HL Deb 18 June 1984 vol 453 cc61-85

6.10 p.m.

Read a Third time.

Clause 1 [Power to prescribe maximum rates and precepts]:

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Bellwin) moved Amendment No. 1: Page 2, line 10, after first ("to ") insert ("(a)").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in speaking to Amendment No. 1, I should like to refer also to Amendments Nos. 2, 25, 26, 27, 28 and 29.

Amendment No. 2: Page 2, line 12, at end insert— (b) a levy made on the rating authority under section 13 of the London Regional Transport Act 1984.").

Amendment No. 25: Schedule 1, page 15, line 41, leave out ("the London Transport Executive") and insert ("London Regional Transport").

Amendment No. 26: Schedule 1, page 16, line 45, leave out ("exercise by a transport Board") and insert ("exercise— (i) by the British Railways Board or the British Waterways Board").

Amendment No. 27: Schedule 1, page 16, line 47, at end insert— ("; or (ii) by London Regional Transport of any powers conferred by paragraph 9(2) or 12(1) of Schedule 2 to the London Regional Transport Act 1984.").

Amendment No. 28: Schedule 1, page 19, line 16, leave out ("and").

Amendment No. 29: Schedule 1, page 19, line 18, at end insert—("; and (c) paragraph 3 of Schedule 4 to the London Regional Transport Act 1984.").

I must ask for the indulgence of the House, since all these amendments assume that the London Regional Transport Bill has been enacted. Since that Bill has now had its Third Reading and now been passed by your Lordships' House, I trust that I am not presuming too much.

The purpose of the two amendments to Clause 1 is to regularise the position concerning London boroughs as regards the levy to be imposed under that Bill by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport. As your Lordships will know from the debate we had earlier, LRT is to be funded partly by Exchequer grant and partly by a levy issued to all the rating authorities in London: that is, all the London boroughs.

I am sure your Lordships will agree that it would not be right to expect the LRT levy to be funded from within a rate limited authority's expenditure level or rate limit, and these amendments to Clause I will allow that levy to be excluded from any maximum, thus putting it on a par with the precepts of the major precepting authorities and the Receiver of the Metropolitan Police.

The other amendments (all to Schedule 1) are consequential upon the setting up of London Regional Transport in place of the London Transport Executive and do not, therefore, need further explanation. I beg to move.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, I am rather worried about one of the comments made by the Minister. The second amendment refers to, a levy made on the rating authority under section 13 of the London Regional Transport Act 1984". I know that the Bill has now been passed by this House, but it appears to me that this amendment is already assuming Royal Assent, which the Bill certainly has not yet received.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, that is why, in introducing the amendments, I asked for the indulgence of the House in the obvious interest of not presuming Royal Assent, but on the basis that the Bill had received a Third Reading and had now been passed.

Baroness Birk

Yes, my Lords, I heard and understood what the Minister said. It seems to me that it is a very dangerous precedent which is probably occurring more and more. The fact that there is a tremendous Government majority in the Commons which takes all this for granted is rather disturbing. The Minister explained it— and I am not blaming him for it— but I think it is a worry that it should be so assumed. Asking for indulgence is not the same thing as assuming that the Bill has received Royal Assent, or that it will receive Royal Assent, but I still maintain that the Bill has not received Royal Assent. This should have been managed in a different way and, if necessary, the amendment should have been put in when the Commons consider the Lords' amendments. That is the place for it, not here in this House.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I understand that the Public Bills Office would not have admitted this if there was anything improper. I say again that I put the matter to your Lordships in what I hope was a proper way. It is on that basis that I ask your Lordships to accept the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 2:

[Printed above.]

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

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 2 [Designation of authorities]:

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 2, line 37, leave out front beginning to ("subject") in line 39 and insert— (" (3) If the total of relevant expenditure as estimated for the purposes of the Rate Support Grant Report for any financial year (other than the first) in which this section is in force is greater or smaller than the total of relevant expenditure as estimated for the purposes of the Rate Support Grant Report for the previous financial year, the Secretary of State shall by order substitute for the amount for the time being specified in subsection (2)(a) above (whether £l0 million or an amount previously substituted under this subsection) an amount which is proportionately greater or smaller except that any substituted amount may be rounded to the nearest £100,000. (3A) The power to make an order under subsection (3) above shall be exercisable by statutory instrument.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords in speaking to this amendment I should like to link it to Amendment No. 24, which is consequential. Amendment No. 24: Clause 19, page 13, line 10, after ("1980") insert ("and "relevant expenditure" has the meaning given in section 54 of that Act").

The amendments provide for the £10 million cut-off level for exclusion from the selective scheme to be updated annually. Your Lordships may remember we discussed a similar amendment, tabled by my noble friend Lord Sandford, at Report stage. I said at the time that although I accepted the principle, I could not accept my noble friend's amendment because I believed that the timing implicit in that amendment was wrong, and also because the formula proposed to calculate the amount of the updating would be dependent upon the continuation of expenditure targets.

This present amendment, Amendment No. 3, is the result of the undertaking I gave to my noble friend Lord Sandford to bring forward an amendment which met his objective of providing for the routine updating of the £10 million limit that is both workable and is based on expenditure definitions which are intrinsic to the rate support grant arrangements in the 1980 Act. This amendment provides that after the first year of operation when the limit will be £10 million, thereafter that limit would be adjusted annually in proportion to the increase or decrease in the total of relevant expenditure as detailed in succeeding rate support grant reports. The increase or decrease would be rounded to the nearest £100,000, thus preserving a feature of the amendment of my noble friend Lord Sandford, to avoid unnecessary precision in setting the cut-off level.

By accepting this amendment the value of the present value of the £10 million exemption will be maintained. The large number of smaller authorities will therefore continue to be excluded from rate limitation. This will meet the Government's objective of continuing to ensure that scarce resources are not devoted to rate limiting authorities which made only a tiny impact on the total overspending of local government. And we shall reassure those authorities who were concerned that the value of the £10 million exemption would be eroded by inflation.

Amendment No. 24 is consequential and provides that the definition of relevant expenditure is included in the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Sandford

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for these two amendments. They are the last in a series of amendments which we have considered and debated at each of the previous stages of the Bill. My original amendment was designed to have the effect of ensuring that the £10 million threshold continued to have the same effect on the smaller local authorities after the passage of the Bill as it had when the Bill was presented to Parliament. I think that is the effect it now has.

If I may say so, the result is that the great majority of the district councils will be exempted from the operation of Part I, which is welcome in itself. It is also welcome because, as my noble friend says, it will have the effect of not wasting a lot of the officials' time in the Department of the Environment and in local government by going over the affairs of these smaller authorities.

Perhaps I may correct something which my noble friend said. The spending of the Association of District Councils has no effect, or has not for the last two years, on the economic policies of the Government because in aggregate they are not overspending at all.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, can the noble Lord give us an example of an authority which will come into this category: and how many will come into it? Can be give us one or two names so that we know what it is all about? It is a little bit woolly. When we are talking about the metropolitan counties, everbody knows who they are. But may we have an instance of districts to which it might apply, and also how many he thinks that it will apply to?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, the noble Baroness gives me quite a task! I understand that it is all the shire districts in the country, apart from 21. As the song says, "Where do I begin?" I think that is really the point the noble Baroness is seeking: it is all but 21. If my memory serves me right, the total is 296, and it is all but 21 of those; so it affects a great number of authorities. If the noble Baroness would like me to, I can have a shot at reeling off the names of some of the shire districts; but I think that she is probably satisfied with what I have said.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, with the indulgence of the House, may I ask the noble Lord to name some of the 21?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, that it not too hard. They include authorities such as Leicester, Nottingham— dare I say it?— Portsmouth and Plymouth. It is that kind of authority.

Lord Sandford

My Lords, may I congratulate my noble friend? That is a very good effort.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

6.21 p.m.

Baroness Birk moved Amendment No. 4: Page 3, leave out line 4 and insert ("the subject of an order under section 4 of this Act specifying a maximum rate for the financial year in which a report is laid under subsection (1) of this section").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment and Amendment No. 7 deal with aspects of Amendments Nos. 4 and 13 tabled by the Government on Report. Amendment No. 7: Page 3, line 31, leave out from ("been") to end of line 32 and insert ("the subject of an order under section 4 of this Act specifying a maximum rate for the financial year preceding that in which a maximum determined under subsection (1) of this section is to have effect").

The House will remember that on Report I drew attention to the fact that these were very important and substantial amendments, although they had been put down rather late on the Marshalled List. The most important thing was the effect of them. The Minister apologised for the lateness of their being put down. He said that he would rather have the provision in the Bill and then, if he felt that there was any change he could make, he would do so and let me know. That put me in the position of not being able to do much more about it at that stage, although, as I am afraid I rightly suspected, no joy came from the very polite letter that he then wrote to me.

The whole Bill is so complicated that it is difficult to make anything appear easy or clear. The position now is that if an authority has been designated in the previous year, special rules may apply to it for the purposes of designation the following year and for determining its expenditure limit. On Report, where the provision arrived very late, I expressed concern which was echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, from the Alliance Benches.

This enlargement in the number of sets of principles available to the Secretary of State to designate authorities gives him powers even wider than the Bill already contained before the amendments were introduced. Unfortunately, the amendments are now part of the Bill. The new situation is undesirable, as the previous panoply of powers open to the Secretary of State had already been the subject of a great deal of criticism and concern from all sides. What those changes do is to facilitate a permanent hit list by the extension of discretion. Whatever an authority does, it cannot escape the Government's shackles. Any loophole has now been closed.

Even if the Government were correct in saying that equity demanded that different rules should apply to those authorities which had reduced expenditure because they were forced to do so, the criterion to adopt should not be designation, as the amendment moved on Report stipulated, but final rate limitation. These amendments deal only with this last point. The question is whether it should be designation or forced rate limitation that makes an authority subject to special rules in the following year. We believe that it should be the enforced rate limitation.

When he wrote to me on 11th June, the Minister said: Whilst designation is the first step in the process of rate limitation, it is the point at which it becomes clear that an authority will be required to reduce its spending". The point is that it is not clear at that stage, because designation is the first step in rate limitation. At that stage the Secretary of State will use principles to determine those authorities whose expenditure appears to him, to be excessive having regard to general economic conditions". which are stated in the Bill. One safeguard— perhaps the only safeguard— of acting in accordance with principles is that the Secretary of State will have to use only the information available to him in budget returns, and so on, to arrive at the conclusion that an authority's spending is prima facie excessive.

The Bill recognises that designation is very much a first shot by establishing the process of redetermination in Clause 3, under which a designated authority may put to the Secretary of State its case for a higher expenditure limit. The Secretary of State may then take into account the peculiar circumstances of that authority; for instance, why it is that the City of London, if it were to be designated, spends at 247 per cent. above GREA compared with neighbouring Hackney and Islington which can provide services at only 79 per cent. and 50 per cent. above GREA.

As a result of derogation, the Secretary of State may give an authority a higher expenditure limit— perhaps one involving no reduction in expenditure at all. But even if a designated authority were to be let off, it must still be the subject of a rate limitation notice. The only way then of defining those authorities against which the case for overspending is more than prima facie is by reference to the authorities which would be the subject of a rate limitation order under Clause 4. That is why the power to redesignate in accordance with special principles should be not according to whether or not the authority has been designated but according to whether or not the authority has been the subject of a rate limitation order.

I apologise to the House for that rather lengthy explanation, but it really is the fault of the way the Bill is drafted and also of the amendments which were put in on Report and which many of us find so objectionable. I beg to move.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, these two amendments seek to modify the changes we made at Report stage of the Bill, as the noble Baroness said. At that time we argued that, where authorities had been designated for rate limitation in one year, the Secretary of State should be able to use different principles in the following year to decide whether to designate those authorities and to decide on how to set an expenditure level for them. The problem for which we were providing was that in the second or subsequent year of the selective rate limitation scheme, authorities which had been limited in the previous year would have had their expenditure restrained as a result of having been rate limited. For example, we would expect them to spend at or close to their expenditure target; and, if we wanted to have regard to spending against targets as one of the criteria of selection in the next year, those authorities might then evade rate limitation because of a short-term improvement in their performance which had been forced on them rather than because their spending had been reduced to a significantly lower level or because they were making efforts on their own account to improve their performance.

We do not think it would be sensible to remove from rate limitation those authorities simply because of the evidence of a single year when, on the evidence of the GRE test, for example, it remained a high spender or it had a recent history of systematically increasing its spending over a run of years.

The case for having a power to use different principles in setting expenditure levels for previously designated authorities was slightly different. If reselected, authorities would enter rate limitation with a history of having made some economies. Those authorities may, therefore, find it more difficult to achieve further savings than authorities selected for the first time.

We wanted to be able to take account of that when setting the expenditure level. The amendments now before us would allow the use of different principles only in cases where a designated authority had been set a rate or precept maximum by order under Clause 4(4). This would be the circumstance where, after considerable discussion, the Secretary of State and the authority cannot agree on the final rate limit and it has to be put to the House of Commons to be determined in a statutory instrument.

The argument is that where the authority acquiesces in the limit proposed by the Secretary of State it should be treated as if it was the same as all other authorities which have not been rate limited. I do not accept that argument. It is not the way in which the rate limit is imposed which sets such authorities apart from other authorities, but the fact that a limit has been set. It is, of course, possible that not all the designated authorities will have a rate limit imposed on them by order. Indeed, once any discussions between the authority and the Secretary of State about the expenditure level have been settled, it may be possible for many of the designated authorities to accept a conversion of that expenditure figure into a rate figure, since that would be largely mechanical. The operative decision which will affect the way in which selection for a subsequent year is approached will be the setting of the expenditure level.

I have listened to the noble Baroness and her argument that designation in itself should not be sufficient to justify the use of different principles. That argument rests on the fact that the designation reports will not be approved by the House of Commons. We have debated at length the question of whether the decisions of the Secretary of State should be subjected to some specific statutory approval or whether— as I have argued throughout— the procedures of the other place to oversee the actions of the Executive are adequate for this purpose. The act of designation is a first step in the process of rate limitation. Once designated authorities have a rate limit set for them, it is that fact which will set them apart in considering their expenditure performance in the future.

It has been argued that only authorities which have had a rate limit set by order are actually being forced to make savings— other authorities in acquiescing in the Secretary of State's rate limit, should be entitled to take credit for the savings which result. I do not agree with that and I have explained why.

I cannot accept these amendments. I think that, in resting on the designation procedures, we have chosen a clear and unambiguous point of reference for deciding when it is appropriate to treat one group of authorities as substantially different from another for these purposes. With that explanation, I hope that your Lordships will understand why we cannot accept the amendment.

Baroness Birk

My Lords. I found the Minister's reply very unsatisfactory. To say that this is clear and unambiguous I thought was really using way out language to describe any part of this Bill and certainly these amendments. When they were moved on Report and I saw them on the Order Paper. I was extremely concerned about them. When the Minister said he had looked at them. I hoped, as I said earlier— although without much hope— that he might do something about them, but he has not. As I said before, what this has done is shackled authorities with an ever tighter noose. Therefore I shall do what, in order to enable the Minister to have another chance, I did not do on Report: I will press this to a Division.

6.33 p.m.

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

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 79; Not-Contents, 108.

Airedale, L. Elwyn-Jones, L.
Amherst, E. Ennals, L.
Ardwick, L. Evans of Claughton, L.
Attlee, E. Fisher of Rednal, B.
Aylestone, L. Gaitskell, B.
Barnett, L. Gallacher, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L Gladwyn, L.
Beswick, L. Graham of Edmonton, L.[Teller.]
Birk, B.
Blyton, L. Grey, E.
Boston of Faversham, L. Hampton, L.
Brockway, L. Hanworth, V.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L Harris of Greenwich, L.
Bruce of Denington, L Hatch of Lusby, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L Hirshfield, L.
Collison, L. Houghton of Sowerby, L.
David, B. Howie of Troon, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Jacques, L.
Denington, B. Jeger, B.
Diamond, L. Jenkins of Putney, L.
Donnet of Balgay, L. John-Mackie, L.
Kilmarnock, L. Rochester, L.
Lovell-Davis, L. Seear, B.
McCarthy, L. Sefton of Garston, L.
McCluskey, L. Stallard, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Mayhew, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Meston, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Mishcon, L. Stone, L.
Molloy, L. Strabolgi, L.
Northfield, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Ogmore, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Oram, L. Tordoff L.
Peart, L. Underhill, L.
Phillips, B. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Pitt of Hampstead, L. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.] Whaddon, L.
Winterbottom, L.
Rea, L. Wootton of Abinger, B.
Rhodes, L. Young of Dartington, L.
Roberthall, L.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Lyell, L.
Allerton, L. McAlpine of Moffat, F.
Auckland, L. McAlpine of West Green, L.
Avon, E. McFadzean, L.
Bauer, L. MacLehose of Beoch, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Bellwin, L. Mancroft, L.
Belstead, L. Margadale, L.
Brabazon of Tara. L. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Bruce-Gardyne, L. Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon, L.
Caithness, E.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Minto, E.
Campbell of Croy, L. Molson, L.
Chelwood, L. Mottistone, L.
Cockfield, L. Morton of Lindisfarne, L.
Cottesloe, L. Napier and Ettrick, L..
Crathorne, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Croft, L. Onslow, E.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Orkney, E.
Davidson, V. Pender, L.
De La Warr, E. Penrhyn, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Dilhorne, V. Platt of Writtle, B.
Eccles, V. Renton, L.
Ellenborough, L. Renwick, L.
Elles, B. Rodney, L.
Elton, L. Romney, E.
Fairfax of Cameron, L. St. Aldwyn, E.
Faithfull, B. St. Davids, V.
Fanshawe of Richmond, L. Saint Oswald, L
Fortescue, E. Saltoun, Ly.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Sandford, L.
Gainford, L. Savile, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Sempill, Ly.
Gibson-Watt, L. Shannon, E.
Glanusk, L. Shaughnessy, L.
Glenarthur, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Gowrie, E. Spens, L.
Grantchester, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Gridley, L.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Swinton, E. [Teller.]
Teviot, L.
Halsbury, E. Tranmire, L.
Hankey, L. Trefgarne, L.
Hayter, L. Trumpington, B.
Home of the Hirsel, L. Vaizey, L.
Hood, V. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Hornsby-Smith, B. Vickers, B.
Hylton-Foster, B. Waldegrave, E.
Ingrow, L. Westbury, L.
Kitchener, E. Whitelaw, V.
Lane-Fox, B. Windlesham, L
Lauderdale, E. Wynford, L.
Lindsey and Abingdon, E. Young, B.
Long, V.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Clause 3 [Expenditure levels]:

6.43 p.m.

Lord Ennals moved Amendment No. 5: Page 3, line 27, after ("State") insert ("which shall include a Statement exempting from calculation any expenditure on social services to those groups which the Secretary of State for Health and Social Services shall define from time to time as priority groups, but which shall include people with mental disorder, as defined in section 1 of the Mental Health Act 1983, and elderly people over 75").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I believe that it will be for the convenience of the House if, together with this amendment we take Amendments Nos. 9, 11 and 12.

Amendment No. 9: Page 4, line 14, after ("requirements") insert ("including the expenditure on priority groups as set out in subsection (9) below.").

Amendment No. 11: Page 4, line 26, at end insert— ("( ) In making a decision under subsection (5) above the Secretary of State shall have regard to the extent (if any) to which the authority's proposed expenditure is to consist of contributions to charities registered, or excepted from registration, under section 4 of the Charities Act 1960. ").

Amendment No. 12: Page 4, line 26, at end insert— (" ( ) The Secretary of State shall exempt from calculations all expenditure by a local authority on social services to the priority groups, including services provided by registered charities as its agents. The local authority shall raise the rate as agreed with the Secretary of State under subsection (I) above and in addition a rate at the local authority's own discretion to cover its expenditure on the priority groups.").

Amendment No. 11 is a Government amendment, and Amendment No. 9 is linked with Amendment No. 5. Amendment No. 12 is a little different. I want to concentrate on Amendment No. 5 and examine the two subjects of the amendment, which are closely linked.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, I intervene only to ask whether all those amendments are being taken together, because I did not catch the numbers.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, I am sorry that I did not make it absolutely clear. The four amendments being taken together are Amendment No. 5, standing in my name and that of the noble Lord. Lord Kilmarnock; Amendments Nos. 9 and 12 also standing in the names of myself and the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock: and Amendment No. 11, standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin. Obviously, I shall not move Amendment No. 11; the noble Lord will do that himself. It is, however, part of the same debate.

It will be recalled that at the Report stage the noble Baroness. Lady Faithfull, on behalf of herself, the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, and myself, moved an amendment that sought to protect charities in the rate-capping operation. In her very first sentence at column 518 on 5th June, the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, said: this amendment means that voluntary organisations registered with the Charity Commission would be outside local authority rate-capping". I shall not take the quotation further than that. The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, was extremely responsive to an excellent speech made by the noble Baroness and said that he accepted the principle, that he would take the issue back and that he would come back with an amendment. That appears as Amendment No. 11, which he will, of course, explain himself. This brought some joy to the House. All of us appreciate the work of charitable organisations; and all of us recognise the deep fear of some charities that their work in the community, and particularly in the social services and the information field— by "information" I refer to the Citizens Advice Bureaux— might suffer unless there is some sort of exemption for them. I was therefore delighted, as I know were my colleagues, that the noble Lord. Lord Bellwin, decided to table Amendment No. 11. I must say that I do not absolutely understand the implications of it. I think that I do, but I would prefer to have the noble Lord's interpretation of exactly what the amendment means, and its implications, rather than put my own gloss on it.

The amendment standing in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, is identical to an amendment that we proposed at Report stage. I was then tremendously encouraged when the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, said at column 529 on 5th June, in debating the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull: When the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, comes to the amendment, he will know that he does not have to press the case very hard". The noble Lord said later: I shall accept that put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, for the reason I have given, to the extent that I shall want to take it away and see what I can come back with, hoping that it will be satisfactory". My hope was, of course, as great as his, but it turned out to be frustrated. Although the noble Lord was generous enough to have consultations with me, he was not able to bring back any amendment at all in relation to the amendment which I had withdrawn because of the assurance given by the noble Lord.

The purpose of this amendment, which is identical to the amendment on the Marshalled List at Report stage, is to discount expenditure on priority groups in the social services set by the Secretary of State for Social Services. That means the elderly. I was going to say the very elderly but you do not have to be very elderly to be 75 and over. Some of the brightest Members of your Lordships' House are aged 75 and over. But there are some people of that age who cannot be so described. They are considered by the Secretary of State for Social Services, in his wisdom, to be priority cases together with the mentally disordered; namely, the mentally handicapped and the mentally ill. This is not an amendment linked specifically with charitable organisations. We recognised that it would be impossible for local authorities to push on to charities all the work connected with the care and welfare of these priority groups— the mentally ill and the mentally handicapped, and the elderly needing a great deal of assistance.

Even recognising the keenness, the enthusiasm and the mental ability of those aged over 75 in this House, nevertheless, in the country, the demands made on the health service by those over 75 are now of the order of eight times these applying to the rest of the population. All of us recognise that with an ageing population there is a need for more work to be done, particularly in the context of health and social services policy, to keep people in the community for as long as possible, to discharge them into the community as early as possible if they have been in hospital and to develop care in the community rather than having people subjected excessively to hospital treatment.

Last week, in a Starred Question, we looked at the possible closure of a psychiatric hospital, with several hundred beds, and of a geriatric hospital. Both closures would impose enormous burdens upon one local authority, namely, Lambeth, which is one of those that one understands is on the hit list; one should be surprised if it were not on the Minister's hit list of 12 or so.

We believe that the priorities which have been set by the Secretary of State for Social Services, namely, these two categories, are ones that your Lordships would not wish to undermine in any way. No one could disagree that, wherever we can, we must give priority to community needs, but it cannot be done simply by the charitable organisations. Very often skills and training as well as professional staffs are needed to assist with these particular groups.

As I have said, before the time came to move the amendment on the last occasion the noble Lord gave me the good news that he was going to take it away, and so I did not press my arguments at all. I was delighted, because I thought we were going to have two victories, and not simply one. We are now talking about what we would have been talking about at Report stage; that is, to ensure protection for the social service provision for the priority groups of the very elderly and the mentally disordered. Even though the Minister did not understand my two amendments, he is certainly not a hard-hearted man; no one could say that of him. I hope that he has had time to reflect, since we had the opportunity of meeting, and will accept this amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, obviously I should like to support this amendment, to which my name has been added. At the last stage of the Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, spelt out some of his objections to what, in shorthand, I may call the priority groups amendment; they were mainly financial objections. But those objections do not help us to know how the Government's own policy of care in the community is to be carried out. I have said before, and. at the risk of boring your Lordships, I repeat, that there is a contradiction between the Government's policy to return suitable long-stay patients to the community, thus making it possible to close uneconomic, old hospitals, and the constraints imposed on local authorities, who have a large role to play in the implementation of this policy. As I see it, that is an essential contradiction between two branches, or prongs, of the Government's policy.

We are very glad to see on the Marshalled List the noble Lord's amendment, Amendment No. 11, to which he will shortly be speaking, and in which he has gone some way to meet the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, in her plea for the exemption of all genuine charities from rate capping under this Bill. But it seems to me that there are still going to be quite considerable hurdles for voluntary bodies and local authorities to surmount. I understand they will have to use the redetermination procedure to apply under the Government's new proposal.

What I should like to put to the noble Lord is that, if he is not happy about the main priority groups amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, has moved, when he comes to speak to his own amendment, Amendment No. 11, he should give local authorities and voluntary organisations some clear signals as to the types of bid which might expect some success under the new procedure, which we welcome, that he is proposing to bring into the Bill.

I would argue with him— I think he would partly accept my argument; at least, I hope he would— that the Government should make a substantial exception in favour of charities aiding local authorities to carry out their responsibilities for care in the community. As the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, explained, these are the groups which are identified in the Government's own consultation document on this subject and subsequently referred to again in the DHSS circular suggesting how local authorities should proceed as regards the groups. As the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, has said, they are the mentally ill, the mentally handicapped, and the elderly— in his amendment, people over 75, which is the age at which the National Health Service costs for elderly people begin to escalate to an enormous extent.

If the Government are not happy and do not want to accept the group of amendments of the noble Lord. Lord Ennals, then I think that the least the noble Lord the Minister can do is put on record that the Government will look favourably on bids for these purposes; that is to say, the purposes mentioned by the noble Lord. Lord Ennals, and actually backed by the Government in their own care in the community policy.

It would be a great help to voluntary organisations to know more or less where they stand on this front. After all, during the course of the last Administration, as well as during the time of this Administration, the Government have encouraged voluntary organisations actually to expand on a county-wide basis in order to carry out some of these responsibilities. Some of them are very unhappy about the uncertain ground on which they now stand. I am sure that the noble Lord will be able to help them a great deal when he comes to speak to his own amendment.

I would say, finally, that though the age of 75 is specified in this amendment, the problems really begin at 65, which is what one might call the official age at which these elderly long-stay patients begin to become a charge on the National Health Service. I very much hope that the noble Lord will be able to help us when he comes to make his own speech.

6.57 p.m.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I hope I can help. I am well aware that throughout the attempts I have made to meet your Lordships on this question I have not been able to go as far as has been wished. But let me see whether I can develop the points, as quickly as I can, though at the same time it is important that the record should be complete. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock. I know it is the view also of the noble Lord, Lord Ennals. I am grateful for the opportunity to put on record the Government's thinking on the implications of this Bill for local funding for charities. We have discussed the matter several times, and, as I say, I am grateful to all who have brought this forward.

We have before us a group of amendments tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Ennals and Lord Kilmarnock, and also the Government amendment. I should like again to put on record the Government's recognition of the valuable work done by voluntary bodies, complementing and supplementing statutory services across the whole spectrum. That support runs throughout the Government, from the top down. The Government's own support of the voluntary sector— grants to the tune of £150 million in 1982– 83, and a massive collaboration through MSC programmes— is perhaps the most tangible evidence of our commitment, but we value also the partnership of local authorities and the voluntary sector, which underpins so much of the work of voluntary and charitable organisations locally.

I should like also to register the Government's understanding of the importance of the work which local authorities themselves do in the field of local social services. Our own expenditure plans have provided for a 39 per cent, increase in spending on local personal social services since 1981– 82. That compares with a 22 per cent. increase for local authority spending generally. I hope that demonstrates the extent of the financial backing which underlies the various Government policy intiatives in the field, such as care in the community.

There are two basic principles which underlie this legislation. First, our objective is to control the spending and the rating of the minority of the highest spending authorities. We are not, therefore, talking about authorities who are already strapped for cash, as the saying goes. Secondly, it would be wrong for this legislation to encroach on the freedom of local authorities to decide their own priorities locally for spending within their overall limits. I am sure that those in your Lordships' House who have personal knowledge of local government would support us strongly in this objective.

It is against this background that I have looked at the very fair arguments put forward by noble Lords. Let me explain the problems that I see in some of their proposals and say why those considerations have led me to the solution proposed in my amendment, Amendment No. 11. Much of the concern that underlies the amendments put forward by others is that authorities will be so restricted in their expenditure level that they will be unable, or possibly unwilling, to fund properly voluntary organisations or charities, or their own social services. I have already pointed out that we are here talking about only the most excessive spending authorities; no more than 12 to 20. As I have said so many times before, the expenditure levels we set must be reasonable and cannot seek unattainable cuts.

Given those two factors, I think that it is wrong for voluntary organisations— whose work is generally valued in the local community— to be pessimistic. Grant giving is a tiny proportion of the cost of the main local authority services. Social services grants, for example, were some £50 million in 1981– 82 against social services spending of £2,321 million. So all the evidence of variations in the cost of main line services suggests that local authorities which find themselves rate capped will have scope for the necessary savings elsewhere without slashing their support for worthwhile voluntary sector activities.

We must keep a sense of perspective. Of course it may be possible for an authority to decide to cut back on its support for these organisations. But I repeat that we are talking only of the 12 to 20 highest spending councils, and it is inconceivable that all of those would take that same negative attitude. The maximum extent of the problem envisaged may be no more than two or three authorities. But I accept at once that the concern expressed by charities and voluntary bodies is genuinely felt.

Two solutions have been put forward. First, the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady Faithfull at Report stage sought to leave spending on charities out of account when fixing the expenditure level. But such an amendment would have the perverse effect of reducing the amount of money available to the authority and would make it more difficult for it to maintain its support for charities. Unfortunately therefore I do not think that there is a solution down this road, and I am confident that on reflection my noble friend will agree.

Secondly, the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, and the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, have pursued a different road by suggesting a split in the rate of an authority. One rate would be limited and the other rate, for defined priority services, would be unlimited. I have difficulty with that approach. Without power to direct what authorities spend their money on— which I do not believe your Lordships would want— it would be possible for an authority to levy a substantial rate nominally for priority group spending, but in reality to spend it in whatever way it wished. And frankly that would drive a coach and horses through the legislation.

The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, also goes wider than charities and refers to spending on priority services, some of which would be provided by the authority itself. The distinction is not between for whom the service is provided, but who is providing the service. Grant aid to charitable organisations is in a different category. Because grants are often small and short term they may seem easy to cut; but to the organisations which rely on them, and whose scope for savings may be very limited, they can be far more damaging than cuts in larger services.

That brings me conveniently to the amendment which I have tabled. In thinking about what we ought to do, it seemed clear that what was needed was some way of giving special prominence to local authorities' funding of charitable organisations, but which stopped short of central direction of the authority's spending. For the reasons I have given, it is not possible to achieve this objective through changes in the expenditure level system. But it is possible to do something at the later stage at which an authority applies for a redetermination of its expenditure level. That is the stage at which the authority makes its case to the Minister for a higher level of expenditure to be allowed. At that stage the Minister is allowed to depart from general principles in order to take account of the authority's particular circumstances.

At present the Bill does not give any guidance to the Secretary of State on how he should decide applications for redetermination. The Government's amendment proposes that in making decisions he should have regard to the extent (if any) to which the authorty's proposed expenditure is to consist of contributions to charities registered, or excepted from registration under section 4 of the Charities Act 1960". I think this is an important step forward. I was very glad to see from the newspapers that the NCVO have welcomed it. The amendment would have the effect of giving charitable organisations a clear status on the face of the statute. The words, "shall have regard" are unambiguous. There can be no doubt that the Secretary of State will have to do that when considering applications and could be challenged in the courts if he did not. Moreover, in order to fulfil the requirement, the Secretary of State will specifically have to ensure that he has the necessary information from authorities about their proposals in relation to charities.

I should perhaps stress here— because we have not discussed in this House how the Secretary of State will consider applications— that of course his decision will be taken in the light of advice from his service colleagues about the issues raised and how they are related to the priorities of the Government generally, say for services to mentally handicapped people or, in another field, to support for work among the ethnic minorities.

It may also be asked what would happen if' the authority made no application for a redetermination. Of course that would be a matter for them. But I put it to your Lordships that where an authority was considering cutting its support to charities because of the pressures of the expenditure level, the charities concerned would be in a strong position to press the council to apply for a redetermination simply because of this amendment. And if the authority should then apply for a redetermination, it would be possible for the charities in that area to write to the Secretary of State to support their case, or, to make an independent case if the authority was proposing to reduce their support. The Secretary of State would have to take these representations into account.

It might also be asked why the amendment is limited to registered charities. I think that I have already explained why I do not believe that local authorities' own services ought to be covered by any special arrangements. In our earlier debate we noted that talk about voluntary bodies at large would cast our net too wide. I think that there was a large measure of agreement on that. That is why we have tightened up on the proposition which was originally put to us by my noble friend Lady Faithfull. I think that is helpful and it is right, when we are establishing a specially advantageous position in the legislation to be confident that it does not extend too widely.

I have to be frank however that there is no way in which we could force local authorities to spend money in a particular way. The amendment will not therefore compel any particular level of support to charities in any area. That of course is the existing position. Having said that, I find it difficult to believe that authorities— once we are past what I would call the sabre rattling stage— would want to cut off funds to charities, knowing that a case could be made to the Secretary of State under the terms of this amendment.

I have spoken at length and I do not want to say any more except to raise one matter. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, refers to "people with mental disorder", and to the elderly. Those groups will be covered by the Government amendment in so far as they are provided for by registered charities of which leading examples are MENCAP, MIND and Age Concern. I have also explained that applications for redetermination will be taken in the light of advice from those Ministers responsible for particular services who will want to ensure that the Secretary of State is fully aware of the Government's priorities for particular items of spending.

I do not want to say any more. I apologise for the length of my explanation; but I think that everyone felt that it was important that the record should show the Government's thinking on this matter so that those concerned can look at and understand clearly where we stand. I hope that the noble Lord and my noble friend Lady Faith full will feel that we have gone, if not all the way— and I know that they would have wanted us to go further— at least a long way to try to recognise the great concern which they have very fairly expressed.

7.9 p.m.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords. I should like to speak to both Amendments Nos. 5 and 11. As regards Amendment No. 5, naturally I have the deepest sympathy for the amendment for the reasons that have been put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, and the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock. However, a number of us in the social work field did not altogether agree with the priority groups that were noted in the circular that went out to the local authorities. In different parts of the country there are different problems. For instance, many of us at that time were very worried about the problems of the single parent family; the homeless; and families with children. There was also the question of the citizens advice bureaux. Therefore, as regards Amendment No. 5 I would be a little unhappy if priority were to go into the Bill. That is not to say that I am not very sympathetic to and very understanding of the reasons why the two noble Lords have tabled this amendment.

I turn to Amendment No. 11, which is the Government's amendment in response to the general amendment. First, I should like to thank my noble friend the Minister for the great care and consideration that he has given to the amendment which we put forward last time. I am particularly grateful to him. I met with him and then the three of us whose names were down to the amendment met him. We are very grateful for his thoughtfulness and kindness, and for his very deep appreciation and understanding of the great value of the voluntary organisations with charitable status.

I should like to ask the Minister about two matters. They concern the question of administration. If a local authority turns down the application of a charitable organisation, and the charitable organisation then applies to the Minister (and I understood the Minister to say that that would be the procedure), will this be dealt with expeditiously? Local authorities and voluntary organisations must plan ahead financially; they must know a good 12 months in advance what will happen— first, in order to formulate their policies; secondly, in order to know what they can spend the money on; and, thirdly (and this is very important from the point of view of the morale of staff) the staff must know whether or not they are to continue with the work. This is a vitally important situation.

Therefore, I ask my noble friend the Minister whether it would be possible for his department to issue guidelines, both to local authorities and to voluntary organizations, enjoining both to act expeditiously and not least of all his own department when the applications come in, so that there is not a time lag which makes for very great inefficiency and difficulty over the administration of the voluntary organisations. Having said that, again I should like to thank my noble friend for this amendment and for his consideration of the great value of the voluntary organisations.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords. I listened with great interest to what the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, has said. One of the problems affecting housing associations, which was raised when we dealt with housing benefits, was the debts that have accrued because the money is not forthcoming when it is needed. So I fully sympathise with the point that the noble Baroness. Lady Faithfull, makes about making quite sure that payment is made as quickly as possible.

The noble Lord the Minister spoke about redetermination. I am concerned because at present the paving Bill for the abolition of the metropolitan councils and the GLC is before the House. A tremendous amount of money is being spent by the GLC in particular on many charities— many of them the same charities as have been mentioned this afternoon. It is very difficult for us to discuss redetermination when we know very well of the great bulk of the money— I think it even runs into millions of pounds— which the GLC donates to charities. Will the redetermination be in the boroughs; will they have the money which the GLC now give out? Many of those authorities are now the high-spending authorities which spend a tremendous amount on services and charities. Will they have to apply for a redetermination or will they be excluded because they are a rate-capping authority?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, by leave of the House and very quickly— my noble friend Lady Faithfull asked whether the department would issue guidelines. I should like to look into that to see whether that can be done. I should also want to consider the other points that she made. I take her point that the staff need to know. That is very important. Perhaps I may respond to her by saying that I should like to take a close look at that matter, and of course I shall come back to her on it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, was concerned whether the boroughs would receive the money that at present goes to the GLC. The position regarding the money for these various causes that goes to the GLC through the various processes would be the same. They will have the money. It will be for them to decide what to do with it. Concern is being expressed by the noble Lords, Lord Ennals, Lord Kilmarnock, and others, because they say that one authority may have one policy and others might have a different policy. This is why the Government take the line that they are taking about registered charities. We do not want them to be disadvantaged in any way. We are putting them in a special position: we are writing them onto the face of the Bill. We do not want them to be worse off, and I am confident that they will not be.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, with the leave of the House, perhaps I did not make myself clear. Will some of these authorities which are already on the rate-capping list be able to apply for a redetermination?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, the answer to that is: absolutely. They will be able to bring forward their expenditure on the registered charities when they apply for a redetermination, and that will be taken into special consideration.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, in winding up this debate and as the mover of the amendment, I should like to repeat what the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, said. I thank the Minister very sincerely for the trouble that he has taken, and I greatly appreciate the amendment which he has tabled. We may still find that discussion about its application may be helpful later on. I also agree that guidelines will be necessary, not only for local authorities but for voluntary organisations. Until they are told exactly what this will mean, I do not think that they will be at all clear about the situation. As citizens advice bureaux are registered charities, I presume that they will be included, and are not omitted from the Minister's amendment.

On these Benches we feel deeply about the need to protect the two priority groups— the elderly in our population and the mentally disordered. The Minister has not been able to give us anything in this respect at all (and he admitted this), and I honestly do not think it would be right for me to withdraw the amendment.

7.18 p.m.

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

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 70; Not-Contents, 103.

Airedale, L. Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.
Ardwick, L. Collison, L.
Attlee, E. Darcy (de Knayth), B.
Aylestone, L. Dean of Beswick, L.
Barnett, L. Diamond, L.
Beswick, L. Elwyn-Jones, L.
Birk, B. Ennals, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Evans of Claughton, L.
Broadbridge, L. Fisher of Rednal, B.
Brockway, L. Gallacher, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Gladwyn, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Graham of Edmonton, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove. L. Grey, E.
Hampton, L. Peart, L.
Hanworth, V. Phillips, B.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Hatch of Lusby, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]
Hirshfield, L.
Howie of Troon, L. Rhodes, L.
Ingleby, V. Rochester, L.
Jacques, L. Seear, B.
Jeger, B. Stallard, L.
John-Mackie, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Kilmarnock, L. [Teller.] Stewart of Fulham, L.
Kirkhill, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Lloyd of Kilgerran, L. Stone, L.
Lovell-Davis, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
McCarthy, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
McCluskey, L. Tordoff, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. Underhill, L.
Mayhew, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Meston, L. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Mishcon, L. Whaddon, L.
Molloy, L. Wootton of Abinger, B.
Ogmore, L. Young of Dartington, L.
Oram, L.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Lauderdale, E.
Ashbourne, L. Lindsey and Abingdon, E.
Auckland, L. Long, V.
Avon, E. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Bauer, L. Lyell, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. McAlpine of West Green, L.
Bellwin, L. McFadzean, L.
Beloff, L. MacLehose of Beoch, L.
Belstead, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Mancroft, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Margadale, L.
Broxbourne, L. Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon, L.
Bruce-Gardyne, L.
Buckinghamshire, E. Minto, E.
Buckmaster, V. Monson, L.
Caithness, E. Montagu of Beaulieu, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Mottistone, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Carnock, L. Norwich, Bp.
Chelwood, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Cottesloe, L. Onslow, E.
Craigavon, V. Orkney, E.
Craigmyle, L. Orr-Ewing, L.
Crathorne, L. Pender, L.
Croft, L. Penrhyn, L.
Davidson, V. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Platt of Writtle, B.
Dilhorne, V. Reading, M.
Eccles, V. Renton, L.
Elles, B. Rodney, L.
Elton, L. Romney, E.
Faithfull, B. St. Aldwyn, E.
Fanshawe of Richmond, L. Saint Oswald, L.
Fortescue, E. Saltoun, Ly.
Gainford, L. Sandford, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Savile, L.
Glanusk, L. Sharples, B.
Glenarthur, L. Shaughnessy, L.
Gowrie, E. Skelmersdale, L.
Grantchester, L. Swinfen, L.
Gridley, L. Swinton, E. [Teller.]
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Teviot, L.
Tranmire, L.
Halsbury, E. Trefgarne, L.
Hankey, L. Trumpington, B.
Henderson of Brompton, L. Vickers, B.
Henley, L. Waldegrave, E.
Hornsby-Smith, B. Westbury, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Whitelaw, V.
Inglewood, L. Windlesham, L.
Ingrow, L. Wynford, L.
Kitchener, E. Young, B.
Lane-Fox, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

7.26 p.m.

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 6: Page 3, line 29, leave out ("section 2(5)") and insert ("subsection (5) of section 2").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, if I speak to Amendments Nos. 6 and 8 I shall not detain your Lordships for very long. Amendment No. 8: Page 3, line 31, leave out ("section 2 above") and insert ("that section").

These are technical amendments and merely seek to improve the wording of an amendment which your Lordships accepted during Report stage on principles applying to authorities previously selected. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 7 not moved.]

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 8:

[Printed above]

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 9 not moved.]

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 10:

Page 4, line 26, at end insert— ("and within 28 days of the date of such service as aforesaid he shall cause an abstract of such notice as aforesaid to be published on at least one occasion in a newspaper circulating in the area of the authority concerned and in the London Gazette").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we come to Amendment No. 10. The Minister will quickly tell us, quite rightly, that this is not the first time that words relating to this particular amendment have been discussed in this place, and indeed they were also discussed in another place. I need, for the benefit of your Lordships, to turn not to the words on the Marshalled List but to the main clause from which they stem, which is Clause 3 on page 3. The House will be aware that this relates to expenditure levels.

Under Clause 3(2) the Secretary of State has power on these matters in respect of a designated authority, which, shall be exercised in accordance with principles determined by the Secretary of State". The words "principles determined by the Secretary of State", are the first point I wish your Lordships to bear in mind. Then we turn to page 4, Clause 3(5). In the middle of subsection (5) there are the words: either confirm his original determination or re-determine the level at a greater or smaller amount". I stress the words, "at a greater or smaller amount".

Then we come to subsection (8). It is at the end of that subsection that the words I have moved are to be added. Subsection (8) is important. The Secretary of State's decision under subsection (5) and any requirements imposed by him under subsection (6) above shall he stated in a notice served by him on the authority concerned. When my noble friend Lady Nicol moved this amendment at an earlier stage, the Minister promised, when it was not proceeded with on a vote, to write to her. May I say that throughout the stages of this Bill, and all others the Minister has been prolific in writing to Members of the House to whom he promised that would write. I am grateful for the care he has taken to make sure that anything that was left unresolved at Committee stage was, to the best of his ability, cleared up by letter.

The terminology that he uses in the letter to my noble friend Lady Nicol helps, in my view, to make the case for our amendment. In the second paragraph of the letter of 11th June, the Minister writes: You were suggesting that unless the report were to be laid before the House of Commons giving details of redetermined expenditure levels, the considerations underlying them and any requirements imposed on selected authorities, the Secretary of State could show undue favour"— and I want to stress the words "undue favour"— to an authority without Parliament being aware of what was being done". The Minister said: I am afraid I do not accept that line of argument. Secretaries of State do not act in that way. I very much agree with the sentiments expressed by Lord Harmar-Nicholls, when he said in Official Report Col. 501– 502. 'We have to have confidence in those who attain the position of Minister of State. We cannot frame every piece of legislation on the basis that any Minister might want to abuse a position of trust'.

I want the Minister to understand fully that no one from these Benches is accusing any Minister of either abusing his powers or certainly abusing a position of trust. But we are politicians, and we have Ministers with a broad remit— that is, to make the Bill work. What we are concerned about deeply here is what happened in another place when, for instance, the Bill relating to the rates went through that House and the five authorities were in effect designated and listed and the order-making process and the procedures that we are involved in now went through.

In fact we do not need to look into a crystal ball as to what will happen with this Bill in the future: we can actually read the book. The book that we are concerned about is the matters which have happened here, when, in fact, a comparable situation took place in respect of Scotland. The Minister is aware that what we are doing in this Bill relates to a great deal of what has already taken place in respect of Scottish legislation. May I remind the Minister and the House that, at column 576 on 21st July 1983, the Minister said that five authorities were involved and had received their letters. Those authorities were Lothian Regional Council, Shetland Islands Council— I stress that— Kirkcaldy, Stirling and Glasgow. Those authorities were invited to make representations to him.

The quite extraordinary thing is that the Minister was then able to tell the House that the Shetland Islands authority apparently were able to bring to him at that stage certain facts that were unknown, or failed to be taken into account, when drawing up the guidelines. For instance, this is in fact what Mr. Younger, the Secretary of State, told the other place at column 577. Appreciate the scenario, my Lords: We now have a Government which have issued not only designations and guidelines but have actually said that here is an authority that is going to be designated because it has failed to carry out the legal requirements; and one assumes that the Ministry and the civil servants are fully aware of all the factors that need to be taken into account.

As I have mentioned, Mr. Younger said this in another place at column 577: There are a large number of unique circumstances arising from North Sea oil which carry with them special financial consequences". So we were asked to believe that the incidence of North Sea oil and the special consequences from North Sea oil were things that needed to be brought to the attention of the Minister and the civil servants at that particular time. The Minister said that as a special item heavy lorries involved in the construction of oil facilities had to be taken into account. There was almost a unique expansion of the population of about 20 per cent. between 1978 and 1981.

My Lords, it is stretching credulity to the limits to believe that the Minister was actually listening for the first time to special reasons as to why Shetland Islands ought to be excluded and that these were factors that had to be taken into account. My honourable friend in another place, Mr. Bruce Millan, said in column 585 on 21st July 1983: Shetland is unique because it has been budgeted further beyond the guidelines—46 per cent.—than any other authority in Scotland". Then he goes on to say: I never expected the Secretary of State to implement the Shetland penalty. He knows that if that were to happen, the Shetland authority could make life difficult for him in respect of oil development".

We are very uneasy on this side of the Chamber that, apparently, in what I consider a capricious manner, the interpretation by the Secretary of State can be applied in situations of this kind. Our amendment is simply asking the Minister, once he has decided that there are special reasons why he is going to increase or decrease the figure, that he should publish on one occasion in a newspaper circulated in the area the precise reasons why. They may be laughed at; they may be ridiculed; they may be held in disrepute. But at least if they are circulated that allows those who wish to challenge them and to make publicity out of them to bring them to the attention of people in your Lordships' House and another place.

The Minister has given very little in the realm of publicity. Consultation, yes; he told us about consultation. What we are about here is not to rely on the Adjournment Debates and the Early Day Motions and other things. What we want is the publication in a local place of the reason why that local council is going to have its limits increased or decreased. I beg to move.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I am well aware of the argument that the Secretary of State should be as accountable as possible for his decisions, and we would not want to shirk the responsibility for decisions taken under rate limitations—quite the contrary. What we are opposed to is the provision of over-elaborate safeguards which we have considered at various stages. Let us be realistic. When an authority has been designated, when the Secretary of State has prescribed an expenditure level for them, and if the authority has applied for a redetermination, can we really believe that all this would happen without comment and press coverage? Certainly it would not happen where I come from: I give an absolute assurance of that. I am certain that all these issues will be followed very closely by local reporters. The level of local rates is a constant source of local newspaper stories. Sometimes I wonder what they would do without that kind of publicity. I do not agree that a formal notice placed by the Government in a local newspaper is necessary at all.

The details of the Secretary of State's decisions and any requirements imposed would be communicated to the authorities. We have accepted that this is necessary; and that the amendment moved in Committee by my noble friend Lady Gardner improved the Bill. It is the authority which needs to know the formal details. What local people will need to know in a formalised way is the validity of the rate finally levied by the council. This is what Clause 7 provides, when it requires the local authority to publish a certificate stating in a local newspaper that its rate is valid.

While I would expect a stong case to be made for any amendment tabled in your Lordships' House, I think it goes too far to suggest that we shall require the Government to publish decisions in a newspaper because we think they would act dishonourably otherwise. If a future Secretary of State were to act in such a way, he would be found out soon enough. It is not a contingency for which we feel there is a need to make any special provision. All of us who have worked in local government know that, whatever else you get or do not get, publicity is almost the life blood of the publications in the area. In all large authorities there is a full-time civic reporter on muncipal affairs. I understand the points that are being made and indeed the Scottish experience to which the noble Lord, Lord Graham, referred. Of all the many fears which have been expressed, I should have thought that in practical terms this is the one which should least concern your Lordships.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I appreciate the care that the Minister has taken but no one here is imputing ulterior motives to the Government. I believe that the Minister used a term which could have implied that we felt that something could be hidden. What we are saying is, "Publish and be dammed". If the Minister and his colleagues take a decision in the light of representations to reduce or increase the limitation, what we are saying—we are talking about not more than 21 authorities or up to 12, 15 or 20—is that there are literally hundreds of provisions on the statute hook which cause governments and departments to publish statements and notices. Although the Minister is quite right, all we are saying is that local people will be very interested in the story, the editorial, and the statement by the leader of the council and so on, and that this will go some way to publishing the matter immediately to a wider audience than the council. The Minister will know about the Shetlands. Very few people know the precise reason why the Minister took his actions in the Shetlands. We know the action that he took—to take them off the list—but there has been very little publicity as to why. That is what we are asking for. But we can see that we shall make no progress, so I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Denham

My Lords, in moving the dinner adjournment, I think I had better make a brief business statement because the proceedings are very complicated indeed. I only just understand them and after I have explained them to your Lordships, I very much doubt whether your Lordships will.

The difficulty we have tonight is that it was expected that by this time we should have reached the Trade Union Bill and so therefore the order of the business on the Order Paper enabled the dinner hour business, which is the Video Recordings Bill, to come at some point within the Trade Union Bill. The only way that we can keep within the rules of order and still get the dinner adjournment during the Bill before— the Rates Bill— is to adjourn the Third Reading of the Rates Bill until after the Video Recordings Bill. The House will then go into Committee on the Trade Union Bill and will immediately he adjourned until after the Third Reading of the Rates Bill. This will have the effect of bringing the dinner hour business into the earlier business.

I beg to move that further proceedings on the Third Reading of the Rates Bill he adjourned until after the Video Recordings Bill.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord could at the same time indicate that we would not return to the Rates Bill until 8.30 p.m.

Lord Denham

Yes, my Lords. I am so sorry, not earlier than 8.30 p.m. I am most grateful to the Opposition Chief Whip.

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Hayter)

The Question is that this debate be adjourned. As many as are of that opinion will say, "Content"?… To the contrary, "Not-Content"?… The "Contents" have it.