§ 3.10 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Bellwin)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
This short Bill of only 11 clauses is designed to pave the way for the fulfilment of another of the Government's major manifesto commitments on 887 local government—the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils. As its Title suggests, it is an interim measure—and I want to stress that. It does no more than prepare the ground for the main abolition Bill which we shall be putting before Parliament in the next session. It essentially makes advance and entirely provisional arrangements for those matters which, if the main legislation is passed, must be in place before abolition can be achieved.
However, before describing the main elements of the Bill I want to begin by considering the background to it. Let us examine for a moment just what the GLC and the MCCs actually do. One thing must be clearly understood: despite all the noise, the campaigns, the publicity, and the propaganda produced by those seven authorities, the fact is that in no sense can they be said to run our major cities.
The GLC may profess to be "working for London", but whatever else it may do, the one thing it does not do is run London. Let it be made crystal-clear, beyond any doubt—virtually all of the local services which are essential to everyday life in London in fact are not now provided by the GLC. The GLC is not responsible for education for most of London; it is not responsible for personal social services; nor for hospitals or the ambulance service; nor for refuse collection; nor for street cleaning and environmental health; nor for water and sewerage; nor for libraries, cemeteries and crematoria; nor even for swimming baths. My Lords, all these services are now, currently, run by other bodies.
The stark reality is that in London the main providers of local services are already the borough councils. They are smaller, closer to the people, and run from the local town hall, rather than from a remote and capricious County Hall. Most of the GLC's housing responsibilities have already gone to the boroughs, as has much of its planning role. Moreover, your Lordships' House is currently considering the Bill to establish London Regional Transport. Following a recommendation by a Select Committee in another place, this will take away yet another of the GLC's few remaining responsibilities.
Once transport has been removed, the GLC will be responsible for less than 16 per cent. of the total expenditure on local services in London. Is it any wonder, therefore, that the need for the GLC has been seriously questioned? There simply is no remaining justification for an upper tier. It no longer has a real local government role. Inevitably, therefore, it finds itself interfering with the functions of the boroughs and inventing other, unnecessary, things to do.
The GLC claims to be a voice for London. Some voice! It is a voice which speaks out on foreign policy, on nuclear policy, on police matters, on issues which have nothing whatsoever to do with it. All this demonstrates quite clearly how superfluous the GLC has become. The harsh reality is that it just does not have enough to do. It is thrashing around trying to find a role for itself and creating an enormous bureaucracy as a result.
Although there are differences, much the same is true of the MCCs, which, in their case, are responsible for only 26 per cent. of the total expenditure on local 888 services in their areas. They, too, are not responsible for health services, nor for water or sewerage: nor for libraries. It is the metropolitan districts which run education, housing, social services, refuse collection, and other key services.
It is an established fact that in these seven metropolitan areas the boroughs and districts are already the effective primary local government units. They are responsible for most local government expenditure and, as was the case in the past, they are big enough to carry fuller responsibility for more local services. But although the seven upper tier authorities are very much the junior partners, they still employ large numbers of people. Leaving aside ILEA staff and the uniformed services, there are over 30,000 staff involved. The pay bill for those staff alone must be of the order of £300 million a year. Are we really to be told that out of all this there are no staff savings to be made?
I want to say that there are many able and conscientious people in these authorities. I also acknowledge that the MCCs and the GLC spend money on useful activities. They support the arts, they support valuable voluntary groups and projects. It is not my style—indeed, it would be quite wrong—to say that they do no good. In these councils there are indeed many worthy people doing worthy things. If I thought or said otherwise, I should be misleading your Lordships. I do not want, I do not need, to distort an overwhelmingly powerful case in that way.
But latterly these authorities have brought great discredit on themselves by the excessive spending on their anti-abolition and other campaigns. It may or may not be ultra vires or illegal, but it is certainly irresponsible, and I ask your Lordships whether it is right that so much ratepayers' money, amounting to millions of pounds, should be spent in this way. The GLC has already committed a massive £3 million to its campaign, the strategy of which is described in a confidential TUC document as being,to block, delay and impede the Government's legislative proposals wherever possible.The fee which it is paying to its professional advertising agents alone is reported to be worth a third of a million pounds a year.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord the Minister has mistaken the Bill which we are supposed to be discussing today. We are not discussing the Bill for the abolition of the GLC. We are discussing the Local Government (Interim Provisions) Bill. I wonder whether the Minister, if he would be so kind, could possibly address himself to that Bill, as we are most anxious to hear the Government's case on it.
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, the noble Baroness might well be confused by the fact that the advertising and all the rest that goes with it—
§ Lord Bellwin
I am quite prepared to sit down and listen if any of your Lordships wish to speak standing up rather than from a sedentary position, but in the meantime I think that I might be allowed to present the case which is so overpowering that I can well 889 understand the concern which is being expressed by way of the noise on the other side. It is slightly reminiscent of another place, if I may say so—
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, I should remind you that in just three years during which prices will have risen by less than 20 per cent. the GLC's spending has doubled from £463 million to £936 million. When the average rate increase in England has been less than 30 per cent. the GLC's rate has gone up by a staggering 102 per cent. But it is quite extraordinary how responsible it can become when its very existence is under threat; it seems to have concentrated the mind wonderfully. All of the MCCs and the GLC—
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, I think I am entitled to present this Bill in the way I always have done. I see no shortage of speakers—
§ Lord Denham
My Lords, I think it would be in accordance with the traditions of this House if my noble friend could make his case and then noble Lords opposite can make their cases. What is happening at the moment is not the way we usually conduct matters here. I know feelings run very strongly on this on either side and I would think that the whole House would appreciate it if we could treat this matter in the way that we normally treat legislation.
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, all the MCCs and the GLC, as I said before, are proposing rate rises this year of under 10 per cent. Tyne and Wear and the West Midlands are proposing no increase at all; and, lo and behold, the GLC is suddenly able to turn an increase of nearly 15 per cent. in 1983 to a reduction of 71/2 per cent. in 1984! The case for abolition is overwhelming. The noble Baroness is concerned that I refer to it now. I have not the slightest doubt that most of your Lordships who will be speaking will be talking on this same point later. I am entitled to introduce the Bill and, indeed, to set the proper background to it, because without that a proper understanding would not be there.
The fact is that the functions of the GLC and the metropolitan counties do not justify a separate tier. The claim that we are acting out of political malice is hardly worthy of rebuttal. The GLC and many of the metropolitan county councils have been Conservative-controlled. Last time around, five out of seven of those authorities were Conservative-controlled, and, as the pendulum swings, doubtless in due course they would be so again. One could get the impression from all the campaigning, from the ritual posturing of the Opposition and from some local authorities, that 890 nobody had ever questioned the existence of the GLC and the metropolitan counties before we made our manifesto commitment. Yet all of us who have been concerned with local government in recent years know that this is not so. Many London boroughs and metropolitan districts have been pressing for the abolition of these upper tier authorities for years.
The Labour Opposition, who are making such a noise this afternoon, do not know which way they are facing on the issue. Labour's programme for 1982 said:The main difficulties of the present system are clear enough. There is an irrational split of functions between the two tiers compounded by a confusing overlap of responsibilities".More recently, at the Labour Party's local government conference in February 1983, Mr. Gerald Kaufman, then the official Opposition spokesman on the environment, said:We shall, therefore, legislate to create unitary district authorities which will be responsible for all of the functions in their area that they can sensibly undertake … we shall set up no more inquiries. We shall legislate".Moreover, one leading GLC councillor said this in a debate at County Hall on the Marshall Report:I do not believe that you need two tiers of local government, and I very much regret that Mr. Cutler has not been the really ruthless Tory that he likes to project and come forward with the biggest axe of all and axed the whole appalling show".That councillor, as some of your Lordships will know, was none other than Mr. Kenneth Livingstone, the current leader of the GLC.
That is exactly what we are proposing to do. In the main, we are giving responsibility for such remaining functions, such services as they have, to the boroughs and districts. They will discharge those responsibilities either individually or acting together in three joint boards. In London there will be just one joint board for the fire service. I think I am entitled to ask therefore: why the cries of anguish, why the pretended outrage?
It has been said that our proposals do not now command support and that this is proved by recent opinion polls, which show support for the GLC in particular. On this I would just say two things. First, the polls no doubt reflect, at least in part, the huge, expensive public relations publicity campaigns, full of distortion and gimmickry, which I have already condemned: the most basic, of course, being that Whitehall will be taking over all services from the elected representatives of the people. What breathtaking disregard for the truth! But in spite all the misinformation, there is growing evidence—I will amplify it in my response if I am called to do so—that thoughtful people are beginning to see what an opportunity for strengthening local government abolition will provide. Secondly, it is inevitable that opposition will be taken up by those groups which are already in receipt of patronage by courtesy of the ratepayers. They are bound to do all they can to keep in being the donors of the money they have received.
But there is the evidence of last year's general election. Our manifesto contained a clear commitment to abolition. Not only did we get an increased majority nationally, but we won 56 of the 84 seats in Greater London. Those electors welcomed our proposals, because they knew that they would mean 891 more decisions being taken locally. This remains our firm intention.
It has been alleged that we are presenting this Bill before Parliament knows our plans for abolition, but this is just not so. Our proposals were set out very clearly in the White Paper—in much more detail, I may say, than in the White Paper preceding the 1974 reorganisation. This remains the basis of our approach. As your Lordships know, following consultation we have made some changes, such as those concerning the arts, historic buildings, voluntary bodies and sport, which have been reported here. These changes include the proposal that there should be direct elections to the successor body to ILEA.
As to the ultimate disposition of such as refuse disposal, archives, scientific services and other minor functions, which though relatively small are, I readily acknowledge, most important and of much concern to those involved in them, the final decisions and arrangements for their future home is currently being resolved. I know that matters such as these are of concern to your Lordships, although, of course, the final location of services falls properly under the main Bill, and I am confident that the House will ensure that these matters are fully examined in that context. Meanwhile, we are paying the closest attention to views expressed on our proposals and will continue to do so.
As I suppose might also have been expected, the abolition authorities have been claiming that services will suffer as a result of our proposals—another of the myths. The boroughs and districts will receive additional rate support grant to help fund the services they will inherit. In future, these funds will be redistributed among the boroughs and districts. The difference will be that they will decide on the priorities. Democratically elected councillors will decide how that money should be spent, not Whitehall. I cannot repeat this too often, as it is the same distortion we have had over the Rates Bill. The elimination of the upper tier will bring local government closer to the people; decisions will be taken by those who are closer to local needs.
Let me say a word about the voluntary sector. Possibly we shall hear something more of this today and when we come to debate the main abolition Bill. Much of the propaganda put out by the GLC has focused on what will happen to the voluntary organisations on abolition. True to form, they have been spreading scare stories about these bodies coming to a sticky end. As a result, very understandable fears have been aroused about a possible reduction of support.
This Government are powerfully committed to the work of voluntary bodies, and their record is there for all to see. It is second to none. They give 150 million a year to the voluntary sector. I recognise that there is concern about what will happen when the GLC (and, to a lesser extent, the MCCs) go. But, as I have just said, the key point is that the money which the Government already give through rate support grant and separate grants will continue to be available. This surely demonstrates the strength of our belief in the continued role of the voluntary bodies. Because we 892 know that there is a particular worry about worthwhile organisations which serve a wider than local area, there is to be a special, statutory scheme for collective funding by the boroughs of the voluntary sector.
It has been claimed that we should not proceed with abolition until it has been proved beyond doubt what the size of the savings will be. It has even been suggested that there will be no savings. There are bound to be transitional costs. But can anyone doubt that the elimination of a whole tier of government will not lead to savings: that there are not savings to be found from stopping the work that arises merely because these authorities exist, as well as from the removal of duplication and overlap between these authorities and the lower tier? We believe that the new unitary authorities—
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, may I finish my sentence? We believe that the new unitary authorities will be more economic because they will be closer, more responsive and more accountable to those whom they will serve.
§ Lord Diamond
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. The question I want to ask him is whether he does not consider that his spending 19 minutes on the wrong Bill is an abuse of the sense of responsibility which, in this House, noble Lords and noble Baronesses always apply to their own speeches. The Minister has spent 19 minutes, and we have not yet reached the main issue.
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords. if the noble Lord will tell me that no one on his side will refer at all to the background to this Bill, then I will be impressed by what he has just said. We have all been bombarded with estimates of savings. Is the noble Lord suggesting that no one will refer to the issue of savings under this Bill?
§ Lord Diamond
My Lords, does the Minister not realise that his having taken 19 minutes—I do not know how many speakers there are, but there must be something like 30—will mean that many of your Lordships will want to respond?
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, this is the 26th Bill that I have had the pleasure of introducing into your Lordships' House. I do not recall that any of them took less than 25 to 30 minutes to introduce. This is a very important Bill which has great interest for many people.
Certainly, I have seen more estimates showing savings than estimates showing costs. Most importantly, provisional but careful assessments by some of the metropolitan districts—that is, the authorities which will actually run these services—show that abolition will lead to some considerable net savings. No one can say for sure and by precisely how much what scale of savings has been achieved until the handover has actually taken place. I simply do not accept that this is, somehow, a shortcoming of the policy. However, I am glad to 893 repeat the assurance which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State gave in another place that we will keep Parliament fully informed on the likely position on costs and savings of the reorganisation as later estimates become available.
As to the Bill—
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, I think you would want to have the background. First, I want to refute strongly the claims that have been made that this Bill is in any way unconstitutional. I know that much concern has been aroused by its provisions. Let me make one point clear at the outset. We shall not implement the provisions concerning the suspension of elections until the principle of abolition itself has been debated and approved in another place. Should the main abolition Bill subsequently fail to pass into law, then this same Bill, in Clause 1, contains a built-in mechanism for restoring the status quo.
Some have suggested that there is no need for this Bill now; that we could have included its provisions in the main Bill or introduced them in a separate Bill once the main abolition Bill had completed at least some of its stages through Parliament. But this Bill is essential now if abolition is to be achieved on 1st April 1986; 1986 is the earliest date by which it is feasible to give effect to our determination to streamline the administration of our cities. The provisions cancelling the elections cannot wait for the main Bill but that Bill, I say again, my Lords, will not become law until after May 1985 when the elections are due to be held. So these provisions will be brought into effect by order. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has given a clear undertaking not to make that order until after the Second Reading of the main Bill in another place. As I have already said, the Bill itself provides the safeguards which will ensure that its provisions have effect only if abolition goes ahead. It unequivocally ensures that the suspension of elections and the arrangements for transitional councils will come into operation only when the commencement order is made; so I hope that that point is fully understood.
As I hope that I have already made quite clear, this Bill does no more than its Title says. It makes interim arrangements. Therefore, Clause 1 provides the mechanism for repealing the interim provisions and for restoring the present position if abolition does not go ahead. The clause also makes clear that the election provisions do not take effect immediately. I say, yet again, they come into operation only when a commencement order has been made.
Clauses 2 and 5 deal with elections to the GLC and metropolitan counties. They also provide for the membership of those councils in the final year of their existence. On this, too, there should be no misunderstanding. These transitional councils will consist of democratically elected members appointed by the borough and district councils which will inherit most of the upper-tier services after abolition. The terms of office, the period for which the existing GLC and MCC councillors were elected, are due to expire on 7th May 1985. Since their successors will find themselves in office for less than a year in practical 894 terms, there really would be little point in going ahead with elections to the GLC and the metropolitan counties in 1985. The Bill therefore provides that they will be suspended.
I should like to point out that, despite the posters and the lavish campaigns, cancelling elections is not unprecedented in peacetime. That is simply not so. It is fully precedented in previous reorganisations. The 1963 Local Government Act and the 1972 Local Government Act both cancelled all elections (other than pending by-elections) to the authorities to be abolished. And that is what is proposed in this Bill, though there is, of course, an important difference. In the previous reorganisations, the successor authorities were not in existence at the time the elections were cancelled. So the term of office of serving councillors was extended to cover the period until the new authorities came into being. In this reorganisation, however, we have the considerable advantage that the successor authorities—the boroughs and districts—are already in existence. They can begin straight away to prepare for a smooth transition.
We considered particularly carefully how best to constitute the councils for the 11 months after May 1985. The choice lies between extending the term of office of serving councillors and drawing members from the lower tier. But as I have just pointed out, serving councillors have no mandate beyond May 1985. The logical and sensible option—of drawing members from the lower tier—has one enormous benefit. It gives the boroughs and districts the opportunity to prepare for their new responsibilities. We concluded that this provides the right solution. The Government also had to take into account that the alternative of extending the terms of office of the existing authorities would, in view of their avowed determination irresponsibly to obstruct the abolition policy, have had to be accompanied by such a severe circumscription of their powers that the sensible administration of the remaining functions of the GLC and MCCs during their final 11 months would have been unnecessarily centralised. We therefore took the view that it would be preferable, indeed logical, to hand over the running of the authorities to those who, as the successor authorities, had a genuine interest in securing a smooth handover of the services.
Furthermore, we also need to bear in mind the role of the transitional councils. What will they be doing in their short 11-month lives? Clearly, their main functions will be to keep things in good order and to prepare for the handover of responsibilities. Can we really expect the present GLC and MCC councillors to co-operate wholeheartedly in this task? A look at the record so far gives a pretty good indication of what to expect. Does anyone seriously suggest that Mr. Livingstone will work with the successor authorities to ensure a smooth handover? Even now, they are actually expanding their staffs, taking on new people. I trust that they are making their new recruits fully aware of our proposals for the abolition. But in any case, is it responsible for them to plan a continued rise in staff numbers as their responsibilities decline? Is it not astonishing that the current GLC budget, for example, contains provision for nearly 1,500 more posts in this financial year? That is an increase of 7 per cent., or an extra £17 million for London ratepayers to 895 fund. If anything underlined the need for this Bill and for transitional councils to comprise not these but responsible people who will have to live with, and in the future answer for, the decisions made in the 11-month transitional period, it must be decisions of this kind. As confirmed only this last week, the metropolitan county councils are flatly refusing to co-operate with the lower-tier authorities to ensure a smooth changeover of power. What reason do we have to assume that they would take a different approach in 1985–86?
Let me again remind your Lordships, that the boroughs and districts are powerful and democratically elected bodies and that it is they who in the main will inherit the powers. And it makes a significant difference that the boroughs and districts actually have a vested interest in making reorganisation succeed. It is right that they should get in early to prepare for their new responsibilities. The Bill therefore proposes that the borough and district councils should nominate their democratically elected councillors from within their own ranks, to run the GLC and Metropolitan County Councils for the final 11 months.
I wonder if the hoo-hah that we have had about the transitional councils would have been so were it not that, for the 11-month period, political control will change at the GLC. Much has been made of this. Some have even accused us of gerrymandering. I refute this entirely and I ask your Lordships to consider three short and important points which are germane to this question. First and foremost is the matter of the task which will be left to the transitional councils. As I have already said, this is primarily care and maintenance and keeping services going while preparing for handover. These are primarily organisational matters. They certainly do not involve the development and implementation of new policies. In this context, political control as such has much less significance than some have tried to argue.
Secondly, out of the seven authorities concerned, at only one—the GLC—would a change occur. If there were any substance to those unfounded suggestions, we would hardly be proposing arrangements which in the transitional 11 months, produce six out of six Labour-controlled MCCs—and Labour control of the ILEA.
Thirdly, the change at the GLC occurs because the borough elections (which were held more recently than the 1981 GLC elections) returned more Conservative-led boroughs than Labour ones. Given that—for the reasons I have carefully explained—it would be undesirable to extend the term of the existing upper-tier authorities. The only way to retain Labour control of the interim GLC would be to allow the minority of Labour boroughs to nominate the majority of the GLC seats. That would obviously be absurd.
Finally, some have said that abolition of the upper tier will deprive 14 million people of the right to vote. This is just not so. Democracy is not about having two layers of metropolitan government, if one will do. In future, electors in the main metropolitan areas will have one vote for the one body, a powerful, effective, all-purpose authority. Did the electors of Birmingham, Manchester or Leeds feel deprived 896 before 1974, because they had only one tier of local government for which to vote?
The provisions in Part II are designed as a whole, to ensure that the transitional councils can make the most use of their 11-month term, and to safeguard the great majority of responsible councillors from the possibility of irresponsible disruption by a few. With their record, could one seriously believe that the Livingstones of this world would work exclusively by that rule—or that the scope for serious mischief would not be there?
The Bill also provides the mechanisms for repealing the interim provisions and restoring the original situation as quickly as possible. And that is all that it provides. There is no question of giving the Secretary of State powers to cancel elections anywhere, for whatever reason, as has been suggested. I want to stress that point. I cannot I am sure repeat too often our pledge that the operation of the provisions of this Bill—the fate of its provisions—is entirely dependent on Parliament's decisions on the main Bill. If that fails, we will restore the status quo. Many staff employed by the GLC and the metropolitan counties have expressed anxiety about the arrangements for their future employment. That is why the Bill establishes, in Clause 6, a staff commission. I am sure that that will be welcomed by your Lordships.
It is vital that, during the transitional period, the successor authorities are able to prepare properly for their new responsibilities. Clause 7 provides for the borough and district councils and the Secretary of State to have guaranteed access to the necessary information. Clause 9 requires the GLC/MCCs to consult the boroughs/districts before determining the 1985–86 expenditure and the means of financing it, while giving the borough/districts the right to object at the audit of the GLC/MCC's accounts for 1983–84 to 1985–86. Finally, Clause 8 makes a number of minor amendments to existing legislation.
We shall doubtless have long and detailed debates on the main abolition legislation when it comes before your Lordships in due course. I have given the background to this Bill and the underlying reasons for abolition. Today we are discussing an interim Bill, a paving Bill, and it is very right that we should discuss the details of that during the passage of the Bill through your Lordships' House. For all the arguments which will be put in the debate, this Bill, while it is essential for the reasons that I have given, is dependent upon the Bill which will follow. If the substantive Bill falls, or if at some later stage abolition does not go ahead, these interim provisions will be repealed: the mechanisms to do that are in place in Clause 1.
I have dealt at length with the provisions for the suspension of elections, and for the make-up of the transitional councils during their final 11 months because these require careful understanding. I recognise and respect the concern which has been expressed about these clauses. I trust that my full and careful explanation has demonstrated the justification, the practical good sense, and the fairness of our proposals.
The Bill has been carefully drafted so as not to preempt Parliament's decision on the principle of abolition. But it underlines our firm determination to 897 press ahead with our manifesto commitment to abolish the GLC and the metropolitan county councils. This is the way to bring decision-making closer to the local people and to secure simpler and more accountable local government in our major cities. I commend the Bill to your Lordships.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Bellwin.)
§ 3.45 p.m.
Lord Hooson rose to move, as an amendment to the Motion, "That the Bill be now read a second time" at the end to insert:
but this House regards this Bill as a dangerous precedent in that it seeks to give to non-elected bodies the powers of properly constituted councils; notes that it was not in the Conservative Party's election manifesto; and regrets its introduction before Parliament has decided whether or not to abolish those councils.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, unlike many of my noble colleagues in this House, I greatly admired the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin. After all, if a Minister is entrusted with the introduction of a bad Bill, what better parliamentary tactic is there than to talk about another; and from his confession to us that he had previously introduced 27 Bills into this House, he might have talked of any one of them. They are printed there for us to read but he chose to talk about a Bill not yet printed and not yet introduced about which, if we are in this place and he is in his place in a year's time, we might hear.
§ The noble Lord might reflect on these matters. The alleged irresponsibility of the Greater London Council is no justification for irresponsibility by the Government. The provocation which he set out in detail might be given as a reason for the over-reaction of the Government, but it cannot be a justification for it. If in fact Mr. Livingstone talks nonsense on a variety of subjects—as the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, opined—that might be a very good reason for not electing him to the GLC, but it is no reason for replacing him by a nominated member.
§ I have put down this amendment in its final form after fairly wide consultation because I believe that the introduction of this extraordinary Bill has grave and wide implications both for the country and indeed for your Lordships' House. It is my view that from this debate and the vote on this amendment the country will be able to judge how effective, if at all, is this House as a modifying and balancing factor against the unwarranted exercise of power by what has been described as "an elective dictatorship". In certain circumstances—of which this Bill in my judgment is one—your Lordships' House has a clear constitutional duty to take appropriate steps to cause the Executive to reconsider their position and the full implications of what they are doing. What has been doubted in many quarters is whether your Lordships' House is now sufficiently free from party and political manipulation by the Executive, of whatever political colour, to perform any such function effectively.
If one looks at the first paragraph of the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum accompanying the Bill, one reads that it,
makes interim arrangements for the Greater London Council… and the metropolitan county councils… pending"—
note the words, my Lords—
a decision by Parliament on whether or not those councils are to be abolished.
I doubt whether any of your Lordships have ever before seen that form of words accompanying a Bill in this House or any other House with the term,
pending a decision by Parliament on whether or not
§ to do something.
§ Immediately, the question must have sprung to your Lordships' minds: why not let Parliament decide whether or not those councils are to be abolished first, and then make the necessary arrangements for the change-over of power; as has always been done in like situations in the past?
§ It seems to me that there are four very serious, basic criticisms that can be made of this Bill. Each of them separately is a cause of disquiet; when taken cumulatively they must be a cause of very grave disquiet. They are as follows: (a) There is no precedent for what it is sought to do in this Bill, and, if passed, this Bill will itself form a very dangerous precedent; (b) It seeks to do something which is constitutionally unacceptable; (c) The Government do not have, and have never sought, an electoral mandate for this particular Bill; (d) It goes against the whole spirit and convention of parliamentary practice as we have known it in this country. The result in the other place was to provoke an all-party attack on this Bill, and many of the most senior and respected members of the Conservative Party took part in the Second Reading. Nevertheless it passed, and now it comes to your Lordships' House.
§ It is as good an example as can be found of the manipulation of the system by an elective dictatorship. I have already referred to, and the Minister has set out, the provocation which the Government feel they have incurred from the GLC. Nevertheless, we are not concerned with the understandable reactions of provocation; we are concerned with what the Government are now trying to do and how they are trying to do it.
The term "elective dictatorship" is a term which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has very much made his own. I have refreshed my memory, he will be pleased to learn, by reading again his Dimbleby Lecture of 1976, which was of course delivered under that title. He then said—and I quote here:
We live under an elective dictatorship, absolute in theory, if hitherto thought tolerable in practice".
He went on to say later:
Until comparatively recently, Parliament consisted of two effective chambers. Now for most practical purposes, it consists of one".
It will not surprise your Lordships to know that the one he was referring to was not your Lordships' House. Later, when discussing the specific role of your Lordships' House, he said this—and I quote again—
I am not, of course, in the least suggesting that the House of Lords is useless, or that its influence in modifying the details of legislation is without value, or that the effect of its debates in moulding public opinion is negligible. But I do say that it is not an effective balancing factor and cannot in practice control the advancing powers of the executive".
He then went on to discuss what he described as the wholly unconstitutional doctrine of mandates and
manifestoes. He went on to point out that after an election the party activists would call for a redemption of all pledges and (and here again I quote):
It follows that the majority in the House of Commons is then free to impose on the country a series of relatively unpopular measures not related to current needs, using the whole powers of the elective dictatorship to carry them through. In doing so it is not effectively controlled by any second chamber".
§ The judgment of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor must be correct. We cannot effectively control the Executive from this House. Even if we could, there would be serious constitutional reasons advanced as to why we, as a partly nominated and partly hereditary House, should not do so. However, I do suggest that on a Bill of this kind it is our duty to make the Executive pause and think again, and we do that by exercising our influence as a brake. Your Lordships' House is hardly justified solely on the basis that we improve legislation, and nothing else.
§ What we can do, I think, is to exercise this influence by passing such reasoned amendments as I have put down here. This amendment is not a wrecking amendment, which I could have justified on the basis of the precedents of the Conservative Opposition in this House in 1975. It is not a delaying amendment, which also could be justified by recent precedents. What it is is an amendment calculated to make the Cabinet think again—to save it, in a way, from itself. If the House did that, then at least the House would show that it still has the power to exercise effective influence on the course of the Executive—not to control it but to exercise influence over it. If your Lordships' House fails to exercise that influence and if it fails on a Bill of this kind to show that it has the will to exercise that influence, then it is difficult to see any justification at all for the continued existence of your Lordshps' House.
§ Your Lordships should be quite clear—and, with the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, he did not make this clear—what exactly Part II of this Bill does. It is Part II of the Bill to which we object and it is to that part of the Bill that I want to direct my remarks. It suspends elections to these councils. Of course, the noble Lord is quite right. There is a precedent for this in the 1963 London Government Act and in the 1972 Local Government Act. But he should have added that the existing councils were then allowed to continue until the changeover. There is no precedent at all, and the noble Lord knows it, for what follows in Part II, which provides that the borough and district councils are then under a duty to appoint members of the GLC and the MCCs.
§ Let us bear in mind that these councillors in the boroughs and districts are councillors elected in fairly small constituencies to fulfil the functions of district and borough councillors. They were not elected to run the GLC or the MCCs, and many of them will have been elected some years ago. It is not as though they were elected this year or last year—they were elected years ago. And they are to be nominated to do what?—to exercise the functions of the much larger councils. There is no necessity for this at all.
§ We have had a number of changes in local government in this county over the past century and there are abundant precedents to be followed. The old 900 councils have continued until the new arrangements have been brought into effect. Here the Government could have allowed the existing councils to continue until the changeover. I read in this morning's Times that the Minister responsible will not contemplate this course. But there is an alternative, obviously. In the alternative they could allow elections to proceed and allow the newly-elected councillors to take over next year and to continue until such time as Parliament has approved properly considered measures for the transfer of power to new bodies. They could appoint a day, for example, from the time of the passing of the Bill for changeover, say, two years hence and so on. There is no difficulty whatsoever about it.
§ The overall administration of London and the metropolitan counties, which, I am told, represent about 17 million electors, is being handed over to nominated district councillors, who will be exercising powers for which they were not elected. They will be exercising powers originally granted by Parliament to democratically elected councils of the GLC and the MCCs. It does not seem to me to matter a fig whether those councils, for example, run the municipal swimming bath, or whatever they do. They were elected to exercise the powers that Parliament gave to them.
§ There would have to be, for this change from tradition in these matters, the most persuasive justification. I would have thought, for the House to pass this Bill—not a 33-minute speech of which at least three-quarters were spent in attacking the GLC and justifying a future Bill. The truth is that no justification has been forthcoming. If this Bill is passed, surely it establishes a most dangerous precedent for the Executive to follow in the future. Imagine, my Lords, a future extreme Left or extreme Right Executive trying to change the political complexion of a council of which it does not approve: what better precedent could there be than this Bill? So that is my first charge.
§ My second charge is that the practical result of the Government's proposals is constitutionally unacceptable in that it opens them up to the charge of the most blatant political chicanery in recent times. In London, for example, they will be substituting for the elected majority of one party the nominated majority of another party. As Sir Ian Gilmour said in another place on the Second Reading of this Bill on 11th April 1984, that must be consitutionally unacceptable. Using that term "constitutionally unacceptable" leads me to point out that we have an unwritten Constitution and there are no written constraints on the power of Parliament. Parliament is sovereign: it can do what it likes. What is constitutionally unacceptable is what right-thinking people feel is going over the border. That is what it amounts to. It is one's reaction. This is going too far. It is an imposed change of political control. In the same debate, in perhaps more extravagant language, Mr. Edward Heath used the words that "a parliamentary diktat" would impose change of responsible party in London's local government.
§ But let me pose a question to your Lordships. Is there any excuse whatsoever for the administration of London and the metropolitan counties not to be in the hands of directly elected persons? What is more, it 901 seems quite clear to me that these nominated bodies, though they are supposed to run their course for only 11 months, will probably have to control their respective areas for quite a long time. It is not administratively sound to think that there can be a changeover to new bodies of all the powers, however restricted they may be, of the GLC and the MCCs in that period of time. The timescale allowed, and hoped for, by the Government is not sound administratively. Almost certainly there would, therefore, have to be enabling Acts to enable the nominated councils to continue with their course and to administer those areas. So, in practice, we are not talking about a limited period of 11 months, That is my second charge.
My third charge is that the Government have no mandate from the electorate to bring in this Bill, as it was not included in the Conservative Party's election manifesto. I subscribe broadly to the views expressed by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in a Dimbleby lecture, that a party is not obliged to carry out every jot and tittle of its manifesto and that the mere fact that a proposal is within a manifesto does not necessarily mean that the Government formed by that party later have to carry it out. He used the memorable phrase,
and the measures proposed in the manifesto often include the impossible, the irrelevant and the inappropriate.
§ However, I always think that the noble and learned Lord is so much more clear-sighted when he writes these things when in opposition than when he comes to look at what his own party is doing when they are in Government—
§ The Lord Chancellor (Lord Hailsham of SaintMarylebone)
My Lords, the noble Lord cannot expect me to write when I am in office.
§ Lord Hooson
My Lords, I would accept that. But what is more, I would expect that when he is in office he would write rather differently from what he writes when he is in opposition. However, when a Government seek to introduce an unprecedented Bill, which has important constitutional implications and which flies in the face of accepted parliamentary practice, and when there is not so much as a hint in the manifesto that this is the intention, then they certainly have no mandate for it.
Let me remind your Lordships that in 1964 the late Lord Salisbury described the attitude of the Conservative Opposition in this House to the Labour Government who operated from 1945 to 1951—and it was that practice which set the tone for our practice in this House now, that we do not oppose a Second Reading, that we do not normally have wrecking amendments and so on—when he said this:… "it was therefore possible for us who belonged to the Opposition to make it our broad guiding rule that what has been on the Labour Party programme at the preceding General Election should be regarded as having been approved by the British people. Therefore … we passed all the nationalisation Bills, although we cordially disliked them, on the Second Reading and did our best to improve them and make them more workable on Committee stage. Where, however, measures were introduced which had not been in the Labour Party Manifesto at the preceding Election, we reserved full liberty of action.Your Lordships will find that in Hansard of 4th November 1964 at col. 66.
902 In no way is it possible to argue that the broad mandate given to the Government for the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan counties, which they undoubtedly have, included the kind of proposition which is in Part II of this Bill. It is not correctly described as a "paving" Bill. This Bill is in no way necessary to pave the way for the eventual Bill which will seek to abolish the GLC and the MCCs. The normal arrangements for handover or takeover should be included in the main Bill, on the precedent of all previous local government reorganisations.
My fourth charge is that the introduction of this Bill goes against the whole spirit and convention of parliamentary practice. It is arguable that this is the same kind of point, in other language, as that which was in my second charge, that it is constitutionally unacceptable, but there are subtle differences of emphasis on this point. The assumption is made in this Bill that next year both Houses of Parliament will agree to abolish the Greater London Council and the metropolitan county councils. That is a fairly enormous assumption to make in a democracy.
I entirely agree with the views of Mr Francis Pym as expressed in the other place on Second Reading, that Parliament's view of the main Bill might well be determined on how it is proposed that these councils should be abolished, what will replace them, and what arrangements are to be made. After all, the Government's own White Paper Streamlining the Cities has not even been debated yet in either House of Parliament. We know that these proposals have attracted very considerable criticism from Conservative councillors and Conservative-controlled councils, as well as others, and even the Government have already indicated that they have modified some of their views as expressed in the White Paper.
It is an affront to Parliament, I submit to your Lordships, to introduce such a Bill as this before Parliament has actually decided whether or not to abolish these councils. The decision to abolish or not, if we are a democracy at all, will surely depend upon approval of the alternative arrangements which have not yet been made. The proposal is quite contrary to sound and accepted parliamentary practice. Our elective dictatorship has reached the stage where it is now assumed that the House of Commons and the House of Lords will inevitably reach decisions favourable to the Government on propositions which have not yet been formulated and the acceptability of which has not yet been tested.
No one has suggested that we can simply abolish the GLC and the metropolitan councils without making alternative arrangements. Indeed, there is so much disquiet among the Government's own ranks in Parliament, in local government and elsewhere that it might be—I am not saying that it will be—that by next year the majority will decide that the manifesto itself was "impossible, irrelevant and inappropriate". But I am not going to express any view as to the merit or otherwise of abolishing the GLC and the MCCs, as that, with the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, is not the issue before us. Furthermore, I do not know what your Lordships think of an Executive which gives an undertaking that this Bill will not be brought in by order until the other place has approved the Second Reading of the main Bill.
903 The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, said that the Minister had given an undertaking that the order would not be brought into effect until the other place had approved the broad principle of abolition. But this Bill which we are considering says:pending a decision by Parliament on whether or not those councils are to be abolished.Are we now taking it that this Government are saying that the sovereignty of Parliament no longer means the sovereignty of the Queen in Parliament, and that the sovereignty of Parliament now means the sovereignty of the House of Commons and nothing else? Is the Conservative majority in this House, by its vote today, to accept that a Minister can really say that parliamentary decision is from now on to be taken as being the decision of the House of Commons on the Second Reading of a Bill? That is what it amounts to. I do not happen to believe that your Lordships should abdicate your position so easily in this way.
That is my fourth point, but I want to develop this a little further by referring to a debate in your Lordships' House on 11 th November 1975, which your Lordships will find at col. 1742 of Hansard, when the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, dealt with the question of how far it was right for this House to use its power of delay under the Parliament Act. He said:In our system we have hitherto taken the view that the will of the elected House must in the end prevail, but that there should be a second House which has the opportunity—in rare cases, perhaps —to enforce a delay in which there can be a reassessment by Government, by Parties and by the people of this country of the rights or wrongs of an issue. If now we decide to use that very limited power, we are not thwarting the will of the people for, in so far as it is represented by the House of Commons, it will and must prevail in a comparatively short time. We shall be using those powers for the purpose for which they were given to us—that is, as an opportunity for further consultation, for second thoughts before this legislation inevitably reaches the Statute Book and because we did not want the Second Chamber to be associated with what the Government are doing".The noble Lord was then justifying wrecking amendments to some of the Labour legislation of 1975, for which there was undoubtedly an electoral mandate. Two Bills were smashed in this place by wrecking amendments and they had to be reintroduced the following year. In a moment I shall give the reference to those Bills. I obtained the information—as the Chief Whip is obviously surprised, if not alarmed, at this disclosure—from a paper prepared by the Public Bill Office headed, Opposition to Government Bills: Practice and the Parliament Acts. The Chief Whip will there find the reference to these Bills. The three Bills referred to were the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) (No. 2) Bill 1969, the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Bill 1975, and the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill 1976. The Chief Whip will find the words of his noble friend, who was then the Leader of the Opposition, in that column of Hansard to which I have just referred. It may well be that the views then expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, have been modified, since we know that these two particular Bills were reintroduced the following year in a somewhat amended form, and then passed.
I have not sought to introduce a wrecking amendment in accordance with the precedents 904 established on the other side; nor have I sought to delay further consideration of this Bill. But what I do say to your Lordships is that, having appreciated the full implications of the Bill, your Lordships should deem it quite wrong to give an unqualified Second Reading and that our duty requires us to qualify the Second Reading with this amendment.
In his chapter on the House of Lords in his book, The Dilemma of Democracy, published in 1978, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor-I am today giving him a great write-up for his works—wrote:but, over the last 10 years, the situation has become increasingly intolerable, at least for Members of the House of Lords. Again and again the House of Lords has sought to intervene to restrain the excesses of the ministerial majority in the House of Commons. Again and again they have been proved right, which is not surprising, since the accumulated wisdom of members of the House of Lords and the level of discussion within the chamber, are infinitely higher than in the Commons. The calibre of members of the House of Lords and their experience of public life and public affairs generally are superior. The conduct of debate is infinitely more orderly and courteous"—At least, it was until earlier this afternoon. So far we can all agree, I am sure, with the noble and learned Lord.Nevertheless,"—he goes on to say—with the exception of a number of important, but relatively minor instances, the House of Lords has been frustrated again and again in its legitimate desire to perform its constitutional duty".Here we must distinguish between what we cannot do and what we will not do. What we cannot do is to control the Executive. What we can do—and this afternoon's debate is a test of whether we will do it—is to exercise influence over the Executive: make them pause and think again. This is one of the few justifications for the second Chamber. It is a great justification.
I subscribe to most of the views which have been expressed by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on the lack of constraint upon an elective dictatorship. However, there is no way in which we should shirk what I submit to be not only our clear constitutional duty, but also our constitutional right, which is to grant this Bill a Second Reading in accordance with the traditions of this House as they have been established since the war, but to subject that Motion of approval to this reasoned amendment. It will then be for the Government, in accordance with what I believe to be constitutional convention, to pay heed to what this House has done and to think again. That is what we are asking them to do, and that is what they should do. I beg to move.
Moved, as an amendment to the Motion, "That the Bill be now read a second time" at the end to insert:
but this House regards this Bill as a dangerous precedent in that it seeks to give to non-elected bodies the powers of properly constituted Councils; notes that it was not in the Conservative Party's election manifesto; and regrets its introduction before Parliament has decided whether or not to abolish those Councils."—(Lord Hooson.)
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, the Bill before us today was finally described by the Minister, when he got round to it, as important, but for those who care about 905 the health of local government and for the mutual respect that should be the basis of central and local relationships the Bill before us today can only be described as both bad and dangerous. It is bad that the Government believe it to be necessary; it is bad that it erodes still further the system of local government in our cities; and it is bad that it proposes only administrative confusion for some of the hardest pressed areas of our country. The Bill is dangerous, since it represents a negation of the democratic process and it is dangerous because it jeopardises the standing of Parliament. If Parliament takes away people's democratic rights by disfranchising them and thereby reducing their control over their own lives, this can only diminish respect for Parliament.
The Bill is based on the assumption that the six metropolitan counties and the Greater London Council must disappear and that they must disappear in 1986. On that central assumption is built the whole edifice of these interim arrangements. If, as the Government say, April 1986 is to mark the start of something new, why not hold elections for the existing authorities in 1985 or, as some Conservatives have argued in another place, and as The Times argued in a leader today, extend the life of the councils by one year beyond the four-year span that they will have served? Certainly neither alternative is impossible and neither would result in the dire consequences that will flow from this Bill. Yet we should rather be asking ourselves another more basic question: what is so immutable about the year 1986?
Today it is not appropriate to discuss what changes may or may not be needed in local government structure, but it is appropriate to question whether this Bill is needed at this time, in this form. It is this Bill that we are discussing today—not the abolition of the Greater London Council or the abolition of the metropolitan councils. It is the Local Government (Interim Provisions) Bill which is leading to these consequences. That Bill is before us, and it must be discussed today very thoroughly.
If a reorganisation of local government were scheduled for 1988, or even 1987, would we be spending time on makeshift arrangements like these? I think not. It would appear to be the Government's obsession with evicting certain councillors from their elected positions at the earliest opportunity that is the root cause of the measure. It is that unfortunate obsession which leads them to choose 1986 as the date from which abolition must operate. This then leads them, unfortunately and ill-advisedly, to the concoction of a package of makeshift and unworkable arrangements and to consequences that have rightly been widely described—not only by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, who described them in a very clear and dramatic way—as unconstitutional.
We believe, as, I think, do many noble Lords in all parts of the House, that the provisions of this Bill set a dangerous constitutional precedent. Never before in the peacetime history of this country has a specific election been cancelled without a democratic alternative to replace it. The franchise will be withdrawn from 13 million electors. Directly elected councillors will be replaced by nominated members. This is not democratic election. In London political control will pass from Labour to Conservative by order of the 906 Secretary of State at midnight on 6th May 1985, without a vote being cast. When introducing this Bill, as the second leg of the Bill to abolish the GLC and metropolitan counties, the Minister said that there was nothing gerrymandering about this procedure. If it is not gerrymandering, then what is? We should have some other examples.
My noble and learned friend Lord Elwyn-Jones will deal in more detail with the constitutional implications of this Bill later in the debate. I certainly do not intend to give the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor any more publicity for his own written works—whether in or out of office. I will only say at this stage that these measures amount to unprecedented parliamentary action. They have caused deep concern among all parties and have provoked severe criticism from many of the Government's own supporters—as the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, pointed out. The former Prime Minister, Mr. Edward Heath, commented on Second Reading in another place that the natural progression of democracy has been from indirect to direct representation. This Bill seeks to reverse exactly that process and goes from direct to indirect. Mr. Heath went on to say that indirectly-elected bodies cannot be equated with democratically-elected bodies. I would have thought that this was common ground, to which all of us in this House subscribe.
We believe that only the most compelling grounds could justify the cancellation of democratic elections. When Ministers undermine democracy for their own political convenience, they are playing with fire. The Bill raises issues of serious concern to Parliament and to this House. The manner in which the abolition proposals are being put forward by the Government threatens to pre-empt the ultimate decisions of this House on the abolition legislation. As the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, pointed out, the White Paper Streamlining the Cities has not even been debated in either House. I will not go into the details of the pending decision of Parliament because the noble Lord has already covered that point admirably—but I will underline the fact that we in this House are being asked to approve the cancellation of elections. We are being asked to approve the enactment of interim arrangements, which presuppose that a decision on abolition has already been made.
My friends and I on these Benches do not consider that it is sufficient for the Secretary of State to say, as he has done, that no order to cancel the elections will be made until after the main Bill has received a Second Reading in another place. I do not apologise for repeating what the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, has already said on this point because it is something which should be emphasised again and again during the debate. This pledge ignores the judgments which your Lordships may wish to make on the main Bill. The view of this House on the question of abolition will effectively have been pre-empted, since the order to cancel the elections will have been made weeks, if not months, before this House debates the main Bill. Furthermore, that order will apply only to Part II of the Bill; elsewhere the Bill proposes specific provisions on information and staffing matters which presuppose that abolition will proceed, and these measures will 907 come into effect immediately on the enactment of this Bill.
The Bill is not essential to the Government's abolition proposals. There is no reason—other than political policy—why the main Bill due in the next Session should not itself include a limitation on the term of office of elected councillors once abolition has been approved. There is no justification for the Government's proposals. Indeed, the means they are choosing to employ threaten to destroy what they say are their legislative ends; namely, the well-being of local government and the institutions on which it rests. When such indefensible means are proposed, it is very difficult to agree that the ends themselves, when put under very careful examination, have any merit.
This is the first stage of a major local government reorganization—but, unlike all previous reorganisations, there has been no public inquiry of any kind. There has been no Royal Commission and no tribunal of inquiry. There is no consensus for this proposal. Indeed, when we attempted on the Rates Bill to persuade the Government to set up an inquiry into local government finance—and even into the rating system—all we received was a blank "No" and resistance. Yet this type of legislation is brought before US.
The Government have refused to release the full reponses to public consultation on the White Paper—although they have acknowledged that the overwhelming proportion of those who replied oppose their intention. The only objective analysis of the costs and possible financial benefits of abolition, conducted by the well-known accountants Coopers and Lybrand, showed that there was no basis for the Government's claim that savings would result. In these circumstances, what credence can the House give to this Bill, which presupposes an abolition scheme supported by so little evidence—economic or moral—in its favour?
All the evidence that does exist serves to undermine the Government's case for abolition. As a result, more doubt is thrown on the need for the interim provisions now before us. The seven authorities responsible for crucial areas of public protection and major strategic functions for 18 million people will, in 11 months' time, lose most of the councillors having any experience in the financing, control and management of city-wide services. In his speech, the Minister said that more resources would be available and that everything would be kept running in good order. But those responsible will not have the experience necessary.
The devastating effect on staff morale is already being felt—certainly in the metropolitan counties outside London, where an even more difficult situation will arise. For every two county council seats abolished by this Bill, one district councillor will be nominated instead. Those lucky-or, rather, unlucky—councillors will be required to add to their existing responsibilities the duties of two presently-serving county council members. Further, for the first time in local government history, nominated councillors will effectively be delegates who can be 908 replaced at will by the lower-tier authorities without any election whatsoever.
This so-called paving Bill is paving the way not for rationality, simplicity and cost-effectiveness but for chaos, poorer services, and the loss of morale all round. Whatever the aruguments for long-term change, the administration of the important services provided by the councils affected will need to continue. Their work is not simply routine, to be tackled in the odd half-day between meetings of the lower-tier authorities and the demands of individual councillors' everyday work and of their families. These proposals display, if nothing else, an abysmal ignorance of the work done by councillors and a contemptuous disregard for the practical difficulties that will have to be faced in unscrambling the local government arrangements of our major cities. The purpose of local government is to serve the electorate. These measures—which threaten the stability of local government and the services it provides—must also threaten the interests of the local populations for whom these councils were created.
Yet, the worst feature of all is that we have no guarantee of the shape of the main proposals. Nor do we have a guarantee that the interim proposals will cease in April 1986. It would be intolerable if nominated representatives were to hold office indefinitely. The real basis for this concern is that there must be considerable doubt that such a major breakup of local government can be carried through in 11 months. In these circumstances, can the Minister give a guarantee that the term of these non-elected councillors will not be extended to two years? I shall be grateful if he will answer this point when he replies, because it is a matter of great importance.
This Bill is a dangerous and weak measure unsupported by solid argument. It has aroused widespread unease and considerable public opposition—despite the Minister's apparent belief that people are coming round to it. In fact, all the evidence shows quite the reverse. A poll conducted by the MORI organisation two weeks ago showed that, in London, 69 per cent. of those interviewed were opposed to the cancellation of the elections, while only 13 per cent. were in favour. This level of public antipathy transcends normal patterns of party allegiance. The plain fact remains that support for the Government's policy has been dropping month by month as their proposals have become clearer to the electorate.
It is ironic that these measures have perhaps created a greater interest in local government than there has been for some time. But what a price to pay! There is a clear message for the Government here, of which they should take note: withdraw this Bill and you will be more popular. These measures are unprecedented and represent a threat to the standard of government and public administration on which so much in our society depends. We have to look at the wider and deeper implications of this measure which we are discussing today.
The cancellation of elections and the manipulation of political control strike at the roots of our democratic traditions and cannot be condoned. We must be highly critical and we must strongly protest when the 909 Government of the day use their large majority in another place to disregard the democratic process. Not only the well-being of local government but the very fabric of our society is at risk if we lose sight of basic democratic principles. The Government have made a serious error of judgment, to put it at its lowest, in launching this Bill. They have moved with haste and with clumsiness; they have united their opponents; they have dismayed their friends; they have undermined their own public support and they have heaped opposition on their heads.
The issues raised are separate from the question of abolition, which will be debated later. We are today concerned with issues of democracy, the well-being of local government, the authority of this House and the authority of Parliament. The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, in the formulation of which we on these Benches were closely involved, therefore has the full support of the official Opposition. I trust that as the debate develops it will have the support of many other noble Lords. The amendment is one of the most important that has been discussed in this House. Many argue that one of the main justifications for a second Chamber is its role in protecting the citizen against abuse by the Government of the day. Tonight this House should say to Her Majesty's Government, "On this occasion you have gone too far. Go back and think again."
§ 4.32 p.m.
The Lord Bishop of Rochester
My Lords, in the unavoidable absence of the right reverend Prelates the Bishops of London and Southwark it falls to me to take part in this debate because one-third of my diocese is in the Greater London area. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield will be speaking later with reference to the metropolitan counties in the North of England.
We on these Benches are normally reluctant to become involved in a discussion on Motions and amendments that refer explicitly to party political matters, manifestoes and the like. Any Member of this Bench who finds himself speaking between the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, knows that he must not proceed "lightly, unadvisedly or wantonly". I must therefore make it clear at the outset that I am supporting the last clause of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, because, like him, I regret the introduction of this Bill before Parliament has decided whether or not to abolish the GLC and the other metropolitan councils. The reason why I regret this action is because the leaders of the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church and the Free Churches in London are united in their opposition to the removal of a body able to take an over-view of Greater London. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London will himself want to explain to your Lordships later in the year, when the abolition Bill comes before Parliament and to which I feel bound to refer today, the response of the different denominations in London to the White Paper entitled, Streamlining the Cities has been remarkable in its concern and in its unanimity. Submissions have been prepared by the Roman Catholic Archbishops of Westminster and Southwark as well as the Anglican Bishops of London 910 and Southwark and their six suffragans. The Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church, the Churches Group of the London Voluntary Services Council, as well as the social responsibility councils in the diocese of London and of Westminster are all united in their opposition.
The main points emphasised in these submissions are that the disadvantaged groups and areas of London will be those most adversely affected. Borough councils on their own will be unable, even if they are willing, to shoulder important community responsibilities which at the moment are carried by the GLC, because the experience of the Churches is that the boroughs have a poor record in dealing with groups such as ethnic minorities and those in particular need such as the homeless.
At the moment there is a considerable partnership between various Church-based organisations and the metropolitan authority in providing resources and help for the community. Many of the grants made to over 130 groups linked with the various Churches to help the homeless, alcoholics and young people predate the present GLC administration. As the Minister has himself acknowledged this afternoon, the partnership of voluntary and statutory bodies in the service of the community is one of the cornerstones of our society in this country. In Greater London, where all the Churches together have one and a half million members, they support 3,500 full-time workers and, in addition, many thousands of Church workers who are heavily involved in the voluntary sector.
The Roman Catholic Archbishops of Westminster and Southwark have expressed their special concern about the effects of the proposals on voluntary organisations, especially those serving London as a whole. They are also uncertain as to who in future would have an overall view of London's employment needs. They are particularly concerned about the absence of any mention of the homeless in the White Paper. The Anglican Bishops in London, North and South of the Thames, also feel that it is imperative to have a facility for the over-view of London because of the massive policy implications which cannot be confined to borough boundaries. They seriously doubt whether this over-view could be provided by voluntary inter-borough co-operation, because inevitably members answerable to borough constituencies would tend to have parochial priorities.
As your Lordships would expect, the Methodist Church is concerned with justice, community and stewardship. After widespread consultation in the Methodist districts in London it has come to the conclusion that the proposals would reduce meaningful participation in decisions which affect people's lives. They also fear the loss of a sense of common identity and purpose. I am bound to say they consider the transitional arrangements to be unbelievable, and indeed sinister.
In over 40 years' experience of inter-Church cooperation, most of it in London, I have never before known the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Free Churches to be so seriously roused over a matter of concern to the whole community, or so united in their view that the present proposals are ill-considered and untimely. I therefore venture to hope that if your 911 Lordships pass the amendment, it will prompt the Government to take seriously the views expressed in this second Chamber of Parliament, where, by long tradition, we have the role not of impeding action by the Executive but of ensuring that a Govenment take sufficient time over the formulation of their plans to ensure that the long-term interests of the whole community are properly and responsibly served.
Meanwhile, I have to say that the leaders of the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church and the Free Churches in London find this Bill offensive as a parliamentary procedure, offensive in the context of our traditional democratic way of life and offensive to the conscience of many Christians of all traditions.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate who has just resumed his seat has, I think, made a speech of a characteristically vigorous political character at a pitch of intensity hardly reached from the Episcopal Bench since the late 1890s, when my episcopal grandfather made a speech which helped to defeat Mr. Gladstone's last Home Rule Bill. I am sorry that the right reverend Prelate, for whom I, like the whole of the rest of the House, have enormous respect, seems, if he will allow me to say so, to have swallowed hook, line and sinker the propaganda being put out at the expense of the ratepayers by the Greater London Council.
Let me take just one point that the right reverend Prelate made. He said that the boroughs, upon which under the new system a great measure of responsibility will fall, had a poor record in looking after the disadvantaged. With respect, he ignored the fact that that record, if it be a poor one, was one which was achieved with the existence of a superior authority—the GLC—not only exercising responsibilities in that way but raising the funds to do it from the same ratepayers as will be called upon in the future. Therefore, if he will allow me to say so, it is grossly unfair for him, with all the prestige, standing and respect of one of the greatest Prelates of the Church to which I happen to belong, to denounce the lower tier local authorities for inadequate action when the circumstances are wholly different from what they will be when the changes have taken place. After all, the same rateable value will be there in Greater London. Indeed, there is every reason to hope that less of the rate product will be wasted.
It is really, I think, grossly unfair to these very public-spirited people who act on the social service side of the London boroughs, particularly the London boroughs in the poorer areas, simply to assume, as the right reverend Prelate appeared to do, that, with the GLC and its work gone, those boroughs will do no more than they do at present. The right reverend Prelate has no justification for that, and I myself have no reason to believe that the care of the disadvantaged in large numbers in many parts of London—and I agree with the right reverend Prelate that the problems are enormous—will be any the less efficient under the new system which is foreseen. It is really very wrong at this stage—and I say this with some feeling—when the main Bill is not yet before us, to cause alarm among the less fortunate of our fellow citizens, and among 912 those who care for them and look after them, by making suggestions of this kind, which I do not believe are true and which I hope and believe the right reverend Prelate will live and continue in this House to be able to acknowledge were wholly wrongly foreshadowed.
I come now to the reasoned amendment—that is the technical term one must give it—of the noble Lord, Lord Hooson. I could not help having a slightly cynical feeling both during his speech and during that of the noble Baroness. Lady Birk, at the enormously important role they attribute to this House in the most generous terms, although sometimes from that side of the House we are told that because we are unelected we really ought not to have much of a say in anything. But come a measure of this kind, come a measure on which noble Lords opposite feel strongly (and I understand their strength of feeling), then the whole story is the opposite. The story then is that this House has very important functions to perform in checking the legislation of the Government.
May we look at the terms of this really quite extraordinary, reasoned amendment? It comes from the Liberal Benches although the noble Baroness, I gather, has admitted at any rate partial parentage. It recalls to me—and I think it may recall to the noble Lord. Lord Stewart of Fulham, who is to follow me—a remark made by the first Earl of Birkenhead some 55 years ago in the Oxford Union in response to another emanation from the Liberal Party. He said then (and I recall his words clearly): "It has all the characteristics of a Liberal joke. First of all, it is not funny; secondly, it is not true; and, thirdly, it is calculated to give offence".
Let me take all three parts. First, we are asked to affirm that power is to be handed over in London to non-elected bodies. This is not true. The representatives of the London boroughs who will be appointed to exercise the powers previously exercised by the GLC are all elected persons. They are members of elected bodies which have themselves chosen them; and, indeed, they have the advantage (I do not know whether the noble Lord realises this) of having been elected more recently than the GLC councillors they will be replacing. It is therefore quite untrue to seek to put on the record that this proposal would put nonelected persons in the role of elected persons. These will be London borough councillors, more recently elected than GLC councillors and just as responsible to their constituents as anybody else who has been through the process of election.
Secondly, we are told that this proposal was not in the Conservative Party's election manifesto. Once again, that is not true. The election manifesto is perfectly plain: that we intend to abolish the GLC and the other metropolitan authorities which have been shown, says the manifesto, to be wasteful and unnecessary. That is a part of the policy—whether noble Lords opposite agree with it is neither here nor there—on which the Government were elected; and of course that policy involves adopting the best means you can to implement it. Who wills the end wills the means. Therefore, we now come—and I suggest that this will cut the debate down to size a little—to the practical question as to whether, given that this is a manifesto commitment which the Government are faithfully carrying out, they are using the best method to do it.
913 The noble Baroness, in particular, said, "Why not leave the whole thing until you have carried the abolition Bill, and then come along with the other arrangements that have to be made?" That has two enormous disadvantages. First of all, it delays the changeover. Whatever view your Lordships take as to whether the changeover should happen at all, there is very little to be said for delaying it. It increases the period of uncertainty for officials and, indeed, for elected members of all the authorities concerned. There is a longer period in which proper long-term planning is not possible, and once it is decided that it is necessary to make this change, then from every point of view—and I think regardless of one's political ideas—the quicker it can be done, the better. What the noble Baroness suggests would add at least a year to the process, and that cannot make sense.
What, then, is the right thing to do about the GLC members whose term of office ends next May? There could be another election; I understand that it costs between £ 3 million and £ 4 million. They would be elected for only a few months. Clearly the election would be entirely concerned with the proposed changes. No one standing for election for a maximum period of 11 months could sensibly put forward any constructive, helpful or practical policies. There would simply be a dispute about that, and then 11 months of ineffectiveness for those who were elected.
Alternatively, as I think one noble Lord suggested, you can extend the current term of the present incumbents. That, again, is subject to the criticism that they were elected for one period of time and that it is a very dangerous precedent—a precedent, incidentally, adopted by Hitler—to extend the term of office of elected persons. But it would be possible.
There again you can do what the Government are proposing to do, and that is to see to it that the representatives of the bodies which are going to take control come in and act in the interim. I think that to most of us with practical experience in administration that seems to be the commonsense approach. The representatives of the London boroughs will be people who are going to have the responsibility of running the whole machinery of local government in London in the future. They will have every motive and reason to see that it starts successfully and practically. Therefore, it seems to me that from the point of view of the citizens and ratepayers of London—of whom, in modest degree, I am one, though having received my latest rate demand I think that I can almost drop the word "modest"—the practical proposition is to secure that the incoming authority's representative takes over interim control and prepares the way. Surely it is in that way, too, that we shall get the best co-operation from officials.
All this would be arguable—I can see this at once—but for one factor. That factor is the attitude of the GLC. They are not showing the slightest willingness to discuss future arrangements. They are not permitting their officials to provide information, except when compelled to do so.
They are not only adopting this highly expensive propaganda campaign, which has apparently taken in so many people, but are also engaged—
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
My Lords, the noble Lord seems to be suggesting that anyone who is a critic of this Bill is a critic only because he has been bamboozled by the GLC's propaganda campaign. Will not the noble Lord realise that that is a particularly unworthy suggestion?
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, it would have been if I had said it, but I did not. However, if the noble Lord asks me that, having listened to some of the speeches, I would say that there were some indications of a susceptibility to the virus of this propaganda which a perhaps cynical, perhaps not inexperienced, eye might detect.
I return to the question of the attitude of the GLC. We have seen it in their support of every organisation of every kind, however disreputable; organisations such as Gay Teenagers and London Prostitutes Cooperative, and an organisation for lesbians. I recall that when I mentioned this point during our discussions on the Rates Bill, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, (who is not present) who followed me in the debate, went out of his way to say that he knew much more about these subjects than I did. I of course concede that to the right reverend Prelate; but it has not been a very good picture.
There are two additional points which are indicative of the attitude that the GLC are now taking which I shall ask your Lordships to consider. One is that quite recently the GLC's director of supplies sent to some 8,000 business suppliers of the GLC a form of petition, which they were asked to return, asking the Government not to proceed with this Bill. If your Lordships can think of a more improper form of commercial pressure than that, I am afraid that I cannot.
The other matter that has been publicised in the press but not mentioned today is the action of Mr. Peter Pitt, the chairman of the GLC's Arts and Recreation Committee, in announcing that if the 17-year-old South African runner, Zola Budd who was to run—and, I am glad to say, ran successfully—at Crystal Palace the other day, did not make a denunciation of apartheid, he would see to it that the financial support for Crystal Palace from the GLC ceased. For a great organisation to use its wealth and political pressure to try to extract a political statement from a girl of 17 is, I think, an act that has not been equalled since the days of the medieval Church.
I think that again indicates the utter intolerance of those who run the GLC. Therefore it seems clear that if over this matter we were to adopt the expedient of letting them run on until the abolition Bill was through, we would secure no co-operation; we would secure an aggressive attitude on every question, be it practical, important, or detailed, and the only sufferers from this in the long run would be the ratepayers and the citizens of London.
I realise that the Government's decision is not an easy one. I realise that touching anything to do with elections touches a most sensitive nerve, though I 915 think a good deal of constitutional nonsense has been talked on that same subject. But I realise it is not an easy matter. I think for that reason the Government are to be congratulated on coming forward with this Bill and I hope that they will firmly and courageously proceed with it.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Lord Stewart of Fulham
My Lords, seven heads of Government met recently at a summit conference. In their communiqué I noticed the following phrase:We believe in a system of democracy which ensures genuine choice in elections freely held.It says, "in elections". One would have thought perhaps that our own British representative at that conference might have added an amendment to say,genuine choice in elections, except in so far as the date of these may be inconvenient to the Government of the day",because that is, in effect, what is happening here. That was what the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, did not seem to begin to understand. His prepared speech for the subsequent Bill that we are to expect had so absorbed his attention that I do not think he really grasped to what it is we are objecting.
To take someone who has been elected as a borough councillor and go through a process of saying, "You are now a member of the GLC, subject to the rather remarkable requirement that at any time the borough likes, it can haul you back", does not amount to an election and cannot possibly be called an election. What we are objecting to in this Bill—I wish the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, had understood this—is that the Government have adopted a thoroughly undemocratic procedure instead of the normal one of election. If we want democracy to work, it is important that we have rules and that we respect them. We should depart from them only where there is the most powerful argument for doing so. I want to consider whether there are any arguments that justify the Government's use of this remarkably undemocratic procedure.
One argument might be that what they want to do—the abolition of the councils—has such overwhelming support that one is justified in dispensing with the technicalities of elections. In the First and Second World Wars we dispensed with parliamentary elections until the wars were over, but one could do that because quite clearly that was what the overwhelming majority of people in the country wanted one to do, and they would have regarded it as very silly if one had done anything else. But can we possibly say that there is anything like that in the way of a demand to abolish the Greater London Council and the other metropolitan councils?
We have heard speeches, particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, and the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, attacking particular things that the Greater London Council has done. I would say this. If Londoners think that Mr. Livingstone's administration of the GLC is bad, the way in which they would show that would be by voting against him at the next election, not by abolishing the body on which he sits. To say, "This authority has a bad administration; therefore we will abolish the authority", is an 916 argument that can lead one into almost any kind of nonsense.
Could it possibly be said that there is any overwhelming demand for the abolition of these councils? The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, really did come as near as makes no matter to suggesting that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester had been bamboozled by Mr. Livingstone. He may think that, but is he really suggesting that most of the religious leaders in London—as I understood it, the right reverend Prelate was not speaking for himself alone but for other religious leaders—have all fallen into the same trap?
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, does the noble Lord recall the saying in Holy Writ:the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light"?
§ Lord Stewart of Fulham
My Lords. I recall the saying, but I must say that it takes me a little longer to grasp its relevance to what we are arguing about.
Can it really be said, in the light of what the right reverend Prelate has told us, that it is an overwhelming desire of people in this country to abolish these councils? I am not going to argue the merits or demerits of the councils. May I say to the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, that that is not what this debate is for. We will have that debate later on. I am merely going to say now that surely we must all accept that the question whether or not these councils should be abolished is a question on which sincere and well-informed peole are to be found on both sides. Therefore, one has not the plea of overwhelming public demand to justify tampering with the elections. So that argument, that they were justified in tampering with the elections because there was an overwhelming demand, will not stand up for a moment.
Can it then be justified on the ground that there was no alternative? One alternative that was open to the Government, if they were so anxious to abolish these councils. was to start the whole process a year earlier. Then they would have had their new councils all ready, and all the arrangements made, before the electoral term of the present GLC ran out, and there would not have been all these difficulties. It was their own slovenliness in that respect that has landed them in this position.
Can it be said that this process is justified on the ground that it will give one efficient government? What one is going to do is appoint people who have no experience of the GLC's problems. They are going to be appointed for about 11 months, or possibly less. They are going to have no possibility of really handling the government of the Metropolis during that period. One thing is quite certain—the government during those 11 months, if these proposals go through, will be slovenly and ignorant. One could not possibly justify messing about with the elections on the ground that it gives one an efficient result.
917 I would suggest, therefore, that the burden of proof is on the Government to show that they have a good reason for departing from the normal process of elections in local government. They are departing from that process. They have not shown us any good reason. There is neither a massive consensus of public opinion, nor is there an argument of efficiency, nor is there an argument that they have no alternative.
Finally—I am speaking as briefly as I can—there is this extraordinary position that the stamp will be put on all this when a Second Reading is given in the House of Commons to the abolition Bill. That is being interpreted to mean the consent of Parliament. I am not noted particularly as a champion of the rights of this House as against the other, but in this as in all constitutional matters one ought to know what are the rules. It has been well understood in this country for a long time that the body that is sovereign is Parliament, and a resolution of the House of Commons, even on the Second Reading of a Bill, is not a decision of Parliament. The attempt to make it so in this Bill is merely an addition in the unconstitutional process of what in the first place was a thoroughly undesirable Bill.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Lord Harris of High Cross
My Lords, several times a day recently the newspapers have told us that, faced with issues of high importance and sharp party contention, Cross-Benchers have falling on them a measure of special responsibility. If I may recall a phrase of my late noble friend Lord Robbins, unlike party loyalists, we on these Benches cannot take refuge in what he called the mystic joys of tribal unity, although before the night is out the Chief Whip may wish there was more tribal unity on the Tory Benches.
Since the outcome could be decided by uncommitted voters, I would venture to invite my noble friends on these Benches to dwell on what seem to me two central questions posed by this Bill and by the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hooson. Despite the barracking that was directed at the noble Lord. Lord Bellwin, I persist in arguing that the primary issue before us is whether the GLC and the six metropolitan councils should be abolished. Indeed, if I may say so with respect, the right reverend Prelate devoted his speech entirely to that one issue, and many other votes will be cast without any regard for this Bill because opponents of the abolition of the GLC will wish, in any event, to strike down the Bill. For those who, like me, answer to that primary question, "The sooner the better", there arises a second question, which is whether this Bill is essential to encompass that objective.
On the first question, I do not see that we can avoid some reference to the issue of abolition without rehearsing the full case. Suffice it to say that from my own reading it is quite clear that it is not only members of the Conservative Party who have come round to the view that local government would be more effective if the top-heavy upper tiers were removed. We have heard that the GLC has strictly circumscribed functions on a whole range of activities, and we were told that for a rag bag of its main duties at the present time there could be other arrangements by specialist 918 agencies that exist or they could be devolved to the borough councils.
I want to tell Members on the Labour Benches, who so easily regard all this as a pure party matter, that some years ago my mind was decided on this issue by an old friend of mine, and perhaps of some of them—a man called Oliver Stutchbury, who was a Greater London Council Labour alderman. He was the first to launch the campaign against the Greater London Council in 1977, when he described the GLC as, "a ruinously costly edifice". If there is time before voting tonight for some noble Lords to look up the source in the Library, I strongly commend his book published in 1977 and called, Too Much Government.
What puzzled me, looking at the background, was why were these upper tier councils invented in the first place by a Conservative Government? I poured over a great deal of second-rate Tory publicity until I came across a most rewarding quotation from the Conservative side, which was as follows:They were created in the enthusiasm of the 1960s and the 1970s and it has become clear over the years that they result in friction and duplication of effort".I could not help shouting, "Bravo!" and "Hear, hear!" when I read that admission from a Conservative source. I would only say that if the Labour Party were as ready to confess errors, we should have a field day getting rid of dozens of trendy laws passed in the vanished 1960s and 1970s that still clutter up the statute book.
So far so good. If the dismantling of the superfluous upper tiers is desirable, then the question presents itself whether the Bill is necessary, and is necessary at this time. As the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, has pointed out, plainly some Bill is required to prepare the way for the takeover of the continuing functions from the doomed authorities in 1986. If you envisage an execution, then it would seem prudent to make advance plans for the disposal of the body.
So we turn to the matters complained of in the amendment, which shrinks from directly challenging abolition. Instead, with typical Liberal half measures, we have the weasel-worded approach of, "yes, but ", which seeks to assemble support from wherever it may be found for a wrecking amendment, artfully propped up on three unequal legs. The least substantial leg is that the Bill was not in the Tory manifesto. It was not; but, as the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, pointed out, since the abolition of the GLC and the MCCs was in the manifesto, this consequential measure raises no great constitutional innovation. As the noble Lord said, if the electorate wills the end, who are we, the House of Lords above all, to deny the Government the necessary means?
The second wobbly leg of the amendment is that the Bill is being introduced before Parliament has decided about abolition. The Government have a dilemma in this respect because the final execution can only take place after a full public trial which will be staged, no doubt, with due solemnity, when the abolition Bill is brought before us next Session. Meanwhile, the safeguard for the fainthearts on the Liberal Benches, as the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, has pointed out, is that this transitional Bill will not come into operation until the abolition Bill has been given its Second Reading. If I may mix metaphors, the requirement of a special 919 order in Clause 1 is, in effect, a self-destruct mechanism to prevent the start of burial arrangements unless the execution looks like proceeding.
Accordingly, those who accept abolition but who are tempted to flirt with the equivocating amendment, are left perching on a single leg; namely, that the Bill sets a dangerous precedent by giving non-elected bodies the powers of properly constituted councils. I make no bones about it: I think that this is the most substantial of the elements of this amendment. But, since it is generally acknowledged that some interim provisions are essential to the main objective, we are left inevitably to choose how to deal with the GLC and the MCCs between the expiry of their natural term in May 1985 and their final abolition, which has been timed for March 1986.
I think that there is no dispute in this House that there is no ideal solution. The Labour Party do not have an ideal solution and nor do I, because there is only a choice between three makeshift expedients in this situation. The Government could have allowed the empty paraphernalia of elections to new councils with a little more than a few months to prepare for their own demise. A simpler alternative—as I think the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, implied—would have been to prolong the lives of the existing councils. I wonder whether, if the metropolitan county councils were Conservative controlled, rather than all six of them being Labour controlled, and the Government had come forward to prolong their lives, it would have been greeted by the Opposition as gerrymandering? Nevertheless, I must say that I strongly favoured that makeshift arrangement of prolonging their lives until I looked more closely at the political realities of the situation.
Thus we come to the device chosen by the Government, which I agree, on the surface, is the least attractive of the three options, as it means cancelling the elections. As we have heard, there has been a precedent for that, but, instead of prolonging the tenure of the doomed metropolitan councillors, they are to be replaced by transitional councillors nominated by democratically elected councillors, but nevertheless indirectly elected.
The Government's justification for this device is that the success of the interim arrangements for the handover of functions depends absolutely upon the co-operation of the bodies to be superseded. I find that a rather persuasive argument. The decisive question upon which this wrecking amendment might be judged is whether we can visualise people like Ken Livingstone collaborating in arrangements for their own funerals. The answer of the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, is that the GLC and the MCCs are already refusing to co-operate, even forbidding their officials to supply information required to ensure a smooth transition. I thought that that was a very powerful point gained for the Government's proposals. The noble Lord then went on to emphasise what to me was the clinching argument; namely, that the borough and district councils, which will control the GLC and the metropolitan county councils, are the very people who, irrespective of their party allegiance, have the strongest interest in making a long-term success of reorganisation. That, for me, is the decisive argument 920 against this opportunistic and partisan amendment, which I hope my noble friends will join in rejecting.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Lord Molson
My Lords. I can confine my remarks to a short time because it is my intention to confine them to the Bill before the House at the moment and not to go into the general question of whether these various local authorities should or should not be abolished. I do not wish in any way to criticise, even by implication, my noble friend Lord Bellwin, nor, indeed, the Front Bench speakers on the other side who found it necessary to give, to some extent, the background against which this Bill has been brought forward. But it will be advantageous if the rest of us can confine our remarks to the Bill at present before us.
I speak only because I wish to justify my action in voting against the Party to which I belong, on the amendment which has been proposed to this Bill. We are not voting against the Second Reading of this Bill. I should not do that. As was established by the late Lord Salisbury, it has become a constitutional custom that when the other place has passed a Bill we do not vote against the Second Reading. We do, however, preserve the right to ask the Government in this place to consider amendments and to make alterations. I am glad to recall that on several occasions recently they have shown themselves willing to do so. Our duty is to give the other place an opportunity to think again, and to give the Cabinet the benefit of quite independent views, as expressed in this House, where members of all parties adopt an independent line such as was never possible for those of us who served in another place. Indeed, the joke has been made by one of my noble friends that the members of the Labour Party here are inclined to attach greater importance to the opinions of your Lordships than their colleagues in another place.
As I say. I am not voting against the Second Reading of this Bill. I am not voting against the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils. How could one do so at the present time when the Bill has not even been published? I am voting in favour of drastic amendment of this Bill during its Committee stage here. I do not approve of nomination by borough and district councils elected in 1982 for different purposes in order to appoint representatives to take the place of these higher councils. The proposal that members of a large local authority elected in 1981 should be replaced by the nominees of smaller local authorities elected in 1982 to discharge entirely different duties in their smaller local areas is in my opinion so irrational and so undemocratic that I doubt whether it will survive critical scrutiny in your Lordships' House. If the Greater London Council is so generally unpopular—and I have no sympathy whatever with it—there is something to be said for letting it proceed to another election. It might well be that the people of London would take the same view of it as I do, and reject it completely.
As has been pointed out by previous speakers—the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, and the noble Lord. Lord Stewart of Fulham, in particular—this raises a very important constitutional issue. It may be ironical that your Lordships' nominated and heritary House should 921 be called upon to defend the principles of democratic election. But in point of fact that is the issue which we face today. Without making any commitment, I have every intention of supporting my noble friends on the Government Front Bench in the abolition of these authorities. Of course, a great deal will depend upon what it is proposed to put in their place, about which we have no reliable information at the present time. I would only say that in several very important respects—planning in particular—it is essential that very different policies should be adopted from those which have been indicated as being in the Government's mind at the present time.
However, the issue is the constitutional one as to whether or not we are justified in passing this Bill today without entering the caveat—because that is all it is—that your Lordships may think it suitable to carry amendments against the Government unless indeed the Government are prepared to meet public opinion in advance. Therefore, I think it is important that the Government should be given this warning. I think that today one is justified in supporting the amendment which has been moved with so much constitutional learning and wisdom by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, and I hope that it will be carried.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Lord Sefton of Garston
My Lords, the noble Lord who has just spoken said that today he was not voting against the abolition of the GLC. He is quite right; none of us will be doing that. In fact, the next time that we discuss the abolition of the GLC, the event will already have occurred, because the Government believe that the will of Parliament is contained inside the House of Commons and, therefore, after this Bill we shall no longer have an opportunity to discuss the real issues about the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils.
I should like to explain the question which I tried to put to the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, at the end of his speech. It was: did the noble Lord have anything at all to say about, or did the Government have any comment to make upon, the very powerful arguments put forward in 1972 for a directly elected authority to look after the affairs of counties such as Merseyside on a county-wide basis; and, if in fact they did have a comment to make upon those powerful arguments put forward by a commission appointed by Parliament, were we now to assume that the arguments were no longer relevant to those areas, and that we should reject completely the idea of Redcliffe-Maud? That would have been the question. From my experience of the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, in local government, I rather suspect that he would have been hard put to it to stand in this House and deny the rightness of those assumptions. On the other hand, it may be that he would have denied the rightness of those assumptions.
However, there is a very clear indication, even in the title of the so-called Bill to streamline the cities, that no longer do the Government regard as a right subject for democratic discussion and decision the affairs of an area such as Merseyside or Manchester, or Greater London. I place them in that order because the reverse order of the GLC and the metropolitan counties has been referred to too often. Other people are involved 922 besides the GLC, and London is somewhat different from Merseyside and the other metropolitan counties because it happens to be the capital of this nation.
In the few minutes at my disposal I should like to draw the Minister's attention to what Merseyside thinks about this paving Bill. In expressing that opinion, it will of course be impossible for Merseyside to express an opinion upon that Bill without expressing an opinion upon the abolition Bill which will follow, which demonstrates quite clearly to any reasonably-minded logical person that there should have been one Bill, and that both matters should have been considered at the same time.
When Merseyside heard about the proposals, it did not take them lying down. It did not just say that the Government must have their way, that the party caucus of the Conservative Party operating in the House of Commons must be right. It did not say that. On Merseyside they have a history of operating on a Merseyside basis. It is not an organisation that has been superimposed upon us by some commission; it has not been forced upon us by a Government. It is an organisation that grew out of the needs of the area. The needs of the area can be summed up by saying that the dominant feature of Merseyside is the river Mersey and the international trade that came to the river Mersey and upon which its whole future would depend. The tragedy is that international trade has gone, and now more than ever we in Merseyside need a directly-elected authority not only to deal with those problems which affect Liverpool, the Wirral, Southport, St. Helens and other places, but to deal with Merseyside problems on a Merseyside basis. They cannot be solved in any other way.
Perhaps I may use a small example of the ludicrousness of trying to streamline cities within an area where the problems are so great that they are not embraced in just one city. It is easy to demonstrate that Liverpool City Council had the tremendous task of encouraging the arts in Merseyside because the orchestras and other places of arts and culture resided in Liverpool, but was it right that the Liverpool City Council should take all the burden? Was it right that they should give all the resources? Of course not, and Merseyside recognised it. That is why Merseyside was one of the first areas to act together to establish a Merseyside area arts council, and we did it long before anyone else.
The Government have just spent countless millions of pounds in trying to rejuvenate Merseyside with an International Garden Festival. An International Garden Festival is not related to Liverpool, it is related to Merseyside. If the costs of keeping that international festival in good shape have to be borne by anybody, they should be borne by Merseyside—or perhaps the Government will consider taking them over. However, I doubt very much that they will.
We set up our own Merseyside authority. We organised our own passenger transport authority long before the MPTAs came into existence, but the Government had to step in and impose their own organisation upon Merseyside. It has not worked. It never really got the confidence of the people because the Government insisted on having nominees on the board when we were already doing it. Eleven local 923 authorities got together and organised it and took the decision to have an integrated transport system. Each local authority gave up its sovereignty to the whole in the interests of all.
I am minded that this Bill is not just a Bill about local government. This Bill is really a question of where power resides in our so-called democratic society. Since 1945 local government has had its powers eroded in one form or another until, practically speaking, it is now left with just a rump. The real power rests down here in Whitehall. I specifically say "Whitehall". It does not rest in Parliament.
Sovereignty in this country in regard to affairs that should be administered locally rests with the bureaucrats in Whitehall. We move slowly but surely to a centralised, bureaucratic state. It was a Member of this House, Lord Hewart, who wrote a book and quoted Kipling. He was talking about despotism and tyranny of an old king when he said:All we have of freedomall we know of law. This our fathers bought us long, and long ago. Ancient rights unnoticed as the breath we draw".There were plenty of them. And they have all slowly but surely been eroded and gone to Whitehall.
Now we do not talk really about the sovereignty of Parliament. We talk about the sovereignty of civil servants acting on behalf of Ministers in their own particular way. This Government do not care much about it. We debated the Transport Bill in this House. Someone said that the Government were always amenable and reasonable, and that they would listen to reasonable amendments. We know that on the transport Bill, because of the Conservative party timetable, they rejected utterly and completely every reasonable amendment moved in your Lordships' House. If ever there was an example of power and arrogance, that was it. And it gets worse.
There was no mandate for the Tory party to bring in the abolition of the metropolitan counties, unless they mean a mandate because they won most seats, and that is not what really counts in a democracy. Perhaps there is the mandate that the noble Lord referred to, but it certainly is not a mandate of the number of votes. When any party acquires power in a democracy such as ours it behoves it to pay regard to the fact that it did not get a majority of votes.
Baroness Seear: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but is the noble Lord saying that he is now a convert to proportional representation?
§ Lord Sefton of Garston
My Lords, no, I do not want proportional representation. I am just about to come to that point. What we see is an example of the party caucus having its will in Parliament regardless of what the Opposition say. Some people will say, "What is wrong with that?" Some people said "What is wrong with a candidate in an election putting on his ballot paper the party he represents?" I will tell you what is wrong about it. By that simple act Parliament recognised that political parties have a powerful role in our democracy, and that has led to this Bill.
For the first time in our constitutional history you will find that there is a Bill in front of us that gives 924 power to parties laid down in statute. It instructs the other authorities, when making nominees to the interim body, to pay due regard to the party representation on that council. That is legalising party caucus and I abhore it. because I abhore secret decisions taken inside party caucuses. Every right-minded man who thinks of democracy as a product of the people will think the same.
Where have we got to? I was asked whether I believed in proportional representation. No, I do not. There are two things which should be sacrosanct in our society. One is the individual, and the right of the individual, when elected, to represent all of his constituents, regardless sometimes of party loyalty. Therefore, I will always oppose any Bill that brings party in.
Time is short, and I have already exceeded my agreed time, but there is one point on which I want to finish. It has nothing to do with local government at the moment. I came into local government, as is well known, and perhaps in my day people could have called me the Ken Livingstone of Liverpool. I moved on to a city council on which there were numerous aldermen, and I wanted to abolish the lot. When 1972 came along I spoke against the abolition of aldermen. I said that it was an institution which had grown up—like the House of Lords—in which the moderating influence, the reasonable point of view, could be used to temper the steel of the rebels, and that we had a good system of local government.
No one listened, so we abolished the aldermanic bench. Today, because of the point made in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, we are effectively abolishing the House of Lords. The Government are saying, "You can talk. You can have your say, but as soon as it is through its Second Reading in the House of Commons this goes into effect". You may ask what does that mean? It means that we are stooges. That is what it means we are. We are like the stooges on the other side who sat still and never opened their mouths when this subject first came into prominence.
Anyone who is honest knows why this subject came into prominence. It came into prominence because somebody said, "We will abolish rates." Somebody should have taken the Prime Minister to one side and explained to her that in a naive way, because of her lack of experience in local government, she was saying something that was not tenable. But they did not. In effect what happened was that because they could not abolish rates we got this Bill, and all the venom and spite against the GLC and Ken Livingstone came out in the first 15 minutes of the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin. It is that kind of arrogant power that leads to some awful situations.
Let me conclude on this note. One of the things that have struck me in my political career of some half a century was watching Dr. Bronowski on television kneeling in a pond in an extermination camp. He ran the water and dust of that extermination camp through his fingers and said: "This was not caused by gas. This was not caused by wicked men. This was caused by arrogance; the arrogance that says, 'I am right', without any test of reality, without listening to the opposition; 'I am right, I am to have my way'." I paraphrase the words of Cromwell, omitting some, and say to the noble Lord opposite, "I beseech thee, 925 just for once imagine that the Government may be wrong."
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, I expect many of your Lordships were as surprised as I was by the view of the noble Lord, Lord Sefton of Garston, that having won a large majority in the House of Commons at the last general election, the Government nevertheless have no mandate for their legislation. That is a proposition which must have appeared very strange to his Front Bench.
§ Lord Sefton of Garston
With all due respect, my Lords, I did not say that they had no mandate. They have a mandate of some sort based on seats. I said they have no mandate on the votes of the people.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, I think we must leave the facts to speak for themselves with regard to that. If I may say so, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross, really hit the nail on the head when he said that there is no ideal solution to this matter. In the background of the decisions that we have to take is the timetable with which the Government were faced and with which another place was faced. The timetable, in the briefest terms, is this: that the Conservative Party won the last general election and again formed the Government in June 1983; that unless something be done the metropolitan councils and the Greater London Council will have to face elections in May 1985; and it is proposed that the changes envisaged as a result of this manifesto commitment shall take place with effect from April 1986. That is a very tight timetable. We are faced with a situation which has never previously arisen. A tier of local government is to be abolished, and such functions as it has are to be performed by existing councils which are not to be abolished.
Of course, there is the possibility that those councils should take over no functions at all until 1986; but if that were to happen and the GLC were to continue in existence after a further election, they would exist as a council—and this would be true of the metroplitan county councils as well—for only 11 months. During that limited time their main task would be to cooperate in transferring their functions to the borough and district councils, and in effect "digging their own graves". What a prospect for them! So this kindly, helpful and thoughtful Government are going to save them from that gloomy fate and have decided—and they have the backing of the House of Commons in doing so—that there would be no point in holding those elections in 1985 and it would be better for those who will be taking over to have a hand in running things meanwhile.
When we vote tonight, however, as I understand it, we shall simply be voting on the amendment moved with such fluency by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, in which three arguments are used. My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, in his most admirable speech, has dealt with those three arguments, and that enables me to shorten what I have to say but to add just a postscript. The first point is that we are asked to regard the Bill as "a dangerous precedent". That is an inappropriate expression, I suggest, in these 926 circumstances. If it means that it is a precedent binding on Parliament when we are legislating in future, it is of course no such thing—and, indeed, I think the noble Lord, in the course of what he said, conceded that point—because of our unwritten and flexible constitution.
§ Lord Hooson
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I am not using the word "precedent" in the legal sense. What I am saying is that if Parliament passes this Bill the fact that we have passed it will be used subsequently as a justification for action of a similar kind.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, that is a fair enough point to make, except that we have to bear in mind that the circumstances with which we are faced today have never arisen before and may never arise again. If they do arise again, the sensible decision which the Government have taken might conceivably also be taken by another Government in similar circumstances, which I would have thought are extremely unlikely. But clearly of course we are always abandoning our own precedents whenever we amend legislation; and if, as the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, suggests, it is "a dangerous precedent" on which Governments could rely in future rather than Parliament, then it comes to the same thing because all Governments are answerable to Parliament.
Secondly, the amendment says that this paving Bill was not in the Conservative election manifesto. Of course it was not, but the reason for it was stated plainly enough. May I say that I fought and won 10 general elections for a seat in another place, and I do not remember party manifestoes ever doing anything except claiming things for a party's record, perhaps attacking their opponents, doing a bit of propaganda, and stating the policies. I do not remember the legislative machinery for carrying out policies being mentioned in manifestoes, and one would not expect that to happen. In fact, no party has indulged in that practice. This is just a paving Bill.
That brings me to the last point in the amendment, because it regrets the Bill's introduction before Parliament has decided whether or not to abolish the councils. On a superficial view—but I stress "on a superficial view"—that might seem to be a good point, but there is a strong and clear answer to it contained in the Bill itself. Clause 1 says that Part II of the Bill—which is the effective part under which elections would be suspended and borough and district councillors chosen—will not come into operation until the Secretary of State makes an order (which has, by the way, to be approved by affirmative resolution of both Houses), and he will not do that, as has been made clear, until after Second Reading in another place next Session. This paving Bill is therefore merely an enabling Bill. I do not see anything "constitutionally unacceptable" in that. Indeed, I find that this is honesty manifest, that there should be a Bill of this kind.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, I am very anxious—the noble Lord spoke for quite a long time; I think half an hour—
§ Lord Renton
Yes, my Lords, over half an hour. There are 28 more speeches to follow mine and I am anxious not to take up more time having arguments with the noble Lord.
If any of your Lordships are worried about this paving Bill being brought into operation before we in this House have passed the main Bill, I must point out that we are not likely to get the main Bill through in time to cancel the elections which would have to take place next May. Such would be the parliamentary timetable that we could not expect to see the main Bill before Easter. If Mr. Livingstone were by some mischance to be elected meanwhile, he would no doubt go on bribing the people with their own money, gaining friends—I must confess that as president of MENCAP I have been very grateful for the—
§ Lord Elwyn-Jones
My Lords, surely an accusation of bribery against a named person is going a little far, is it not? Bribing people with other people's money? Will not the noble Lord think it proper to withdraw that slanderous and defamatory observation?
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, if it is merely a matter of words shall I say, "pleasing the people by using the money that is raised for them by the rates of the Greater London Council in order to please them"? The noble and learned Lord with his long experience can put whatever parliamentary interpretation he pleases on that process.
A body of which I am president has been a beneficiary of such money and maybe the beneficiary of still more. Another body of which my wife is president has benefited from the Greater London Council in the same way. Of course we rejoiced. But I feel bound to add that in the case of MENCAP we have never received so much money from any Government as we have received from this Government, and this Government have said that the voluntary bodies will not suffer as a result of these local Government changes. I am prepared to take the Government's word for that.
Although it was an impressive speech until one looks more deeply into it, the three points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, in his amendment are, I find (others will disagree), unimpressive and I say they should not influence your Lordships when it comes to voting this evening.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Lord Birkett
My Lords, I rise to welcome this amendment with some warmth. I must needs declare an interest because, alone in this House, I work for the GLC, which makes me feel frightfully close to the front line where I am standing. However, a declaration 928 is usually followed by my prophesying doom for the arts. Your Lordships will be relieved to know that I do not intend to do that today, partly because we have a short debate in nine days' time and partly also because recent Government announcements on what would happen to the arts in the event of abolition have varied so dramatically and so happily from what was written down in Streamlining the Cities that I feel I must pay some tribute to the noble Earl, the Minister for the Arts.
When the Government published Streamlining the Cities they asked for comments; but it is not every Government and every Minister that take much notice of comments and certainly not such rational and generous notice as has been taken of those on the arts. I could have wished that some of the noble Earl's colleagues had behaved in the same way. Indeed I have hopes that they may yet, but certainly in the arts the world is better now than it was a little time ago.
However, never mind how understanding and how generous the reaction of a Minister, that cannot actually be an excuse for abolishing a whole tier of local government, let alone abolishing a whole democratic process, which is what is before us this evening: especially not to do so when there is such a demonstrable weight of public opinion against it. Public opinion is of the essence, it seems to me.
The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, quoted the now legendary pro-abolition speech of Ken Livingstone. Let me give him two other quotations. This is the first:In a democracy like ours change can only be carried through if we carry the people with us".The second is this:The change we resist is change for change's sake; change born of the ideology of an elite which says that it knows better than the British people as a whole, which asserts a right to impose its ideology on our nation, however coarsely it may cut across popular commonsense opinion".The first of those remarks was made by Mr. Patrick Jenkin and the second was the noble Viscount, Lord President of the Council.
It is fair to say that they were uttered in 1980, that is some four years ago and long before the measure before your Lordships' this afternoon had come anywhere near us. But I cannot help feeling that they have somehow come home to roost. The difference surely is that Mr. Livingstone in that much quoted speech was wrong: whereas I am sure your Lordships will agree Mr. Jenkin and the noble Viscount, in what I have quoted, were right.
Much has been made this afternoon of opinion being changed by the expensive propaganda put out by the Greater London Council. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, managed somehow to suggest that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester had been got at by it and the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, managed to suggest that it was that alone that was responsible for the public opinion which, I am glad to see he acknowledges, runs quite against his own party.
It will not do. To start with if an authority is threatened with sudden and unilateral dismissal it cannot but be expected to defend itself. And there is no such thing as expensive propaganda as if there were a kind of luxury propaganda that is persuasive as opposed to a cut price propaganda that is not. It 929 simply costs money to publish, and unless you publish, no opinion can be spread abroad. I do not for a moment believe that it is simply the GLC's campaign which is responsible for public opinion. I think that holds the opinion of the public of this country too cheap by half. After all, when there is a general election the whole country is inundated with propaganda—propaganda of an expensiveness which makes the current GLC campaign look like a jotting pad. Yet nobody assumes that it is only the propaganda that wins or loses an election.
Much has also been made of the mandate. It is clear that this precise measure before us this afternoon was not in the election manifesto, and therefore technically there is not a mandate for it. I find it questionable whether merely putting an item into an election manifesto and winning a large majority also constitutes a mandate. Whatever the technical explanation for it, for me a mandate is when something has been declared openly before the nation, debated by the nation, argued out, and some conclusion has been reached upon it.
Whatever may be said about the election manifesto, that line about the abolition was never a great plank of any election campaign. Until the public has been allowed the debate that we are having in your Lordships' House today and to see the rights and wrongs of it, I do not believe in the mandate.
Furthermore, let me say from my experience on the GLC that not only do the arrangements proposed for the interim year seem to be undemocratic, but they also seem to be less than helpful and sensible. What I think no one has quite realised is that, if one takes London for a start, London is to be administered in that year, it seems, by the elected representataives of 32 borough authorities: either two or three, or in three cases four of them. Boroughs have enough trouble running their own boroughs with their membership. The running of the GLC is an enormous task and to face 32 boroughs with the task of staffing it for a whole year with people, most of whom will have no knowledge of the workings of a metropolitan authority and very little taste for it since they were elected especially to represent the interests of one particular borough, seems to me to be a recipe for disaster.
Let me make a reference to another part of the Bill which may not be much debated tonight because, I suppose, by its nature it is secondary to the big constitutional issue before us. That is the staff commission. I raise it because in the Bill it stands there to safeguard the interests of the staff who work for the GLC and the six metropolitan authorities—and, goodness knows! their interests do need protecting, not merely because some of them are in danger of joining the already tragically swollen ranks of the unemployed, but because so little heed is paid to them. So much thunder there is upon the political Benches; and when you think of it there are, anyway, short of 100 councillors in London and similar numbers in the metropolitan boroughs. And in even this House and another place are a tiny number of people by comparison with those who work for the GLC and for the metropolitan boroughs.
When I first joined the GLC, coming from an entertainment world where numbers were small and 930 camaraderie almost obligatory, I felt that the GLC, with the numbers that it employed, could scarcely have any kind of esprit de corps or any kind of camaraderie. How wrong I was! In the four years that I have been there, I have never known a more dedicated bunch of people—and this is true right throughout the North of England as well as in the GLC. These are men and women who do not take part in the trench warfare of politics to which we are daily accustomed. They are people who do often humble but responsible duties and do so with enormous and unswerving cheerfulness and dedication.
Let me finish by quoting some lines written by Kipling on the subject of another underestimated profession:Let us now praise famous men—Men of little showing—For their work continueth,And their work continueth,Broad and deep continueth,Greater their knowing!
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, the House has listened with special attention to the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, and if there is one other noble Lord to whom they will also listen with special attention it is the noble Lord who is to follow me, the noble Lord, Lord Plummer, who was the Leader of the Conservative Party in London Government. I shall be very brief, partly because I have been requested to be very brief and partly because I am not so insensitive as not to be aware that there are 25 other speakers at least to follow me. I can only express the hope that anyone who reads my observations will not think that their paucity indicates any lack of concern. The issue today has been well spelled out from this point of view—it seems to me, the one, true democratic point of view—in the first place by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, and then by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and other speakers. I am not going to say anything more about the main democratic issue except that I endorse every word that they and others have said.
I would use up these very few minutes, however, in reply to something that was said by the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, about the voluntary sector. He held up a kind of assurance that all would be well. I see no reason to suppose that that is so. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, said that he takes the word of the Government. Well, of course; he is a Conservative and it is a Conservative Government and he is entitled to believe that every word they say will be honoured in the event. I do not doubt that the Government would like to do a lot for the voluntary sector. I am not sure that when they do it they would want it to be called bribing the electorate with their own money. That is apparently how the noble Lord sees any generous provision. Those were the words he used. I do not know whether he replies or does not reply when the admirable society over which he presides with so much distinction, MENCAP, draw the money. Is that bribing MENCAP with their own money? I thought, frankly, that the phrases were less happy than the happy ones which usually fall from the noble Lord.
I will say a few words about the voluntary bodies. The truth is that the voluntary bodies are full of very 931 deep concern and the concern will not be alleviated by what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin. According to the information supplied to me, the GLC—and I hope that nobody who has any information from the GLC will be accused of being corrupted by it; because otherwise I do not see how we could advance in political discussion—has become a major funder of voluntary organisations, of some 2,000 organisations, in 1984–85. The important point that I make here in these three or four minutes is that almost all the organisations funded by the GLC are against the proposals. Now, one might say, as was once said by a notorious lady, "They would, wouldn't they?" But it would not be necessarily so; if they believed they were going to get as much or more from the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, or the noble Lord, Lord Renton, they would just be happy with the change. But it is rather interesting. Something that I did not know before (and I do not think that it is going to be disputed) is that almost all the organisations not funded by the GLC are against the proposal. GLC funding appears to make no difference. If any noble Lord should ask how that can be, then, of course, it is because the help given by the GLC helps the homeless and the elderly and the poor; and everybody concerned in voluntary work is in favour of trying to help those people.
As the House has heard me say, perhaps once too often, I am the chairman of the New Horizon Youth Centre which receives generous assistance from the GLC, as do so many other organisations, and practically every Member of your Lordships' House is concerned with at least one of them. There is the Matthew Trust to help the Mentally Disordered, and I could go on and on.
Everyone is aware that it is very unlikely that the boroughs will step in. To take that organisation, the New Horizon Youth Centre, nearly all the people come from outside London. We are actually in Camden, which is a generous borough as boroughs go; but who supposes that if the GLC is simply abolished we shall get anything like the assistance we get now? Our population are not Camden people. They come from all over England and Scotland. That is just one small example of why we are quite confident that we shall lose, but 90 per cent. or so of the voluntary organisations appear to be convinced that they also will lose.
That really is all that I have time to say now. Some 22 years ago a number of us, led by Herbert Morrison, and including one or two on these Benches—the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton—did our best to fight the Bill to abolish the LCC. Feelings were pretty strong at that time. I was taken to see an alderman of the LCC, a man then dying of cancer of the throat so that he could only scribble on a slate. He was an old alderman of the LCC. He could just scribble on his slate: "I think the Minister ought to be castrated". Those were believed to be his last words. I am not suggesting that the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, ought to be castrated, but I do say that anyone who has any sense of democratic feeling will believe that this Bill ought to be castrated—which, I know, is the purpose of those on this side of the House.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ Lord Plummer of St. Marylebone
My Lords, may I first thank the noble Lord the Minister, my noble friend Lord Bellwin, for the way in which over the past few weeks he has courteously answered my requests for information. In past years we have soldiered together in local government and, to coin a phrase, we were worthy people doing worthy things together. I am sorry that I have to disagree with much of what he has said today. One of the difficulties of opposing this Bill is that there is a danger that one might be thought to be supporting the actions of the Labour Party at County Hall and the expensive spate of propaganda which has flowed from there. Their lunatic and wasteful policies have been, and are, an abuse of authority. Again and again, there has been an arbitrary use of power by a political authority in areas where they have no authority.
The sharp increase in rate levels imposed by the Labour-controlled GLC has had, and is having, a serious effect on the life of the capital city. Indeed, it can truly be said that the GLC has forced the Government to take action just as it was necessary for the Government to introduce rate capping which, for the benefit of the Whips, I loyally supported together with the reform of ILEA. Looking at the absurd decisions made over the past two years makes one believe that this militant majority party in control at County Hall is hell-bent on causing the maximum disagreement and thus the destabilisation of the area. But there is a very great difference indeed between reform and abolition, and due to the inverted way that this paving Bill is being introduced, I feel that the broad effects, if it is passed, must be examined at the same time.
Abolition sounds a neat solution in an election manifesto. How it was to be done and what new administrative system would take its place was never spelt out and in the short period since publication, in my opinion, not even carefully thought out. I have no doubt that the administration at County Hall has been an abrasive irritant to the Government, but so have others been, even my own; yet this does not mean that there is now no need for a second tier in Greater London.
There has been a second tier in London of one kind or another for 130 years. As the Royal Commission on Local Government in Greater London said in 1960:The factor common to all our enquiries was its unique position as the capital city and the fact that it was by far the largest concentration of urban development in the country".One-third of the population of England work and live within Greater London and a short distance beyond, so what is decided in London has a considerable influence far beyond its boundaries. I am in fact in favour of the widest possible devolution of powers to the London boroughs, but if this Bill is passed London would be the only major capital city in the world without a city-wide elected authority.
While I was leader of the GLC for six years, which makes me, I suppose, the longest serving leader so far—and now it seems that I am likely to keep this record—I did my best to devolve those responsibilities given to us by Parliament to the boroughs which were clearly more suitable to them, and there was more to 933 be done. It was important to make this cumbersome authority work in a practical and efficient way. It was `clear that the council was over-staffed, as was the ILEA, and very considerable reductions in numbers were achieved without affecting basic services. But one also became aware time and time again of the disagreements among the boroughs over any major matter except perhaps the size of the rate support grant. Indeed, they could not even agree among themselves as to what responsibilities they should take over from the GLC, although we were pressing such responsibilities upon them.
How then are these 33 units to reach voluntary agreement on contentious issues? The London Boroughs Association is a voluntary body with no statutory basis. It is currently split politically, with most of the 13 Labour boroughs having left to form their own body, the Association of London Authorities. If the GLC is abolished, without some small London-wide replacement body, it will mean more central Government control—and, my Lords, it is true that the man in Whitehall does not know best about local government matters.
In the light of my experience, I am convinced that there remains a need for a directly elected separate London assembly with tightly drawn spending powers and severely restricted authority, if decisions on contentious London-wide issues are to be reached democratically. As regards the future of the ad hoc committees which it is proposed shall take over various functions (and I accept that some of these can easily be devolved to the boroughs) I have grave reservations that it will be possible for a committee of London boroughs successfully to agree on such matters—I shall mention just two—as the continued building of seaside country houses for the elderly and the allocation of vacancies to them. This is, as the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, can probably confirm, a very difficult problem and has always been so.
Another is waste disposal, a growth industry; not very popular for social conversation, but to leave this to ad hoc arrangements between boroughs which may not agree with their neighbours is to invite chaos and an increase in costs. As the Royal Commission concluded:A unified organisation is necessary to earmark and safeguard the land required for tipping, to direct a positive programme of land reclamation, to organise transportation and to ensure that the collecting authorities conform to this programme.As time passes this will affect more and more of the Home Counties and at the same time large-scale incineration and sorting depots to service large areas will be required. I could go on and mention others, but the opportunity will no doubt come at the Committee stage.
If the Government are to abolish the GLC I submit that they have a very great responsibility to ensure that the substitute system will work and, if possible, will improve on the previous one. There is absolutely no evidence that this will be so, and as late as last week it was clear that the Department of the Environment has still to work out in detail what system will be substituted in some instances. At the same time, there is no guarantee that there will be financial savings by the passing of this Bill. The principal source of savings 934 would be through changes in GLC policy, which could easily save £200 million a year without affecting basic services.
The borough councillors who are to man the ad hoc committees will be briefed by their individual councils, which is not a recipe for strategic thinking. They will presumably hold their meetings during the day if they are not to clash with borough meetings which they must also attend. This is not easy, as I know to my cost, when one is also trying to earn one's living. Has anybody discovered whether competent volunteers are available on this basis? How will these borough representatives in the short 11 months available be able to master their new role and serve a useful purpose?
When the GLC and the new London boroughs were set up in 1964 the elected representatives had a whole year without executive power in which to organise themselves and, of course, those same elected representatives took over in 1965. The system proposed in this Bill has not had a precedent in Greater London. But, although the present GLC has been able to abuse its powers and waste ratepayers' money, I find that the way the Bill proposes to abolish this council and to transfer its functions to non-elected bodies and then to chothe them with the powers of a properly elected and constituted council to be repugnant.
As the London Standard says tonight, this Bill should be condemned as it stands because of,distaste for the means, and deep doubts about the end result".The proposals in this Bill are in a way an attack on democracy. I find this very strange in a week when a declaration of democratic values has been agreed by the Heads of State and Governments meeting in London.
Previous speakers have argued the case much better than I am able to do. Sadly, I have to say that this is a bad Bill—bad for London and therefore, in its wider influence, bad for the country. It has been hastily assembled and not thought through. I am sure that it will in the long run be bad not only for Parliament but, for that matter, for the Conservative Party if the precedents established are used in the wrong hands in the future. Because I think that changes should be made, I shall, with the greatest reluctance, vote for the amendment—in the hope that changes will be made.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Lord Irving of Dartford
My Lords, like the noble Earl, Lord Longford, I shall take a very short time in which to speak. Since 1979 the Government have introduced into the local government field draconian measures which have failed to achieve the objectives intended and which, if introduced by Labour, would have shocked the Conservatives and sent the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, to the barricades to defend local government against the measures that are doing us damage today and which, indeed, have separated him from almost every leading local government figure, many of them his erstwhile colleagues. But this Bill adds a further dimension to those actions, and it is also opposed by many Conservatives.
It is a bad Bill, paving the way for a worse Bill—a Bill that we are not allowed to see. It makes way for the 935 abolition of the metropolitan authorities, including the GLC. It cancels the 1985 elections and substitutes for them indirect elected authorities of an entirely different political complexion. It is a Bill which I believe takes steps which are entirely unprecedented. On a number of occasions the Secretary of State and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary in another place have held that there are a number of precedents for the action which is being taken by the Government. On 4th April, in answer to a Question, the Secretary of State said:The precedents are perfectly clear. If the honourable gentleman refers to schedule 3(b) to the London Government Act 1963 and to schedule 3(12) to the Local Government Act 1972, he will find precedents that are very close indeed to what we are putting before the House". [Official Report, Commons, 4/4/84; col. 947.]But there are no precedents for the thoroughly retrograde proposals in this Bill to cancel direct elections and to move to indirect elections. In 1962 and 1972 elections were cancelled, but the existing councillors continued until the changeover, and that is the proper way to deal with this matter.
This legislation is administratively bad because those who are appointed to the interim authority will have no experience at the level of, say, the GLC. Furthermore, the responsibilities which, in the GLC, are in the hands of people from all parties who know what local government is about will be passed to nominated temporary members with, in the main, no experience at this level at all, and then passed on (if the Bill is enacted) to a new system. All this is to happen within a period of three years, and I believe it is a recipe for chaos which will be both costly and confusing.
Worst of all is the change in political majority from Labour to Conservative which Parliament is being asked to bring about and which will change a Labour majority of four into a Conservative majority of between 14 and 23. The doubt about the size of the Conservative majority is inherent in the terms of the Bill, which provides for each borough to have two representatives. There will be problems with a borough like Fulham, which has 28 Conservatives, 28 Labour and two SDP, so that no one knows what the political persuasion of the borough representatives will be.
This action has been called by Mr. Edward Heath the biggest and worst piece of gerrymandering in the last 150 years. But it is clear that the Government are afraid of the verdict of the people at the polls, which, especially in London, has shown itself to be overwhelmingly opposed to their policy of getting rid of the GLC. However, it was the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry who let the cat out of the bag about the Government's real motivation when he said:The GLC is typical of this new, modern, divisive version of Socialism. It must be defeated. So we shall abolish the GLC.".Perhaps not all of us agree with Mr. Livingstone in everything he says or does, but in a democracy he ought not to be politically extinguished by a diktat of Parliament; and I believe that gerrymandering of this kind only reflects on those who use it and strengthens those against whom it is used.
The Secretary of State has rested much of his case on the fact that this was a manifesto commitment, 936 inferring that somehow this made it sacrosanct and protected it from all opposition. But, of course, this conflicts with the view of the Lord Chancellor, who said that:Doctrines of mandate and manifesto were…wholly unconstitutional.".He also said:It is, of course, right and proper that when the parties go to the country they should explain in broad language what they consider the situation requires in terms of general policy and what measures they propose to carry out if entrusted with a majority in Parliament. But, in practice, while before the election the manifesto is written rather in the style of an advertisement for patent medicines, after that election it is treated as a pronouncement from Sinai, with every jot and tittle of that unread, and often unreadable, document reverenced as Holy Writ".But I believe that we must also reject the doctrine that because a measure is included in a manifesto it would be improper for this House to use its delaying powers. This is an almost total rejection of the role of this House in delaying measures to enable the Government and the other place to think again, although I think the power should be used with great circumspection.
It is paralleled on this occasion by the assumption that this is a one-House Parliament and that the actions of this House can be taken for granted or ignored—because this is the effect of the Bill. What happens if this House rejects the new Bill? By then the whole system will have been destroyed and a new one put in its place, despite what the noble Lord has said this afternoon. If the Bill should be rejected on Second Reading by the House, as the Government assume will not happen, all the upheaval will have been for nothing.
The saddest thing about the last 20 years is the wasteful and destructive way in which legislation has been hashed and rehashed on many matters: on industrial relations, the organisation of the Health Service and in other areas such as local government. These have been time-consuming, confusing, expensive and divisive. The Government have wisely dropped their claim, in light of the Coopers and Lybrand Report, that the abolition of the metropolitan authorities will save some £120 million.
If there is something wrong with the structure of government in London or elsewhere—and the Secretary of State indicated the many criticisms which had been made of the GLC, including that of Mr. Livingstone himself; and bearing in mind his own comments to the Marshall Commission when he said:We have got progressively to return to the concept that the GLC is a strategic authority"—then the right way is not to act unilaterally but with a real concern to get agreement on the changes necessary. Consensus or agreement is not weakness or some soft option, although it is often very difficult to achieve. It is the means by which we achieve political co-operation and real progress in securing the public good with the minimum of conflict.
I hope that the House will support the reasoned amendment; that the Government will abandon this Bill and the thoroughly bad precedent it establishes; and that they will undertake a proper consultation with the intention of securing agreement about change—an exercise in which we can all join—to make it unnecessary for the whole matter to be rehashed by some other Government in 10 years' time.
§ 6.29 p.m.
The Lord Bishop of Wakefield
My Lords, it was said of one of my predecessors that when he received a letter from Downing Street inviting him to go to the See of Wakefield, his first and very prudent action was to go out and invest in a gazeteer in order to discover where Wakefield was. Your Lordships will of course hardly need to be reminded that it is the administrative centre of what in the past 10 years we have learned to call the Metropolitan County of West Yorkshire, though there are many in my part of the world who still regret the passing of the Ridings. But 10 miles down the road from us you will find a particular jewel in our diocesan crown, which is the town of Barnsley, where are located the offices of the South Yorkshire Metropolitan County Council, which is somewhat unkindly referred to in our local press as "The South Yorkshire People's Republic". Over the past few years I have seen the work of the two Yorkshire metropolitan county councils at first hand and I have got to know many of the councillors and many of the officials.
Like so many of your Lordships I, too, have been disturbed about the constitutional implications of this Bill, which empowers the Secretary of State to cancel the elections to the metropolitan authorities next year—a power which in this Bill as it is worded is not dependent on the successful passing of the abolition Bill. I think we are in danger of going down a rather slippery slope, if we are to create precedents in Parliament entrusting Ministers with such far-reaching executive powers—and, in this particular instance, the power to cancel elections affecting one-quarter of the English electorate—before the appropriate measure itself is laid before Parliament. We do not yet know what the abolition Bill will contain, what its detailed consequences will be or whether it will be passed. Surely, as a matter of principle, powers entrusted to the Minister should be contained in the appropriate measure, and the abolition measure itself, and not enacted in advance of it.
I also feel anxious about the intention to abolish the metropolitan county councils without a preliminary inquiry into their working and their effectiveness. To me as a layman and observer it seems that the basic problems are: what is the right relationship between central and local government, how is local government to be financed—particularly in these difficult days of economic recession—and what are the best and most appropriate structures for local government? For it does not necessarily follow that, if you abolish the metropolitan county council tier, the existing metropolitan district councils, as they now stand, will be the right bodies to exercise these functions or, necessarily, the right bodies for the future if you go over to a unitary system.
So would it not be better and wiser to have a careful inquiry into the working, the financing and the structure of local government before such major reorganisation is put in hand? After all, it is only 10 years since the metropolitan county councils were established in 1974, and it is entirely reasonable that after 10 years there should be a review of how the system is working and whether it should be changed. No one is claiming that the present pattern is 938 sacrosanct. No one thinks it is absolutely perfect. No doubt it could be improved.
Yet, so far as we know, the abolition of the metropolitan county councils will not save any money; indeed, the Coopers and Lybrand report suggests the contrary. In West Yorkshire, it has been conservatively estimated that the cost of abolition will be between £20 million and £30 million, and that the extra annual cost following abolition will be in excess of £8 million. It is envisaged that after abolition there will he joint boards for the police, the fire service and public transport, which account for 70 per cent. of MCC expenditure, and there will, too, be a variety of inter-authority committees for the county-wide functions.
But there is a real fear that these boards and committees will be less directly accountable to the county electorate, and also less efficient than they are now. A considerable question mark about the likely effectiveness of the joint boards has been put by the Bristol University School for Advanced Urban Studies. So many of us are worried by this Bill on constitutional grounds. There is the cancelling of the local elections in advance of the main Bill, which seems an unhappy precedent for the future; what will happen following the abolition of the MCCs is likely to be more costly; the joint boards and the inter-authority committees do not so far seem to command much confidence or enthusiasm and it is feared that the county electorate will have less direct access and control.
Already it is evident that the staffs of the metropolitan county councils are going through a period of great uncertainty. They are naturally concerned about their future, where they may have to move to and where they will live, and it is hard for good men and women to give of their best in a period of such uncertainty. Of course, nobody believes that the present set-up is perfect. Many of us accept that there are real problems about the financing and structuring of local government. But surely it is wiser and better to have a careful and thorough inquiry into these areas before such drastic reorganisation takes place. For these reasons, I am very unhappy about the Bill before us.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
My Lords, I know that it is unpopular with the Opposition to draw attention to the question of abolition and not to concentrate completely on the Bill in hand. But, before I concentrate on the Bill in hand, I should just like to remind the House of what my noble friend Lord Bellwin said—that the GLC now has only 16 per cent. of the services of Greater London to perform, for which it employs 30,000 people at a cost of £300 million, and that the metropolitan councils now have to perform only 27 per cent. of the services.
The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, complained that the Bill before us was not in the election manifesto. That is true, but the question of the abolition of the GLC was. A manifesto does not have the sanctity of law, nor of God. It may be three or four years before a manifesto can be put into practice. In that time, circumstances change. When the party wrote the manifesto they could not know how they would work 939 the hand over to the London boroughs and the metropolitan districts, if Parliament should decide that the GLC and the metropolitan counties shall be abolished.
Having said that, I agree that there is a constitutional problem here and there is also a democratic problem. But it must be remembered that one can have democracy in theory and democracy in practice. I think that the Government are correct in their transitional plan, in that they are carrying out democracy in practice, though perhaps not in theory, because, during the interim period of 11 months, they will be handing over the duties of the Greater London Council—if Parliament agrees that it and the metropolitan counties should be abolished—to properly elected councillors in the London boroughs and the metropolitan districts who have had great experience in local government. That may not be strictly democratic in theory, because they will be nominated, but if the GLC had behaved in a reasonable manner there would have been no need for that. As my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter pointed out, the GLC has not given any help at all to the Government as regards information or figures to prepare the way for handing over to the London boroughs and the metropolitan districts, if Parliament decides that the GLC and the metropolitan councils will be abolished. I quite agree that it would be far simpler to extend the life of these authorities for the interim period of 11 months, but, if they are not prepared to co-operate, there will be absolute chaos. Therefore I believe that the Government are right in their decision to hand over responsibility to their nominated candidates in the London boroughs and the metropolitan districts during the transitional period.
I have said before that the time has come for a written constitution. If we had had a written constitution, none of this would have happened. Our unwritten constitution has served us extremely well in the past, but times have changed and, with due respect, the type of politician has changed. Everything changes. I hope that in the near future the Government will get together with all the parties and the learned people of the realm and work out, apart from a complete reform of local government, a written constitution—though perhaps I should not put a written constitution in the same bracket.
I was interested in what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Birkett. He referred to the fact that there had been an opinion poll among the GLC electorate and said that either 59 per cent. or 69 per cent. of the electorate—I cannot remember which—were against the abolition of the GLC. I am not sure about the position in the metropolitan county councils, but two-thirds of the electorate of the GLC do not pay rates. Naturally, therefore, they wish the GLC to be retained, and especially Mr. Livingstone, because he is very liberal with other people's money. The extraordinary fact is that at County Hall in the 1970s Mr. Livingstone made a speech in which he said that he was in favour of the abolition of the GLC. Now that he is leader of the GLC he has obviously changed his mind!
940 I shall support the Government in the Lobbies. It is the only practical course to pursue in the circumstances, should Parliament decide that the GLC ought to be abolished.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Lord Molloy
My Lords, this has been a sad day for Parliament and a particularly sad day for this Chamber. I welcome Bills which develop the clash and clang of politics. Political issues exercise democracy, because they stimulate. But this is a foreign Bill. It is an authoritarian measure which is opposed by all of our political parties, at all levels. It is the product of a majority of one small part of our political set-up, the Cabinet. The Cabinet is important, but not even a majority there should be able to produce a Bill of this kind. If, therefore, I had been selecting somebody to stand by me to oppose this measure, I should not have hesitated to call upon the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin. But, alas! his speech today would have been ruled completely out of order in another place. He is experienced in local government, but regrettably he has given a helping hand to raping our constitution. He has assisted in the outrage which has been performed and which is being debated today. I deeply regret that he has deserted the yeomen and joined the cavaliers.
The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, said that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester had swallowed hook, line and sinker the propaganda of those opposed to this measure. The fact is that the majority of the Cabinet have swallowed hook, line and sinker totalitarian, authoritarian manoeuvres. That is not a particularly nice thing to have to say. However, one must have the courage to say what one thinks of a measure which, right across the political board, is recognised as something which, if not fully authoritarian, is cloaked with authoritarianism by Conservatives, by the Labour Party, the Liberal Party, the Social Democratic Party and the independents.
But the Government say that they are all out of step and only the Government are right. But not all members of the Government say that.
Edmund Burke, the founder of the Tory Party, warned us—though I say this in relation to the massive majority in the House of Commons which the present Government have—that the greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse. We have seen a number of abuses, but this is easily the most detestable. This measure is alien to British reason, and it should not be given the force of law. There is a great principle that to govern is not a property but a trust. The majority of the members of this Government's Cabinet have abused that principle.
Furthermore, the love of liberty is, by and large, the love of others. The love of power is the love of ourselves. The party bosses of the Tory Party have put themselves before not only all others in their party, but before all people in all other parties and before all people in no party. I believe that it is the most disgraceful measure which has been introduced in any British Parliament during the past 100 years. But tonight we have a choice.
Once again I quote Edmund Burke, the founder of the Tory Party. He said:It is not what a lawyer"—941 I would say a Whip—tells me I may do, but what humanity, reason and justice tells me I ought to do".That, I hope, is what will prevail tonight. When Members of your Lordships' House make up their minds tonight, I hope they will realise that this is by no means a normal party issue. We are concerned about the good name of democracy, the good name of this Chamber, the good name of all of our political parties, including the Conservative Party.
I should like to call in aid a verse from our great National Anthem. Tonight I hope we shall all join against the majority in the Cabinet and that together we shall confound their politics and frustrate their knavish tricks. I say that not for any particular party advantage, but to preserve the age-old dignity of this Mother of Parliaments, whose name, if this measure were to be successful, would be stained forever. I hope that it will not be. I beg all noble Lords who are free to do so to impose upon the Cabinet majority not defeat, not banishment—that would be ridiculous—but the wisdom of second thoughts and a chance to recognise the dignity of Parliament. If they can do so, instead of degrading Parliament, they will allow Parliament to triumph and aid the good name of British democracy.
§ 6.49 p.m.
§ Baroness Faithfull
My Lords, this is a difficult debate in which to speak. I presume to do so as one who has worked in local government for nigh on 20 years, four years of which were spent with the then London County Council. I have been involved in three reorganisations. In case your Lordships should think that I am biased in favour of local government, I should also add that I have spent many years as a civil servant.
In this debate, I seek to speak on change; change in the structure of local government. Change there must sometimes be—but if there is to be change, it must be unhurried, based on firm and agreed foundations, and lasting. The process of change in the reorganisation of local government is disturbing and dispiriting to staff. Worse still, it diminishes—at any rate for a time—the service to ratepayers.
Perhaps I may speak first of metropolitan counties. There is a very real division of opinion in the country. The district councils, to whom the work would be devolved, are of course in favour. But I should say to my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter that many of us have received letters and reports from constituents in the metropolitan authority areas, and these have been in line with those received by the right reverend Prelates the Bishops of Rochester and Wakefield.
In 1976 another Administration disregarded the recommendations made in the Redcliffe-Maud Report for unitary authorities, despite the pleas of local government officers—of whom I was one. The calibre of staff in the metropolitan authorities is high. Despite the time spent in consultations, the metropolitan authorities—against expectations, in 1976—worked, and worked hard, to develop a structure of interaction with district councils. This is now to change, only 10 years after they were set up.
I have been impressed by the calibre and devotion of the staff in metropolitan authorities—and, indeed, by 942 the staff of the Greater London Council. I believe that my noble friend the Minister spoke of them all as being able; and the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, also spoke with warmth of their devotion.
There is another factor that inevitably means, and will always mean, change. It is the growing maelstrom created by party politics in local government. In the past 15 years the focal point of local government as it used to be has been swinging in a most alarming, frightening, disturbing and even menacing fashion. No longer is the focal point always wise administration for the well-being of the population within the resources of the ratepayer. Party politics have entered the arena of local government as the central focal point of policy of some councils—in particular (and I say this with great sadness) of the Greater London Council.
Much is done by the Greater London Council for others, but I suggest that it is done to enlist favour with some ratepayers rather than give a service. It was T.S. Eliot who wrote:It is the greatest treason to do the right thing for the wrong reason".Nevertheless, it is surely for the people of London, and not for the Government, to register how they should be ruled and how they should be governed.
The party political element that has now entered some spheres of local government will inevitably, in years to come, mean change—a change of structure. Successive administrations will wish to overturn the policies of previous administrations. When the White Paper Streamlining the Cities was published, I consulted with the law departments of three universitities with which I am connected as to the constitutional position. I was advised that the action being taken by Her Majesty's Government was not unconstitutional, for the simple reason—as my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard has said—that we have no written Constitution. Local government will never be stable and secure, and give a high standard of service, while there are constant changes made by different parties and by different administrations. I would therefore put forward a plea that serious thought be given to establishing a Royal Commission to consider drawing up a written Constitution for this country.
I appreciate that this speech is wide of the interim paving Bill before your Lordships' House today. I shall abstain from voting as I do not feel that I can support this paving Bill—believing as I do that unhurried time should be spent on the formulation of basic, lasting and unchanging principles on which local government should be based. I have come to believe that this can only be achieved by a written Constitution for this country, which would carry with it, as an essential element, a Bill of Rights.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Lord Ezra
My Lords, during the course of this important debate two overriding issues have emerged. The first is the constitutional issue. Several of us feel misgivings on that score. These were very powerfully ventilated and exposed in the remarkable speech made by my noble friend Lord Hooson—during the course of which he quoted the most impeccable source.
943 The other problem about which many of us have misgivings is the practical issue of what is to replace the GLC. We are here concerned with a purely preliminary Bill—the paving Bill. But the word "paving" suggests a certain direction and we cannot realistically give our support to a Bill that is leading us in a direction where many of us have so many misgivings.
The noble Lord, Lord Plummer, with his very considerable experience of London affairs, expressed concern (which I must say I found very convincing) about the lack of strategic thinking which appears to have been given to the successor organisation. It does not seem to me that the problem is solved, in a simplistic way, by saying that, so far as London is concerned, everything should be handed back to the 33 boroughs. As time goes on, it is becoming more and more clear that there are a number of functions which will have to be continually performed on what is generally described as a London-wide basis.
In this connection, I was interested to read a Bow Group paper written quite recently by Mr. Cyril Taylor, who is the deputy leader of the Conservative group on the GLC, on the subject of reforming London's government. As one would expect from such a source, Mr. Taylor is not in favour of the present administration at the GLC. Also, he favours the boroughs being given the maximum degree of autonomy. Nevertheless, he concluded in great detail that there are a large number of functions—in fact, he listed no fewer than 19—which he considers can only effectively be performed on a London-wide basis. Listening to the debate today, I identified three or four issues of that kind.
Now the Government's proposals, as they are so far emerging, are to deal with these particular issues on an ad hoc basis. In the similar debate in another place the Secretary of State for the Environment identified some of these issues. In some cases he proposed that that function should go to another body. In other cases he proposed that he should consider setting up a new statutory institution. In yet other cases he proposed that a committee of the boroughs should handle the matters but that there should be a degree of central funding.
It does not seem to me that this is a very rational way of dealing with the matter. We are likely to be left with about 19 or 20 functions, which were previously co-ordinated in a single authority, being handled in a whole variety of ways. I was very pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Plummer, referred to waste disposal. It is an activity with which I happen to be connected in a commercial way and I therefore declare an interest. Waste collection is one thing, and that is dealt with by the boroughs; but the disposal of that waste in an effective way is a massive undertaking. Your Lordships may not be aware of the fact that 15 million tonnes of waste are generated in London every year. Unless this is effectively handled on a co-ordinated basis, a great deal of damage could be done. It is only on such a basis that containerised vehicles, which are now being introduced in the interests of public health and efficiency, can be brought in. It is only on such a basis that a proper selection and rationalisation of 944 disposal points can be made. It is only on such a basis that an entirely new way of disposing of waste by converting it into much needed energy can be undertaken; such as the remarkable Edmonton project where waste material is being converted at a combined heat and power plant, and which could lead to other developments of that sort.
Therefore, I should like to say that I, for one, am extremely concerned about where this paving Bill is leading us. I feel that until we have a proper strategic concept of how these London-wide functions are to be dealt with on a co-ordinated and rational basis we ought to hold back and ask the Government, by passing the Motion proposed by my noble friend, to think again.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
My Lords, the comments I shall make in the brief time that I shall be speaking will be concentrated upon the West Midlands County Council. That is not because I do not support the propositions which have been put forward on the GLC, but I feel that as the only speaker from the West Midlands I should be putting that point of view. The West Midlands is predominantly Birmingham, as the largest city, surrounded by many smaller local authorities. The boundary round the whole of the urban area comprising the West Midlands contains no green field site. It is a complete built-up area. What is of great concern in the West Midlands is the collapse of the West Midlands economy, which is on a scale unprecedented in this century. It is the contribution of the West Midlands County Council towards economic development that I wish to single out during this debate, without in any way underestimating the services provided by the rest of the county.
The West Midlands County Council has attracted widespread attention for the vigour with which it has pursued its economic policies. The county has worked in very close co-operation with its districts—with Birmingham City, Sandwell, Wolverhampton, Coventry and, not so closely perhaps, with Solihull. But the co-operation has been also with the trade union movement, the CBI, with chambers of commerce and many others. The whole of the county has put forward a united front in an effort to re-create once again the thriving region which used to be called the workplace of the whole of this country. It was the manufacturing unit which has now got the high unemployment figure of approximately 16 per cent.
If your Lordships will permit me, I shall quote briefly from the report of the Confederation of British Industry and the Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors. It is a report that they are now presenting to the Government. It states:The West Midlands situation becomes worse as the rate of dereliction and factory closures outstrips the determined efforts to achieve regeneration.The blight and deterioration of this huge industrial asset will continue because of the uncertainty caused by the Government's unwillingness to allocate capital to the infrastructure.Then follows the important part of the report:The appallingly ill-timed reform of metropolitan authorities will, in all probability, make the task of regeneration impossible by delaying it well into the next down-turn in the world economic cycle.945 That is not a comment from any Socialist organisation. It is in the report that the CBI and the engineering contractors are sending to the Minister.
I shall not dwell on the democratic issues. The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, presented those issues very well. I shall go on to suggest that with your Lordships' intelligence, experience and commonsense your Lordships tonight will not be buying the pig-in-the-poke which the Government are recommending. As a former member of Birmingham City Council, to my mind local democracy is about local accountability. Our tradition in this country is to elect councillors to councils, not to appoint councillors for one council to oversee the affairs of another council.
I shall close on the description that many have linked to this Bill. It has been described as a "paving" Bill. I would add a further adjective to that and call it a "crazy paving" Bill.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ Lord Marshall of Leeds
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, used the following words in discussing the role of the London borough councillors. He said, "The borough councillors were not elected to run the GLC". Of course, we must then inquire what does running the GLC entail and what is the GLC? Like many other speakers, I shall find it quite impossible to produce Hamlet without the prince. So if I use the word "abolition" from time to time I hope I shall be forgiven and that your Lordships will understand.
Some of your Lordships may be aware that in 1977 I was asked by the Greater London Council to undertake a review of its role. I was very careful to choose—because I chose—the 13 assessor advisers to help me. I was very careful to preserve a political balance and spread in my assessors. The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, was one of those assessors who I chose to help me. I regret of course that the opposition at County Hall at that time took a conscious decision not to give evidence to my inquiry or to have any official contact with it.
We had to do the best we could, and we had to gain by the back door the evidence that we should otherwise have got openly. That, I thought, was a very justifiable thing to do. I need hardly say that the question of abolition was not included in my terms of reference, though in my report I said that, supposing it had been, I would at that time have been against it.
I published my report in 1978, possibly unfortunately, after 13 months, and I had 13 assessors. When I look back at the report now, some six years later, I try to relate it to conditions as we see them in 1984, for since then the world has moved on. Six years ago I concluded—and these are the words of the report—that,the Greater London Council has failed to make its role understood in London …has found it hard to identify the job it was supposed to do …it has forfeited the confidence of the people it serves because it has not been able to demonstrate its relevance to their lives".I thought that it seemed to many ordinary people an expensive irrelevance. I concluded that, in general, too big a share of people's hard-earned income was being swallowed up by County Hall, and the town hall, for 946 that matter, which gave far too little in return. I expect that very many Londoners feel exactly the same today.
I felt that many executive functions, such as housing and certain planning functions, should be handed down and devolved from the GLC to the London boroughs, and I so recommended. I also said that there should be a devolution of powers from central Government to the GLC—resource allocation was one of them—to achieve what I thought would be an enhanced influence for the GLC as a strategic authority, but I realised that there would need to be a Government willingness by way of legislation, or amendment of existing legislation, to make that possible. I regret to say that the Government of the day displayed no interest in what I was trying to do and showed no willingness to legislate to make things better.
After all, I was trying to restore to the Greater London Council a responsible and worthwhile role. I wanted to end delay, to end overlap, and to end duplication. I sought greater value for money. I suppose I attempted to arrest what I thought was the in-built obsolescence I detected from its inception and the Herbert Commission. I tried to restore a worthwhile role. I have not changed that view, but I recognise that this approach has been flatly rejected by all major parties. I greatly regret this, but it is the plain fact.
The Alliance parties have not promised to strengthen the GLC, for one very good reason: it is obvious that they wish to abolish it altogether. Their 1983 election manifesto said that their proposals for regional government,would inevitably involve the eventual abolition of the Metropolitan Counties and the GLC".I detect no great enthusiasm among the public of this country for regional government.
As for the Opposition party in another place, in 1981 its local government spokesman said that the Greater London Council had,a dubious role to play".and that,we shouldn't regard the existence of the GLC as sacrosanct".He said that to his own local government conference in February 1981. Is it really likely that Parliament will ever think differently?
It is also worthy of note that it was not my party, but an all-party committee of another place which unanimously recommended that London Transport should be removed from the direct control of the Greater London Council. That is not all. Since I wrote my report, the GLC has lost—some of them because of my recommendations—its housing responsibilities, I believe quite rightly. It has gained no new functions. The Inner London Education Authority—where I am delighted to say my advice was accepted—is to be retained, and I had so recommended. It will soon be directly elected. This, I think, has been warmly welcomed by your Lordships, but it means that the GLC, even if retained, would lose even its nominal authority over education in inner London.
I realise that there now seems no possibility of any Government, of any political colour, strengthening the GLC in the way I should have liked. Again, I have to 947 say that I greatly regret that, but it is the fact. The question is whether any party intends to retain an authority which has had its powers and functions so progressively eroded and emasculated and which has few, if any, prospects of reversing that trend. The GLC is not responsible for the police, nor for the personal social services, nor for education in the outer boroughs. It is due to lose its control over education in inner London, It is not responsible for the health service. It has already lost the ambulance service. Housing and certain important planning functions, on my recommendations, have been largely devolved to the boroughs, and London Transport will soon go. In these unhappy circumstances, I am sorry to say that it seems like a hollow vessel, where every whisper seems very much like a shout.
It is surely kinder, and, I should have thought, more sensible, to face facts and to make the best arrangements we can for devolving the few remaining functions to the boroughs. But we must, I think, look to the future—a future where, if a forum were ever needed to deal with otherwise insuperable problems of a London-wide nature, a Minister for London would be no more fitting an alternative than would a grand committee of London parliamentary Members.
Let me say right away that I do not propose to deal with the constitutional legality regarding cancelling elections of authorities about to be abolished. That happened in the two previous reorganisations; but I welcome the assurance of my noble friend the Minister that the elections will be immediately reinstated if the main abolition Bills falls at any stage. The real choice is not whether the elections should be suspended; it is whether to allow the present GLC and other metropolitan councils to run on for an extra 11 months, or whether as authorities they should be run by borough and district nominees, respectively, during this quite short transitional period.
The democratic principles have been amply argued on all sides of the House. They, I think, are fairly finely balanced, and a good deal has been said about democracy. The noble Lord, Lord Sefton, spoke about aldermen. I thought that he was going to complain that the point about aldermen was that they were not elected by the electorate. Instead, he said that they were a levelling and a civilising influence. The fact is of course that aldermen were never democratically elected and many a council exercised a majority in council by reason of its ability to appoint aldermen in excess of the opposition parties. Some councillors did not allow any opposition parties to have any aldermen at all. This is how many councils retained—with their eyes open—control against the wishes and the votes of the electors.
A good deal is spoken about democracy, but let us see how democracy affects the Inner London Education Authority. For 20 years the Inner London Education Authority has been made up of indirectly elected members—that is, members of the GLC and members of the London boroughs, who are democratically elected as such but have then been appointed by their borough or their council to sit on ILEA. There is no direct democracy about that and yet that state of affairs has obtained for 20 years. When, indeed, in the Act provision was made for a review of the Inner 948 London Education Service which should have been put before Parliament by 31st March 1970, that provision was removed by the Government of the day in 1967. So nobody in that Government had any qualms about democracy.
Let us see what has happened since. It is a very miserable story. Local government has had the following functions removed from it, from under its very nose, by Parliament. These functions are no longer run by democratically elected members. It has had the gas removed; it used to run all or most of the gas works. It has had electricity removed. Health has gone. Water has gone. Transport has gone to the PTEs. The police have gone to police authorities. The ambulance service has gone. I cannot tell you which Government wins the prize for the number of quangos it has set up in the life of one Parliament. But of course it is well known to all that people who sit on the boards of those functions that have been removed from local government are people who owe their loyalty to the person who nominated them. They do not owe their loyalty to the electorate because they were not elected. They owe their loyalty to the Minister who appointed them. So be it, there is probably nothing new in that, but sometimes when we speak about democracy and get hot under the collar, and emotive, and perspire on a nice hot day like today, we seem to forget that democracy is a very emotive term, very hard to define, very hard to live up to.
The Government have argued that the GLC and the metropolitan county councils should not have their terms of office extended for an extra 11 months. I do not know of any means whereby the present legislation would allow an election for the Greater London Council for a period of 11 months or for the metropolitan councils for a period of 11 months. It would have to go the whole term, and, if not, of course one could say that they were not elected, they had no mandate.
On the other hand the Opposition argue that there are precedents for extending their term of office. But they will also recognise that in previous reorganisations there was simply no alternative. There is no alternative now. In this reorganisation there is this alternative, because the successor authorities, the districts and the boroughs, already exist and they are powerful and democratic bodies in their own right. If the democratic argument is finely balanced it is surely right to look at practicalities, and I think these are decisive. I think it would be naive to expect the majority of party members of the Greater London Council and the metropolitan councils to be ready and anxious to co-operate in the exercise of the transfer of powers to the districts and boroughs. I feel they would be more likely to be inclined to frustrate the wishes of Parliament at every conceivable turn. By contrast, the boroughs and the districts have a vested interest in making the transitional period a success. They will want to make the changeover work. They will face the consequences of their actions, for they will answer to the electorate.
I conclude that there is no great constitutional argument against this. I am confident there are sound practical reasons in favour of taking such a course. I am not impressed by any allegation that this and that was not in a government mandate. I do not believe it 949 is right to look at the fine print and say, "Ah, that was not in the mandate". One cannot put everything in the mandate. Every tittle that you can conceive cannot go in the mandate. Just because you did not see it in black and white that there was going to be a paving Bill to make the necessary sound, sensible arrangements for the smooth transition to the London boroughs and the metropolitan districts—just because that was not there—I do not think this is something about which one can be too critical.
I shall certainly vote against the amendment. I shall do so for the following reasons. The amendment regards this Bill as a dangerous precedent. I believe it is not the first precedent. It says the Bill seeks to give non-elected bodies the powers of properly constituted councils. I say, what about ILEA? It notes that it was not in the Conservative party's manifesto. I have dealt with that. It regrets its introduction before Parliament has decided whether or not to abolish those councils. I ask your Lordships, is there a hope in hell that any political party will wish at this stage not to abolish those councils, in view of what I have said? In those circumstances, I shall vote against the amendment and I ask my colleagues to do the same.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ The Earl of Perth
My Lords, like many of your Lordships who have spoken today, there are many things in this Bill which I do not like, but as there are 35 or more speakers and most of those who have spoken have already given the outline of almost everything—and I am quite sure that those who are to follow will complete the task—I do not intend to detail my dislikes. However, I suspect that I differ from most of those who have spoken against the Bill because neither do I like the amendment. Indeed, I think it should be opposed. It is a way round a convention, which is the convention that we do not vote against the Second Reading of a Bill which has been passed in another place. I know the movers of this amendment recognise this, but, all the same, it is a way round it. I do not think that your Lordships should support such circumlocution, such circumnavigation, or whatever is the appropriate word.
Your Lordships will recall that recently a similar device was tried in the case of the Rates Bill, but before that it was not a usual practice. Indeed, it was extremely rare except when it came to the question of a Private Member's Bill. In my belief we in this House should be very careful before we start adopting such a procedure as common practice. By all means, in a Second Reading debate let us bring forward all the objections that we have to a Bill, but we should stop at that and not muddy the waters—because that is what this amendment has been doing—when the real purpose is to consider what are the objections to the Bill.
The proper and effective way to deal with these objections and dislikes is at the Committee stage or at other stages of the Bill. I understand very well the anxieties of the Churches as expressed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester; but I believe the Churches are misguided to support the amendment rather than working to get things changed at a later stage. I know there is considerable anxiety about Clause 1, lest in some way or another it 950 derogates from the powers of this House. I believe these fears are misguided; but if they have any force the way to get it right is by amendment at the Committee stage and at subsequent stages of the Bill. To support the amendment does not achieve this purpose, for it has no real power or force.
I fear it is unrealistic to expect that those who have put down the amendment will reconsider their position, having made their point, and not press it to a Division. But it is very much my hope that if they do force a Division they will reconsider in future whether it is really a desirable practice; whether it is a tactic which we in this House should use. The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, argued—I have his words here—that the way for this House to exercise effective influence and to make the Government pause and think is by passing the amendment. No, my Lords. The way to have effective power in this House and to have the Government pause and think is at the Committee stage and other stages of this Bill.
To those on the Cross-Benches I say, therefore: "Do not vote for the amendment even though you may dislike some parts of the Bill". I am quite clear that this amendment procedure on a Second Reading is distracting, inappropriate and unworthy of this House. It is (dare I say it?) too clever by half.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, attempted desperately to hide from his supporters the real issue of this Bill. He tried to frighten them with the name of Ken Livingstone. We on this side of the House have many doubts, which today we share with many Conservatives, over the policies and attitudes of Mrs. Thatcher. According to the logic of the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, we should be trying to legislate to abolish the House of Commons. Rather, it is our intention to persuade the electors to reject her in an election.
The central issue, and the only issue, in this Bill has nothing to do with the actions of the GLC or Ken Livingstone. Speaking as one who has experience in Manchester, in Tyne and Wear, and in Yorkshire, I want to say that the central issue of this Bill is the proposed disfranchisement of 17 million people in the capital and in the metropolitan counties; and nothing else counts, either in this Bill, or in the vote which will take place tonight.
Over the last 150 years there have been two strands in Conservative history; and I speak specifically to the Conservatives and, indeed, to the Cross-Benchers. The first has been benevolent, perhaps patriarchial, but caring. The second has been brash; it has been mercenary; it has been insensitive. It is the first of those strands which was described by Lord Tennyson, from my own part of the country, when, speaking of this land, he said:Where Freedom slowly broadens down,From precedent to precedent".It is that strand which has assisted and developed the wider enfranchisement of the people of Britain since 1832—in 1867, in 1884 and 1885, in 1918, and in 1928; and we believe that it is that strand that is affronted by this Bill. The precedent that has been established over the last 150 years is one of extending 951 the right of franchise, extending it from simply property to people. This Bill would take away that right, would disfranchise 17 million people.
My Lords, we are unelected. We, the unelected, surely cannot reverse this historic trend and set a new precedent which may very well be followed by people of whom nobody in this House would approve—a new precedent for disfranchisement.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
My Lords, I have listened with great attention to this interesting debate and I should like to add a few words regarding my own feelings about it. I see this paving Bill as a necessary piece of machinery in preparation for the main Bill in the next session; and, incidentally, the Government have a clear mandate for that Bill. Therefore, as I see it, if the Government proposal to abolish the GLC and metropolitan counties is justified, the paving Bill is also right.
I shall not speak about the metropolitan counties in the few minutes that I wish to take. For me, the main issue is London. I confess to having serious heart-searchings about this matter. For nearly 20 years I had a close relationship with the GLC and, before it, with the LCC. I was chairman of the Standing Conference for London and South-East Regional Planning, which was an advisory body elected by the local authorities, including London. It depended for its effectiveness on mutual confidence and friendly relations, with mighty London at the centre. In those days old Ike Hayward was the leader. Although there were various changes of political leadership there and in Westminster, we always had friendly relations and the machine worked extremely well in an advisory capacity.
Naturally, after a very long and happy period of working with them, my first reaction to my colleagues' proposal to abolish the GLC was to have serious doubt. But I was bound to recognise, as has been said several times this evening, that the functions of the GLC have been reduced in a very major fashion. What remain are relatively minor functions, and probably great economies could be made if they disappeared.
I am bound to say that during the past year or so the ever-increasing bombardment of the PR campaign for the retention of the GLC—full-page advertisements in the national newspapers, posters all over the place, floods of letters addressed to me personally, though obviously written from a central source—has finally changed my feelings about abolition. We have had the spectacle of the GLC conducting a propaganda campaign for its self-preservation, financed by millions of pounds extracted from ratepayers who already are groaning under its penally high rate demands. As we have heard, London industry and commerce have had their rates doubled in three years and are complaining to high heaven.
To expect them to finance this huge campaign, comparable in size with a political campaign by a major party in a general election, seems to show the ultimate disregard for this long-suffering section of the community. I may say that I am not among them. Far from convincing me of the righteousness of the cause, it has convinced me of exactly the opposite. It really 952 has convinced me that the present GLC leadership—and to some extent that of the MCCs as well—will use their vast resources to the utmost in their campaign against the Government at Westminster. Therefore, in the interests of maintaining stable government there is, in my opinion, no alternative but to proceed to abolition.
That brings me to say a few words as regards the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hooson. The most serious part of it is the charge of replacing the elected GLC and MCC councillors by non-elected bodies. They are elected; but we then come to the alternatives that are in front of us. We either extend the present GLC councillors' tenure for another 11 months and ditto that of the metropolitan county councillors, or we allow the May 1985 elections to proceed to elect councillors for a further 11 months. I recognise that either of those alternatives—although neither is particularly attractive—could be made workable if the GLC and the metropolitan county councils were willing to co-operate. But they have made it perfectly plain that they are not willing to co-operate.
In those circumstances, bearing in mind the Government's intention to go ahead with abolition, it is justified, in my opinion, to make the transition as soon as possible in order to remove the many disturbing doubts and uncertainties in the present situation. In this respect I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter. Furthermore, I also agree with my noble friend—and this point was also made by my noble friend Lord Marshall—that the appointment of the London borough councillors and the district councillors to the successor authorities is right; they are the right people to appoint for the transition because they have the maximum incentive to get it right for the future good government of their authorities.
In conclusion, I should like to make one point which I accept is not related to the amendment, but which is very much related to the subject. In all the 50 years in which I have taken part in public life in local and national government, I have never before seen local government authorities engaged in an outright attack on the national government at Westminster. If ever my party did so, I should be deeply ashamed of it. Differences of opinion?—certainly; tensions?—yes, often; but always at the end of the day local government has recognised the obligation to accept and work with the policies of the national government at Westminster and in return it has expected, and got, government acceptance of the right of local authorities to have local interpretation.
But in the past five years something quite different has happened. The main local authorities—and GLC and the MCCs—have mounted a major challenge in refusing to co-operate with government financial policies. That, plus the potential large-scale economies in removing a whole tier of local government, is the justification for proceeding to abolition without delay. This paving Bill, therefore, is the essential part of proceeding to that end.
Although this is a major and a tough decision, I see it—far from being unconstitutional—as the obligation of the Government at Westminster to protect their 953 function of government in order to carry out good and stable government in the interests of the whole community. Therefore, my personal feelings about long and happy past associations must take second place to the national interest. The Government's Bill has my firm support.
§ 7.44 p.m.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
My Lords, I rise to speak briefly in this debate—in accordance with the time schedule that has been set—and I rise to speak not about the second Bill that will be before us in the next Session, but about the exercise that is being commenced today. I wish to put my point of view. However it is masked, this is a gross interference with the democratic processes of this country. I am a born democrat and a convinced democrat like, I think—or at least I hope—the overwhelming majority of noble Members of this House. What we are seeing here is an attempt by the Government to interfere with the rule of the ballot box. If democracy does not mean the rule of this country at various levels and by various types of authorities, by the ballot box, then it does not mean anything. That, in my view, is one of the most dangerous propositions that is before us today.
I was a little surprised that in his speech the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin—who I have known a long time in local government—could lightly cast aside a franchise which he had been given in the county elections. The history of the matter—and I was involved at a pretty high level in the old City of Manchester—is that the very proposals that the Government are now dismantling, were forced on the local authorities despite total opposition from all the political parties in local government. Those proposals were rammed down their throats in accordance with what was then the thinking of that particular Conservative government. For the first time in my life I had a county vote. I think that there were between 10 million and 12 million people in the metropolitan area. I am not speaking about the GLC because, unlike some noble Lords in this House, I am not familiar with it. But for the first time I was given the right to vote in a county election. Since my ennoblement last November and since I came to this place, like all noble Lords, whether they are hereditary or life Peers, I have sacrificed the right to vote a representative to Westminster. Noble Lords automatically cease to have the right to vote and to send a representative to Westminster.
So what happens? I have, in fact, three votes: one for the metropolitan county; one for the City of Leeds, where I now live; and one for the European Parliament. But this Bill removes my right to vote in a local Government election. I really wonder whether that case can be sustained. I wonder whether noble Lords opposite realise that they are giving up one of the few democratic rights that they possess. Noble Lords should think deeply about it before they cast it away.
I was rather saddened to hear my old political opponent, (but in a friendly sense) the noble Lord, Lord Marshall, proceed in a rather gentle way to try to demolish the case for the GLC. I have to revert to a previous statement which I made and say that I was with the noble Lord when he was at Leeds. I was one 954 of the most fervent opponents of the proposal to set up the metropolitan county.
I was motivated to take that view because Manchester was the biggest centre of influence in that part of Lancashire and I did not want to see Manchester lose any of its powerful influence. If we look at the six metropolitan counties, there is not one that does not have a large authority as the central stone in its crown.
Having broadened my experience by being sent to another place as a Member of Parliament and having now come here, I will tell your Lordships what will happen when we demolish the metropolitan counties. The even-handedness that the metropolitan counties have applied in the allocation of certain resources will go up in smoke. For example 50 per cent. of the population of West Yorkshire reside in the City of Leeds. What chance will places like Kirklees, Bradford and Wakefield have in a bid for resources? They will have no chance whatever.
I started out years ago as an opponent of the proposals that were then before us. But I must admit that I was wrong, and that they have been seen to work. I can tell your Lordships that even-handedness is being applied among the authorities. But we must not kid ourselves that all the metropolitan authorities are alike, because they are not. There is no even-handedness as regards the district authorities. There is the nonsense of the Manchester City Council, which serves a population of approximately half a million, whereas some metropolitan districts have a population of 200,000 or fewer. What extra duties can we give them, and what resources will they have to carry out functions delegated by this Government?
I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Marshall, made out a case—certainly, he may have done so unconsciously—for leaving the situation as it is, for having a forum and for seeing what additional duties could be given to the metropolitan county councils and the GLC to replace those of some of the autonomous boards which are answerable to no one. The noble Lord, Lord Marshall, said that there had been a transfer of responsibility from local authorities to central Government. Between 1979 and 1983 I sat on committees discussing Bill after Bill, and the then Government did nothing but almost emasculate the rights of local authorities in one of the few major services for which they had responsibility, which was housing. They totally took away that responsibility. It was not a Labour Member of Parliament in another place who called the Secretary of State for the Environment a gauleiter; it was one of the noble Lord's own Back-Benchers. That is the type of thing that may emerge if we are not careful.
I believe that this Bill is ill-conceived and ill-thought-out, and I hope that tonight this House, as a bastion of democracy, will show the Government that they cannot do just what they want, that they must have regard to the fact that people sent to places like the GLC and County Hall by the ballot box can be removed only through the ballot box by the same people who placed them there.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Viscount Mountgarret
My Lords, the purpose of my intervention in this debate stems, first, out of concern for your Lordships' House, and to suggest a way of getting out of the very difficult position in which this House now finds itself in considering not only this Bill but probably more importantly the reasoned amendment. I am sorry to say that I think the Government have put us in a rather unenviable position. From time to time over the years the role and function and, indeed, the very existence of this House have been put in jeopardy and frequently questioned. It is an odd situation that now many of our dedicated opponents suddenly find that they must champion our raison d'être, as the French might say. It perhaps emphasises the unquestionable need for our House in its present form.
Having said that, I think it is agreed by the majority of your Lordships' House that we have an essential and important function to play, not least in the sphere of acting as a safety valve or buffer state, with a powerful elected majority in another place acting in a manner which could be deemed to undermine democracy and the unwritten laws thereof.
For one reason or another, be it successful advertising and campaigning by the councillors on the GLC and other metropolitan councils—unmatched, I regret to say, by the Government themselves, who seem to have been significantly remiss in failing to get their point across to the public at large—or be it press comment, which at times could be deemed to be rather one-sided, or for whatever other reason, the Government have allowed a situation to occur where a very large number of people, not only in London but also, I think, in the country as a whole, have the definite impression that it is most improper to remove the expected opportunity to vote and to re-elect councillors on local government, who represent their interests in a proper fashion, at the normal expected time. As far as I can make out, there seems to be only one good reason for suggesting that the elections due to be held in 1985 should be suspended and for councillors to be nominated by the borough councils. It is to enable councillors from those boroughs, which will inherit or which it is proposed will inherit the functions of the GLC, to run that authority in the transitional year, and it will provide an opportunity for smoothing the changeover by involving the same councillors as those who would have an interest in making a success of such a transfer, rather than retaining councillors who know that the Sword of Damocles is hanging over their heads.
It is also said that there is a precedent in what happened about 22 years ago on another occasion, and that therefore what was done then is all right to do now. I cannot agree with this. Just because a precedent may be deemed to have been set does not necessarily mean that it is a good idea to abide by that precedent; and if the precedent was accepted in the first instance,it does not necessarily mean to say that it is right to accept it in the current circumstances. I simply cannot believe that the Government could not have foreseen the obvious disturbance and ill-feeling that the proposals in the Bill would cause. Therefore, surely they should have tried to get their priorities right in introducing the proposed Bill to abolish the GLC and 956 other councils earlier in order to have obviated the necessity for the 1985 elections and to abolish these councils, if indeed that is what Parliament will eventually decide, before that date.
However, it is no use crying over spilt milk. What is done is done, and we all know that the Bill to abolish these councils is likely to be laid before Parliament in due course, probably at the beginning of the next Session. It is probably best to polarise our thoughts in particular on the GLC, although the principle is the same for the other metropolitan councils as it is for the GLC. In effect, what will happen is that a Labour majority on the GLC will be automatically replaced by a Tory majority. It makes me wonder what would happen if, for some equally apparent very good reason, a Labour Government felt it was necessary to suspend the elections to, say, Surrey Council Council, which has a substantial Conservative majority, and to impose upon that council nominated persons who would transpose a conservative majority into a Labour majority. I think it would be fair to say that, at the least, uproar would ensue.
Worse still, even if it was thought to be a sound idea to have nominated councillors to ease the proposed changeover, this Bill provides only that the Secretary of State may bring in by order the provisions of this Bill after the Second Reading in another place of any future Bill to abolish the GLC and others. I do not know—I may be wrong—but it seems to me that, to say the least, this is rather an arrogant way of conducting business, and, indeed, could almost be deemed to be treating not only another place but your Lordships' House with a degree of contempt. Just because a Bill receives a Second Reading does not necessarily mean to say that it will become law. We all know perfectly well that it is highly likely to become law, because it would be very wrong of this House to overturn something that had been passed in another place.
Nonetheless, it is quite wrong to make presumptions. Anything can happen, and unforesseen circumstances do arise. We are assured that, in the circumstances that we all could have in mind, the Secretary of State could invoke the appropriate clauses in the present Bill to overturn the effects of this Bill. That is only what we are told. It is not in the Bill itself; it is only a promise. Surely to goodness, if this Bill goes forward. which indeed it will—and make no mistake, this Bill will go forward, but it must do so drafted in the right manner—we should not have to rely on presumptions, promises and understandings.
There is perhaps a way out of this dilemma. I apologise to my friends on the Front Bench, for it may be thought I am stabbing them in the back, but I feel very strongly abut this. To clarify the kernel of the problem, it is highly likely that the GLC will be abolished in 1986. It is pointless to hold elections in May 1985 for councillors to serve 11 months. Thirdly, it is as undesirable to have councillors serving who are about to be proverbially shot as it is desirable to have those who will survive serving during the changeover period. It cannot be right for anyone—certainly not for this House—to condone any action to overturn the majority of one party, duly elected, on any council and effectively replace it with a majority of another party, 957 particularly a party of the same colour as the Government in power.
The way out, which I believe might have already been put privately to the Government and which could commend itself to this House is this: let this Bill pass in such a fashion as to cancel the May 1985 elections but to allow the existing councillors to remain in office if the main Bill passes its Second Reading in another place, and if and when that main Bill eventually passes and becomes law the serving councillors will then automatically be obliged to retire and the nominated councillors, on the lines of this Bill, installed. That perhaps could be more acceptable, although I accept that there is still a degree of apparent—for want of a better word—gerrymandering; but perhaps we can go some way towards meeting the two sides of the argument. It would meet the objection that they were being presumptuous, and perhaps meet the Government's wish to have as smooth a changeover as necessary.
If my noble friends on the Front Bench could give some degree of assurance that amendments on these sorts of lines would be introduced at the Committee stage, then I could not, and would not, support the reasoned amendment. However, I feel that the Government must be shown that this House is displeased if they are not going to give such an assurance, and I feel that this reasoned amendment effectively could serve as a rap on the knuckles of the Government to show that we are not going to be steamrollered into doing things which the public at large outside this House would deem to be unconstitutional. Whatever we ourselves in this House feel, and whatever we understand by the constitutional process, and so on and so forth, it is not what we understand that matters—we are preaching to the converted—it is people outside this House who have to understand the basic layman's terminology of "constitutional", and that sort of thing.
This House is widely respected throughout the country for the vital and ultimately important role that it plays in safeguarding our constitutional freedom against a powerful Government in another place. Unless and until it can be seen that the majority of people are satisfied with the proposals of this present Bill, perhaps amended or intended to be amended as I have suggested, your Lordship's House has a distinct duty to try to persuade the Government to change their mind on those proposals. If we fail to do so we should be in danger of undermining the right of our very existence, as we will not be taking the opportunity of carrying out the principal functions and power that we are still fortunate enough to retain.
A further rather unpleasant aspect has occurred this evening. Extreme pressure has been brought to bear on a number of the Government's rather far distant and somewhat irregular supporters. I am not sure that this is quite the way to go about dealing with this Bill. It is known that the Government, for various and probably good reasons, command an enormous degree of support throughout the country. But we are dealing here with something of fairly major constitutional importance, and it would have been far better if we could have all assembled without pressure having been put on us, and been able to feel that we could vote and speak without feeling that we are letting our side down. 958 Outside this House there are certain people who are going to point to this sort of structure of our House, and it could have a danger of undermining our House. I feel strongly about this, as the House in its present form functions extremely well. I am sorry that at times on this side of the House there is a rather automatic majority over the other side; but nevertheless I hope that this majority is used responsibly. I believe that by using pressure today the Government have made a slight mistake, as I am not sure that it is the right way to go about it.
Having said that, I support the Government, and that is why I speak from where I do. But it is because I support the Government that I think they ought to consider the long-term implications for this House of inviting your Lordships' House to allow this measure to pass without comment. The comment we can make is expressed admirably in the reasoned amendment. We should support this amendment because by doing so it will serve as a reminder to this Government, to say the least, that we are not necessarily going to be steamrollered into allowing what appears to be tampering with a democratic process.
If we pass this amendment I hope that the Government will realise that they have possibly made a mistake in the organisation of this whole matter. If they realise that, then in my view there is nothing more honourable than for a mistake, once recognised, to be remedied, and it is dishonourable to do otherwise. If this amendment is passed it will give the Government opportunity to bring in their own amendments to this Bill such as I have outlined.
With the greatest respect to the GLC and the metropolitan councils, at this stage I do not have much concern for them. I have nothing to do with local government, and therefore my remarks are not directed to them; but I have concern for this House. I believe that we shall be acting wrongly, and be seen by the public at large to be so doing, if this Bill goes through without reminding the Government by way of this amendment that they are doing the right thing in the wrong way. I hope that this unelected, undemocratic assembly will act, and be seen to act, and prove its worth in the interests of democracy, and prove that it is still worthy of the place and function it holds in our parliamentary process.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Lord Mulley
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Viscount. I agree largely with what he says. I am sure that he is right to feel—and I hope he will continue so to feel—that he will be more likely to persuade the Government along the path he wants them to take if he joins us tonight in the Division Lobby in support of the amendment. I want to speak briefly, because I have noticed a danger in recent weeks of this House falling into the bad habits of another place in the times it keeps in its debates, and today, above all days, is a day when we should assert our independence.
Nobody can maintain that the structure of local government should be immutable. But the proposals to abolish the GLC and the six metropolitan councils are not before us tonight. Indeed like my noble friend Lord Dean I had reservations about all of them 959 when—and this must be stressed—they were introduced by successive Conservative administrations. The fact however that such proposals were put first in the election manifesto, and form the basis of the Bill now before us, without clearly formulated plans for their successors, is I fear illustrative of the monumental incompetence with which the whole of this matter has been handled. If the Government really knew what they wanted to do we should surely have a different Bill before us now.
It is also a sad comment on the state of our affairs against the background of the enormous problems, international and domestic, that we are facing that the Government should be so obsessed with the minute details of local government when we nave thousands of elected members much more competent to know the wishes of their communities than the "gentlemen in Whitehall". I content myself with two simple comments on this point. I think it is absolutely inconceivable that London should be the only capital in the Western world without a municipal authority to speak for it and to do the global planning that is necessary. I will not enlarge on that point because I could not do it nearly as well as did the noble Lord, Lord Plummer, with his immense experience as the longest leader—and, of course, it may prove to be otherwise; but, so far, the longest Serving leader of the GLC.
Secondly, I would make a point which I think is of some significance in regard to South Yorkshire, the metropolitan area that I know best and where I had the privilege of serving for many years in one of its constituencies. When South Yorkshire was formed there was absolutely unanimous hostility to the setting up of that metropolitan council; but in fact by painful, at times, and certainly painstaking, work in transport, police, fire, the arts and many other fields it has transpired that, just as at that time, a decade ago, there was unanimous opposition to it, today there is unanimous regret at the idea of its passing—and certainly at the idea of its passing in the circumstances that we are now considering.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, made clear in what I thought was a brilliant speech introducing his amendment, the issue before us tonight is the responsibility and duty of this House as a revising Chamber. He recited the precedents with great clarity and I shall not seek to repeat them. I must confess that for many years I was greatly influenced by the late Professor Harold Laski's dictum that a second Chamber that agrees with the first is superfluous and one that disagrees is a nuisance. I feel now, however, after some considerable parliamentary and ministerial experience, that, the volume of business being what it is—although I think we go about our business in a very bad way; and we have made no fundamental changes at all in the way we deal with legislation—a single-Chamber Government would not be satisfactory, and I do not think the British people would want it. And I cannot think of any alternative to your Lordships' House that would not be more likely to fall foul of the strictures of Professor Laski.
What surprises me greatly is the way that this Bill has been brought in. It is an affront to this House. I was surprised that the noble Lord the Minister in 960 proposing it relied on the words in Paragraph 1 of the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum when he said:pending a decision by Parliament on whether or not those councils are to be abolished".That rests on an assurance—nothing else—of the Minister about a Second Reading in another place. In effect, the first paragraph of the Explanatory Memorandum of the Bill your Lordships are now considering has done what the Left of the Labour Party has not succeeded in doing: that is, to abolish this House as an essential and important part of Parliament; because it is not coming before us at all. My Lords, I think that that is the issue we have to consider tonight.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, if I may make a very quick point, before any order is laid under this Bill under Clause 4(4) there must be an affirmative instrument of both Houses of Parliament.
§ Lord Mulley
My Lords, we are aware of that. But in that case, by a stroke of a ministerial pen—and, surely, some Minister looked at this document before it was sent to this House—it should not have talked about Parliament approving. We are not asked to approve the abolition of these councils in that affirmative order. The affirmative order is only dealing with the minutiæ of the elections. I hope, therefore, that the amendment will be carried because I think that its message is crystal clear. It is quite simply telling the Government to take this Bill away and that if they must play around with the reorganisation of local government, to get on with it; and that when they have made up their minds what to do to bring back the proposals. Then we will have a look at it; but, until they do that, then I think we should not proceed in this matter at all.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Lord Auckland
My Lords, we have had three powerful speeches from 200 miles north of your Lordships' Chamber and, if I may, I will revert briefly to London. This Bill has acquired for itself a very limited welcome. This does not necessarily mean to say that those of us who are critical of this Bill admire in chapter and verse anything that has been done up to the moment by those who run the Greater London Council. [Interruption] There is no doubt that, as a result of this, there has been a good deal of criticism about the way in which the GLC has been run, but this does not mean to say that the provisions inherent in this Bill are the entire solution.
I cast my mind back briefly 20 years to when the Greater London Council was set up. In those times, I must confess, I had a certain amount of reservation for the setting up of the Greater London Council, and especially for the White Paper following the Royal Commission chaired by the late Lord Tangley, because, had the requirements of the Royal Commission gone through, the Counties of Surrey, where I live, and Kent and the other Home Counties would have had very little left. Almost all of Surrey—apart mainly from four towns, Guildford, Godalming, Farnham and Woking—would have gone into London. But that is past history.
961 Now we have the difficulty of the Government seeking to abolish an organisation which they have set up. It may well be that there are strong grounds for replacing the Greater London Council by another body. But I think that there is genuine concern about the interim arrangements of an appointed authority for a period of one year. What worries me, and what worries a lot of people, is the question of what savings this is going to mean. There is no doubt that the GLC, as at present constituted, has on occasions spent money extravagantly. I say this and I say it without reservation. But they were after all elected, even though there was some hiatus over the chairman.
We now have the question: what is going to happen after the 12 months' appointed period? In the terms of the Bill the whole thing is a mystery. The Government may set up in 1986 another authority—and this is what is causing a great deal of concern. I have read the document Streamlining the Cities. My speech will no doubt reveal the fact that my own experience of local government has been limited in the extreme. But in this House we are all taxpayers, we are all ratepayers and therefore we have as much respect for, and as much interest in, local government and the desire to make local government work as has another place and any other organisation.
In this Bill we have, I think an appalling dilemma to face, particularly on this side of the House. I listened with great interest, as I think did the whole House, to the speech of my noble friend Lord Plummer with his unique experience of local government, where he pointed out the difficulties facing some of the services, in particular waste disposal, which is an extremely important service where health is involved.
Time is getting on and the House will want to come to a decision. I come very briefly to the reasoned amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hooson. In spirit I agree with it, but I also take the words of the noble Earl, Lord Perth, with his enormous experience in your Lordships' House as a former Minister as well as a great deal of experience in many fields. I am not at all certain that even on a Bill of this kind, which is unique—because in a sense we are talking about a hypothesis—your Lordships should force a vote.
We are going to have a long and detailed Committee stage without a guillotine, unlike the other place, and in Committee this Bill must be examined ruthlessly—and I mean ruthlessly. But at the same time it must be examined in a practical manner, too, because in 1986 we have to get the thing right. We shall not have another bite at the cherry. I believe—and I speak entirely for myself, as does every Member of your Lordships' House—that this evening is not the time to vote. But when it comes to Committee the Government will be very much up against it unless they make a very detailed study of what has been said in this House and in the media by not merely opportunists in the press, but also people who have had experience in local government. There I rest my case.
§ 8.24 p.m.
§ Lord Milford
My Lords, we have just had a summit of all the leaders of the Western world and America and the only declaration upon which they all seemed to agree was the declaration of their loyalty to the 962 principles of democratic rights and freedom. The summit is over and today we are discussing a Bill which is one of the grossest violations of democracy that one could imagine. A short time ago this Tory Government were elected democratically. A few months afterwards they have turned round to abolish local government elections in constituencies where they find opposition too strong. This morning on BBC news—and the BBC is not quite an independent organisation—the BBC said that the main aim of the Bill before the House of Lords today was to replace an elected Labour majority by a Tory appointed body. Those are the words of the BBC.
This Government are now scrapping over a century of democratic progress, wiping out the rights of ordinary British people to decide the key questions affecting their local lives. They claim to be a democratic Government, yet they are silencing any opposition they find too strong by abolishing elections. In spite of all the excuses we have heard from the Government Benches today, the larger picture is that this Bill is part of the major Government plan to weaken the power and the voice of the ordinary people, to weaken their organisations, their institutions, and their safeguards. This Bill is part of a many-pronged attack on the people, through transport, the GLC, rate capping, and the determination to crush the trade unions, to push forward privatisation in the interests of big business monopolies, and to build up and safeguard their profits.
This Bill is just a small part of the entire attack that is taking place on the British people. Now the Government want to abolish elections which might make things difficult for them. For the London public the GLC has done and is doing, a wonderful job in the hospitals, in schools, in the voluntary services, and in the organisation this year of a tremendous attack on racialism to try to wipe out that scourge once and for all. The GLC is doing this in spite of the Government's every attempt possible to hinder it.
The only answer that the Government now have is to abolish the GLC and to increase the powers of their own central bureaucracy. But the Ministers opposite do not think of the people. The people are not mentioned in the discussion from the Government Benches. The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, attacked the right reverend Prelate, who had a real, human approach to the whole question, and tried to ridicule him. They do not care to know how ordinary people live and how their standard of living will be threatened and affected if this vicious Bill is passed.
It is the principle of the Bill which is the biggest shock to me. Your Lordships may not agree with the GLC or the trade unions, but this Bill is a direct attack on democracy. British democracy used to be the envy of the world. In the forties, after the war, again and again I was asked questions by French and Italians on British democracy and how it works; but today the present Government are destroying our image. It has been mentioned that we are the only country in Europe in which the capital city—be it Paris, Rome, or Brussels—will have no elected municipality. But this debate brings a glimmer of hope, since it is a rare moment when, on a question of principle, party boundaries are broken down, and so democracy might just squeeze through tonight.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Lord Alport
My Lords, in normal circumstances I think I would feel called upon to rebut some of the statements made by the noble Lord, Lord Milford in the speech to which we have just listened. At this time of night all that is required of a speaker is only the reasons why he or she intends to vote in one or other of the Lobbies when a Division is called.
The title of this Bill, the Local Government (Interim Provisions) Bill, could scarcely be, on the face of it, more harmless and inoffensive. The Explanatory Memorandum says:pending a decision by Parliament on whether … those councils are to be abolished".This was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, in his earlier speech.
The introduction of this so-called paving Bill is conclusive evidence that the Government have no intention of allowing Parliament to decide. This whole thing is a charade for it is perfectly clear that the "elective dictatorship" of my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack, to which Lord Hooson also referred, now operates. With an overwhelming and tightly whipped majority in the House of Commons and the strength of the party in the House of Lords, consolidated by the energetic efforts of my noble friends the Leader and the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms, Parliament can be relied on to see through the Government's decisions, whatever they may be, in another place.
Tonight we shall see many fresh, young and unfamiliar faces going through the Lobbies and many gouty feet making their way through them. But there is a little local difficulty facing the Government. The object of this Bill is simply to ensure that the abolition of seven major local elected authorities is carried out without the Government having the embarrassment of allowing the electors of those authorities to register their opposition to their abolition at an election due, under statute, to be held in a few months' time.
I feel no call to defend the actions of the GLC or the other metropolitan county councils. In the normal course of events, the electors of those authorities would be able to do so by normal democratic means next April. This Bill deprived them of that opportunity—and why? Simply because the Government know that the result of any election in the seven areas would not represent a political judgment by the voters on the records of those councils, but be a powerful condemnation of the Government's decision to abolish them. Therefore, it is expedient that the voters should not be given that chance.
This Bill, innocuous as it appears, has the most dangerous and far-reaching implications, as has already been brought out in many speeches in your Lordships' House today. In my view, it is morally, intellectually, politically and constitutionally indefensible. It represents a contempt for the tradition of local democracy in Britain, which, after all, has its roots back in history, further back in some respects than parliamentary democracy. It is a classic example of that pernicious doctrine that the end justifies the means.
At this moment when the Government are trying, quite rightly, to persuade the trade unions—and, 964 apparently, intend to support that persuasion by legislation—to adopt the democratic methods of the ballot box in the conduct of their affairs, the rights of millions, 18 million. I am told, of local government voters are being snuffed out for reasons of pure political expediency.
On Friday the Prime Minister signed a declaration, together with other leaders of the Western world (as the noble Lord. Lord Milford, has mentioned), which said:We believe in a system of democracy which ensures genuine choice in elections freely held, free expression of opinion and the capacity to respond and adapt to change in all its aspects".But not, apparently, for the electors of London or the other six great urban industrial areas of Great Britain. The declaration goes on:It is for governments to set conditions in which there can be the greatest possible range and freedom of choice".But not for the electors of London or the other six great urban industrial areas of Great Britain. The right of these electors conferred on them by laws passed by the British Parliament will, by this Bill, be swept away for the simple reason that the Executive, for the time being, knows that if those voters are allowed "genuine choice in elections freely held" that choice will reject conclusively the policies which the Government intend to impose on them.
In my view, all this represents a violation of constitutional propriety and a deficiency in political morality which I never thought I would see from a Tory Government, after 50 years of active political life and membership of the Conservative Party. I would foretell that this party will one day live to regret this Bill bitterly.
But the Bill establishes a precedent which has implications, and dangerous implications, for our whole parliamentary system. If a Government of one party can suspend elections for great areas of Britain by an interim provisions Bill, why could not a Government of another party suspend elections for Great Britain as a whole? I venture to suggest to your Lordships, as my noble friends and noble Peers on both sides of the House have said, that in our consideration of this Bill we should bear in mind that this House has special responsibilities for safeguarding constitutional propriety which surmounts the normal obligations of party.
What would be the attitude of my noble friends on this side of the House if a Labour an Alliance Government were to suspend elections in order to pave the way for the abolition of the county councils; and go further than that, replace the elected county councilors in those county councils forming, in most cases, Conservative majorities with nominees who would, in most cases be Socialist or Alliance, as will be the case the other way round with the GLC? It does not take much imagination to hear the cries of outrage, the accusations of gerrymandering and the appeals for the great traditions of democracy which such a situation would evoke from my noble friends on this side who have spoken against this amendment today.
We are under no obligation to give this Bill a Second Reading. Whatever may be the party obligations of elected Members in the House of Commons, we in this House have a special responsibility in constitutional 965 matters of importance. These, as I have said, override conventional party loyalty.
If the Government claim that a vote for a reasoned amendment is tantamount to a rejection that is their view. It is not correct. If this amendment is passed the Bill will continue in accordance with normal procedure. Your Lordships will have registered your distaste for it, your belief that the Government are ill-advised to introduce it, your anxieties at the implications it has for the democratic process evolved in this country for the protection of freedom of the individual and the rule of law. We would, without derogating from the accepted rights of the elected Chamber, be fulfilling our proper role within the parliamentary constitution which, by inference, was given to us in 1911 by the Parliament Act. That is why I intend to vote for the amendment and I hope that your Lordships will do likewise.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Lord Thorneycroft
My Lords, though perhaps a shade more instinctively supportive of Governments than my noble friend Lord Alport, I do not jump automatically to the support either of my party or this Government, or hardly any other Government, when it comes to local government reform. In my experience, almost all local government reform ends in disaster so I approach the whole thing with caution. Nevertheless, having thought rather deeply about the matter I differ quite sharply from Lord Alport and agree with my noble friend, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. I am quite sure that the Government are right to pave the way for a sensible discussion of what will be a very much larger measure.
I think that in the admirable speech of my noble friend Lord Marshall of Leeds we had a glimpse of how large and important is that measure. After an enormous study of this area—he probably knows more about it than almost anyone else in this House—he gave us a view of the changes that have already taken place and the difficulty of making the right decision. It is vital that that decision should not be taken in an atmosphere of chaos, which it would be if there were no paving measure and no interim arrangements were made.
We have had a good debate, much of which has been on subjects disparate from the Bill. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester attacked the whole idea of doing away with the GLC and therefore attacked the paving Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, took practically the same line. He did not want a paving Bill; he did not want a pavement. He did not want to walk in that direction, which I can fully understand. To my disappointment, even the noble Lord, Lord Plummer—I was waiting to hear what he would do about a paving Bill—spent at any rate 98 per cent. of his time attacking the major Bill which we are not yet discussing.
I am concerned only with this Bill and with this amendment, and I would suggest two things. First of all, it seems clear to me from this debate that some interim arrangement is necessary. I think it must be necessary. The only speech against an interim arrangement—it was a very good speech—was from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield. But 966 he did not really want an interim arrangement because he wanted a Royal Commission that postponed for five years doing anything. That was an understandable point of view, but it is not one which I share. I consider—and if the Opposition think differently, I hope they will say so—that some interim arrangement is necessary.
Secondly, no interim provision could be made which is not open to very serious criticism. It is an enormously complicated thing to do. Therefore it seems to me that an effective Opposition at this time must argue either against the Bill or in favour of some amendment; either that no interim arrangement is necessary—if that is the view, I hope it will be put quite plainly to us—or that, although it is necessary, it ought to be quite a different interim arrangement. One or other of those platforms must be adopted by anyone who is going to vote against the Government tonight. The amendment ignores these points. It does not really deal with them. It is couched in terms which seem to me not only unacceptable, but in large measure irrelevant, in that it says that this measure was not included in the manifesto. I reject altogether this manifesto concept.
I have all my life watched manifestoes being produced. They are produced by backroom boys of great youth and no experience of the world whatever; or they are produced in overheated, left-wing packed party conferences; or they are produced in high-falutin committees full of quacks. Governments in this country are not installed; parties are not elected to carry out manifestoes. They are installed, and they are elected, to govern this country, to introduce those measures that are necessary. Therefore, in my opinion, the decisions that are required and the authority that is required must come from an election. My Lords, nobody can deny that this Government have a firm authority in that respect.
What are the alternatives? I must say that, before this debate ends, the Opposition ought to tell us, if they are going to have an alternative at all, what it really is. One alternative is to put in commissioners. Another alternative is to say to an elected body which has run out of time, "Carry on and do the thing, anyhow". It seems to me that those alternatives are neither democratic, nor sensible, and in those circumstances I support the Government.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Thorneycroft, has very properly put a number of challenges to those who have reservations, stronger or weaker, about this Bill and about the amendment which has been proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson. At this time of night I do not think that he or any of your Lordships would expect a reasoned argument from the Back-Benches about the whole range of matters which have been discussed in this House over the past hours. I wish to concentrate on three particular matters where I believe the House has been not misled—I should not dream of saying that—but has failed to appreciate the facts of the argument.
The first matter, which was raised by a number of noble Lords, is the legitimacy of having the power 967 handed over to what were called successor authorities; what the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, called the responsible people who will be responsible afterwards. The second is the question of why there should be a paving Bill at all in advance of legislation. Finally, there is the question of whether this thing will work and whether there is any practical possibility that the series of Bills which is now proposed will actually produce, either in the short-term or in the long-term, an effective government for London and the metropolitan counties.
I should like, first, to refer to the argument that it is rational and logical for the successor authorities to take responsibility during the last 11 months of the existence of the Greater London Council, or whatever the administration at County Hall is to be called. Let us look at the responsibilities of the Greater London Council and where it is proposed, according to the White Paper and according to Government statements, in so far as we have them, that these responsibilities should go. The Fire Service, which accounts for 7,000 employees, or one in three of the staff of the Greater London Council, is to go not to the boroughs, but to a London fire board. Waste disposal is to go to the London boroughs, but there will be reserved powers to set up a waste disposal commission which will be outwith the responsibilities of London boroughs. Public health and safety will be with the London boroughs. The Thames barrier, perhaps the most dramatic of the GLC's developments over recent years, and flood prevention and land drainage will be with the Thames Water Authority. Planning powers will be with the London planning commission, with a certain amount going to the London boroughs. Transport and roads will be with the Department of Transport. London Transport will be with the new London Regional Transport, if the legislation before your Lordships' House goes through.
The arts will be a mixture of borough and Arts Council funding. The National Sports Council will have a much more significant role in recreation. There will probably still be a Greater London Enterprise Board responsible for some aspects of industry and employment. Housing services have of course already gone to the boroughs. Central services and supplies will be with some type of joint organisation.
The conclusion of that recital, for which I apologise to your Lordships. is that of the total 1983–84 budget of the Greater London Council of £1,900 million. non-elected authorities will have responsibility for £1,147 million. In other words, 55 to 60 per cent. of the responsibilities of the Greater London Council will not go to the London boroughs and will not be in the hands of elected authorities, and the responsibilities of these so-called "successor authorities" will not continue. In other words, we shall have two changes. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross, said that the legitimacy of the successor authorities was to him the decisive argument. I would suggest to him, if he were in his place, that his decisive argument falls on the facts and that, on the basis of his own argument, he ought to vote for the amendment.
Secondly, why should we be having a paving Bill at all? The whole question arises of the mandate of the Government. Noble Lords have said that if you have 968 willed, in the general election, the end of abolishing the GLC and the metropolitan counties then you should will the means of the paving Bill.
Why do we have a paving Bill now and not an abolition Bill? It is because the Government have not found a way of formulating the actual Bill for the abolition of the Greater London Council and the metropolitan county councils. It has proved to be too difficult for them. They do not know how to do it. They are involved in a mish-mash of, as I said, elected authorities, quangos, joint boards and return to central government—all these things are milling around in the collective mind of the Government. They are not capable yet of putting it into legislative form or putting it before Parliament. If they were capable, and if there were a rational explanation for their electoral commitment, we would have the whole Bill now: not a paving Bill but the Bill that says, "This is the final plan for the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan counties, and how we deal with the elections is part of the Bill".
The argument of those of us who support the amendment tonight is that, if they cannot work out the final result of their legislative programme, then they ought not to be putting forward, first of all, this paving Bill with the abolition of elections at this time. The truth of the matter is that the Government are, above all, afraid not of mismanagement and not of the over-expenditure of the Greater London Council—none of those things. They are afraid of electoral defeat. That is the truth of the matter and that is the fundamental argument which proves that the Government are being less than open and less than honourable, in my view, with another place and with this House—with Parliament as a whole.
The fact of the matter is that the noble Lord, Lord Plummer, in his very brave speech—and I wish I had the guts to make a speech like that—said that the Government had an obligation to show that the alternative system will work. He pointed out that the historical experience is that disagreement among the London boroughs is such that a voluntary joint organisation within the boroughs will not work.
What is the alternative to a voluntary agreement between the boroughs? It is an involuntary agreement, a system whereby a majority of the boroughs have control. And what is that but the start again of a city government? Whatever may be the case with the metropolitan counties—and I yield to those who have pleaded eloquently for those counties, of which I have no experience—it cannot be right or even a practical possibility that we should have a capital city such as ours without a directly-elected city government authority. There have been arguments about the inadequacies of the Greater London Council—and, by the way, I disagree with some of the activities of the recent Greater London Council, as would many of your Lordships, and I was particularly nauseated by the attempt to impose a loyalty oath on Zola Budd recently; that is the kind of action against which I have fought all my political life. But that is not the issue. The issue is that if the GLC is inadequate, what we have to replace it by is an effective city government; and the melancholy catalogue of the noble Lord, Lord Marshall of Leeds, on the way in which central 969 government has taken over the activities of local government in London is evidence of that.
If we had the will and the political courage to accept that a capital city like every other capital city in the world, including now Washington and Paris, has the right to determine its own government, whether we like the political conclusions or not, then we would not be in a position of having before Parliament over the next 12 months an abolition Bill and having before your Lordships' House now a paving Bill. It is not only democratically indefensible, but it is, practically, not going to work.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
My Lords, if one accepts, as I do, that the Government have a clear mandate to abolish the GLC and the metropolitan counties, then I believe one must support this Bill and oppose the reasoned amendment; and I shall do so. So many points have been made throughout this debate, and I feel that even at this late hour I must correct some of the misapprehensions or misstatements that have been made.
The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, indicated that the GLC and metropolitan county councillors were different beings from local councillors and that quite a different calibre of person was required. This came through in speech after speech made in the House—that these people elected to represent local boroughs would not be capable of moving in and doing a job at County Hall. I do not accept that for one moment. I myself have served in both authorities, and many members of the Greater London Council at the present time have done just that. Indeed, at the present moment several members of the GLC are also members of their local councils. I should perhaps at this moment declare that I am currently an elected member of the Greater London Council.
Then we have had a great many comments about how, we would be destroying the only body that did anything to help in terms of homelessness. In London, I believe the boroughs have done much more to help homelessness than the Greater London Council has done. Housing has in fact now moved away from the Greater London Council to the boroughs and seems to be working well, because when houses were dealt with at County Hall it was remote from many people and not very satisfactory.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester said what a help and a value the Greater London Council was. I accept that it has helped many people, but no one has spoken of its interference or of the hindrance it is to local government. At present, almost every major development the City of Westminster would like to continue with is held up at County Hall. They cannot get anywhere with it. They wish to change their resident parking system, but again it is stuck at County Hall, and has been there for 18 months. I know from my own constituency that if you have the desire to put in a pedestrian crossing, it can take years if it goes to County Hall. Not only that, but the local people can be told that "County Hall knows best and your pedestrian crossing must go in at the spot marked X". And, of course, when the local 970 people get it there they still continue to cross in the same place as they have always crossed, and they ignore what all the traffic engineers and other so-called experts remote from the spot have suggested.
In my own constituency we have a very major redevelopment of an historic building site which would have been passed again and again by the local council; it has been held up and refused at County Hall. So I think there are two sides to that and one must remember it—not to mention Talgarth Road at the moment, where the Greater London Council have announced that they are very happy that all the traffic is being discomfited because they believe that people should get out of their vehicles and use a bus.
The fire brigade is one body that I think is of interest. I have had a letter today from someone who has received a lot of scare information that the Fire Brigade might be privatised. I do not think there is any suggestion of that at all in the paving Bill. It is quite clear that there will be provision for the Fire Brigade. When one thinks about the GLC running the Fire Brigade—in the time that I served on the committee I was never quite sure who was running what. I felt that the Fire Brigade itself made a great deal of the running. But powers have been transferred progressively away from the Greater London Council and the noble Lord who said that it is now busily looking for more powers to take to itself to keep it in a job made, I thought, a very interesting point. I believe it was made by the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick.
But what of those parts of Greater London which have never wanted to be part of it? Mention was made of those who longed for the Ridings again in Yorkshire. But in the Greater London Council I represented Essex and Middlesex, and in each case those areas have wished that they had never been incorporated into Greater London. There was a great sense of history and identity in the old LCC area, but people never wished to join Greater London in the same way and I have not had a single letter from any constituent of mine regretting the abolition of the Greater London Council. I have sought views on this and most people say that they would much prefer to have local democracy really local.
We have heard so much tonight about the removal of democracy because we are taking away people's right to vote. Nothing much has been said about the fact that we are retaining the genuine local councils and how democratic they are. And think, too, my Lords, about the democracy within the Greater London Council. At the moment, the figures there are 44 to 48. A traditional pattern on committees has always been followed, which gives a proportionate number of seats, but the present administration has taken seven seats to four on every committee and there is nothing too democratic about that.
I was impressed by the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield about the staff and the anxiety that could be caused. It is true that any change of this type creates great anxiety. For that reason, I believe that the sooner it is a settled and definite thing the better it is for people, rather than to be living in a situation of uncertainty. Amendments can be brought forward at Committee stage if people have genuine 971 concern, and it is the role of this House to be a revising Chamber. I rather like the idea of an equivalent of a Mayor of New York or of Paris, but at the moment I cannot see how that would fit into the present restructuring. But I hope that eventually that may happen.
I should like to finish by quoting a small extract from The Londoner which I normally do not read, though I feel that as it costs such a lot of money one should look at it. I see a letter quoted from Mr. Alan Greengross, Tory opposition leader at the GLC. It was a private letter to the Prime Minister, so it is quite to be expected that it would be published in accordance with the usual leaking of confidential papers at the present moment. The letter states:As you will know, although there are differences between us as to how we should proceed after abolition, the Conservative group here, with the odd exception, has remained solid in public endorsement of the Government's commitment to restructuring.I consider that this Bill is simply a matter of logistics and it is necessary to deal with the practicalities of abolition. I intend to oppose the amendment and to support this Bill.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
My Lords, I find it hard to believe, particularly after listening to the debate today, that there are many noble Lords opposite who do not entertain some doubts about this extraordinary Bill. Indeed, I am sure that there are several Ministers—though undoubtedly they come from outside the Department of the Environment—who profoundly wish that the Government had never proceeded in this particular way.
It has been pointed out that the central purpose of this Bill is to cancel next year's elections in the GLC and in the metropolitan counties. Of course there is, as has been pointed out repeatedly, a second result, which is that it will effectively transfer political power in London from the Labour-controlled Greater London Council to a group of nominees selected by the boroughs, the majority of whom will be Conservatives. So without in any way being consulted, real political power in London is being switched from the Labour party to the Government's supporters in the London boroughs.
The noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret, and the noble Lord, Lord Alport, raised one question and it is an interesting one. What would have happened if the roles had been reversed? What would have been the situation if we had had a government of the left proposing to abolish the right to vote in a GLC which was controlled by the Conservative party and transferring effective power to its political friends in the boroughs? We know very well what would have happened in this House. We should have had the noble Viscount the Leader of the House on his feet—speaking, of course, from the Opposition side of the House—denouncing that Bill in the most unequivocal terms.
It would have been added by the noble Viscount that what was particularly objectionable about that Bill was not simply the power it gave to abolish elections, but this extraordinary provision whereby this Bill will come into effect after the Second Reading 972 of the Bill to abolish the Greater London Council later in the year. The noble Viscount, I suspect, would have been saying from this side of the House, responding to a Bill of that character proposed by a government of the Left, that it raised some of the gravest constitutional issues that he had ever faced in his political lifetime.
There would have been demands for the opposition not simply to pass a reasoned amendment, but, I suspect, to vote against the Second Reading of the Bill. It would have been said that if the House of Lords was not prepared to fight on an issue as fundamental as that, there would be no point in having a House of Lords at all. In that situation, I believe that the noble Viscount would have been entirely right.
It may reasonably be asked: how is it that the Government could have been guilty of such a quite extraordinary error of judgment in bringing forward this legislation? Knowing what they would have said if they had been in opposition, why did they not realise the grave risks they were running if they proceeded in this manner? I think there are two explanations for that. The first is the doctrine of the mandate and the second is Mr. Ken Livingstone.
As we have all been reminded by the Secretary of State for the Environment, and indeed by the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, the Government announced both their rate-capping proposals and their intention of abolishing the GLC and the metropolitan counties in the manifesto for last year's general election. What is equally clear is that they had then devoted remarkably little time or effort to studying what the consequences would be if they did, indeed, abolish the GLC and the metropolitan counties. This is, presumably, why there was not the slightest hint in the Conservative election manifesto that the Government would introduce such an entirely unprecedented measure as the one that we are facing in this House tonight.
In any event, I find the argument about the mandate which the Government are supposed to have for these measures deeply unpersuasive. First, during the 10 years that I have served in this House some of the silliest measures I have seen introduced have owed their existence solely to the fact that they received a mention of two or three lines in the Government party's election manifesto. I am glad to say that I have some support for my scepticism about the so-called mandate, first from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, when Master of the Rolls, in the Fares Fair case between the London Borough of Bromley and the Greater London Council. In his celebrated judgment in the Court of Appeal he said:It seems to me that no party can or should claim a mandate and commitment for any one item in a long manifesto. When the party gets into power it should consider any promise or proposal afresh, on its merits, without any feeling of being obliged to honour it or being committed to it".Secondly, I want to return inevitably—though the House will be glad to know briefly—to the remarkable Richard Dimbleby Lecture given by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in 1976. I have a particular reason for remembering it because I was glad to be one of those who was invited to be present on that occasion. I am also glad to say that I agreed then with very nearly everything the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said about what he 973 described as the elective dictatorship, about the dangers of the almost unrestrained powers of the Executive, and about the need for a written constitution which would ensure that the powers of Parliament would be limited both by law and by a system of checks and balances.
If we had made the constitutional changes that were recommended on that occasion by the noble and learned Lord, there is no doubt that this miserable Bill would not be before us tonight, because it would have been ruled out under one or other of the headings set out by him on that occasion. But, as it is, the Bill has been produced and it has met with the fiercest criticism, some of it from newspapers such as the Financial Times, which are strong supporters of the present Government. And it has met with the fiercest criticism not only from the press but undoubtedly from the overwhelming majority of the citizens of London. In that situation one asks oneself again how the Government could have made this colossal misjudgment.
That brings me to the second explanation I should like to put forward for the Government's behaviour. That, of course, is Mr. Ken Livingstone. The Government do not just dislike Mr. Livingstone: they are, I believe, almost obsessed with him. Let me for a moment, however, find some common ground with the Government Front Bench on this particular matter. I, as do my noble friends, most strongly and profoundly disagree with a great deal that Mr. Livingstone has done in London since he has been the leader of the GLC. There has been his policy of pouring public money into the pockets of a number of his political friends. There has been his appointments policy at County Hall, which has been so shameless that I believe it would have brought a flush of embarrassment to the faces of even some of the less sensitive members of Mr. Prendergast's machine in Kansas City and that of Governor Gerry in Massachusetts. There have been his constant public statements which have given aid and comfort to Provisional Sinn Fein. All that, I believe, is wholly deplorable. But that in no way begins to justify the Bill that we have before us today.
It was because of this record that Mr. Livingstone was, 12 months ago, possibly the most unpopular local government leader in the United Kingdom. Many of his colleagues believed at that time that they would be swept out of office at the time of the next GLC elections. In just a year the present Government have transformed Mr. Livingstone's position. He must indeed be grateful to the Secretary of State. The Government's inept conduct has succeeded, I believe, in rousing the patriotism of Londoners in a way which none of us has witnessed for at least the past 40 years.
That is why we have this Bill before us today. The Government are quite determined not to have elections in London next year. There is, in my view, little doubt about what would happen if there were elections next year; and I suspect there is not much doubt, either, in the mind of the Government. The pretence that they would be in some way too costly does seem to me to be one of the less impressive arguments that can be put forward. The cost of the elections would hardly equal the extra policing costs 974 for a period of three weeks that have been caused by the activities of the pickets in the Nottinghamshire coalfields. But if they are adamant (and I believe they are) that they will not next year permit the people of London to vote, they should extend the life of the present authorities and not create the absurdity of an authority—a non-elected authority—which will exist for a period of 11 months.
I repeat, what is even more objectionable about all of this is the deliberate intention of transferring power, without the people of London being in any way consulted, from one political party to another. As Sir Ian Gilmour said in another place, to remove an elected majority of one party and to substitute a nominate majority of another is constitutionally unacceptable. Mr. Pym said that if the Bill was put onto the statute book, the Government and the Conservative Party would rue the day. And Mr. Heath said that it would lay the Conservative Party open to the charge that they had carried out the greatest act of gerrymandering in 150 years of British history.
I can recall no occasion in the history of British politics since the war when three former senior Ministers of the Crown have attacked their own Government not simply because they disagree with the Government's policy but because they believed that it undermined the democratic basis of our society. In my view, this issue is one of infinitely greater importance than the future of Mr. Livingstone. What is at stake tonight is not just an issue that concerns the future of London's local government and that of the metropolitan counties; it is, whether we will allow a Government not only to cancel elections but also, in the case of London, to effect a change of political control without the tiresome formality of an election.
The vote which takes place tonight occurs at a time when this House probably has a higher reputation than at any time since the last war. I believe that that is because this House has on a number of occasions insisted on exercising its revising powers despite the entreaties of Ministers, and even though the majority of the House undoubtedly supports the present Government. At a time when the Government have such an overwhelming majority in another place that debate there has become devalued, this House has refused to submit to the wishes of the Executive when it has believed that the Executive were mistaken. This House has insisted on listening to the arguments and taking a decision on what it believes the merits of the case to be. Without a written constitution, this House is the final guardian of the liberties of the British people; I hope that the House remembers this when we vote tonight.
§ 9.17 p.m.
§ Lord Elwyn-Jones
My Lords, this must be one of the most important debates to take place in this House for many years. As the noble Lord who has just spoken indicated, the issue is whether democracy is to have any meaning at all at this time, in any realistic sense. The issue is not whether the Greater London Council or the metropolitan councils should or should not be abolished; that is not the issue to which we are directing our attention. That is not the issue at which the Bill is directing itself. Tonight, we are not voting on a Bill which deals with alternatives to the Greater 975 London Council. I submit that what we have to decide tonight is whether it is proper, within our parliamentary and democratic traditions, not only to prevent the citizens of Greater London and the metropolitan county councils from voting in the elections which are due to take place in 1985 for those who may want to represent them for one or two years, or whatever the period may be—but to impose without an election a change of party control of the councils by way of a nominated body.
The issues which arise from the Government's decisions and this Bill go far beyond the day-to-day issues of local government and touch upon the very foundations of our parliamentary democracy. In another place, a former Prime Minister—and what a chorus of distinguished opposition has been raised from the Government side in another place on this matter!—said that this Bill was a bad Bill: bad because it is a negation of democracy. It is.
The right honourable Geoffrey Rippon, the former Cabinet Minister and a distinguished constitutionalist, felt himself impelled to call the proposal to substitute for a directly elected socialist authority an independently nominated quasi-quango as abject, squalid and shameful. There is no way in which it can be justified, he said. As we already heard a few minutes ago, the former Prime Minister, Mr. Heath, called it the greatest piece of gerrymandering for 150 years, and words to that effect. These matters have been mentioned—
§ Lord Elwyn-Jones
My Lords, I am not quoting, I have given the effect. These matters have been mentioned many times in the House tonight. It is too late for the Chief Whip to try to shelter behind a point of technicality.
It is not merely what has been said in another place. The point I am making was made most powerfully by the noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret. He said that if a Labour Government were to do this, say, in a county like Surrey and converted an elected Tory majority into an appointed Labour majority, there would be uproar in the land. What uproar we would have in this honourable House! The noble Lord, Lord Alport, emphasised much the same point.
It is true that when consideration was given in another place to the power of the Secretary of State to issue an order to give effect to what the Bill proposes the Secretary of State said that he would not make the order unless and until the House agreed the Second Reading of the main abolition Bill. Incidentally, Clause 1 of the Bill gives the Secretary of State unfettered power to abolish the elections. There is no express requirement that any event like the passing into law of the main abolition Bill must first have occurred.
But coming to the statement of the Secretary of State in another place that he would not make the order unless and until the House of Commons had agreed to the Second Reading of the main abolition Bill, the question has been asked many times in this debate: what about the House of Lords? We happen to 976 have a Parliament consisting of two Houses, not of one. Where, I may ask, does the House of Lords come into this neat ministerial package? This is a moment when the House of Lords must assert itself, assert its existence and assert propriety of behaviour in this matter.
The pledge of the Secretary of State ignores totally the judgment which this House may wish to make on the whole principle of abolition or on its detailed issues—for instance, on whether a substitute system would work. We heard a notable speech from the noble Lord, Lord Plummer, with his great experience on the Greater London Council, dealing with that and other matters and, incidentally, in his notable speech giving formidable support to the amendment. One of the further deplorable constitutional features of the Bill is that it introduces the switch from democratic to nominee control without Parliament having seen, least of all approved, the proposals for a reformed system of government in the capital city and the six conurbations.
Never before has Parliament been asked to consider local government organisation in the way in which it has been dealt with in this Bill. The House is being asked to set in motion the timetable of abolition of the county councils before it has debated the principle of abolition itself. The main Bill is not yet published. The Government are paving the way, as Sir Ian Gilmour said, in effect, in another place, before we know where the paving leads. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, dealt with that, and it enabled my noble friend Lady Fisher of Rednal to describe this as a crazy-paving Bill, and indeed a crazy-paving Bill it is.
There has been no debate in the House, as I say, on the White Paper, Streamlining the Cities, and this Bill if it was passed, would pre-empt such discussion. We submit that the proposals in the Bill are a gross presumption of the authority of Parliament and especially of this House. I come back—we have been debating this all day, and I think that the House will soon be wanting to come to a decision—to the Bill's departure from our customary standards in our parliamentary democracy. In a democracy a Government must rule by consent and must have regard to the proper limits of their own power. Those limits have been far exceeded in this Bill. The Government should have been seen to act properly. They have been seen to act improperly.
The most powerful statement upon the matter generally, I venture to say, was made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester when he said:I have to say that the leaders of the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church and the Free Churches in London find this Bill offensive as a parliamentary procedure, offensive in the context of our traditional democratic way of life and offensive to the conscience of many Christians of all traditions".In urging the House to support the amendment, we call upon the Government in the name of parliamentary democracy and of our good political traditions, which have been known as the best in the world, to take this back to the Cabinet and invite it to consider the grave implications in this Bill which noble Lords on all sides of the House have so clearly identified. My Lords, the mother of Parliaments should disown this child.
§ 9.28 p.m.
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, I am very grateful to all who have contributed to this debate. Very many points have been raised. As usual, I hope that your Lordships will bear with me if in this second speech I concentrate only on why I cannot accept the reasoned amendment. Let me restate categorically that our main reason for proposing the abolition of these authorities—and I am on record as having said it all along—is that they are superfluous. My noble friend Lord Marshall spelt it out clearly enough, and I am very grateful to him for the detailed reasons which he gave and which I entirely endorse. But for now I want to limit my remarks to the amendment and to the contents of this interim Bill.
I was sorry that my noble friend Lord Plummer felt the need to speak as he did. He, too, talked of an attack on democracy. Of course he is entitled to his views. I respect them, even though I fervently disagree with them. I wonder whether he has any idea of the scope there would be in an extended mandate for obstructive machinations on a scale that makes the mind boggle. My noble friend may be willing to gamble on that, as indeed may others, but a responsible Government cannot do so. The people running the other metropolitan counties, I would happily say are more responsible, and I want to be the first to say so. I know them. But unhappily they have committed themselves to non-co-operation so there, too, that argument falls.
Just as in the case of the Second Reading of the Rates Bill, we have before us today a reasoned amendment. It is an amendment which is designed to give the opponents of this Bill a chance to vote against its provisions, a chance to defeat the Government. The experienced noble Lord, Lord Hooson, knows as well as anyone—and I suspect better than most—that however the amendment is worded, that is its effect. Call it an opportunity to think again if you like; imply that it is not meant to try to make the Government change the policy if you like; but let us not shilly-shally about this. That is the purpose of this highly unusual procedure and I would say so much for the conventions. The noble Earl, Lord Perth, puts it clearly enough again, for which I am very grateful to him. I thought the noble Earl, Lord Longford, almost gave the game away when he said—and I wrote it down as he said it:The Bill should be castrated, which is the purpose of the amendment".The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, speaks of this Bill as a dangerous precedent in that it seeks to give what it calls non-elected bodies the powers of properly constituted councils. It says that it was not in the Conservative's Party's election manifesto and that it is premature. Nothing could be further from the truth. Of course, no manifesto sets out the detailed procedures of a party's legislative proposals.
As my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter said so aptly, who wills the end wills the means. My noble friend Lord Renton reminded us of the extent to which manifestoes ever spelt out procedures. The fact that you do not say how you will do it, in no way diminishes your expressed intention to carry out a manifesto commitment. In practical terms, you 978 cannot have abolition without transitional provisions, which in effect is no more than a corollary—though a necessary one—of the commitment which was very clearly expressed in the manifesto to abolish the seven upper tier authorities and restore their functions to the councils best fitted to provide them.
I have explained why the Bill is necessary. If abolition is to be effectively implemented, it is vital to get started now. But—and this is the advantage of the course upon which we are embarked—we are not at the same time committing Parliament to these interim arrangements. As I have already said, we are not closing off the option of reverting to the status quo. And this is why it is so wrong to say that the measure is premature. Why do our opponents refuse to acknowledge this? I have said this over and over again today—and it is true—that that part of the Bill providing for the cancellation of elections will only come into law if and when the main Bill has received its Second Reading in another place. If abolition does not go ahead, this measure contains the means for repealing the provisions which will already have been implemented. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has already given an undertaking which I have repeated, that these mechanisms will in that event be triggered.
On the point of serious concern about a Bill providing for the suspension of the May 1985 elections to the GLC and the MCCs, and for the replacement of their present councillors by Members appointed by the authorities to whom most functions will, if Parliament agrees, be passed, it is quite wrong to imply, as does the amendment, that the transitional councils, not having been elected for the purpose, will be undemocratic.
Let me again remind your Lordships the essential points are these. The first decision facing the Government was whether to hold fresh elections to bodies, the abolition of which was already in prospect at the time of the election. Never before has a whole council had to be elected for a term of less than one year. So, having decided to propose suspension of the elections, the choice lay between extending the existing councils by appointment, and appointing members from the successor authorities. As your Lordships will appreciate, both courses had their difficulties. Appointing members from the successor authorities might result in a change of political control other than through an election, although in practice, as I said earlier, out of the seven authorities concerned, in six out of the six metropolitan counties, the control is in no way affected: they will all stay Labour. Only in the one—in London, as it so happens—will there be a change. On the other hand, continuing with the present membership would expose the transfer of functions to virtually certain obstruction and delay.
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, in the event, may I remind your Lordships that the choice was made on the basis of three considerations. The first was the role of the transitional councils in their last 11 months. As I have already explained, this will be a combination of care and maintenance and preparation for hand-over. The second—here I come back to the terms of the amendment—was that the successor authorities 979 already existed. Surely the Government have to have some regard to practicality in these matters. Surely we have a duty to ensure effective administration.
The main consideration—here, in particular, the amendment does not hold water—was that the appointee councils are themselves democratic bodies. The arrangements we have in mind are not an erosion of local democracy—quite the contrary. The amendment's wording refers to "non-elected bodies". The members of the boroughs and districts who in one form or another will be taking over the bulk of the services are elected; they are fully representative. It is entirely appropriate that they should provide the members—
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, if your Lordships want me to sit down, I shall do so. It is entirely appropriate that the boroughs and districts should provide the members for the transitional councils whose functions they will inherit. Of course, I fully understand the concerns that have been expressed on this matter of the elections. As I believe I have shown, we have considered these objections with the utmost seriousness. I have myself gone back and looked again at the options before us. I have once more satisfied myself that in all the circumstances the Government's proposals are proper ones.
The cancellation of the 1985 election is well precedented. It is not in any way the sinister, antidemocratic step which some have portrayed it to be. The 11-month transitional council proposal is logical and sensible, and it would have caused far less fuss had it not been that, as I said, it happens by chance that one of the seven authorities concerned will have its control changed. But when one considers that the 11-month period will be for dealing with winding up and handing over to the boroughs and districts, when one bears in mind that the boroughs and districts already exist, when one contemplates the opportunities for disruption, when one appreciates the benefit of having successor bodies of democratically-elected members, one is confident that your Lordships will accept that the Government's proposal is the right one.
My Lords, the hour goes on and I must close now. I want to say this. The Bill is essential. If the transfer of functions which will be achieved through the main Bill is to proceed smoothly and effectively, it is essential for practical reasons. But contrary to what has been said by some, it does not seek to pre-empt Parliament's decision on abolition. It is dependent on the main Bill being approved by Parliament. If that fails, this Bill will not be needed, and will also fall. That cannot be said too often—
§ Lord Bellwin
No, my Lords; I will not give way.
Even if there are among your Lordships those who still have doubts about abolition, or some aspects of it, I ask whether tonight noble Lords can vote for an amendment which simply does not stand up. Some 980 may not like the form of the ultimate proposals. Some may want to have in place some body or central voice, but that is a far cry from voting against the Government and supporting this amendment. It refers to matters unprecedented. The only aspect that stretches precedence to its limits is that, as the noble Earl, Lord Perth, reminded us, in the last few weeks noble Lords opposite have now twice departed from the conventions of this House by seeking to press Divisions against the Government.
Before I finish, I must make one point clear. I believe that it might have been misunderstood. The fault must be mine; I should have put it more clearly. Part II of this Bill, dealing with the election provisions, will be activated by a commencement order. However, the main abolition Bill will have to be passed through all its stages in both Houses before that main abolition Bill can become law. The passing of this interim Bill in no way affects or diminishes the need for that approval, line by line—I say it again—in both Houses.
I want to stress two important points. First, by agreeing to this Bill the House is in no way pre-judging or curtailing its consideration of the second Bill. Secondly, the fate of the interim provisions which we are discussing today depend entirely upon the main abolition programme. If, for any reason, abolition does not go ahead, then the paving provisions will be repealed and the elections will be held as quickly as practical.
This Bill was approved overwhelmingly in another place, in the House of Commons, at the final stage, at Third Reading, by a majority of 128. However much our opponents may try to dismiss, denigrate or belittle it, that is the fact. We have today debated some aspects of the proposed legislation as well as the Bill. Doubtless we will do so more extensively in the future. In the meantime, I invite your Lordships to reject the amendment and to give the Bill an unqualified Second Reading.
§ 9.41 p.m.
§ Lord Hooson
My Lords, I suspect that today we have heard the House at its best and at its worst. We heard it at its best when noble Lords of all political complexions, or of no political complexion, tried to elevate this debate into what it deserves to be: an important issue which affects all of us by its long-term implications for the constitution of this country. We heard the House at its worst when we heard noble Lords who, for party reasons, have been scratching around for plausible arguments to try to justify what they know is unjustifiable. The noble Lord, Lord Alport, absolutely put his finger on it when he suggested that, if in fact this Bill had been introduced by a Labour Government, many of the Members who are trying to justify this Bill would have been outraged.
The truth is that this evening this House is on trial. This House is on trial because we claim to have an important role to play in the constitution. I quoted in my initial speech the words of the late Lord Salisbury and the words of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, when they were justifying the Conservative Opposition's attitude towards a Labour Government on measures of which they did not approve. I will not repeat what they said, but it was quite clear what they 981 regarded as the duty and the right of this House to perform.
I went on to say that I had not chosen the method, for example, that had been followed by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, on the Bills that he dealt with when, in fact, he had put down amendments which I described as wrecking amendments. After my speech I was told by a great constitutional authority, whose name I will not give but who I respect very much, that I was rather unfair because I should have referred to them not as wrecking amendments but as significant amendments, so significant, in fact, that the Government of the day—the Conservative Opposition having decided to press their amendments—felt required to withdraw the Bill and to introduce it in a totally different form in the next Session.
The noble Earl, Lord Perth, both flattered me and was unfair to me. He said that the amendment was too clever by half and suggested that the right constitutional course for this House was to deal with the matter in Committee. Let me tell the noble Earl that I did not take my reasoned amendment from my head—I wish that I had given birth to it in that way. If the noble Earl will look at the Companion to the Standing Orders of this House, he will find that this provision has not changed over a number of years. The noble Earl will find three methods of opposing Second Reading, including a reasoned amendment opposing.
Under the heading "Other Motions on Second Reading" and the sub-heading "Second Reading agreed to with reasoned amendment" the following words appear:In addition to reasoned amendments in opposition to the Second Reading of a Bill, it is possible to move reasoned amendments in support of, or without seeking to negative, the Second Reading, where it is desired to invite the House to put on record a particular point of view in assenting to the Bill".That is what we are doing in this House. It is a facile argument to suggest that you can avoid voting for the amendment because it is argued that there is greater constitutional propriety in supporting a wrecking amendment in Committee.
I think that this debate has highlighted the question for this House: are we capable, as a House, of regarding our duty here as being greater than any allegiance to any political party? Are we capable of being an effective brake on the Executive? Or is the elective dictatorship—which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has spoken of so eloquently in his writings—now ruling supreme, and is this the final acknowledgment of it? I think that this House should now move to a Division.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 217; Not-Contents, 238.
§ [See col. 989.]984
|DIVISION NO. 1|
|Airedale, L.||Ardwick, L.|
|Allen of Fallowfield, L.||Ashby, L.|
|Alport, L.||Attlee, E.|
|Amherst, E.||Avebury, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Hale, L.|
|Balfour of Burleigh, L.||Hampton, L.|
|Balogh, L.||Hanworth, V.|
|Banks, L.||Harris of Greenwich, L.|
|Barnett, L.||Hatch of Lusby, L.|
|Barrington, V.||Hayter, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Henniker, L.|
|Bernstein, L.||Hereford, Bp.|
|Beswick, L.||Heycock, L.|
|Birk, B.||Hirshfield, L.|
|Birkett, L.||Hooson, L.|
|Blakenham, V.||Houghton of Sowerby, L.|
|Blease, L.||Howie of Troon, L.|
|Bledisloe, V.||Hughes, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Hunt, L.|
|Boothby, L.||Hutchinson of Lullington, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Ingleby, V.|
|Bowden, L.||Irving of Dartford, L.|
|Briggs, L.||Jacobson, L.|
|Briginshaw, L.||Jacques, L.|
|Brimelow, L.||Jeger, B.|
|Broadbridge, L.||Jenkins of Putney, L.|
|Brockway, L.||John-Mackie, L.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Kagan, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Kaldor, L.|
|Buckmaster, V.||Kearton, L.|
|Burton of Coventry, B.||Kennet, L.|
|Campbell of Eskan, L.||Kilbracken, L.|
|Caradon, L.||Kilmarnock, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Kinloss, Ly.|
|Chandos, V.||Kirkhill, L.|
|Chichester, Bp.||Kirkwood, L.|
|Chitnis, L.||Lawrence, L.|
|Chorley, L.||Leatherland, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Lee of Asheridge, B.|
|Collison, L.||Listowel, E.|
|Combermere, V.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.|
|Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.|
|Crowther-Hunt, L.||Lloyd-George of Dwyfor, E.|
|Darcy (de Knayth), B.||Lockwood, B.|
|Darling of Hillsborough, L.||London, Bp.|
|David, B.||Longford, E.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||McCarthy, L.|
|Delacourt-Smith of Alteryn, B.||McCluskey, L.|
|McGregor of Durris, L.|
|Denbigh, E.||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Denington, B.||Mackie of Benshie, L.|
|Diamond, L.||McNair, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Mar, C.|
|Donnet of Balgay, L.||Mayhew, L.|
|Edmund-Davies, L.||Meston, L.|
|Elibank, L.||Milford, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Milner of Leeds, L.|
|Elystan-Morgan, L.||Minto, E.|
|Ennals, L.||Mishcon, L.|
|Evans of Claughton, L.||Molloy, L.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Molson, L.|
|Ezra, L.||Morris of Grasmere, L.|
|Falkender, B.||Morris of Kenwood, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Mountevans, L.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Mulley, L.|
|Flowers, L.||Munster, E.|
|Foot, L.||Nicol, B.|
|Fulton, L.||Northfield, L.|
|Gaitskell, B.||Ogmore, L.|
|Gallacher, L.||Oram, L.|
|Galpern, L.||Peart, L.|
|Gardiner, L.||Phillips, B.|
|Gibson, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Gifford, L.||Plant, L.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.|
|Glenconner, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.|
|Greene of Harrow Weald, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Greenhill of Harrow, L.||Raglan, L.|
|Gregson, L.||Rathcreedan, L.|
|Grey, E.||Rea, L.|
|Grey of Naunton, L.||Reilly, L.|
|Grimond, L.||Rhodes, L.|
|Hacking, L.||Ripon, Bp.|
|Roberthall, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Robertson of Oakridge, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Robson of Kiddington, B.||Tordoff, L.|
|Rochester, Bp.||Trevethin and Oaksey, L.|
|Rochester, L.||Tweeddale, M.|
|Roll of Ipsden, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Sainsbury, L.||Wakefield, Bp.|
|Scanlon, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Seear, B.||Walston, L.|
|Sefton of Garston, L.||Wedderburn of Charlton, L.|
|Segal, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Serota, B.||Whaddon, L.|
|Shackleton, L.||White, B.|
|Sharp, B.||Wigoder, L. [Teller.]|
|Shaughnessy, L.||Willis, L.|
|Soper, L.||Wilson of Langside, L.|
|Stallard, L.||Wilson of Rievaulx, L.|
|Stewart of Alvechurch, B.||Winchester, Bp.|
|Stewart of Fulham, L.||Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.|
|Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Stone, L.||Winstanley, L.|
|Strabolgi, L.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Tanlaw, L.||Wootton of Abinger, B.|
|Taylor of Blackburn, L.||Young of Dartington, L.|
|Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Abinger, L.||Craigmyle, L.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Craigton, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Crathorne, L.|
|Allerton, L.||Crawford and Balcarres, E.|
|Ampthill, L.||Crawshaw, L.|
|Annaly, L.||Croft, L.|
|Argyll, D.||Cross, V.|
|Arran, E.||Cullen of Ashbourne, L.|
|Ashbourne, L.||De La Warr, E.|
|Astor, V.||Davidson, V.|
|Atholl, D.||De L'Isle, V.|
|Avon, E.||De Ramsey, L.|
|Balfour of Inchrye, L.||Denham, L. [Teller.]|
|Bathurst, E.||Digby, L.|
|Bauer, L.||Dilhorne, V.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Dormer, L.|
|Bellwin, L.||Drumalbyn, L.|
|Belper, L.||Dudley, E.|
|Belstead, L.||Dulverton, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Duncan-Sandys, L.|
|Bethell, L.||Dundee, E.|
|Biddulph, L.||Eccles, V.|
|Birdwood, L.||Eden of Winton, L.|
|Birkenhead, E.||Effingham, E.|
|Boardman, L.||Ellenborough, L.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Elliot of Harwood, B.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Elphinstone, L.|
|Brentford, V.||Elton, L.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Erroll of Hale, L.|
|Brookeborough, V.||Fairfax of Cameron, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Fanshawe of Richmond, L.|
|Broxbourne, L.||Ferrers, E.|
|Buccleuch and Queensberry, D.||Fisher. L.|
|Caccia, L.||Forbes, L.|
|Caithness, E.||Forester, L.|
|Cameron of Balhousie, L.||Fortescue, E.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Freyberg, L.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Gainford, L.|
|Carnock, L.||Gardner of Parkes, B.|
|Cathcart, E.||Gibson-Watt, L.|
|Cayzer, L.||Glanusk, L.|
|Chelwood, L.||Glenarthur, L.|
|Chesham, L.||Gowrie, E.|
|Cockfield, L.||Gray, L.|
|Coleraine, L.||Gray of Contin, L.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Gridley, L.|
|Colwyn, L.||Grimston of Westbury, L.|
|Constantine of Stanmore, L.||Grimthorpe, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Haig, E.|
|Cornwallis, L.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.|
|Cowley, E.||Halsbury, E.|
|Craigavon, V.||Hanson, L.|
|Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Penrhyn, L.|
|Harris of High Cross, L.||Perth, E.|
|Henley, L.||Peyton of Yeovil, L.|
|Hertford, M.||Pritchard, L.|
|Hindlip, L.||Quinton, L.|
|Hives, L.||Radnor, E.|
|Holderness, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Home of the Hirsel, L.||Rawlinson of Ewell, L.|
|Hood, V.||Reay, L.|
|Hornsby-Smith, B.||Redesdale, L.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Renton, L.|
|Ingrow, L.||Renwick, L.|
|Ironside, L.||Rochdale, V.|
|Jessel, L.||Rockley, L.|
|Kaberry of Adel, L.||Rodney, L.|
|Kemsley, V.||Rollo, L.|
|Keyes, L.||Romney, E.|
|Kilmany, L.||Rootes, L.|
|King of Wartnaby, L.||Rotherwick, L.|
|Kinnaird, L.||Rugby, L.|
|Kitchener, E.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Knutsford, V.||St. Davids, V.|
|Lane-Fox, B.||Saint Levan, L.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Salisbury, M.|
|Layton, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Limerick, E.||Selborne, E.|
|Liverpool, E.||Selkirk, E.|
|Long, V.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Shannon, E.|
|Lyell, L.||Sharples, B.|
|McAlpine of Moffat, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|McAlpine of West Green, L.||Southborough, L.|
|McFadzean, L.||Spens, L.|
|McFadzean of Kelvinside, L.||Strathalmond, L.|
|Mackintosh of Halifax, V.||Strathclyde, L.|
|MacLehose of Beoch, L.||Strathspey, L.|
|Macleod of Borve, B.||Sudeley, L.|
|Mancroft, L.||Suffield, L.|
|Margadale, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Marley, L.||Swinton, E. [Teller.]|
|Marshall of Leeds, L.||Taylor of Hadfield, L.|
|Massereene and Ferrard, V.||Thomas of Swynnerton, L.|
|Merrivale, L.||Thorneycroft, L.|
|Mersey, V.||Tollemache, L.|
|Middleton, L.||Torphichen, L.|
|Milne, L.||Townshend, M.|
|Monk Bretton, L.||Tranmire, L.|
|Montgomery of Alamein, V.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Mottistone, L.||Trenchard, V.|
|Mowbray and Stourton, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Moyola, L.||Tryon, L.|
|Murton of Lindisfarne, L.||Tweedsmuir, L.|
|Nairne, Ly.||Vaizey, L.|
|Napier and Ettrick, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Nathan, L.||Vesty, L.|
|Newall, L.||Vickers, B.|
|Northchurch, B.||Waldegrave, E.|
|Northesk, E.||Ward of Witley, V.|
|Nugent of Guildford, L.||Watkinson, V.|
|O'Brien of Lothbury, L.||Westbury, L.|
|Orkney, E.||Whitelaw, V.|
|Orr-Ewing, L.||Wigram, L.|
|Oxfuird, V.||Windlesham, L.|
|Peel, E.||Wynford, L.|
|Pender, L.||Young, B.|
§ Resolaved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 10.2 p.m.
§ The Lord Chancellor
My Lords, the Question now is that the original Motion be agreed to. As many as are of that opinion will say, "Content"? … To the contrary, "Not-Comtent"? … I think the Contents have it?
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
My Lords, before the House proceeds. I wonder whether the noble Viscount, 985 Lord Whitelaw, would tell the House what action he proposes to take in respect of this Bill in view of the powerful vote for the amendment—the most powerful vote in a case of this kind for many years past. In light of the views expressed on all sides of the House, would the noble Viscount give some indication to the House whether he proposes to take the Bill back to the Cabinet and seek to inform the Cabinet of the views expressed in this debate?
§ The Lord President of the Council (Viscount Whitelaw)
My Lords, before I respond to the noble Lord, which I shall do so willingly, I feel I am in a slight difficulty. I am not quite clear whether or not the Bill has received its Second Reading. I understand that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor put the Question. I am very ready to respond to the noble Lord in exactly the same way as he responded to me, but I am a novice in these matters. I understand that it would probably be right if the Bill had its Second Reading before I respond. I hope that would be in order. If not, I shall be pleased to respond beforehand.
§ On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
§ Viscount Whitelaw
My Lords, I am sorry to be niggling on a small point of procedure, but I understood that was correct. Of course I wish to respond to what the noble Lord has said. I accept at once that there has been a major vote in this House, perhaps it would be reasonable for me to say "on both sides", and I think the noble Lord will have to accept that. The noble Lord and I have been on either side of a different House before and I have always understood—and I had some responsibility for these matters—that once one had a majority, and a powerful majority, which I must accept that it is, that is something which means that one proceeds with the legislation in hand. I do not think that anybody on any side of this House would expect me to say otherwise. A substantial majority has been gained on a very high vote.
§ Viscount Whitelaw
My Lords, if noble Lords think it is not a substantial majority that is up to them, but I regard it as a substantial majority—and I am entitled to my view—so would my noble friends.
Having said that, it is perfectly proper for me, as Leader of this House, to say what I believe was said by some noble Lords during this debate and what I hope this House may consider, and I hope I shall not, as a new boy, be unreasonable in saying it. This House is a revising Chamber. The Committee stages of Bills are crucially important. Of course this House will proceed, as it should to the Committee stage of this Bill and many of the arguments that have been put today will be argued strongly in the Committee stage. Some may be successful and some may not, but I hope that, as a revising Chamber, we shall remember that that is our role.
986 I listened to and I hope it will not be unreasonable for me to quote the noble Earl, Lord Perth, who has so much more experience than ever I have had of this House, who questioned our procedure today. He said that he believed the right place to take these arguments in the future was on the Committee stage. Humbly, I feel that he may have been right. I hope that that is the way in which this House will proceed through this Bill.
I will express to my colleagues in the Government, as I think this House knows very well I consistently do, the very strong views of this House on different matters. I think I am entitled to say to this House as well that on many of the issues that have come up from time to time I have been able to persuade my colleagues that the views of this House should prevail on various Bills that have come before us. That is my job as Leader of this House. That is the job which I will undertake. I hope I may be given the credit for that and I will do the same on this Bill as it goes through the Committee stage.
§ Returned from the Commons agreed to.