HL Deb 23 July 1984 vol 455 cc14-83

3.15 p.m.

Read a third time.

Clause 1 [Commencement and termination of interim provisions]:

Lord Evans of Claughton

moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 7, leave out ("an"). The noble Lord said: My Lords, I would ask that with Amendment No. 1, Amendment No. 2, which is the substantial part of the proposal, be also considered. Amendment No. 2: Page 1, line 8, at end insert— ("( ) An order under subsection (1) above may appoint different days for such different purposes of Part II of this Act as may be specified in the Order, and any such order may make such modifications in any provision of that Part as appear to the Secretary of State to be required in consequence of any of its provisions coming into force in accordance with an order made by virtue of this subsection."). I find myself in a somewhat ambiguous position, since I am moving this amendment at the request of members of the Merseyside Metropolitan County Council—a proportion of them known as the Conservative group—and, due to the absence of a fair electoral system (which we were discussing earlier) they find themselves without a single Conservative Member of Parliament in another place and, for a different reason, they have no Member to represent them in your Lordships' House. So they have come to me and I am very glad to speak for them on this amendment which they wish to have discussed. I gather that they have discussed the amendment with the noble Lord the Minister on a number of occasions and I believe that some concessions have already been made.

They seek to convince your Lordships and the Secretary of State that Merseyside has special problems, and I suspect that Members on all sides of your Lordships' House will not need much convincing of that. The immediate future and the medium term, so far as Liverpool is concerned, is so obfuscated that there is a strong case for the Government retaining a certain amount of flexibility to deal with the upredicated and special cases which may well arise in an area such as Merseyside during the passage of the legislation following this interim Bill. The group believe that with will and ingenuity the problems arising from hybridity—having different orders for different parts of the metropolitan counties—can be avoided. They want the Government to retain, and, in fact to extend, their liberty to bring various parts of the country under the effects of the Bill, when it becomes law, at different times. This is sought because of the differing problems in various parts of the country. The problems confronted by perhaps the West Midlands Metropolitan County Council may be different from those encountered on Merseyside. In the past, before the county councils legislation was passed, the City of Liverpool was sufficiently powerful and rich to meet very many of the regional needs which are at present taken care of by the county council, and I am thinking of such things as the arts generally, music, the Philharmonic Orchestra, the opera, and many other amenities. In the past days of its greatness as an exporting port, Liverpool was able to provide such amenities for the whole areas, but I suspect that now, in the present circumstances, it could not do so; nor would it be fair to ask it to accept that kind of burden which had been taken on very successfully by the county council. In addition to that, Merseyside has very special problems and (to use the word of those instructing me) "peculiarities". That is not the word I would have chosen to use, but it is the word to which I have been asked to draw your Lordships' attention. Merseyside has a very long established ferry service, which is a great money loser. It has a very expensive railway system, which is also a money loser. It has two road tunnels under the Mersey which, despite tolling, are money-losers. It has the Merseyside Development Corporation, and a highly unprofitable airport. I gather it has the most expensive police force in the country outside London, and a very expensive fire service.

The purpose of this amendment therefore is to make it quite clear that the Secretary of State may, if he wishes, make orders at different times applying to different authorities, if the Bill at present being proposed becomes law. As I have said, it would widen the Secretary of State's powers to provide for unforeseen or unpredictable circumstances. It may be that that power already exists under Clause 1(4). There is some uncertainty. The parliamentary agents and those asking me to move this amendment are not clear whether the power already exists. If the power does already exist then of course the amendment is unnecessary; but in case it does not, I thought that, out of consideration for the very sincerely held views of the Conservative members of the Merseyside metropolitan county council, I should put this amendment forward so that your Lordships could at least give the matter a full airing. I beg to move.

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

My Lords, I must confess that I am rather puzzled by the amendment, and I should say first of all to the noble Lord, Lord Evans, that my advice is that the power does not exist. I am puzzled because if the intention is to allow different treatment of certain metropolitan county councils, then I should point out that the amendment is defective because it differentiates between the purposes of Part II, which are to cancel the 1985 elections, to extend the terms of office of existing GLC and metropolitan county council members, and to give the Secretary of State power to alter the quorum in any of those councils. The amendment does not differentiate between areas or between individual councils. Since the three purposes of Part II are inextricably interlinked, there would be no purpose in bringing them into effect at different times.

As to the intention of the amendment, although I know the circumstances of the authority concerned to which the noble Lord draws our attention—I do not know it as well as he does, or indeed as well as one or two others in your Lordships' House, but I know it well enough—I do not think that we should in any way seek to treat it as a special case. The reasons for proposing abolition are clear and apply equally to all seven authorities concerned. Clearly at this stage the noble Lord would not thank me for reiterating them. We have done it in the past and we shall certainly be doing it again in due course. I hope that on reflection the noble Lord will agree with me that to accept the two amendments would lead to some confusion, not to say uncertainty. The basic reasons for seeking abolition are the same and should be dealt with on the same date; and it is towards that end that we have introduced this Bill.

Lord Sefton of Garston

My Lords, I will not keep your Lordships long. I should tell your Lordships that I have not been made aware of the amendment that has been moved; and in view of the fact that it has been put forward by the Conservative group on Merseyside county council, I suppose I should not be surprised at that. But I know that they are of this opinion and I am concerned only to ensure that some of the problems on Merseyside in the context of this Bill and of the Bill which would follow are properly considered.

I listened fairly carefully to what the noble Lord the Minister said. One of his points was that there is no difference between what is being proposed for Merseyside and what is being proposed for other metropolitan county councils. If we look at the Bill purely as an academic Bill, of course there is no difference between what is being proposed; but the whole point of the plea being made by the noble Lord, Lord Evans—if I understand it correctly—is that there are some things different on Merseyside that should be taken into consideration when applying the Bill. I do not know the technicalities of the position at Report stage but I know the following simple truth: that of all the metropolitan county councils being abolished, Merseyside county council occupies a unique position in the life of this nation because of the decline in its fortunes caused by events outside its control, the most important of which is the moving away of the international trade structure which was the cause of the foundation of Merseyside. If we apply a strict timetable and say that Merseyside must be treated like all other areas, we ignore that fact and we ignore it at our peril, because the real truth about Merseyside is that there are no solutions to its problems unless those problems are considered within a national context. If you imported all the good men and women in the world into Merseyside, and if you imported all the good intentions and removed some of the despair that is affecting politicians in Merseyside, if you did all that, the solution still could not be found in Merseyside. What strikes me as appalling is that, despite the long procession of Ministers—not just of this Government, let us face it, but over 25 or 30 years; throughout my experience in local government over 30 years I have seen Ministers come and go and pay lip service to the fact that Merseyside faces unique problems—when they come down to this legislation, what do they do? The Government's proposal is that the authorities should all be lumped together, should all be seen against their imagined background of problems inside the metropolitan county councils and that they should all be abolished.

My plea is that the Minister should find some way to differentiate in order that the timescale of the effect of this Bill on Merseyside can be altered. It may well be that the abolition of some things on Merseyside within the same timetable as all the others may remove completely any attempt by this Government to do something about Merseyside to which they have pledged themselves so publicly and so often. My appeal to the Minister is that, if technicalities prevented that, could he not at least during the final stages of the Bill come up with some idea to give that flexibility?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, we are in the final stages of the Bill. This is the Third Reading. I know exactly what the noble Lord is saying; and the fact that in the past few years the Government have put in £650 million is an indication of their concern. I am not suggesting in any way that that is the whole of the answer because had it been so, we would not have some of the problems that are there now—far from it. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Sefton, perhaps more than anyone else in your Lordships' House, will understand that. Indeed, he has just said that waving a wand is not the answer. What we are concerned with today with this amendment is the attempt to suggest that there be a differentiation. If one leaves aside the matters raised by the noble Lord, Lord Sefton, the first point I made is valid: that the amendment as drafted would not even achieve the intention of allowing Merseyside to be treated as a special case because it differentiates between the purposes of Part II of the Bill rather than between areas. Since all these purposes are inter-linked, there is no need to bring them into effect at different times.

Lord Hooson

My Lords, this is a sensible amendment and I want to ask the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, if he has considered this matter. The wording of the amendment seems sensible in that it gives him far greater flexibility in dealing with these complicated matters, which have been so well described by my noble friend Lord Evans and by the noble Lord, Lord Sefton. At the same time, it imposes no obligation on him to make the orders at different times but provides much greater flexibility, which I should have thought desirable in a complicated issue of this kind.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, over the last observation perhaps I may smile, because constantly in this, and indeed all other, legislation, the Government are accused on the one hand of being too rigid and inflexible and then suddenly they are accused of not being willing to accept a greater flexibility. I think it only highlights the great dilemma which is always there in legislation, of trying to hold a balance between those two situations. Of course, if you feel about one rather more strongly than about another, you will feel that it is not going your way. I am sorry that I cannot be more helpful than that.

Lord Evans of Claughton

My Lords, it is obvious from what I have said and from the support I have received from the noble Lord, Lord Sefton, and my noble friend that there is a strong feeling that the special case that the Merseyside Conservatives have produced has some merit and is worthy of some consideration. My only sorrow is that, because of the rather frequent changes and additional clauses that have been put down during earlier stages of the Bill, it was not practicable to put this amendment down earlier so that one could have gone away and considered what the Minister said and returned to it at a later stage if necessary. Now, of course, there is no later stage; and the advice I have received conflicts with that of the noble Lord the Minister, in that I am advised that this amendment would give the Secretary of State the power to bring in various metropolitan counties at different times if he wished. That is precedented, I am told, by Section 109(2)(a) of the Control of Pollution Act, 1974.

However, I do think that, if nothing else, this debate has underlined that, with the abolition of the county councils in some cases and in some areas—and I speak as one who was always opposed to the concept of metropolitan counties—during the passage of the years since 1972–73, the need for such an organisation as Merseyside and the particular problems of somewhere like Merseyside, with an overall responsibility for a region in decay and in difficulties, has become very apparent to people of all political persuasions. I hope that this will be very carefully considered by the Government in preparing their legislation for the next stage of the abolition of the counties.

With some regret, and in the knowledge that I cannot pursue the matter any further, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 2 not moved.]

3.32 p.m.

Baroness Birk

moved Amendment No. 3: Page 2, line 1, after ("may") insert ("and in the event that a Bill for the abolition of the Greater London Council and the Metropolitan County Councils and for the transfer of their functions has not received Royal Assent by the end of the next session of Parliament, shall"). The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I think I must briefly explain that amendments to this effect were moved during the Committee and Report stages. At Committee stage, the amendment was criticised by the Minister for not including a date by which the abolition Bill should have failed in order to trigger off the repeal of the paving Bill. At Report stage he similarly criticised the amendment for putting in a date which, as the Minister said, on 16th July at column 1213, would prejudge Parliament's consideration of the main Bill", by setting a deadline.

In taking the amendment back, I said that I would look further at it, particularly at the date, because I recognise there was merit in the noble Lord's reservations about the date which was put in there. In turn, the Minister undertook to read what had been said and to consider it. Since then he has very kindly written to me. In his letter of the 19th July, he points out that, to include a specific date by which the Bill must be repealed by order would, by setting a deadline, prejuduge Parliament's consideration of the main Bill". I think that now we have got round that by using the words: Royal Assent by the end of the next session of Parliament,". The noble Lord then went on to say, in what I thought was a thoughtful letter: Nevertheless, I do fully understand your concern. I always have it well in mind that this is, after all, a paving Bill and that it must therefore stand or fall with the main Bill.". He then goes on to refer to the Long Title, having explained "pending a decision by Parliament". However, the amendment now before us seeks to do no more than require the repeal of the paving Bill if the main Bill is not enacted by the end of the new Session of Parliament. I should have thought that would really satisfy everyone and every objection, because Clause 2 of the Bill as drafted dates the period of extension of the terms of office of the existing county councillors to 1st April 1986.

There is really some irony in the criticism of the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, as to this amendment prejudging Parliament's consideration of the main Bill. Indeed most of the provisions in the Bill for the setting up of a staff commission, laying down development plan reviews, temporarily controlling expenditure and contracts and disposal of land—all these assume that Parliament will pass an abolition Bill we have not yet seen and will redistribute functions in a way we have not yet agreed, to a time-scale we have not yet set.

Clearly, however, the Government are making these assumptions and the paving Bill does so too; yet on the face of the Bill there is nothing to prevent these provisions continuing for ever. That, I think, is the important point. While its Short Title may call it an "interim provisions Bill" and its Long Title refers to interim arrangements "pending a decision by Parliament" in respect of the authorities concerned, there is nothing in the body of the Bill which obliges the Secretary of State to repeal it if he fails with his main Bill. The Minister repeated on Report, at column 1213, that, should the main abolition Bill fail, the Secretary of State will exercise the power [in Clause 1(2)] to repeal the paving legislation and restore the status quo as soon as is practicable. He therefore described the amendment as unnecessary, and I hope today that he will not do so again because all that Clause 1(2) provides is that the Secretary of State may by order repeal the paving legislation, and it goes on to say, if such an order is made". It does not even say the Secretary of State "shall by order repeal" this. I would point out that a promise by a Secretary of State who may not be the Secretary of State in the next parliamentary Session—and in any case this is permissive and not mandatory—is quite different from a statutory obligation to repeal, which is what this amendment seeks to impose.

The Government in this Bill have set their sights on 1st April 1986 as abolition day, but they have to get their abolition Bill through in the next Session to have any hope of achieving that date, quite apart from the practical difficulties of transfer, which have been referred to many times before. Enough notice has been given that the abolition Bill is in for a difficult passage, and if it does falter or is delayed, it is imperative that the quite exceptional provisions of this Bill—and I think this is agreed all round whether one agrees with them or not—which include letting councillors stay on unelected and imposing central controls on expenditure, contracts and land disposals, should be wiped off the statute book if the main Bill does not achieve the date set. The Bill itself should make that clear. That is the purpose of the amendment, and I beg to move.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I really must—and indeed I do—compliment the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, for her tenacity in attempting to find a working formula for making a repeal order mandatory should the main abolition Bill fail. This is the third and, I would say, the most ingenious version we have seen during the passage of the Bill through your Lordships' House. Nevertheless, I am bound to say that the amendment is no more acceptable than were its predecessors. As I said I would at Report Stage, I have myself given much thought to ways in which we might meet the understandable concern which prompted this amendment. As the noble Baroness has kindly said, I wrote to her about that. But, frankly, I come back to the same conclusion: that there is no way within the Bill to tie a mandatory repeal order to a specific date or event without either introducing ambiguity or pre-pledging Parliament's consideration of the main Bill.

This amendment would introduce an unprecedented and undesirable provision. It would set a deadline on what Parliament would do in another Session. It would, in effect, attempt to bind Parliament, and that must be unacceptable. The amendment is also ambiguous, because it gives no indication of when the order must actually be made; it could be at any time after the end of the Session.

It is all the more unacceptable because, although the noble Baroness disagrees, I have to say that it is not necessary. This is, as the Long Title makes clear, a Bill, to make provision … pending a decision by Parliament". This is a paving Bill, and it must stand or fall with the main abolition Bill. The real assurance that these really are interim measures lies in the very existence, right from the very first print of this Bill, of the repeal order power itself. It has always been the Government's intention, if the main abolition Bill failed, to repeal this Bill and restore the original situation as quickly as practicable. Parliament will have an opportunity to debate the repeal order fully, because it is subject to affirmative resolution.

I have explained why there is not a satisfactory way of including that assurance in the Bill itself, but that assurance is none the less firm for that. I hope that the noble Baroness, with that in mind, if perhaps not totally satisfied, will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Evans of Claughton

My Lords, it appears to me that this would be a sensible amendment to accept, and I am disappointed that the noble Lord the Minister cannot bring himself to accept it. It seems to me that, if the main Bill falters and fails, it will be a resigning matter for the Government, and then, having resigned, they will not be able to carry out their promise to repeal this Bill, which will go on hanging about perpetually in limbo. Therefore, I would have thought it sensible and a good idea to have accepted the noble Baroness's amendment.

Viscount Mountgarret

My Lords, I apologise to my noble friend but I must support this amendment very strongly. At the moment we seem to be giving an open-ended commitment as to when an abolition Bill might be presented to Parliament, and I do not believe that this is the purpose of a paving Bill. The paving Bill has been supported by my noble friends on this side of the House on the understanding that we are going ahead and doing something about the abolition of the various councils. That is fair enough. But if we are going to do so, let us get on and do it. I do not think we ought to have an open-ended commitment whereby the Government can just pass a paving Bill. I feel that this amendment has a certain degree of sense about it. The whole paving Bill and the abolition measure are like a red rag to a bull to noble Lords opposite, but I feel that if we can go some way towards suggesting some sort of pill sweetener it is not a bad idea for my noble friend to give serious thought to accepting this amendment, because it does no harm and it could do a great deal of good.

Lord Monson

My Lords, unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, I strongly support the Government's proposals to abolish the GLC and the metropolitan county councils—certainly in their present form. Unlike the noble Baroness speaking for the Labour Party, and the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, speaking for the Alliance, I also support the Government's plans to prevent a possible extravagant spending spree by these councils in advance of their abolition. For that reason, I wholly endorse the present Clauses 7, 8 and 9 and, for what it is worth, will almost certainly support the Government in all the later amendments this afternoon.

Having said that, I am extremely worried about the long-term threat to democracy—and I do not think I am exaggerating—if this present amendment is not agreed to. It is one thing to suspend elections for 11 months. Many of us are not very happy about it, but, as was pointed out at earlier stages, it has been done before. Furthermore, the argument that suspension for this relatively short period will save taxpayers and ratepayers £3 million is a very powerful one. However, it is a very different matter to suspend elections for two, three, four or five years, as could very well happen if this amendment is not agreed to.

My noble friend Lord Perth pointed out last Monday that there was no reason why the main Bill should not pass quite speedily through all its stages in both Houses of Parliament during the next Session. With his great experience, I am sure he is right and that the Government therefore have nothing to fear from this amendment. But, of course, Parliament may well change its mind, and I am thinking now, in particular, of Back-Benchers from all quarters in both Houses.

It is, above all, noble Lords on the Conservative Benches who ought to think very carefully before opposing this amendment, because if at some future date an extremist Government of a very different political persuasion from their own were to come to power and to propose, for reasons of administrative convenience or whatever, that general elections be suspended for two, three, four or five years, the Conservative opposition of the day would not have a moral leg to stand on if their predecessors had opposed this amendment.

The noble Baroness has compromised: it is true that the amendment she moved last week was a little too finely drawn. It is possible that the main Bill will not have received Royal Assent by July. By amending the wording in the way she has, it allows for the faint possibility that the Bill will not receive Royal Assent before August, or possibly even October, 1985. I hope very much, therefore, that this amendment will find favour with your Lordships.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, I am very grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Evans, the noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret, and the noble Lord, Lord Monson. It was particularly significant that what they were concerned with was what could arise as a result of this amendment not being included in the Bill. They did not discuss the substance of the Bill itself, except that the noble Lord Lord Monson, made it quite clear that he was in favour of the great substance of the Bill, but was very concerned about the question of the date. I cannot agree with the Minister that the amendment is not necessary. I think it is absolutely necessary, and that has been spelled out by other noble Lords. I shall not go over that again.

In replying, the Minister seemed to think there was a query about the Bill not receiving Royal Assent by the next Session. But there is no problem at all there, because if it had not received Royal Assent by the end of the next Session of Parliament then the abolition Bill itself would fall. But it would not necessarily follow, acccording to the way the legislation is at present drafted, that the provisions in this Bill would fall, because—and I must refer back once again—subsection(2) reads: The Secretary of State may by order repeal Parts II to IV". The danger of this sort of thing being built into the constitution and into parliamentary procedure, whatever Government happens to be in power, is a very real one. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, was not only correct but performed a service in pointing this out. In the circumstances, I intend to divide the House on this amendment.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, by leave of the House, I want very briefly to make one observation, and I shall not repeat anything that I said before. It ought to be made quite clear that, all else apart, this amendment would commit the Government to abandoning abolition if the necessary legislation had not received Royal Assent in the next Session.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, by leave, I waited to see whether the Minister wanted to come in again after the other speakers, and as he did not, I spoke. As to what he has said, this is the whole point. It would not mean that at all. If it fell, it would fall, anyhow. Then abolition would have to be reintroduced in the new Session. This is how the parliamentary system works if a Bill falls by the end of a parliamentary Session, and that is absolutely correct. I do not think there is anything more to be said about it, so I shall proceed to divide the House.

3.50 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 3) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 106; Not-Contents, 127.

Airedale, L. George-Brown, L.
Amherst, E. Gosford, E.
Ampthill, L. Graham of Edmonton, L.
Ardwick, L. [Teller.]
Attlee, E. Grey, E.
Aylestone, L. Grimond, L.
Bernstein, L. Hampton, L.
Beswick, L. Harris of Greenwich, L.
Birk, B. Hatch of Lusby, L.
Blyton, L. Hayter, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Henderson of Brompton, L.
Bottomley, L. Hooson, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Houghton of Sowerby, L.
Buckmaster, V. Hunt, L.
Burton of Coventry, B. Hunter of Newington, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Irving of Dartford, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Jacques, L.
Collison, L. Jeger, B.
Cudlipp, L. Jenkins of Putney, L.
Darcy (de Knayth), B. John-Mackie, L.
David, B. Kaldor, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Kilmarnock, L.
Denington, B. Kinloss, Ly.
Diamond, L. Lawrence, L.
Donnet of Balgay, L. Listowel, E.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Ennals, L. Lloyd of Hampstead, L.
Evans of Claughton, L. Longford, E.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Lovell-Davis, L.
Ezra, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Falkland, V. McNair, L.
Gaitskell, B. Mais, L.
Gallacher, L. Mar, C.
Mayhew, L. Stallard, L.
Milford, L. Stamp, L.
Minto, E. Stedman, B.
Mishcon, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Monson, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Mulley, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Oram, L. Stone, L.
Oxford, Bp. Strabolgi, L.
Phillips, B. Strauss, L.
Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
[Teller.] Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Raglan, L. Tordoff, L.
Rathcreedan, L. Underhill, L.
Rea, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Rochester, L. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Ross of Marnock, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Sainsbury, L. White, B.
Seear, B. Wigoder, L.
Sefton of Garston, L. Wilson of Rievaulx, L.
Serota, B. Wootton of Abinger, B.
Shackleton, L.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Hood, V.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Hornsby-Smith, B.
Atholl, D. Hylton-Foster, B.
Auckland, L. Inchcape, E.
Avon, E. Ingrow, L.
Bellwin, L. Jessel, L.
Beloff, L. Kaberry of Adel, L.
Belper, L. Killearn, L.
Belstead, L. Kilmany, L.
Bessborough, E. Kinnaird, L.
Bolton, L. Lane-Fox, B.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Lauderdale, E.
Broadbridge, L. Long, V.
Brookeborough, V. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Broxbourne, L. McAlpine of West Green, L.
Buckinghamshire, E. McFadzean, L.
Caithness, E. Macleod of Borve, B.
Cameron of Lochbroom, L. Margadale, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Marley, L.
Chelmer, L. Marshall of Leeds, L.
Chelwood, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Cockfield, L. Maude of Stratford-upon-
Coleraine, L. Avon, L.
Colville of Culross, V. Merrivale, L.
Cottesloe, L. Middleton, L.
Cox, B. Milverton, L.
Crawshaw, L. Molson, L.
Croft, L. Mottistone, L.
Cromartie, E. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Daventry, V. Newall, L.
De Freyne, L. Norfolk, D.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Northchurch, B.
Denning, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Dilhorne, V. Orkney, E.
Drumalbyn, L. Perth, E.
Dudley, B. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Dudley, E. Portland, D.
Eccles, V. Rankeillour, L.
Effingham, E. Reay, L.
Ellenborough, L. Reigate, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Renton, L.
Elton, L. Romney, E.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Rotherwick, L.
Gisborough, L. St. Davids, V.
Glanusk, L. Saltoun, Ly.
Glenarthur, L. Sandford, L.
Gormanston, V. Sandys, L.
Gowrie, E. Selborne, E.
Gray of Contin, L. Selkirk, E.
Gridley, L. Sempill, Ly.
Haig, E. Sharples, B.
Hailsham of Saint Sherfield, L.
Marylebone, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Halsbury, E. Soames, L.
Harvey of Tasburgh, L. Southborough, L.
Henley, L. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Hives, L. Strathspey, L.
Home of the Hursel, L. Swinton, E. [Teller.]
Terrington, L. Vivian, L.
Thomas of Swynnerton, L. Ward of Witley, V.
Thorneycroft, L. Watkinson, V.
Trefgarne, L. Westbury, L.
Trenchard, V. Whitelaw, V.
Trumpington, B. Wynford, L.
Vaux of Harrowden, L. Young, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Clause 7 [Control of general expenditure Powers):

3.59 p.m

Baroness Birk

moved Amendment No. 4: Page 5, line 8, at beginning insert ("Subject to subsection (6) of this section"). The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment tries to cut down the areas in which expenditure incurred by a local authority—the Section 137 point in connection with the promotion of industrial, commercial or economic development—shall be affected by Clause 7. The Government have stated that there is concern about the funding of enterprise boards as a possible opportunity for asset stripping, but no evidence has been produced to substantiate this claim. Disposals of land and property are severely circumscribed by Section 123 of the Local Government Act. Any disposal below market price already requires the consent of the Secretary of State.

The funding of economic development constitutes the major use of Section 137 powers. The clause threatens activities which could cost literally thousands of jobs. Of £22 million spent under Section 137 by the six metropolitan councils in 1983–84, 19–5 million was devoted to employment initiatives. At column 1283 of the Official Report on 16th July the Minister conceded that enterprise boards do useful work. He went on to say: We accept that enterprise boards can help to forge a vital partnership between the public and private sectors". If this is the Government's view, it is incumbent upon them to explain why they now propose to introduce a very serious brake on economic development initiatives in the absence of any evidence to justify it.

The metropolitan areas and the Greater London Council include the major industrial regions of the country where any long-term economic regeneration must begin. In the metropolitan areas, activities under Section 137 include offering small grants or loans to start or establish small firms and co-operatives, business advice courses, support for training courses, job incentive schemes and financial assistance to technical colleges for product development. A large number of these activities are funded concurrently with the EEC or with agencies of the Government themselves. The GLC's activities cover an enormous range. If this clause is passed in its present form, it will mean the difference between the employment of thousands of people and unemployment.

The formula which we have devised is extremely simple. It removes the industrial and economic activities which form the largest part of the Section 137 grants and help to keep business and industry going. The problem about this clause, in addition to the wrongfulness (if I may put it that way) of the way in which it is drafted at the moment, is that directly the Bill receives Royal Assent—which, alas!, I fear it will next week—the cuts will be made immediately. If the Clause 7 proposals for controlling Section 137 are being introduced, as the Minister said, simply in the context of abolition, why curtail the employment and business initiatives which are being undertaken in the metropolitan counties and London—or is that curtailment to be a consequence of abolition? If not, then this is an amendment which, without stretching their philosophy on this Bill, the Government could accept with very little pain. I beg to move.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, surely we are talking here about Amendment No. 7; it goes with Amendment No. 4.

Baroness Birk

Amendments Nos. 4 and 7. Amendment No. 7: Page 5, line 32, at end insert— (" (6) This section shall not apply to any expenditure incurred by a local authority for a purpose in connection with the promotion of the industrial, commercial or economic development of its area or some part thereof.").

Lord Mottistone

Surely if the councils wish to spend money sensibly for a purpose stated in Amendment No. 7, the Secretary of State would agree. I do not see any point at all in these two amendments. If the proposal is not sensible, it is just as well that he does not agree. It is as simple as that.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I am quite concerned by this amendment and wish strongly to oppose it. I think those who speak of the initiatives taken under Section 137 fail to realise that real jobs are not being created by, for example, the Greater London Enterprise Board. Indeed, all sorts of things are being done in the name of this so-called initiative. Only today it was decided by a committee that the Coin Street site—a multi-million pound site—should be given on a 125 lease, for £1, to the Coin Street community builders, and later they will be financed by the Greater London Enterprise Board to buy the freehold and meet all the expenditure. I think this is a quite ridiculous situation. We all know that the creation of a long lease devalues a freehold to a low figure. Presumably that is being done so as to fit in with the financial limits that are provided further on in this Bill. It is a terribly bad thing when money that is supposedly being used for employment initiatives is just being taken from the ratepayers and thrown away in this haphazard fashion. I oppose the amendment.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, I very much hope that the Government will find a way to consent to this amendment, as well as the one that follows. The new pattern that is emerging of local activity based on a mixture of statutory and voluntary effort is one of the really encouraging signs of the times; but it has had a douche of cold water because of the difficulties which the MSC has had in relation to the community projects. A great many voluntary organisations have been discouraged from relying on public funding. I know that the MSC is doing the best it can to put this right; but it is putting back the voluntary-statutory collaboration, which is the most important growth point that we have. If this goes through, it will be seen as yet another undermining of the position of the voluntary organisations and a discouragement to them to go further. I hope that the Minister will find a way of accepting this amendment.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I am less clear than I should be, and I think some of your Lordships may be, too, as to which amendments we are speaking to at the moment. As I understood it, the noble Baroness moved Amendment No. 4. I did not hear her make any reference to any other amendments.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, I must apologise to the House. Amendments Nos. 4 and 7 go together, and I should have said in moving it that No. 4 is really an introduction. The substantive amendment is No. 7; I apologise.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I am very much obliged to the noble Baroness, since there are on the Marshalled List a number of amendments which have some connection with this issue. It is clear from my intervention that we are taking also Amendment No. 7.

I have only one comment to make, which is that faced as we are—and I am referring particularly to London—with the continuance of the GLC for a further period, the Government would seem to me to be very much at fault if they did not secure powers to control expenditure. Some of the statements that have been made at County Hall by the leader of the council and others indicate a wholly irresponsible attitude towards expenditure, and given their behaviour over expenditure in recent years, those threats seem to me to require to be taken seriously. When, as the Bill originally stood, there would have been an early transfer of power at County Hall, the matter was less urgent; but now that we are to expose the ratepayers of London to the continuance of the GLC for a further year, many of us feel that the solution put forward by the Government, involving continuing for a further year. simply will not be acceptable unless there are firm and adequate controls.

The noble Baroness referred to various worthy expenditures. If they are worthy and respectable, no doubt the Minister will be prepared to authorise them. If he refuses a worthy and respectable one, he can be challenged in either House. But not to have the power, as the amendment suggests, would seem to me to be very dangerous, and I hope your Lordships will reject the amendment.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, as usual, my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter puts it very explicitly. The fact is that these amendments are wholly unacceptable. They would strike at the very root of Clause 7 by giving the councils a free reign to channel funds to their enterprise boards. The funds could then be used for the kind of purposes which must not, and shall not, be tolerated; in particular, asset stripping of holdings acquired on the ratepayers' behalf and at their expense.

In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, I of course accept that Section 137 expenditure may well, in the event, be intended for worthwhile industrial, commercial, and economic purposes, whether by enterprise boards, or in some other way. But as my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter said, if the Secretary of State is to act sensibly and responsibly, he must satisfy himself as to whether the intended purposes are genuinely beneficial. and he must not have his hands tied by these two amendments.

It must surely be proper for the Secretary of State to take an interest when he hears of, for example, million being spent to meet the administrative costs of the Greater London Enterprise Board. Let me say at once that perhaps these costs are justified; perhaps they do represent good value for money. But the very amount of money at issue surely justifies the Secretary of State wanting to establish whether or not it is expedient for the GLC to spend money under Section 137 on GLEB at the present rate, let alone at the increased rate which they have promised for next year. Surely the Secretary of State owes it to London ratepayers to see to it that the assets for which they have paid are not stealthily siphoned off to a body over which they exercise no control. The Secretary of State owes it to the ratepayers in the metropolitan counties to ensure that there is no scope for their county councils attempting to follow suit on London.

As has been said, there are a number of like issues coming up for debate very shortly, and I wish to reserve some of what I have to say for those debates. For the time being, so far as this amendment is concerned, in that it affects this particular board, I hope that I have explained that, for proper uses, no one need have any fears. But for it to be said that the Secretary of State should not have any powers to examine these matters for the period in question, in the light of what is happening in other ways, would be wholly irresponsible.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, has indicated that there is no evidence that jobs are being saved or that jobs are being created by the Greater London Enterprise Board; and the noble Baroness nods her head in assent at my interpretation of what she said. I have received from the Greater London Enterprise Board, and I am sure that the noble Baroness has received the same information—

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, if I may be allowed to intervene, I was speaking of real jobs; not just jobs but real jobs that are to continue.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I am sure that the persons who hold those jobs consider them to be real. The noble Baroness of course introduces the pejorative interpretation which she wishes to place on the nature of the jobs, and that is rather sad. The jobs which have been saved were real jobs before GLEB took an interest and saved them. There has been much scurrilous talk without any foundation. I am not saying that there is no foundation to such remarks, but what are the facts? When people cast aspersions on the integrity of councillors and on their political motivation, we are entitled to some substantiation at least.

Let me substantiate my claim that although there may be some activities which Members of this House might question, a great deal done by the GLEB has been very well done and was money well spent. In the Borough of Mitcham, £150,000 was spent on the steel construction firm of Moughan and Macken, with 80 jobs created, rising to 130. In Hounslow, £900,000 was spent on Magnatex Holdings, who handle motor components, saving 200 jobs. Metropolitan Foods, food importers in Newham, have created 12 jobs, rising to 31. In Wandsworth, £4.5 million was spent on the London Production Centre, which covers various light industrial enterprises, to create 100 jobs, rising to 200. At AMD Engineering in Richmond, £½ million was spent for 40 jobs, rising to 56. In Islington, £200,000 was spent on Lithosphere Printing Co-op for 10 jobs, rising to 32. In Tower Hamlets, £100,000 went to Whitechapel Computers, to create 20 jobs, rising to 70. Victoria Shoes in Tower Hamlets received £137,000 to save 30 jobs. In Ealing, the bookbinding firm of Leighton Straker received £100,000 to save 48 jobs. In Greenwich, Binisa Oriental Foods have created 28 jobs, rising to 44. In Newham, Bassett (1983) Limited (Workwear) received£½ million for 94 jobs. In Enfield—which is an area that may not be as well known to the noble Baroness as it is to me—£½ million was spent on Walter Howard Design Limited, furniture manufacturers—and I know them well—for 95 jobs, rising to 130.

The House may consider that these are piffling numbers of jobs related to the amount of money spent; but in my view, every job is a real job until the people who hold them tell me that they believe they are skiving or that what they are producing is of no value to the national product. It does the House no good, and it does the Government's case no good, to plead in aid, in general sweeping terms, that these jobs need to be questioned. Can the Minister tell us whether the kind of work that the GLEB has been doing is the kind of work that he would frank? If these projects landed on his desk and he was asked to approve them or disapprove them, and if he were to say—subject of course to receiving more details—that they represent the kind of work he would allow to continue, there would be a great deal of easement in the minds not only of the GLC but also of the people holding down those jobs and the management concerned. The Minister is entitled to be specific and frank and not to generalise.

The Minister stated that there was evidence of asset stripping. When the Minister replies, I would ask him to give the House chapter and verse of the assets which have been stripped and which he fears are being stripped. Not generalisations such as, "We expect … We anticipate … We understand … We believe … We know". I am told by the GLC that there is no evidence which the Government can produce—and the Minister will now have to produce it—of assets having been stripped or being earmarked to be stripped.

First, all the assets which are being bought, sold or transferred have been transferred at a proper market price. That is not the hallmark of an asset stripping exercise. Secondly, the price has been validated in each case by independent valuation. That is not the hallmark of an asset stripping exercise. Thirdly, the sales have been advantageous to the GLC in each case, in their effect on the revenue account. Fourthly, where property has been subject to the GLC mortgage, the mortgage has been repaid. Fifthly, such transfers have been justified both by GLC criteria and those of the GLEB in terms of a potential for commercial product development. Also, they have been small in scale and constrained by the overall funds available.

Let us examine the other generality. Some Members of this House have pleaded in aid, but in ignorance, the substance of what has been happening in London. But let us go further afield. Let us examine the situation in the West Midlands. There, the West Midlands Enterprise Board has invested a great deal of money—more than £4 million. It has not been giving grants but has been investing in British industry—which is something we all like to see. The board has been investing in Arden Brick, Armalloy, Butler Foundries, Norman Butter, Fairne Textiles, Hi-Ton, Kirby's Rockdove, Sage Aluminium, Welding Robotics, Cannings, Dudley Foundry, and Herbertson.

What are the areas in which those companies are involved? They include specialised brick manufacturing, manufacturing automatic and robotic welding equipment, manufacturing men's overcoats and other clothing, manufacturing box-making equipment, designing and producing high-technology welding robotic systems, engineering, and foundry work. The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, may say that those are not real jobs. We are saying, the people who are doing those jobs are saying, and the people who are taking the decisions are saying that they are providing work which in the view of us all, and in the view of their local communities, too, represents money very well spent.

In pressing against these amendments, the Government are simply pursuing their vendetta against the GLEB and the other enterprise boards because those boards are doing the kind of things which the Government ought to be doing, in providing real jobs for real people.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, is it in order for two noble Lords from the Opposition Front Bench to speak both before and after my noble friend on our Front Bench, thereby encouraging my noble friend to speak twice on the Third Reading of a Bill? Would it not have been suitable if the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, had spoken before the Minister, which would be the normal way for all the rest of us, if he had something to add, so that the Minister could reply to all the speeches? The Minister would then be followed in the normal course by the noble Baroness who moved the amendment. It is inappropriate for the noble Lord, Lord Graham, if I might say so, to call upon the Minister to make two speeches, when, by Third Reading rules, he should not make more than one. Perhaps in future that would be the way it should go.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, with the leave of the House, perhaps I may say how grateful I am to my noble friend for his concern about the wear and tear on my clothing in bobbing up and down. Nevertheless, I am sure he has made an important point. The least I can do is not to talk at great length for a second time, but to say to the noble Lord, Lord Graham, that I cannot comment on the number of instances of investment that he read out because I do not know any of the details of them. I know of one instance in the West Midlands which he did not mention—the Meriden co-operative—which made a substantial loss running into hundreds of thousands of pounds. However, I would not make the Government's case on such an instance. That does not make the case, because in making investments one is not going to get everything right. I would not belittle the scheme for that reason any more than I would claim great success for schemes in the short time they have been going. Nevertheless, I am not going to make a case on that at all.

We are absolutely entitled to say this in the circumstances as they now are following what is going to happen in the next period of time, and not least in view of what has been said by various people—not by Ministers, and certainly not by me, but by members of the GLC and others. They are on record as saying the kind of things that they propose to do to make quite sure that they obstruct, and all the rest that goes with it.

As regards property being sold to enterprise boards at market value, and the instance given earlier by my noble friend Lady Gardner, which sounded horrific, I make no comment because I do not know of it. However, we object to a device whereby an enterprise board can be granted a mortgage by the authority and then receive Section 137 money in order to service the mortgage payments. That kind of device, at the very least, in these circumstances and for this interim time, needs to be supervised. That is all I am suggesting—not that we would stop anything, but that in the circumstances the Secretary of State should have the right to look at proposals first. That cannot be anything other than a prudent measure. Indeed, I said a few moments ago that not to do that would be grossly irresponsible. That is why the Government so strongly object to the amendments.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, in replying to the debate on this amendment I must again apologise for not having made clear immediately that Amendments Nos. 4 and 7 go together.

Nothing that has been said so far against the amendment is relevant to the amendment itself. Noble Lords are, on the whole, talking about grants under Section 137. The remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, were far more relevant to Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 than to Amendment No. 7. Amendment No. 7, which was not put down in Committee, states very specifically: This Section shall not apply to any expenditure incurred by a local authority for a purpose in connection with the promotion of the industrial, commercial or economic development of its area or some part thereof.". It is on that basis that I was quite surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, who always very carefully explains his connection with the CBI, did not think this very important from an industrial point of view. The fact that the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, opposes it came as no surprise to me; I would have been very surprised if she had supported it. However, the noble Baroness the Leader of the Liberal Party supported it very strongly with, I thought, very good reasoning, and extremely powerfully.

The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, referred to obstruction and the need for supervision. That is rather extraordinary because Section 137 has been in existence for a long time and the Government brought in their amendment only at the Committee stage. If they were so worried about supervision, why did they not do something very much earlier? As my noble friend Lord Graham pointed out, the replies that the noble Lord gave were again very general and did not really apply to this specific amendment but just to grants under Section 137. In considerable detail my noble friend explained very well the positive way in which Section 137 is used in the industrial, economic and commercial field, which saves me having to go over that once again. Therefore, I ask noble Lords to support this amendment when I divide the House.

4.25 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 4) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 105; Not-Contents, 150

Airedale, L. Hunt, L.
Amherst, E. Irving of Dartford, L.
Ardwick, L. Jacques, L.
Attlee, E. Jeger, B.
Aylestone, L. Jenkins of Putney, L.
Barnett, L. John-Mackie, L.
Bernstein, L. Kaldor, L.
Beswick, L. Kilmarnock, L.
Birk, B. Kinloss, Ly.
Blyton, L. Lawrence, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Listowel, E.
Bottomley, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Briginshaw, L. Lloyd of Hampstead, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Longford, E.
Buckmaster, V. Lovell-Davis, L.
Burton of Coventry, B. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Caradon, L. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. McNair, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Mais, L.
Collison, L. Mar, C.
Cudlipp, L. Mayhew, L.
David, B. Milford, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Mishcon, L.
Denington, B. Mulley, L.
Diamond, L. Northfield, L.
Donnet of Balgay, L. Oram, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Paget of Northampton, L.
Ennals, L. Phillips, B.
Evans of Claughton, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Raglan, L.
Ezra, L. Rathcreedan, L.
Falkland, V. Rea, L.
Gallacher, L. Reilly, L.
George-Brown, L. Rochester, L.
Gifford, L. Ross of Marnock, L.
Gladwyn, L. Sainsbury, L.
Gosford, E. Seear, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Sefton of Garston, L.
Grey, E. Serota, B.
Hampton, L. Stallard, L.
Hanworth, V. Stedman, B.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Hatch of Lusby, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Hayter, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. [Teller.]
Stone, L. Walston, L.
Strabolgi, L. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Taylor of Blackburn, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Taylor of Gryfe, L. White, B.
Taylor of Mansfield, L. Wigoder, L.
Tordoff, L. [Teller.] Wilson of Rievaulx, L.
Underhill, L. Winterbottom, L.
Wallace of Coslany, L. Wootton of Abinger, B.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Kinross, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Kitchener, E.
Ampthill, L. Lane-Fox, B.
Annan, L. Lauderdale, E.
Atholl, D. Lloyd-George of Dwyfor, E.
Auckland, L. Long, V.
Avon, E. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Bellwin, L. McAlpine of West Green, L.
Beloff, L. McFadzean, L.
Belper, L. MacLehose of Beoch, L.
Belstead, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Bessborough, E. Mancroft, L.
Birdwood, L. Margadale, L.
Boardman, L. Marley, L.
Bolton, L. Marshall of Leeds, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Broadbridge, L. Maude of Stratford-upon-
Brookeborough, V. Avon, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Merrivale, L.
Broxbourne, L. Middleton, L.
Buckinghamshire, E. Milverton, L.
Caithness, E. Minto, E.
Cameron of Lochbroom, L. Molson, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Monson, L.
Chelmer, L. Morris, L.
Chelwood, L. Mottistone, L.
Cockfield, L. Mountgarret, V.
Coleraine, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Newall, L.
Cornwallis, L. Norfolk, D.
Cottesloe, L. Northchurch, B.
Cox, B. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Croft, L. Onslow, E.
Cromartie, E. Orkney, E.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Orr-Ewing, L.
Daventry, V. Pender, L.
De Freyne, L. Perth, E.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Denning, L. Plummer of St. Marylebone,
Dilhorne, V. L.
Drumalbyn, L. Portland, D.
Eccles, V. Rankeillour, L.
Ellenborough, L. Reay, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Redesdale, L.
Elton, L. Reigate, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Renton, L.
Gisborough, L. Renwick, L.
Glanusk, L. Romney, E.
Glenarthur, L. Rotherwick, L.
Gormanstom, V. St. Davids, V.
Gowrie, E. Saltoun, Ly.
Gray of Contin, L. Sandford, L.
Gridley, L. Sandys, L.
Haig, E. Selborne, E.
Hailsham of Saint Selkirk, E.
Marylebone, L. Sempill, Ly.
Halsbury, E. Sharples, B.
Harvey of Tasburgh, L. Sherfield, L.
Henley, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Hives, L. Soames, L.
Home of the Hirsel, L. Somers, L.
Hood, V. Southborough, L.
Hornsby-Smith, B. Stamp, L.
Hunter of Newington, L. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Strathspey, L.
Inchape, E. Swinfen, L.
Ingrow, L. Swinton, E, [Teller.]
Jessel, L. Taylor of Hadfield, L.
Kaberry of Adel, L. Terrington, L.
Kilmany, L. Teviot, L.
Kinnaird, L. Thomas of Swynnerton, L.
Trefgarne, L. Ward of Witley, V.
Trenchard, V. Watkinson, V.
Trumpington, B. Westbury, L.
Ullswater, V. Whitelaw, V.
Vaux of Harrowden, L. Wynford, L.
Vivian, L. Young, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

4.35 p.m.

Lord Evans of Claughton

moved Amendment No. 5. Page 5, line 12, 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 moneys voted by Parliament including Urban Programme, the grant-in-aid to the Manpower Services Commission, or funds administered by the Department of Industry, or in receipt concurrently of funding from the European Social Fund, or Regional Fund, or in receipt concurrently of funds provided by any registered charity.") The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment seeks to exclude from the operation of the clause funding arrangements currently entered into with Government bodies, the EEC, other local authorities and charities. Before I speak further to the amendment, let me say that I do not belong to the school of thought that thinks that there should be no limitation on local authority powers under Section 137. I believe that some local authorities are deliberately provocative and will pursue policies, now that they have an extra period in office, to flout the Government's wishes. I do not belong to the school of thought which says that the provision is a grotesque limitation of the liberty of local authorities. Some local authorities have behaved—and there is every reason to expect that they will continue to behave— irresponsibly in the dying period of their lives.

Some very provocative things are done. I have already today spoken about Merseyside County Council. As a ratepayer in the area I find it provocative that my money should be used to provide funds for striking miners. I do not think that that is any part of a local authority's duties. I do not belong to the total "give it away" school of thought. But in my opinion this is a different matter, and it is a simple amendment. Section 137 powers are being used extensively by local authorities to assist, supplement and give local incentive to funding proposals by other bodies. Very often the other bodies are Government agencies, particularly the MSC, and involve support for training schemes, urban programme funding for voluntary organisations and job creation schemes.

It seems to me that what the Government are doing is superimposing a whole new layer of monitoring on work that has already been monitored by other agencies of which they approve. It seems to me that local initiatives in the creation of jobs and work by other agencies will be put through another level of bureaucracy. By the time it gets through, what might have been a worthwhile initiative may be too late. There will be duplication. Specialist judgments have already been made by responsible and expert agencies in the kind of fields that I am talking about. To jeopardise them by further delays would be extremely irresponsible, particularly in areas of high unemployment, which are the main areas with which the amendment seeks to deal.

The amendment would give the Government an opportunity in advance to exclude several categories of funding and to cut the endless bureaucracy and red tape that they are creating with these clauses. As with existing grants to voluntary organisations, I cannot see how the Government can talk seriously about their fears of asset stripping. Surely the noble Lord the Minister does not seriously believe that the MSC (his own agency) and other agencies would involve themselves in asset stripping. Surely he does not think that there are a series of moles in Whitehall assisting the wicked authorities which he keeps attacking to asset strip. I hope that when he comes to reply he will deal with these points and not just set up a miasma of suspicion about money wasted on way-out proposals. By definition, these are all serious schemes, seriously entered into by serious Government departments, voluntary bodies, the EEC, other local authorities, and so on.

I know from my period as a member of Merseyside County Council that many of the job creation and training schemes at present being undertaken by metropolitan counties, in particular, are concurrently funded by the Department of Industry, the Urban Programme and the Manpower Services Commission. Joint EEC funding of environmental and social projects and schemes providing specialist training may well be at risk if this clause is agreed to unamended.

There are schemes undertaken by the metropolitan county councils in partnership with the local boroughs and districts. Very often the boroughs and districts may be Conservative controlled while the county councils may be Labour controlled; but joint schemes are still going through. They would seem to be the kind of schemes which the Government would wish to encourage, and therefore in my opinion would not need to be re-examined by the Secretary of State. During the course of our debates, the Minister has often said that the controls should be seen in the context of abolition. In this case controls which could actually hinder the development of schemes involving lower tier authorities together with county councils would seem to be even more incongruous in the light of the statement of the noble Minister.

Finally, it would seem entirely reasonable to exempt schemes entered into jointly with charitable organisations. Once again, I ask the Minister whether these joint schemes and charities are really likely to give rise to any disposal of assets of which the Government could, under any circumstances, disapprove.

This amendment highlights the scope of the clause that the Government have brought in and the evident haste with which it has been constructed. It is difficult to see how any of these types of joint schemes that I have mentioned could give rise to the action that the Government seek to prevent. Yet each of them is potentially to be subject to a further layer of bureaucratic examination to obtain approval. Powers under Section 137 are already limited, both in their application in the interests of some or all of the local area and in their amount—the product of a tuppeny rate. Joint schemes have further to meet the criteria of both funding bodies. In these circumstances, it seems to me extraordinary that the creation of a further layer of approval is necessary. It seems to me that this is one case in which the Government could say, "Yes, we have gone too far in proposing these further protections". In the cases that I have set out I feel that the Government would lose themselves no money, lose the ratepayers no assets and gain very considerably in reducing bureaucracy by accepting this amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I accept that Amendment No. 5 is intended as an attempt to build reassurance into the Bill itself. To some extent I sympathise with the reasons why it has been moved. It would, for example, be nonsense for the Secretary of State to give approval to a particular item of expenditure under one heading, say the urban programme, and then to reconsider that approval because that expenditure relied on Section 137 for its vires. Clearly, a means of avoiding that kind of duplication should and will be put in place.

But Amendment No. 5 goes far wider than the avoidance of needless duplication. It proposes the removal from the scope of the Secretary of State's control any body which at any time during 1985–86 had received Government approved or European Community grant or was funded by a registered charity. This gives rise to a fundamental objection that the proposal ignores a practical reality. A body may well for perfectly legitimate purposes be in receipt of assistance originally voted by Parliament, given by the European Community or given by a registered charity. But such a body could at the same time be prepared to carry out unreasonable and undesirable activities for an abolition authority. This risk is underlined by the fact that a body may radically change its character or object within the space of a very short time indeed. So it is essential for the Secretary of State to retain his discretion to grant or withhold his consent in respect of particular expenditure, as the circumstances require.

There are two further features of Amendment No. 5 to which I ought to draw attention. First, there can be no quarrel with the proposition that the Secretary of State should not withhold unreasonably his consent to proposals for expenditure under Section 137. There is already a legal requirement that the Secretary of State should act reasonably, and alleged failure to do so would be ground for an action against the Secretary of State in the courts.

Secondly, the amendment covers only Section 137 payments made by the authorities to persons or bodies. Hence it does not deal with other expenditure under Section 137, for example, the purchase of land or goods by or the provision of services for the authority for use on projects such as the urban programme. The amendment would therefore fail to achieve a large part of the objective which the noble Lord, Lord Evans, sets for it.

However, my main criticism remains that the amendment is too widely drawn and would exempt expenditure from the Secretary of State's scrutiny which may well deserve very careful examination. That is our basic reason for our objection to it.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister realises the trouble that is going to be caused by this additional layer of inspection. It is a question of delay. Those of us who have struggled with getting grants for various organisations know that you can be given a verbal go ahead in February and not see a penny by July. I am quoting actual cases. Small organisations which are struggling to do a good job cannot live with this kind of uncertainty. One is always extremely grateful to the SF but it is nothing to have to wait until after your project has finished before you see the colour of their money, welcome though it is when it comes. If we are going to have a further layer of approval, people will not enter into projects because in doing so they will be bankrupt before the money comes.

There is a further point. We are told it is going to be approved by the Secretary of State. This means that it is going to be approved by the civil servants in the Secretary of State's department. A great many of the projects about which we are talking are the kind of projects which, to put it quite bluntly, civil servants do not understand. The idea that they are going to do the vetting of these local projects being put forward by a variety of people who really know what they are doing in local government seems a most retrograde action on the part of the Government.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, if the noble Baroness would allow me to say so, she does not seem to appreciate fully the anxiety which exists among the ratepayers in the metropolitan areas as to what these authorities may do by way of financial activity during the further year which, as a result of the decision of this House, they were given. There is very deep anxiety among ratepayers. In those circumstances, even if delay results to perfectly respectable projects, it seems to me essential for the Government to obtain proper control of local authority spending over that period.

In this connection, to accept this amendment as it stands would drive not so much a coach and horses but a 50 ton tank through the controls. Under this amendment all that you have to do in order to evade control is to attach whatever payment you decide to make to some payment, however small, from one of the innumerable bodies specified in the amendment. You could have a purely token payment from a registered charity. Maybe the local authority has connections with a registered charity. Once you have a token payment from that, under the amendment as it stands—at any rate as I read it—there is no limit to the amount of expenditure which the local authority may add to that. Therefore it does not suffice. With very great respect, it is not a sufficient answer to complain that there will be bureaucratic delays, and that some perfectly good causes will no doubt suffer delay as a result of these provisions and as a result of the general temporary transition situation.

On that, and on a slightly broader aspect, the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, on an earlier amendment, was full of the wonderful work creation schemes and the amount of jobs created by the GLC. Your Lordships should have in mind when listening to this type of argument, as to that of the noble Baroness, that the GLC, in creating these jobs, is not using its own money. It is using money taken compulsorily from the ratepayers, over half of whom are themselves businesses employing people. It is therefore not possible to say that you have created x jobs unless you allow, on the other side of the ledger, that you have made the operation of a great many genuine private businesses the more difficult by reason of the heavy rate burden that you have imposed.

Your Lordships will know that offices are leaving the Greater London area now because of the burden of rates. I wonder whether someone allows for the people who lose their jobs as a result of that. It is extraordinarily naive to say "Isn't it wonderful, we have created all these jobs in Camberwell?" if you ignore those people working for self-respecting private businesses who have been deprived of their jobs because the burden of rates has been such that their employers could no longer sustain employment in the London area.

I hope very much that my noble friend appreciates, as I am sure he does, that this amendment, although undoubtedly very well-intentioned, would wreck a major sector of the control that has to be exercised during the mercifully short transition period while we have the GLC and its friends with us.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, once again generalises without giving any specific examples. The jobs created by the GLC and the metropolitan councils to which my noble friend Lord Graham referred, he dismisses as being partly paid for by the ratepayers. What the noble Lord fails to see is the amount of work that is generated by these schemes, both by the local authorities and by the local authorities in partnership with other bodies, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Evans. The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, has probably completely forgotten about the enterprise zones where special arrangements are made and where payment of rates is excused.

The noble Lord talks the whole time, as, unfortunately, at times does the Minister, as though this was a completely one-sided effort. In fact, employers derive a great deal of benefit from these schemes and welcome them very much. It is no good the Minister saying, as he did on the last amendment and again on this amendment, that anything that is good or well thought of can go to the Secretary of State. The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, is absolutely right. As we all keep saying, even if this does happen the amount of delay can be absolutely destructive of social effort, of industrial effort and of commercial effort. That is the trouble. If this is really what the Government want to do, we are reaching the stage where the question has to be asked, "What is the point of having local government at all?" Every power, every right, every duty, and every opportunity is being taken away from it. It does not seem to me to make much sense for the Government, on the one hand to be arguing for local government, as they do from time to time, and, on the other hand, to be putting it in such a stranglehold that it cannot give proper services to the people it is meant to serve nor generate wealth in its own community.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I should like to oppose the amendment. Grants have been handed out in some cases by the Greater London Council—I am thinking particularly of the women's committee—in such haste that no one has had time to consider where the money is going. Indeed, there has been quite a detailed report recently on this subject. Although, therefore, I accept that this could cause some degree of delay, I feel that whatever the grounds that are given, it is public money that is involved and this should be handled well. The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, mentioned that local authorities would be unable to give anything. I understand that Section 137, in respect of other normal local authorities, is not affected at all.

In the local council of which I was a member for 10 years, there was a body set up to examine every grant application. We looked at applications, not in relation to the next five minutes or the next week, but to the next year. We were always looking ahead. There was a rolling programme. One year, bodies that were well deserving of a grant would be funded. By the following year, there might have been a falling-off in public demand for what that body was doing, or those administering it might no longer be trying to give a service to the public. Those obtaining the grants therefore varied from year to year. There was none of this question—I have not seen it anywhere except in the Greater London Council—of people being able to run in and have their money in five minutes without any questions asked. I do not believe that that should be the situation.

I hope that the Minister will be able to assure us that some fairly rapid processing will take place, and I have sympathy with groups that might have to wait overlong. That would be a great pity. However, the present handling of ratepayers' money is so much at risk that we must have this restriction.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I thank my noble friends for their observations, which are very apposite. I say at once that we recognise that a considerable number of bona fide organisations rely for their continued existence on Section 137 funds. We have every intention of seeing that proposals in respect of such bodies are approved—and approved speedily. These powers will not be cumbersome. They will not be time-consuming. They will not be intrusive into those many bodies in the voluntary sector which have no reason to fear the Secretary of State's intervention. While readily giving that assurance—we are talking now of consents and so on, and that has to be worked out—I am not prepared to see that we write out the kind of blank cheques that some people press upon us. We cannot and will not do that.

Lord Evans of Claughton

My Lords, this is the perfect dilemma. On the one hand, we have, as I have stated earlier, the local authority that is deliberately provocative. On the other hand, we have a Government that is provoked. I was trying, as we on these Benches always try, to build bridges and to create goodwill all round. I want to find some way whereby the perfectly good causes which, as everyone seems to recognise, will suffer, can be protected, and the extravagant and wasteful causes can be weeded out. As the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, stated—I think that I quote him exactly— perfectly good causes will suffer. It is those that I am concerned about.

I am concerned about the large number of perfectly good causes that will suffer delays that will perhaps bankrupt a proposal. I thought that one had perhaps limited the wording to an extent that would protect worthy objects—those being pursued with charities, with the European Economic Community and with other boroughs. That is, I suppose, where I made my big mistake because "other boroughs" create all kinds of bogies in people's minds. I would have thought that a form of wording could be found that would limit the necessity for bureaucratic intervention only to bad cases and not to the broad majority of schemes generated locally and creating local employment and local wealth. I would have thought that a Conservative Government in particular would wish to encourage this kind of local initiative, local opportunities and so on. I am disappointed. The Minister has said that the good cases will be pursued with enthusiasm and that no delays will take place.

I am only sorry that between Report stage and Third Reading, the Government have not devised something which I would have thought would meet the wishes of people on a broad front and on all sides of the House. I recognise that noble Lords on the Government Benches are genuinely concerned about the frittering away of ratepayers' money, as, indeed, I am. I recognise that this is the view of all noble Lords on all sides of the House. I should have thought that at the same time noble Lords on the Government side, on the Opposition side and on the Alliance side were also anxious that these initiatives, of which we all approve, should go through without any interference from central bodies.

I fear that the problem that we have confronted all the way down the line in considering the Section 137 proposals and this clause, is that we are losing the baby with the bathwater. I really cannot understand why the Government have not tried to come forward with some scheme. We are now at the Third Reading stage. I cannot invite them to do it. Frankly, I do not think that they would do it if we had a sixth or a seventh Reading because I fear that they do not intend to do it. But I do hope and I do wish that I could believe that they are listening carefully to what people on this side of the House and to what a lot of people outside the House are begging them to do.

I feel that it is my duty not only to these Benches and the other Opposition parties, but also to all those voluntary organisations outside who are likely to suffer so much, to test the opinion of the House and to ask your Lordships to divide.

5.1 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amentment (No. 5) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 106; Not-Contents, 154.

Airedale, L. Aylestone, L.
Amherst, E. Barnett, L.
Ardwick, L. Bernstein, L.
Attlee, E. Beswick, L.
Birk, B. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Blyton, L. Longford, E.
Boston of Faversham, L. Lovell-Davis, L.
Bottomley, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Briginshaw, L. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. McNair, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Mais, L.
Buxton of Coventry, B. Mar, C.
Caradon, L. Melchett, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Milford, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Mishcon, L.
Collison, L. Mulley, L.
Darcy (de Knayth), B. Ogmore, L.
David, B. Oram, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Oxford, Bp.
Diamond, L. Peart, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Phillips, B.
Ennals, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Evans of Claughton, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Raglan, L.
Ezra, L. Rathcreedan, L.
Falkland, V. Reilly, L.
Gaitskell, B. Rochester, L.
Gallacher, L. Ross of Marnock, L.
George-Brown, L. Sainsbury, L.
Gifford, L. Samuel, V.
Gosford, E. Seear, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Sefton of Garston, L.
[Teller] Serota, B.
Gregson, L. Stallard, L.
Grey, E. Stedman, B.
Hall, V. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Hampton, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Hatch of Lusby, L. Stone, L.
Hayter, L. Strabolgi, L.
Henderson of Brompton, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Howie of Troon, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Hunt, L. Tordoff, L.
Irving of Dartford, L. Underhill, L.
Jacques, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Jeger, B. Walston, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
John-Mackie, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Kaldor, L. White, B.
Kilmarnock, L. Wigoder, L. [Teller]
Kinloss, Ly. Wilson of Rievaulx, L.
Lawrence, L. Wootton of Abinger, B.
Listowel, E.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Cornwallis, L.
Aldington, L. Cottesloe, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Cox, B.
Ampthill, L. Craighavon, V.
Atholl, D. Craigmyle, L.
Auckland, L. Crawshaw, L.
Avon, E. Croft, L.
Bancroft, L. Cromartie, E.
Bellwin, L. Cullen of Ashbourne, L.
Beloff, L. Dacre of Glanton, L.
Belper, L. Daventry, V.
Belstead, L. De Freyne, L.
Bessborough, E. Denham, L. [Teller]
Boardman, L. Denning, L.
Bolton, L. Dilhorne, V.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Drumalbyn, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Eccles, V.
Brookeborough, V. Eden of Winton, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Ellenborough, L.
Broxbourne, L. Elliot of Harwood, B.
Buckinghamshire, E. Elton, L.
Caccia, L. Gainford, L.
Caithness, E. Gardner of Parkes, B.
Cameron of Lochbroom, L. Gisborough, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Glanusk, L.
Chelmer, L. Glenarthur, L.
Chelwood, L. Gormanston, V.
Cockfield, L. Gowrie, E.
Coleraine, L. Gridley, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Haig, E.
Hailsham of Saint Pender, L.
Marylebone, L. Perth, E.
Halsbury, E. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Harvey of Tasburgh, L. Plummer of St Marylebone,
Henley, L. L.
Hives, L. Portland, D.
Home of the Hirsel, L. Pritchard, L.
Hood, V. Rankeillour, L.
Hunter of Newington, L. Reay, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Redesdale, L.
Inchcape, E. Reigate, L.
Ingrow, L. Renton, L.
Ironside, L. Renwick, L.
Jessel, L. Romney, E.
Kaberry of Adel, L. Rotherwick, L.
Kilmany, L. St. Davids, V.
Kinnaird, L. Saltoun, Ly.
Kitchener, E. Sandford, L.
Lane-Fox, B. Selborne, E.
Lauderdale, E. Selkirk, E.
Lloyd-George of Dwyfor, E. Sempill, Ly.
Long, V. Sharples, B.
Lucas of Chilworth, L. Sherfield, L.
McAlpine of West Green, L. Skelmersdale, L.
McFadzean, L. Soames, L.
MacLehose of Beoch, L. Somers, L.
Macleod of Borve, B. Southborough, L.
Mancroft, L. Stamp, L.
Margadale, L. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Marley, L. Strathspey, L.
Marshall of Leeds, L. Swinfen, L.
Massereene and Ferrard, V. Swinton, E. [Teller]
Merrivale, L. Taylor of Hadfield, L.
Middleton, L. Terrington, L.
Milverton, L. Teviot, L.
Minto, E. Thomas of Swynnerton, L.
Molson, L. Trefgarne, L.
Morris, L. Trenchard, V.
Mottistone, L. Trumpington, B.
Mountgarret, V. Ullswater, V.
Murton of Lindisfarne, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Newall, L. Vivian, L.
Norfolk, D. Ward of Witley, V.
Northchurch, B. Watkinson, V.
Nugent of Guildford, L. Westbury, L.
Onslow, E. Whitelaw, V.
Orkney, E. Wynford, L.
Orr-Ewing, L. Young, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

5.10 p.m.

Lord Evans of Claughton

moved Amendment No. 6: Page 5, line 26, at end insert— ("( ) No consent shall be required under this section in respect of expenditure incurred under section 137 of the principal Act by way of a payment to any body or organisation where

  1. (a) such body or organisation has been in receipt of a payment under the said section 137 by the local authority concerned within the two previous financial years, and
  2. (b) the payment to be made to such body or organisation does not exceed the total amount so made in the previous two financial years.").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment would remove the need for consent to payments where either (a) the body concerned had been funded in the previous two financial years or, (b) the proposed payment would not exceed the total paid in the previous two years. As I think noble Lords will realise, the controls on Section 137 spending do threaten, in the eyes of those of us on these Benches, to do an enormous amount of damage to the voluntary sector in metropolitan areas and in the Greater London area.

The original purpose of Section 137 was to give extra funding power to local authorities with intimate knowledge of their areas, and it is this use of the intimate knowledge of the area to deal with the serious problems that would be known only to a local authority with a local knowledge of that area, which of course would be undermined by the provisions which the Government seek to make in this clause. Instead of a critical assessment by local officers and local councillors, there will be a general overview by Whitehall officials, and, as my noble friend Lady Seear said, inevitable delays and uncertainties will strike particularly hard at small voluntary organisations.

This amendment is a damage-limitation exercise. Under the clause as it stands, organisations with established fundings will be under immediate threat from the clause. Negotiations for possible funding in the municipal year 1985–6 would have to be undertaken in the autumn of 1984. Bodies funded to the end of the current financial year would be affected almost immediately. Commitments already made into 1985 and 1986 and promises given to voluntary and other bodies would not be honoured if the consent is withheld. Some groups will perhaps have entered into building contracts or staff commitments dependent on continued funding in 1985–86. The resulting uncertainty will certainly endanger some projects, even if eventually grants are made available, and may in fact prevent some projects from taking off at all.

As at present worded, the clause would require consent to the payment next year and in subsequent years of debt charges to meet capital grants made this financial year, thus in effect, limiting Section 137 grants from the date of enactment. The Government have stated that their concern is not with voluntary organisation-funding but with the possibility of disposals or asset-stripping by the GLC or the metropolitan county councils to bodies funded under Section 137. In my submission, there is no evidence for such fears under the circumstances of the amendment which I move. This amendment gives the Government an opportunity, which I hope that the noble Lord the Minister will take, to clarify their intentions. New arrangements for large funding proposals would not fall within the scope of the amendment; only continued funding operations for the lesser bodies, the smaller voluntary organisations, would be involved.

At the Report stage the Government were challenged by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, to state the potential further delays that local authorities would suffer in having this extra layer of bureaucracy. I do not think that the noble Lord the Minister replied to him. The powers under Section 137–and I want to underline this—are already limited both in their application, because they are limited to local areas, and in the amount, the product of a 2p rate. As I have said before, joint schemes have to meet other criteria. Surely schemes of this nature that have already been in operation for one year should be continued, or be put in a position where they can continue, in a second year because, as anyone who has been involved in voluntary organisations, in councils of voluntrary service, will realise, without some kind of knowledge with regard to the taking on of employees or the developing of new schemes, it is quite impossible for organisations effectively to carry out the work which is helpful to a locality and which is known by local authorities to be helpful in that locality.

I know that the noble Lord the Minister will again say that this amendment will give opportunities for irresponsible local authorities to drive a horse and cart through the regulations. I, personally, do not see how that could be done, but I should like the noble Lord the Minister to indicate to us how he anticipates that, by refusing to pass this amendment, there will be dangers of asset-stripping at any level at all. In my opinion, this amendment is merely a charter for local authorities to continue in partnership with voluntary organisations in smaller schemes. I beg to move.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, from these Benches I should like to support the amendment standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, and myself. It is true that we have been over this ground before, but I do not think that we can let this Third Reading of the Bill go through when the whole Bill has missed almost a complete stage because of the mess we found ourselves in at the Committee stage and because of the very large amendments tabled by the Government to the Bill throughout the Bill's proceedings.

Once again we come to the criticisms that are always in the general but very seldom in the specific. As the noble Lord, Lord Evans, pointed out, most of the groups about which we are talking here are groups about which no one could possibly find anything to disagree, although whether or not they would want to support them financially is a different matter. Whether one is talking about the GLC or the metropolitan county councils, they cover a great many organisations concerned with people who suffer disabilities, concerned with the homeless, the single homeless, the elderly—like Age Concern—and include the National Council for One Parent Families, the national child care campaign, housing action centres, cancer campaigns, and community centres. One could go on for a long time about this.

The question of the more controversial groups—the organisations which some noble Lords keep pressing should not be supported by local authorities—always seems to be raised. But those noble Lords have never put this into the right financial perspective or into the right perspective in any way. The List of 51 was produced by the Aims of Industry. It sounds all right to say that there are 51 groups about which there may be some alleged doubt, but the important thing to know is what this means in financial terms. If we take the GLC— which, in spite of the Bill's applying also to the metropolitan county councils, is definitely the target which Government and Peers on that side of the House are going for—the total that is spent on grants under Section 137, certainly in the social field, amounts to £47 million. Out of that, a total of £796,000 is spent on those groups which could be described—and certainly would be so described by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter—as controversial. The English Collective of Prostitutes, to which the noble Lord has referred many times, receives a sum of £400. In that context of £47 million other groups receive very small sums of money and in spite of the titles, which the noble Lord may not like, these organisations are all doing work which is greatly concerned with welfare and humanity in the area.

I think I have said many times on previous occasions during the passage of this Bill that one does not necessarily have to agree with all the expenditure of central or local authorities; that one has a comeback when one uses one's vote. The essence of democracy is that things are done with which we do not all agree. If not, we should be living in a completely authoritarian state, in a dictatorship. When one looks at these sums it is as well to remember that these organisations include bodies like the Migrants Action Group, and all sorts of organisations which even I would not call controversial, and those dealing with the various homosexual groups also have a right to exist in our society and form their own groups because of the numbers concerned. If this narrow, rigid, and authoritarian view is going to be taken, it is going to be an unhappy day for the whole of our society.

As the noble Lord, Lord Evans, said, this amendment is one that should be accepted on practical grounds alone. The taking away of funds in this abrupt way—and here we are not even talking about the small number of allegedly controversial groups; what we are talking about is all these organisations—from these organisations without their having the chance to get their houses in order and know where they are is going to be tremendously disadvantageous to everybody in the community, and especially to the people in those groups.

I must repeat again—and I make no apology for repeating it and shall repeat it on every occasion that this comes up—that the delays involved will be enormous, and a great many of these charities will have to go out of business, which will be an enormous loss to the community and to people who find a great deal of satisfaction in giving to, and working for, these charities. This is going to close down that outlet entirely. I cannot believe that that is good for our society.

5.22 p.m.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I must at once totally and utterly refute what the noble Baroness says. Frankly it does no good to be scaremongering on that basis. There is not the slightest intention—certainly not the wish—of Government to allow any of the worthwhile voluntary organisations to be adversely affected at all. What we are talking about, as my noble friend Lady Gardner reminded us a few minutes ago, is that out of the 430 or so authorities in the country we are talking about seven authorities. We are talking about something which will operate and last for only one year, and in no way will we permit good, sound, voluntary organisations either to lose grant which they have received or to experience undue delay in receiving it.

The noble Baroness says that she does not apologise and will go on saying it. I do not apologise, and I will go on saying this for as long as it may be necessary, because it is important that people should know that that is the position. We have already debated at Report stage of the Bill this amendment which now reappears as No. 6. I have no intention of detaining your Lordships by rehearsing at length the points I made on Report and which can be found in column 1293 of the Official Report for 16th July. I say only that the effect of the amendment would be to exempt from the Secretary of State's scrutiny bodies which had already received section 137 expenditure grants from the abolition authorities during the current financial year or the last financial year. The exemption would apply up to the limit of the funds received by the body in question over those two years.

That limitation provides a totally inadequate safeguard in an amendment whose basic purpose is unacceptable. We cannot allow expenditure to pass on the nod simply because the recipient has already been grant-aided for the past two years. Nor can we possibly guarantee without examination that expenditure on, say, enterprise boards should necessarily be allowed to continue at the level of 1983–84 plus 1984–85.

Clearly in many cases there will be no difficulty at all over approval. That is precisely the point I have been putting over since this provision was tabled, and which I stress yet again. But I also say yet again that we cannot ignore the likelihood of some body or organisation becoming the means whereby the authorities deliberately seek to frustrate abolition. This is no distant, remote contingency. The evidence mounting literally day by day is that the abolition authorities will not scruple to use any means, and will not hesitate to incur any expense, for just these purposes. We are not minded to aid the authorities by offering to them this amendment on a plate, and that is why I must ask my noble friends to resist this amendment.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, it seems to me that in responding to this kind of amendment the noble Lord the Minister tries to suggest that there is an open-endedness about these section 137 provisions which simply does not exist. As my noble friend Lord Evans of Claughton said, at the end of the day we are talking about a twopenny rate. It is a large sum of money all together, I accept, in relation to Greater London, and it is Greater London that we are talking about, and to a certain extent the Greater London Council has brought this upon itself by sheer stupidity in the way that it has directed some of this money. But, as the noble Baroness said, it is a small fraction of that money that we are talking about. It is perhaps a little higher than she would suggest because there are one or two other organisations which disguise themselves as community projects which happen to turn out to be the local Labour Party doing its own thing.

Nevertheless, the suggestion by the Minister that somehow the Greater London Council is going to be able to funnel the whole of this £40 million into some narrow field is wrong. I cannot believe that they would be so stupid in political terms as to deny any sustenance next year to all the other good voluntary organisations we are talking about in order to divert all of this into some project of their own. It would be the greatest political folly that the Labour Party could possibly commit in this country if they were to do that.

We are talking about a restricted method of disbursing money. One wonders whether money is saved by the Secretary of State in denying funds to some of the sillier projects. Will the net saving in real monetary terms be greater or less than the cost of administering the bureaucracy which will be necessary to run this scheme? I deeply regret that the Government have nowhere in the course of this Bill on the Section 137 provisions been prepared to tackle the genuine feelings that exist in many organisations, and have always tended to dwell on possibilities (which I do not believe exist) of funnelling vast sums of money into unworthy causes, and certainly to over-exaggerate the amount of money which is being put into civic causes.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, I have listened carefully to the Minister's replies to each of these amendments. As one who has worked in the field of voluntary social service for many years, I am still confused about one particular issue. When one received grant aid—as I have done on many occasions—directly from a Government department one was always told categorically that none of this was to be used in a local context. It appears to me that under this Bill it will be the Government department which will determine what are virtually local monies to be spent by the voluntary agencies. This has not been fully explained. In other words, is it a Government department which will determine whether the Merseyside Council for Social Service can continue?

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, we are getting slightly lost in this amendment. It is not a case where the Greater London Council, for example, is a social services authority or a health authority. It has no social services responsibility. Therefore the grants that go to those bodies at the present moment go under a discretion but are not necessarily the responsibility of that council, and we all know that. The danger is that, if the pattern were continued in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Evans, suggests, it would perpetuate the present handout of grants there. Entirely putting aside the controversial items about which I have spoken so often, I do not think it is a good thing for bodies to receive money automatically because they received it last year and the year before that. That is not a sufficiently good reason. As I mentioned earlier, in my own experience of local councils we scrutinised every grant every year to see which recipients had become more in need and deserving and which had become less so. But this provision would perpetuate a system whereby anyone who already had a foot in the door was all right, and no one else could possibly receive any money after that. Even on those grounds it is not right.

There is another aspect to be considered. In the case of the Greater London Council, I am very unhappy about the agency agreements whereby projects are funded that have nothing to do with the Greater London Council. They are funded to enable local boroughs to avoid funding. In those instances the Greater London Council does not even consider whether the money is deserved or not; it simply relies on what the council asking for the money says about it. If I am asking for money I will always say I am asking for it for a good cause.

I think that these agency agreements are quite iniquitous. This is the present arrangement where the GLC has made provisions for the local boroughs to forward on applications. When, as an elected member of a committee, one asks for details about what the money is to be spent on and asks for a Greater London Council officer to answer the query, one is told "Sorry, it can't be answered by one of our own officers because we know nothing about it whatsoever". Such queries will be answered by an Islington officer or a Hackney officer or whatever officer happens to be present. Again, that is not very satisfactory.

To return to the original point, I do not think that because some body have had money for two years they are automatically the right people to get it again. I therefore strongly oppose this amendment.

Lord Evans of Claughton

My Lords, I am not surprised by the reaction of the Minister in relation to the amendment. It seems to me, summarising it, that the Government are substituting the Secretary of State's opinion for what is good for an area for the opinion of the locally-elected councillors for what is good for that area. That in a nutshell is the Government's attitude. It is totally contrary to my view of democracy. It is a more centralised view than I should have thought Conservative Governments would allow themselves to get involved in.

I take the point once again about the money that is at times wasted on grants. I take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, that even if one takes out all the bogey men, as it were, she believes the Section 137 grants are being spent at too high a level. With all the controls that have been imposed by this Government on local authorities' freedom to finance themselves—rate capping, loss of grant and all the other heavy penalties which local authorities are suffering—there is not a serious danger in the position that would result from this.

One of the things that worry me is the statement, oft repeated by the Government, that the measures in this proposed clause are temporary. What I fear is that the Government, having introduced temporary measures of this nature during the final dying months of the metropolitan counties and the GLC, will like what they see, the control they can employ, so much that they will continue it in future legislation and use this as a precedent for limiting the freedom of local authorities after the reforms go through, if they go through, on this in the Streamlining the Cities legislation.

I was going to list the kind of things that the Merseyside County Council—to get away if only briefly from the Greater London Council—spent its Section 137 grants on. All I wanted to say was that of this projected expenditure of just under £4.5 millions this year, well over half has been spent on things such as industrial development, innovation centres, cooperative development agencies, the Merseyside Enterprise Board, special initiatives for the low-paid, financial assistance to small enterprises, financial assistance to co-operatives, helping victims of crime, apprentice training schemes etc. One item that some of your Lordships might find objectionable is a grant being made to the Britannia Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool, but that is to ensure that Liverpool has sufficient hotel space. Overwhelmingly as far as Merseyside is concerned these monies are being spent to create employment, jobs and wealth. I am sure that this is true of the other authorities concerned. Though we have managed each time we have divided to increase our vote by one or two, unfortunately the Government have managed to increase their vote by five or six, so, rather than continue the numbers game, I beg leave, but with a very heavy heart, to withdraw this amendment

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 7 not moved].

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, before the noble Baroness withdraws her amendment, I wonder whether I could have an answer to my question? If I could just emphasise—

The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Wootton of Abinger)

My Lords, the amendment has been withdrawn, if the noble Baroness is referring to Amendment No. 6. There is no further Motion on Amendment No. 6.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, I meant Amendment No. 7.

The Deputy Speaker

My Lords, Amendment No. 7, the Baroness Birk is not moving. Does the noble Baroness wish to move it instead?

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, no; I thought I spoke before she withdrew it.

5.37 p.m.

Baroness Birk

moved Amendment No. 8: Before Clause 8, insert the following new clause: ("Regulations for consents under ss. 8 and 9. .—(1) The Secretary of State shall make regulations prescribing the matters he is to take into consideration in granting or refusing his consent under sections 8 and 9 of this Act. (2) No such regulations as are referred to in subsection (1) of this section shall be made unless a draft thereof has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament. (3) No consents shall be required under sections 8 and 9 of this Act until such time as the regulations referred to in subsection (1) of this section have been made, and sections 8 and 9 shall be read subject to the provisions of this section."). The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment would require the Secretary of State to make regulations setting out the criteria on which he would base his granting of consent to disposals.

Incidentally I should be speaking to Amendments Nos. 8, 9 and 11 and taking them together. Amendment No. 9: page 5, line 33, at beginning insert ("Subject to the provisions of section (Regulations for consents under ss. 8 and 9) of this Act"). Amendment No. 11: page 6, line 14, at beginning insert ("Subject to the provisions of section (Regulations for consents under ss. 8 and 9) of this Act"). The regulations would be subject to affirmative resolution of each House. Until the regulations have been approved no consents would be necessary to disposals or to contracts. No criteria of any kind have been set out in the new clauses on disposals and contracts contained in Clauses 8 and 9 of the Bill. The Secretary of State is to take new and unprecedented powers with no indication at this stage of how they will be exercised. Local authorities, in reaching decisions on sales of land or entering of contracts, have to take detailed criteria into account before approval is given. These criteria are an important part of the process of public accountability since they ensure that decisions on expenditure of public money are taken in a cost-effective and consistent way.

Under the clause as drafted the Secretary of State must be subject to no such constraints on his decisions. There would be an outcry if a Labour Minister were to take control of contracts reached by Conservative authorities without even publishing and seeking approval for the basis of his decisions and it would be quite wrong for Parliament to give blanket approval to the exercising of these powers without retaining some control.

These clauses, if there are no criteria introduced at this stage, will come into effect immediately after the Bill receives Royal Assent. There will be no pause whatsoever. Assuming that the Government get this Bill on time next week, the Secretary of State will be exercising a complete power of veto over all land disposals and all medium and large contracts. Not only the authorities themselves, but also the major contractors need to know where they stand. Many organisations, such as chambers of commerce, professional federations and many others, are not even yet fully aware of the implications of these new restrictions. Perhaps the Secretary of State himself is not. There is probably some truth in that.

For instance, will he include disposals by superannuation funds? Will he exclude contracts entered into in pursuance of the statutory obligations of authorities? Will he include annually renewable contracts, like window cleaning or vehicle maintenance? What about all the small disposals of surplus land acquired for things like road widening schemes? Some of the metropolitan counties have a policy of selling off surplus police houses. Will every one of these disposals need the Secretary of State's authority? Will the Secretary of State be ready to give both detailed and general consent by next week?—because that is when the axe will fall. If not, what is going to happen to these contracts and to the figures involved? Are approvals to be in addition to those already required for many large undertakings? For example, the Home Office has to give approval for building police stations and for buying fire engines. Does it mean that now we are to have a double bank of necessary consents and approvals?

These questions need answering, and the local authorities, the contractors and everyone else involved need to see proper statutory criteria so that they know exactly where they stand. This is a very important point that acts as an introduction to the other amendments that are being moved—those on the disposal of land for contracts. Until we know that there are some criteria, everyone is moving around in the dark.

I can make a number of suggestions on the disposal of land, and on a number of criteria which are intended to be indicative. In each case they seek to exempt disposals where the consent of the Secretary of State would be unnecessary or harmful, and cut across current practice. I suggest, for example, that no consent should be required for the disposal of any interest in land or building for the purposes of the promotion of employment or industrial or commercial development. Both the GLC and the metropolitan counties have long suffered from declining industry and failing job opportunities. At the same time, valuable inner city land lies derelict. There ought to be no delay and no problem in consent not being required in this type of area. The need to obtain consent over £250,000 will jeopardise the timing of these programmes. In 1984– 85,the GLC has programmed 17 schemes which would provide 634,000 square feet of lettable space in 530 units, with the creation of over 2,000 jobs.

Just two examples of schemes which would be seriously affected right now, as it happens, would be first, the Wandsworth gas works, which the GLC is developing with the Carroll Group and where it is spending something like half a million pounds on estate road access to a new industrial estate. Secondly, there is the Renwick Road, Barking, scheme, where a £1 million estate road scheme is planned to improve access to industrial areas. Looking across at the list of projects in hand in the metropolitan counties, one finds exactly the same problem arising there. One example particularly is in the Greater Manchester area. Then there is the disposal of any interest in land or buildings to "properly constituted voluntary organisations;" and the disposal of any interest in land or buildings specifically held for superannuation fund purposes. All these should be among the criteria set out before the Government embark on the proposals we are now getting into the clauses again, with the very draconian restrictions.

To look at contracts briefly, contracts with district or borough councils in connection with the provision of facilities and services under concurrent powers held by both councils should be made exempt from these consents, and they should be included in parts of the criteria laid down. There would seem to be no reason to subject other authorities to an extra layer of bureaucracy, which is what this would do. Contracts should be exempted; for example to supply other local authorities with materials. As we know, the GLC supplies department has contracts with all London boroughs and with ILEA, and provides a central purchasing organisation for all of these authorities.

Then there are contracts undertaken in performance of statutory duties, such as the provision of educational and school meal facilities. There are a great many other examples which show how very serious is what the Government are proposing to undertake. I repeat that there is no certainty, even at a timing of 11 months; and, even if there were, the amount of harm that can be done during that time when these things are put forward in what I am afraid can only be called an extremely sloppy and ill-advised way means there is nothing firm against which they can be measured.

Therefore, what this amendment seeks to do is to set out the making of regulations prescribing what is going to be taken into consideration, so that there are (as should be generally understood) proper criteria laid down. I think I would want to have some answers from the Minister to the questions I have put to him as to whether, with the criteria that they have not got in mind—and perhaps the Minister will say they have—they can put out immediately or have ready the regulations which will deal with this problem. I beg to move.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I do not wish to repeat what I said at Report stage about the need for the new clauses providing for controls on disposals of land and the entering into of major contracts by the GLC and the MCCs, to which these amendments relate. But this is still relevant because the effect of these amendments will be to undermine the controls and thus remove the protection which they are intended to give successor authorities and ratepayers against obstructive or irresponsible actions by the outgoing authorities. Let us be quite clear about this. Let me try briefly to explain why.

Sub-section (1) of the new clause introduced in Amendment No. 8 requires the Secretary of State to make regulations prescribing the matters he must take into consideration in granting or refusing his consent under Clauses 8 and 9. Subsection (2) prevents the regulations from being made before drafts have been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament. Subsection (3) prevents consents from being required until such time as the regulations have been made. In other words, no consents can be issued until the regulations have been made. And the regulations themselves cannot be made until they have been approved by resolution of each House of Parliament. drafts having been laid beforehand.

My first reason for saving that the amendments would undermine the new controls is a practical one. Given the present parliamentary timetable, there is no way in which, if the amendments are adopted, the necessasry regulations can be laid before Parliament rises. No debate can take place before mid-October at the earliest. Since consents cannot be required until the regulations have been approved in both places, the controls cannot begin to operate until well into the autumn. By then the horse will have well and truly bolted.

But there are other objections. I have been unable to find a precedent for requiring my right honourable friend to make regulations prescribing the matters he must take into consideration in granting or refusing his consent. The Housing Act 1957, the Local Government Act 1972, the Community Land Act 1975–all of these statutes had provisions requiring Ministerial consent to dispose of land in certain circumstances. None of them—and the Community Land Act was a Labour measure—set out the matters to which the Secretary of State had to have regard in exercising his discretion.

Perhaps this would not matter, or would matter less, if the circumstances of the case were nonetheless such as to justify specifying these matters. But we must also bear in mind the purpose of the new clauses agreed to at Report. This is to prevent the abolition authorities from prejudicing the position of their successors, and doing so at the ratepayers' expense.

Although we believe we know the main areas in which obstruction could take place, we do not, as yet, have a precise picture of the likely forms. Whilst we can therefore say that, in considering whether or not to give his consent the Secretary of State will have regard to the risk of obstruction as a primary consideration, we cannot, by definition, say to what other matters he will have to have regard. There is even a danger that if we were to try to be so specific any authority which was so minded might feel itself encouraged to indulge in forms of obstruction which were not specifically referred to in the legislation.

I understand very well the argument that the new clauses on disposals of land and contracts, as they stand, do not define the factors which my right honourable friend will take into account in granting consents. But the clauses need to be wide enough to enable him to deal with the variety of forms that obstruction may take. At the same time, my right honourable friend is empowered to issue general consents. I say again, as I have said before, that these will be used so as to enable these authorities to go about their proper, usual business. I cannot emphasise too strongly that if this is all the authorities concerned do, they have nothing to fear. I understand very well the argument that, as they stand, the new clauses on disposals of land and contracts do no define the factors which my right honourable friend will take into account in granting consents, but the clauses need to be wide enough to enable him to deal with the variety of forms that obstruction may take, and at the same time my right honourable friend is empowered to issue general consents. I say again that these will be used so as to enable these authorities to go about their proper, usual business. I cannot emphasise too strongly that, if this is all the authorities concerned actually do, they have nothing whatever to fear.

Perhaps I may conclude by putting a question to the noble Baroness. Does she consider that the new clauses are needed, or not? If they are, then I have tried to explain why these amendments will undermine them. But if she feels that the new clauses are not needed, perhaps she will explain the grounds upon which I could defend a failure by the Government to take contingent, protective action, in the event that the ample threats which these authorities have been making to fight abolition to the death are realised. Every day, my Lords, you can open your papers and find another series of things being done right now, even as we sit here today, to frustrate abolition. You might say that that is perfectly in order, and in law it may well be, but what is not in order is to do that at the expense of the successor authorities. The fact is that in time there will be a very severe price to pay.

As I said on Report, the Government consider it their duty to provide some protection in case it is needed against obstruction. If it is not needed, no one can cavil at that. But if it is needed, the effect of the amendments, whatever their purpose, will be to undermine this protection and thus enable obstruction to go unchecked. I cannot believe that that would be right and I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able not to press the amendment.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford

My Lords, in the unavoidable absence of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, I wish to draw attention to the concern which the churches in London feel in connection with Clauses 8 and 9 of the Bill in so far as they apply to the Inner London Education Authority. I hope this is the appropriate point at which to express that concern.

On 16th July, at columns 1312 and 1313 of the Official Report, in reply to an amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Alport, the noble Lord the Minister spoke as follows: 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". In view of the defeat of that amendment which was moved at Report stage by the noble Lord, Lord Alport, it was not competent for the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London to put down an amendment at this stage, but I feel justified in reminding the noble Lord the Minister of the undertaking that was given, albeit in rather general terms, in that reply. The action that we hope might be taken by the Government is that general consent orders under Clauses 8(2) and 9(4) of the Bill will be given in respect of schools—and not only voluntary schools—in the ILEA area.

The reason for which I express such a hope is quite simple. Clauses 8 and 9, which refer to transfers of land and the making of contracts, require the giving of consent by the Secretary of State for the Environment to all such transactions after the passing of this Bill. However, under the provisions of the Education Acts it is already necessary for the Secretary of State for Education and Science to have approved all such proposals to do with school transfers and contracts. The possibilities for duplication and delay in requiring the sanction of two departments are obvious. They were cogently argued by the noble Lord, Lord Alport, in the previous debate which has been referred to and I hope that the noble Lord the Minister will still take them seriously into consideration when trying to ensure that the education service of Inner London will not, in his own words, be, unnecessarily impeded by the operation of these new but essential controls". I am aware that these clauses do not affect voluntary aided schools in cases where the governors or promoters enter into the contracts or land transactions where the land is vested in school trustees. In respect of aided schools, therefore, only internal maintenance contracts where the sums involved exceed £100,000 are affected, and were Amendment No. 12, and following amendments to be moved by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, to succeed, as I hope they will, this ceiling would be raised. All contracts relating to voluntary controlled schools would be affected, but there are very few of those within the ILEA area. However—and this is of great importance—the clauses would affect land transfers where the land is currently in the ownership of the GLC and awaiting transfer to voluntary school trustees. I understand that there are a considerable number of such transactions pending in respect of both Anglican and Roman Catholic schools.

Since building contracts exceeding the limits of this Bill will almost certainly have required publication of notices under the Education Acts, it appears to us quite unnecessary to have a separate and additional consent procedure which would be obstructive to school building programmes and wasteful of time and money. The same considerations apply to the land transfers which will surely already have been authorised by order of the Secretary of State for Education and Science or be required by one of the Education Acts.

Perhaps I may therefore request the noble Lord the Minister to give practical expression to the assurances which he previously gave, either by agreeing that a general consent Bill should be issued to the GLC when acting as education authority for the Inner London area under Clauses 8 and 9 of this Bill—that is the option that we should prefer—or, if he is not willing to give such an undertaking, by at least agreeing to the issue of such a consent applying to school building contracts for all schools and school site transfers in respect of voluntary schools. We believe that such a measure of flexibility would avoid needless complication and a certain amount of unnecessary ill-feeling.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, with the leave of the House may I say that I shall want to study carefully what the right reverend Prelate has said, and may I add that in principle I should not want to take back anything which I said in responding to my noble friend Lord Alport, despite the fact that he eventually divided the House. We are cognisant of the points which the right reverend Prelate made and indeed the points which my noble friend espoused. We wish to do nothing that would harm or delay any worthwhile projects, and even any transactions, and it is not our intention to do so. I shall want to consider carefully what the right reverend Prelate has said. I shall certainly be in touch with him about the matter, but in no way does it affect our objection to this amendment as such. I take the points that he made and, for myself, I am confident that there will not be the problems to which attention has, quite properly, been drawn.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I am only sorry that the Bill and the controls will not come into effect until it receives Royal Assent. I am sorry that today's date is not inserted, instead of the phrase the "passing of the Act". For that reason, I very strongly oppose the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, which quite clearly seeks to delay the controls.

I found it ironic when she said that we are not really aware of the amount of harm that could be done. I think of those words and of the amount of harm being done at the moment, almost minute by minute, and that is why I should have liked to see today's date inserted in the Bill. Indeed, on Friday I seriously considered putting down an amendment, but then I felt that Royal Assent would be given fairly soon and therefore not too much damage could be done. I do not think Members of your Lordships' House realise—the Minister certainly cannot yet fully appreciate it—the degree of deliberate obstruction that is definitely intended and which will, I am sure, take place.

Last Friday I went to a meeting where a contract was let—a forward contract going right to the end of next year—for an additional £3,500,000. The papers were not even produced in time for us really to consider this matter. The Council's opinion on it was not available when the meeting started. We had to ask for the meeting to be adjourned so that we could read the papers. And there we were, making this decision on £3.500,000! Today six committees of the Greater London Council are meeting—six special committee meetings, not scheduled for today—and again on Wednesday of this week various committee meetings are taking place. When the clerk of those meetings was asked: "What are these meetings for? We do not seem to have had any agenda papers", he said, "There are no agenda papers." The next question was: "Why is that?" and the answer was, "Because we do not know yet what is going to be on the agenda." When you then ask about that further, they say: "Oh, we are going to consider relevant matters".

At the moment "relevant matters" concern what is the latest and quickest way to shed a few more millions somewhere else before this Bill gets the Royal Assent. That is why, of all the amendments before us today, none frightens me more than this one because, if accepted, it would mean that the whole matter could be delayed and deferred. I am concerned even at the money we are going to see go down the drain between now and the end of the month, when I believe that Royal Assent will be received; but even a day's delay would be a great financial loss to the ratepayers of London. I really do think that this amendment is to be opposed.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, without this amendment, if we look at the beginning of Clause 8 it says: 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. In Clause 9 the same applies to contracts. This means, as I said when I moved the amendment, that from the moment Royal Assent takes place everything comes to a standstill. The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, seems to think that this is a very good idea and she only wishes it could have been done yesterday, so far as I can gather—

Baroness Gardner of Parkes


Baroness Birk

No, my Lords, that is too late for the noble Baroness she would rather have had it yesterday, not today; and when the noble Baroness is talking about contracts, and so on, she does not seem to make any distinction between whether they may be good or bad schemes. What she does not seem to realise is that everything comes to a complete halt and it does not only affect the authority or the Government but it affects a great many other people: contractors, workers and everybody else.

The Minister asked me whether I thought the new clauses were needed. My answer is that the new clauses are not needed, because the whole Bill is not needed. He asked whether I thought it would not be a failure on the Government's part if they did not take action against the opposition that was being built up in the GLC (and presumably he means the metropolitan counties as well). All I can say is that the Government have got themselves into this mess. They have created an atmosphere of very sharp conflict between themselves and the GLC, and now even with the metropolitan councils. Having got into that position, what have they done? The Minister asks me, and I must answer his question. They have taken this Bill, for which the mandate has really rather spurious origins in the areas of the Greater London Council and all the metropolitan county councils. Regarding voting on the mandate and that 7½ lines that we are discussing on this Bill, the great majority in London and in the metropolitan county councils voted against it, because they voted against the Conservatives in those areas. So either the mandate was not relevant or, if they accepted this as part of the mandate, they indicated that they did not like it.

Therefore the Government are in great trouble over this Bill. We have seen what has happened during its very chequered passage through this House; and at Committee stage, the Government ended up with cuts on Section 137; and on Report they brought in these other clauses on the disposal of land and contracts. What they are doing is to build a series of more and more destructive and stultifying edifices, one upon the other. Then they turn round and ask: "What else could we do?" The answer is that they should not have started there at all. If they wanted abolition, they should have started in an entirely different way, with much more consultation, and they should have handled it in one main Bill and not in this Bill at all.

Having had this Bill put before us, it is up to us in this House—and certainly on this side of the House—to do what we can to improve it. This is what we are trying to do. We are trying to save some of the more destructive elements in it, and by asking for criteria that is what this amendment does. It is such an important amendment, prefacing the ones that come after it on Clauses 8 and 9, that I must divide the House on this matter.

6.5 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 8) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 95; Not-Contents, 150.

Airedale, L. Ezra, L.
Amherst, E. Fitt, L.
Ardwick, L. Gallacher, L.
Attlee, E. Grorge-Brown, L.
Aylestone, L. Gifford, L.
Beswick, L. Gosford, E.
Birk, B. Graham of Edmonton, L.
Blyton, L. Grey, E.
Boston of Faversham, L. Hall, V.
Bottomley, L. Hampton, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Hanworth, V.
Burton of Coventry, B. Harris of Greenwich, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Hatch of Lusby, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Hayter, L.
Collison, L. Houghton of Sowerby, L.
Darcy (de Knayth), B. Hunt, L.
David, B. Irving of Dartford, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Jacques, B.
Denington, B. Jeger, B.
Diamond, L. Jenkins of Putney, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. John-Mackie, L.
Ennals, L. Kaldor, L.
Evans of Claughton, L. Kilmarnock, L.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Kinloss, Ly.
Lawrence, L. Rochester, L.
Llewelyn-Davies, of Hastoe, Ross of Marnock, L.
B. Seear, B.
Longford, E. Sefton of Garston, L.
Lovell-Davis, L. Serota, B.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. Stallard, L.
Mackie of Benshie, L. Stedman, B.
McNair, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Mais, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Mar, C. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Melchett, L. Stone, L.
Milner of Leeds, L. Strabolgi, L.
Mishcon, L. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Molloy, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Mulley, L. Tordoff, L. [Teller.]
Ogmore, L. Underhill, L.
Oram, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Oxford, Bp. Walston, L.
Peart, L. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Phillips, B. Wells-Pestell, L.
Pitt of Hampstead, L. White, B.
Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. Wigoder, L.
[Teller.] Wilson of Rievaulx, L.
Raglan, L. Wootton of Abinger, B.
Rathcreedan, L.
Ailesbury, M. Haig, E.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Hailsham of Saint
Aldington, L. Marylebone, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Halsbury, E.
Atholl, D. Harmar-Nicholls, L.
Auckland, L. Harvey of Tasburgh, L.
Avon, E. Henley, L.
Barber, L. Hives, L.
Bellwin, L. Home of the Hirsel, L.
Beloff, L. Hood, V.
Belper, L. Hornsby-Smith, B.
Belstead, L. Hylton-Foster, B.
Bolton, L. Inchcape, E.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Ingrow, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Ironside, L.
Brookeborough, V. Jessel, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Kilmany, L.
Broxbourne, L. King of Wartnaby, L.
Bruce-Gardyne, L. Kinnaird, L.
Buckinghamshire, E. Kitchener, E.
Caithness, E. Lane-Fox, B.
Cameron of Lochbroom, L. Long, V.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Cathcart, E. McAlpine of West Green, L.
Chelwood, L. McFadzean, L.
Cockfield, L. MacLehose of Beoch, L.
Colwyn, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Cork and Orrery, E. Mancroft, L.
Cottesloe, L. Margadale, L.
Cox, B. Marley, L.
Craigavon, V. Marshall of Leeds, L.
Craigmyle, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Cranbrook, E. Maude of Stratford-upon-
Crawshaw, L. Avon, L.
Croft, L. Merrivale, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Middleton, L.
Dacre of Glanton, L. Milverton, L.
Daventry, V. Minto. E.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Molson, L.
Dilhorne, V. Morris, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Mottistone, L.
Eccles, V. Mountgarret, V.
Eden of Winton, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Ellenborough, L. Norfolk, D.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Northchurch, B.
Elton, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Enniskillen, E. Onslow, E.
Fortescue, E. Orkney, E.
Gainford, L. Orr-Ewing, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Pender, L.
Gisborough, L. Perth, E.
Glanusk, L. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Glenarthur, L. Pike, B.
Gormanston, V. Plummer of St. Marylebone,
Gridley, L. L.
Portland, D. Spens, L.
Pritchard, L. Stamp, L.
Rankeillour, L. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Reay, L. Strathspey, L.
Redesdale, L. Swinfen, L.
Reigate, L. Swinton, E. [Teller.]
Renton, L. Terrington, L.
Renwick, L. Teviot, L.
Romney, E. Thomas of Swynnerton, L.
Rotherwick, L. Thorneycroft, L.
St. Aldwyn, E. Trefgarne, L.
St. Davids, V. Trumpington, B.
Saltoun, Ly. Ullswater, V.
Sandford, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Selborne, E. Vivian, L.
Selkirk, E. Ward of Witley, V.
Shannon, E. Watkinson, V.
Sharples, B. Westbury, L.
Sherfield, L. Whitelaw, V.
Skelmersdale, L. Wynford, L.
Southborough, L. Young, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Clause 8 [Control of disposals of land]:

[Amendment No. 9 not moved.]

6.14 p.m.

Lord Evans of Claughton

moved Amendment No. 10: Page 5, line 35, after ("land") insert ("of which the consideration exceeds £500,000"). The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of this amendment is to insert a consideration for property transactions. As the Bill stands at present, all property transactions entered into by the authorities will be subject to ministerial approval and it would seem, particularly in the case of education authorities and, even more particularly, in the case of the Inner London Education Authority, that this will have a very severe effect on the rolling programme of these authorities.

I should particularly like to draw attention to the question which was touched on by the right reverend Prelate, that under the 1946 Education Act education authorities are required to transfer sites to voluntary schools, usually at a nil cost. In that case, I assume, as matters stand at present, that all such transactions would have to receive the consent of the Secretary of State for the Environment, in addition to the Department of Education. It seems to me that this is an absurdity and that a consideration of some kind—perhaps not £500,000—should be inserted, because of the very numerous transactions of this kind that local authorities, particularly education authorities, have to undertake. What this is seeking is a reasonable exemption from the provisions of Clause 8 for local authorities and, in particular, education authorities. My Lords, I beg to move.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, may I support the case that has been so reasonably made by the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton? We are really accepting the fact that the Government intend to try to put as tight a grip as they possibly can on the control of ratepayers' money. What we are asking the Government to consider is whether, in their haste to enact these amendments to the Bill, they have got it right. In another place on 16th July the Secretary of State for the Environment was asked, how many civil servants in his Department he anticipates being employed on work associated with processing financial transactions over £100,000 arising from the Greater London Council and the metropolitan county councils".—[Official Report, Commons; col. 56.] The ministerial reply was "Enough". That shows a contempt for the parliamentary procedure and it also shows that the Government have failed to think it through.

If we are told that these are matters of great moment and that care needs to be taken to scrutinise them, then it clearly needs to be done properly. Either a number of civil servants will have their attention diverted from what they are now doing on to this new work, or, if there is sufficient slack in the machine at the moment—your Lordships can believe that, if you like—they will be able to pick up this additional work without any extra burden. What we are saying to the Minister is: let us be reasonable in the context of the imperatives of the Government.

I have a list here of GLC property disposals programmed in 1984–85 which fall over the £500,000 figure which this amendment seeks. The disposals total nearly £28 million out of a capital receipts target of £30 million, so they are within the programme of capital receipts that we want. They still include the major disposals planned for the year, but exclude some £2 million of small or very small disposals. I have a list here of some of the items, which I do not want to weary the House with, but I shall be happy to show it to other noble Lords. What we are saying here is that it is not only the GLC which will be affected. In the West Midlands, for example, 61 contracts would still have to be submitted to the Secretary of State, as distinct from 118 if a lower limit of £100,000 applied. The Minister may say that the Government want to see all of the 118. We are saying that if there were constraints, if the new figure were adopted, the Minister would still have substantially complete control over the major items. In Greater Manchester 19 contracts, worth 45 per cent. of the capital spending, would still be caught by a limit set at £500,000. When one looks at the number one sees that the greater volume, in capital terms, would be caught in this way. We are therefore asking the Minister to reflect upon this point.

The amendment may not be correctly worded. There has been little time to do other than put it down. However, because of their haste to enact that which they want to enact, we believe that the Government ought to accept this figure. We have evidence to show that the figure which we have produced would still give to the Minister and his colleagues effective control over the major portion of the capital which is at stake. I have pleasure in seconding the amendment.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, was absolutely right to refer to the reasonable presentation of the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton. It always is reasonable, as is the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton's own presentation. I never have any complaint about that—or very rarely. The amendment would have the effect of confining the controls on disposals of land to disposals where the consideration exceeds £500,000. I have to confess that I am not quite clear about the purpose of the amendment. As it stands, it introduces a threshold, but not its corollary—a provision which stops the threshold from being evaded by the device of splitting one disposal which would be caught into several smaller ones which would not. There is such a provision in respect of contracts in Clause 9(3) of the Bill. If the amendment is serious—and I assume that it is—there should be a similar provision here.

There is a more basic objection. The import of the amendment is that no disposal of a piece of land for less than £500,000 could possibly be obstructive or prejudicial to a successor authority. I find that proposition very difficult to accept. While I acknowledge the levels of land prices in some of the local authority areas with which the Bill is concerned, I cannot believe that the sale of, say, a small, but strategically valuable, piece of land might not be very much regretted by the authority which came to develop the adjacent site so as to discharge a function that it had inherited from its predecessor upon abolition; for example, a small strip of land giving access to a much larger site.

Moreover, there is a distinction between contracts, where the Bill already provides for thresholds, and disposals of land. In the case of a contract, the authority concerned receives something in return for its consideration. But land disposals are, so to speak, final. Moreover, the value of a piece of land to a successor authority may be much greater than its market value; for example, the recreational value of a piece of land in the green belt. In other words, the two kinds of transactions are basically dissimilar.

None of this need prevent the Secretary of State, if he decides that it is right, from giving general consents in respect of disposals of land of particular types above certain specified values. It might be that this will be necessary, or at least desirable, if the legislation is to be effective. I certainly take that point. But in so deciding, the Secretary of State will have to be able to satisfy himself that this can be done without risking danger to those the legislation is intended to protect. Any such consents will be based upon experience, rather than upon theory. I am sure that this is the right approach. I opened by saying that both noble Lords who raised this point are always so reasonable in their presentation, and I feel that equally they will understand the reasonableness of my response.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, when disposing of an interest in land, one should also take into account the disposal of a lease of land. Earlier this afternoon I referred to the Coin Street site which in 1981 was valued at £12 million, but which is probably now worth about £30 million. I mentioned that that land had been leased for 125 years for a rent of £1. That property would not be caught because it would be well under the £500,000 mentioned in this amendment. It is an absolutely classic, and immediate, example of how a very important site could be disposed of, though at the moment only as a leasehold property. But that so devalues the freehold that the freehold would be saleable for almost a nominal sum if somebody had a 125 years lease for almost no rent. There are many ways, therefore, in which very dangerous procedures would be opened up if the figure of £500,000 which is set out in the amendment were included in the Bill.

Lord Evans of Claughton

My Lords, in this attempt to be reasonable, which is brought about partly by the hour and the number of important debates which are to take place, I am going to ask for leave to withdraw the amendment. I ought to point out that because of the way the Government have gone about their legislative programme in this House, we are putting down at Third Reading amendments which in the normal course of events would have been put down for the Committee stage, when they could have been reconsidered and looked at again. They might then have been put into a perhaps more acceptable form. This is the great difficulty which we have drawn to your Lordships' attention ever since the Government put down amendments at this very late stage.

Having said that, I think no useful purpose would be served by pursuing the matter any further. As I have said, I am concerned about the disposal to voluntary organisations for a nominal consideration, or a nil consideration, of land used for educational purposes. Perhaps the Minister will write to me about that matter; I do not believe that he dealt with it in his speech. In all the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 9 [Control of contracts]:

[Amendment No. 11 not moved.]

Lord Ezra

moved Amendment No. 12: Page 6, line 20, leave out ("£250,000") and insert ("£500,000"). The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 12, which I should like to take in conjunction with Amendments Nos. 13 to 16, raises a matter of degree, not a matter of principle. Amendment No. 13: Page 6, line 23, leave out ("£l00,000") and insert ("£500,000"). Amendment No. 14: Page 6, line 25, leave out ("£100,000") and insert ("£500,000"). Amendment No. 15: Page 6, line 28, leave out ("£100,000") and insert ("£500,000"). Amendment No. 16: Page 6, line 32, leave out ("£100,000") and insert ("£500,000"). The matter of degree is whether the threshold, which is stated in the Bill, beyond which contracts cannot be entered into without reference to the Secretary of State is, in all the circumstances, a desirable threshold. In fact, as I understand it, about 80 per cent. of all the expenditure which the local authorities concerned will be involved with at this time would be caught by this provision. The difficulty that one foresees with the very large number of contracts which will be affected is whether there will be undue delay and a major hiatus in the way in which they are dealt with. I have been advised that in the 1974 local government reorganisation, when central Government intervened in a similar way in the clearance of contracts, a considerable amount of delay was involved.

I must say that the bodies I have consulted, in particular the Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors, have expressed the very gravest concern about this. They have pointed out that with the very large numbers of contracts which will be caught under this threshold, those of their members who would tend to suffer most would be those in medium and small-sized businesses. They would be affected by delay in a vital ingredient of their business operations; namely, the flow of cash.

Furthermore, there is reason to suppose that even after the interim period when the successor organisations take over, there could be further delay before they get their system working. Therefore I should like to plead with the Minister that in the circumstances there should be taken into account not only the main objective of Government to control expenditure during this period, but also the impact of this on third parties. And those third parties are the very commercial organisations which we should be seeking to support at the present time—the small and medium-sized concerns which employ labour. They are going to be very seriously affected.

If the proposition put forward in this series of amendments were to be accepted, a very large number of small contracts affecting this particular segment of the construction contracting industry would escape and could be dealt with properly, and a very substantial sum could still be under the control of Government, but it would relate to a much smaller number of contracts. That would have the added advantage that it would reduce the load on the civil servants because they could be dealing with a smaller number of contracts with a larger scope, and at the same time the smaller contractors could get on with the job. Therefore—I do not wish to prolong this debate; I have made my point—I should very seriously like to ask the Minister whether. in wider interests than those that have apparently been addressed in this clause, he would be prepared to reconsider the threshold. I beg to move.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, I do not think there is any need for me to go into any further detail by way of explanation of this amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, did it so admirably, and covered all the ground so well, that all I think I need say is that we on these Benches, who have our name to the amendment, certainly support it absolutely and hope that we shall get some satisfaction from the Government, as indeed the noble Lord asked.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, may I say at once that I recognise the concern that the new controls will impose additional administrative demands on the outgoing authorities as well as on the department; and also the concerns expressed about the industry to which the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, referred. Of course, the number of applications will depend upon the decisions made by the authorities and upon the number and scope of the prior general consents issued. But what I can say, first, is that all applications received will be handled expeditiously, not least bearing in mind what the noble Lord has just said. I think this really goes without saying, but I should like to repeat it because I want to stress the importance of our acceptance of the point that he is making. We recognise what he is saying about this.

Secondly, as many consents as possible will be issued on Royal Assent. We are actively considering ways in which these can be framed so as to ease the overall administrative burden. One idea might be to give automatic consent to applications which cover projects already approved by a department. There are some other ideas, too, at which we are looking very urgently. Thirdly, of course, there is no reason why authorities should wait until the last possible moment before applying for consent. Indeed, on the contrary, they can help themselves as well as the department and industry by applying at an early stage in order to keep the timescale to a minimum.

In a word, what I am saying is that all these controls can and will be ready to work without in fact imposing a great burden on those who are affected. The points that the noble Lord made are absolutely valid. If they were to have the kind of adverse effect that he mentioned. then it would be a real burden on those concerned. We shall take considerable pains to ensure that this is not so, because we recognise the importance of the point that is being made.

On Question, amendment negatived.

[Amendments Nos. 13 to 16 not moved.]

6.25 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

moved Amendment No. 17: Page 7, line 5, at end insert ("or purpose"). The noble Baroness said: My Lords, my reason for moving this amendment is because I attended a committee meeting of the Greater London Council last Friday at which there was considerable discussion on the matter of the words used in line 5 of page 7 of this Bill, which refers to many things: goods, services, vehicles, plant or apparatus of the same or a similar description"— and that is where I seek to add the words, "or purpose". Counsel's opinion has been taken on many issues. and in particular on the issue of the awareness campaign, which was under consideration, as to whether another £3,500,000 of forward contracts should be let for that campaign.

As I mentioned earlier this afternoon, we had not received counsel's opinion at the time; in fact, we had not received any of the papers until about half an hour before the meeting. But the Conservative majority were so upset by this decision, to pass the £3,500,000, making it £10.267 million for the awareness campaign, that they have requisitioned a special council meeting. We still do not know when that will be, but the contracts have already been let, and, therefore, it is too late to do anything about that. I think compensation would now be payable, even if the whole council reversed it. As we discussed earlier in this Bill, the Minister can have no control over what has already happened. That is one of the horses that have already bolted.

But counsel's opinion was then discussed, and the statement made to the council by the legal adviser was that, because only the word "description" was used, and not "purpose", it was so loose and so wide that publicity, for example, on a number of different things, could not necessarily be described in the same way, although it would be for the same purpose. It seemed to be the opinion of everyone at that meeting that if the word "purpose" was not included in the clause, it would make it very possible to wriggle around it or to find loopholes to get through.

I would ask the Minister for his views on this. I put the amendment down because there was not time to seek an opinion before the meeting of this House today. This all happened very quickly, between last Friday and today, and I have therefore put the amendment down to see what the views of the Minister and of his officials are on this.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I fully understand the reasons that have prompted my noble friend Lady Gardner to table these amendments. However, I have to say that the Government do not believe they are necessary, and perhaps I can briefly explain why.

Subsection (3) is the provision designed to prevent disaggregation of contracts—disaggregation with the aim of circumventing the thresholds set out in subsection (1). My noble friend Lady Gardner is concerned that the reference in subsection (3) to, 'goods, services, vehicles, plant or apparatus of the same or similar description is not sufficiently precise. In Amendment No. 17 she proposes referring not only to a similar description but also to a similar purpose; and Amendment No. 18 would make the same change to subsection (4).

My noble friend has explained that omitting any reference to the purpose for which the goods, services, etc., are intended might open up some scope for avoidance of the controls. It might be argued, for example, that advertising on one campaign serves a different purpose from advertising on a different campaign. So it does. But that argument misses the point of Clause 9. It is the goods, services, etc., themselves, not the purposes for which they are intended, which must be of the same or similar description.

The amendments, which seek to add a reference to similar purposes, therefore add nothing to the effect of the provisions. I am advised that the services of, for example, advertising agents are of the same or similar description whatever the purpose for which the advertisements are to be inserted. The amendments are, we feel, unnecessary. I hope that this clarifies the position and that, in the light of what I have said, my noble friend may feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that answer, which satisfies me. On those grounds, I am pleased to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 18 not moved.]

Clause 10 [Disqualification for contravention of sections 8 and 9]:

Baroness Birk

moved Amendment No. 19: Page 7, line 31, leave out from ("council") to end of line 33, and insert— ("provided that—

  1. (a) no such order shall be made unless the court is satisfied that the person acted unreasonably or in the knowledge that the disposal or contract was being authorised in contravention of section 8 or section 9 as the case may be; and
  2. (b) no period of disqualification shall extend beyond 31st March 1986").
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment is concerned with the disqualification clause which was put into the Bill at Report stage, which is extremely worrying because, again, it is something which is unprecedented in the form in which it has been put in the Bill. It means that the GLC and MCCs may be forced into a breach of statutory duty by the Secretary of State withholding consent, and yet may be faced with elected member disqualification if they act without this consent notwithstanding that it may be to comply with a statutory duty.

The Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 imposed capital expenditure controls on local authorities, empowering the Secretary of State to prescribe capital allocation annually per authority which was not to be exceeded, However, an authority that did exceed its allocation was not automatically acting ultra vires. Before a local authority and its members can be placed in an illegal position by additional capital spending, the Secretary of State must first issue a formal direction to them not to enter into further contracts involving them in further payments.

Not so with this clause, which imposes automatic sanctions if the consent of the Secretary of State is not obtained to what is a lawful act. The sanction of elected member disqualification is novel and disturbing because, unlike existing provisions about disqualification, it does not depend upon an unlawful item of account resulting in a loss to the ratepayers. If a loss were to result, the ordinary surcharge provisions affecting councillors would apply in any event and therefore the clause would be quite unnecessary. But what the clause does is to impose a disqualification sanction on elected members even when there has been no loss to the ratepayers at all. The disqualification would be purely for failure to obtain the Secretary of State's consent.

That the courts should disqualify in these circumstances, even though they are only empowered and not obliged to do so, is the purpose of the new clause. Incidentally, there is no time limit set; it is left entirely to the court—which, again, is not usual practice in this type of case, and some limit should be inserted in any case.

The purpose of this amendment is to seek to impose some limits on the totally open-ended clause as it now stands. Disqualification simply for failure to obtain ministerial consent to an already lawful act can, under this clause, be for life; be from any public service; and is subject to no defence for the unfortunate councillor. Given the number and complexities of the land and contractual arrangements which these seven authorities will have to continue to enter into, is it not right that some element of reasonableness should be taken into account by the courts? As the Minister said more than once when introducing these draconian powers, they are only being brought in, in the context of abolition".—[Official Report, 3/7/84; col. 265.] If that is so, then let the disqualification, if it is to be imposed, run only during the run-up to abolition, and be only for membership of the authority that is to be abolished— which is what is proposed in the amendment. That is the threefold purpose of this amendment. If the Government do not accept it, then Clause 10 will appear extremely vindictive—giving the prospect of a permanent ban from public office on any councillor with whom the Secretary of State disagrees. I beg to move.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, this amendment seeks to limit the High Court's discretion to make an order of disqualification if Clauses 8 or 9 are contravened; and to limit the penalties if such an order is made. The question of whether a responsible person has acted unreasonably or in deliberate contravention of the provisions in Clauses 8 or 9, or whether he has acted in all good faith, is already one for the High Court to weigh. I should point out that there is no express defence of "good faith" where a contract or disposal above the relevant threshold has been made without the required consent. However, since the High Court will have complete discretion whether or not to impose any sanction, "good faith" would undoubtedly be a powerful plea in mitigation. So, where a disposal had been made or a contract let in the honest but mistaken belief that no consent was required, or that it had already been obtained, I am sure that would weigh very heavily with the court, which will judge each case on its merits.

From that point of view, this amendment is unnecessary. But it is also undesirable, because it unfairly places the burden of proof on whoever brings the action. That person will have to prove that the person responsible for contravening the provisions —once contravention had been determined—had done so knowingly, or had acted unreasonably; rather than the burden being where it should be, on the person responsible for the contravention having to show that he had done so in good faith.

So in the way that it interferes with the High Court's discretion, this amendment is unnecessary and undesirable. In the way that it limits penalties, it is simply unacceptable. As it stands, the Bill allows the court to disqualify the person responsible from being a member of the GLC or relevant MCC, and from being for a specified time a member of any other local authority. That is a perfectly sensible maximum penalty for someone in a position of power and responsibilility who has wilfully ignored or flouted an Act of Parliament. Indeed, some may argue that it is rather lenient.

But this amendment would limit the penalty to disqualification from the GLC or relevant MCC up until the day they are abolished. That hardly constitutes a reasonable deterrent to those who are determined to obstruct and impede the policies, and who in some cases have threatened to resign anyway from their councils—no doubt after they have done the maximum amount of damage. If the provisions of Clauses 8 and 9 are to be effective, we must have penalties which will at least make irresponsible factions think twice. For those reasons, I ask the noble Baroness to consider withdrawing her amendent.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, the Minister's reply was very unsatisfactory. After all, we did not put in this clause. The clause is so widely drawn and so open-ended that I cannot see that people are very likely to receive the justice we would expect them to receive in this country—and particularly in our courts.

The court will be tied by the legislation that is contained in the Bill at the moment and not by what we are saying here and what is reported in Hansard. To leave matters in that way is something which many lawyers and academics in local government, and others outside this House, find quite extraordinary. It is not something they, or any of us, have come across before or have seen in any local government legislation. This amendment is really very mild. It says only that no order shall be made unless, the court is satisfied that the person acted unreasonably or in the knowledge that the disposal or contract was being authorised in contravention of section 8 or section 9". and that, no period of disqualification shall extend beyond 31st March 1986". We have been told whenever we have moved amendments all the way through the Bill that this is only temporary and will be only for the next 11 months. But now we are being told that the disqualification period could be much too short for somebody contravening, as we and the Minister have pointed out, not the main abolition Bill—and I do not believe that anybody yet knows what is going to be in that—but a paving Bill. The Minister refused to accept my Amendment No. 3, to repeal this Bill if the main Bill did not go through by a fixed date, but now he is talking about this situation continuing beyond the date we have put down.

This is very unsatisfactory. The tragedy is that these clauses have not been properly thought out. One gets the feeling that people were in a complete muddle and did not really know what they were doing.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I should like to make just one observation on the second part of the amendment. I refer to the extraordinary proposition that the period of disqualification should be limited to 31st March, 1986–that is, about 20 months from now. There may be such deliberate defiance of the law by members of one or other of these authorities that a court, left to itself, might feel that such a person was unfitted to take part in local government for a great many years. That is at least a possibility. If the offence brought before the court is more modest then perhaps a fairly short period of disqualification will be imposed. But to say in advance that, however gross the breaches of the law and however provocative the behaviour of the authority member concerned, he should not be disqualified for more than 20 months is simply asking for trouble.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down—and I assume that he has not—I would point out that this was something that the Government put into a temporary Bill. It should be looked at in that way, and it is only applying to those authorities concerned in this matter. This is not a political point. It seems to me wrong on any ground to make those penalties so penal, which they are, in this Bill. It is not the right place. If the Government want anything else, they should wait for the abolition Bill.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, on the basis that I had not sat down I should like to say only this in reply to the noble Baroness. Yes, the Bill is a temporary Bill; but the offence —and this is a point the noble Baroness has not dealt with—may be so gross that a court—and this is a matter for an independent court and not for your Lordships—may feel that such a person would be grossly unsuited for any local government office for a number of years to come. Now to say, however gross that is, that because the penalty arises from a temporary Bill he cannot be put out for more than 20 months is to make a fool of the court and a fool of justice.

On Question, amendment negatived.

6.53 p.m.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, before the House agrees this Motion, may I say a few words? I have listened with—

Noble Lords


Lord Bellwin

My Lords, perhaps the noble Countess will allow me to make my remarks and then, of course, she can speak.

We have had long, interesting, and at times partisan debates, on the background of the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils. I do not imagine that I will be able to persuade noble Lords, on the Labour Benches, or other noble Lords opposite, of the superfluity of these authorities, and that abolition is necessary if we are to have genuinely accountable local government, with local decisions being taken locally. But in any case, as I reminded your Lordships at Second Reading, this Bill is not about abolition as such. It is about preparing the way for abolition by providing for a number of things which must be done now if abolition is to be achieved on 1st April 1986. And I have also explained, this will be done without prejudging Parliament's ultimate decision in the matter.

The Bill as it now stands is somewhat different from that which was presented here on 24th May. This reflects the operation of your Lordships' will and the Government's response. But the Bill's essential purpose remains the same. It is needed first of all because of the elections which are due to be held next May. As my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter said so aptly at Report stage, what could be the issues at such an election, other than abolition itself. And as the abolition Bill would be going through Parliament at the same time, clearly it would be absurd to allow elections to proceed. The Bill now proposes that the present members of the GLC and metropolitan county councils should continue in office until abolition.

But the Bill is also needed for other reasons. If the interests of staff are to be properly protected the Staff Commission must be set up as soon as possible. If the successor authorities are to begin to prepare for their new responsibilities they must be enabled to do so right away. Above all, if the outgoing authorities are going to realise the threats which some of them are making to disrupt abolition and make life difficult for their successors, the necessary protection must be in place for these authorities and for ratepayers.

We have had more than one long debate on Section 137, including some today. We have had some hard arguments about the need for these controls, and for those on land and contracts. But in the light of some of the things we see happening at the moment, I suspect that, in their hearts, those who are anxious, as they have expressed it today, about what we have in the Bill will, in all fairness, when they look at the millions of pounds involved and having listened to what my noble friend Lady Gardner told us earlier, wonder whether they really are so dubious about these controls.

I do not propose to make a long speech, but I cannot let the Bill leave this place, without saying a brief word of thanks to my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale for the help he has given in sharing the burden of presenting the Bill to your Lordships. Perhaps I could also thank noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite, and on the Alliance Bench. The noble Baroness Lady Birk, as ever, was a doughty opponent, to say the least. I said earlier that the noble Lord, Lord Graham, and the noble Lord, Lord Evans, always presented, their cases reasonably— and that, they do—but also darned effectively, if I may say so. There were more moments than usual when the temperature was raised and the passions flowed, but almost always there was the courtesy and fairness for which your Lordships' House is so properly renowned.

Not for the first time, indeed as ever, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter for his splendid and, if I may say so, his always compelling contributions. Likewise my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes who is so knowledgeable on the subject of the GLC; and of course my noble friend the Leader of the House for his wise counsel and his masterly presentation of Clause 2. There have been notable contributions from the Cross Benches. It is invidious to single out particular noble Lords, but I should just like to thank the noble Earl, Lord Perth, for his realism and his constitutional acuteness; and also the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, with his noble friends the noble Lords, Lord Spens, and Lord Shaughnessy, for raising the commencement order question, which was so helpful. Finally, I am grateful to all who have taken part in our proceedings.

My Lords, the Bill as it now stands, is a product of your wishes, as well as the Government's intentions. In particular, the continuation of the present GLC and MCC memberships for a further 11 months, with the regrettable, but unavoidable, corollary of further controls, is a direct result of your proceedings in Committee. Your Lordships' House has played its proper part as a revising, and certainly not as a denying, chamber. The Bill reflects the fact, as well as our determination, to secure abolition on 1st April 1986.

Finally, on a personal note, may I say that while it has been a far from easy Bill to pilot through, I am deeply grateful for the support of all my noble friends and many noble Lords on the Cross-Benches, as well as for the tolerance and great courtesy, which, as ever, has epitomised the very best of all that which your Lordships' House represents. I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Moved, that the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Bellwin.)

Lord Molson

My Lords—

Baroness Birk

My Lords, I think, with respect, that it is the custom for the Front Benches to speak first.

May I first reciprocate what the Minister said about courtesy. On the whole, although passions were high, quite rightly, during this Bill the Minister was always very courteous and I think that the arguments on a personal basis were always kept that way. When we turn to the Bill I do not think I can be quite as courteous or as flattering as I am to the Minister. The whole Bill is a legislative monstrosity which, frankly, should never have seen the light of parliamentary day. It is—and I say this very seriously—a Bill of which we as Members of the whole of Parliament in both Houses should feel greatly ashamed should be going on our statute book.

If the Government wanted to abolish the GLC and the MCCs the proposal should have been properly thought out, properly drafted and included in one Bill. We may not have liked it and we may have opposed it, but constitutionally and as a parliamentary exercise it would have been the way to do it. Whatever the discussions may be on mandates for the abolition Bill, there is certainly no mandate for this paving Bill, which indeed is now an extremely different animal from what it was when it arrived in this House.

After the Government suffered a major defeat in Committee on a fundamental amendment, they should either have accepted that large defeat—because it was a large defeat—with good grace or had the Bill recommitted, since after that defeat the Bill was a very chewed up document. But that did not happen. As has been pointed out by me and other noble Lords, we were dealing with an almost entirely new piece of legislation and we have missed out one stage of it, which has been proved by the problems that have arisen even up to this last minute on Third Reading.

In addition, the Government tabled new clauses on local government expenditure on Report, which again changed the Bill's already very unsavoury character. As the Bill leaves us now, the House of Lords will still be by-passed, since the order to cancel elections and extend councillors' terms will be made before the House of Lords has dealt with the main Bill; the order can still be made after Second Reading of the main Bill in the Commons; and elections will still remain cancelled. As the noble Viscount the Leader of the House conceded on Report, there is no precedent for extending the terms of office before the main piece of legislation has been decided.

We believe that the date to which the terms are to be extended is totally unrealistic. In spite of the efforts made right up until today, there is no provision in the Bill for what happens after that date; and that date will be the earliest for the real successor bodies—for those quangos, joint boards, and so on—to be set up. They cannot be set up until that date, and then that has to be worked out. The timetable looks a little on the ridiculous side at the moment. As Ministers well know, the financial controls suddenly brought into this Bill will take effect immediately and will create not only hardship but economic and industrial chaos. On those measures we could not get any "give" at all today.

The genesis of this measure leading to abolition is appalling and has been appallingly handled. In order to get rid of the GLC bathwater which the Prime Minister finds malodorous, a number of healthy babies will be drowned in the process, including the structure of London as a capital city, the metropolitan counties, which have been pulled in as part of the scenario to get rid of the GLC, and, above all, our proper parliamentary procedure, which is being bulldozed by the majority in another place.

The Government still have time, even when this dreadful apology for legislation is on the statute book, to rethink abolition and use their repeal powers in the Bill—and the Minister has drawn my attention to those powers many times—to repeal it and start again. That is the proper thing to do, the parliamentary thing to do, and the democratic thing to do.

7.4 p.m.

Lord Evans of Claughton

My Lords, I should like to thank the Minister and the Leader of the House in particular for the way in which they have presented the Bill and the sensitive way that the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, has realised that some of us on this side of the House do not go all the way, or indeed even a small part of the way, with him on the legislation put forward. I should like, too, to thank noble Lords on my side of the House. Strangely enough, the noble Lords I am thanking are not the same as those whom the Minister was thanking. I have been greatly helped on the constitutional issues by my noble friend Lord Hooson and have also had great support from my noble friend Lord Diamond.

The Bill is a constitutional issue and not just another local government Bill. I believe that it was conceived in haste and with scant respect for constitutional propriety. At one stage it was rightly rebuffed by your Lordships and at another stage very nearly rebuffed. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, I am only sorry that your Lordships did not amend the Bill further to insist on elections taking place, as is right and proper in a democracy.

Almost worse than that, the Bill has been materially changed during its progress through this House by Government amendments. We have had scant, or virtually no opportunity to consider the entirely new and draconian financial control measures which the Bill introduced very late, at the Report stage. I feel that that is an extemely bad precendent, and I hope that it will not be followed in the future by this or by any other Government.

I shall wind up my very brief remarks by quoting a well-known northern Conservative county councillor who, in order to protect his future, must remain nameless. He said to me: The Government seem mesmerised with their own proposals and are far from clear what they are doing and why. There appears no evidence that the Government have ever applied themselves to the countrywide implications and long-term political consequences of their proposals, nor costed the burdens and bills which they are now picking up and will pick up for the taxpayer. The sooner the Government are out of their deep involvement with local government the better for them and their prospects. Meantime, however well-meaning their motives, they seem to be drifting from a position from which the Conservative Party is expected to stand". That was said by a leading Conservative in my part of the world.

I suspect that in persisting with this legislation the Government have done their case with their supporters more harm than they have done to the future of local government in this country. I believe that whichever Government replace them in the future, there will have to be legislation quickly to get rid of these measures. Otherwise, if such legislation is allowed to continue to remain on the statute book for a lengthy period, and such an attitude to local government is allowed to subsist, there will hardly be any local government for us to take part in in the future.

I have said what I hope are flattering things to the Government. I repeat that the noble Lord the Minister has with a difficult brief done his best to be constructive. I should like to thank him and those advising him.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, I have listened with great interest to many of the debates which have taken place in your Lordships' House during the passage of this Bill. I have wrestled with my conscience for the past week and I have decided that I can no longer remain silent on matters which make me increasingly anxious.

The noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, said at Report stage that the Bill was a totally different one from that originally introduced into this House. The Bill as it now stands has not been seen in the other place at all. Those amendments tabled by the Government and agreed to by your Lordships which deal with Section 137 spending, the sale of land and the control of contracts must be considered with existing controls such as rate capping. They remove from those democratically elected representatives of the GLC and the metropolitan boroughs the last vestiges of power, responsibility and credibility. I am sure that the Government and those who have voted in favour of these amendments have not fully considered those implications.

To leave county councillors almost impotent for a period up to two years will, to put it mildly, create an atmosphere of discontent, not only among those elected but among their support staff, who will suffer a loss of drive and purpose which will lead to an eventual collapse of the whole system. Your Lordships should remember that we are speaking of people who are already demoralised and depressed about their future.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the sayings of Mr. Livingstone and his kind, they were as democratically elected as the present Government. The majority of the councillors on the GLC and MCCs are genuinely concerned about the well-being of their electors. The growth of community projects and welfare amenities, at a time when there is immense hardship, is a clear indication of that. To mistrust those men and women cannot do anything but create a feeling of injustice in the country.

The lack of an effective, radical thinking Opposition to the Government is already manifesting itself in the actions of the miners and other groups, who feel that they have no effective means of expressing themselves through Parliament. Should not a large majority on any governing body put upon that body the onus to be, and to be seen to be, scrupulously just? This Bill in its original form was brought in as a precursor to a Bill which is intended to cut costs and to streamline the functions of the local authorities.

We have heard nothing of the costings for keeping several thousand staff within the GLC and the metropolitan counties pushing paper to Whitehall for up to two years and for employing and accommodating the additional civil servants who will be needed to cope with the vast number of applications for permission to spend ratepayers' money. Will these civil servants have a training and the local knowledge to deal with these applications? Will they have the understanding to realise the different specific needs of Merseyside and the West Midlands?

I think if these measures had been proposed by a Labour Government there would have been a hue and cry up and down the country. Newspapers would have carried banner headlines announcing the death of freedom and democracy. We have listened to some very emotive if not inflammatory speeches in recent weeks. We have heard a lot about precedents. I earnestly ask the noble Lord the Minister to ask his right honourable and honourable friends in another place when they consider your Lordships' amendments to give serious thought to the precedents created. We are leaving the gate wide open for an extremist administration in the future.

7.11 p.m.

Lord Molson

My Lords, my noble friend the Minister has made the main point. He has emphasised the fact that the objective of abolishing the Greater London Council and the municipal county councils has been achieved. He has not mentioned the fact that the Bill, as it now is, is a completely different measure from what it was at Second Reading. Ordinarily one can deal with the Third Reading of a Bill in quite a perfunctory way because it is virtually the same Bill and in form is the same as it was at Second Reading.

Any lawyer glancing superficially at this Bill as it was at Second Reading and as it is now would assume that it was two entirely different Bills. The Minister has not referred, as he might have done, with congratulation to the Government, to the fact that after a very serious constitutional issue was raised, the Government, to their great credit, recognised that a mistake had been made and at Report stage introduced drastic amendments so that the form and substance of this Bill is now entirely different from what was originally introduced.

Two very important constitutional issues were raised. The first was that it was proposed that this Bill should be triggered off by the Second Reading of a Bill in another place. There was to be no Committee stage, no Report stage, no Third Reading and your Lordships' House was completely ignored. The Bill was not even to be presented to your Lordships. I am bound to say that, having sat in the House of Commons from 1931 to 1961, I do not believe that a single one of those Parliaments would have passed a Bill containing provisions of that kind.

There was also the interim, makeshift proposal that after the Greater London Council and the other councils ceased to exist, makeshift councils should be appointed from among councillors elected for different constituencies and for different purposes, and that for the interim period they were to exercise these powers. I think it is important to draw attention to these very serious constitutional issues that were raised. Your Lordships took a firm line. At Second Reading you gave the Government a warning. At Committee stage you defeated the Government. It is to the abiding credit of the Government and especially of my noble friend the Leader of the House that they recognised that very serious issues were at stake and on Report stage proposed such substantial changes in the Bill that it can be said that what is being passed now at Third Reading is something radically and fundamentally different from what was presented at Second Reading.

I have drawn attention to these things because we ought not to overlook the fact that a very grave constitutional issue was raised by the Bill in its original form. To your Lordships' credit you stood firm upon the issue. To the credit also of the Government they accepted your Lordships' views upon the subject. I congratulate them upon their conversion. Again I should like to repeat that not only the Conservative party but this House owe a great debt to my noble friend the Leader of the House for the firm and tactful way in which he defended your Lordships' constitutional position.

Lord Sefton of Garston

My Lords, this may well be the final stage of this particular Bill in this House. The Motion, That the Bill do now pass is an opportunity for the Members of this House to look at the Bill as it has gone through the House in its entirety with all the amendments that have been carried. I look at it and I am as appalled as I was at the beginning. I am horrified. That is not in particular because of its consequences to local government. I think that local government is such a versatile machine that perhaps it could have got over the difficulties. Just as it got over the difficulties inherent in the 1972–74 reorganisation and began to make it work, it would probably get over the difficulties inherent in this Bill when this Bill was followed by the main Bill.

This to me is a halfway stage. What happens next is that the Government bring before this House, if they think necessary, the Bill to abolish the county councils. During the debate we have had on this paving Bill, over and over again we have heard the case argued that abuses here and abuses there, particularly by the GLC, are a good reason for the controls being brought in as proposed in this Bill. I do not believe they are. I believe that what they do is establish a pattern not in local government but in national government, in central government. They lay down a new pattern.

I can well remember, from 1972–74, the promises we had from responsible government Ministers that, although the water authorities were going to be set up, and removed to some extent from local authority control, the Government pledged that there would be an element of local government still contained within the water authorities. That pledge stood good for a few years. What happened in the end? Slowly but surely the pressure came from the water industry itself that the incidence of local government control should be removed.

It would not be too bad if that was an isolated example. But I am old enough and many Members of this House are old enough to remember when local government really meant local government to the people in the areas. Electricity, gas, health and hospitals were all once very much involved in local government. Where are they now? They have gone completely into the hands of a bureaucracy simply because of the fact that that pattern was established.

Now we are in the situation of creating a new set-up. The new set-up is that police, transport and planning—matters that really should be the essence of the planning of a good life in the neighbourhood—are now going to joint committees. Or take quangos—call them what you will—or some other fiction that the Government are going to make! They are to be administered by district councils. So far, so good. What will happen? The complaints will start rolling in. And before we know where we are, the Government will be making further proposals for removing the local government element. That is the pattern being set in this Bill.

The 1972 proposals introduced by a Conservative Government were too hurried and ill-thought out. So are these. I shall not detain your Lordships longer except to give this quotation: Until all who are engaged in these present disputes dealing with the relationship between different tiers of administration acknowledge how delicate are the mechanisms with which they tamper and how closely interwoven are their sources of nourishment they will find themselves aiming at the wrong target with the wrong weapons for the wrong reasons. It concludes: A government will pay dearly if it forgets that grass roots democracy is the only antidote to anarchy. At this stage only a full examination by a Royal Commission can save us from further error and that only provided existing local authorities meantime honour the established rules and conventions". And of course they have not. They have not, partly because of Government restrictions, partly because of the problems facing places like Merseyside, occasioned by Government economic policy. There has been a failure to understand what is going on in the country.

The Government may say that abolition is the right method for getting rid of abuse in local government. I ask this question. What will the Government say when the Liverpool city council, assailed by all the economic pressures of the past 12 months, perhaps come up with some proposal that the Government do not like? What happens then? Do we talk about abolition? Do we talk about further controls? Inexorably, the logic of the Goverment's attitude is that they will. Finally, they will destroy the thing that we have most valued in this country for 250 years. If anyone wishes to wear the medal, it will go, I am afraid upon the chest of those people who supported and pushed this Bill against the advice of local authorities.

7.23 p.m.

Lord Stewart of Fulham

The noble Lord, Lord Molson, ran through the vicissitudes of the Bill from the Second Reading to the present stage and there is no need for me to repeat that. I wish to draw attention to the fact that during those vicissitudes the Bill has managed to offend one major Conservative article of belief after another. We found quite early that the Bill was an affront to the sovereignty of Parliament. We have always supposed that Conservatives had great respect for the sovereignty of Parliament. But the proponents of this Bill had to be pulled up with a very harsh jerk in order to cure the Bill of that defect. Indeed, it has not been wholly cured of it even now.

When, as a result of that major shock, the Government found that the government of London was still going to be in the hands of Labour people for longer than they had intended, they found that it was necessary to introduce a number of financial controls on London and other metropolitan councils that had not previously been in the Bill. That is to say they affronted another Conservative belief—the belief that you should have local government and that you should stand up for the rights of local authorities against over-centralisation. We have had in this Bill, in the clauses introduced in the course of its passage through this House, a striking example of the Government's regard for the judgment of the gentleman in Whitehall. Then we found, as we debated them today, that one of the chief sufferers of these measures would be voluntary and charitable organisations.

Lord Bellwin

Not true.

Lord Stewart of Fulham

Repeatedly, Conservatives have urged on us the importance of voluntary and charitable organisations in the administration of the welfare state and of public welfare generally. But all that has gone by the board. It is voluntary and charitable organisations that will be in danger as a result of some of the measures that we have passed in this Bill.

Why is a Conservative Government engaged in passing a Bill that affronts so many Conservative principles? It is, I am afraid, because of another underlying, deep Conservative belief that local authorities ought to be governed by councils with-Conservative majorities, and that if you have a local authority where Labour majorities are repeatedly returned, there must be something wrong with it. We have had that principle before. We have it in this Bill. Before the major local government reorganisation of the mid- 1970s, one of the most successful types of local authority was the county borough. It was, as a rule, efficient and it evoked local pride in a way that few other local authorities were able to do. Unfortunately, county boroughs had the tiresome habit of returning Labour majorities. So county boroughs disappeared with the reorganisation of local government in the mid-1970s.

The old LCC was an extremely efficient authority, and famous all over the world. But it was persistently Labour, and it was abolished for that reason. That was why the Greater London Council was created —because it was believed that it would be a safe Conservative body. Alas, it proved not to be, and its turn has now come for abolition. You have this repeated theme that if a body is going to be Labour it is in danger of being abolished. My noble friend Lord Sefton said just now that this will be the remedy that Conservatives will employ at any time in the future when they are not getting their own way. We saw it again today when we were debating the financial clauses. We were repeatedly told that all the amendments that we suggested were unnecessary, that if of course, there were any sensible and reasonable proposals, they would get consent, and that that would be that. What is a sensible, reasonable and well founded proposal? It is one that is approved by a Secretary of State in a Conservative Government. That is the lesson that people have endeavoured to teach us during today's debates. The whole thing is a gerrymander from first to last. It is an attempt to alter the democratic verdict of the people at the polls in order to increase the influence of the Conservative Party in local government.

We appreciate the Minister's skill and courtesy. However, let us consider what he has had to say in the course of the Bill. I have been amazed by the manner in which he has kept holding up his hands in horror that he should be meeting what he calls obstruction from the GLC and the metropolitan counties. If the Government were approaching the proposal for abolition following a proper inquiry and study, and with a great weight of evidence behind them, one might perhaps object to obstruction. But what do you expect when you have a scheme for abolition that has no intellectual backing at all and that has to be piloted through Parliament with the assistance of a Bill of this kind? Of course, you will get obstruction. The noble Lord the Minister's wailing about obstruction reminded me of the comments of the French naturalist Buffon on the rhinoceros. This creature is remarkably ill behaved. If you attack it, it defends itself. What did the Minister expect from the GLC? What does he expect from any authority with any spirit? The Government should realise what they have done through a measure of this kind. They have deliberately introduced a rough, gerrymandering element into the process of local government. The purpose of the Bill is to advance the interests of the Conservative Party in local government. They will find that that lesson is not forgotten and that it will be acted upon by people in local government throughout the country.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, this has been a bizarre afternoon—the climax of two months of fantasy. We have been asked in this House—and historians will find this very difficult to conceive—to legislate for a hypothetical situation 21 months hence, plus a number of hypothetical situations which may materialise in between. What kind of legislation are we being asked to pass?

There is a much more important and dangerous element which has been demonstrated yet again this afternoon, as it was on Second Reading, in Committee, on Report and again on Third Reading; it is much more dangerous than the bizarre character of the request which has come from the Government to this House. I am referring to the authoritarian, nay, even totalitarian, premises upon which some of the important speeches have been based. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, is not here because it seems to me that he has been leading on the Bill all afternoon with the tacit consent, given as a PS, of the Minister. But let us consider what has been the argument all the way through the interventions of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, right from Second Reading. It really comes down to this: "What I"—that is, Lord Boyd-Carpenter—"or the Secretary of State approve of is, by definition, reasonable; what we do not like is, by definition, unreasonable, irresponsible or extremist. But"—and here I particularly want to come to a point that I wish to put to the noble Lord, Lord Molson—"we shall not give the electorate the chance of judging on our criteria. The electorate are not fit. They are not to be allowed to decide whether to dismiss a councillor or to approve of what he has done. No, we shall decide and we shall prevent the electorate from doing so".

I was very glad to hear this afternoon the noble Lord, Lord Monson, apparently convinced of the argument which, as noble Lords who have followed this through will remember, I have put consistently right from Second Reading onwards; namely, that this is a precedent. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, pointed this out very forcefully. It is a precedent for cancelling elections. Whatever one may think about the present political circumstances of this country, we surely know what precedents have been used in other countries when you start cancelling the statutory right of the electorate to elect their own representatives.

The noble Lord, Lord Molson, said this evening that this Bill is fundamentally different from the Bill that came to this House when we had the Second Reading. I would beg to differ from him. Yes, it is different; yes, we have amended it. But, as I pointed out on Report, there is a principle within the original draft that came to us which has been preserved all the way through, and that is the very dangerous principle of cancelling elections.

The noble Lord, Lord Molson, said, quite fairly, both tonight and on Report, that he considered that the basic objections of the opponents of the Bill had been removed by the Government after the Government had been defeated, and in his absence I drew attention at the Report stage to the fact that some of us do not agree with that proposition. Although we agree that the fears that he and other noble Lords on the other side of the House expressed in Committee about the gerrymandering effect of the Bill, about the changing of the political complexion of council control have been at least modified, the other objection, which involves an equal, if not a greater, principle, of the cancellation of elections has not been removed, and it is still here today. It is for that reason that those of us who have objected to the Bill on principle still object to it as it has been amended here. Let me in parenthesis make to the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, the point which I have tried to make previously, and which I have tried to impress upon him; namely, that though the noble Lord accused me of using extreme words such as "gerrymandering", I was in fact quoting his right honourable friend the former Prime Minister, Mr Edward Heath, in another place.

Finally, I wonder whether the Government are still talking about their mandate. I believe that my noble friend Lady Birk, has already constantly hammered home this point during the afternoon. Are the Government still standing on their mandate from the last election? If so, how do they explain that they are to stand on this issue which, as the noble Baroness pointed out, is seven-and-a-half lines in a 47 page document? What has happened to the mandate for abolishing the domestic rating system. which was contained in the 1979 election manifesto? What has happened to the mandate for restoring the university vote, which was also contained in the 1979 election manifesto? Why do the Government select what they claim they have been mandated to do, and ignore the things which, on the same basis, they could claim to be mandated to do, but which they have not done and have not even tried to do?

It has become apparent, as many noble Lords have pointed out this afternoon, that whether one judges from the General Election, from the European elections or from the opinion polls, every test of public opinion in London has shown that the majority of Londoners are against the abolition of the GLC; every test of opinion in the metropolitan counties has shown the same result. The country as a whole has always shown, in any test of opinion, that what the Government have been trying to do this afternoon flies directly in the face of public opinion. I hope that when the Bill reaches the other place there will be sufficient noble Lord's friends on the Back-Benches who will recognise the principles involved in it and who will reject it, as we did when we had our vote in Committee.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I am sure that the House will acknowledge the kindness and the courtesy of the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, in his opening remarks after what have been very tough debates on Second Reading and during all the other stages of the Bill. It was typical of the noble Lord to make such generous remarks.

The noble Lord was absolutely right when he said that this Bill is not about abolition. This Conservative measure is the measure to make the rope to strangle the victim; it is the Conservative measure to sharpen the poignard to plunge into the back of major elected councils in our country. It will be an indelible stain, to put beside many others, in the Conservative record, but I am not concerned about that. What I find disturbing is that it will be an indelible stain on the post-war record of this British Parliament. There has been nothing so vulgar and repugnant.

Many of us, including the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, have served for very many years in British local government and I am sure that we are all proud to have done so. Therefore, I find it almost unbelieveable that any Government would have gone down into the sewer to have dragged up this appalling measure which is an affront—and this is what the House has to note—to millions of British people, whose heritage goes back hundreds of years. Those of us whose families go back a long way in these islands used to be proud to say that local government existed before national government, and that it helped national government to become more democratic and assisted the parliamentary system. It is repugnant that under this Administration the parliamentary system is now setting out to strangle the local government principle which helped to give it birth.

My noble friend Lord Stewart of Fulham mentioned the measure to destroy the LCC. We all knew, and we all said so at the time, that a grave misdemeanour had been committed by five or six million Londoners. They had exhibited the audacity continually, freely and democratically to elect a Labour LCC, and in the eyes of Toryism that is an offence.

When the introduction of the GLC came about many of us were worried that the measure would be similar to this one. How relieved we were when (as I read out during the Second Reading debate of this Bill) we heard the words of Sir Keith Joseph, who gave an absolute assurance that nothing whatever like what was being said outside the other place at that time would occur. He was right then, but he is wrong now. It has taken place, and it is taking place. He said that that measure would be the subject of a Royal Commission and a White Paper, and the subject of great debates in Parliament. He said that even when the GLC was in being it would still be left to the people of London to decide the sort of policies in which the newly-created council should indulge, and if they did not like it then they would change it.

The victims of the Tory assassins are not the GLC or the Merseyside boroughs: they are the millions of electors who wanted to elect those particular councils. Therefore, I must say that this might well be a triumph for authoritarianism—but over what? First, over the general public of the great metropolitan boroughs and the GLC. This authoritarian measure has also triumphed over Conservative councillors and Conservative supporters of the party in London and the metropolitan boroughs; it has triumphed over the Liberal Party in both Houses and out in the country; it has triumphed over the Labour Party. I do not think that any party can be proud to say, "We have smashed Conservatives, Liberals, the SDP and the Labour supporters".

My noble friend Lord Stewart of Fulham said that this was the idea, though it was not nearly so horrendous, in the days of the creation of the GLC; but the Conservative Party cannot claim as their own idea the total abolition of boroughs. That was done 30, 40, nay, 50-odd years ago in some parts of Europe. So it is not their idea.

We hope that the day will come when all parties will realise what has happened, and when those in a position of influence within the great Conservative Party, the Liberal Party, the Labour Party and the SDP will band together to ensure that what has happened in this Session of Parliament is put right and the stain that has been left on parliamentary democracy and on our local authorities is removed once and for all.

7.44 p.m.

Viscount Ingleby

My Lords, as a Cross-Bencher, I believe that the Government may regret the passing of this Bill. London needs a voice of its own. This is the view of a Conservative councillor friend of mine on the GLC, and it is also the view of Mr. Robert Mitchell, another GLC councillor, in his letter to The Times of last Monday. Can noble Lords imagine New York without a mayor, or, indeed Paris without a mayor? London needs a voice for London-wide problems. It must be a democratically-elected voice. If the Government do not like the present voice, as they obviously do not, they could have gone out and persuaded the electors of their case in May 1985 and changed the rulers by democratic means. They could have changed the song of the birds singing in the tree without cutting down the tree.

May I, with great boldness, remind your Lordships that it was Oliver Cromwell who introduced the last self-denying ordinance, but the Government have introduced a new self-denying ordinance and are denying themselves the opportunity of changing the leadership at County Hall by democratic means. In addition, they are prolonging the life of the present incumbent for nearly a year. Perhaps even more important than that, they are denying the right of millions of Londoners and others to express their opinion on a major issue that affects them all.

I am not in favour of a referendum—the Government must decide in the end—but I believe that people should have the right to express their opinion on such a major issue. I ask the Government at this late stage: let the elections go ahead. If the Conservatives are successful, the present incumbent will lose his power much sooner than he would under this Bill. If not, at least millions of Londoners and others will not feel ignored. Surely that is what democracy is all about. For whatever happens to the GLC, London will still need its own voice. I very much regret the passing of this Bill.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, when I moved the Motion, That the Bill do now pass, some of your Lordships were kind enough to refer to the courtesy that I have shown throughout the conduct of the Bill, and perhaps even other Bills. I must say that your Lordships put it very much to the test. I have not the slightest intention of dignifying some of the remarks that have been made with a response; I do not think that they merit it. Certainly if one was to measure the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, by the decibel level it reached, I think we would have to be impressed. Frankly, that is the only thing about it that did impress me. It was certainly easy to hear; the noble Lord made sure that no one sleeps on the other side of Bayswater Road.

It is very easy to stand up and be scathing, sarcastic, bitter and twisted about a Bill, but I can tell your Lordships that I feel just as fervently about the points that we have made and the things that we are trying to do. I could go on at great length about the iniquities of some of the things that are happening in the name of local government, and yet I have to sit and stand here and be preached at by some noble Lords opposite on the future and the good standing of local government when it is the members of their party who support what is going on. It is very hard to take—

Lord Molloy

My Lords, let the electorate decide.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I did not interrupt the noble Lord, so perhaps he would do me the same courtesy. It is very hard to take, but I shall not lower the dignity of the House by indulging in the kind of rhetoric to which we have had to listen for the last hour. I have moved, That the Bill do now pass, and I assume that it will now pass.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with the amendments.