§ House again in Committee on Clause 1.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
Before the Committee proceeds may I ask the noble Viscount and the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, whether they have had an opportunity to consider all the implications of the vote on the first amendment? The result of the Division on the first amendment has substantial implications for the Bill. As was said from this Front Bench, and I repeat it now, it is not a wrecking amendment, but it certainly has important implications for the Bill. For example, there is a need for clarification as between the first amendment and Amendment No. 10A, and there are a number of other considerations which need to be taken into account. If I may suggest this, it would not be unusual for the Committee to adjourn at this stage in order to give the Government and the Opposition parties the opportunity to consider all the implications to which I have referred and in order that we may all clarify our minds as to the full effect of the result of the Division on Amendment No. 1.
The noble Viscount the Leader of the House is a parliamentarian who I, and I know all other noble Lords, respect. With his long experience in both Houses. I am sure that he would agree that in circumstances of this nature Governments have been known to defer Bills of this importance for a short period in order that all parties who are interested in the Bill may have an opportunity to think again. I wonder whether in those circumstances the noble Viscount will give us the benefit of his thoughts on this now that he has had time to consider the matter during the dinner adjournment.
§ Viscount Whitelaw
I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, for the points that he has put. I think that it is important to seek to proceed in the way that will suit your Lordships best in the particular situation with which we are concerned. First of all, it is true, as he has said, and I accept, that the amendment that has been passed is not a wrecking amendment. I think that it is important to recognise that particular point, because otherwise we shall get into a lot of difficulties. Therefore for me to say at this 1097 stage that it would be right for the House to adjourn altogether for the evening and for the Committee not to consider some of the other amendments (which my noble friend Lord Bellwin is very prepared to deal with) would I think be to admit that; and I think that that would not be good for this House, and I do not wish to do that.
But what I would of course say at the same time is that there is a particular difficulty, and I think that this concerns the amendment moved by the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, and accepted by my noble friend Lord Bellwin. The Government in no way wish to resile from their acceptance of the amendment from the noble Earl because they believe that the amendment is right. However, there is a question mark as to whether that amendment, Amendment No. 10A, is compatible with the amendment which has been passed, Amendment No. 1.
Therefore, if that was felt to be reasonable, I would suggest to the Committee that, without any prejudice at all to what might be decided later, the noble Earl should not move that amendment, and that we will come back and report at a later stage to the House as to how that should be proceeded with; but that on the general principle of proceeding with the other amendments in the Bill, I think that, for the reasons I have given, it would be reasonable for the Committee to proceed with them. I feel very much indebted to the noble Earl in this position and very much owe to him that we have accepted the amendment that he proposed, but if he would agree not to move the amendment for the reasons that I have stated, it would be reasonable to proceed with other arguments and other amendments on the Bill as they are on the Marshalled List.
The Earl of Halsbury
I am sure that it would be the wish of the Committee that I should fall into line with the views expressed by our noble leader, while reserving the position of my noble friends for a later stage in the Bill, with the possibility of bringing the amendment forward on another occasion.
§ Baroness Birk
May I thank the noble Viscount for what he said? When we adjourned the Committee for the other business to be considered, the debate on this amendment had reached a slightly frenetic stage. If I may say so, I think that he has given the right advice, and I am delighted that the noble Earl has accepted it. Nothing can he lost by delaying something and thinking about it again.
§ Lord Alport
Before the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition speaks, I wonder whether I may ask the advice of my noble friend with regard to Amendment No. 18, in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock. I, and I think the noble Lord, too, regard it as a very important amendment, but of course whether it should be proceeded with depends very largely on the Government's eventual decision with regard to acceptance of the decision of the Committee on Amendment No. 1. I understand that almost in the last few minutes it has been stated in the House of Commons, or, at any rate, if not in the House, certainly by the Minister concerned, that it is the Government's intention to accept their Lordships' 1098 view. I am asking for advice and help. If that is the case, my amendment would no longer apply, but if it is not the case, then I would wish to proceed with it. Any advice that my noble friend can give me would be of great help.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
In the first place, I wish to thank the noble Viscount for his response to my initial remarks, and especially for what he said about Amendment No. 1 and Amendment No. 10A. I understand the Government's difficulties at this stage. Of course we will proceed with the Bill if that is the noble Viscount's wish, though I am bound to say that in circumstances of this kind I would think very carefully about that. There is a strong case for enabling the Committee to have further thoughts about it.
I was also proposing to make the point which the noble Lord, Lord Alport, has just made; namely, there is a report which we have heard that the right honourable gentleman the Secretary of State for the Environment has indicated in the Lobby that it is the Government's proposal now to drop Part II of the Bill. If there is any truth in that rumour—and I can call it no more at this stage: but I think that it is my duty to the Committee to indicate that there is a very strong rumour that that statement is being made to the Lobby—may I ask the noble Viscount whether he will find out whether there is any validity in it and subsequently make a further statement to the Committee?
§ Viscount Whitelaw
I would wish to say to the noble Lord and to my noble friend Lord Alport that I have spoken (and I think that it is reasonable for me to say this) to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment; and I can say categorically to this Committee with all the authority that I command—and I suppose that I command a certain amount—that in fact no decision has been taken as to the future at all. If I may say so, I should have thought that any noble Lord who thinks that I would consent in any way to take a decision about something which was going to happen in the future about an hour after an event such as this would undermine whatever confidence anybody ever had in me. No Government could take such a decision at such a time. Any such suggestion must therefore be perfectly absurd. I have to say that in fact no decision whatever has been taken. On that basis—I understand of course the position of the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn—I suggest that it would he right to proceed to see how we get on, in a famous phrase. If, as we proceed, there are further difficulties, the usual channels can properly discuss these matters and see how we get on.
To any suggestion that we stop now, without proceeding to some of the other amendments that are coming forward, I have to say, again in view of the categorical assurance that I have given, that it must be obvious to any noble Lord, who has ever been in any government at any time, that a decision taken now, an hour or two after an amendment of that sort has been carried, over what exactly is to happen in the future is, I would have thought, clearly not possible. I can repudiate it totally. On that basis, I would have hoped it was reasonable to see how we get on. If there are further difficulties, no doubt they can be looked at 1099 through the usual channels. But to give up now, I suggest to the noble Lord, would not serve any of us properly.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
I am much obliged to the noble Viscount. May I say first that I accept without question—I am sure that the rest of the House agrees—the categorical asssurance that he has given. I am sure however that he will understand, in view of the report that was received, it was necessary that the matter should be raised in order that the House could be quite clear on the basis on which we proceed. In those circumstances, my noble friends and I are quite prepared to proceed with the Bill. If there is any change, I am sure that the noble Viscount will let us know.
§ Lord Tordoff
From this corner of the House, as one who has never served in any government but who still has hopes, may I thank the noble Viscount the Leader of the House. One ought to say from this side of the House that the withdrawal of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, must be without prejudice to his future position. We respect that, and we shall support it.
As to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Alport, which also appears in the name of my noble friend Lord Kilmarnock, to a certain extent I think we have, as a distinguished Liberal once said, to wait and see. But we agree from these Benches that the Bill can proceed into those areas that are not associated with the amendment that was passed earlier. It is only in the areas where there is an overlap that we have problems. Certainly, from this corner of the Committee, we accept that we should proceed. I am grateful to the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House.
§ Lord George-Brown
As one who has served in many governments but who no longer has any hopes and who fell foul of the noble Viscount over the language that I was alleged to have used, may I say how much I believe that he has done the right thing. I am grateful to him.
§ [Amendment No. 10A not moved.]
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
Lord Evans of Claughton moved Amendment No. 11:
After Clause I insert the following new clause:
§ ("Consequence of failure to issue precept.
§ . No breach of the duty upon a metropolitan county council or the Greater London Council to issue a precept under section 11 of the General Rate Act 1967 shall be held to occur if that council does not issue a precept for the financial year 1985-86 until after the date of an election of councillors to that authority following the making of an order under subsection (2) of section 1 of this Act.").
§ The noble Lord said: After the exciting times in the Committee over the past couple of hours. I suppose that this amendment may seem an anti-climax. Whether or not that is the case and whatever view is taken of the result of passing Amendment No. 1, the amendment that I am now moving is still relevant to the Bill. It would enable the metropolitan county councils or the Greater London Council to delay issuing a rate precept for 1985-86 until after the 1985 elections if they are reinstated by the Secretary of State 1100 or if they are continued with. under the terms of Amendment No. 1.
§ The paving Bill sets a curious timetable for the authorities presumed to be facing abolition. The outgoing councils will be required to fix a precept and to determine a budget for the year 1985-86 for the incoming nominated councillors who would then be responsible for managing the budget. If the main Bill fails—many of us, I suppose, hope that it will—then, between the date of fixing the precept and the introduction of the interim councils, an unacceptable situation could possibly arise. Elections would be reinstated at a subsequent date. The newly elected councillors would then be forced to run the councils within a budget previously determined for the interim councils.
§ The range of activities likely to be undertaken by democratically elected councils would clearly be very different in many ways from the functions of interim councils whose only brief was to dismantle the operation of which they were now in charge. The new clause would ensure that should this situation arise—after what has happened today almost any situation, I believe, could arise—the making of a precept could be delayed until after elections have taken place to enable the new council to determine budgets that would reflect the policies on which they had been elected and not the policies of an interim unelected council. I beg to move.
§ Lord Bellwin
This new clause appears to be intended to waive the GLC and MCCs' duty to issue a precept sufficient to meet their expenditure for 1985-86 by 11th March 1985 should an order repealing this Bill be made and elections held. They will presumably wish to issue a precept after the elections, and I am advised that the amendment as drafted could be interpreted to mean that unless elections were held after the making of such an order under the Bill, there would be no duty on the GLC and the MCCs to issue a precept at all for 1985–86.
The new clause appears to be technically defective, but that is not the primary reason for rejecting it. Frankly, I see no reason for such an amendment. In the normal course of events, authorities frequently have to budget and to issue precepts and rates in advance of elections. If an order was to be made repealing the Bill, we would expect the 1985 elections to go ahead as soon as practicable. But in the normal course of events they would not have taken place until May. The precept would have had to be set by early March. This has never caused problems in the past. Authorities have always managed to make their precepts on time despite uncertainties about the future.
I see no justification for waiving the important duty on the upper tier metropolitan authorities to produce valid precepts for 1985-86 and in good time, whether or not elections have been suspended and reinstated. I would respectfully suggest to the noble Lord that the procedure that the new clause seeks to introduce into the Bill is not appropriate. The noble Lord. with his experience, will know that what I say about the facility and the ability of authorities to do this is so. I wonder therefore whether he will not agree with what I say.
§ Baroness Birk
This is in the context of a different situation to the whole Bill. Nevertheless, the new clause, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, will ensure that should that situation arise, the making of a precept could be delayed until after elections had taken place to enable the new councils to determine budgets that reflect the policies on which they have been elected. We are in a new ball game here. For that reason, it is important that we should have this amendment. The fact that, as the Minister said, it might he flawed in drafting is not the point, as he said himself. As of this moment, I do not feel convinced by his arguments against the substance of it.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, with his great experience of local government, made a perfectly valid point when he said that outgoing councils which do not know the political complexion of their successors commonly make rates for those successors; there is no doubt about that. I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, intended to deny that point; it is very valid.
The point that I understood to be made by the amendment is a rather different one. It is not that the political complexion of the incoming council, whether nominated or elected, might be different—we have to allow for all of those possibilities—but is to allow for the possibility that there could be a difference between a lame-duck council, there deliberately only to run down the activities of the metropolitan county council or the Greater London Council, and, in the event of the main Bill—the abolition Bill—not going through, a council which is intended to carry on its activities, presumably indefinitely.
That is the real difference, and it is not a matter of political complexion, not a matter of the personalities involved. But there must be a huge difference in the kind of budget that is required to run down a council, compared with the budget that is required for a council which Parliament has decided is to continue. If I may say so, I believe that is the point which the Minister has not answered adequately.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
I should like to reinforce what clearly is a crucial point. The Minister recognises that, in the light of the decision taken earlier tonight, there is literally no certainty about the Government's intentions. We respect completely what has been said. The Government are looking afresh at the situation. We do not know what the Government are going to come up with next week, in the light of the decision. We do not know what will happen if any changes in the Government's present intentions are tested in another place and a parliamentary majority in that place is successful, quite properly and democratically, and the matter comes back here. In the light of the earlier decisions the whole situation, up to and beyond the rate-fixing time in all local authorities, is in a state of flux.
What the Minister is saying is that, regardless of what happens, the councils in situ at the proper rate-making time shall make a rate. I ask your Lordships to bear in mind the other powers that the Government took in earlier provisions, that is, in respect of the 1102 Local Government Finance Bill, which abolishes the opportunity of producing supplementary rates. What a council has got to do in February of next year is this. It has got to make a calculation, which it is entitled to do, as to whether or not the main Bill will be passed. The Minister may say that councils should put that out of their minds, but as a politician he realises that that is not possible. When a council makes its decisions next February it is invited, in the light of the hiatus—there will be a hiatus until it is all resolved—to decide the amount of money it is going to ask its ratepayers to pay, and, in the metropolitan situations, the precept upon its paying authorities.
Earlier in the debate the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, who is an officer of the GLC and a Member of your Lordships' House, issued a clear and, in my view, acceptable premise: that if what one is looking forward to in the interim period, however long it might be, is a period of quiescence, and, as the Government would hope, acquiescence, then one is living in cloud cuckoo land. There is a tremendous amount of work to be done. What this amendment is seeking to do is to make special provisions, in the light of a month or two months—it might be a little longer, but it will be a short period—to lift from councillors the responsibility of making a rate in the circumstances. They know that, whatever the circumstances are, they are going to change because it is the Government's intention to change them.
If the Government are thwarted, as I hope they will be, that itself is a changed circumstance. Really, what we are saying to the Minister is, "Please, in the light of what you are intending to do, don't make it more awkward for councillors in having to look forward". That, of course, is the responsibility of councillors. They have their plans, their dreams, their programmes and their ambitions, and the Government have their own measuring rods and yardsticks to say they can or cannot do something. That is all known. But what the Government really are saying is that in the light of a possibility of changed political control, or even changed economic circumstances, they want the authority in situin February—that is about the time; there may be variations, but February is when the rate is made—to make its rate in that circumstance.
I am quite certain that, whatever happens with the intentions of the Government and the progress of the main Bill, and the triggering-off of this Bill, if that is happening, there is going to be a period of uncertainty. What this amendment is asking for is the flexibility which the Government have said they are willing to introduce. I am very seized of the words of the Leader of the House. Quite clearly, there is to be a period of reflection. We are asking the Government to reflect on this very important point. Councillors are responsible people. Whatever their politics, they will be wanting to do what is best for their people, that is, their local ratepayers.
This amendment is providing the Government with the opportunity to stretch the normal period until the dust dies down—we hope that will happen as quickly as possible—after the elections have taken place. The elections will take place on a date to be determined. We are saying, "Why don't we take this opportunity of removing one of the anxieties and one of the frustrations?" In my view it would he helpful to the 1103 Government, and certainly it would be helpful to the "political" climate—I mean, "political" in inverted commas—if the Government indicated that they were not prepared to burden councillors with the difficult task of having to try to forecast what the rate has got to be, at a time when the reality is going to change, perhaps in two or three months.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
I can see quite a problem developing if this attitude is going to be pursued. As I understand the argument—I see the point of it—noble Lords opposite are suggesting that because of what happened an hour and a half ago the thing is completely altered and we have got to pursue all the other amendments on the basis that this will not go forward as the Government intended originally. If that is the way they are going to deal with the other amendments, then I think we shall get nowhere at all. There are many stages through which this has got to pass before we can say whether or not the message of the first amendment's defeat of the Government is going to remain in that form.
From the exchange that took place a few minutes ago between the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, and the Leader of the House I understood that we were going to proceed on the basis that the Government would be getting their general aim, and in the meantime we could deal with the other amendments which were not connected specifically with that particular decision. But if we are going to presume that that decision means the end of that matter then I do not think we will get anywhere. I think my noble friend's explanation was the correct one, under all the circumstances. Which mood are we going to proceed with—that we are likely to have what the Government had in mind, or something like it, or something completely different, as was reflected in the vote of an hour and a half ago?
§ Baroness Birk
That seems to be an extraordinary contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls. He cannot ignore what happened a couple of hours ago. We have to deal with the Bill as it is now. The Bill is now as amended, and this is how we are dealing with it. We are going on and trying to deal with the amendments that are not incompatible with what happened when Amendment No. I was passed. This does not mean to say that we do not take that into account. It would be absolutely ludicrous to expect us to assume that the amendment that was won by 48 votes is just going to disappear. We are dealing with the Bill as amended.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
It is just as ludicrous to suggest that the Bill as amended at this minute is as it will be if it becomes an Act. I thought that the arrangement made by the two Front Benches was that we should act on the assumption that more or less what the Bill contains is likely to be the ultimate end. But to work on the opposite basis can only be dangerous.
§ Baroness Birk
Nothing of the sort was agreed. What was agreed was that where there were amendments which had no relevance to the original amendment, we would go ahead. But even as regards 1104 those amendments with which we can go ahead, my noble friends are absolutely entitled—so am I and so is anybody else—to take into account, where it is relevant, what happened to Amendment No. 1. That is the normal way in which we proceed. We do not pretend in this House or in another place that something has not happened on the basis that maybe it will be changed. I am very surprised. The noble Lord is an old enough hand as a parliamentarian to know that.
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
I, too, should like to join in the debate on the ground of anxiety, which has also been referred to by my noble friend Lord Graham on the Front Bench. Although the GLC is often quoted in this House. the Bill has to do with the metropolitan counties and the very many millions of people who are living in the metropolitan counties who seem to be completely forgotten. Perhaps they are forgotten because they are all in deprived areas of this country and areas where there is severe deprivation and very high unemployment.
It is important if one is fixing a rate that one takes into consideration the very substantial role played by the metropolitan county councils in the areas outside London—and I think particularly of the areas which are known to me—as regards economic development. I speak with a great deal of experience of the West Midlands. I was born in the West Midlands and I have lived in the West Midlands the whole of my life. I can see quite clearly the impact of a rate upon trying to create further employment prospects in those areas. It devolves upon the fixing of a rate. Anything that will improve the employment prospects in these parts of the country is vitally important.
If we consider unemployment in the metropolitan counties, we find that in 1974 there were 156,000 unemployed and in 1983 the figure had increased to 800,000 in the metropolitan counties. Therefore, anything that affects the rate and that might detract from anything that the metropolitan counties do with regard to development and with regard to increasing employment, must be considered.
§ Lord Bellwin
Let me say how much I welcome the conversion of the noble Baroness. I remember so well that when we discussed a certain Bill—and I will look it up in Hansard and send the appropriate passage to her—she argued passionately how unimportant rates were, what a low percentage they were of each company's business, and that they just did not matter. Therefore, I am so pleased that now she agrees, as we have said all along, that rates play a very large part indeed. If the noble Baroness doubts me I promise to send her the quotation fromHansard.
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
With all due respect, that was a complete exaggeration of what I said previously.
§ Lord Bellwin
The noble Baroness will know whether it is an exaggeration when she receives a letter from me with the quotation.
Meanwhile, so far as this amendment is concerned, I should like to repeat what I said previously. I wonder whether it is really understood that the existing 1105 authorities—the GLC and the metropolitan counties—in any event, regardless of what happens, will have to make the next rate for the year in question. They will have to do that anyway, regardless of what takes place.
I should like also to draw the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Evans, to what happened in the Rates Bill, because the noble Lord may have overlooked this point. The Government were pressed at the time as regards the position of a rating authority with an invalid precept from a rate limit set previously, and powers were sought for the authority to raise it to meet a later valid precept. We said that we would consider the situation and we did so at the Report stage in your Lordships' House. We passed an amendment that enables a rating authority in receipt of a valid precept after it has made its rate to make a higher substituted rate to cover the precept and to pass on administrative expenses to the precepting authority. Of course this will provide a remedy in any case of a precept made after the relevant rate has been issued. I believe that that point and the other point about what has to take place are really a complete answer to the noble Lord, but he may not have known that was the case.
§ Lord Evans of Claughton
I do not think that any politician would ever admit that he did not know what was going on. He merely pretends, by speaking round the subject for ages, that he knows more about it than those putting it forward. However, I am very glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, made the point that this is a Bill about the metropolitan counties in addition to Greater London. Either consciously or unconsciously the noble Lord the Minister has stirred up those behind him in the belief that they can cock a snook at "Red Ken"; whereas in fact there are many other councils with which this Bill deals, but which perhaps have less high profiles than the Greater London Council. That is a very important point. We must remember that this Bill deals with six metropolitan counties in addition to Greater London.
I do not need to be told that the rates that a council has to implement are very often settled by a previous Administration. Part of the trouble that they are having in Liverpool at the moment is that the Labour Party is having to implement an unworkable—they claim—Liberal budget which, of couse, is a matter with which I totally disagree. So it is not always all sweetness and light between these two Benches; there is quite a wide river at times.
I must say that the point made by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is a most important one. Clearly a council that is there to do a job as a caretaker in winding up an authority will have a different budgetary outlook from a council that intends to go on doing things it believes—perhaps wrongly—to be right; for example, taking action to help people suffering from unemployment. Indeed, I am concerned to see what the Government will be proposing later in these amendments as regards Section 137 and the two penny rate. There is a difference between the philosophy of a council that is hoping to go on to ameliorate the conditions of the people in the area who elected it and the philosophy of a council which is nominated purely to wind itself up. That is the basic point of the amendment.
1106 However, having said that, I am more than willing to be reasonable, to look carefully at what the noble Lord has said and to reconsider the matter to see whether, in the light of what he says and the advice that I take, this amendment may be unnecessary. On those terms, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 8.39 p.m.
Lord Evans of Claughton moved Amendment No.12:
After Clause 1, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Responsibility for paying election expenses.
§ . All the expenses of any elections of councillors to the Greater London Council or any metropolitan county council held after the making of an Order under subsection (2) of section 1 of this Act shall be born by the Secretary of State.").
§ The noble Lord said: This amendment is a little more difficult in that it deals with the responsibility for payment of election expenses if elections are reinstated following the failure of the main abolition Bill. In the light of Amendment No. 1 which was agreed earlier this evening I must confess that I am not sure at this stage whether this particular new clause still applies. The noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, must realise that these clauses were put down long before, or some time before, we knew what would happen today. We tabled this clause because we felt that the Government, in a very persistent kind of way, were forcing the cancellation of elections before the decision had been made whether the local authorities, which were to be elected, were to be abolished. That is the gravamen of our objection to this: that the cart has been put before the horse; that we are abolishing elections before we have abolished the bodies to which the elections are taking place.
§ Therefore, the practical effect would be that elections which would normally be due in May 1985 would not take place, although the possibility would remain (and I submit that that possibility is very much greater than it was when this amendment was tabled) that those elections could be reinstated at a later date—perhaps in October or November—if abolition had not been approved; in other words, if the main Bill had not been carried.
§ In administrative terms, this is a lot of nonsense and would probably lead to increased costs in every direction within the local authorities concerned. Therefore, because, in my submission the Secretary of State seeks to make changes to the electoral process before that has arisen, he should bear the cost of that proposal if his policies are subsequently reversed and the elections take place. That is the basis upon which I beg to move this amendment.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, would explain what his amendment means. It says:All the expenses of any elections of councillors to the Greater London Council".Is he referring there solely to the administrative expenses which would in the normal way fall on the council, or to what, in the strict sense, one might call the election expenses of the councillors? As he has drafted this amendment, it looks as though it would include both. I can see no conceivable reason why the 1107 Secretary of State should finance the expenses of those people who, rightly or wrongly, put themselves forward for election to the council. Secondly, on the broader point, if the elections, having been previously abolished, are restored as a result of subsequent developments, I can see no reason why their cost should not fall exactly where it would have fallen anyhow; that is to say, on the local authorities concerned. If the local authorities concerned are so anxious to have elections, I should have thought that they should pay for them.
§ Lord Bellwin
As he always does, my noble friend makes very well the point that I want to make. I am bound to say that I am advised that the new clause as drafted is defective. It could well be interpreted as meaning that the Government would have to pay for every election to the GLC or MCCs from the repeal of the Bill thereafter—no doubt there are some who might find that an attractive prospect, but few would argue that it was equitable. Furthermore, it would make the Government liable even if the May 1985 elections were never suspended—by a commencement order—and went ahead as normal after the Bill was repealed.
However, the intention of the new clause is clear. As has been said, it is to make the Government liable for costs of the elections to the GLC and MCCs which would follow failure of the main abolition proposals.
The timing, form and terms of such elections would depend on when abolition failed and when the order to repeal the paving Bill was made. It may be that elections to these authorities could be held normally. In such a case, I can see no justification for laying the costs of the elections on the Government. The whole purpose of an order under subsection (2) of Clause 1 is to reinstate the former situation as soon as practicable. Part of that former situation is that local authorities pay for their own elections.
It may be that circumstances lead to abnormal costs. It is open to the Secretary of State, under subsection (3) of Clause 1, to include in the repeal order special arrangements to deal with such abnormal costs as there may be. And I remind the Committee that this order is subject—dare I say it?—to affirmative resolution of both Houses. That, quite clearly, is the sensible time for Parliament to decide whether there is a case, given exceptional circumstances, for the Government to pay some or all of the costs of an election.
I shall not go over the points that we were making in the original debate on the first amendment about abolition, the repeal and the opportunities to restore. I do not think that we need to do that again tonight.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
The Minister seeks to reassure us that in the circumstances that could well arise and in the circumstances for which this new clause is designed, there is no need to do that. That may very well be so. I have listened with care to the references which the Minister has made to the possibility that when the repeal orders are put forward it will be within the power of the Secretary of State to take into account representations that he has received 1108 from authorities which have been thwarted in holding their elections, say, six months earlier than they otherwise would have.
The Minister quite rightly points out that he cannot govern the parliamentary timetable, although earlier this evening he gave some indication of a possible scenario of time, which clearly indicated that the main Bill could be with us certainly into next spring/summer. Therefore, we are talking in terms of being unable to make arrangements for elections until the end of July, as both Houses have to affirm that. Therefore, we are talking of September or October. So the main Bill will be perhaps six or seven months later.
Furthermore, the cost of inflation is a factor to be borne in mind. The cost of holding elections later will, on the margin, inevitably be more expensive. In addition, certain preparations have to be made. Although it may be only on a provisional basis, one has to book rooms, prepare papers, and so on; and all this takes up time. The Minister may say that those are abortive costs and could be taken into account. If that is the case, this short debate will reassure people.
I take the point that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, makes that one does not want to have a free election simply because the Government have been thwarted by the will of Parliament. The cost of an election that takes place early in 1985 would be borne by the council administratively and by the councillors politically. If that election takes place six months later, the council ought to carry the administrative costs and the councillors and their parties the political costs. In my view there is no intention of seeking to get an election on the cheap or free of charge.
The noble Lord. Lord Harmar-Nicholls, raised the premise upon which we shall proceed: we proceed on the premise that, having won the first major vote, it is possible that we shall win other major votes. There is no certainty at all about that, just as there is no certainty of the Government being defeated on other votes or of winning them, especially in another place, although that is perhaps more likely in another place than in your Lordships' House.
Therefore, if one has to clutch at a straw in the wind as to the final form of the Bill, it is likely to be in line with the will of this House as expressed on the first amendment. That was a free-standing amendment. We know that the independent Members of your Lordships' Committee can take a view which some Members on this side would think is eminently preferable. But they may very well vote the other way. The point of this amendment and others is to try to anticipate the most likely eventuality. It is possible that the orders are made, the elections are cancelled, the Government fail to get their main Bill, and therefore there have to be orders to reinstate.
We have never for a moment on this side questioned the Minister's integrity or his constitutional propriety. He has been fair in spelling out what he would want to do on the face of the Bill, and where we are uncertain he has spelt out particularly the timetable. All this amendment seeks to do is to anticipate the possibility of an additional cost to be borne by the council.
I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, and picked up by the Minister. If the amendment is defective because of ambiguities and 1109 provides the opportunity of taking things two ways, clearly the noble Lord, Lord Evans, will seek time to reflect. This is a continuing drama to the extent that we shall be engaged in this place until the House rises, whenever that may be, in a changing scenario. I take from the Leader of the House that, while he recognised what had taken place here, he was not prepared to give anything away in advance of mature thought, or mature reflection over all the circumstances.
He reserved the right to try, try, and try again if that was the will and wish of the Cabinet and the Government, and he is entitled to do that. We on this side are entitled to recognise that if that is the nature of the situation, well the Government are entitled seek to get their will democratically, constitutionally, and fairly, and I have said nothing against that at any stage of this matter. But in the circumstances we are even more entitled to move this amendment than before the passing of Amendment No. 1 this evening.
Anything can happen, and what we have tried to do is to anticipate the possibility of councils being in hard pressed situations where they are bereft of additional funds, particularly if they have made their budgets earlier and cautiously, and been counselled to he cautious. Now the Minister has spoken and pointed out that it is in the gift of the Secretary of State to take into account any additional burden which they have had to bear because of the delay. In those circumstances I think the Minister has served the Committee well, but I shall listen to what the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, has to say.
§ Lord Evans of Claughton
As I sat listening to the Minister and to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, I was thinking that I had been far too conservative in the amendment that I had put down. I should have been more radical and suggested all elections, all costs, administrative and political, and that it should be retrospective for the last 30 years. During that period I fought 18 elections and it would help my budget somewhat if one were to carry such an amendment. Of course, I concede that the chances of carrying such an amendment would be remote.
To deal with the remarks made by he noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, I am reminded of a passage in one of the more famous P. G. Wodehouse novels where Bertie Wooster says to Jeeves, "Rem acu tetigisti"—you hit it with a needle—and he is absolutely right. The amendment should have stated that this is administrative expenses and not the political expenses of an election.
As your Lordships will know, local authorities plan ahead and say there will be an election on 5th May 1981, or 7th May 1982, 9th May 1983, and so on. They make arrangements for the administration of those elections well in advance. If there is this uncertainty, which is inevitable with the legislation before us, they will have to make provisional arrangements for elections on the appropriate date in 1985—May the something—if the county council elections are to continue. They may well have to cancel those arrangements and possibly introduce new arrangements at short notice, which would be an additional administrative expense.
1110 It is against that kind of eventuality that I was seeking to protect the local authorities. As the noble Lord, Lord Graham, said, it is important that this should be aired, because we are in an unknown area of human activity at the moment. We do not know what is going to happen. Local authorities, councillors, and those involved in local government are entitled to know that the matter has been considered somewhere, and debated.
I take the points that have been made that if local authorities are so anxious to continue elections they should pay for them, but the local authorities have always been anxious to continue elections. There is no anxiety among the metropolitan councils or the GLC to stop elections. It is because of the Government's decision that elections should be abolished that the Government should have faced any additional administrative costs that local authorities have to face.
As the noble Lord, Lord Graham, predicted, in all the circumstances I shall ask your Lordships' permission to withdraw the amendment so that I can look at it and perhaps take further advice and see whether an amendment which more accurately reflects our wishes can be put down at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 2 [Suspension of elections and appointment of councillors]:
§ 8.56 p.m.
Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 13:
Page 2, line 19, leave out ("before that date").
The noble Lord said: This amendment deals with the issue of by-elections; the situations which occur after the main elections have been held. Clause 2(1) says:
No election of—
except an election to fill a casual vacancy in an office where before that date the office has been declared to be vacant or notice of the vacancy has been given under section 89(1) of the principal Act".
§ The words that this amendment seeks to strike out are "before that date".
§ The amendment, which seeks to remove the barrier in Clause 2(1) where a vacancy occurs after the date of the order made by the Secretary of State, is clearly contentious. This is particularly so in the context of the Government's determination not merely to avoid by-elections but also to cancel whole elections. It is not possible to view the intention of the subsection without looking carefully at the intention—which the Government have never hidden—to deny to the electors of the metropolitan authorities and the GLC that which they were entitled to look forward to, which was an opportunity to express a political view on the complexion of their council in May 1985.
§ This provision could have serious implications for the representation of electors in the areas of the metropolitan counties and the GLC. The Secretary of 1111 State is expected to make an order after the Second Reading of the main Bill. That order will name a date in the House of Commons, which could be several months before 7th May 1985, when the interim councils are due to begin. We forget entirely the possibilities which emerge from the decisions made earlier this year.
§ If the Secretary of State names a date several months before 7th May 1985 he is making sterile the election-making processes for something like 18 million people where there is a death, a serious illness, or where for any reason a councillor who has been democratically elected decides he no longer wishes, for party or personal reasons, to continue.
§ The purpose of this amendment, besides being probing, is also serious. It is to ask the Minister whether it is correct that if a vacancy occurs for whichever of the reasons I have given, including the death of a member, or serious illness. it could not be filled after the implemention of the order? In other words, if that is the situation we are faced with, we have to ask the Minister why, in no circumstances, will there be the odd opportunity for the electors to declare a view? We recognise that it is not possible to remove entirely the context of the abolition issue from such by-elections, but why are the Government so afraid to provide opportunities, which will not be very frequent, and to allow those electors to have that opportunity? They would prefer to see the electors of a metropolitan authority to be represented by councillors who had not been elected to that metropolitan authority.
§ As we see it. the subsection will prevent by-elections caused by resignations after the introduction of Part II. We await the decision of the Cabinet and the Government and the announcements of the Minister about the full purport of the decision taken here tonight. The Minister will not be surprised if I say that, faced with the cancellation of elections, it is likely that a number of councillors on metropolitan authorities and the GLC could conclude that by-elections represent the only democratic option left by the Government to allow metropolitan electors to make their own judgment on their councils. These decisions will be taken in the full knowledge that clearly they are purposeful. They are designed for testing not only the will of the people who will be standing, but also the view of the Government that their decisions and their legislative programme has the full support of the people who the Government say they represent.
§ I am not remotely pleading in aid the mandate which was obtained in 1981 as being more valid than one obtained in 1983. I am talking simply in terms of people having the opportunity at some time late in 1984 to express their will.
§ Not only will the elections in May be cancelled unless this amendment is agreed, but so will all pending by-elections. Electors will have no opportunity to vote in elections of any kind after the activation of Part II at a time when it is likely that the main Bill will hardly have begun to be considered by Parliament. In other words, we are talking in terms of an order-making date which cancels the possibility of by-elections coming into effect some time in October, November, December, January, February, March, 1112 April and May of next year. We are asking what on earth the Government are doing running away from the occasional test of their view that what they are proposing has the full support of the people of the Midlands, Merseyside, and other areas, never mind, as has been said more than once, the support of the people of London.
§ The Government may be right. I am one of those who acknowledge, whatever the circumstances and whatever the height of the poll—whether it is as low as for the European Parliament, or as high as for a general election—that if the people are given the opportunity to express their will, we must accept it, warts and all, as their view on that day, in those circumstances. We are saying that if the Government are not prepared to tighten up—not for party political purposes, as some of the forced by-elections may be seen to be, but for genuine reasons such as a death or an illness, which are clearly seen not to be politically inspired—why are they not prepared to allow that possibility to exist within the Bill?
§ I hope that the Government have some convincing reasons why they are not prepared to strike out the words "before that date". Otherwise, we shall be entitled to the view that the Government are denying not only the opportunity next May, but also the opportunity if it happens in the normal course of events. I have done no research on how often a by-election is caused. The last series of by-elections have not been to the benefit of the Government in political terms in the Greater London area; but that can change. I am simply asking why we deny this opportunity whenever a proper by-election occurs? Why do we not take the opportunity for testing the water? I beg to move.
§ Lord Bellwin
Let me say at once that what is proposed is entirely consistent with precedents of earlier reorganisations when by-elections were stopped after Royal Assent to the reorganisation legislation. This amendment seeks to remove by-elections from the provisions suspending elections to the abolition authorities. The Local Government Act 1972 requires a by-election to be held within six weeks of a vacancy arising, except in the six months leading up to the ordinary elections to a council. During those six months no by-elections are held, except those for vacancies arising before the beginning of the period or, if more than one-third of a council's seats are vacant. In the normal course of events those circumstances are likely to arise quite rarely. One would expect, therefore, that no by-elections to abolition authorities would be held after early December 1984. That seems sensible, given the fairly short period of office that would be served by anyone elected at a later by-election.
However, it will not have escaped the notice of your Lordships that some councillors in the abolition authorities have talked about resignations to force by-elections within the six-months period leading to May 1985. One can have a view about that. If the people concerned are determined to resign, we cannot—and would—not wish to stop them from so doing. But I think it would be seen clearly to be what it is. We have had no shortage of gimmickry and distortion in the massive campaigns. Certainly, money will be no 1113 object. The millions that are being spent on these things will be just another part of the whole of this unhappy scenario. I do not see that the Government should try to facilitate beyond that period at present laid down. I hope that the Committee will feel likewise and, if the noble Lord pushes it, reject this amendment.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
The Minister indicated the normal situation. We are not in the normal situation. Normally, we would know that elections would take place in May 1985. We do not know whether elections will or will not take place in 1985. We know that it is the Government's intention that they shall not take place in May 1985 but we do not know the situation. The Minister takes us very carefully, properly and sincerely backwards. He points out that in the normal course of events, the latest date for a by-election would be December of this year. That is on the premise that the elections, if they had been held. would have been held in May of next year. But we know from the situation, both from the determination of the Government and from the determination of those who oppose the Government, that there is no certainty as to when the elections, if they are to be held, will be held.
To be fair, the Government have made the provision if they fail to get their main legislation, if, in fact, there is that failure to get legislation literally—and, certainly, the opponents would be entitled to make that at the very last possible moment. When is the last possible moment? Do they talk in terms of the end of the next Session? We know what can happen with obdurate governments and obdurate oppositions. There is literally no certainty as to when the elections will take place. What we are saying is that the Minister intends to make an order that no by-election shall take place. It could very well be—it is possible—that it is December. But, suppose that eventually when the Government are beaten (if they are eventually beaten) we are not talking in terms of a delay of six months but we are talking of a possibility that there would be no by-election held or authorised for not just five months from December till May, but 10 months.
It could very well go beyond next summer. The Minister is telling us with certainty that a resolution one way or the other will need to be taken—and, with respect, there are parliamentary opportunities which will be seized upon by the proponents of the Bill (and there are many of those) and opponents of the Bill. I am asking this of the Ministers. Can he not take on board the possibilities? Forget the gimmickry and forget the allusions to the intentions I would have said they were forced to do it to test the water. They are anxious and they make no hesitation about it. The people who oppose the Bill in the metropolitan areas 1114 believe that they have the people on their side. The Government believe that they have the people on their side.
The Government plead in aid a mandate which is now more than 12 months old. That is the general election. We are saying that they could very well have been right then; but we believe that they would be wrong now; that is, in the next four, five or six months. The Government have been very free in suspending, in cancelling, in putting out of court, all sorts of legislation which is not directly related but is germane. We are simply saying in the special circumstances in which (as we would certainly say) without adequate preparations or consultation the Government are doing this, can they not merely (on the basis of tolerating the possibility) understand that a proper by-election would fall to take place after the order-making process?
We are not saying that we have got a right. We think that by taking out these words we are allowing by-elections to take place in January, February, March, April, May if they properly occur. We are really saying to the Government that we are in the business of trying to avoid gimmicks, and we are in the business of trying to provide people, when it properly occurs, with the opportunity of indicating their view on the main intentions of the Government. I should like to hear from the Minister once more.
§ Lord Bellwin
The noble Lord makes one point to which I feel I currently do not have an adequate answer. His point about an extension of time beyond May in certain circumstances seems on the face of it to be something to which I feel my own response is not adequate. For the other reasons that I gave earlier, I do not like the basic thrust of the amendment as such. I just feel that I ought to and would want to give a better answer than I am able to give at the moment. I would therefore certainly want to study this and come back on the point later. What I will do, if the noble Lord agrees, is to write to him and if I can be satisfied, then at least I will explain to him where the Government stand and he can then perhaps decide what to do. But I do feel that what I have here is not adequate on that very fair point that he makes.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
That is most gracious of the Minister, and in those circumstances I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran
In the temporary absence from the Chamber of the noble Lord, Lord Evans, I have been asked by him to say that Amendment No. 14 is not moved.
§ [Amendment No. 14 not moved.]1115
§ 9.16 p.m.
Lord Broxbourne moved Amendment No, 15:
Page 2, line 29, after ("councils") insert ("and the Common Council").
§ The noble Lord said: This amendment stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Renton. This is the first and key amendment of a fasciculus of amendments extending over Clause 9 and the first two schedules. The other amendments are consequential and designed only to give appropriate mechanical effect to the first and key amendment which contains the pith and purpose of this fasciculus of amendments. This purpose is to add the Common Council of the City of London to the constituent councils which, as your Lordships know, are entrusted with the duty of appointment of councillors for the transitional period.
§ This is, I hope, an uncontroversial amendment. which is refreshing after all the storms of the afternoon. It is certainly an ecumenical amendment. An amendment was put forward in another place which would have had the same effect of adding a representative of the City of London to the constituent council. That amendment was moved by a Liberal Member of Parliament. It is true that, like so much of Liberal practice and philosophy, the intention was good but the means of implementing it fell a little short. Consequently the amendment as put by him did not commend itself to the Minister, but its purpose and effect was similar to that which I am moving now, even though I am putting it forward on a basis which I think and hope is more likely to commend itself to Ministers and to the House.
§ While on the subject of Liberal attitudes, I was going to say that I have a kind message of support from the noble Lord. Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, who. I was informed, was unable to grace our proceedings today and bring to us his sage counsel and wise guidance —my words, I hasten to say, rather than his. I am very glad to see that he seems to have overcome his difficulties and he is in his place hopefully to speak for himself: and who better?—for though this House is accustomed to Queen's Counsel, an eminent patent silk is still quite something. and hopefully he will testify his support himself.
§ I put this amendment forward primarily on the basis that the City of London should have a representative on the transitional council on the grounds that it is a successor authority for some of the functions to be carried on. This is a basis which the Minister in another place conceded; or, if that sounds rather a churlish term, proclaimed to be an appropriate basis.
§ The position in regard to the specific functions of the Greater London Council. which may be taken over and exercised by the City in whole or in part, is not yet definitive in that discussions on this subject are still taking place with Ministers. The City has, however. already agreed in principle to take over responsibility for the Greater London Record Office. Further discussions continue concerning Thames' bridges and tunnels; the Historic Buildings Board: the London History Library; the Scientific Services Branch, including the public analyst service; the Research Library and the London Intelligence Section.
§ As your Lordships know, the City Corporation also has major responsibilities for the arts in the Barbican 1116 Centre; the London Museum; and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. There is, therefore, a very clear case for the inclusion of the City in the transitional council in the capacity of successor authority and in compliance with the principle approved by Ministers.
§ That case is strongly reinforced on financial grounds by the size of the City's contribution both to the Greater London Council and to the Inner London Education Authority. I am sure that your Lordships will not be surprised to hear that that is very substantial indeed. I have to be rather careful here because these astronomical figures are not my everyday thinking, but my understanding is that in 1984-85 the Greater London Council precept and that of ILEA together have risen in total to a staggering £345 million. To put it into more easily comprehensible terms, nearly 90 per cent. of the total levy made by the City Corporation on its ratepayers is exported for the benefit of Londoners as a whole. The precept of the GLC in fact comes to no less than 13 per cent. of that authority's total expenditure. and that of ILEA to a still greater 22½ per cent.
§ So it is clear on these two important criteria—that of successor functions and the size and scope of financial contributions—that the City should have a representa-tive on the council. There is. however, if I may just add this in conclusion, a more general reason for the inclusion of the City among those authorities entitled to have representation in the Constituent Council for Greater London. That derives from the high standing, the great experience and the unique position of the City of London, combining, as it does. in its small square mile, long history and imperishable tradition as well as being one of the world's major financial centres, with earnings of foreign exchange amounting to about £4,000 million a year.
§ During the life of the Constituency Council major decisions are likely to be taken on the future adminis-tration of our capital city. It is surely unthinkable that such decisions should be denied, in their preparation and formulation, the unique expertise and informed guidance of the City of London. I will not perhaps go so far as to say it would be a case of playing "Hamlet" without the Prince of Denmark, but it would indeed be a surprising omission from a cast in which all 32 London boroughs figure.
§ Hopefully. some of your Lordships may find it opportune to express brief testimony in support of this amendment. And outside this Chamber there is support from the great and the good in the City of London itself. These include leading institutions such as the Stock Exchange, the London Chamber of Commerce. the General Council of British Shipping, the British Insurance Association and the Committee of London Clearing Bankers. I will not dilate on the importance and significance of such support. If I were to do so, your Lordships would weary not of their excellence but of my reiteration.
§ In summary, therefore, I submit to your Lordships that the case is clear. I respectfully submit it to your Lordships, and I beg to move the amendment.1117
§ Lord Renton
I should like briefly to support the powerful plea made by my noble friend Lord Broxbourne with, if I may say so, his usual lucidity and persuasion. I think there is only one important fact that I need add to what he has said, and that is this: if your Lordships will turn to Amendment No. 90 on the Marshalled List you will see that we are asking for only one more member to be added to the Constituent Council.Amendment No. 90: Page 9, line 10, at end insert—("The Common Council .. .. .. .. .. 1").For the great City of London to be represented by one councillor is indeed, I suggest, a modest plea. May I just add this: the City has for generations been the workplace, the showpiece, a focus of activity and interest, and sometimes, I think, of loyalty for millions of people living in the London boroughs. Therefore, as my noble friend says, it is unthinkable that the City of London should be excluded from the important discussions which will take place during the interim period and the preparations which will call for achieving a degree of consistency among the future bodies which will govern London, and indeed a degree of liaison in those matters, especially, which my noble friend mentioned. Therefore, we hope for a most encouraging reply from my noble friend on the Front Bench.
§ Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran
I should like very briefly to thank the noble Lord, Lord Broxbourne, for the very kind way in which he referred to me in moving this amendment. There is another group of persons who are strongly in favour of this amendment and that is the liverymen and the various livery companies in the City of London. I must declare an interest in giving my support to this amendment. I have been very strongly pressed by my livery company, of which I am a past-master, to support this strong amendment. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Broxbourne—and according to the traditions of this House I cannot refer to him, as I often do in another context, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Broxbourne—for being kind enough to say that it was a Liberal Member of Parliament who raised this theme, albeit unsuccessfully, in another place.
When I hear the noble Lord, Lord Broxbourne, and the noble Lord, Lord Renton, strongly supporting this amendment, with which I heartily agree, I feel that it would be a novel departure for this Government to decide to penalise the City of London or its individual electors in this way. I have wondered what was the explanation. Perhaps, after hearing those two powerful speeches, the most likely explanation is that the Government have completely misunderstood this Bill in at least one respect. I beg strongly to support this amendment.
§ Baroness Birk
I find it very strange and somewhat amusing that this Government appear to have forgotten about the City of London. The City of London, with its powerful interests, and with the amount of money that it spends, and which comes to it, is extremely small so far as residents are concerned. 1118 It is also one of the biggest closed shops that I know, particularly when it comes to the election of aldermen. I can only think that the Government must have forgotten about it, because no reason has been given for what is an extraordinary anomaly. It will receive functions from the GLC under the abolition proposals, in a way similar to the London borough councils.
There may have been a Freudian explanation for this. Maybe the Government, underneath the subliminals, wanted to abolish the City of London, but I would not have thought that that would come from this Government. The City contains but 4,500 electors, so it is very small in voting personnel, and they will even be deprived of the right of direct representation on the GLC that is conferred by the Bill on all other Londoners.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, that it would be a novel departure for this Government to decide to penalise the City of London or its individual electors. I was rather surprised when the noble Lord, Lord Renton, referred to the schedule, which allows only one seat on the council. With 4,500 voters, that is certainly not ungenerous—
§ Lord Renton
Is the noble Baroness ignoring entirely the vast numbers of people who go from the London boroughs to work in the City every day?
§ Baroness Birk
No. I am not ignoring them, but that happens in many other urban centres. Unless people are living there and have voting rights they are not considered to be residents and are not electors. We all know that the number of electors is very small indeed. Some of my best friends are electors in the City of London. They are only a small group, but they wield very great power. Perhaps the explanation, as the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, said, is that the Government have misunderstood their own Bill, because since the GLC boundaries coincide exactly with the parliamentary constituencies of London, as a unit the City of London with Westminster South is represented by a single GLC member. The department must have been under the impression that this arrangement would he carried over into the interim arrangements under Schedule 1, but it was pointed out during the Committee stage in another place that the effect of the Bill would he that City electors would be represented by one of the Westminster appointees, much as under the present arrangement. This arose because Schedule 1 is based on borough rather than parliamentary boundaries.
The Government seem to have misled themselves on this point. What makes it even more amusing is that at Third Reading in another place my honourable friend Dr. Cunningham drew the attention of the Speaker to this anomaly and to two opinions from counsel which the GLC had received. Then they got into the area of possible hybridity. However, the Speaker ruled that the Bill was not prima facie hybrid. However, the issue clearly appears to be embarrassing to the Government. They have consistently argued that the abolition of the elections represents an insubstantial issue because they are to be replaced by indirect representation through constituent councils: yet the Bill fails to accord such representation to a 1119 small but well identified group of electors whose opinions are largely of very considerable interest to Conservative governments. I wonder why, having realised that point, either in another place or here, the Government did not bring forward amendments?
It will be interesting to see whether the Government accept the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Broxbourne, or turn them down, and whether, if they are turned down, the noble Lord decides to test the opinion of the Committee.
§ Lord Boardman
I am not sure whether the noble Baroness is in favour of, or opposed to, the amendment. I most strongly support my noble friend Lord Broxbourne. I welcome, too, the support of the Liberal Benches. I speak with a declared interest, as the chairman of the largest contributor to the £345 million of City rates. I would correct my noble friend on one other figure. In referring to the contribution made by the City as a whole to our industrial prosperity by invisible earnings, my noble friend referred to the figure of £4,000 million. I believe he will find, after research, that that is the net figure, after taking off the Government "invisibles". The contribution of the City to our economy is even greater than he implied.
§ Lord Broxbourne
I wonder whether my noble friend will allow me to thank him for that very helpful correction. Like Clive of old, I stand astonished at my own moderation.
§ Lord Boardman
Be that as it may, the point is that the City is a tremendously important part of our national economy. As my noble friend Lord Renton said, it is a question not of the number of electors who are within the City, but of the number of people who go to work there and the people who depend upon the City for their livelihood throughout very large parts of our economy. It would be regrettable and unfortunate if. in the re-formed organisation which is now before the Committee, the City were not to be represented. I shall not go into the arguments, which have been very well put by my noble friends and others. All I would say is that I hope very strongly that the Government will feel able to accept the amendment. If it were rejected, that would be very harshly felt by the City and by those who play such an important part in our economy.
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
I find this to be a strange amendment and I cannot support it. I consider that it is almost a case of reinstating the business ratepayer. Surely we have always based all local government, ever since the elimination of the vote for the business person, upon a resident population. There is a very small resident population in the City. I am very impressed by the way that the amendment has been moved and I have every respect for the City institutions, but the amendment would throw out the whole pattern of this interim provisions Bill. I spoke earlier this afternoon on the point that it was just by chance that there would be more Conservative people than Labour people on the council, because of the representation in the parliamentary constituencies.
1120 This pattern would be completely destroyed if one extra person were to be included. If we include one extra person, why can we not include whatever number are required to retain the present Labour control?—a point which has been made by other speakers.
At the moment, the Cities of London and Westminster are represented jointly by one particular person on the Greater London Council. This same person is also an elected member of Westminster City Council. and he is very likely to be one of the two people who will be appointed from Westminster City Council to the interim authority. Therefore, if he is capable of representing the City perfectly well now, as he has done for a number of years, I see no reason why he cannot continue to do so after the interim stage—particularly since it is only an interim stage.
The point has been made in this debate that various duties and responsibilities would pass to the City corporation in the normal way. We are only talking about a period of 11 months. Despite the fact that this amendment has been superbly moved, the danger is that it will destroy completely the argument that we were proposing one person for every parliamentary constituency in London. For those reasons I oppose this amendment.
§ Lord Renton
Before my noble friend sits down, I wonder whether she will bear in mind that this is an exceptional case, in that although there are only 4,500 voters resident in the City, nevertheless the people who go to work there earn the rates which enable no less than £345 million to be paid to Londoners in general.
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
I accept that point, and I know also (although it is a much lesser number) that there is a similarly huge influx of people every day into the City of Westminster. But still it will be only those who are resident in Westminister who will be able to vote and have elected their Member of Parliament. The same is true in the City. The City member has been elected for the Cities of London and Westminster.
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
In purely rational terms. my former GLC colleague, the noble Baroness, has cut the ground completely from under her noble friends—there can be no doubt about that. Unless this House, with all its notable representative status, is going to say that the City of London should be the precursor of the return of the business vote, and that rateable values should be the criterion rather than one person/one vote in local government, then, as the noble Baroness has said, there is no justification whatsoever for including the Common Council. It is proposed in this amendment that the Common Council should be represented on the new council.
The noble Baroness has not completely told the story about the City of London in London government. It is true, as she says, that the representa-tive on the Greater London Council is of the City of Westminster and the City of London. But on the Inner London Education Authority, there is a direct representative of the Common Council from a constit- 1121 uency which contains, as she has said, 4,500 electors and possibly no more than two or three schools, if that; I doubt whether there are many more.
The noble Baroness has destroyed the case for this amendment in rational terms; but there are reasons for being sympathetic towards the intentions of the movers of this amendment. The first is that the whole of the Common Council is elected for one year only—a 100 per cent. election each year. That is exactly the objection which the Government have had to the proposition that there should be an election in May 1985 for one year only—and yet the City of London, which is perhaps the most venerable of our local government institutions, exhibits exactly that anomaly which the Government consider to be so impossible in respect of London and the metropolitan counties.
The other reason why, emotionally, I am not totally unsympathetic to the City of London stems from my own experience as a member of the Greater London Council. There were times—and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Plummer of St. Marylebone, will sympathise when I say this—when many of us who have positions of responsibility there, and while accepting that there has to be a city government in London, questioned whether it really had to start at County Hall. Is it really possible to chain that huge bureaucracy? Is it possible to turn it around, like a tanker, to fit the needs of the last part of the twentieth century? There were times when I was tempted to believe that a real city government for London ought not to start from the GLC. Needless to say, I returned to the defence of the GLC when it was attacked in such a ruthless and unrepresentative way by the Government who wishes to abolish city government in London; but I did wonder whether County Hall was the starting place. It occurred to me also to think that the ancient traditions of the City of London, the vast wealth of the City of London, its magnificent municipal buildings and its fine banqueting traditions may be a better starting place for proper city government for London. If these wicked Bills go through and we have to start again under a more enlightened regime, perhaps there may be an opportunity for the Corporation of the City of London to play its part in reviving democratic local government for the whole of Greater London.
§ Lord Bellwin
May I first of all make clear that in addition to Amendment No. 15 we are speaking to Amendments Nos. 86, 89, 90, 92 and 102. I am sure my noble friend Lord Broxbourne is in agreement with that.Amendment No. 86: Page 8, line 27, leave out from ("Act") to end of line 29.Amendment No. 89: Schedule I, page 9, line 9, column leave out ("Londo borough") and insert ("Constituent councils").Amendment No. 90: Page 9, line 10, at end insert—("The Common Council … … … … … … 1").Amendment No. 92: Page 10, line 8, column 2, leave out ("10") and insert ("9").Amendment No. 102: Schedule 2, page 14, line 31, after ("borough") insert ("or the Common Council").Just before I come to the amendment itself, perhaps I can deal with the digressions. Starting at the back and working upwards. can I say to the noble Lord, Lord 1122 McIntosh, who said that we would wish to abolish city government in London, if by that he means the GLC I certainly do not consider that is city government in London, whatever else it may be; but that is for another day.
The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, said that the Government had possibly misled themselves or maybe we were now embarrassed. Let me hasten to say that we have not misled ourselves and we are not in the least embarrassed about this; there is a perfectly proper explanation. The fact is that the City is a small part in area and population—though certainly not in stature—of the constituency represented by my honourable friend Mr. Peter Brooke. As the noble Baroness reminded us, my figure is about 5,000 (but I would not quarrel) of the 68,000 electors of the constituency who live in the City of London, and the remaining electors of the Westminster City Council area are part of the constituency of my honourable friend Mr. John Wheeler. It was against that background of the preponderance of Westminster voters that it seemed right to allocate both the GLC seats to the City of Westminster.
I have to say that I am sympathetic to the arguments. I congratulate my noble friend on the extremely fine way in which he presented his case. The fact is that of course the City is an authority in its own right. For all purposes of the Bill the City is treated on a par with the boroughs. It will have the power to require information; it will have the right to object to the auditor of the GLC accounts and to be consulted on the GLC's budget, and to be involved with the staff commission. So certainly it is an authority in its own right. We feel on reflection that as the Bill stands the City of London is the only successor local authority not to be represented separately on the transitional council. The arguments which have been put forward are—to say the least—very persuasive, and I am really very pleased to say that we are happy to accept these amendments.
§ Lord Broxbourne
In view of what my noble friend the Minister has so graciously said, I need only take up 30 seconds of your Lordships' time in replying to thank him for his co-operative attitude, and to thank my noble friends Lord Renton and Lord Boardman and the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, for their powerful speeches in support.
Regarding the two speeches in opposition. I am a very charitable person, so I shall make a very charitable comment upon them. I find it remarkable that both of them should have addressed the Committee and not referred for a single second to the main point in which I put forward this proposition of the successor authority exercising functions, the criterion expressly defined by the Minister in another place. But perhaps when they have thought about it a little longer they will join in the general gratification that this amendment is to be accepted.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
Before the noble Lord sits down, in justice he ought to pay tribute to the very serious speech of his noble friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, rather than appear to think that the opposition comes only from my noble friend and myself.
§ Lord Broxbourne
I appreciate that in this case, contrary to the norm, my noble friend's reasoning was less persuasive than it normally is when she is good enough to address us.
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
Again before the noble Lord sits down, and to keep him busy, I presume that he is suggesting that in the usual City tradition this member would be an Independent and, therefore, it would not change the political complexion. As I mentioned earlier, this is one of the difficulties of attacking the argument that the way the representatives appeared was fortuitous.
§ Lord Broxbourne
I claim no expertise on the political complexion of the Common Council of the City of London. My understanding is that, whatever views they may cherish as thinking citizens, they do, in fact, sit as Independents. If I am wrong, no doubt I shall be corrected by someone with much more experience in these matters than I.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 16:
Page 2. line 33, leave out ("1st April 1985") and insert ("one month after the date on which this Part of this Act comes into force").
§ The noble Lord said: The effect of this amendment is to bring forward the date by which the constituent councils—the boroughs and the districts—must appoint the people who are to serve as GLC and MCC councillors from 7th May 1985. I emphasise that last point—this amendment does not affect in any way the date on which the borough/district appointees take office. That remains 7th May 1985, when the present GLC/MCC councillors' term of office expires.
§ Under subsection (4) as it stands, the constituent councils must make their appointments by 1st April 1985, although they can, of course, do so earlier. But that is the date by which they must have complied with the duty to appoint. It will be important that the appointees to the transitional councils are identified as quickly as practicable. The sooner that happens, the longer the time those people will have to familiarise themselves with the responsibilities which they will acquire on 7th May 1985.
§ We recognise that it would not be proper to require this to happen in advance of the order bringing Part II into operation. As a result of the helpful debates which we had earlier, but which have been overtaken by events, I would have referred again to the affirmative resolution. However, in view of what transpired, clearly I cannot do so now. Nevertheless, if an order, under whatever ultimately is the statutory instrument, is approved we think it right to ask the constituent councils straight away to make their appointments if they have not already started to do so of their own volition. We therefore propose in this amendment to require the appointments to be made within one month of the making of the commencement order. That would mean that all the transitional councillors would have been appointed by early next year—some two months earlier than under the present terms of subsection (4).
§ This amendment is intended to be of practical assistance to the people who are to serve as GLC/MCC 1124 councillors in the transitional period. It will help by giving them more time in which to prepare themselves for that role. Therefore, I ask your Lordships to agree the amendment. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Birk
I am very surprised that, in the circumstances, the Minister moved this amendment because it was tabled before the change in the Bill when the first amendment was passed this evening. The Minister talks as though the Bill will be out of the Lords by April 1985, or May at the latest, but there is nothing to substantiate that at all. There is a very great chance that the Bill will still be going through Parliament at the time.
I find this amendment quite out of tune with what we have now done. I invite the Minister to withdraw it at this stage, in the same way as it was agreed to withdraw Amendments Nos. 10 and 10A. The proposal would squeeze the date even earlier. It does not seem to have any validity, except to make things even more difficult for the councils. We are going into quite a different area from the area that existed when the Minister put down the amendment. We are now getting into the area of not just interim councils, but also shadow councils, and it seems absolutely wrong.
On these Benches we feel that this amendment must be opposed. I hope that the Minister will accept the views that we hold and deal with the amendment in the only way that I think is possible; namely, withdraw it for the time being and look at it again, in the same way as with Amendments Nos. 10 and 10A.
Viscount Colville of Culross
I hope that my noble friend will take that advice. It seems that the timetable about which he was speaking just now is most unlikely to be that which is accomplished. I cannot see why, in the light of the provisions of Amendment No. 1, which was passed, and the consequences of working out what the parliamentary timetable might be as a result of that, we have to take a decision upon this matter this evening. As the noble Baroness said, the provisions in this amendment seem to me exactly in line with some of the other matters that have been postponed. I am afraid to say that if my noble friend insists upon this, I shall certainly not support him. It seems to me to be another of the matters that ought to be reconsidered in the light of the earlier decision.
§ Lord Bellwin
We were bound to move this evening into some areas which would be confusing in terms of what did and did not apply and what is separate from the earlier decison. I think that the key words are:leave out ('1st April 1985')".In the circumstances I think that it would be right for me at least to consider what has been said. If, as I think at the moment, this amendment stands on its own, we can bring it back at another stage. But in view of the concern expressed, not least by my noble friend, I think that it would probably be proper that we should take it away for the time being. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.1125
§ 9.53 p.m.
Baroness Birk moved Amendment No. 16A:
Page 2, line 38, after ("in") insert (", in the case of the Greater London Council, Part I, and, in the case of a metropolitan county Part II of').
§ The noble Baroness said: This clause sets out the number of councillors to be appointed by each district to the interim metropolitan county councils. The Bill proposes that representation for each district should be cut to half the existing number of county councillors, rounded up to the next whole number. For some reason this same principle is not applied to the GLC, and so in this area there is differentiation between the MCCs and the GLC.
§ In the White Paper there was no reference to the size of transitional councils. As I understand it, the only argument to be put forward so far by the Government as to why there should be an arbitrary reduction of 50 per cent. in county council membership is that, during its 11 months' existence, the transitional council will not be preparing a budget, as that will have been done by the outgoing elected council. But this proposal appears to ignore a great number of very important factors.
§ First, there is the workload. The full range of functions will still have to be administered by the transitional councils. That point was made earlier this afternoon when we were discussing the first amendment. Then, additional work will have to be done by the transitional councils on the arrangements to transfer their county council services to joint boards, joint committees, Government departments, district councils, adjacent local authorities and outside organisations.
§ For district councillors appointed to the transitional councils the county council duties will be additional to their already existing district council workload, and so they will have a very heavy workload indeed. In many areas there is very little relationship between district council wards and county council electoral divisions. District councils will have to produce new groupings of wards with each appointee to the county council representing two or three district wards. It seems a very wide spread.
§ There is no consistency between county councils in the number of people represented by each district council appointee. This cannot accurately be described as the electorate, as at that point, in the Government's mind, there would be no election. But now, of course, the situation has changed. The average number of people of voting age would be 38,206 in the West Midlands, 37,072 in Greater Manchester, 34,486 in West Yorkshire 23,624 in Merseyside, 20,019 in South Yorkshire and 17,339 in Tyne and Wear. Halving the number of county councillors would cause enormous problems for committee structures with wholesale revision required in many cases. It should not be a straightforward case of halving committee membership because of the inter-relationships between committees—on the basis that many members serve on more than one committee—standing order and financial regulation requirements, and appointments to outside bodies.
§ What this amendment does is to retain the existing number of councillors. The benefits are that the 1126 number of councillors is as approved by Parliament, that there will be no change required to county electoral divisions, and that committee structures will be unchanged and workload problems eased. This is the reason for the amendment which seems very much fairer to the metropolitan county councils. Unless this amendment, or something along the same lines, is accepted, these councils will be put in a rather invidious position compared with the GLC. I beg to move.
§ Lord Bellwin
I have some difficulty with these two amendments. My difficulty with the first amendment, Amendment No. 16A, is that I do not see what useful purpose it would serve. My difficulty with the second amendment—I assume that we are speaking also to Amendment No. 91—is that I see all too clearly what its purpose is. It is one that the Government cannot support. Dealing first with Amendment No. 16A, I wonder whether it is designed to ensure that membership of transitional councils shall be set out in Schedule 1. If that is the case, I have to say that it is an unnecessary provision. Subsection (4) already makes clear that the numbers of members of those councils will be as set out in Schedule 1.
It is also, I fear, an amendment that is technically defective. It would prescribe the membership of the transitional MCCs as being that set out in Part II of Schedule 1, but Part II relates only to Greater Manchester. The other metropolitan county councils are each the subject of separate parts of that schedule. So the amendment is unnecessary and, I respectfully suggest, technically defective.
The effect of Amendment No. 91 would be to double the size of the transitional MCCs. They would revert to their present size. We oppose the amend-ment. It may help if I explain why we believe that the size of the transitional metropolitan county councils should be less than at present. Schedule 1 as it stands allocates one member to the transitional GLC for each parliamentary constituency. This gives a total number of councillors approximately the same as at present. However, a different approach has to be adopted for the transitional metropolitan county councils. In the metropolitan counties, several parliamentary constitu-encies cross metropolitan district boundaries. It would be difficult in practice to allocate transitional council seats in these cases.
Furthermore, the district councils have smaller populations and far fewer constituent authorities. The biggest, Greater Manchester, has 10 districts. My own former council, Leeds, has only five. This compares with 32 London boroughs. So smaller transitional councils still give each district a reasonable number of representatives without being unwieldy.
This amendment would lead to unnecessarily large transitional councils—huge ones. I would remind your Lordships that the main purpose of transitional or interim councils—call them what you will—is to prepare for a smooth transfer of functions, and an over-large membership would only hinder this task. So it seems to me that the schedule, as it stands, strikes the right balance between adequate representation and efficiency. I hope the noble Baroness will agree that there is merit in the real difference that I have explained, and that it is relevant to the amendment.
§ Lord Evans of Claughton
Speaking as one who was a district councillor and a metropolitan county councillor at the same time and found the workload too much, particularly after I came up to your Lordships' House, I want to say—this is the crux of my support for the noble Baroness's amendment—that the workload, even on an interim, closing basis, that is being imposed on people who are elected as district councillors to look after all the multifarious duties which metropolitan boroughs and district councils have, and at the same time to be representing huge areas on a county council, which in the interim period will still have duties, is requiring people who really are not elected for that purpose at all to carry out duties that are almost impossible to perform if they are to retain their efficiency as councillors.
I was one who objected very much, on the reorganisation in 1972, to the huge increase in the size of wards and electoral areas. I was much happier representing 4,000 or 5,000 people than I was representing 18,000, 19,000 or 24,000 people, because I felt that the contact between the county, local or district councillor and the elector was that much more effective. While I am sure that the figures the noble Baroness's amendment put forward are not perfect, any more than the figures that the Government put forward are perfect, we should be thinking of larger numbers, so that the strain will not be too great, rather than smaller numbers.
I suspect that if one puts a tremendous strain on councillors, in terms of time and so on, one may often find them coming to wrong and silly decisions because of the stresses and strains upon them. Sometimes I think that with the amount of work we are expected to do in this House—it is supposed to be a part-time House—the stress and strain on us may occasionally bring us to make the wrong decisions; although I am comforted, by what happened earlier today, that we are on the right tracks. The Government ought to consider the terrible burden they are imposing on the interim councillors in Greater London and the metropolitan councils.
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
I feel it is unfortunate that metropolitan districts will not have the same representation on the interim councils as they have on the present councils. I see no real points in any of the arguments that the noble Lord brought forward. The point about the workload has been expressed very well by other noble Lords who have spoken. It is not only the actual workload. The fitting in of the meetings is going to be terribly difficult. In the various district councils of which I am aware, I have made extensive inquiries about this. The question of conflicting afternoon and evening meetings has been well thought of by the districts and the county, so that there is not a conflict of things taking place in different areas.
If one looks at the workload that will be thrown upon the county councils, one sees that it is going to be a bigger workload than in London. We assume that much of the workload is going to be passed over to statutory boards. At present the police are part and parcel of the county councils. That matter has to be decided. We do not know what will happen with the fire brigades. Again, they might have to go to statutory boards.
1128 There are more complications as regards who will take over the responsibilities in the metropolitan counties than there are in regard to the GLC for the very reason that the district councils in the metropolitan authorities are already taking over education and other services because they were the services which they had previously. For example, Wolverhampton, Sandwell and Dudley in the West Midlands area already have education functions at district level. So there is not the ILEA type of example to use.
One must also take into consideration, especially in certain parts of the country—not necessarily the West Midlands—the travelling time involved. In Yorkshire considerable travelling time will be involved for some of the respresentatives on the interim councils. I see no reason why there should be distinction. If the GLC needs the exact number that they have at present to put into operation the passing on of the powers to other bodies or to local authorities, then why is not the same applicable to the metropolitan councils? I cannot see any argument for saying that there should be a difference in the total numbers.
§ Baroness Lockwood
I should like to add a few words to what my noble friend has said. West Yorkshire is certainly going to be a difficult problem. The Minister knows the geographical area very well, and some of the districts cover a very wide geographical area. So on top of the travel involved and their responsibilities within their own districts, the representatives will have the added problem of responsibility for the metropolitan county services, and on top of that again, as my noble friend has just said, they will have to work out how they will transfer the functions to the joint bodies. So they really have three responsibilities and we are expecting people who were elected for one purpose within a district to take over the whole of those three functions. In my view that is asking too much.
§ 10.8 p.m.
§ Lord Bellwin
I explained in some detail exactly why it was that we were proposing this "apportionment"—if that is the right word, which it probably is not. The fact is that there is a tremendous difference between the electorial situations in the two sets of areas that we are considering—namely: the GLC and the MCCs. The noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, mentioned Yorkshire. She said that the areas for travelling are wide. They are wide, but then those who are on the councils will themselves apportion who will do what. Whatever else may be said, anyone who has served on a large council, as I have, for many years would not say that, for example, out of the 99 councillors on the authority that I worked with—at different times it was 96 and 120—there was not a workload for certain key people.
There are many members of councils who do far less and many who would dearly like to do much more and they aspire to get on to committees which have greater amounts of work to do. In my view they will welcome the opportunity—the opportunity to do what? It is the opportunity to serve for 11 months, at the most, on a transitional council. What will be the role of that 1129 council? I keep coming back to this question again and again. It will not be to make a budget—and that is a big part of being on a council; it will not be to decide new policies; it will be to run down, to hand over, and to keep going.
The noble Lord, Lord Birkett, earlier on in the day referred to what he considered would be an immense burden. I am the last person ever to belittle either the importance or the volume of work that goes to any councillor. But I respectfully submit that for them it will be a new situation of which none of us has any experience, but which it is not unreasonable for me to point out will be of a different nature from what we have had hitherto. Therefore, although I am not unsympathetic to the point about the workload—far from it—in practical terms I do not think it will give rise to the concern which your Lordships have expressed.
If we then apply that to the other points I have made about the logicality of the representation itself, we reach a situation which I think we have about right. As an aside, those who would support the point of view in this amendment have made no representations on this point. They refuse to discuss the matter. Therefore, they must not complain if matters are decided without their input when they have abdicated the opportunity to make that input.
Having said that, I believe that the balance is about right. I think that it is very proper that the concerns should be expressed. I take them in the constructive spirit in which they were made. I think that this is one situation where the fears which have been expressed by your Lordships will not materialise.
§ Baroness Birk
I am not at all happy with the Minister's answer on this point. As he has more or less said, he has relied on guesswork because this has never happened. He said that this was a new situation of which none of us had had experience. In a new situation of which one has not had experience, it is always much safer to underdo things rather than to overdo them. The noble Lord, Lord Evans, with his particularly large realm of experience in local government, my noble friend Lady Fisher from the Midlands and my noble friend Lady Lockwood from South Yorkshire all said the same thing. They all spoke from great experience.
In addition, in the areas about which we are talking there are often far greater distances to travel—a point which I did not mention when I listed the heavy workloads there would be. There is no guarantee—certainly not now—that it will be eleven months at the most. It could be considerably longer. Even if it were not, to push this quite different type of workload on to people who are not used to it, and who are not necessarily prepared for it, would be very wrong. It would not only be wrong for the individuals because it could result in a great deal of stress and overwork for them, but it would be wrong and bad for the running of local government.
I must confess that I do not think that the Minister made out a very good case for resisting the amendment. I would suggest that as we are all pretty tired, he should take it back and have another look at it.
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
The noble Lord extended the number of representatives on the GLC interim body by generously including the City of London. Would he do the same for the counties? He has made an exception in an exceptional case. Those of us who come from the counties are saying tonight that there is an exceptional case and we should like him to look at this again.
As I mentioned previously, the unemployment problem in the areas concerned will affect men and women getting extra time off work. Although they will be in a run-down situation, I am sure that the noble Lord the Minister would not want run-down councillors. He will want the type of councillor who, at the end of the day, will come to the right conclusions. Therefore, it is important that we do not have councillors who have time on their hands, but that we have good representatives, and I am sure that he would want that.
Employers these days are very loath to give more time off work because of their capital situation. If this debars men and women from participating, I would ask the noble Lord to give as good considerations to this matter as he did to the London situation on a previous amendment.
§ Lord Bellwin
I give consideration to everything that is mentioned and raised. I think that today after the somewhat traumatic earlier happening it cannot be said, all else apart, other than that I have been willing to consider, to take away, to postpone, such matters as I thought were proper. I am not without sympathy to the underlying theme of what is being said, but I feel that the fears that have been expressed will not turn out in practice to be justified. I understand why they are expressed. The noble Baroness in referring to the bona fides of her colleagues who have spoken on this, I am sure would not take away from me my bona fidesin terms of knowledge and experience of exactly the kind of situation.
If I felt that this was going to be an intolerable burden upon them, I would have to be concerned. I really do not feel that that is the case. I will read carefully what has been said and talk with colleagues, but I could not undertake, as I stand here now, to do anything about that. But as the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, and indeed the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, will know, if I say I will read something you know that I will do that: but I certainly cannot give an undertaking.
§ Baroness Birk
I hope that when the Minister takes it back he will look at it all again, and not necessarily accept this amendment but see that there is a big problem here which could be exacerbated and become a much bigger problem. We have got to the stage where the noble Lord says, "I think it will be all right", and we are saying, "No, it will not be all right". There is a limit to how long one can go on like that. In the circumstances, in the hope that the Minister will come back with something that is more realistic and practical for the metropolitan county councils, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.1131
Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 16B:
Page 3, line 3, leave out subsection (5).
The noble Lord said: This amendment deals with the gerrymandering subsection in the Bill. For the benefit of the Committee I shall read what we consider is the offending Clause 2(5):
Each constituent council shall, so far as practicable, exercise its power to make or terminate appointments under this Part of this Act so as to ensure that the balance of parties for the time being prevailing in that council is reflected in the persons who are for the time being members of the Greater London Council or of the relevant metropolitan county council and for whose appointment the constituent council is responsible".
§ In London, the net effect of this would be to change the Labour control of London affairs from a majority of four to a Conservative majority of between 12 and 18. There is no way in which the Minister or the Government can justify that on democratic grounds. Although the metropolitan counties are not likely to change political control, it is a fact that the current Labour majorities would be drastically reduced, in some cases in political terms down to dangerous levels.
§ The Government have argued that in the GLC case the situation is an accidental outcome of the interim provisions. Some of the borough elections in 1982 produced a majority of Conservative controlled councils. In our view that argument is disingenuous. It ignores two facts. First, that the interim structure which the Government have created is an unprecedented one in local government. There was nothing to prevent the Government from allowing the 1985 elections to proceeed and limiting the terms of elected councillors in the main abolition Bill if necessary. Secondly, the 1982 borough elections which the Government rest upon as an argument, took place in the shadow of the Falklands war at a time of high Conservative popularity. Without in any way denying the validity of the results that took place at that time, we would maintain that the elections in London would produce vastly different results. If one studied the results of the local elections throughout the country less than two months ago one would find that there had been a remarkable turn-round between 1982 and 1984. The Conservative manifesto contained no reference either to the transfer of political control or to the abolition of elections. In these circumstances, the validity of any claimed mandate is considerably reduced.
§ Briefly, I should like the Committee to understand some of the circumstances which, in our view, reveal the nonsense of the situation. In my own London borough of Enfield, for example, at the moment there are three councillors, one Conservative and two Labour. The current intention is that that be altered to two Conservative and one Labour. If there is any argument it is resting on the 1982 election results which, in my experience, without forecasting too much, would be different if the election were held now. In Ealing the situation is that one Conservative and two Labour would be changed to two Conservative and one Labour. In Hillingdon there are two Conservative and one Labour: that would be three Conservative. In London we see that this is a grave attack upon the intentions of the people of London when they elected their councillors some four years ago. We are looking forward with great interest to the 1132 Government justifying Clause 2(5) which this amendment seeks to delete. I beg to move.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I do not want to add significantly to what my noble friend has said, but as a non-lawyer I have one or two questions to put to the Government. Am I right in thinking that this is the first time in legislation that the word "parties" referring to political parties has appeared? If so, what definition is given for "political parties"? My noble friend referred to the London borough of Hillingdon. He referred only to the balance between the Conservative and the Labour Party, but a significant part of the council of the London borough of Hillingdon is the ratepayers' association. It does not call itself a political party. Is subsection (5) supposed to permit representations to the Hillingdon ratepayers who would deny the existence of a political party? What happens to independents? They may not be common in the GLC or in metropolitan counties, but I wonder whether we are not enshrining into legislation, almost by the back door, a concept which we all recognise of political parties. Many of us would not be here unless we did: I say that carefully. But is it right in this way, without recognition of all the implications of the constitution of political parties, to introduce this now into this legislation for a period of only 11 months?
§ 10.24 p.m.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
I wonder whether the noble Lord opposite has fully appreciated the effect of his amendment. As I read it, if subsection (5) is taken out it would be free to every local authority concerned to choose, completely freely, its own representatives from the new central body. There would therefore be nothing to prevent any council with a small majority of one party or another confining its representation to representatives from that party. As in the case about which the noble Lord is complaining, that of the GLC, the majority of the boroughs have a Conservative representation, the effect of that would be a much larger Conservative representation on the new authority than there would be under this clause. Therefore, it seems to me that the noble Lord has misapprehended the effect of his own amendment and it also makes even more unjustifiable the phrase which personally I very much resented—though I am sure it was used lightheartedly—that this was a "gerrymandering clause".
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
May I quickly say that I was echoing the words of former Cabinet Ministers of his own party in another place who used the word "gerrymander". As far as the noble Lord—
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
I hope that the noble Lord will not expect me necessarily to respect the utterances of one or two of those gentlemen.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
I am quite certain that they would disclaim the utterances of the noble Lord in the same context. The Minister tempts me to say that I ought to accept the fairness of the Government's gerrymander as opposed to the possible gerrymander of Conservative councils. In other words, the 1133 Government are trying to be fair. It is fairer, for instance, in allocating the representation for London than, for instance, would be the collective views of Conservative councils. I think the noble Lord is right that councils certainly would be not as fair as the Government in numerical terms. But our objection, frankly, is to the whole Bill. Our objection is to the intention of the Government to seek to change. The issue is not whether the Government's option is a better option than the other one. We are opposed to the Government's option.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
The noble Lord has given away the whole case for his amendment. He admits that the effect of the subsection is, to his point of view, better than leaving it to the councils, yet he proposes to delete the subsection. He really has made a nonsense of his own amendment.
§ Lord Evans of Claughton
If I may interrupt what has become a dialogue, I think it would be churlish of me as a Liberal who has bored your Lordships over many months and years in talking about proportionality—which I shall go on doing so long as I have breath to do so until eventually we get proportional representation—to say that this is the first attempt I know of in legislation to introduce an element of proportionality, however ineffective or rough it might be. My worry is that the proportionality will be proportionality related to the number of councillors in each London borough rather than the numbers of votes acquired by the political parties in that area.
My second concern would be the minority parties—and the minority parties are not always the Liberals or the Social Democratic Party; I am happy to say that in many areas of this country the Labour or Conservative parties are the minority parties. But whichever is the minority party will be in some difficulty and would be likely to suffer in almost all the arithmetical calculations that are made. The noble Lord, Lord Graham, mentioned two Conservatives and one Labour. Very often there is the case where there are, say, 40 Conservatives, 41 Labour and 4 Alliance. How many councillors on the new authority are the Alliance Party going to get? There are no prizes for guessing. The answer is zero. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, that Clasue 2(5) is better than nothing; because I remember the good old days when they had joint boards on the Mersey Tunnel Joint Committee where the party in control just took all the seats. There would be, say, 23 Labour councillors, 18 Conservatives, one Liberal. There would be five Labour representatives on the board and zero for everyone else. It is an improvement in that sense. But I still think that this Government, with all the talent available to them, could have done a better job in arranging proportionality than this clause has done. I think they ought to have another try at it.
§ Lord Bellwin
Of all the people who should have been opposing this, the noble Lord, Lord Evans, is one, as he made out rightly in his latter remarks. His party has probably suffered more on this than most. I am frankly amazed at the attitude of noble Lords about this. Here the Government set out genuinely to 1134 give an opportunity for there to be a proper and fair balance in relation to the prevailing balance of the constituent councils, and they do not like what is proposed. I entirely agree with my noble friend, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. I, too, object to the use of the word "gerrymander." If you want to gerrymander, you do not go about it in this way. The noble Lord knows very well what that is all about. I say to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, no, it is not the first time that there is a reference in legislation to "party". I would have to remind him that the Labour Government brought in the Scotland Act in 1976 which of course referred to the word "party".
One has to look carefully at what is proposed. It calls for the appointing council to appoint only those who are required in applying this subsection who are members of the constituent councils so far as is practicable. The noble Lord, Lord Graham, referred to Hillingdon where he said there are two Conservatives and one Labour and henceforth there will be three Conservatives. I am not quite sure to what he was referring there but certainly that is not the kind of situation that will pertain.
This Bill sets out to do exactly what it says; to enable all parties to have a representation even when they are minorities. The Government could very easily have turned their back on this point. I object very strongly to the accusation of trying to manoeuvre something, because the intention is exactly the opposite. The intention is to give to the minorities a chance to have at least a word, a say, a person present to represent their point of view—something they have not had in the past mostly where Labour authorities have dominated, as the noble Lord, Lord Evans, rightly pointed out. They have much to answer for in this respect. It is not wrong that we should try to give the minority parties a voice. It is right and I would defend this and fight it all the way.
§ Baroness Birk
I think my noble friend made clear at the beginning of the debate that in any case this is meant to be a probing amendment, so I do not think the Minister need exercise too much passion on it. I do not think that he has as yet answered the points put by my noble friend Lord McIntosh about groups which would not be called or recognised as political parties—groups of ratepayers or other groups of people who would not consider themselves politically minded.
§ Lord Bellwin
This is not an easy area. We have had to think very carefully about this. Because the authorities concerned deemed that they did not wish to talk, they themselves have had no imput into this. So they must not complain if they do not like what is finally decided for them because they do not want to have any part in deciding it with anybody else. It is not an easy area to try to get right. I think that I shall write to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, on the particular point that he raised. We have talked about it but I think I should like to dilate on it and give him a chance to consider what I say.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I am grateful to the noble Lord the Minister. I wonder whether he would try to do it so that it could be considered before Report stage.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
I do intend to withdraw the amendment but certainly not the charge of gerrymandering. It is a proper word. It may be objectionable. It may be refuted by noble Lords opposite. They make the charge about members of my party in certain circumstances and we would deny it as well. My interpretation of the word "gerrymander" is that, by a non-elective process, the electoral control of an authority is changed. If the Minister is telling me that there is no intention that the collective government of London will have other than a Labour majority after the provisions of the Bill become law, I shall be very surprised. From all that we have seen and read it is intended that the present majority of four for Labour will be changed to a minority for Labour. The Minister is entitled to say that he has tried to do this in the fairest possible way; it may well be the fairest possible way, but, in trying to do it in the fairest possible way, one has to come up against the position that was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, and others.
Let me give the Minister the illustration of Hammersmith and Fulham, where one is going to try to apportion three seats in the fairest possible way. The Conservatives at Hammersmith and Fulham, jointly with the Liberals, control the council with a total of half the seats. Labour also has precisely half the seats. How does the Minister intend by promulgation to divide those three fairly in a case like that? However he does it (and it is his intention to do it, not ours) there is bound to be somebody who—does the Minister wish to intervene?
§ Lord Bellwin
It will be the authority, the people, who will do it. I quoted the words of the legislation: "so far as is practicable". If there is a situation such as the noble Lord describes, the authority themselves will decide how to do it. I can think of ways in which I would deal with a situation such as that. I would say: "Right: we will toss a coin for the spare seat that exists". But I suspect that may not be what others would do. I shall make one more comment after the noble Lord has finished, since at the moment I am only intervening.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
I appreciate that the political reality is that where there is an alliance such as that in Hammersmith, and the council collectively is able to determine the situation, although the Minister might say it is one to Labour and one to the rest, and then he would spin a coin, in fact you might very well consider giving one to the Conservatives, one to the Liberals, and one to Labour. That in fact would not be fair because there would not then be an equality of seats among the three parties. All I am pointing out is that in trying to give effect to what the Government intend to do one comes up against a situation of that kind.
Let me give another example to the Minister; it is that of Waltham Forest. Labour and Conservative each have 44 per cent. of the seats on the council, but there are three seats to be filled. If the Alliance were allocated a seat, they would have only 12 per cent. of council seats. However that is resolved, there will be unfairness. If either one of the two major parties takes two seats, that will be unfair to the other, and if there 1136 is a division of one to each, in effect 44 per cent. will be made to equate to 12 per cent.
At Brent the Conservatives control the council with 49 per cent. of the seats, but Labour have 47 per cent. and the Alliance 4 per cent. There are three seats to be divided. Whatever happens there, there is going to be a squeezing out of the tiny party, and the party which has just an odd percentage point more than the other will get the opportunity of taking two seats
So far as we are concerned, we do not like the Bill and we certainly do not like the intention to change the political control, for however short a period, of the affairs of London in a manner other than by the views and the decisions of local people. If I used a word which is offensive to noble Lords opposite, I recognise the import of it and I plead in aid no former Cabinet Minister. I indicated simply not the genesis of the word, but the free use of the word in another place by someone whose views I share at the moment. but on other occasions I do not. I use it because it suits my purpose at this particular time. No doubt the Minister has a word comparable to "gerrymandering" to describe my principles in that situation. But so far as I am concerned, it is quite clear that in the totality of the Bill this is a part of a package which we do not like. As my noble friend Lady Birk has said. this is a matter which, particularly at this time of night, we should not wish to press. Before I conclude, I believe that the Minister wants to say a word. after which I shall withdraw the amendment.
§ Lord Bellwin
I am not sure that I shall say anything further because I suspect that when we come to the next amendment, when we shall be discussing not totally dissimilar matters (although it will not be tonight) we shall be going round this track again. So maybe I ought to keep some of my powder dry. I have a great deal of it, mark you, but I think I shall keep it dry for that occasion.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 10.39 p.m.
§ Lord Evans of Claughton moved Amendment No. 17:
Page 3, line 10, at end insert—
(" ( ) Any question which may arise under subsection (5) above as to whether in any case the balance of parties has been reflected shall be determined by the Secretary of State.")
§ The noble Lord said: I shall try to move this amendment briefly. I am aware of the lateness of the hour. I should like to say at the beginning of my remarks that the word "gerrymander", which has caused so much offence, is not a word of disapprobation in the United States of America. but is a great compliment. I would beg your Lordships to remember that the successful gerrymanderer wins the elections there.
§ This amendment, taking into account those subjects which were discussed on the last amendment, seeks to give the noble Lord the Minister's right honourable friend additional power. I should have thought he 1137 would have welcomed this amendment, if for no other reason than that it seeks to place a responsibility for resolving the disputes that will inevitably arise under Clause 2(5) in his hands.
§ There is no proper procedure under the Bill for resolving the political difficulties which are bound to arise as a result of this subsection. The difficulties will be caused by the desirability of achieving a political balance, which the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, mentioned in the last debate. As anyone who looks at the results in the counties or in Greater London will see, there will be areas of dispute and dissatisfaction, mostly, but not entirely, from among the minority parties, as again the noble Lord has indicated. But the minority parties will inevitably feel on many occasions that they are being under represented or not represented at all. The noble Lord the Minister says that the local authority must make the decision, but the noble Lord has perhaps never been a member of a minority in a large council, very exposed to nasty bullying tactics by the noble Lord's party and the Opposition party.
§ I gather that right honourable friends of the noble Lord the Minister have said in another place that the recourse of minorities who feel badly done by is to go to the courts. But I do not think that the courts are the right place to resolve what will essentially be political disputes, because the courts are not equipped to deal with political disputes. The very purpose and the whole foundation of our legal system is that it is not political. In spite of the belief of many members of the party opposite the noble Lord the Minister, it is not a political organisation and heaven forfend that it ever should be. Therefore, it is difficult to envisage how any court could consider overturning a decision of a council, unless it was totally capricious and against natural justice, and yet a decision could be made by such a council which was not capricious but was still unfair.
§ Again, I do not wish to tire your Lordships' Committee by detailing a whole list of areas where such an unfairness could happen. I hope noble Lords will accept that there are many metropolitan counties and London boroughs where such an outcome is almost inevitable. Therefore, since the Secretary of State is imposing a system which on those terms is unworkable, or, if not unworkable, unpopular, and which will leave unhappiness and great areas of dispute, it seems to me that these being political differences the Secretary of State should take upon himself the responsibility for resolving those disputes, and should not opt out in what I believe to be a rather irresponsible way, saying that the courts must settle them, because the courts are certainly not equipped for that. The Secretary of State being a political figure, and taking into account all the problems of the political parties of this country, is the right person to settle such a dispute. I should have thought the noble Lord would welcome such an additional responsibility on behalf of his right honourable friend. I beg to move.
§ Lord Bellwin
May I put the record straight at once? I must tell the noble Lord, Lord Evans, that I have indeed been a member of a minority in opposition. I have been through all the four permutations. I have 1138 been in control, I have been in opposition, I have been in minority control and I have been in minority opposition. You cannot have any more permutations than that. So I know exactly what it is all about and what it is like. In fact, one of the factors that led us to the present situation is precisely that I have been in those positions, and precisely that I know how difficult it is for the minorities to have a say and how easy it is for them to be blocked out totally and completely. It is that very fact which has led us to the point where we want to give the minority parties a voice and a say.
We are making a big meal of this and missing the underlying point: what is it that these transitional councils are going to do? We know for how long they will do it. It will not be for a year. They will not be making policy. They will not be making budgets. They will be ticking over and handing over. If one wanted to gerrymander—what a term to use, despite what the noble Lord says—would one take the situation of seven authorities and allow six of them to continue to be Labour controlled, with one of them not Labour controlled?
What will they be doing for this period of 11 months? They will be doing what I have just said. This is overlooked again and again. There have been accusations of juggling and of manoeuvring in some way, when all that we are suggesting is that the authorities should appoint their own people, so far as is practicable. There cannot be more flexibility than that. We are attempting to give to minority groups the chance to have a say and an appearance. If we are making all this fuss about that, I can only say that I am surprised.
This amendment will not do, either, because it would be quite wrong to involve Ministers who, as the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, pointed out, are politicians. Therefore, they should not be asked to adjudicate upon what should be the political balance of other politicians. That is the last thing one would want them to do. I understand why the noble Lord is anxious not to have a court requirement but if, at the end of the day, when it comes to appointing representatives for 11 months to the transitional councils, the councils cannot sort out a reasonable representation, they are not very worthy, in the way in which I happen to think that they are.
§ Lord Evans of Claughton
I am not suggesting, and I have not suggested at any stage, that I regard the proposals as grotesquely unfair. All I am suggesting is that they could be made fairer in the way that I have suggested. The noble Lord the Minister gave us a moving description of the various capacities in which he has served in local government, but he has never been in the position in which I have spent most of my political life: that of 47 Conservatives, 42 Labour and 3 Liberals. That is the kind of situation I am concerned about. I am sure I could bring tears to the eyes of your Lordships in considering the treatment which has been meted out to us over the years. I would rather have the fate of a minority party in the hands of the Secretary of State than in the hands of a provincial Labour or 1139 Conservative party. I say that with some bitter experience.
Having said that, I concede that the Bill as drafted will take much of the bullying out of it. However, in those peripheral cases where a difficulty is left, either because there is almost equality between two parties or because a third party has got a significant number of councillors but not a large enough number to justify a place, there may be disputes. I would rather have the fate of the position left in the hands of the Secretary of State, who is a politician and who knows about these things, than left in the hands of the courts, which essentially and by definition do not know about these things. However, the hour is late and it is time, in the circumstances, for me to say that I beg leave to withdraw the amendment. with much reluctance and a great deal of sadness.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Denham
We have reached the point at which it was agreed that we should adjourn. I beg to move that the House do now resume.
§ Moved, That the House do now resume.—(Lord Denham.)
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
May I make one short, personal comment in order to keep a friendship outside the House, if it is at all possible. I believe in robust debate but I certainly do not believe in personal attacks which make for unpleasantness. Earlier in the debate when I was interrupted by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, I interpreted part of his remarks as suggesting, rather snidely, something about my eloquence. As a riposte I said that he exhibited a "smooth arrogance". It has been brought to my attention that the noble Lord. Lord Mishcon, feels that there could be an interpretation put on the word "smooth" which is not pleasant.
All that I wanted to make perfectly clear was that while I will cross swords in as robust a fashion as you like on the merits of any case, there is certainly no question of my wanting to introduce personal remarks of an unpleasant kind; certainly not in this case and certainly not so far as the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, is concerned.
I wanted that on the record because it has been drawn to my attention that the noble Lord has those feelings, and I wanted to dispel them. That is not my mood and I do not think that in the long term it is the mood of the noble Lord. I would not have liked the debate to end without that being made perfectly clear.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.
§ House adjourned at nine minutes before eleven o'clock.