HL Deb 16 July 1984 vol 454 cc1261-322

8.35 p.m.

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed.

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Renton)

My Lords, the next amendment is Amendment No. 17.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, we stopped at Amendment No. 16. There was a reference to Amendment No. 16 before we adjourned but Amendments Nos. 16 and 17 hang together.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I believe that Amendment No. 18 is also to be taken at the same time.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, the noble Lord is correct.

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 16: Page 6, line 27, after ("duty") insert ("as provided for by subsection (A) below").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it may help the House if I initiate what is likely to be a short debate on the philosophy behind Amendments Nos. 16, 17 and 18.

Amendment No. 17: Page 6, line 29, at end insert— ("(2A) The duty imposed a relevant authority under subsection (2) above shall only arise in respect of any direction given to that authority under that subsection after the passing hereafter by Parliament of the enactment which provides for the abolition of the Greater London Council and the metropolitan county councils.").

Amendment No. 18: Page 6, line 29, at end insert— ("() No direction under subsection (2) above may be given by the Secretary of State until he has consulted the commission or a relevant authority or bodies representative of staff employed by a relevant authority, as the case may be, as to its proposed terms.").

These amendments relate to Clause 7, which is the clause that relates to the staff commission. In effect, in Amendment No. 17 we are asking the Minister to respond to our desire that the directions which are to be given shall only become mandatory after the passage of the main Bill. As presently drafted, in our view the Bill is illogical for the following reason. Directions may be imposed on the commission or on local authorities before the main abolition has been decided. A period of over 12 months could arise if the commission was set up in, say, August 1984 and if this Bill secures Royal Assent before the House rises; clearly that is always possible.

The main Bill may very well be delayed until October 1985—we hope for ever. Thus, a period of more than a year would elapse. During that period directions could be given forcing local authorities to make preparations to receive staff or freeze recruitment in either the upper or lower tier authorities with no certainty that abolition would be approved. We rest on the premise that until Royal Assent is given to any piece of legislation, anything is possible. We are simply saying that if that extended period comes about, there would be uncertainty and potentially there would be considerable cost. We know that the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, has said more than once that if the main abolition Bill does not make progress at any stage, steps will be taken automatically for the provisions in this Bill to be cancelled. We simply want to make sure that nothing wasteful as regards expenditure and nervous and emotional energy (which quite clearly will be very heavy) takes place before it is absolutely necessary.

When the matter was debated in general terms in Committee on 3rd July the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, suggested (at col. 199) that the power to make such directions would only be necessary because the relevant body had refused to be co-operative or reasonable. Although that is a useful statement of the intentions of the Government in relation to these powers, their exercise need not be so restricted within the terms of the Bill. As set out, the subsection to which we wish to add gives power to issue directives, first, to the staff commission as to its procedures; and, secondly. to the local authorities as to the furnishing of information, the implementation of advice by the commission and the payment of commission expenses. We believe that this covers a very wide area. It is unlikely that the staff commission itself would be acting in a way that the Government would regard as unreasonable. Therefore, the intention must be to regulate its activities with directions which can then be made binding on the local authority indirectly affected.

We await with interest whether, this second time round, the Government are minded to take this step, or whether they intend to persist in imposing on local authorities at a dreadful time the further duty to make ready for an abolition that the Government intend to bring about, and for which we certainly are not ready. In those circumstances, why should local authorities be put to the inconvenience and worry of doing something which more than once the Minister has said will not be a fait accompli until it has been passed? Therefore, I beg to move Amendment No. 16 and speak to the related amendments.

The Deputy Speaker

My Lords, I should explain that I called Amendment No. 17 on the understanding that Amendment No. 16 had been disposed of before the dinner adjournment. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, because he has made it clear that he is moving No. 16 as a paving amendment to Nos. 17 and 18. The amendment before your Lordships is therefore No. 16.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, I understand the point that the noble Lord. Lord Graham, is making. However, he casts his thought as to what will happen if the main Bill does not reach the statute book until October 1985. If, on the other hand, the main Bill is rather quicker, for whatever reason, surely things of the sort that this clause is trying to ensure are best discussed good and early so as to get them out of the way as soon as possible.

There is another way of looking at it. The noble Lord's amendment might cause delay which could have adverse effects on the staff concerned rather than good effects if the main Bill comes through reasonably quickly. This is an interesting balance, but on the whole I should not have thought that the amendment was helpful if you take the assumption, which I do, that the main Bill will be early rather than late.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, may I respond immediately, by leave of the House? The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, makes a fair point in saying that one can look at this either way, and, either way, there is likely to be chagrin on the part of one party or the other. All we say is that we would prefer to run the risk of having to move fast if it took place in October. The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, is saying: why move fast? Why not move early even though it might be that it is wholly abortive? It is a fair point; it is a fair balance.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I felt, listening to the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, that his arguments were completely opposite to the arguments put forward earlier this afternoon, when he was saying how important it was for us to have information on exactly what everything is going to cost, and everything that is going to happen, and how we must have all that before we have the Bill. Now he is suggesting that all these parts of this Bill which would give us that very information, which would be helpful and would provide the answers he asked about earlier, should be put aside. That is one reason why I must oppose his amendment.

Another reason is that it may be necessary in terms of protection for the staff themselves. I have previously paid tribute to the high calibre of officers in County Hall, and I think highly of the officers' own staff. I was distressed to see this big heading: Ken attacks the staff association", and a quote from him saying: The bigest obstruction to us carrying out our manifesto is the Government, and the second biggest is our own staff". That is a quote from Mr. Livingstone. That does not sound like someone who is out to protect his staff's interests. It sounds as though he is already in conflict with them.

If there is progress and they work with the Government, as I hope and believe they will, there may be a greater conflict develop, and advice from the Secretary of State may be very necessary to help to smooth the path and protect the staff under those circumstances. For these various reasons, I would certainly oppose the amendments.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I am grateful to both my noble friends, but before commenting on what they have just said perhaps I may bring us back to the amendments on the Marshalled List, which seek, in various ways and to various extents, to constrain the Secretary of State's power to make directions under subsection (2) of Clause 7.

It may be of help if I make clear the reasons for including such a power. First let me say that this provision follows exactly the precedent set in earlier reorganisations. I hope and expect that the commission will work largely by laying down general principles, and then by influence and persuasion that it will secure the free acceptance of these by the parties concerned. However, some degree of enforcement may be needed, and the choice lies between giving a power of direction to the commission and reserving such a power to the Secretary of State to use on the recommendation of the commission. We do not wish to jeopardise the commission's essential role as an advisory body working by encouragement and persuasion. The subsection therefore reserves the power to the Secretary of State. It will be used, and only used, at the instigation of the commission themselves.

I repeat that this provision is well precedented. But let me also say that we see the exercise of this power as something of a last resort. Nevertheless, it is necessary if the interests of staff are to be fully safeguarded. My noble friend Lady Gardner is absolutely right: what we are talking about here is the proper interests of the staff concerned in this changeover. The sooner we get the staff commission organised and established as a going concern, the better off the staff will be and their interests safeguarded.

Amendments Nos. 16 and 17 seek to tie the power of direction to the main Bill. Perhaps I could explain why we decided to provide for the establishment of the commission in this Bill, because it is germane to the consideration of these amendments. If we had left it until the main Bill—which is what the noble Lord, Lord Graham, is seeking—it could not have been set up as a statutory body until the summer or autumn of 1985. That would be too late to begin effectively to protect the interests of the staff. We therefore decided to set it up in this Bill. I do not think that that prejudges the principle of abolition, as the staff commission will not begin its work in earnest until another place has approved the principle of the main Bill. Until then, the commission will make its plans, will make contact with authorities and staff representatives, and will ensure, as I have said, that no one tries to jump the gun.

My Lords, the commission will need to be getting on with its work whilst the main Bill is still in Parliament. The effect of these amendments would be to ensure that it could not properly begin its job until it was too late to be of benefit to the staff concerned. The noble Lord, Lord Graham, talked about the chagrin of one party or another. What I am determined about is that the chagrin of the staff shall be totally non-existent.

Amendment No. 18 would oblige the Secretary of State to consult with relevant authorities about the proposed terms of any direction before he could make it. But since a direction would normally only be necessary because the relevant body had refused to be co-operative or reasonable, one cannot help but wonder what point there would be in such consultations—unless it was a deliberate attempt to delay and frustrate the commission's efforts on behalf of staff. There is of course, nothing in the subsection as it stands to prevent such consultation should it seem worthwhile. There is nothing new in subsection (2) of Clause 7. It is a tried and tested formula which has been used twice in the past. I therefore ask your Lordships to reject these amendments.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I intend to withdraw the amendments, but there is a big difference in approach as to the next 18 months. The Government are clearly working on the premise that they have taken for granted the outcome of parliamentary procedures. They are assuming that their legislation will be approved, and they are entitled to do that. They have their majorities in both Houses.

Lord Bellwin


Lord Graham of Edmonton

I am speaking of as recently as I can remember—and it hurts! Therefore, they are fully entitled to work on the premise that that which they consider to be proper and good legislation will be carried. Equally, we are entitled to work on the premise that until both Houses have had the opportunity of examining the Bill in detail and using all legitimate parliamentary procedures which are open to them, we are not prepared to facilitate the easy progress of any aspect of the Bill.

It was interesting of the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, to allude to the fact that very little would be done until the other place had accepted the principle. Again, we are elevating the other place above this place in the hierarchy of sovereignty in these matters. If there is equality of sovereignty in these matters, then we ought to stipulate equally that it will not be until this place has acted as the Minister is entitled to believe that the other place will act, and that is to facilitate the passage of the Bill. It will not be easy, it will be argued about, and we will have heart-searching. There is likely to be very little amendment in the other place, but, as we have seen over the last few weeks, in this place it is possible for matters not to be taken for granted as they are in the other place.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, for posing, quite fairly, not the dilemma—it is not a dilemma, for either Lord Mottistone or myself—but the approaches to these matters. There is no shadow of doubt to us on this side. We know the risk we are taking, and we know, too, of the opprobium that would be heaped upon us if, at very short notice, everything had to go through and everyone, including trade unions, would ask why we could not have had longer to carry it out. But that is the way of the world. They are asking us at the moment, though not directly I would hasten to add; but I know that they are interested in, and supportive of, the moves we are making. Nevertheless if at the end of the day it turned out to be a rod on their own backs, no doubt they would ask why they were not given more time.

The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, raised what she saw as the inconsistency in my argument that we ought to delay before taking action when contrasted with the earlier argument I used that we ought to take as long as we could, or as long as we needed, to get information. I was deploying the opposite arguments on each of two separate sets of circumstances. If I have been inconsistent, so, too, has the noble Baroness, because clearly she opposed my approach on this question, as no doubt she did on the other. Heads you win, tails you lose. It is "Gardner's Question Time".

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, it was a question not of there being delay or no delay, but of information. Earlier the noble Lord was asking for audits on all kinds of accounts and for information to be produced. I have been consistent in both, I consider. But it is not a question of delay, as that was not the topic under discussion.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I am grateful for the explanation. I confess quite readily that part of the nexus of this argument is delay. There is a punishment. There is a detriment to the delay, which the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone pointed out. Things can be done hurriedly and perhaps in an angrier frame of mind, with less time. We are attempting to delay in this context. But the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, has demonstrated the use of remembering what political opponents have said by reminding me of earlier arguments. I have a little book full of quotes made by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, which from time to time I intend to use. In these circumstances I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 17 and 18 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 19 not moved.]

Clause 8 [Information in connection with proposals for abolition of authorities]:

8.51 p.m.

Lord Evans of Claughton moved Amendment No. 20:

Page 7, leave out lines 3 to 5 and insert— ("(1) This section has effect where an enactment has been passed by Parliament which provides—").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am looking through the amendments that we are moving along at a fairly fast pace and with this amendment I think we should consider Amendments Nos. 21, 24, 25, and 28.

Amendment No. 21: Page 7, line 13, at beginning insert ("Subject to subsection (2A) below").

Amendment No. 24: Page 7, line 18, at end insert— ("(2A) No request under subsection (2) above requiring the compliance of officers of the Greater London Council shall be made by the Secretary of State until he has consulted bodies representative of officers concerned with the proposed terms of any such request.").

Amendment No. 25: Page 7, line 19, at beginning insert ("Subject to subsection (3A) below").

Amendment No. 28: Page 7, line 24, at end insert— ("(3A) No request under subsection (3) above requiring the compliance of officers of a metropolitan county council shall be made by the Secretary of State until he has consulted bodies representative of officers concerned with the proposed terms of any such request.").

I hope that your Lordships will agree to that course of action, which I am sure is in the best interests of the pursuit of this debate. The purpose of these amendments is to limit the duty on local authorities and officers to provide the information needed to implement proposals, once they have been approved by Parliament. The clause, as it stands at present, places a duty on the Greater London Council, the metropolitan counties and their officers to supply the Secretary of State, the borough and district councils, with any information they may request. As currently drafted in Clause 8, the duty extends to that required to facilitate the formulation of the abolition proposals as well as their implementation. Section 230 of the Local Government Act 1972, requires that every local authority, every joint board and every joint committee are obliged to provide the Secretary of State with such information about their functions as he or either House of Parliament may require. The Secretary of State, therefore, already has the power that he requires to obtain information to enable him to formulate his proposals. It seems to me that any extension of those powers would be unnecessary.

In addition, such information is constantly supplied by local authorities under their obligation to publish information and in the continuing exchanges between them and Government departments, particularly when grant aid is sought, for example for land reclamation projects. The information is often extremely extensive and covers a great number of years, in particular in regard to the annual submissions for transport grants and the passenger transport executive's proposals.

Where further information has been sought by the Government, all authorities up to now have responded positively. In fact the metropolitan counties and the Greater London Council have consistently expressed the view that information on the abolition issues should be not only available, but widely disseminated. Earlier this evening I moved an amendment to try to make more information available about the financial benefits, or non-benefits, of the abolition of one tier of local government.

It should be noted that the Local Government Act 1972, which established the authorities which it is now sought to abolish, recognised that a review might be necessary after 10 years and before 15 years, and contained provisions in Clauses 46, 47 and 48 to make that review possible. On 30th May this year, however, the Secretary of State issued an order preventing the Boundary Commission from commencing its review of the metropolitan counties and districts, although it must be assumed that such a review will take place in the non-metropolitan or shire counties before the 15-year period expires in 1989. The Greater London Council and the metropolitan county councils have also suggested, in addition to the Boundary Commission review, a Royal Commission, a Parliamentary Select Committee, an examination by management consultants, the Audit Commissioners, as I suggested earlier this evening, and academic institutions, all of which proposals the Government have consistently refused. The metropolitan counties commission independent reports, therefore, on various issues, which I also mentioned earlier. There has been, for instance, the Coopers and Lybrand report.

It seems that while the metropolitan counties and the Greater London Council have gone to a lot of trouble to supply the information which they can obtain from various bodies, and have proposed other ways, the Government's record is less impressive. As I understand the clause as at present drafted, it obliges the Greater London Council and the metropolitan counties to provide information that the borough councils and district councils may require. It will be remembered that the noble Lord the Minister, Lord Bellwin, said, during the Committee stage on discussion of this principle, that, The principal object of the Bill is to allow the successor authorities every opportunity to prepare for their new responsibilities and for a smooth transfer of functions".—[Official Report, 3/7/84; col. 206.]

Once the main abolition Bill is eventually approved, there can be no objection to that, but until that time, as I see it, the successor authorities—the district councils, joint boards, and so on—cannot know for certain how the metropolitan counties' functions are to be devolved. In those circumstances, unless the Minister can explain the matter to my satisfaction, it does not seem to me that they could make sensible requests for information, since they cannot disclose the kind of information they want. Therefore at this stage of the paving Bill they do not require the power to do so—not until after the main Bill has been enacted.

As recently as 12th June this year, in answer to a question on the list of authorities to be rate capped, the Prime Minister said: the rate capping measure has not yet been enacted. It is still before the other House and it would be somewhat premature to devise a list before the Bill has even become an Act".—[Official Report, Commons, 12/6/84; col. 759.]

The Rates Bill was nearing the end of a six months' Session in Parliament and received the Royal Assent within a fortnight of the Prime Minister's reply. The main abolition Bill has not been published; yet we are still being sought to require officers and local authorities to provide information, the nature of which they cannot possibly know. It seems to be totally in conflict with the Government's views earlier on over rate capping. I hope that the Government will either be able to explain to the satisfaction of your Lordships what seems to me to be a mystery or possibly to reconsider the matter and amend the legislation—perhaps not in the precise form of the amendments but in some form which will satisfy what seems to me to be a series of contradictory proposals. I beg to move.

9.2 p.m.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, Clause 8 is an integral part of the measures we are taking in this Bill to pave the way to abolition. An important object of the Bill is to allow the successor authorities every opportunity to prepare for their new responsibilities and for a smooth transfer of functions. In order to be able to do that, they need information, and they need it as soon as possible.

That is why we have included Clause 8 in this Bill. It does not prejudge the main abolition issue; it prepares for that eventuality. It does so by extending existing powers under Section 230 of the Local Government Act 1972. It is a perfectly reasonable and appropriate paving measure.

This amendment would prevent Clause 8 from being used until the main abolition Bill had been passed. If this amendment is accepted, we might just as well delete the entire clause from the paving Bill and leave it for the main Bill. Yet the clause as it stands makes it explicit that its purpose is to facilitate the formulation of proposals to abolish the GLC and MCCs, as well as to implement such proposals in the event of their being approved by Parliament. So we have been at great pains in drafting this clause to show that the clause does not prejudge the main Bill, and to explain why the provision is needed in advance of it. Amendment No. 20 would effectively wreck one of the Bill's most important interim measures.

To deal with the other amendments, Clause 8 has two main purposes. It is intended to assist, first, in formulating the abolition proposals; and, secondly, subject to Parliament's approval, to help to implement those proposals by ensuring a smooth transfer of those authorities' functions to the successor authorities. On both counts, access to the information, I repeat, will be vital. It is therefore necessary for this Bill to ensure that such information will be available in the preparation of the abolition legislation, in the consideration of it by Parliament and in the run-up to abolition.

There is already a duty on every local authority to provide the Secretary of State with information about its functions. We have taken this opportunity to clarify that requirement for the particular purposes of abolition. Clause 8 therefore makes clear that the information which the GLC and the MCCs already have a duty to supply includes abolition. It also extends the requirement to enable the boroughs and districts to have direct access to this information.

Amendments Nos. 24 and 28 deal with requests for information made by the Secretary of State. They do not affect requests made by the boroughs and districts. The amendments would require the Secretary of State, before asking for information from a GLC, MCC or borough or district officer to consult bodies representative of officers concerned about the terms of the request. I understand the points that have been made. Your Lordships want to safeguard against the possibility that the Secretary of State might require information from an officer who simply does not have it; and I would say that concern is misplaced. The duty will be enforced by the courts, for example, through mandamus or by injunction.

These are discretionary remedies. The courts will apply common sense to the particular crcumstances of each case; and clearly it will be far from sensible to insist that someone provides information that he does not possess, and the amendments therefore are unnecessary. They would also be damaging in their effects. They would introduce uncertainty and delay to the process of acquiring information from the upper tier. There will be uncertainty about how the representative bodies should be chosen. The amendments are silent in this respect. They leave it to the Secretary of State to determine, or for the staff interests to say, or—however unlikely it may seem given the attitude of some staff—actually for agreements between the parties.

An authority determined to be obstructive would no doubt exploit these uncertainties to maximise delay, and the amendments are similarly silent on what constitutes consultation. This, too, would provide opportunities for delay if authorities choose to test each case in the courts. I hope that with these explanations the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw these amendments because we feel that Clause 8 is critical to the Bill, and I am sure that the noble Lord will, at least, accept that.

Lord Evans of Claughton

My Lords, I have listened to what the noble Lord the Minister had to say. I think the best course at this stage will be to read through his speech and reconsider the matter. At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 21 not moved.]

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 22: Page 7, line 13, leave out ("and its officers").

The noble Lord said: This amendment seeks to delete the words "and its officers". The Minister has been clear—and I think quite fair—in pointing out that he is most anxious to ensure that officers are not placed in an invidious position, and he recognises that there could very well be something like a tug of loyalty between their responsibility to their employers, those who pay their wages and those whom they serve, and to the Government Minister and legislation which is before them. As presently drafted, Clause 7(2) and (3) impose a duty to supply information both on the GLC and the MCCs and their officers. May I remind the Minister that on July 3rd in column 209 he told the House: if an officer had to provide information despite his authority's wishes, there would be no question of his being in breach of contract of his employment".

He went on to say that, officers will not be in breach of contract if they go against their employer's wishes in this respect".

The fact remains that officers will in fact be in breach of contract if they go against their employer's wishes. Sadly, these matters will need to be tested sometimes in the courts. The Government and the House will have within their memory decisions that were made in the courts—one as recently as today—where actions by the Government are not always held automatically and ipso facto to be ones which the courts will hold up as reasonable.

What the Government are seeking to do is to place officers under a statutory duty to provide information, notwithstanding their employer's wishes. This quite clearly is the nub of the argument. There will certainly be occasions when it is the desire of a council not to have its officers provide the information. We simply ask: can it be right for the Government by legislation to be seeking to direct employees to do that which they might otherwise be expressly forbidden to do by their employers; something which the Government would never countenance for their own employees. In other words, the Government would not countenance some other body saying that there is another body which has the right to information from the employees of the Government. Yet the Government are saying to local government, "We are going to pass a law which says that we have the right to tell your officers"—that is the officers of local government—"that they must divulge information to the national Government".

If the Government are interested in the need for good relations, we honestly feel that the kind of approach implicit in this clause is hardly conducive to their attainment. There is yet another stage in this House through which the Bill must go at which, after we have listened carefully to what the Minister has to say, we may decide not to press the matter. But I certainly look forward to listening to what the Minister has to say. I beg to move.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I am not sure that I can add a great deal to what I said in Committee. We heard the argument that the provision would place officers in an invidious position, and that officers would have to choose between obeying the law and obeying their employers. But as I said in Committee, that is not the intention or the effect of the provision. On the contrary, the duty on officers is a protection for them. The officer's duty would be clear; it would be the same duty as we all share—to obey the law. If there were a conflict of demands, that would be the creation of the employing authority. I want to reassure your Lordships, as I did the Committee, that if the officer had to provide information despite his authority's wishes, there would be no question of a breach of his contract of employment arising. It is an implied term in every contract of service that an employee may not be required to do an unlawful act, or to refrain from carrying out a legal duty. So officers will not be in breach of contract if they go against their employer's wishes in this respect.

The placing of such a duty on officers is not unprecedented: so far as local authorities are concerned, there is a precedent in Section 23(5) of the Housing Act 1980, which relates to the right to buy. This provision has now been repealed by the Housing and Building Control Act 1984, which was passed last month. That Act repeals Section 23(5), but replaces it by Section 10, which is a wider power. Under Section 23(5), the obligation on landlords and their officers was to supply information which the Secretary of State needed in exercising his power to intervene in particular cases. The new provision introduced by Section 10 of the 1984 Act extends that obligation to assist the Secretary of State in deciding whether to intervene and in exercising his power to issue directions on conditions of lease. Section 10 of the 1984 Act is therefore a close if not exact precedent for what we are proposing in the paving Bill.

I feel sure that the first part of my remarks sum up the whole matter. I would not have thought that this was such a problem. There are many aspects here where clearly there is a great difference of opinion. I would have thought that this is not one of them. The concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, is a fair one and I take it as such, but of all the various issues I would not have thought that this was one where there is a great difference between us.

Lord Evans of Claughton

My Lords, may I say briefly that I understand the point that the officers would be protected by obeying the law; but I rise only because I have been approached by quite substantial numbers of representatives of NALGO and other people engaged in local government at various levels, who said to me that they understand what the provision is but that their problem is that they have local authority councillors cheek by jowel with them telling them to do this or that or the other, and at the same time they have a remote—shall we say?—civil servant in Whitehall telling them to do something different.

They are very concerned—particularly in view of what the noble Lord, the Minister, himself said recently about the changed attitudes in local government—that their lives would be made almost intolerable. They would be obeying the law by doing what the civil servants tell them. However, they would be living in an atmosphere of great tension for some considerable time because they would be forced to disobey the instructions of councillors whom they have been used to obeying for some considerable length of time. The penalties for them obeying the councillors and disobeying the civil servants could be as serious as being sent to prison.

I am quite sure that the dilemma which this position imposes on local government officers in the rather tense atmosphere which exists at the moment is one which we as the House of Lords should consider, and we should seek to give as much comfort, assistance, advice and support as we can to local government officers who are in a very difficult position whether they obey the law or whether they choose to obey their local government masters.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, certainly poses the strain and I think, as a good local government man, as the Minister is and as I would profess to be, too, in all humility, at the end of the day good local councils are not going to place their officers under that intolerable strain. They are not going to make it very unhappy for the officer to decide what he needs to do. I suspect that at the end of the day, if the reality of the situation is the weight of the muscle or the penalty that is involved, no good council of any political persuasion is going to make it impossible for its officers to act honestly, fairly and professionally at the end of the day.

The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, has paid tribute, as I think everyone does, to the high standard of service given to all councils by council officers. Their professionalism is acknowledged, shared and enjoyed. I do acknowledge that the Minister wrote to me after the last debate, when I quoted the case of R. v. the City of Birmingham, which was a Court of Appeal decision in 1982, and asked how that squared with the 1980 Act. The Minister pointed out that it was overtaken in 1984; and of course I accept completely the rationale of the Minister's answer. But I wonder whether in fact he can say something about how that squares with the decision in 1982. I should like to repeat again what was said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, in the Court of Appeal decision in 1982. This is what he said, and it is above and beyond and outwith the issues of the 1980 Housing Act: As I have already said, all relevant information acquired by a local authority's social workers in the course of their duties, whether or not it be confidential, is acquired on behalf of the local authority, and becomes the authority's information. We want the Minister to say a little bit more about transposing a council officer to the place of a social worker, the council officer being in possession of information, confidential or not, and the decision of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson—that is, whether if in fact that information is in possession of a council officer what Lord Donaldson was saying is applicable. In other words, is the information acquired on behalf of the local authority and does it become the authority's information? If it is the authority's information, what we are posing is: what is the necessity of asking an officer to divulge that which is not his to divulge because it belongs to the authority? If the Minister can help us to understand the juxtaposition of what he has told us is the position and what Lord Donaldson said, perhaps we can make progress.

Lord Bellwin

By leave of the House, my Lords, certainly this is an area of much sensitivity and I accept that without any question, but the problem is that the need for the information is extremely important. I think there is a fundamental flaw, if I may say so, in the analogy between the social worker, with his duty to maintain the secret information about an individual, and the officer of a local authority, with his knowledge of the authority's affairs—because, although I raised the noble Lord's eyebrows when I said this at the last stage, I am very much one of those who have always been great believers in the provision of information as widely as possible. I believe that that is a very important thing in local government.

However, I am not without sympathy towards the point that is being made. I just know how essential this is. I cannot undertake to do anything other than to read carefully and look into what the noble Lord, Lord Graham, has said on this point. I cannot do more than that with it. I would propose to correspond with the noble Lord and to send him a copy of what I write to the noble Lord, Lord Evans, between now and the next stage.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, in the light of that promise, though the noble Lord has given nothing away, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 23 to 29 not moved.]

Clause 9 [Postponement of exercise of functions]:

9.21 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 30: Page 7, line 25, leave out subsection (1).

The noble Lord said: Should this clause be enacted in its entirety, it would cause unwarranted delay to the review of the strategic planning framework within Greater London and the metropolitan counties. The Minister will be aware that we had a short debate on the position of the Greater London development plan and its continuing need for updating when the matter was before the House some two weeks ago. Even assuming that the main abolition Bill is passed in the form desired by the Government, development plan reviews would have to wait until district and borough councils had sorted themselves out and felt able to undertake this novel work. Such delay is particularly unfortunate in the seven metropolitan areas—those parts of the country suffering the most from economic decline and change. These areas need diligent and continuous planning, and their needs should not be ignored.

The period between now and the proposed abolition gives us the last chance to get a sensible up-to-date strategic planning framework for the metropolitan areas. If abolition goes through, structure plans will become fragmented and difficult to administer. Rather than arresting structure plan work, the Secretary of State should be pressing for a final round of structure planning before abolition overtakes us. In seeking to arrest structure planning work, the Government are ignoring the views of many influential bodies who see the urgent need for strategic guidance on such matters as housing land. Unless land allocations for development are brought up to date, there is every risk that major building programmes will be disrupted to the disadvantage of the building industry.

The Government appear to be unclear about the effect of their amendment. During consideration of Clause 8(1) on 22nd May in another place, Sir George Young said, No alterations to those [i.e. existing structure] plans are with my Department".—[Official Report, Commons; col. 968.]

He then went on to say that the crucial point on which the Secretary of State would decide on whether to invoke Clause 8(1) would be the timing of the submission. In fact, amendments to structure plans have been submitted by the Greater Manchester Council and the West Midlands County Council. Why should the Secretary of State be under no duty to consider this necessary updating?

The amendment removes an unnecessary complication from the Local Government (Interim Provisions) Bill. No other service rendered by the metropolitan counties has been singled out for similar attention within the Bill, and no good reason has been advanced for the arbitrary decision to stifle this valuable work. Like so much else in this Bill, the clause assumes that abolition has already been agreed to by Parliament.

In your Lordships' House at Committee stage the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, stated on 3rd July at column 244 of the Official Report that for the Secretary of State to remain under a duty to consider development reviews would clearly be absurd. He said: It would be a waste of time, money and effort to have to consider alterations that could not be processed before abolition takes place".

But Parliament has not yet decided that abolition is to take place; nor has it decided when abolition is to take place; nor has it decided that the Government's proposals for 69 mini-development plans to replace seven structure plans is the most effective way to provide a strategic planning framework for the seven major conurbations. Yet Clause 9(1) assumes that Parliament has taken those decisions: otherwise, why does it seek to enable the Secretary of State to halt progress on strategic planning reviews?

One is tempted to wonder whether Clause 9(1) has been placed in the Bill merely in order to settle an argument between the Secretary of State and the Greater London Council which the Secretary of State has lost in the courts. In reality, it has nothing to do with any needed interim arrangements pending major legislation on the metropolitan counties. One of the prime reasons for setting up the GLC in 1965 stemmed from the finding of the Herbert Commission that there should be a strong integration of land use and planning and transportation policies within the capital. That need is as great today as it was then. There was no analysis included in the White Paper Streamlining the Cities as to the success or failure of the planning system at the metropolitan level. None the less, the White Paper and a further consultation document proposed fundamental changes in this respect.

The Government's proposal received very widespread criticism indeed from all quarters, not least from all of the major professional bodies acting in this field. In response to this universal criticism, the Government have suggested only minor modifications to a set of proposals that the profession knows will be unworkable. The clause which we are considering today paves the way for an unacceptable and chaotic hotch-potch to replace structure planning in the capital city of the nation.

The Secretary of State has already suffered and lost a long legal battle with the GLC over the alterations to the Greater London Development Plan. He refused to issue the regulations which the GLC sought to govern the alterations to the plan. After a High Court judgment he issued the regulations but then announced his intention to introduce legislation to remove his duty to consider the alterations. The clause before us, Clause 9(1), is that legislation, therefore despite losing in the courts, despite the wide recognition of the need to update the GLDP, despite enormous support for the alterations which the GLC is proposing and despite the fact that the alterations will be submitted to him in about six weeks' time, the Secretary of State wants to turn his back on the planning system and on his duties under it.

The result can only be damaging to London. Even if legislation to abolish the GLC is eventually enacted, there will still be a need for a London-wide view on planning. No one has ever suggested otherwise. The trouble is that the Government have made no coherent proposal to replace the present system. To replace one single structure plan for Greater London with up to 33 separate plans seems a curious and unworkable method of streamlining the government of London and a very odd way of curbing alleged extravagance. I beg to move.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, like it or not—and the Opposition obviously do not—we are still considering a paving Bill designed to make interim provisions leading up to the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils and the transfer of functions to the lower tier. As part of these measures, Clause 9 will help to prevent unnecessary waste of time, money and effort. It does not prevent useful and worthwhile work from continuing and it most certainly does not prejudge abolition.

Under subsection (1) the Secretary of State would no longer be required, although he would still be able, to examine alterations to the Greater London Development Plan or to metropolitan county structure plans. This provision will be invoked where necessary to avoid abortive work. For example, there will be no point in continuing with such consideration where the alterations could not be processed before the time when abolition may or may not occur.

The amendment which we are considering would maintain the Secretary of State's duty to consider proposals submitted to him for the alteration of the Greater London Development Plan or of a metropolitan county structure plan. That would be absurd. It would be a waste of time, money and effort to have to consider alterations which could not be processed before abolition takes place and which might very well be inappropriate at the end of the day. In any of the scenarios which the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, mentioned, each one of which would have a different result at the end of the day, a decision might very well be taken in the interim period which proved to be totally abortive.

There is at present an approved structure plan in force in Greater London and each of the metropolitan counties. However, the GLC and the county planning authorities are expected to keep their plans under review. Under Section 10 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, they may submit to the Secretary of State such alterations as they consider expedient. The Secretary of State may hold an examination in public under Section 9 of the 1971 Act before taking a decision on any alterations.

The White Paper, Streamlining the Cities, and my right honourable friend's recent announcement of a proposed simplified planning role which he is considering for the main abolition proposals, are well known to your Lordships. No change is to be made to the proposals for regional guidance, planning conferences, and the London Planning Commission, for example.

The position in London has attracted particular comment. I suspect that it is this which motivates the noble Lord's amendment. The history is well known, that prior to the last election the GLC had commenced work on the drafting of alterations to key policy issues, such as employment and offices, to update the GLDP. The Department of the Environment prepared regulations to govern the formal process of consultation, submission and examination in public of such amendments. However, our manifesto commitment to abolish the GLC led us to reconsider the laying of such regulations for the reasons I gave earlier. We concluded that it would be illogical to give the GLC formal powers now to amend a document which could ultimately be replaced by new plans to be prepared following abolition.

In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, referred to the fact that the GLC had challenged this decision in the courts and had obtained a ruling that the Secretary of State was under a duty to make the regulations. In announcing his intention to comply with this ruling, my right honourable friend made it plain that he still considered the GLC's proposals for amending the GLDP to be a wasteful extravagance in view of the Government's declared intention to introduce new planning arrangements for London following abolition. The actual content of the proposed alterations emphasises the point. They include such matters as policy for women and community areas. These and other issues can hardly be regarded as relevant to a land use structure plan.

The noble Lord, Lord Graham, referred to the remarks of my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary in another place. I can tell him that the update of those remarks is that in the West Midlands alterations were submitted in June 1983 to update the approved plan and were the subject of an examination in public in December. My right honourable friends are considering the report of the panel who held the examination in public, and hope to publish proposed modifications later this year. In Greater Manchester, alterations were submitted in March this year which rolled forward the policies in the approved plan to 1991. The period for objections ended in April, and my right honourable friend is arranging for a short examination in public to be held later this year. Either of these cases, as I understand it—and if I am wrong I shall have to write to the noble Lord—would be held up by the proposals we are discussing in Clause 9(1). In South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, Merseyside, Tyne and Wear there are no alterations to any of these four structure plans for the department at present. Indeed—although we now know that there are about to be—nor are there for London.

Therefore, when announcing that the regulations would be made, my right honourable friend also made it crystal clear that he would be seeking the approval of Parliament to the inclusion in legislation to be introduced in this Session of a power enabling him to defer consideration of such proposals, and of course this provision meets that commitment.

To sum up, it seems a waste of time and money to consider amendments to a plan which itself will be replaced in due course by the new planning arrangement which will operate in London and the metropolitan counties post-abolition. I therefore hope that the noble Lord will not pursue this amendment.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, it is not my intention to press these amendments to a vote, but I think that all that the Minister has said is rather sad. All that the GLC is seeking to do is to keep in existence something which could very well be seen by its successors, if indeed there are to be successors, as appropriate. The Minister in fact gave the game away by seeking to point out two elements which are included in the plan, the policy for women and community areas.

By indicating that they are inappropriate the Minister shows the manner in which these matters are looked at by himself and his colleagues. I may very well consider that they are inappropriate and, in fact, other people with greater powers than either the Minister or myself may consider them inappropriate, but drawing the attention of the House to them indicates the kind of antagonisms which exist in certain ministerial minds towards these matters, particularly when the genesis for them is the GLC itself.

I simply want to say, and repeat, that when the GLC is abolished, if it is, and whatever other body is put in its place by the Minister and his friends—we do not know the precise nature—they may very well decide collectively, in one shape or another, to combine so that effectively what they will wish to re-emerge will, in fact, be the GLDP, writ large, but 18 months on. However, all that the GLC is asking from the Minister is to be allowed to proceed, for it to submit, and for him to act. If, in fact, his action is overtaken by the passage of the Bill and if, subsequently, the successors to the GLC show a disinterest in what is on offer, then, of course, they can persist and produce their separate plans—whether there are 32, whether it is on an area basis, or whatever it is.

The Minister fails to comprehend that by his action he is sterilising a great deal of economic activity, just as some of the economic activity which has been generated may very well be anathema to him. The fact that there is little progress on an already outdated plan, which will be outdated even further, could, I imagine, without being an expert, have a deleterious effect on development, planning, land use, building and the like. All of these things are detrimental, and the Minister has failed to take them into account. His attitude makes me more sad than angry because, in my view, there is a punitive and vindictive aspect to the Minister's action, particularly in his defiance of the actions of the court. He has made his position quite clear and I believe that this is one of the detrimental actions by the Government for which the people of London will have to pay. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 10 [Control of general expenditure powers]:

9.38 p.m.

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 31: Page 8, line 4, leave out ("Local Government Act 1972") and insert ("principal Act").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a purely technical amendment bringing Clause 10 into line with the rest of the Bill where the Local Government Act 1972 is simply referred to, for ease of reference, as the "principal Act". I beg to move.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, many of us have discussed from time to time—the last time during the Housing Act—the difficulty of following reference in the delegated legislation and the problems it involves. It seems to me that to carry on with this and leaving out something which is perfectly clear, where we know which Act to turn to—the Local Government Act 1972—and inserting "the principal Act" is a retrogressive step.

I see that the noble Lord is shaking his head, but this has been going on for some time and it would at some point be a good idea to stop it and call Acts by the names they are known by so that it is easier to look them up.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Birk moved Amendment No. 32:

Page 8, line 5, at end insert— ("() Consent shall not be unreasonably withheld, and shall in any event be extended to the incurring of expenditure where the recipient person or body is, for all or part of any one financial year, in receipt concurrently of funding from monies voted by Parliament including Urban Programme, the grant-in-aid to the Manpower Services Commission and funds administered by the Department of Industry, and in receipt concurrently of funding from the European Social Fund, Regional Fund, or other sums.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, a series of amendments all dealing with the same subject are Amendments Nos. 32, 33, 34 and 36.

Amendment No. 33: Page 18, line, 10, leave out from beginning to ("expedient") in line 12 and insert ("The Secretary of State shall give his consent under this section within a period of two weeks from the Secretary of State's receipt of the application in respect of any expenditure to which this section applies unless he certifies that it is not").

Amendment No. 34: Page 8, line 14, after ("is") insert ("not").

Amendment No. 36: Page 8, line 18, at end insert— ("() The consent of the Secretary of State under this section shall not be required for any expenditure incurred under the said section 137 by way of a grant to any body or organisation where:

  1. (a) such organisation or body has been in receipt of a payment from the council concerned within the previous two financial years; and
  2. (b) the payment to be made to that body or organisation does not exceed the total amount so given in the previous two financial years.").

All the amendments refer to an amendment included by the Government at Committee stage dealing with Section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972, or—should I now say—the principal Act. As we know. Section 137 empowers any local authority to: incur expenditure which in their opinion is in the interests of their area or any part of it or all or some of its inhabitants",

up to the limit of the product of a rate of 2p in the pound.

What the Government are now proposing to do is to limit the ability of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils, after 1st April 1985, to incur expenditure under that section except with the prior consent of the Secretary of State. So far the Government have been unable to offer any positive argument to justify the need for that amendment.

What the Government are doing is relying on an accusation that the GLC and the MCCs may be planning to use their Section 137 precept powers in a way that they dislike. If we turn to the Official Report of 3rd July, at col. 250, that was the explanation given by the Minister. This takes no account of the responsible way in which the MCCs and the GLC have exercised their Section 137 powers to meet the local needs of their areas. There may have been some controversial objectives which the Government, and probably many ratepayers, do not like. They may dislike one, like another and not like a third.

Financially expenditure on those objectives amounts to only a small proportion of the total exercised by the MCCs and the GLC. Even so, the power is protected from misuse by the ability of any ratepayer to take action in the courts to challenge the propriety of any decision by a council to spend money under this section. Nevertheless, since 1974 there is no record of a successful challenge having been made.

The real worry is that the councils use their Section 137 powers to give grant aid to bodies such as marriage guidance councils, citizens' advice bureaux, councils of voluntary service and for one-parent families, and similar bodies. Many organisations in the voluntary sector are extremely concerned about that. I have no doubt that other noble Lords have been inundated with letters from those organisations which are very concerned about what will happen in the future.

The issue not only has a social side. Prior to 1979–80 most of the spending under that section was for those rather more social purposes. Since then the power has increasingly been used to assist economic development, frequently in combination with funds from the private sector, from the Government and from the EEC. The record of employment creation is very great. For the metropolitan county councils in the last year, £19 million out of a total of £22 million was used for economic development.

In its amended form the Bill will set a precedent likely to lead to the complete erosion of the main principle of Section 137, which is to give power to the councils to use their initiative and their own criteria. Further, once established, that precedent clearly has implications for lower tier authorities—in fact I think that that thought was floated during the Committee stage—and for any voluntary organisation receiving aid from one of those authorities. The whole clause is unnecessary. It is a further centralisation of power in the hands of the Secretary of State. It provides for retrospective and also pre-emptive deprivation of powers from democratic local government. It is both disrupting and confusing. It is also damaging to many worthwhile voluntary and community groups.

Further, the basis on which the Secretary of State will give consent under the new clause is far from clear. Subsection (3) requires the Secretary of State to be satisfied that, it is expedient for the council in question to incur", the expenditure. The remainder of the subsection merely repeats the words of Section 137(1), but in effect removes the discretion as to what is of benefit to the area or the inhabitants from the council and gives it to the Secretary of State.

This series of amendments is aimed at trying to improve somewhat the very severe effect on many authorities. I have in front of me a letter from the Joint Docklands Action Group, which is very concerned about the job creation scheme, and the councillors would be left with little say and resources for development of their policies in many areas.

The first amendment, Amendment No. 32, which stipulates that, Consent shall not be unreasonably withheld", seeks to restrict the Secretary of State's discretion. Since the Government's case appears to rest on allegations of asset stripping and related forms of sabotage of their abolition objectives, the amendment should cause no difficulty because it specifically seeks to exempt from the need for consent the incurring of expenditure where the recipient body, far from being a nefarious partner in perhaps a GLC attempt to asset strip, is so respectable as to be already in receipt of funds voted by Parliament and in varying degrees already audited by or under direct or indirect control or influence of the Government.

I think the Government may find that they can meet part of this point. The examples that we put in the amendment are the Urban Programme and the grant-in-aid to the Manpower Services Commission. I must apologise that there are some typographical errors in the way that Amendment No. 32 is now printed. It should read: Manpower Services Commission or funds administered by the Department of Industry or in receipt concurrently of funding from the European Social Fund Regional Fund".

The words, "or other sums", should come out.

Amendments Nos. 33 and 34 place the onus on the Secretary of State to determine and certify the incorrectness or illegality of any payment. The figures show that by far the greatest part of what the metropolitan county councils and the GLC spend under Section 137 is for objects of which the Government do not disapprove. The objects include grant-aiding bodies to provide advice and/or courses for the small businessman; offering small grants or loans to both start and establish small firms; financing training courses to eliminate skill shortages and easing the financial burden of recruiting and training additional staff through job incentive schemes. These are all objectives of which at one time or another the Government have stated that they are greatly in favour. They have stated that they are in favour of this type of initiative and this way of creating work. A number of these approaches have been funded by the EEC.

The Section 137 powers are also used to help larger firms through development companies such as the Greater Manchester Board. These companies, working closely with private sector institutions, provide services that can help a firm to relocate, to re-equip and to expand and management buy-outs to be effected. It would seem there again that, if consent has to be asked for all the time, all this is going to be slowed down. A great deal of this money will not find its way to where it is needed. It will really have a very damaging and destructive effect on what Section 137 was intended to be used for and the very important way it is developed both in the social and in the economic field.

The final amendment in this set is Amendment No. 34, which deals with the same points as, and is linked up with, Amendment No. 33. So what we are attempting to do in these amendments is to try to lessen the very harsh approach of the new clause which was put into the Bill at the last stage. We wish to make it more mellow and also enable the expenditure to be used in a way that is productive. As the Bill stands at the moment—one hopes that this is fairly rough drafting by the Government to which they will be prepared to accept amendments—it will affect to a great extent industry, social work and countless organisations that rely on Section 137, which, as the Minister must agree, has had considerable success, in order to continue the work that they are doing. I beg to move.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, I noticed that in her fairly lengthy speech the noble Baroness made no mention of the ratepayers. Has she considered the safeguards for ratepayers which might be involved in the Government's present attitude and which her amendments would reduce? It is all very well being grand about the sort of things she has mentioned, but the ratepayers are very important.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, it is rather sad that Clause 10 is necessary at all, but there should be no doubt in anyone's mind that it is necessary. The points that the noble Baroness advances, as I said earlier in the day, might well have carried weight some years ago, but they ignore the realities of today. It is not so long ago that all local authorities would unquestionably assist in implementing the law of the land as sanctioned by Parliament, however vigorously they might have opposed the passage of legislation during its consideration by Parliament. I am glad to say that for the vast majority of authorities that still remains the case: I wish to make that quite clear. But we cannot overlook the activity or, should I say, the activism of a minority of authorities that are bent on overturning both convention and responsibility. They seemingly canvass the proposition that the GLC and the metropolitan county councils would in due course, if Parliament willed the end of their existence, see to it that there was an orderly rundown of their affairs. In particular, they seemingly look to these authorities spending prudently under their discretionary power in Section 137 and, as my noble friend Lord Mottistone said, safeguarding their ratepayers in the process and smoothing the handover to the successor authorities.

Let us be clear. We are actually talking about considerable sums of money. In the case of the GLC, it represents, I think, £38.8 million a year. They are lesser amounts for the metropolitan counties, but we are still talking about great sums of money. I do not question the good faith of the noble Baroness and those who would support her view; but they must have no illusions about what could be in store. The assets that have been paid for and that are rightly those of the ratepayers could be eased from their control by financial sleight of hand. That has to be said. The potential scale of irresponsibility is enormous. As a Government, we would be irresponsible if persuaded to believe that the irresponsibility of some of the authorities concerned was so far fetched that no preventive action was called for.

In practice, the Government have no choice but to come to the assistance of London and metropolitan ratepayers who fear, with good reason, the last-minute excesses that could be visited on them. The object of this provision is to prevent such excesses taking place. It is our duty to ensure that in their final year the authorities act responsibly and that any temptation to do otherwise is removed. We cannot leave scope for displays of bravado intended (who knows?) to rally factional support at the expense of ratepayers as a whole.

It may well be helpful if I briefly set the record straight on three particular points. First, anxiety has been expressed—and the noble Baroness repeated it—about the impact which the provision could have on certain of the voluntary sector recipients of aid. I do not dispute for one moment that the genuine voluntary sector has benefited from grant aid and assistance made available under Section 137 by the GLC and the metropolitan county councils.

I made it abundantly clear at Committee stage, in introducing this provision—I gladly say it again—that such activity has absolutely nothing to fear from Government intervention. Our bona fides are demonstrated by the fact that on this front our record as a Government is second to none: and that bears repeating. We recognise both the value of voluntary sector work and its dependence in many instances, as the noble Baroness rightly said, on grant under Section 137. We shall give that recognition full practical effect when we come to exercise this provision.

Secondly, there are bound to be other categories of expenditure which will not be affected by the provision. I have in mind, for example, cases where the Secretary of State has approved projects under the urban programme and urban development schemes. Consent for payments under Section 137 in respect of such projects will follow.

Thirdly, we are not in the business of halting such useful work as can be, and frequently is, carried out by, for example, the Greater London Enterprise Board and the enterprise boards set up in some of the other metropolitan counties. We accept that enterprise boards can help to forge a vital partnership between the public and private sectors. Equally, however, we shall not be prepared to approve large payments to enterprise boards if they are accompanied by merely a skimpy, insufficient outline of their purpose, or if they are clearly intended to facilitate the control of substantial land or property holdings passing to a body one removed from the council and its ratepayers, and hence, in due course, from the successor body and its ratepayers. It is right that we should be clear and unambiguous on this point. There will be no getting round it.

In replying to Amendments Nos. 33 and 34, it seems right for me to set in proper perspective the remarks that have been made about the actual operation of the Clause 10 controls—not so much today by the noble Baroness, although she did touch upon it. I think it is important to say that we are alert to all that is involved there. We shall be concerned about that. We shall take all the necessary steps and do whatever is needed to enable the controls to work. If we are to afford the ratepayers of London and of the metropolitan county councils the protection they need, our procedures must be designed to work—not to appeal to the authorities under scrutiny.

In conclusion, I say again that it is regrettable that Clause 10 is necessary, but we have been driven to it by our increasing awareness of deliberate and orchestrated irresponsibility. The clause leaves with the GLC and the metropolitan county councils the initiative for expenditure under Section 137. There is no question of the Government taking over the authorities' role of making proposals; but there should be no illusions about the need to supervise that role.

The interests of the ratepayers in the abolition authorities, and, indeed, of the good name of local government as a whole, are both at stake. The very existence of Section 137 is increasingly coming under public scrutiny, and, frequently, public criticism. If a few authorities, by their unrestrained use of Section 137, can call into question the very existence of the power, then—I have said this many times in your Lordships' House—they do a disservice to its many worthwhile uses and to local government as a whole. The Government cannot, and will not, abdicate their responsibility in this matter, and that is why the provision has become essential.

10 p.m.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, the Minister has assured us that the Government recognise the importance of grants under Section 137 for the collaborative work between voluntary bodies and statutory bodies at local level. One had believed that the Government were very strongly in support of schemes of this kind and the noble Lord has assured us that this will continue. Judging from the correspondence that we are all receiving, the voluntary bodies are very far from assured that the position will continue as it has in the past. I know the Minister accepts the fact that this collaboration is a most important development. The extent of it is new. It is a real growth point. It is providing real jobs in areas where, but for it, they would not exist, and any setback to this new development would be disastrous.

The noble Lord says that worthwhile schemes will be supported, but that they will have to be supervised. That casts a shiver down the spine of any of us who are trying to make schemes of this kind work. Getting money out of the public authority at the end of the day is already worse than extracting teeth. It takes so long that a great many schemes are nearly bankrupt because of cash-flow problems before the money arrives. If on top of what happens already we have to have further supervision, the position of these schemes—especially those that are struggling into existence—will become quite impossible. Is there no way in which the Minister can devise a scheme in which he catches offenders but lets the great mass of legitimate schemes continue as they are at present?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, by leave of the House, there are two points that I should like to make. The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, is quite right: there is concern and that is why I welcome the opportunity to say what I have said on this matter. Perhaps I should elaborate a little further by saying that the people who have written in have had a lurid picture painted for them. I am glad of the chance to make clear where the Government stand in this regard.

There is no supporting evidence at all to indicate other than what I have said is right. The matter is being discussed as if a power of consent had never been operated previously. That is just not so. For example, there is the case of consents to disposal of housing land. We are not entirely on untrodden territory when we talk about general consents. It must also be made clear that this whole provision will operate only for one year. It bears repeating that this is a temporary measure designed to deal solely with proposals for expenditure in the year 1985–86; that is all. Clearly we would not want to see good schemes lost because of a temporary measure and how it works.

I do not have the concern that I know some have, and I do not have that concern because I know the way in which we intend this to operate with general consents. It is only in certain areas, where we feel that it is absolutely essential to watch the situation, that we propose to do as I have said. So I take what the noble Baroness has said seriously, and I am glad of the chance to make clear to those who are concerned that they do not need to have that concern, and at the same time I ask the noble Baroness to understand why we feel as we do about the need for this clause.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I do not know whether the Minister will allow me to intervene for a moment, although I have not heard most of the past proceedings. However, I heard what the noble Lord was saying just now and so I hope I shall be in order in saying a few words on behalf of the voluntary bodies. The Minister must know that there is widespread anxiety and concern—he must at least agree about that. I do not know why he thinks that there should be so much concern if people had confidence in him and his colleagues. The truth is that they have no confidence. The whole of the voluntary world has no confidence as regards this particular matter—

Lord Boyd-Carpenter


The Earl of Longford

My Lords, what did someone say? Does the noble Lord want me to give way? No. I hope that the noble Lord will not continue to interrupt from a sitting position; that is not like him. I was saying that it is perfectly obvious that the voluntary world has no confidence in the Minister and his colleagues. Why should they have confidence? As the Minister knows, the great majority of the citizens of London are against the abolition of the GLC. Is that disputed? Every poll shows—

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, they have spent millions on advertising—

The Earl of Longford

Noble Lords are getting awfully rattled. They are sitting there chatting away for all they are worth. I am asking for a moment or two. I am going on, but I want to point out that noble Lords are not observing the rules of the House by making all these interruptions from a sitting position.

Lord Plummer of St. Marylebone

My Lords, if the noble Earl would like someone to interrupt him, perhaps I may do so. The fact of the matter is that the despondency and despair of the voluntary bodies has been encouraged by the Labour Party, whose members go around spreading these stories and causing a great deal of unnecessary anxiety. The noble Earl comes here in the middle of the debate without knowing what has been said, and carries on with this entirely fallacious argument.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord had the courage to stand up and say what is manifestly false. That was a contribution to the debate.

Noble Lords


The Earl of Longford

My Lords, everyone knows and every poll shows that the great majority of the citizens of London are against abolition.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, why not have an election?

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, they are terrified of going before the electorate; they are scared stiff of going before the electorate. In those circumstances, it is not surprising that the voluntary bodies have no confidence in the Minister. Of course, what the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said is perfectly true. If one is actually responsible for one of these voluntary bodies—if one is chairman, president or holds some such office—one knows perfectly well that when one speaks of the Minister having to approve one of these schemes, one is talking nonsense. How can this very enlightened, hardworking Minister or his colleague (who, for all I know, may be equally enlightened and hardworking) possibly approve all these schemes? It is a physical impossibility; it is a nonsense. I wanted to put that small point before the House before we proceed to a Division.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I apologise to the noble Earl for having interrupted him from a sitting position. I can only explain that I was surprised that so normally reasonable a Member of this House as the noble Earl committed himself to so outrageous an observation as that which he made about the attitude of the voluntary bodies. The respectable voluntary bodies—and not all voluntary bodies are respectable—have far more confidence in my noble friends than they have in the noble Lord and his noble friends. There is really no reason whatever why they should have any apprehension.

However, it may well be that some of the so-called voluntary bodies that have been assisted, in particular by the Greater London Council, perhaps rightly, have very little confidence as to whether their grants will be continued once the GLC has been abolished. Let me remind the noble Lord of one or two of these bodies that have benefited from the Greater London Council. They include the English Collective of Prostitutes, Lesbian Line. London Lesbian and Gay Centre, the Campaign Against the Police Bill, and the Gay Bereavement Project. Those are the types of bodies that have been benefiting from the GLC and it is perhaps not unreasonable that they should have some apprehensions. As a ratepayer in London I think that it is quite outrageous that my money, contributed in rates, should be used for these perverted purposes.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, Lord Boyd-Carpenter's hit list of organisations of which he does not approve is becoming a little tattered. He has been using it over and over again at all stages of this Bill and at all stages of the Rates Bill. It is not a particularly effective list because the noble Lord does not actually give the figures of the amounts of money concerned.

We have made some progress in this debate in the sense that the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, has paid tribute to the work of the Greater London Enterprise Board and other boards, which at the Committee stage he called the "so-called" enterprise boards. It is worthwhile to have that improvement in his attitude. I am grateful to him for what he now says about it.

But I spoke in the somewhat unreal circumstances at the end of the Committee stage more in sorrow than in anger about the problems that the Government would have over the implementation of this new clause. The fact of the matter is that it is neither possible nor probable that the Labour Party could, in this short time, have whipped up the kind of opposition to this new clause that there has been from voluntary bodies. Neither has it in fact happened; but the truth is that at all stages of this Bill the process of applying for grants under Section 137 continues. The voluntary bodies are already making their plans, quite properly, for 1984–85, and they have been applying to the Greater London Council, to the metropolitan counties and to other local authorities for finance for next year.

The point which the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, has not adequately replied to—even when he has been making reassuring statements about general consents—is how he is going to deal with those applications which do not qualify for general consent, what extra staff he is going to have at Marsham Street to do this work, and how quickly he is going to deal with the applications. There is an amendment in this list on exactly that point. That, combined with the issue of the continuing and necessary work of the enterprise boards—not just the Greater London Enterprise Board but the West Midlands Enterprise Board, in particular—shows that the Government have not adequately thought out this new clause, and not adequately thought out their response to this series of amendments.

Baroness Hornsby-Smith

My Lords, we have heard a great deal about this, and not least from the noble Baroness. Lady Birk, who singled out organisations which she knows perfectly well would still have support from the Government. Members on this side of the House are just as keen on supporting legitimate registered charities and welfare organisations which do first-class work as are noble Lords on the other side of the House. But it is interesting, and a fact, that the 2 per cent. rate levy which is ultimately intended for local authorities to use at their discretion has been far exceeded by the GLC by the simple process of adding to the housing committee's budget and to the finance committee's budget monies going to some of these non-charitable and rather peculiar bodies named by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter.

In particular, the GLC is not a police authority, but it is sustaining a committee on the police for which it has no statutory authority. It is also financing a group which blatantly does its best to undermine the authority and status of our police force. No one on these Benches is challenging the work of these advisory committees, the citizens' advice bureaux, or the charities. I remember with deep regret a great national registered charity in this country—and I have consistently supported its Kent organisation—even though it was denied in the House of Commons by the Minister, deliberately putting out propaganda showing a free bus pass which is crossed out with a red cross and saying, "If the GLC is abolished, you will no longer get your free bus pass". That was an outrageous lie. It was against the charter of the Charities Commission. It is this type of abuse which Members on this side of the House, and ratepayers on both sides, object to.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I believe that unless the Government retain these powers in the present Clause 10, the worthwhile and deserving charities to which the noble Earl, Lord Longford, referred would have great cause for concern, because I believe that the presently constituted Greater London Council would spend its Section 137 money on all the less deserving causes quite deliberately in order to worry the more deserving causes. This is what one has to be frightened of. There has been a deliberate scaremongering tactic by the present GLC to worry the genuine and highly thought of charities. There is no cause for that alarm because I believe that this clause gives the Government control over what the Section 137 money is spent on. They will see that it is well spent, in the genuine interests of those really deserving in London. The danger is that unless this clause is there, the money will instead be frittered away on far less deserving causes and the genuine charities will be left out.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, this has been an extraordinary and very depressing debate, with the exception of the speeches of the noble Baroness the Leader of the Liberal Party and my noble friends behind me.

Noble Lords


Baroness Birk

It is perfectly true, my Lords. Quite frankly, I was amazed that more noble Lords who are concerned with various forms of charity, with enterprise and industry, did not speak up in a rather less prejudiced way. They gave us the same stories which we have heard before from noble Lords opposite. It is true that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter—who probably has the list in his mind and does not need to have it on a worn out piece of paper—produces the same number of charities or other recipients of money every time.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, if the noble Baroness will allow me, I would say that I have so large a list that I pride myself on producing a different group on each occasion.

10.18 p.m.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, I have heard that same list several times, but the noble Lord does not give the percentage that it comes to out of the very large total funds disbursed by the GLC.

Another point is that, once again, noble Lords on the Government side complain that so much of this argument centres around the GLC. They use the GLC all the time as a battering ram. The metropolitan county councils, of which we hear little from them, are also using Section 137. When I moved the amendment, I quoted a great many of the activities that they are carrying out and the amount of money going into job creation. However, this is all ignored because a certain amount of money goes to particular organisations of which individual Peers disapprove.

In a democracy we not only spend money, but have to sustain and suffer things that we do not always like as other people have rights and freedoms to indulge in them. I am sorry to give the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, so much publicity, but when he talks about "respectable" voluntary bodies, what he really means is the type of bodies of which he personally approves. When it comes to charity and voluntary bodies, we all have our particular favourites. We support certain groups and other people support other groups. That is a good thing; otherwise some charities would not receive any money.

Incidentally, the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, mentioned ratepayers. He was quite right to do so, but he did not mention the amount of wealth creation that is going on through the exercise of Section 137. In any case, the ratepayer has a comeback if he or she wishes to use it.

What were worrying were the Minister's replies. So far he has made two fairly lengthy replies on this question. There has been nothing concrete. There has been a great deal of innuendo which, if it accurately reflects the views of the Government, gives them only a harsher and less compassionate look than does their present image, with which they are not doing very well.

The Minister also said that the Government cannot, and will not, abrogate their responsibility. This Government are taking that type of responsibility to such an extent that they are squeezing out local government altogether. They are taking everything to the centre and, as I think my noble friend Lord Longford pointed out, in any case when these decisions are undertaken by central Government, they are not undertaken by the Minister or the Secretary of State. They cannot sit down and go through all this every day and do all their other work, which mounts up as well. It means that this is done by bureaucrats in the department. The amount of time that it is going to take is one of the worries of the various voluntary bodies. It is not only the question of whether the funds will continue but the amount of time that it will take, the amount of delay and the financial problems that they will have meanwhile.

The other thing which worries me very much was that the noble Lord said that this was only a temporary measure. There is nothing in the Bill which says that it is temporary. It may end when the abolition as far as the GLC and the MCCs are concerned ends; but the Government have a rather unfortunate habit, when they grab on to something, of then using it in a different way. I think that when this was discussed in Committee the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, referred to districts and boroughs which she thought were overspending—and I am recalling this from memory—and the Minister in reply said, "That is for another day".

I believe that that is exactly what we are going to see. The Government are taking over tremendous powers all the time and they are not going to give them up very easily. When it comes to the work being taken over by the district councils and the boroughs, then this shutdown will probably follow and be carried over to them. We have really heard nothing that can give any hope that the Government are either seized of the problem or are prepared to do something constructive about it.

All that they do, I repeat, is to make innuendoes that people are doing this and that and we have to protect them. People do not need the sort of protection that the Government are trying to give. And, in protecting, they are creating far greater problems and far greater hardships. I feel, as do my noble friends, very strongly that the Government response to this is short-sighted, blunt, hard and harsh. It is a great pity that they will not say, "We will look at this", and that they just dashed this Bill off in a hurry and a panic in a fury against the GLC—for that is what it is all about.

If the Government had accepted the amendment that we moved earlier today and had agreed to the elections, then the voters of these places would have had the chance to indicate what they wanted. That is the answer to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. Let them vote and let them say how they feel. If the money is being spent in a way that they disapprove of, let them vote out the present local councillors who are in power at this time. That is the way to do it; and not this way of grabbing everything to the centre and then not being able to cope with it in a proper manner. I find it absolutely awful and will want to look at it again and study carefully what the Minister has said, because I think that we shall then have to think of some other way of approaching this problem.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, may I point out correcting the statement that was made that it was not another district that was referred to in the previous debate, but another section—referring to Section 142? That I think is what the reply was given to about which the noble Baroness was speaking.

On Question, amendment negatived.

10.25 p.m.

[Amendments Nos. 33 and 34 not moved.]

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 35: Page 8, line 18, at end insert ("and either unconditionally or subject to conditions").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is purely a technical amendment, providing that any consents given under this clause may be either unconditional or subject to conditions. I beg to move.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, I do not think that this amendment is quite as simple as all that. It says, either unconditionally or subject to conditions". That is a very wide span. While I suppose the Government could argue that this represents a rather wider and more reasonable approach, it opens the way for major interference by the insertion of any condition whatsoever into a particular payment. So the Secretary of State becomes a third party between the council and the recipient of a payment and thus, if one takes as an example the Enterprise Board, could have any particular government policy injected and imposed as part of the condition. If this is incorrect and it means something entirely different, perhaps the noble Lord the Minister will be kind enough to enlighten me.

Lord Bellwin

No, my Lords, and by the leave of the House, what the noble Baroness says is quite correct.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Birk moved Amendment No. 36:

Page 8, line 18, at end insert— ("() The consent of the Secretary of State under this section shall not be required for any expenditure incurred under the said section 137 by way of a grant to any body or organisation where:

  1. (a) such organisation or body has been in receipt of a payment from the council concerned within the previous two financial years; and
  2. (b) the payment to be made to that body or organisation does not exceed the total amount so given in the previous two financial years.")

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I mentioned Amendments Nos. 32, 33, 34 and 36, but I found that I had spoken only on Amendments Nos. 32, 33 and 34 because the Government have an Amendment No. 35 and Amendment No. 36 became mixed up there.

Amendment No. 36 attempts to avoid subjecting those bodies and organisation which are currently in receipt of a grant under Section 137 to unnecessary delay in negotiating extensions of grant aid during the remainder, or the extended term, of the GLC and MCCs. I will not go through the whole argument because it is basically the same argument as before. The vast majority of bodies and organisations in receipt of Section 137 money are involved in activities which are in no way controversial.

Clause 10, with which this amendment tries to deal, will create uncertainty in the financial planning and programming of bodies and organisations that had been anticipating continuing financial support in the period through until 1st April 1986. Proposals for giving grants in 1985–86 will in large measure be drawn up involving negotiations between the metropolitan county councils and the GLC and the potential recipient bodies during the autumn of 1984. Now, the Clause 10 provisions could set such negotiations at naught.

What the amendment seeks to do is to safeguard the interests of those bodies and organisations which are already in receipt of Section 137 money, but this would in no way restrict the Secretary of State's role in respect of any new arrangements for grant aid which may be in mind for 1984–86. Before the Minister replies on this, I should like to say that undertakings given verbally, however well meant, are not sufficient. They have to be in the Bill both for us to find them acceptable and for the people who are concerned, the recipients of grant payments, to feel some security themselves. I beg to move.

Lord Evans of Claughton

My Lords, may I briefly hope, even at this late hour and with all the evidence to the contrary, that the Government will consider this amendment favourably. Despite all the dark portents which noble Lords have indicated about the abuse of Section 137 payments, overwhelmingly they are for such estimable organisations that even the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, could not find them sinister—the Marriage Guidance Councils, the Citizens' Advice Bureaux. councils' voluntary services and similar bodies and organisations in the voluntary sector. They would come under this heading of grants that have been made for the last two years, and for some of the demands to be increased.

Anyone who has been involved with the voluntary sector knows how important it is for these organisations to be able to plan ahead and to have a very clear idea of the amount which they can expect to receive from the local authority, or otherwise, because if they have not got this they cannot plan their programme; they cannot continue to employ their staffs in any consistent way so that they can give the people who enjoy their services the benefit of those services and the continuity of them.

I would have thought that this was a very much easier way for the Government to pursue their plans. I do not approve of this clause in any event, but I think this would be a mitigation of it. Even the Conservative political centre has praised the attitudes of some metropolitan counties, and particularly the way in which Tyne and Wear have made good use of disbursements of a regular kind, such as the ones we are talking about in these amendments to help in the Tyne and Wear area. A great number of authorities, certainly in Merseyside, for instance, are using the Section 137 powers to assist economic development, to cut down unemployment and to help in finding employment for young people, very often in combination with private sector funds, Government funds and EEC funds. Once again, surely this kind of payment on a regular and consistent basis which has not been augmented should be exempt from the Secretary of State's approval; otherwise, I suspect that the whole burden and load of this meticulous inquiry being carried out on behalf of the Secretary of State by civil servants will bring some very important and useful activities to an unexpected close.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, I should like very much to support what my noble friend has said and to add one more point to the reasons why it is so undesirable that there should be this degree of interference from the centre. I know it is an unpopular point, but the fact is that our Civil Service is not trained and equipped professionally to make judgments of this kind. One is constantly finding oneself in the position in which people who have a great deal of knowledge, often backed with proper professional experience, are being judged by people who have no such knowledge. This is an outrageous way in which to conduct affairs.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, the noble Baroness speaks as if every single payment made under Section 137 is as pure as the driven snow. In fact, it is not so. This Amendment No. 36 would exempt from the control procedure each proposal by an abolition authority for expenditure under Section 137 to grant aid a body which that authority had already grant aided during 1983–4 or 1984–5. I accept that the exemption would apply only up to the limit of the total amount of the payments given to the body during 1983–4 and 1984–5. I accept also that it would enable payments to he made without reference to the Secretary of State to a number of bodies, notably in the voluntary sector, who rely heavily on Section 137 grants and whose activities are unlikely in the event to be in question.

In practice, I do not doubt that a considerable number of bodies who have received grant aid during 1983–4 and 1984–5 will clearly continue to receive grant aid during 1985–6. The Secretary of State's approval will be readily forthcoming. That is the message which I relayed at Committee stage and which I have already taken pains to repeat today; but, for reasons which I referred to earlier, we cannot safely claim a universal rule to exempt every single recipient of Section 137 funds over the past two years from the Secretary of State's scrutiny.

It is unfortunately quite conceivable that such a body could be used as a vehicle for purposes which the consent powers are designed to frustrate. In particular, it would be imprudent, without supervision, to allow expenditure by these authorities or enterprise boards to carry on at the rate of the past two years combined. I am driven, inescapably, to the conclusion that the principle behind Amendment No. 36 should not in any form be introduced into Clause 10.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I wonder whether I may intervene briefly, because the Minister must explain what he is after. If one looks at the proposed amendment, one sees that it can refer only to organisations which are already in receipt of grant, and the amount will not exceed the grant paid in the previous two years. Therefore, it can hit only at an existing organisation which is receiving grant. Let the Minister come clean. Which of the organisations receiving grant does he want to stop? We might then know where we are. We have had innuendoes and I have brought forward facts and figures, which have been denied by the Minister, to show that all the information in Marsham Street is not always correct.

Therefore let the Minister come clean. Which of the organisations receiving grant does he want to stop? If he says that there is none, he can then approve this amendment without any worry at all.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, by leave of the House, I again ask the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and those who spoke earlier, whether they in turn will tell me that every single payment made under Section 137 in the past two years has gone to organisations which were proper recipients of monies. We are not talking in any way about genuine voluntary organisations. I have said again and again that they have nothing at all to fear. The fact is that there are millions and millions of pounds going to some of the enterprise boards and other bodies.

Is it so wrong that one should want to ask questions about to what precisely those monies are being applied? If any of those bodies are applying them correctly to job generation, which we are told about, and which I acknowledge, since I know some of them, they have nothing at all to fear. So why does anyone have anything to fear, if the purposes for which they are receiving the money are reasonable and proper? That is as good an answer as the noble Lord ought to expect on this amendment.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, it is quite clear that, once again, we have come up against a brick wall. My noble friend Lord Underhill was quite right, but again we have had vague replies. The Government do not seem to have confidence in any body or in anything. In any area of life or work there are people or organisations who sometimes do not come up to the standards which one would expect in every case, but you do not then put an absolute blanket over everybody else, which is exactly what the Government are doing.

These are small amounts. The Minister all the time talks about millions and millions of pounds and thousands of people, but he does not put a figure on all these miscreants. He just talks in a wide, broad way and turns down any form of amendment which is reasonable. These amendments are not wrecking amendments. They are trying to improve a clause which many of us here dislike intensely. We are trying to do something about the clause. I have spoken to four amendments on this clause tonight, with considerable support from my noble friends and from the Liberal Benches, and yet we have got no movement at all. It is a very distressing and dim outlook. The Minister does not have to worry. Neither the Labour Party, nor the Liberal Party, nor, indeed, anybody else, has to point this out to the voluntary bodies. They are worried sick about the whole situation and are waiting to hear from the Government about it. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10.40 p.m.

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 37:

After Clause 10, insert the following new Clause:

("Control of disposals of land.

.—(1) Neither the Greater London Council nor a metropolitan county council shall after the passing of this Act dispose of any land except with the consent of the Secretary of State.

(2) Any consent under this section may be given either in repect of a particular disposal or in respect of disposals of any class or description and either unconditionally or subject to conditions.

(3) This section has effect notwithstanding anything in section 123 of the principal Act (general power to dispose of land) or in any other enactment; and the consent required by this section shall be in addition to any consent required by subsection (2) of that section or by any other enactment.

(4) It is hereby declared that section 18(2) of the principal Act (protection of purchasers etc.) applies to any disposal of land to which this section applies.

(5) In this section reference to disposing of land include references to—

  1. (a) granting or disposing of any interest in land;
  2. (b) entering into a contract to dispose of land or to grant or dispose of any such interest; and
  3. (c) granting an option to acquire any land or any such interest;
and references in this subsection to an interest in land include references to any easement, right or charge in, to or over land and to a licence to occupy land.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of the new clause is to make disposals of land by the Greater London Council and the metropolitan county councils subject to the consent of the Secretary of State from the date of Royal Assent. My noble friend the Leader of the House has explained the considerations which led to the Government's response to the arguments put in both Houses and to the new clause agreed in Committee in place of Clause 1 of the Bill, as presented. The amendments to Part II of the Bill form the first limb of this response. This new clause, together with the other two new clauses, Amendments Nos. 38 and 39, to which I wish also to speak, are the second. What I have to say about Amendment No. 37 will apply generally to those amendments, too.

The first point is that the new clauses need to be seen in that context. They are a response to the specific situation in which we now find ourselves through the expression of your Lordships' will. I should like to say a little more about this because it is most important.

The Government have always recognised that there could be scope for obstructive or irresponsible actions on the part of the outgoing authorities. As long ago as 1st March I announced that the main abolition Bill would prevent these authorities from committing their successors, through fixed-term staff contracts or excessive compensation. The Bill, as presented to your Lordships' House, required the authorities to provide information to the boroughs and districts, and to consult them about expenditure. Even as these provisions began to be debated it became clear that they might not be sufficient to dissuade some of the abolition authorities from making mischief before they disappear. The Government therefore introduced Clause 10 which we have just been debating.

These proposals received a good deal of support in Committee as well as elsewhere but they were made—indeed, all our counter-obstruction provisions were made—in the context of authorities which would, under the Government's original proposals, have been controlled by the elected members of the successor boroughs and districts for their last 11 months. Those successor councils would have been keeping a close eye on any commitments into which the outgoing authorities might have been entering. This in itself would have acted as a powerful check.

The whole situation has now changed. The existing councils will now be in existence for much longer and the effect of the new amendments to Clause 3 will be to more than double from 9 to 20 months the period in which, if they choose, the GLC and the metropolitan county councils could take action which might seriously prejudice their successors. At the same time, the constraints which the coming into existence in May 1985 of the transitional councils would have provided will be absent.

I used the phrase "if they choose". It is indeed a matter of choice for those authorities. Nobody is saying that they have got to choose to be obstructive, and I continue to hope and believe that most of the councillors will behave sensibly and responsibly. But the present situation is not one in which it is possible for me to be over-optimistic.

I referred in Committee, when introducing the new clause providing for controls on Section 137 expenditure, to a number of things that had been said by various of the council leaders. I shall not repeat them now but, if called upon later, I shall do so. Suffice it to say that there is obviously a great responsibility on the Government to recognise that there really is a great danger here. Nobody who acts sensibly, responsibly and reasonably has anything whatsoever to fear from the new clauses. Only those who set out to undermine their successors by depriving them of assets or letting contracts which are not reasonably necessary for the discharge of their functions stand to fall foul of the new controls. I cannot say this too strongly.

Without making a great meal of it, there are those who argue that the new controls do not go far enough. They may be right; only time will tell. The Bill already contains a number of counter-obstruction provisions. We considered very carefully what further was needed. We are convinced that the clauses which we now propose are a realistic response to the threats—I hate to use the word but that is what it is—and the actions which we fear. They are not excessive but they show our clear determination not to allow the outgoing councils to use their longer period in office so as to frustrate the Government's objectives. I beg to move.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, we now seem to have reached the height of Government control and restriction. These powers that we are now discussing are virtually unprecedented. This is not something which has just been said by politicians, but is something which is felt by students of local government and academics who are concerned with it, and historians as well.

The control of the disposal of land means that the local authorities which have used the capital they get from the disposal of land to finance other activities are under obligation all the time to sell at the best possible price unless there is a special reason; and then they have to go to the Secretary of State. These powers are going to operate immediately this Bill is passed, and will not wait until abolition. They are being enforced by disqualification. The disqualification has to be ordered by the court, but there is no time limit set. This is a far greater extension of disqualification than anything we have ever known before.

These measures are a further attack on local democracy. They pre-empt abolition because they have virtually immediate effect. The moment this Bill becomes law these powers come into operation, eight months within the normal term of office of the present administration. There exist already very firm legal provisions which can prevent this sale of assets at anything other than the market price. Local authorities already have to work within the scrutiny of the district audit. They also work within existing budgets and precepts, and have to abide by duties of reasonableness.

The Government have given no prior information on the criteria the Secretary of State would use in wielding his proposed powers. There is no information on the machinery, administrative processes and staffing to be set up. The volume of spending and the numbers of cases caught up by the triple net, now, of Section 137, disposals and contracts over £100,000—£250,000 for buildings—is so great that the DoE is likely to be swamped with applications for consent.

On the clause dealing with contracts, as I understand it, taking those restrictions alone, the GLC would be having to send for consent to the Secretary of State something in the region of 250 applications a week. It is going to be almost impossible for any local authority to be able to carry out the duties which are imposed on it, and provide services for people within this financial straitjacket. It means that for some authorities, if there is a great deal of money that is needed to be spent on something like snow clearing, this then has to go to the Secretary of State. What happens meantime? These sums of £250,000 for engineering works or building and £100,000 for maintenance and so on, may sound a lot of money just in figures, but when we are talking in London in terms of eight million people and, when we get to the metropolitan councils, of six million people, it is not a lot of money when you are having to build, maintain and look after what are very large communities indeed.

One sometimes gets the feeling that things could not get worse, but then the Government come up with something else which is very much worse. There is a point—perhaps the Minister will be able to explain it to me—on the clause dealing with disqualification. As I understand it, it says that somebody could be disqualified for doing something even if the thing that they are concerned with has not itself been declared void. There seems to be a tendency throughout all these amendments to increase the power to disqualify more and more people. Apart from the practical effects of these clauses, the effect on the relationships between local government and central Government are getting worse and worse under this Government. We now have a series of amendments on matters where the conflict, the tempers, the feelings are all very high and very easily aroused. It is absolutely disgraceful that the Government are taking these powers and treating the large local authorities as though they were small schoolchildren. For the Government to be engineering this and doing it in a way that has, I repeat, been unknown previously, by making what are considered to be the most extraordinary provisions, is something of which the House should take some account.

Lord Broxbourne

My Lords. I hope that even at this late hour I may have your indulgence to say a brief word in regard to this fasciculus of new clauses. Let me say at once that I support the principle underlying the new clauses on the necessity to impose restraints on profligate, reckless councils whose recklessness may indeed be accentuated by their sense of impending doom. Certainly nothing that the noble Baroness has said has eroded by one scintilla my conviction that the principle is right.

I rise mainly to say a cautionary word in particular regard to the content and drafting of Amendment No. 38. The new clause concerns the control of building and civil engineering contracts and represents a laudable effort to legislate simply on complex matters. However, building and civil engineering contracts, as your Lordships may know, are notoriously complex. I certainly know it. I have learnt it. I cannot properly say that I have learnt it to my cost, because, happily, it has been to my professional profit, but the long and laborious hours which I have spent on these matters in my professional capacity have shown me beyond peradventure their complexity. They have indeed been long and laborious hours spent in the interpretation of these contracts and in the resolution of the conflicts that arise from them.

The new clause in Amendment No. 38 prohibits the entering into construction contracts of over a specified amount—£250,000. That is a good intention but the wording gives rise to problems. The words "enter into a contract" are not defined in the new clause but, in my submission, they can only mean "conclude a contract binding in law". It is only at that stage—the conclusion of a contract binding in law—that the new clause contemplates the necessity to seek the consent of the Secretary of State.

As your Lordships will know, local authorities contract under seal. As your Lordships may or may not know, local authorities normally use the local authority edition of the contract issued by the Joint Contracts Tribunal, the present edition in force being the 1980 edition, with its articles of agreement and voluminous conditions of contract. But the formal conclusion of a building or civil engineering contract is only the final step in a long progression; each step involving the expenditure of money and time, not only by local authorities—although, of course, by them—but also by many other prospective participants in the contract work.

The council, as building owner, will start with the preparation of drawings, first in outline, and then detailed. Then a specification will have to be prepared, with detailed bills of quantities compiled by quantity surveyors. On the basis of those documents, an invitation to tender will be prepared and issued to prospective or possible tenderers, who in their turn will price the bills of quantities and base their tender upon that. Those tenders—not just one, but several—will be studied by the council's experts, and one will then be recommended for acceptance. Only after all those preliminary steps will the contract be entered into, as the clause lays down. Then, and then only, will the consent of the Secretary of State be required, then, and then only, will the provisions of the clause bite; that is to say, after all that expenditure has been incurred—expenditure which refusal of consent will necessarily render abortive.

I see two potential injurious consequences possibly arising in that scenario. First, the expenditure by the council will constitute a burden on the ratepayer, without any control (because there is no control envisaged up to that stage), and, in the event, for no purpose if consent is ultimately refused. Secondly, there is the expense for would-be contractors, without any reasonable prospect of return—an abortive expenditure which in its way is injurious to the national economy. I respectfully make this submission to your Lordships in general and my noble friends on the Front Bench in particular. Consideration should be given to seeking a more precise, even if necessarily a more elaborate, scheme of control to fortify that welcome and necessary principle.

I think perhaps I should mention one other very sort point. Subsection (5) of the new clause states: A contract shall not be void by reason only that it has been entered into in contravention of this section". Of course, if the contract is not void, as the clause says, the builder has a right to sue for payments under the contract or to sue for breaches of it. The council, in its turn, is likely to plead in its defence impossibility of performance by reason of refusal of consent by the Secretary of State, which is a necessary prerequisite to its performance of the contract.

I can see a very considerable legal tangle arising from that subsection. It may be profitable to lawyers—and who am I to say that that is a bad thing?—but it will not really reflect credit on the statute law, or indeed on those of us who in this House and the other place have the responsibility to make it. So may I respectfully ask my noble friend the Minister to have these points in mind? I appreciate this clause has been prepared at short notice. May I ask the Minister to see whether he cannot get a better drafting of this clause to underlie and promote the purpose giving rise to it? I reiterate that for that purpose he has my unqualified support.

11 p.m.

Lord Evans of Claughton

My Lords, I would not seek or have the temerity to pursue Lord Broxbourne's reasoning about the nature of the clause. I am sure that he is right. But what his speech underlines is the rash nature of how this added piece of legislation has been brought before us. He underlines the drafting difficulties. We on these Benches here have the very serious problem of trying to understand the complexity of its proposals at very short notice indeed. It is very sad that we should be considering such important amendments at 11 o'clock at night with so little preparation and clauses that are as I have said before today an entirely new Bill: a control of local government expenditure Bill. It is not a paving Bill at all. It is an entirely new adventure.

It is a sad reflection on the relationships between central and local government that the Government have found it necessary to put down these amendments because of what they fear some local authorities will do. It is sad that the relationships between local government and central government have reached this pass; and it is sad also that there are, as I am aware, local authorities that are irresponsible and have to be controlled. But I feel that the measures that the Government have taken to control them are unduly and unnecessarily draconian. Perhaps the noble Lord the Minister in his reply will tell us why Section 123 of the 1972 Local Government Act is not sufficient for his purposes. I think that was the section that the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, mentioned. Perhaps he would tell us why the Government believe that the powers they have at present to prevent asset stripping are not sufficient for them.

I know that there have been a lot of stories about how Liverpool City Council is going to be saved by Mr. Livingstone, by taking a lease on the town hall, but even I cannot really believe that that kind of Grand Guignol was meant to be taken seriously. I hope that it is not to deal with that kind of problem that the amendments are put down. In being put down in this broadly based way, they will interfere with the orderly disposal of assets of the metropolitan counties. I talk only here of the metropolitan counties, disposing, for instance, of police houses. As a policy of the police authority the county council in Merseyside are disposing of 200 police houses. I wonder whether each of them will now have to be scrutinised by the Secretary of State.

In the present committee cycle in Merseyside County Council, which is a six-week cycle, there are more than 20 transactions which might be affected by Amendments Nos. 37 and 38. Are they all to be scrutinised by the Minister? Presumably they will be scrutinised at the end of the six-week cycle after they have been through the council and then will come back to the council at some later date.

What will happen is that perfectly innocent, harmless transactions of a routine nature, which are vital for the future of local government in any form, are going to be completely bottled up in bureaucratic nightmares in Whitehall. I feel very seriously that if the Government found it necessary to introduce this kind of draconian legislation they might have put a lower limit or made exceptions of the kinds of transactions which are of a routine character and need not be caught by these particular amendments. I hope that noble Lords on the Government side of the House realise the dangers that they are imposing and the ridicule to which they are likely to expose themselves when the full force of this amendment comes to be seen in practice at local government level. I hope the Government have second thoughts.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, this afternoon the noble Lord, Lord Molson, stated that those who had opposed the Government in the previous vote in Committee stage had done so because they objected to the suspicion of gerrymandering in taking away power from the metropolitan councils and the GLC, and in some cases changing the political nature of those authorities.

I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Molson because, as I tried to explain in a three-minute speech at that stage, there were those of us who also objected on principle to the removal of the right of the 14 million electors to exercise their vote, to choose their councillors and to dismiss their councillors, which would have saved a great deal of the anguish which has been shown on the other side of the House during this evening's debate. However, that is decided for the moment.

But may I point out to those who sympathise with the noble Lord, Lord Molson, that these three amendments are also a type of gerrymandering. They do not remove the vote from the electorate. What they do is remove control of council action and place it in the hands of central Government. As I said at the Committee stage, among all parties in this country there is a very honourable tradition of local democracy and the building of national democracy through local democracy, not least in the Conservative Party. I wonder whether it is not the case that tonight on the other side of the House there are noble Lords who do not feel somewhat uneasy at seeing central Government usurping the functions of elected local councilors, because that is surely at least dangerously close to digging up the roots of our democracy as a whole.

One may say that there is no danger now. But, referring back to what the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, said this afternoon, we do not have a written constitution. We do not have the protection of a written constitution. We can create, and we are tonight being asked to create, precedents. Those precedents can be used at other times for a much more dangerous purpose than is apparent in the amendments put down by the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, tonight.

I would ask the noble Lord whether he does not realise that these amendments represent the kind of gerrymandering that was seen by his own colleagues, by many of his right honourable friends in another place, and, indeed, by many Conservative councillors in both the GLC and the metropolitan councils to be so offensive. I ask noble Lords, before taking the drastic step of passing the power of decision-making from elected local councillors, who form the roots of our democratic system, to central Government, and above all, to the Executive, to think carefully as to where we are going in the march which we have seen of adding to the power of the Executive at the expense of both Parliament and elected local authorities.

I would ask the noble Lord to consult his own supporters in the metropolitan councils and in the Greater London Council because, as I understand it, they have already expressed widespread dismay and, indeed, clear opposition, and have made threats that, if taken along this road, they will resign their seats on the basis that they are being denied the power to do the job for which they were elected by the people of this country.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, for a specific assurance on a particular point relating to this clause. The assurance that I seek—I hope that noble Lords will agree that he may give it if he so wishes—relates to how the Secretary of State will use his powers under the new clause contained in Amendment No. 37. The specific reason for this is that negotiations have been taking place for a couple of years between the Theatres Trust and the Greater London Council concerning the ownership of a number of theatres. The Greater London Council is the freeholder of a number of theatres in London. The Garrick and the Lyceum are examples. There are a couple of others, quite apart from the complex on the South Bank, which is now extremely important. Negotiations have been taking place for the freeholds to be passed over to the Theatres Trust, which is a body set up by Parliament, brought into being by an Act carried under Conservative aegis, with trustees appointed by the Minister. The Arts Council is represented on it. It is a body set up for a specific purpose, and it is now trying to fulfil this purpose.

These negotiations have reached a fairly advanced stage. It is likely, of course, that some money will have to accompany the freeholds if they are transferred. The National Trust does not accept a freehold without a monetary accompaniment to it. In this case, the monetary accompaniment would be smaller, but in some cases it would be non-existent because the freehold might be profitable. Nonetheless, it would not have to be excluded. What I seek from the noble Lord is an undertaking that in exercising his powers under this Act the Secretary of State would not veto this whole proposition and make it impossible for the GLC and the Theatres Trust to complete their negotiations if both parties wish to do so. I hope the noble Lord will be able to give me that assurance.

I share very strongly the feelings which have been expressed in this House that we would be better off without these clauses at all. We would be better off not having to ask the noble Lord to give us the kind of assurances for which we are compelled to ask because of the existence of these clauses. The Government have changed their mind. Last week they were determined to get rid of the present administrations in the metropolitan counties and the Greater London Council, and this week they say they are going to preserve them, to sustain them in power. Mr. Livingstone must remain, whether or not the people of London want him to remain. The Government are going to deprive them of the power to dispose of Mr. Livingstone and are going to determine, by Government edict, that he shall remain for a period of time.

Since it is the Government's decision that the existing administrations shall remain, then surely it is a nonsense for the Government to say, on the one hand, "We are determined that you continue to exist", and, on the other hand, "We are equally determined to deprive you of the powers you already enjoy". Surely this is a complete and total nonsense. It illustrates the mess into which the Government have got themselves. Nevertheless, having said that, I want to say that if they are determined to get themselves into the mess—I hope we are going to try tonight to stop them from doing it—it might help to convince some of the noble Lord's colleagues, though I hope not too many of them, if he could tell us how the Secretary of State is going to do this. Is the Minister going to intervene and say, "No, this is not going to go ahead", or is he going to say, "Negotiations which are already in hand, provided they are reasonable and proper and are consented to between the parties, may continue and be completed"?

Lord Birkett

My Lords, I hope that even at this late hour your Lordships will allow me a moment or two. Alas, I must needs declare an interest. The last time I spoke on such an occasion, with equal reluctance on the part of the House, I was so keen to cut everything out that I actually forgot to declare my interest. The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, took me to task for it. I work for the GLC, and it is for that reason that on Clause 38 I want to take just one minute of your Lordships' time.

I stand before your Lordships as a man who actually does the things that are set down in Clause 38. I do spend a hundred thousand pounds at a time—sometimes a quarter of a million at a time. I spend it on a great network of parks and open spaces, many thousands of acres of them. In particular, I spend it on two brand-new parks—I say "brand-new": they have now been going for 10 years and more; they were designed in 1943—at Burgess and Mile End. These parks regularly have within them contracts of this size. They have been supported over all this time by all political parties and generally applauded as something vitally necessary for London—as, indeed, are the rest of the parks. I should say that I think that even the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, would not find any of my parks anything except respectable. He will not be able to put them into his next list to read out to your Lordships' House.

However, no doubt I shall be assured that if everything is as respectable as I make it out to be, and as worthwhile and as generally admired, I have nothing to fear. But the truth is that everything I do in this direction will now be swept, quite unnecessarily, into this dustpan of legislation.

It seems to me that this is basically shotgun legislation of such a width and spread of fire-power as to encompass almost everything that could possibly be encompassed. I cannot believe that legislation so swift and so absolutely general as this should come before your Lordships' House so rapidly. I hope that your Lordships will think very carefully before agreeing to it.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, by leave of the House, I should like to try to respond to the points that have been made. First, I point out to my noble friend Lord Broxbourne that of course we shall want to look very carefully at what he has said because clearly that could be of much importance. But for the moment let me just say that the new clause—and I am also talking to Amendment No. 38, which is being discussed in general—precludes a council from entering into a legally binding contract without consent, and consent may be applied for at any time beforehand—for example, before or after tenders are considered. Clearly, we shall want to consider very carefully what my noble friend said, and I assure him as to that.

To take up the points made by individual noble Lords, clearly I do not know the particular circumstances to which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, referred. I shall certainly want to look at them and try to give him—if I can—the assurance for which he calls. Whether or not I would be able to do so would, I presume, depend upon the facts. However, the basic intentions of what I have been saying are not unsympathetic to the type of scene which he has described. But I am sure that the noble Lord will understand if I say no more than that for the moment. I undertake to come back to him quickly with a response.

Likewise, the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, was absolutely right when he anticipated what I would say, because I do say it. As regards good schemes and good projects, it is not the intention of what we propose here in any way to interfere with the proper working of an authority. As long as that is the case, he certainly, as he anticipated, can smile and I am glad that he is able to do so.

As regards the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, of course I do not take offence at his reference to the word "gerrymandering". He has perhaps sometimes been known to be slightly intemperate. I do not like what he said and I disgree with it, but we shall not get further if I say more than that about it. I certainly do not take his point that political colleagues of mine on the GLC talk about resigning. I was at a meeting with them the other night when they said now bitterly they resented the fact that people said this about them. If any of them wish to do so, then they will declare themselves. Hitherto I have not heard such declarations.

There are only two other points that I want to make about this matter. First, subsection (2) of Amendment No. 37—and this should be said slowly and clearly so that everyone absolutely understands—empowers the Secretary of State to issue specific or general consents and these can either be conditional or unconditional. The Government are considering what categories of disposal might be suitable for general consents. We intend that as many consents as are reasonably necessary to ensure the proper conduct of the authorities' affairs should be granted immediately upon enactment of the Bill.

The objections missed two essential points. The first is that if the authorities concerned do not choose to try to make life difficult for their successors, then they have absolutely nothing to fear at all. It is only if they seize the opportunity to make mischief that the schemes will be affected.

The second point is that if the Government did not seek the means of protecting successor authorities and ratepayers in this way, then we should, quite rightly, be strongly criticised. If there are any lingering doubts in your Lordships' minds, then let me refer your Lordships to the typically distorted and excessive advertisements which have appeared over the weekend, because they may have helped to dispel them.

I have listened to what has been said. I repeat as regards both these amendments and new clauses that it is not the Government's intention to interfere with proper working. We shall not do so. There will be consents to make sure that there is not the whole conglomeration of difficulty which has been referred to. I am satisfied that, as a consequence of the early decision which your Lordships took the other week, this is a proper safeguard for people and that it will be recognised as such by the people.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down—

Noble Lords

Order, order!

11.20 p.m.

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

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 137; Not-Contents, 70.

Abinger, L. Hanson, L.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Harmar-Nicholls, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Harvey of Tasburgh, L.
Ampthill, L. Hastings, L.
Avon, E. Henley, L.
Barber, L. Hindlip, L.
Bauer, L. Hires, L.
Bellhaven and Stenton, L. Home of the Hirsel, L.
Bellwin, L. Hornsby-Smith, B.
Beloff, L. Inchcape, E.
Belstead, L. Ingrow, L.
Biddulph, L. Kaberry of Adel, L.
Birdwood, L. Kemsley, V.
Boardman, L. Kinnaird, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Kitchener, E.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Lindsey and Abingdon, E.
Bridgeman, V. Long, V. [Teller.]
Brougham and Vaux, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Broxbourne, L. Lyell, L.
Bruce-Gardyne, L. McAlpine of West Green, L.
Caithness, E. Mackintosh of Halifax, V.
Cameron of Lochbroom, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Camoys, L. Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon, L.
Campbell of Croy, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Merrivale, L.
Carnock, L. Middleton, L.
Carr of Hadley, L. Molson, L.
Cathcart, E. Montagu of Beaulieu, L.
Chelwood, L. Mottistone, L.
Cockfield, L. Mountgarret, V.
Coleraine, L. Moyola, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Cornwallis, L. Norfolk, D.
Cowlev, L. Northesk, E.
Cox, B. Peel, E.
Craigmyle, L. Penrhyn, L.
Craigton, L. Perth, E.
Crathorne, L. Pike, B.
Croft, L. Plummerof St. Marylebone, L.
De Freyne, L. Radnor, E.
De La Warr, E. Rankeillour, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Reay, L.
Digby, L. Redesdale, L.
Donegall, M. Remnant, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Renwick, L.
Eden of Winton, L. Romney, E.
Elliot of Harwood, B. St. Aldwyn, E.
Elphinstone, L. Saltoun, Ly.
Elton, L. Sandford, L.
Enniskillen, E. Savile, L.
Erne, E. Skelmersdale, L.
Erroll of Hale, L. Southborough, L.
Ferrers, E. Swansea, L.
Fisher, L. Terrington, L.
Fortescue, E. Thomas of Swynnerton, L.
Gainford, L. Torphichen, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Townshend, M.
Geddes, L. Tranmire, L.
Gibson-Watt, L. Trefgarne, L.
Gisborough, L. Trenchard, V.
Glanusk, L. Trumpington, B.
Glenarthur, L. Tryon, L.
Gowrie, L. Ullswater, V.
Gray, L. Vickers, B.
Gray of Contin, L. Waldegrave, E.
Gridley, L. Whitelaw, V.
Haig, E. Windlesham, L.
Hailsham of St. Marylebone, L. Wynford, L.
Yarborough, E.
Halsbury, E.
Ardwick, L. Kilbracken, L.
Attlee, E. Kirkhill, L.
Barnett, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Bernstein, L. Lockwood, B.
Beswick, L. Longford, E.
Birk, B. Lovell-Davis, L.
Birkett, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Mar, C.
Bowden, L. Mountevans, L.
Briggs, L. Nicol, B.
Briginshaw, L. Ogmore, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Oram, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Collison, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]
David, B. [Teller.]
Dean of Beswick, L. Rea, L.
Denington, B. Rochester, L.
Diamond, L. Ross of Marnock, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Seear, B.
Ennals, L. Sefton of Garston, L.
Evans of Claughton, L. Serota, B.
Falkender, B. Stallard, L.
Falkland, V. Stedman, B.
Gallacher, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Galpern, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Gifford, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Gosford, E. Strabolgi, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Grey, E. Tordoff, L.
Hatch of Lusby, L. Underbill, L.
Irving of Dartford, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Jacques, L. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Jeger, B. Whaddon, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L. White, B.
John-Mackie, L. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E
Kagan, L.

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 38:

[Printed earlier: col. 1182.]

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have already spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.

11.31 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No.38) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 130; Not-Contents 71.

Airey of Abingdon, B. Caithness, E.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Cameron of Lochbroom, L.
Ampthill, L. Camoys, L.
Avon, E. Campbell of Croy, L.
Barber, L. Carnegy of Lour, B.
Bauer, L. Carnock, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Carr of Hadley, L.
Bellwin, L. Cathcart, E.
Belstead, L. Chelwood, L.
Biddulph, L. Cockfield, L.
Birdwood, L. Coleraine, L.
Boardman, L. Cork and Orrery, E.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Cornwallis, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Cowley, E.
Bridgeman, V. Cox, B.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Craigmyle, L.
Broxbourne, L. Craigton, L.
Bruce-Gardyne, L. Crathorne, L.
Croft, L. Lyell, L.
De Freyne, L. McAlpine of West Green, L.
De La Warr, E. Mackintosh of Halifax, V.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon, L.
Digby, L.
Donegall, M. Merrivale, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Middleton, L.
Eden of Winton, L. Molson, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Montagu of Beaulieu, L.
Elphinstone, L. Mottistone, L.
Elton, L. Mountgarret, V.
Enniskillen, E. Moyola, L.
Erne, E. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Erroll of Hale, L. Norfolk, D.
Ferrers, E. Northesk, E.
Fisher, L. Peel, E.
Fortescue, E. Penrhyn, L.
Gainford, L. Perth, E.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Pike, B.
Geddes, L. Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.
Gibson-Watt, L.
Gisborough, L. Radnor, E.
Glanusk, L. Rankeillour, L.
Glenarthur, L. Redesdale, L.
Gray, L. Renwick, L.
Gray of Contin, L. Romney, E.
Gridley, L. St. Aldwyn, E.
Haig, E. Saltoun, Ly.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Sandford, L.
Savile, L.
Halsbury, E. Skelmersdale, L.
Hanson, L. Southborough, L.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Swansea, L.
Harvey of Tasburgh, L. Terrington, L.
Hastings, L. Thomas of Swynnerton, L.
Henley, L. Townshend, M.
Hindlip, L. Tranmire, L.
Hives, L. Trefgarne, L.
Home of the Hirsel, L. Trenchard, V.
Hornsby-Smith, B. Trumpington, B.
Inchcape, E. Tryon, L.
Ingrow, L. Ullswater, V.
Kaberry of Adel, L. Vickers, B.
Kemsley, V. Waldegrave, E.
Kinnaird, L. Whitelaw, V.
Kitchener, E. Windlesham, L.
Lindsey and Abingdon, E. Wynford, L.
Long, V. Yarborough, E.
Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Ardwick, L. Hatch of Lusby, L.
Attlee, E. Irving of Dartford, L.
Barnett, L. Jacques, L.
Bernstein, L. Jeger, B.
Beswick, L. Jenkins of Putney, L.
Birk, B. John-Mackie, L.
Birkett, L. Kagan, L.
Blease, L. Kilmarnock, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Kirkhill, L.
Briggs, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Briginshaw, L. Lockwood, B.
Bruce of Donington, L. Longford, E.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Lovell-Davis, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Collison, L. Mar, C.
David, B. [Teller.] Mountevans, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Nicol, B.
Denington, B. Ogmore, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Oram, L.
Ennals, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Evans of Claughton, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]
Falkender, B.
Falkland, V. Rea, L.
Gallacher, L. Rochester, L.
Galpern, L, Ross of Marnock, L.
Gifford, L. Seear, B.
Gosford, E. Sefton of Garston, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Serota, B.
Grey, E. Shackleton, L.
Stallard, L. Underhill, L.
Stedman, B. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Stewart of Alvechurch, B. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Stewart of Fulham, L. Whaddon, L.
Stoddart of Swindon, L. White, B.
Strabolgi, L. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Tordoff, L.

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

11.40 p.m.

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 39:

After Clause 10, insert the following new clause:—

("Disqualification for contravention of sections (Control of disposals of land) and (Control of contracts).

.—(1) If, on the application of a constituent council or a local government elector for the area of a constituent council, it appears to the High Court that the Greater London Council or a metropolitan county council has made a disposal in contravention of section (Control of disposals of land) above or entered into a contract in contravention of section (Control of contracts) above, the court may order any person responsible for authorising the disposal or contract who is, or was at the time of the conduct in question, a member of the council to be disqualified for being a member of that council and to be qualified for a specified period for being a member of any other local authority.

(2) In sections 80(1)(e), 86(b) and 87(1)(d) of the principal Act references to Part III of the Local Government Finance Act 1982 shall include references to this section.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, without this new clause there would be no specific penalty for contravening the new controls which your Lordships have just agreed. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Alport moved Amendment No. 40:

After Clause 10, insert the following new clause:

("Exemption when acting as education authority.

Nothing in sections (Control of disposals of land) or (Control of contracts) shall apply to the Greater London Council when acting as an education authority for the Inner London area pursuant to section 30 of the London Government Act 1963.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I think I would be justified in saying that the concern which many of my noble friends and I have felt about the Government proposals in this and in the related Bill which will come to us next year has been based upon two considerations. First, the general tendency to devalue local government and those who serve in it; and, secondly, the apprehension that the upheaval which will result from the measures which are proposed or prospective will lead not to greater efficiency and economy but to administrative confusion and additional expense.

So far as London education is concerned, the two new clauses—Amendments Nos. 37 and 38 which we have just passed—will have both these latter consequences. These clauses will have a direct effect on the day-to-day running of the education service in London in three areas: the disposal of building sites; building work; and the supply of goods and services. The ILEA has been encouraged by successive governments to dispose of land and buildings that it no longer requires, and the funds derived from these are used to improve other schools. In the present year disposals will total £4.750.000. The new clauses would inevitably involve the delay of essential decisions with regard to these disposals and will have serious financial effects. The requirement that all contracts of more than £100,000 on maintenance and £250,000 on improvements should be referred to the Department of the Environment will lead to inevitable and damaging delays. There will be loss of income to the authority, and continued maintenance charges on buildings which should be sold and disposed of speedily will add further to the financial burdens of the authority.

At an earlier stage this evening my noble friend Lord Broxbourne explained from his very long experience the technicalities of the problems of contracts of this sort and the problems which will be involved not only for the authority but for those who tender for the contract. What will happen is that the Department of the Environment will refer each proposal to the Department of Education and Science—and this despite the undertaking given by my noble friend Lord Bellwin that approval will be given in certain cases.

We in this House have a wealth of experience of the working of Government departments. There are sometimes delays within the department and often these are inevitable. But consider the possibilities of delay when two departments are involved; one concerned with the financial implications of the proposal, and the other with educational needs. Who will arbitrate if there is a deadlock between the two? Will it be my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the Cabinet? In the coming 12 months there will be 80 building and maintenance contracts carefully timed to coincide with school holidays and school reorganisation, and sometimes of a very urgent nature—for instance, dealing with asbestos removal. Delay in tendering and over-running of time limits will inevitably involve additional cost, and all will require central authorisation. Here, again, I would refer to the advice given to your Lordships by the noble Lord. Lord Broxbourne, earlier this evening.

The great bulk of the ILEA purchasing is done through the GLC's supplies department, which places large-scale contracts on the basis of London-wide heads and charges the ILEA for the goods supplied to it. Bulk purchase of this kind has advantages pricewise, as those of us who shop regularly at Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury's, or the Co-op know. And it is worth recording that this month the Audit Commission named the GLC's supplies department as the most efficient local authority purchasing organisation in England and Wales. At any time there are outstanding 120 contracts, valued at more than £100,000, almost all of which include goods for the ILEA and other education authorities in Greater London. These cover everything from books and school paper to sports gear, furniture, computers and food. Twenty-five million pounds a year is spent on behalf of the ILEA by the GLC's supplies department at a level of cost, on a bulk basis, greatly to the advantage of the public purse.

The control procedures now to be incorporated in this Bill will inevitably involve delay in the placing of large contracts, leading to shortage of stock, disruption of the educational process and increased cost by the placing of smaller contracts, which will result in a higher unit cost and then increased charge to overheads. Contracts will be placed during the next 12 months to run for two or three years, and even longer, and many of these will be over £100,000.

As there will be an elected ILEA, this will presumably have to operate a central supplies organisation of its own in due course. It will have to take over all the current contracts, and there will be a strong incentive, in this particular case of the education field, to ensure that contracts entered into by the present ILEA are prudent and economical. The fears of irresponsibility which lie behind the Government's two new clauses, therefore, even if well founded, do not apply to contracts for the educational buildings and supplies. There is, therefore, no reason why they should be subject to central control, with all the delays, complications and bureaucracy which would be involved.

My Lords, I must confess to you that the more I examine the consequences of the Government's legislation in so far as it affects London, the greater is my apprehension about the administrative confusion and additional expense which will flow from them. I fear that this will have some very undesirable consequences for the Government and for the Conservative interest in London between 1986 and the next general election.

Although this amendment is intended to ensure administrative continuity and efficiency in only one part of the local government field in our capital city, it is a very important field—the most important field of all. I therefore recommend this amendment to your Lordships and I earnestly hope that my noble friend, when he replies, will do so in a way which is favourable to the amendment and, if not, that the House will support any Division that takes place.

Baroness David

My Lords, I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Alport, in this amendment. I think he has said everything that is necessary to be said. No doubt noble Lords opposite who are constant readers of the Financial Times will have read an article which appeared in that newspaper last Thursday, 12th July. The first paragraph of the article, which is headed, GLC tops list of efficient local authority purchasers", reads: The Greater London Council tops the list of local authorities which run the most efficient purchasing divisions, according to a report by the independent Audit Commission, published today". I should like to say that I chaired a committee which looked into the supply of books to schools. It was concerned not with how many books were sent to each school, but with how they got there, and with which were the most efficient organisations. When I and my committee visited the GLC's warehouse at South fields, where they dealt with all the orders, I was very much impressed by their efficiency. If they have to cope with all these contract demands which the clause which, unfortunately, has just been passed brings about, all this efficiency will be lost. The schools will be the losers, because they will get their goods, books and everything they want at a very much slower rate; and it is not only the GLC that they serve, but a good many counties and other authorities around London. So I hope very much that the House will support this amendment.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, we on these Benches should also like to support the noble Lord, Lord Alport. We come back to ILEA, again, which, under the Government's proposals, is to be accorded exactly the same treatment as the GLC, although the Government have very different aims for both these bodies. So that is the first inconsistency. As the noble Lord, Lord Alport, pointed out, all ILEA land and buildings are vested in the GLC and many large education service contracts are entered into by the GLC departments on behalf of ILEA.

As the noble Lord has already said, ILEA has been encouraged by central Government to dispose of buildings released by falling rolls, but the effect on the disposal programme of these new clauses which the Government have introduced into the Bill is likely to be a slowing down of the rate of disposals by adding another tier of approval, thus inhibiting ILEA's chances of achieving its budget target. There will also be a discouraging effect on private sector buyers in making bids on the open market for surplus property, because they know that they will be faced with unspecified delays in addition to those already suffered, because of waits for planning consent and so on. It seems to me that in relation to ILEA these clauses will be distinctly counter-productive.

There is one other point, which is that the amendments propose ceilings of £100,000 on maintenance contracts and £250,000 on main or capital contracts. But it really must be borne in mind that ILEA has heavier building maintenance programmes than average, by virtue of its much higher proportion of pre-1900 school buildings. So that again means that practically every ILEA building or maintenance contract will have to go before the Secretary of State, and the mind boggles at the tremendous build-up of applications in the department.

The final point is the question of contracts for goods and services, which I think the noble Lord, Lord Alport, mentioned. I think I am right in saying that this is not really covered by his amendment, but it is another consideration which the Government ought to bear in mind. The GLC supplies department currently lets for ILEA approximately 120 contracts, valued at more than £100,000 each, almost all of which include goods and services required by ILEA and other education authorities in Greater London. We are not talking now only of contracts for new buildings or for maintenance. We are talking about exercise books, papers, text books, desks, chairs, school furniture, sports goods, protective clothing, floor coverings and so on. At this late hour, I shall not read the whole of my long list.

Many of these supplies of multifarious goods required for the proper running of schools can be achieved at a cheaper price on a larger contract, such as one over £100,000, but under the Government's proposals all these large contracts for this multiplicity of items are likely also to be caught in the net and will have to go to the Secretary of State. I am not making any ideological or political point, but is this practical, is it a sensible way to go about things and should not the Government think again about this?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I am afraid that it is simply not possible to draw a clear distinction between the GLC in its role as a local authority generally and the GLC in its role as an education authority. The fact that we propose to reconstitute the ILEA as a separate corporate body after the abolition of the GLC does not mean that there can be no risk in the education field of the kind of abuse with which the Government's new clauses are designed to deal. The fact that the ILEA has not itself, so far as we are aware, committed this kind of abuse is not a sufficient reason for trying to distinguish it from the GLC in this context.

I accept without question the argument that it is important not to impede or disrupt the education service or any other service which the GLC and the MCCs now operate. The Government will obviously be seeking to process the applications for consent as speedily as possible and we shall be studying as a matter of urgency the possibility that general consents, for which the Bill provides, may be applicable to some of the transactions which the GLC undertakes as an education authority. What I cannot do at this stage is to give my noble friend a commitment that that will be so. I would emphasise once again that nobody who acts responsibly, prudently and reasonably has anything to fear from these new powers. It will be our prime objective to ensure that such responsible actions are not impeded by the consent procedures, and those procedures are emphatically not intended to allow the Government to exercise detailed control over matters which are essentially for local decision.

A practical difficulty arises both with the new clause proposed by my noble friend Lord Alport and with any attempt to distinguish the operations of the ILEA from those of the GLC. Your Lordships will by now be familiar with the constitutional position that the GLC is the ILEA, acting through a special committee of the council, and that the ILEA has no separate corporate personality of its own. Thus, the GLC is a party to the contracts concerned, and it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to attempt to operate the distinction implied by my noble friend's new clause. In some cases it might be possible to say that the GLC was acting as an education authority, but in other areas where the eventual user or beneficiary was the ILEA the connection would be more tenuous and hard to disentangle. It is even possible that attempts to operate such a distinction could lead to delays in the handling of applications for consent and create more of a burden on the GLC.

Therefore on grounds at least of practicality, let alone principle, I hope that my noble friend will be willing to withdraw his new clause upon the absolute assurance, which I give him, that the Government will be taking steps to ensure that neither the education service of Inner London nor any of the other services which stand to be affected by the counter-obstruction measures will be unnecessarily impeded by the operation of these new but essential controls. I am absolutely in accord with my noble friend's concern about the working of these controls, and I ask him to accept that we shall look particularly closely at the position as regards the ILEA in terms of the consent position. With that assurance, I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Alport

My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot accept my noble friend's argument that it is impossible to divorce the ILEA, even though it is associated with the GLC, from the GLC proper. The fact of the matter is that contracts are agreed by the ILEA and then passed to the supplies department of the GLC. There is an operative and administrative division between the two bodies. There is no difficulty in practice in that being carried out, whatever may be the imposition of controls over the GLC for matters other than those relating to both the building needs and the supply needs of the ILEA.

I am afraid that I cannot accept my noble friend's assurance. I know that it is given in good faith and that my noble friend will do his best in the Ministry to expedite decisions, but there are bound to be delays because there will be differences of opinion on many occasions between his department and the department of the Secretary of State for Education and Science. This is inherent in the Government's administration. Although my noble friend will, I am sure, extend every kind of goodwill, the fact of the matter is that this will harm education and make it more difficult for the Inner London Education Authority to carry out its functions properly, economically and efficiently. I am afraid that I cannot withdraw this amendment. Therefore, I hope that the House will divide over it.

11.59 p.m.

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

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 30; Not-Contents, 102.

Alport, L. [Teller.] Lovell-Davis, L.
Birk, B. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Mountevans, L.
David, B. Nicol, B.
Dean of Beswick, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Evans of Claughton, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Falkender, B. Rochester, L.
Gallacher, L. Serota, B.
Gosford, E. Shackleton, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Grey, E. Tordoff, L.
Jacques, L. Underhill, L.
Kagan, L. White, B.
Kilmarnock, L. [Teller.] Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Kirkhill, L.
Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Brabazon of Tara, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Bridgeman, V.
Avon, E. Brougham and Vaux, L.
Bauer, L. Bruce-Gardyne, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Caithness, E.
Bellwin, L. Cameron of Lochbroom, L.
Belstead, L. Camoys, L.
Biddulph, L. Campbell of Croy, L.
Birdwood, L. Carnegy of Lour, B.
Boardman, L. Camnock, L.
Carr of Hadley, L. Kaberry of Adel, L.
Cathcart, E. Kemsley, V.
Chelwood, L. Kitchener, E.
Coleraine, L. Lindsey and Abingdon, E.
Cork and Orrery, E. Long, V. [Teller.]
Cornwallis, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Cowley, E. McAlpine of West Green, L.
Cox, B. Mackintosh of Halifax, V.
Craigmyle, L. Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon, L.
Croft, L.
De Freyne, L. Molson, L.
De La Warr, E. Montagu of Beaulieu, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Mottistone, L.
Digby, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Donegall, M. Norfolk, D.
Drumalbyn, L. Northesk, E.
Eden of Winton, L. Peel, E.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Penrhyn, L.
Elphinstone, L. Perth, E.
Elton, L. Pike, B.
Enniskillen, E. Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.
Erne, E. Radnor, E.
Ferrers, E. Rankeillour, L.
Fisher, L. Redesdale, L.
Fortescue, E. Renwick, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Romney, E.
Gibson-Watt, L. St. Aldwyn, E.
Gisborough, L. Saltoun, Ly.
Glanusk, L. Sandford, L.
Glenarthur, L. Savile, L.
Gray, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Gray of Contin, L. Southborough, L.
Haig, E. Torphichen, L.
Hanson, L. Townshend, M.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Trefgarne, L.
Harvey of Tasburgh, L. Trenchard, V.
Henley, L. Trumpington, B.
Hindlip, L. Vickers, B.
Hives, L. Waldegrave, E.
Hornsby-Smith, B. Whitelaw, V.
Inchcape, E. Wynford, L.
Ingrow, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

12.7 a.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 41:

After Clause 10, insert the following clause:

("Boundary Commission special review.

.—(1) Within 14 days of the passing of this Act the Secretary of State shall instruct the Local Government Boundary Commission for England to carry out a special review and to report to the Secretary of State within four months of receipt of that instruction.

(2) For the purposes of subsection (1) above, a special review shall consider only the areas of the metropolitan counties and Greater London and shall consist of a review of the boundaries of each district or borough in relation to their likely population and such allocation of functions as appears to the Commission to be proposed in the event of the abolition of the metropolitan county councils and the Greater London Council.

(3) In their report to the Secretary of State following a special review the Commission shall state what changes in local government areas appear necessary in the light of the special review including the alteration of the number of metropolitan districts within a metropolitan county or London boroughs within Greater London.

(4) The Secretary of State shall, within 28 days of receipt of a report from the Commission, lay the report before the House of Commons.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of this amendment is to require the Local Government Boundary Commission to conduct a review of districts and borough areas in the light of the abolition proposals. Under the Local Government Act 1972 the Local Government Boundary Commission is charged with making proposals to the Secretary of State for the Environment for effecting changes desirable in the interests of effective and convenient local government.

The boundaries of the existing metropolitan districts were drawn in 1972 in the context of an upper tier strategic county authority, and reflected the functions which were then conferred upon the lower tier councils. Under the Streamlining the Cities proposals, the districts are to inherit some services of a strategic nature currently undertaken by the metropolitan county councils.

There was much argument before the 1972 Act that the areas of some of the districts were too small. Clearly these arguments are bound to be revived with greater force if the current proposals become law. The Boundary Commission should now be considering whether the existing district boundaries will properly reflect their enhanced powers in 1986 to enable Parliament to be fully aware of the implications of the abolition proposals. I beg to move.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, in formulating proposals for devolving the functions of the GLC and metropolitan county councils, the Government had to choose between preceding the changes by a review of the metropolitan districts and London boroughs and implementing any changes found necessary, or devolving the functions first and deferring the review until afterwards, so that they could then take account of the changes actually made and of experience gained in handling the devolved functions.

We chose the latter course, both for its practicality and for the very good reason that the commission's review would necessarily take some time, and we did not wish to delay one moment longer than we could avoid bringing relief to ratepayers from having to support the unnecessary expense of the upper tier authorities. It was an assumption implicit in our decision that the metropolitan districts and London boroughs are capable of carrying out the functions to be devolved to them. I'm fully confident that they are.

This amendment would in effect reverse our decision. It would require the commission to undertake reviews of 68 authorities in double quick time, based on assumptions about the precise delegation of functions in legislation that the House has not yet considered. I am certain that our decision to defer the commission's reviews until abolition and devolution of functions have been effected was the correct one. I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I shall withdraw the amendment; but, in my view, the Minister—all too blithely—is making assumptions about the speed, if not the ease, with which the transfer will take place. For instance, may I draw his attention to the situation in West Yorkshire? An examination of the current size of the five districts in West Yorkshire reveals that it may be necessary to redraw the district boundaries to reflect the enhanced functions envisaged after 1986. Many options would be available. Should Calderdale and Bradford be combined, and also Leeds and Wakefield, to make more viable units, with Kirklees joined to one or other of those larger units? The Minister will have his own store of knowledge, ambition and aspiration in respect of those things. Those are matters which could be affected by the devolution of the powers.

Let us take Merseyside. Will the two smaller Merseyside districts of Wirral and Sefton be considered viable units to cope with the enhanced functions proposed for them? Should the current boundaries of Liverpool City be extended, if the city is to cope with the problems and fulfil its role as a regional centre? I have been given other illustrations.

The Minister may be satisfied that the manner in which the Government are proceeding is fully capable of taking account of the enormity of the upheaval. We suggest that there is a way to ask the Boundary Commission very quickly to see whether there is need for change in the way that we suggest in the areas within the metropolitan counties which are to be abolished. That of course is part of a continuing argument, which will not be resolved until after the event. I am prepared to wait and see. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 11 [Accounts and financial consultation]:

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 42:

Page 8, line 25, at beginning insert—

(" () This section shall come into force when an enactment has been passed by Parliament which provides for the abolition of the Greater London Council and the metropolitan county councils and the transfer of their functions").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 42 is on the theme that we have deployed more than once previously today and at other times. Quite frankly, it is designed to delay the operation of Clause 11, in this instance, until Parliament has approved the main abolition Bill. Like the earlier clauses in the Bill, Clause 11 makes the assumption that abolition will take place in the manner and to the timetable proposed in the White Paper, Streamlining the Cities.

Clause 11, which will come into force as soon as the Bill is passed, will give special privileges to the boroughs and districts to challenge GLC and MCC expenditure and to be consulted on their proposed budgets. Those special privileges can be explained only if the GLC and MCC functions are to be taken over by boroughs and districts. That is a decision yet to be made by Parliament when it considers an abolition Bill. On the basis of the plan so far revealed, however, only 46 per cent. of GLC spending and 30 per cent. of MCC spending will be inherited by the boroughs and the districts.

Historically, the Local Government Acts of 1933 and 1972, and the Local Government Finance Act of 1982, provide that, "any person interested" is entitled to inspect a local authority's accounts, and a "local government elector" for the area to which the accounts relate may challenge them and pursue his challenge, if he thinks fit, through the courts. It is important that the right to challenge the accounts has been given only to local government electors of the area in question; in other words, those persons to whom the authority is responsible through the ballot box. No other type of person or body of persons has such a right. I beg to move.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, this amendment would remove much of the point of Clause 11. Clause 11 is an important provision. This Bill is, after all, designed to allow the successor authorities every opportunity to prepare for the transfer of functions if and when abolition goes ahead. In order to be able to do so, they need some influence over the financial situation which they will eventually take over.

That is why we have included Clause 11 in this Bill. It in no way prejudges the main Bill; it is part of the paving process. The clause does not, therefore, confer undue power on the constituent councils. It gives them the same rights as local electors to object at audit; and it gives them an opportunity to influence decisions about expenditure and financing which will affect them. That is a perfectly reasonable and modest interest to confer on the constituent councils.

But if we were to accept this amendment, these provisions would be of little use. Waiting until summer 1985 would mean that it would be impossible for the constituent councils to be consulted before the GLC and MCC expenditure and financing were determined for 1985–86. It would be too late; and it might also be too late to challenge at audit of the 1983–84 accounts.

So Clause 11 gives the constituent councils the right degree of involvement in decisions which will affect them if abolition goes ahead. It will ensure that the GLC and MCCs must at least listen to the successor authorities before making decisions. To be effective, it has to come into operation as soon as this Bill is enacted. I hope that the noble Lord will appreciate this point.

On Question, amendment negatived.

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 43:

Page 8, line 25, leave out subsection (1).

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 43 has the purpose of removing the proposal to give districts and boroughs the right to challenge metropolitan county and GLC expenditure. The Minister will appreciate that these are all part of a piece with the earlier amendments, but nevertheless they deal with different parts of the Bill. Therefore, we have to attack the Bill whenever something that gives us offence takes place.

The right to challenge the accounts of a local authority has hitherto been given to the electors of the area of that authority, the people who can vote in elections to that authority and on whom its councillors ultimately depend for their seats. That principle has been repeated in the Local Government Acts 1933 and 1972, and the Finance Act 1982. The Bill proposes to extend that right to metropolitan district councils and to London boroughs. The Bill does not seek to extend the right to shire district councils but merely to create an entirely anomalous situation in Greater London and the metropolitan counties. The existing rights enable a local government elector to challenge first the auditor and then later, if necessary in the courts, the accounts and expenditure of the metropolitan county councils and the GLC.

The Government do not claim that local electors are unwilling or unable to exercise that right, nor do they show that there is any need for it to be extended. The amendment seeks to leave metropolitan county councils and the GLC on the same footing regarding financial responsibility as all other local authorities in the country. I beg to move.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, the constituent councils will have a particular interest in the accounts for the years in question. They are accounts which relate to expenditure incurred in financial years in which the abolition proposals will have been very much in the minds of the authorities concerned. It is surely, therefore, entirely equitable and indeed necessary that the constituent councils have access and the right to object to the audit of the accounts of all three of these financial years, as any one of them might contain attempts to frustrate the task of the successor authorities.

There is no reason to think that constituent councils will abuse these rights. But if they did, the courts already have the power to award legal costs. They have a general power to award legal costs from any of the parties concerned. That discretion is important. There could be cases where, although the upper-tier authority was not found to be at fault, the constituent council have been perfectly justified in bringing the case to appeal—for example, because the upper tier had failed to give them all the facts. In such a case, the court might decide that it would be inequitable to lay all costs on the constituent council. I am advised that the normal principle of "costs follow the event" would ensure that constituent councils would have to pay all legal costs if they were in the wrong. That is surely sufficient safeguard against spurious challenges.

The Government are convinced that this is a necessary provision and one which extends to the successor authorities the same rights as individual electors already have. I hope that the noble Lord will perhaps be satisfied with that explanation.

On Question, amendment negatived.

12.21 a.m.

Lord Evans of Claughton moved Amendment No. 44:

Page 8, line 32, leave out subsection (2).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should like also to speak to Amendments Nos. 45, 46 and 47 since they roughly refer to the same area, and this will also save time.

Amendment No. 45: Page 9, line 3, leave out from ("consultation") to end of line 7.

Amendment No. 46: Page 9, line 9, leave out from ("instrument") to end of line 11, and insert ("and no such regulations shall be made unless a draft thereof has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament")

Amendment No. 47: Page 9, line 11, at end insert—

(" () Before giving any such guidance as is mentioned in subsection (3)(b) above or making regulations under this section the Secretary of State shall consult the Greater London Council and each metropolitan county council.")

Amendment No. 45 is to remove the general power of the Secretary of State to prescribe what information of past or future expenditure is to be provided by the metropolitan councils and the Greater London Council. Subsection (3) will enable the Secretary of State to make regulations requiring the Greater London Council and the metropolitan counties to make available to constituent councils financial information of their past or proposed expenditure of a totally unspecified nature. It appears fairly obvious that the Secretary of State has no idea at this stage what sort of information he has in mind that he may require and is seeking some kind of blanket power to compel the local authorities to make available all kinds of information regardless of whether it is relevant or irrelevant, important or unimportant, and what its utility may be to the constituent councils.

The Greater London Council and the metropolitan counties are major elected organisations having contractual and other responsibilities to a large number of organisations and individuals. The disclosure of expenditure proposals in the blanket manner envisaged in paragraph (c) at present might well be prejudicial to the interests and rights of such organisations and such individuals. No clear requirement has been envisaged for power to be couched in such broad and unrestricted terms. Amendment No. 47 seeks to require the Secretary of State to have prior consultation with the authorities affected before giving guidance about consultation on budgets.

The power to give guidance is very wide. The courts have held that guidance can be perfectly proper even though it might result in a council being in breach of its statutory duties. It is important to ensure that the consequences of any guidance the Secretary of State proposed to give should be clearly understood on all sides before it is actually given. This amendment, following the previous one, requires prior consultation with the relevant local authorities. This duty to consult is already well precedented under Section 3(12) of the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 which provides for consultation with the Secretary of State before he issues a code of practice or makes regulations relating to the publication of information.

It seems to me that these amendments would require the Secretary of State to be more precise in the already wide powers that he seeks to exercise and would limit his freedom to go on "fishing expeditions" that might cause difficulties, inconvenience or problems to a variety of organisations and private individuals. I beg to move.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, Amendment No. 44 seeks to remove the subsection which requires the GLC and each of the metropolitan county councils to consult the borough or district councils in its area about its 1985–86 budget. These are the last budgets which will be implemented by the upper-tier authorities, and they will be important matters in the immediate run up to abolition. Therefore, the boroughs and districts have a reasonable and direct interest in them. It does not give them unreasonable powers. It does not give them any veto powers. But this provision will give the boroughs and districts an opportunity to influence decisions which will affect the state of affairs that they will inherit. I should have thought that was entirely reasonable. Subsection (2) is an important and necessary provision which will help towards a smooth transition.

Amendment No. 45 would remove the Secretary of State's discretionary power to make regulations prescribing what financial information the GLC and the MCCs shall make available to their constituent councils. It may help if I explain the circumstances in which we envisage that the power to make regulations would be exercised. It would be used only where upper-tier authorities were withholding information which the constituent councils needed as successor authorities. It is necessary as a safeguard. Provided all concerned behave responsibly, the power need never be used. But only by including it can there be a guarantee that constituent councils will get the information they need.

I had intended to speak also to Amendments Nos. 46 and 47. and if the noble Lord will bear with me, perhaps I may make a comment on them.

Lord Evans of Claughton

Yes, my Lords.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I am obliged. Amendment No. 46 makes any regulations prescribing what information on expenditure the GLC and MCCs must make available to the constituent councils subject to affirmative resolution, instead of negative resolution. I have said already that regulations under subsection (3)(c) would need to be made only if upper-tier authorities were being unto-operative in letting constituent councils have necessary financial information. If it proved necessary, the Secretary of State would be exercising a power recently conferred upon him by Parliament in order to ensure that the objects of the Bill were being met. In such a case, negative resolution is the appropriate and adequate safeguard. Affirmative resolution would merely lead to unnecessary delay.

Amendment No. 47 would require the Secretary of State to consult the GLC and the MCCs. May I say that I recognise there are precedents for imposing such requirements on Ministers? But surely each case has to be judged on its merits. In the present case the Government do not believe that it would be right to require the Secretary of State to consult the abolition authorities before acting under subsection (3)(b) and (c). I want to make it perfectly clear that there is nothing to prevent the Secretary of State from consulting them, if that seemed necessary or desirable. However, to make it a requirement so to do would make the procedure less flexible and more protracted. It would be necessary to give the authorities a minimum amount of time to respond, and, if the first round led to substantial differences of opinion, a further round of formal consultations would be necessary. That really would lead to delay. I hope that, with that explanation, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendments.

Lord Evans of Claughton

My Lords, I have listened carefully to what the noble Lord the Minister has said, and, broadly speaking, I am reasonably satisfied with the explanation he has given. I am a little taken aback that he does not seem willing to extend the consultation procedures provided already under the Local Government, Planning and Land Act—I mentioned Section 3(12)—to the metropolitan councils and the Greater London Council, which are coming to an end. Since the precedent has been established for the provision of information generally, it seems to me a pity that it is not being followed in this particular case. In view of the lateness of the hour, and the broadly satisfactory answer I have been given, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 45 to 47 not moved.]

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 48:

[Printed earlier: col. 1181.]

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 49.

[Printed earlier: col. 1181.]

These are technical amendments which are consequential to the amendments on elections. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 49:

[Printed earlier: col. 1181.]

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 50 not moved.]

Schedule 1 [Number of councillors to be appointed by constituent councils]:

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 51:

[Printed earlier: col. 1181.]

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 51, and I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 52 and 53.

[Printed earlier: col. 1181.]

These three amendments are consequential upon the changes which have been made to Part II of the Bill by Government amendments. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 2 [Consequential amendments.]:

Lord Bellwin moved Amendments Nos. 52 and 53:

[Printed earlier: col. 1181 ]

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 54:

In the Title: Line 12, after ("or) insert (", and disposals of land and contracts made by,").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment is consequential upon Amendments Nos. 37, 38 and 39. I beg to move.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, I must ask the Minister about this amendment. I cannot work out where it fits in and I am not sure whether there is a mistake and it should be inserted after the "or' or before. Can the Minister tell us where it goes?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, by leave of the House, as I have said, this amendment is consequential upon Amendments Nos. 37, 38 and 39 and introduces controls on the disposals of land and contracts made by the GLC and the MCCs. Although the phrase: to control the general expenditure powers of those authorities", which already forms part of the Long Title of the Bill, could probably encompass these additional provisions, it would be helpful and more accurate to describe them explicitly in the Long Title.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, does the Minister know exactly where it goes? On what line does it go? The amendment reads incorrectly. There is something the matter with it, apart from its content.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I cannot see anything wrong with it, but I do not have a copy, so perhaps that is understandable.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, perhaps I can help because I also was slightly puzzled. But as I understand it, it would read: to control the general expenditure powers of, and disposals of land and contracts made by, those authorities". That is where the words should be inserted according to the amendment.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, it goes in as marked and it is correct.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, it goes in at line 12 of the Long Title.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

House adjourned at twenty-six minutes before one o'clock.