers, which are filling the tremendous gap in their lives that has been caused by unemployment.

Therefore, although at all times adult education is an exceptionally important service, today the contribution that it is making is peculiarly relevant to the needs of the society in which we live. Therefore, I beg the Minister not to turn down this amendment, which urges that adult education should be excluded. I beg to move.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

As my name is down to this amendment, perhaps I may speak before the Minister replies. I very much wish to support the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, in what she has said. I know the Minister has said that the good local authorities are not within light years of rate capping. But the trouble is, unfortunately, that the local authorities which provide adult education are not just those outside light years, but those within months, of being rate capped. Unfortunately, they are the very ones. On that ground alone there is a case for singling out adult education from other areas.

Then as the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said, adult education is non-statutory education. This service, provided essentially by the inner-city areas, fills in the interstices of the educational and social services which are not otherwise reached. So because it is non-statutory, it definitely needs singling out for that reason, as well.

It is also non-voluntary. It may have started as a voluntary service, but it is sustained by the local authorities. Therefore, when the rate capping starts the local authorities will have to maintain their statutory services; they may well be deterred from attacking the voluntary organisations through the highly organised organisations at both national and local level and, as the Minister said, they may not wish to face the unpopularity of doing so. But when it comes to adult education, I fear that there is no such lobby which will come to their rescue, and adult education may well be the first casualty of rate capping. Put briefly, and without going into the merits of what they do, which has been so well covered by the noble Baroness, I wish, for those three reasons, to support this amendment.

Lord Bellwin

Albeit briefly, I have to say that I think the case is very powerfully made. I for one am a staunch advocate of adult education, not least for the reasons that the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, mentioned; and especially at this moment in time. As she rightly assumed, the problem is—and this is not an attempt to be difficult or intransigent—that because this service is desirable, how does one equate it with some of the other worthy causes, albeit voluntary, which were mentioned earlier? It is like saying, how does one equate the need to invest in space travel with investing in medical research? It is difficult to do. It cannot be said that one object is worthy and the other is not; one is needed, and one is not needed. That is the difficulty.

Adult education happens to be a particular service which is significantly supported by income, as the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, will know. It is interesting that on average about a quarter of the costs of this service are funded from fees from students—students in the sense of the people who attend. One can be a student at any age, so far as I am aware. But there is great variation. I understand that in ILEA only some 9 per cent. of the costs are recovered from fees. Obviously there is much discretion here for each authority as to how it handles the situation.

The problem is like the earlier ones. It is not a problem of being unsympathetic, or of not accepting the need for the service. The problem is that we really do not feel that we can tell the authority that this is a section of the service that we shall take from it in terms of the right to decide on the spending. That really is it at the end of the day.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

I do not quite follow the noble Lord when he says that if you exempt adult education from rate capping, you are telling the local authorities what to do.

Lord Bellwin

But, in effect, you are because you are deciding on the priority for them. They may well decide that it is not a priority at all for them.

There is another aspect of this question. The actual cost of provision varies greatly. I have been talking about just one aspect of it, but the cost of provision is also a factor; and that means the net cost of the provision, whether it be from charges, or how it is done. I know from my own experience that those costs vary.

We are anxious because in particular those authorities about whom this part of the Bill is concerned are those which most need to look at the cost of provision. If the Bill is as effective as we hope it will be, one outcome will lie in that very factor. It does not mean that you will have to do away with the service. If I were challenged in that way—I would hope that I should never be in that position in the first place—that would be my first test. I would say to my fellow elected members, "Let us sit down and look at all our costs and see whether we want to retain the adult education service just as it is now, or even expand it. It is going to cost so much. It does cost so much. What can we do to improve our efficiency so as to earn that amount of money?" If the Bill has that effect, it will be successful. If it does not, then I accept that you will have a situation where the decision will be between reducing, or lowering, a level of service, or increasing rates. If there is a limit on the rate, the authority will not be able to do that. So it would have the effect that we have said, but I do not believe that it has to be so.

Baroness Seear

When the Minister says that they will increase their efficiency and earn that amount of money, does he realise that in the case of Morley College, for instance, over 30 per cent. of the people are on special-aided fees because they are unemployed, or suffer in some other way which qualifies them for very much reduced payment? This is why it is of such great importance at the present time that these colleges should be kept open. You are not going to increase their income from the people who are already being paid for, because they are in such great need that they are being paid for out of public funds.

Lord Bellwin

It is not only a question of the cost of running Morley College, about which clearly I do not know. I am not suggesting that Morley College does not run its affairs efficiently; I do not know. If the noble Baroness says that it does, I accept that unhesitatingly; but I presume it comes within an authority. Is it ILEA?

Baroness Seear


6.48 p.m.

Lord Bellwin

Game, set and match. It comes within ILEA. Need I say more? If there is not an authority which manages its rates affairs better than does ILEA, then if I had a hat—though I do not have one—I should eat it. There is clearly massive scope for ILEA to look after that section if it decides that that is its priority.

Baroness David

My name should have been attached to this amendment, but instead it was put on the next amendment, Amendment No. 40A. I should like to support the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, and the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, on this amendment. It seems to me that the Minister does not know quite so much about adult education as he does about other parts of local government. He seems to me to have made some extraordinary statements. I should also like to support the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, when he says that you are not telling the local authorities what to spend the money on if you are exempting the expenditure of adult education from rate capping. That seems to me to be two different things.

Adult education has had a fairly good hammering ever since, I would say, 1976, because, as the noble Baroness said, adult education is not a statutory service, and so it is really the first thing to be cut. It is not only the 12 or 20 authorities which are the particu-larly bad ones, according to the Minister, but it is many other local authorities—Conservative-controlled authorities—which have been cutting adult education for some years. It is not only at the hands of local authorities that adult education has suffered. We have heard recently that the WEA is to lose 8.3 per cent. of its grant over the next three years; and the extramural departments of the universities are to lose 14.3 per cent. of their grant over the next few years; and both of these very much deal with adults. There is no effective lobby for adult education. There was perhaps one rather small lobby. The Educational Centres Association is to have its grant removed altogether. It is a small grant of £ 18,000 but it was very important. They were just a small lobby for it. I have had a number of letters about this association having its grant taken away and I quote just briefly from one: The Educational Centres Association has been an important and often the only voice for adult education at both national and international levels. As I said, adult education desperately needs a voice to speak for it. The National Federation of Voluntary Literary Schemes have written to me as well and they give a lot of help with basic education for adults, but they rely on support from the local education authorities. The national organiser of that association wrote to me asking for help. He said: It seems certain that if the Rates Bill becomes law not only this development work"— that is basic education— but also in many cases the core provision will be seriously threatened. Our particular concern is with the voluntary sector. The voluntary organisations play a vital role in basic education, offering the informal settings and the flexibility which is often essential to that kind of work. One of their notable strengths is in working with members of the local community to meet locally-expressed needs. Because of the importance of this work LEAs have up to now done their best to maintain their support for these bodies". I have had countless letters expressing fear and distress from those attending adult classes. They are literally terrified that these are to end or that the charges will be put up so that they cannot afford it. They know that the local authorities, if rate capping happens, may well have to put up the charges and then the charges may well be beyond their means, and that concessions may not be given to the unemployed or to pensioners. Many pensioners have written to me. I do not agree with the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Mr. Peter Brooke, who had the temerity, as I see it, to tell LEAs to charge more next year. He said that evening classes were not being valued enough because they were too cheap. I thought that showed both remarkable ignorance and a complete and extraordinary lack of understanding.

I should like to quote just a very few sentences from the many letters I have received on the subject: So far we have lived through a world war, rationing, deprivation, high taxation, inflation and redundancy. Now our occupational therapy in the form of adult education is threatened. Why? When adult education is more important than at any other time for unemployed school-leavers, redundant men and women and OAPs, who are mentally and physically alert. Why should they be deprived of their lifeline? Here is another: I am sick with worry about the Government cut-backs in adult education. I am writing this letter because I feel very strongly about adult education. It is very important to me because I like reading and to be able to write my own letters without asking other people to do it for me. Without adult education I would not be able to do this. No doubt that was somebody who had been having help from the Basic Literary Society. The secretary of the Federation of London Adult Students also wrote to me and he summed up the whole case for adult education: It serves a community with an age range of 18 to 88 years and provides educational service suitable both for beginners and those wishing to study at university level. It has special care for disadvan-taged groups and includes through its outreach departments the sick, the physically and mentally handicapped and the prisons. It also gives a second educational chance to those who for various reasons missed out when they were children. The need for adult education in our present economic, employment and enforced retirement situation is greater than it has ever been in the past 100 years of its history. We feel that the proposed legislation on rate capping and streamlining will endanger our being squeezed between the training programme and the Manpower Services Commission on the one hand and the university meritocrats on the other. It is for these reasons that we ask your help for our adult education service". I do hope the Minister this time will show some understanding about the very special needs of adult education and will lend a more sympathetic ear than he has done so far today.

Lord Bellwin

The fact is that it is not possible to exempt from rate limitation any specific element of spending. The rate limit must cover all the authorities' spending otherwise there would not be enough rate income to cover the costs. Some of your Lordships seem to think that the authorities will have two elements to the rates: the limited part and the unlimited part. It is fundamental to the Bill that there will be only one overall rate limit, and the priorities for spending within that limit will be for the authority to decide. I have said this again and again. As regards the person who writes expressing great anxiety: "sick to death with Government cut-backs", and so on—I do not know what cut-backs he or she is referring to at all. If the authority feel that this is something they should support then they will support it.

I said at the beginning to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, that I know a little about this subject although I am sure that the noble Baroness knows a great deal more about it than I do. But for some years I was on the education committee and I was attached to that side of it. Therefore I know something about the matter and I am an enthusiast for it, especially at this particular moment in time. I am all for it, but I just do not understand the fears expressed. The noble Baroness, Lady Serota, asked why local voluntary sector people are concerned. The same question could be asked: "Why are these people concerned?" It has to be said that ILEA, for example, has been putting out all sorts of alarmist material. Every poster one sees has some more dramatised proposals or threats; and that makes people alarmed and concerned. But they do not have to be so alarmed and concerned. As it happens, ILEA spends six times more per head of the population than any other education authority in the country. If it could be said that ILEA achieves six times or even twice as much as any other education authority I should be very glad to hear of it, but it is not true.

I am sorry that I cannot help any more with this, because it happens to be a service that I feel strongly about. But in all honesty I have to say that I felt equally strongly about the mentally handicapped point mentioned earlier by my noble friend Lord Broxbourne.

Lord Briggs

May I say that I fully sympathise with the Minister in dealing with this bundle of amendments, which are all concerned with different services. Some of us feel that a debate of this kind at this stage gives a chance to talk about the relative values of services, which is a little difficult to do in the ordinary course. Leaving on one side the merits of these different kinds of services, one against the other, I think it is true to say that the different services have different degrees of vulnerability in relation to this particular service that worries me most. I have been very much involved in adult education for the whole of my life and I know that even in the best of times it is a service that suffers a great deal. In the worst of times it can be cut out altogether. I also believe that adult education, as a set of services, has been particularly important over the past 50 or 60 years in raising the quality of local government itself. Many people who have gone through adult education classes have thereby become far more effective councillors and members of local authorities, concerned with every kind of service. So I was very glad indeed to see that this particular amendment had been put down.

Leaving on one side the question of people's complaints, I have had a large number of letters from adult education students expressing a great deal of worry. Leaving that on one side, discussion on these amendments not only focuses on the value of the services—and I was very much in favour of the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, also—but it gives us a chance of talking about degrees of vulnerability. And in relation to a non-statutory service, the vulnerability I think is very great indeed.

Looking to the problems of the next 50 or 60 years, and not to the record of the past, if in this society we get rid of our adult education services, or trim them beyond a certain point, we are going to find many other aspects of society will suffer in consequence. For that reason, I feel very strongly about this particular amendment.

Baroness Seear

I am sorry the Minister cannot move on this. It is different from the others for the reason that the noble Lord, Lord Briggs, has given and which I tried to give when I initially spoke to the amendment. It is its vulnerability, because it is a non-statutory service. Unless we protect it in some special way, in many parts of the country adult education will virtually disappear at a time at which it ought to be expanding. So important is it that I fear that even at this late hour—and I think I am not allowed to call 7 o'clock a late hour—I intend to divide the Committee.

7 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 40) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 80; Not-Contents, 112.

Airedale, L. Kilmarnock, L.
Amherst, E. Kirkhill, L.
Ardwick, L. Kissin, L.
Attlee, E. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Aylestone, L. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.
Barnett, L. Lovell-Davis, L.
Birk, B. McCarthy, L.
Bottomley, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Briggs, L. Mishcon, L.
Brockway, L. Nicol, B.
Bruce of Donington, L. Ogmore, L.
Caradon, L. Oram, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Collison, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Darcy (de Knayth), B. Robson of Kiddington, B.
David, B. Rochester, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Ross of Marnock, L.
Denington, B. Sainsbury, L.
Diamond, L. Seear. B. [Teller.]
Evans of Claughton, L. Segal, L.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Serota, B.
Faithfull, B. Shackleton, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Simon, V.
Fulton, L. Stallard, L.
Gainsborough, E. Stedman, B.
Gallacher, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Gladwyn, L. Stone, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Grey, E. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Grimond, L. Tordoff, L.
Hampton, L. Underhill, L.
Hanworth, V. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Walston, L.
Henderson of Brompton, L. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
[Teller.] Wells-Pestell, L.
Hooson, L. Whaddon, L.
Hughes, L. White, B.
Jacques, L. Winchilsea and Nottingham,
Jeger, B. E.
John-Mackie, L. Young of Dartington, L.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Colwyn, L.
Allerton, L. Cox, B.
Auckland, L. Craigavon, V.
Avon, E. Cullen of Ashbourne, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Davidson, V.
Bellwin, L. De La Warr, E.
Beloff, L. Denham, L. [Teller.]
Belstead, L. Digby, L.
Bessborough, E. Dilhorne, V.
Birdwood, L. Drumalbyn, L.
Boardman, L. Eden of Winton, L.
Bolton, L. Elles, B.
Boothby, L. Elton, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Fairfax of Cameron, L.
Bridgeman, V. Fanshawe of Richmond, L.
Brookes, L. Ferrier, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Fraser of Kilmorack, L.
Broxbourne, L. Gardner of Parkes, B.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Geddes, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Gibson-Watt, L.
Chelwood, L. Glenarthur, L.
Cockfield, L. Grantchester, L.
Coleraine, L. Gray of Contin, L.
Greenway, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Hailsham of Saint Napier and Ettrick, L.
Marylebone, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Halsbury, E. Onslow, E.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Orkney, E.
Hood, V. Pender, L.
Hornsby-Smith, B. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Plummer of St. Marylebone,
Inglewood, L. L.
Ingrow, L. Portland, D.
Kaberry of Adel, L. Rankeillour, L.
Kinloss, Ly. Renton, L.
Kitchener, E. Rochdale, V.
Lane-Fox, B. Rodney, L.
Lawrence, L. Romney, E.
Lindsey and Abingdon, E. St. Davids, V.
Long, V. Sandford, L.
Loudoun, C. Sharpies, B.
Lucas of Chilworth, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Lyell, L. Stamp, L.
McAlpine of Moffat, L. Swansea, L.
McAlpine of West Green, L. Swinfen, L.
McFadzean, L. Swinton, E. [Teller.]
Mackay of Clashfern, L. Thomas of Swynnerton, L.
Macleod of Borve, B. Thorneycroft, L.
Marley, L. Townshend, M.
Marsh, L. Tranmire, L.
Massereene and Ferrard, V. Trefgarne, L.
Maude of Stratford-upon- Trenchard, V.
Avon, L. Trumpington, B.
Merrivale, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Mersey, V. Ward of Witley, V.
Monk Bretton, L. Whitelaw, V.
Monson, L. Young, B.
Mottistone, L.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

Lord Denham

In moving that the House do now resume, I think it would be fair to tell the Members of the Committee that we shall not resume the Committee stage of this Bill before 8 p.m. I beg to move that the House do now resume.

House resumed.