HL Deb 29 April 1985 vol 463 cc81-110

House again in Committee.

Clause 1[Abolition of GLC and metropolitan county councils]:

Lord Bruce of Donington moved Amendment No. 3: Page 1, line 12, at end insert— ("( ) Before the abolition date the Audit Commission shall report on the anticipated effect of the provisions of this Act on the efficiency, effectiveness and economy of local government in Greater London and the metropolitan counties.").

The noble Lord said: I have no doubt, unless the Government intend to accept the amendment (which, in all reasonable logic they should for their own advantage), that the same considerations are in their minds as applied to Amendment No. 1; that is to say, that this amendment is somehow a wrecking amendment calculated to delay the operation of the Bill. It is right therefore that I should say that the only circumstances in which there could be any delay in the implementation of some or all of the provisions of the Bill, as distinct from the Bill's enactment, would be those in which the Government themselves were persuaded by the report that this amendment envisages that they really ought to do some more thinking. It would, of course, be entirely open to the Government to take no notice at all of the report, in which case they could have no legitimate complaint.

If I may say so, I think that the Government today have been a little tetchy and rather nervous in their over-reaction to the proposals introduced by my noble friend Lady Birk. It is perhaps unfair of me to tackle the noble Lord in the absence of his three stalwarts who always appear on occasions where there is some difficulty. Oh, I observe that one of them is here—the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. The two others are the noble Lords, Lord Campbell of Alloway and Lord Boyd-Carpenter. Their absence is perhaps a sign of contrition. Are the Government really saying, or will they say, that there are no facts at all that can emerge from any inquiry or from the compilation and submission to them of a report? Are they really saying that there are no circumstances in which they would be prepared to change their minds?

Let us say—I hazard the thought for a moment, but I can return to it if challenged—that a report of an independent body, let alone the Audit Commission, to which we shall return presently, reported after considerable research and inquiry to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that, unbeknown to the Department of the Environment, the implementation of the abolition proposals would mean an increase of around £750 million to £1,000 million in the public sector borrowing requirement. What would happen, for example, if in the middle of the deliberations of Cabinet Committee MISC 95, the Cabinet Committee presided over by the Prime Minister to see through to the bitter end the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan counties, the Chancellor of the Exchequer came along and said: "Look, boys, you had better think again. On the information that I now have at my disposal, after due inquiry, the public sector borrowing requirement will rise astronomically"? What would happen? Would the noble Lord say: "I am terribly sorry. Our minds are made up. We promised the electorate. We are bound by the mandate. We shall simply have to do it and have to wear it".

Or, let us say that an independent body, between now and the coming into operation of the Act, on further detailed inquiry, properly documented—not trivial stuff, or not stuff that the noble Lord. Lord Beloff, would regard as trivial—came up with the information that, contrary to previous supposition, local authority expenditure far from decreasing (a figure has been mentioned of £100 million, to which I shall return presently) would actually increase by £250 million a year. I am not saying that this would happen. I shall not offer any opinion at all, the noble Lord will be relieved to hear. As yet, I have not all the information at my disposal to enable me to take on the noble Lord on the question of figures.

Let us say, however, that it did happen; let us say that it did occur. What would be the noble Lord's attitude? What would be the attitude of the DoE? What kind of discussion would take place in Cabinet? Is it to be imagined for one moment that if these eventualities were to be revealed authoritatively the Government would still stick precisely to the proposals (which, as we know, are far from complete) that are before us today? Or would they decide that, after all, government is to some extent a matter of prudence and public responsibility and that perhaps they ought to think again about certain matters? What is wrong with that?

The question of time has been mentioned. The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, objected earlier to the passage of ten hours as being a waste of time. I wonder whether, in ordinary practical terms, the time limit that the Government have set themselves has any relevance whatever to the real issues at stake; whether the mere effluxion of time has any relevance at all when it comes to consideration of individual people living their own lives up and down the country it the various metropolitan city areas; whether it has any relevance if the Government decided, for example, on the information at their disposal, that they should perhaps postpone certain matters. I am not saying that they should; I am merely hazarding the possibility that they should perhaps postpone certain things for six months because we do not have enough information on them yet.

What is sacrosanct about the time? Why the hurry, anyway? Some noble Lords have said: "It's in the manifesto. We said we'd do it, and therefore we've got to do it", and there is all this necessity for speed, for decisiveness, for action. They have been promising to abolish the rates for 10 years, and there does not seem to have been any particular urgency there, except perhaps recently, when it has evidently sunk into the head of the right honourable lady the Prime Minister that there is some grave concern about the way in which all these local authority finance matters are being dealt with.

I do not know what motives the Government had for introducing the Bill at all. It has been said—unkindly, perhaps—that the motives were profoundly political. We know very well that the matter was not discussed at the ruling organ of the Conservative Party prior to the conference announcement itself. We have heard that today. As my noble friend Lord Irving of Dartford put it: could it be political spleen that is the real reason? He quoted Mr. Norman Tebbit's utterance in 1983—I can put a more precise date to that if the noble Lord requires it—when he said: "The GLC is typical of this new, divisive form of socialism, so we shall abolish it". There was no question of any motive there other than the political motive.

Indeed, if the noble Lord challenges me I can be a little more lurid than that and quote from a speech that the right honourable gentleman made on 14th March, 1984, as reported in the Financial Times the next day—a speech which carries no hint of the honourable motives that have since adorned Government argument as justification for the Bill. Indeed, the Government have made their case fundamentally on the question of cost. In the early stages—I am talking now of October 1983—in the course of their document Streamlining the Cities, the White Paper said: It is not possible to put a figure on the savings arising from abolition or the transitional costs. These will depend largely on the way in which the transfer of functions is achieved and on decisions to be taken by the authorities concerned". So at the stage of the White Paper they had not really made up their minds whether or not there was going to be any saving.

Quite clearly, that state of affairs could not last because the Government had already apprehended that the public at large were highly suspicious of what they conceived to be the political motive for abolishing the GLC and the metropolitan counties, their chief sin obviously being that they returned Labour majorities. They were getting a bit nervous about it. This has been quite evident in their utterances since. We now learn in the Bill that the savings are going to be of the order of £100 million. I shall return to that presently. That may or may not be so.

8.45 p.m.

The noble Lord, Lord Elton, in the course of his Second Reading speech, delivered himself of the argument that put the question of financial saving and of costs quite squarely at the head of the reasons for abolition. The whole thing was wasteful and therefore considerable savings could be made, he said: I followed what the noble Lord said, and just to refresh his memory, during the Second Reading debate, he said: It will result in savings. There will be costs in the first year. Thereafter, savings will come to some £100 million a year from rationalisation alone. This does not include anything that can be saved by the successor authorities changing their policy."—[Official Report, 15/4/85; col. 446.) Then, a little later on he said that the abolition would save money; and that view was reinforced by the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin. In fact, in the debate on the ill-fated paving Bill, in which your Lordships ventured to exercise their considered wisdom and will to some little effect, the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, in his inimitable style—and it is very difficult indeed to combat arguments presented with such charm and with such obvious sincerity—put his hand upon his heart and said that he was absolutely convinced that there could be great savings of money effected.

In many ways I regret that the Government should have put the saving of money as the central reason for the changes that they propose. There are many other considerations—considerations with which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool would be able to deal more effectively than I. There are considerations of (dare I mention it?) human wellbeing, serenity of mind, personal happiness and future prospects and purposes for individuals. There might be a whole number of other things on which any Government having the welfare of the people at heart could have staked their case, but they preferred cash. After all, the "naked cash nexus twixt man and man", referred to at one time by Marx, is the only language which the Golvernment really understand and care about. It is money, it is the till ringing, that calls the tune. So we shall take the Government on those lines.

It is not my intention to put before the Committee any evaluation as to whether these changes will produce savings or otherwise. I do not have the material and, as I shall show presently, the Government are evidently quite willing to provide what material they have themselves; but it did come under the purview of a distinguished firm of chartered accountants, Messrs Coopers and Lybrand, who produced a series of reports on these subjects and came to some conclusions, of which your Lordships perhaps would care to be made aware. I am not saying that I or my noble friends on this side of the Committee put ourselves behind these estimates. We merely say that they are estimates that ought to be taken into account. Coopers and Lybrand produced a detailed report, taking them some five months to accomplish working pretty intensively. As your Lordships know, they are one of the most distinguished firms of chartered accountants in the world, or certainly in the United Kingdom, and they said: With a uniformly high level of co-operation, we estimate … a total cost of change ranging from a saving of £4 million per annum to an extra cost of £9½ million per annum". Then they say that with the more limited level of co-operation they estimate that the change in annual operating costs would range from an extra cost of £11 million per annum to an extra cost of £21 million.

However, that was not all. That report was published in February 1984, but they had an opportunity to up-date it, which they did, as recently as November 1984. They had another go at it. In the up-dated report they changed the figures slightly. The estimated savings on the basis of full co-operation were down from £4 million to £2 million, and the extra expenditure was up from £9.5 million to £14 million, which was the range of variations in costs that they apprehended. Without co-operation the figure in the first report of an extra £36 million was changed to £38 million, and the upper part of the bracket was changed from £61 million to £69 million. So they had a fair go at it.

It is only fair to say that Price Waterhouse, another firm of very eminent chartered accountants, also had a go at it and produced a slightly different report. They estimated that there would be a saving of some £35 million annually. They made no differentiation as to "with full co-operation" or "limited co-operation"; they merely put it at that figure. However, I have to say in fairness to Price Waterhouse, which is an equally eminent firm of accountants as Coopers and Lybrand, that the report took only a couple of weeks, which is not a very long time; that only a few of the metropolitan district councils were consulted; that their conclusions were based on a mathematical extrapolation of the results that they had found in the case of the limited number of metropolitan districts which they consulted; and that it ignored transition costs. In addition, as the Committee will observe if they have seen the Price Waterhouse report, their figure of £35 million was precise—a precision which is perhaps a little odd considering that they took only two weeks to prepare their document as against the wider parameters of Coopers and Lybrand.

Therefore, we have two conflicting opinions. It is not for me to arbitrate between them, except to illustrate that there is a degree of dubiety. There are two conflicting opinions: one based on a study of some five months, with an extra month for up-dating; and one based on a fortnight. I put it no higher than that.

The GLC Director-General, who I believe has a very high reputation in the City of London, put the matter very differently. I quote one or two of his remarks. He said: Amongst the claims and counter claims there is one inescapable fact. In the Government's own terms, the case has not been made. Surprisingly, even on the assertions made by Government, abolition would not be justified in financial cost/benefit terms". Therefore, there is still some dispute about it. Noble Lords will be aware that among the other opinions canvassed were those relating to the debt of the GLC in particular and of the metropolitan counties. A very eminent firm of stockbrokers, Messrs. Fielding, Newson-Smith and Company, who are well known to Members of the Committee, came to the conclusion that: The abolition of the GLC and the six MCC's may have macroeconomic implications opposite to those intended. A once-and-for-all reduction in the rates burden of the GLC and West Midlands ratepayers following the extinction of the Capital Fund may in time be reversed". They go on to say: The GLC have been able to keep its interest costs relatively low. The incurring of additional external indebtedness by other London boroughs could lead to an increase in the average interest cost relative to what it would have been". The Financial Times, in a feature to which I can draw the Committee's attention, was extremely alarmed about this and envisaged the increase in the public sector borrowing requirement as a result of the new arrangements so far announced for internal funding of debt and the relatively lower rates of interest that had been charged to the GLC and the metropolitan counties, and anticipated that there was a likelihood that the public sector borrowing requirement might have to increase by some £750 million.

There is a further matter. At the moment we are bedevilled by not really having the facts. Investigations have been made by two eminent firms of accountants; investigations have been made within the GLC itself. But the GLC sought to obtain further and better particulars, and therefore one was very much alarmed—at least I was—to read in my professional weekly journal of 25th January that the GLC had instructed another very eminent firm of accountants, Touche Ross—Coopers and Lybrand and Price Waterhouse dealt with the metropolitan county situation. The report in Accountancy Age for 25th January says: Touche Ross's investigation of the government's case for abolishing the Greater London Council has been called off because the Government has refused the firm access to its figure". May I ask, why? Why should the Government refuse an independent firm of accountants of very high repute in an investigation to ascertain where the truth really lies? In the same edition of the magazine this evident inability or unwillingness by the Government to provide facts receives adverse comment as follows: A report by a London School of Economics research team on the GLC abolition says: 'Central Government's failure to provide any estimate of the costs of the reorganisation process must cast doubt on the claim that abolition is a transparently cost-effective measure'". I could go on if necessary and quote from The Times—despite the fact that The Times has rather tended to become a Conservative Party news sheet over the past eight or nine months, or since its new editorship—which casts equal doubts on the Government's ability, or willingness, to produce figures.

9 p.m.

I repeat that it is not for me, and certainly it is not for Her Majesty's Opposition or for members of the Alliance parties, to spend an enormous amount of time and indeed money—and your Lordships' House is not renowned for the excessive remuneration it pays to your Lordships for the services provided here—in order to make these detailed investigations. It is of course up to the Government. What are the Government afraid of?

The really independent body set up by the Government themselves is the Audit Commission. The Audit Commission is in many ways their own creature. It was set up under the Local Government Finance Act 1982. I remember the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, describing it in the most glowing terms. We have the opposition function to perform as Her Majesty's loyal Opposition in your Lordships' House, and speaking on behalf of my noble friends behind me I ventured to query a whole series of the suppositions on which the Government set up the Audit Commission. But it was to be an independent organisation, and they challenged any kind of suggestion that it was going to be dependent upon the whim of Government. It was a completely independent organisation upon which they set great store.

Its purpose was, among other things, aside from the district audit and the auditing of accounts of local authorities in the financial and statutory sense, to inquire into the efficiency, effectiveness, and economy of local government. Indeed what better organisation has been devised? What have the Government to fear from it?

I have here some copies of the excellent reports which it has so far produced. I am well aware that your Lordships regard accounting matters with a degree of boredom that is established by the somewhat uninteresting parameters of the subject it covers. But since the Government themselves have made costs and the saving of money their principal plank in the whole business, perhaps your Lordships would care to take more than a passing glance at the excellent reports which have been produced by the Audit Commission.

I do not want to embarrass the noble Lord too much because I am feeling in a benevolent frame of mind tonight. I have not said anything controversial at all. However, I am bound to point out that the investigation of the Audit Commission into capital expenditure controls in local government in England has shown that the Government are probably responsible for about £1,000 million waste in connection with their changes of mind as to what local authorities should be permitted to spend in terms of capital expenditure.

Your Lordships may well remember that, contrary to the oft expressed desire for economy and cutting down expenditure, immediately before the General Election the then Minister at the Department of the Environment, one Mr. Heseltine, got very funky indeed and sent out a plea to councils saying, "Spend, spend, spend, spend." There was therefore some easement in the economy, and the Conservative Party were returned to office. Immediately they got back the restrictions on local authority spending their own capital funds, which they had realised from the sale of their own houses, were clamped right back on again. The Audit Commission in this particular report—and I commend it to your Lordships—shows the disastrous consequences which are going to flow from this.

We are in some trouble. In this House your Lordships can of course study reports of this kind. I have no doubt that most of your Lordships, being public-spirited Members of your Lordships' House, have studied these reports in detail. The general public has not. One does not get documents such as this featuring in such gems of newspapers as the Daily Express, the Daily Mail, the Sun—the Daily Mirror, I do not mind. One finds mention in the Financial Times, however, which has a somewhat restricted circulation, and also in the Guardian. All I am doing is seeking to establish that there is a competent organisation available for this purpose.

Moreover, it is in accordance with the law. Section 26 of the Local Government Finance Act 1982 says: The Commission shall undertake or promote comparative and other studies designed to enable it to make recommendations for improving economy, efficiency and effectiveness in the provision of local authority services and of other services provided by bodies whose accounts are required to be audited in accordance with this Part of this Act, and for improving the financial or other management of such bodies". Then in Section 27(1) of the Act—I hesitate to remind the Government of their own legislation but it is sometimes necessary because one forgets it—it is stated: In addition to the studies referred to in section 26(1) above, the Commission shall undertake or promote studies designed to enable it to prepare reports as to the impact—

  1. (a) of the operation of any particular statutory provision or provisions; or
  2. 88
  3. (b) of any directions or guidance given by a Minister of the Crown (whether pursuant to any such provision or otherwise), on economy, efficiency and effectiveness in the provision of local authority services and of other services provided by bodies whose accounts are required to be audited in accordance with this Part of this Act, or on the financial management of such bodies".
Therefore, quite clearly the purpose is within the authority of this body. Have I the Chief Whip with me?

Lord Denham

If the noble Lord would give way, I would point out that he has been speaking to an amendment, one of many amendments, for 36 minutes; 37 minutes now, I beg the pardon of the Committee. It is an amendment to Clause 1 of this Bill. Other noble Lords may wish to speak to this. If this is not a filibuster and if this is not an Opposition trying to defeat the processes of Parliament, I do not know what is. I hope that noble Lords opposite will not behave in this way on a Government Bill. We never did when we were in Opposition. It is absolutely monstrous that any noble Lord should take 37 minutes, twice as long as should be taken for a Second Reading speech—

Lord Bruce of Donington

May I—

Lord Denham

If the noble Lord will give way, that is twice as long as should be taken. This must never be done. It is a negation of Parliament and I hope that noble Lords opposite will never, throughout the course of this Bill or the other Bills in this Session, behave in quite this way again.

Lord Bruce of Donington

I take note of what the Government Chief Whip has to say. On reflection, he may find that he has been overcome a little by the exuberance of his own verbosity.

Noble Lords


Lord Bruce of Donington

What I have been trying to do—does the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, wish to say something?

The Earl of Gowrie

If something cannot be said in about 10 or 12 minutes, it is not worth saying. This has been absolutely evident.

Lord Bruce of Donington

I am grateful to the noble Earl. I shall take the opportunity of reminding him of that on a suitable occasion. All I have been doing is trying to protect the Government from the consequences of their own folly. I get no thanks for this at all. I perform this service entirely for the benefit of the Government, in the hope that they are sufficiently open minded occasionally to admit the possibility that they might be wrong.

There is no better way of establishing whether they are right or wrong than by having this independent inquiry as to who is right. If the Government reject that, as I am quite sure they will, they show that they are afraid of the truth and that the real reason they want to pursue this particular legislation is not for the high minded (if that it may be called) purpose of saving money, but purely for petty, political spite unworthy of any Government.

Lord Mottistone

Does the noble Lord not think that in five minutes he could have put his point succinctly? Then we would all have listened to it and heard just as well what he wanted to say. That would have been better than his rambling on, quoting or not quoting, and wasting the time of the Committee. This House has the immense privilege of being self-disciplined, but it requires us all to be self-disciplined, including the noble Lord who has just spoken. It would have greatly helped us all had he been succinct in his statement, and he might have convinced us the better thereby.

Baroness Birk

Does the noble Lord not agree that it would be better if we proceeded with the amendment instead of having all these recommendations?

Lord Elton

I think your Lordships have indicated that whatever the merits of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, we have consumed a lot of time, and your Lordships would not want to consume much more. I certainly intend to be very brief. I was impressed by the command that the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, had over his copious sources, though perhaps if he had been less free in his use of them, that would have helped us along.

He started his speech by producing a hypothetical figure of £750 million added to the public sector borrowing requirement and saying that he took no view as to whether or not that was a likely result. He was completely impartial in the matter. He did not think it was for him to judge. He then had recourse to his copious sources and produced a large number, supporting the general hypothesis that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury might burst into a later Cabinet meeting and say "My God, we got this wrong. We have to stop". It was kind of the noble Lord in going through his sources to mention Price Waterhouse. He did not mention that they were assisting the metropolitan district councils in an inquiry.

Lord Bruce of Donington

I did.

Lord Elton

If he did, I merely endorse that that is what they were doing. The results which they had were fairly closely compatible with those of the Government themselves.

I do not want to make a great issue of all this. I want to refer the noble Lord, as he has already been referred, to the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum at the beginning of the Bill, which sets out what we believe broadly will happen as a result of abolition. I would remind him that when Touche Ross applied for figures my department sent the Greater London Council all the information it had which was relevant to the questions which Touche Ross asked. We were not able to answer most of the questions, which related to the details of implementation of the post-abolition arrangements and which could be answered only by the GLC itself or by the successor boroughs. So the noble Lord need not accuse us of keeping the door shut when honest inquiries were made.

9.15 p.m.

The noble Lord also mentioned a report of the Audit Commission, which he flourished in our faces from the other side of the Table. It is scarcely relevant to this debate and, in any case, the Comptroller and Auditor General has since produced what in our view is a much more balanced report which will be considered by the Public Accounts Committee of another place. I am glad to see that the noble Lord has it in his hand and he will doubtless find it reassuring.

But what is the machinery into which the noble Lord wants to put the figures which he gleefully expects to come out of this inquiry? The machinery is an Audit Commission report. I am sure he knows that the Audit Commission already has the power to perform an investigation into the operation of statutory provisions. It is of course already open to it to decide whether or not to undertake such a study. The amendment seeks to require it to do so in the period between Royal Assent and the abolition date and to look at the anticipated effects of this legislation.

I am not sure that I can see the point of that, because there is something missing from the noble Lord's machine, as the amendment, unlike the first one that we debated, does not seek at all to bring the report into the process of legislation. The Act will be on the statute book when the commission begins its work. Abolition will have been fixed and become inevitable by law for a date soon after it reports, and nobody will be required to do anything whatsoever about the report that it makes.

The noble Lord made a virtue of that and said that the Government could ignore it completely it- they wanted. One can only interpret that in one of two ways. Either the noble Lord is looking for the Oposition to have a chance to say, "I told you so" if the report is as they expect, or, I presume, to ignore it, if it is not; or they are seeking to supply a sound effect from the wings of abolition. But in any event this is an extraordinarily bad time. May I have the attention of noble Lords opposite? The Committee is not at prayer. If the noble Lord is not at prayers, he is either standing or sitting and I cannot make out which it is.

What I want to say to your Lordships is quite simply this. We accept that abolition will make extraordinary demands upon the abolition authorities and the successor bodies. The less extra work we give them to do at this stage the better. If the work that is proposed, as it is proposed in this amendment, cannot be incorporated in legislation, then it is without point. It is an unnecessary labour imposed upon people who already have their lives made difficult enough by their employers refusing to let them do this work in a timely way now, so that it must be done in great haste later. There is no point to this amendment and I ask your Lordships to reject it.

Lord Bruce of Donington

I am most grateful to the noble Lord for his most courteous and detailed reply. I agree entirely with him that on the report becoming available it would be open to the Government either to accept its recommendations in whole or in part, or to reject them. The important point about the report is that it would be a public document and it would be one against which the public would be able to judge the adequacy or otherwise of the measures which the Government take to implement their Bill. As I said, I am most grateful to the noble Lord. So grateful am I that, without detaining the Committee any further, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Ampthill)

Is it your Lordships' pleasure that this amendment be withdrawn?

Noble Lords


On Question, amendment negatived.

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 4: Page 1, line 15 leave out ("1986") and insert ("1987").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 4 which deletes the operative date for the abolition and inserts "1987". This amendment takes the Government on from the first amendment of today when, in effect, they ridiculed the arguments that were being put from this side of the Committee that time was needed in order to assess the various aspects of what was required. The Government then said that the inquiry would produce too little time. What we say to the Government is, "Fair enough!" But if in fact in order to be quite clear as to the implications of the Bill we need a little more time, this amendment is saying to the Government, "Get your Bill; get the Royal Assent! But, instead of making it operable from 1986, make it operable from 1987". I know the argument will come from the other side of the Chamber that this is simply and wholly a delaying tactic.

I very much hope that noble Lords opposite will listen carefully to the argument. They are not my arguments or partisan arguments; they are arguments which are based on experience. I happen to have served as a councillor in the London Borough of Enfield during the 1960s. In 1963, we had the London Government Bill and Act, then there were elections in 1964 and then the operative date was 1965. I can tell the Committee that even with a reasonable timescale, not a generous one, the period of 18 months was not too long in order to do a number of very complicated and at times very distressing things in respect of staff disposition.

The London boroughs of Edmonton, Enfield and Southgate formed the London Borough of Enfield. Even on a small scale such as that, there was a range of matters that needed a long time in order to be effected. To my mind, one of the points that the Government fail to take on board seriously is the consequence of their decisions. They simply say, "We take the decision, we set the date; and we are not prepared to take seriously on board what needs to be done in between". May I remind the Committee that from the time that this Bill gets the Royal Assent—and let us guess and say that that will be July—until the time that it needs to become operable is about eight months. I am sure that the Government would not expect anyone else to assume what this House will do, and I am sure the Government will not anticipate what they want the House to do and in effect start to work before that date. That eight months is half the period of time in which any other comparable change in management and arrangements have been made.

Quangos will need to be established and staffed. They will need to create initial budgets and plan their organisation. The staff of the metropolitan counties and the GLC will have to be identified collectively in groups for dismissal and then individually sacked where they are not required. The staffs of the metropolitan authorities and the GLC, where necessary, will have to be transferred to successor bodies.

New office accommodation will have to be found, rented or purchased. The files, computer programs, information systems, legal records, etc. presently held merely with the GLC are enormous in quantity. I think that the House was indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Plummer, and impressed by the information that he gave at Second Reading about the physical enormity involved in having to do things with the files and computers. Proper joint working arrangements will be established by the joint boards. The Secretary of State will have to make decisions and give guidance on hundreds of issues. There could be legal disputes on the distribution of property and assets. Again, the noble Lord, Lord Plummer, enlightened the House as to the size of the GLC property portfolio.

The London boroughs will in some respects be acting as joint strategic authorities for the first time. All these things will be happening at a time when the metropolitan authorities and the GLC will have the enormous job of coping with their current services and with the running down of them. I say to the Government that if they are really serious about getting it right and not getting it quick, this is an opportunity for them to respond.

This amendment does not deny the Government the Bill. What we are saying is, "Please understand that there are lives at stake, professional lives at stake, as well as a range of other matters, and time is needed for the Government to work in collaboration with the staffs of the metropolitan counties and the GLC". I hope that the Minister will look upon this amendment as I do as yet a further attempt to bring some measure of acceptance and understanding once the Bill becomes an Act. Once it does we are saying, "Please take more than eight months because it needs more than eight months to make sure that it gets off to a good start". I beg to move.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

This is the last of the delaying power amendments. The rest all fall within the revisory rôle. I hope that the Committee will alow a very brief intervention not to repeat, I assure your Lordships, but merely to apply to this amendment the argument already deployed in relation to Amendments Nos. 1 and 2.

I have of course listened with great attention and respect to the arguments on the merits deployed by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, but whatever else may be said about this amendment, even at this late hour, it is a plain resort to the delaying power of your Lordships' House and Committee under the Parliament Act. Again, in effect, this amendment defeats the Bill. It thwarts the will of the electorate in another place which reflects the manifesto commitment. It is contrary to any convention that I have been able to discover to resort to the delaying power in such circumstances on the assumption that the resort to the delaying power is to enable the House to invoke its revisory role. Such, indeed, has never been within the spirit of the Salisbury or the Carrington conventions and to carry this amendment would therefore constitute a very substantial departure.

On the merits, this is yet another manifestation of the Labour Party's implacable opposition to the principle of this Bill. Surely it would be preferable that we should proceed to discharge the revisory role in Committee, seek to improve the Bill—a process which would be inhibited only if this amendment were to be passed. My hope is that this amendment will not be pressed in those circumstances to a Division either on the constitutional ground or, indeed, on the merits. I apologise for taking so long.

Lord Wilson of Langside

I rise only to observe that, frankly, I cannot understand the assertion of the noble Lord regarding the Salisbury and the Carrington conventions to which he referred. I tried to rise on this point at an earlier stage during the debate on the first amendment, but obviously the Committee had had enough and so I did not pursue it. Frankly, I do not understand that assertion. I think the noble Lord is wrong about this.

But if he is right that it is inconsistent with the Carrington and the Salisbury conventions to which he has referred, I do not think that that is fatal to the argument in support of the amendment. When the noble Lord first spoke of it I remembered that it was some six or seven years since I last reflected on the implications constitutionally of the Carrington and Salisbury conventions. I had my doubts then about the validity of the noble Lord's argument. At this late hour of the night I do not want to enter into the constitutional implications of this matter, but I took the opportunity to have a quick look in the Library at such works of authority on the British constitution as I could find. I just wanted to put on record my belief that the noble Lord's argument is full of fallacy.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Monkswell

I should like to support this particular amendment because I believe that the Government do not appreciate the situation that we are trying to present from this side of the Committee. We are in Committee and, by convention, this Chamber seeks in Committee to revise and improve Bills which come before us. The argument we have heard this afternoon presumes on the Government's point of view that we are engaged in activities which wholly have to do with wrecking this particular piece of legislation. I hope that the Government will take on board that we on this side of the Committee—or should I say that I, from my point of view—look on this stage of the proceedings and deliberations on this Bill from the point of view of improving the Bill, rather than seeking to wreck it.

I must take issue with the statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, a few moments ago, when he said that if local authorities subject to abolition under this Bill were not complying with the requirements of the Government, this was because of the arguments and control of the political leadership of those authorities. I have to advise the Government that that is not wholly true. In fact, there is a great deal of resistance to the plans this Bill brings before us from the employees and (dare I say it?) the local populace who are subject to the provisions of the Bill.

If it were just the political leadership that was opposed to this Bill and which was seeking to delay it or inhibit introduction of the changes it proposes, then I would accept that the Minister had a valid argument in saying that opposition does not matter because as soon as the Bill is passed the political issue will be over and the will of Parliament will have been expressed; and thus the local authorities will have to abide by it. It is a deeper problem than that. With this Bill, we are faced with major changes in a vast number of activities of local government. These will involve an enormous amount of work on the part of those bodies which are to be abolished—the employees thereof, etc.—and by those who will have to take on the work currently being done by the bodies subject to abolition. The Government do themselves no service when they say that their original plans—conceived some years ago, they have now said—can be carried through in their entirety, given the situation we are faced with in the communities at large.

The Government would do well to recognise that those of us on this side of the Committee are seeking to improve the Bill. We are not seeking to wreck it. We are genuinely concerned about the provision of services in our local communities and how they will best be transferred from one authority to another. To say that all that we on this side of the Committee are intent on is to wreck and destroy the Government's will in abolishing these authorities is just not true.

I must plead with the Committee to recognise the reality of the practical difficulties of transferring functions from one body to another; the enormous difficulty of setting up new arrangements for the control of, and activities associated with, for example, waste disposal. It will have a major effect on the community at large. Only today we have received representations from local authority associations which are outwith the metropolitan counties. They are concerned about the situation with which they will be faced because of the change in the way that waste disposal will be effected. That is just one factor of a whole range of different factors that will have to be taken on board, accommodated, and planned for and for which transitional provisions will have to be made. To cope with this is asking rather much of our dedicated local authority employees and their communities in the very limited timescale that the Government are proposing.

I beg the Government to acknowledge that we on this side recognise the will of the people as expressed by the other place, and we shall seek, and are seeking, to improve the Bill and to come to the assistance of the Government wherever we can. This is one such area. By delaying the provisions of the Bill for one year we are making that appeal, given the situation within the metropolitan counties and within the GLC. I agree that there has been prevarication in the areas I have mentioned to assisting the Government, but one could argue that that is constitutional and legitimate because the Bill has not yet become an Act. There is always the chance, as those people in the local authorities see it, that the Bill may not become an Act at the end of the day, and it is not until it becomes an Act that the people who are involved in the provision of these services, the transfer of these services, and so on, will recognise and obey the will of Parliament.

Until that time comes we must accept that they will endeavour in the best way that they can, subject to the limitations of law, to delay what they see as anti-social, counter-productive, inefficient proposals being carried through. We must recognise that they have legitimate responsibilities in adopting the tactics that they have; and we must recognise that fact, take it on board as a practical reality and reflect the practical situation in the country.

Lord Mottistone

Will the noble Lord allow me to intervene? Is he naturally verbose or is he filibustering?

Lord Monkswell

We have had one occasion this evening which has disturbed us on this side of the Committee very much. I take great personal exception to the suggestion that we are engaged in filibustering.

Lord Mottistone

Will the noble Lord answer my question? Is he naturally verbose or is he filibustering?

Lord Monkswell

I think that noble Lords have had some experience of my contributions. If I can keep my contributions short, I shall do so. If the realities of the situation demand that I take some time to explain them to your Lordships, I am sure that your Lordships will appreciate that. It ill behoves Members of the Government Benches to suggest that we on this side, when engaged in deliberations which are trying to improve this Bill—and on many sides of the Committee there have been criticisms about it—should—

Lord Mottistone


Lord Monkswell

No, I am not engaged in a filibuster. I am trying to explain the practical realities and difficulties of this Bill and the reasons why the Bill should not come into effect for one year beyond the period that the Government seek to dictate.

The Earl of Gowrie

I was certainly prepared to extend a metaphorical and ecumenical hand to the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, while congratulating him on the speed with which he has become an expert on the constitutional procedures and conventions of this House. I think that the point raised by him and by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, and others about the Salisbury and Carrington conventions, as they are called, is that this House has every right, indeed a duty, to try to improve Bills by revising them. Our problem in this case is that some latitude has been given to the word "revision" by a series of amendments which are designed to stop the Bill from coming into effect. That would, I think, perhaps be more convincing if the Bill were first revised and then perhaps later there were suggestions that the Bill should be delayed in coming into effect.

I come to the other point in the noble Lord's argument which perhaps prevents me from being as ecumenical as I should like to be to the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell. It is the really extraordinary suggestion he made that, on the one hand, there are severe practical difficulties facing organisations and authorities, given the removal as proposed of this tier of local government, and that, on the other hand, the severe practical difficulties can in some ways be improved by the staff of these authorities not being allowed by their political masters to co-operate with the preparation of the legislation or with the preparation of conditions leading up to such time as the legislation becomes an Act.

I know very well in my own immediate sphere of responsibility in respect of the arts that there has been the bureaucratic equivalent, if one likes, of filibustering, and that hard-pressed officials, who I in no way blame for this, have not been allowed by their political masters to co-operate with us in order to get as smooth a transition as is possible. We can all take different views about the wisdom or otherwise of any given political decisions, but to argue on the one hand that one of the reasons the political decisions are no good is that people are forced not to co-operate with them is extending argument to unreal limits, and I regret that the noble Lord. Lord Monkswell, did that.

I believe that some of the directives being put to the professional staff (who I in no way blame) of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils are deeply disturbing to the staff themselves and can only add to the anxieties which the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, and others are accusing us of generating. I think that this is—

Lord Monkswell

Will the noble Earl give way?

The Earl of Gowrie

I will give way, but I should like to finish this point, I think that this is a cruel and cynical use of unpolitical and unelected officials. I hope that the noble Lord will use his new and considerable influence as a Member of this House to ask all authorities to desist.

Lord Monkswell

The noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, has repeated the fallacy of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, which I sought to correct. The activities of the employees of these authorities are not solely determined by the political direction of their masters. They have themselves taken objection to the Bill and are seeking not to involve themselves in helping the Government in the procedure of transferring power.

9.45 p.m.

The Earl of Gowrie

I cannot believe that the noble Lord believes that. My only advice to him is to pull the other one.

To turn to the amendment from which we have somewhat strayed, its purpose and effect is to postpone the abolition date by a year. The Government at a very early stage made it clear that we intend abolition of these authorities to take place on 1st April 1986. That has been long known. It was stated in the White Paper and this Bill was introduced, as promised, early in this Session in line with the timetable that we proposed.

It has been argued that more time is needed to put our plans into effect. I cannot see on what basis that argument is adduced. The boroughs and districts—the successor authorities—are already fully functioning local authorities. They are not untried maidens in that respect. That contrasts with the situation in both 1963 and 1965 and 1972 and 1974 when all the successor bodies were new authorities created by the legislation. Thus some of the bodies taking over most of the tasks of the GLC and the MCCs are already in place and they can begin planning for the transfer from an early stage, particularly if this planning is not prevented or obstructed in the ways in which the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, and I have recently been debating.

Government departments have already issued to all the boroughs and metropolitan districts some guidance on preparing for transferred functions, with more to follow. Section 5 of the paving legislation is being used both by central Government and by successor authorities to obtain the information needed from the GLC and the metropolitan county councils. There is no reason why this should be a very complicated or difficult provision because the GLC and the metropolitan counties are so much the minor partner in the provision of services in their areas that the extra activity to be taken on by each borough and district is really comparatively small.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State will shortly be bringing forward proposals for initial appointments of residuary body members on an advisory basis to make a start on planning for their important role. One of the priority tasks to which we shall ask them to address themselves is the identification of staff currently employed by the GLC and metropolitan county councils in areas like finance, superannuation and property, and of course I include key computer staff whom they will need to take on to carry out the responsibilities they will inherit.

As to timing, the new joint authorities will formally be in place from September 1985 and they will have absolutely adequate time to prepare their budgets for 1986. There is nothing to prevent, once more, the borough and district members who make up these authorities from meeting at an earlier stage to give preliminary thought to their needs. Of course, the executive parts of the new authorities will not be radically altered at the moment of transfer. The services will be provided over precisely the same geographic area as at present and there will therefore be no difficulty in ensuring continuity of operation of the services.

But the present amendment would introduce unnecessary delay and thereby increase the personal and human uncertainties for the staff concerned. The GLC and some of the metropolitan counties would no doubt continue using the period of delay for obstruction, including the unreasonable use of public funds for propaganda right until the end. I can therefore see no reason whatsoever to delay the implementation of an improved system of local government for the conurbations. I would ask the Committee to reject the amendment.

Baroness Lockwood

I really must take issue with the noble Earl on two points he has made. The first one is the reference to the fact, from his point of view, that the successor bodies are already there in order to take over these services. The second is that the boroughs are able to take over the services. The successor bodies are not there. Most of the services will be taken over by new bodies which have to be established, and we hear from the noble Earl that they will be established at the beginning of September. But they will be the bodies who will take over the major services; therefore it is not correct to say that they are already there.

Secondly, the noble Earl said that there would be no difficulty in the boroughs taking over the functions, most of which he said they already carry out in local authorities; and therefore they could take them over quite easily. The report of the Select Committee of your Lordships' House, which has already been referred to this afternoon, indicated quite clearly that there is a whole range of very important and indeed essential technical services, including waste disposal, highways and transportation, which need to be taken over not by the boroughs but by some joint authority. Therefore, there is much work still to be done in determining how and in what administrative ways these services shall be taken over.

Therefore, I should like to support this amendment. I hope the polemics about it have disappeared. I speak as one who is concerned about the quality of these services. If the quality of the services is to be maintained, I suggest that cannot be done within the short period of eight months after the new bodies are set up.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

The Minister who replied quite fairly sought to demonstrate that what is now in train is reasonable and is based upon the acceptance, the inevitability, first, that the Bill will finally become an Act, and, secondly, that it will become an Act substantially whole in all those parts that we have yet to debate. I simply say this to the noble Minister and to the supporters of the Government. If they really believe that the atmosphere in terms of relationship between central and local government in 1985 is on a par with the relationship between local and central government in 1972 and 1973 and in 1963 and 1964, then with the greatest respect, they do not know what they are talking about.

I happen to have served in local government at the time. Although it is 22 or 23 years ago, and there were political differences, having fought the political argument there was a general acceptance of what was going to happen: "All right; we have had a good fight and will go forward". That was because there was proper preparation in the form of an inquiry or a commission and the ground had been prepared.

Regardless of the charges the Government make about the Labour Party or individuals, they have decided on this occasion that they will use some short cuts. I say to the Minister that the short cut with which we are now faced—and that is starting cold from July of this year, though the Minister wants us to start now—is a recipe for bureaucratic choas. The consequences of that will not be felt until after 1st April 1986.

The Minister makes play of the fact that there are politically elected councillors who are deliberately instructing their employees not to co-operate. I do not disagree: that probably is the situation. What the Government are inviting the councillors to do is to help the Minister to cut their own local government throats. What those individuals are saying is, "We shall not make it easy for the Government to get their way".

In the other place there were issues of a major character which were carried by the Government (with their huge majority) by only 23. Last year, on the paving Bill, there was an issue on which the Government's main thrust in legislation was negatived by this Chamber exercising its way. There must come a point when it is clear beyond peradventure that the will of the Government will be carried in this and in another place. I simply say that the Government are failing to understand the matter.

I am sorry that they are ignoring the advice of professionals, voluntary bodies and councillors. I ask the Government to forget the politicians but to listen to the voices of the voluntary bodies. They have sought to collaborate with the Government for a long period of time to produce a modus operandi for the voluntary bodies. This has yet to emerge. We are saying that more time is needed, not only in that field but also in the field of housing and in the transfer of the major physical resources.

The Government are perfectly entitled to reply that they in fact said, as early as they did, that 1st April 1986 was to be the day, but the reality is this. Thanks to the change in the Government's ambitions in the paving Bill, there was a change in respect of that particular matter. People outside are saying, quite rightly—not illegally, not criminally; and certainly they are entitled to say it—"We want to make sure that there is no other alternative."

The offer given to the Government in the amendment is not unreasonable. If the Government intend, as I believe they might, to remain the Government of this country after April 1987, the Bill will not only have Royal Assent but will be a fait accompli before they go to the country. There is no question that within this Parliament the intentions of the Government will be given substance.

The Minister says that the GLC and others have frustrated the intention of the Government to make progress. My information is that the GLC has done nothing of the kind in relation to information on the current situation, works and costs. What they have been laggardly in doing is in assisting the Government to set up the successor bodies, authorities and arrangements that the Government have in mind. The Government have to take on board that they have a major responsibility for that being so, due to the climate that they have created. This raises an important point. When are this House and another place going to accept that there is no point in opposing, revising or seeking to amend? At what point are the Government entitled to say that they have a mandate, a Second Reading or whatever it is, and that there should be no form of opposition, reluctance or truculence?

The Earl of Gowrie

I have made clear when debating some previous amendments that the Government consulted on aspects of this legislation, not least in my own area concerning the arts, and very considerable amendments were made. If your Lordships put forward amendments and carry them, the Government will consider them most carefully.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

If the Minister is inviting us to accept the dictum that should this House carry matters, that is the end of it, that what this House decides will be accepted by the Government, then that is very interesting in the light of developments that are perhaps not too far away. Of course, the noble Earl did not say that. I am entitled to interpret—

The Earl of Gowrie


Lord Graham of Edmonton

—what I believe the Minister said in my own way, as well as is the noble Lord, not from a somnolent position but certainly lying back and perhaps enjoying it. The Minister has failed to convince me of the defence of the Government's attitude in these matters. He has, however, said enough to convince me that because of the lateness of the hour this is not an appropriate time to press the amendment. There will be other opportunities when this can be done. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

Is it your Lordships' pleasure that this amendment be withdrawn?

Noble Lords


On Question, amendment negatived.

Baroness Birk moved Amendment No. 5: Page 1, line 15, at end insert— (" ( ) Before the abolition date the Secretary of State shall lay before both Houses of Parliament a report detailing the criteria for the exercise of the powers and the performance of the duties, including powers of guidance, vested in him under this Act, and on the anniversary of the abolition date and annually thereafter he shall lay before both Houses of Parliament a report detailing his use of these powers in the year preceding that date.").

The noble Baroness said: It would be nice—I wonder what the Government Chief Whip is trying to say to me? Can he put it into words? I am not used to sign language. I shall sit down.

Lord Denham

I must apologise to the noble Baroness. I was not actually making gestures at her, but at one of her noble friends elsewhere on the Front Bench. I hope that she will continue because I wish so very much to hear what she has to say.

10 p.m.

Baroness Birk

I do not think that the noble Lord is, but perhaps he will wait until I am out of the way to make signs. I hope, quite seriously, that we can rest ore a little better humour in the Committee than has existed for the last couple of hours. It seems quite wrong. We are debating a very important Bill. There are, I agree, strong feelings about it. But it will not get us anywhere at this very early stage of the Bill if one gets upset about it. So, after that ticking off, I hope that everyone will behave better.

The amendment to which I am speaking now is concerned with the powers of the Secretary of State. One of the worst and most worrying features of this Bill is this. The Government have been saying all the time that the intention of the Bill is to restore powers or give extra powers to the smaller local authorities, the boroughs and districts. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, repeated the intention at Second Reading when he stated that the Government proposals will give electors a closer interest in local government affairs".—[Official Report, 15/4/85; col. 446.] In fact, what has been happening in the whole range of Government legislation on housing, on local government, on all the kindred arrangements and other pieces of legislation, has been that there has been a continuous move towards the centre, and rather than give more powers to local electors, there has been far more power taken by the Secretary of State. This has increased even more so in this Bill, so that now we have the political power removed from the directly-elected politicians. It has been placed in the hands of Ministers, civil servants and the appointed members of the various joint boards, joint committees and other quangos.

As I mentioned at Second Reading, this means that over 123 powers, either direct powers or permissive powers—or words to the effect that the Secretary of State can, will, shall—may undertake certain functions. This runs throughout the Bill. As we know very well, this does not mean for one moment that the Secretary of State is going to sit down and look at all these applications. This is passing it straight from the hands of the local authority, where it should be, right to the centre, to Whitehall and to the Ministry, and it will be dealt with there by civil servants. There is nothing wrong and a great deal of good to say about civil servants; but they should not be in the position of making policy, which in fact they will be when they are given these powers which it is quite impossible for the Secretary of State; obviously, or indeed even his junior Ministers, to exercise one by one.

Among these 123 powers, which I shall not go into in detail tonight, over 40 are of considerable size and influence. There will be power, for instance, automatically to rate cap the 18 new joint boards even before they come into existence, and without any of the proposed safeguards against designation written into Part 1 of the Rates Act 1984. That point, if Members of the Committee want to find it, is in Clause 66. He will be able to prescribe schemes for the 18 new joint boards covering a number of employees including policemen and firefighters, the boards' services, their organisation and their arrangements for the management of their affairs. That is to be found in Clause 83.

Therefore, the spending, staffing and management structures of the appointed boards, inheriting 67 per cent. of the metropolitan counties' activities, will be under the direct control of the Secretary of State. He will be able to make arbitrary decisions about block grant in relation to the new and existing authorities, and force his guidance on district councils in respect of their planning. That is under Clause 3 and Schedule 1. Highways and road traffic are covered in Clause 7 and Schedules 4 and 5. He will be able to create six non-elected joint boards for waste disposal without any prior inquiry. Therefore it is no wonder that we have this afternoon been anxious—unfortunately unsuccessfully—to get a committee of inquiry set up, and also why my noble friend has just now moved the amendment to delay the year of implementation, not the passing of the Act but the implementation.

He can transfer airport interests to a joint committee or joint board at his own discretion; he can make orders without any prior inquiry breaking up proposed police, fire and public transport boards. It is interesting that on 28th November Coopers and Lybrand came to the conclusion that any such break-away could be expected to result in cost increases and there was no evidence to suggest any improvement in the effectiveness of the services. As costs and cutting costs have been one of the planks on which the Government originally said that they were basing this Bill, this is a matter of enormous concern.

The Secretary of State can create a series of centrally funded county museum trusts without any consultation, create a salaries review board and—for this there has been no precedent in any previous reorganisations—demand detailed staffing information from existing district councils across the whole range of their services. When it comes to the new residuary bodies, which were not proposed in the White Paper and thus have not been the subject of consultation, these new bodies are to be under the Secretary of State's control through directions as to how they are to exercise their functions. In their report published on 28th November, Coopers and Lybrand estimated additional transitional costs caused by the creation of the six residuary bodies of up to £15 million. These residuary bodies can be in operation for five years anyhow and then the Secretary of State has the opportunity and the power to let them continue if he wishes to do so.

It is for this reason that we ask that: the Secretary of State shall lay before both Houses of Parliament a report detailing the criteria for the exercise of the powers and the performance of the duties, including powers of guidance, vested in him under this Act", and afterwards: annually thereafter he shall lay before both Houses of Parliament a report detailing his use of these powers in the year preceding that date". That is the reason for this amendment. It does not seem to me that there can necessarily be any argument about it because all that the Secretary of State has to do is to give the information which he will have. I beg to move.

Lord Elton

If none of your Lordships has any views on this, I shall volunteer my own. The noble Baroness has put it to noble Lords in a charming and friendly manner—and I reciprocate; I consider myself admonished with the rest of your Lordships by her elegant forefinger—that the Bill is imperfect because it contains such a very large number of powers which can be exercised by the Secretary of State. Certainly in the Bill there is a substantial number of such powers. I cannot make them reach quite her total, but I get to around 112, which is a substantial number of powers which are conferred on the Secretary of State or other Ministers.

But these do not represent a takeover by central Government. Many of them are essentially minor. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary may, for example, under Clause 14 prescribe the date by reference to which the population of an area is calculated for the purpose of apportioning the costs of probation committees. Many are transitional. My right honourable friend may, for example, provide by order for the appointed day for establishment of the new authorities. There are also powers to make necessary consequential changes by order. But they are only powers to make consequential changes; they cannot be used to overturn the provisions of the Bill.

At the centre of these powers is Clause 98, which gives the power to make incidental, consequential and transitional provisions. However, if your Lordships look at the equivalent Section 84 of the London Government Act 1963 or Section 254 of the Local Government Act 1972, you will find that the purposes to which they have been put have been extremely modest, such as the dissolution of the Osgoldcross Joint Cremation Board and the revision of the constitution of the Chichester Harbour Conservancy.

In a piece of legislation of this scope it is necessary to leave a number of reserve powers in the hands of the Secretary of State in order that the legislation itself shall not be forced to make determinations too precise and too inflexible to satisfy the needs of the situation when one comes to it.

In 1972 we had an Act of Parliament for purposes of a reorganisation of local government, and I noticed that there were rather more powers given to the Secretary of State in the clauses of that Bill than there are in the clauses of this Bill. Therefore your Lordships should not regard this as an unprecedented step. It is a well proven way of conducting legislation in detail without binding the people who are forced to carry out that legislation within a straitjacket which cannot be altered.

The advantage of this is that the orders can be made in the light of the inquiries made as the date approaches. I think that your Lordships should not be as alarmed by this measure as the noble Baroness has suggested.

Baroness Birk

The Minister has not yet said whether he agrees with the amendment. He has explained that it is not at all alarming. If that is so, I take it that he would have no objection to the Secretary of State laying before both Houses of Parliament a report detailing the necessary criteria.

Lord Elton

l should. The noble Baroness is right to tell me that I should have told your Lordships' Committee that the Government do not propose to accept the amendment because we do not think it is necessary.

Baroness Birk

I find that a strange answer. If the Government do not think it is necessary, I again come back to the point I was making. We are in a parliamentary democracy, not an authoritarian state, and people are concerned about this matter, as are other political parties. We are all, I hope, moving towards, or we feel that we should like to move towards, more open Government. In those circumstances what on earth is wrong in the Secretary of State giving an account of what he is doing?

The Minister has said that this is not unprecedented. It is unprecedented to the extent of the height which the pyramid has now reached. That the Secretary of State, or Ministers, take on powers is something that we are used to, but it is the cumulative effect of these powers which is becoming highly dangerous and worrying.

If the Minister says that it is all right and can all be explained clearly, and that there are some small powers or some small functions, what on earth is wrong with giving a report on them? Surely they will have to be noted, anyhow. The information will not be difficult to elicit.

I find the reply unsatisfactory. I suggest that in that case and in view of the lateness of the hour the Minister considers taking this back and looking at it, and perhaps we can return to it at the next stage. I think he is fair, and he will probably agree that by his negative response he has not really given me a sufficient answer.

Lord Elton

The noble Baroness is entitled to her sufficient answer. If she wishes me to dilate, I would say this about the idea that a Secretary of State who is given a range of subordinate powers such as this should be required to specify for every single one of them the criteria by which he should use them. That would mean describing the parameters on either side of the discretion that he will not transgress and examining in detail each case. That idea and the proposal that he should report to Parliament on this is an entire departure from parliamentary procedure. It would generate an enormous amount of Civil Service work and it would not amount to open Government. It would amount to the proliferation of publications which your Lordships do not wish to see. I should like to dispose of this now, not at Report.

10.15 p.m.

Baroness Birk

In that case, I find it totally unsatisfactory, because nobody has asked the Minister or the Secretary of State to take those powers unto himself. When Secretaries of State do this they must find some method of making it clear and explaining what they are doing to the people. I think we are all entitled to know. It is our money they are using, not their own. Again, because of the lateness of the hour I shall not press this at the moment, but I shall return to it at Report stage.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

Is it your Lordships' pleasure that this amendment be withdrawn?

Noble Lords


On Question, amendment negatived.

Lord Bruce of Donington moved Amendment No. 6: Page 1, line 15, at end insert— (" ( ) Before the abolition date the Secretary of State shall lay before both Houses of Parliament a report detailing the proportion of the budgeted net revenue expenditure of the Greater London Council and each metropolitan county in the financial year 1984–85 which, had this Act been in force, would have been in that year expenditure of the councils of London boroughs or metropolitan districts; joint authorities established under this Act; other non-elected bodies; and Government departments ").

The noble Lord said: Once again I am trying to be helpful to Her Majesty's Government. Your Lordships will recall from reading a document that was published as Cmnd. 9058 and called Financial Management in Government Departments that it was there revealed that the Government are spending some £965,000 per annum on improving their management services. The relevant paragraphs are on pages 52 and 53 of the report in question. I mention this because on 21st December last, despite all the effort that had been made in tightening up Government management, a £700 million error was made in drafting an order for the rate support grant; that is, £700 million was the size of the mistake made in the Department of the Environment. This was when £965,000 per annum was being spent on internal financial control.

I mention this because all this amendment requires is an internal exercise by the Department of the Environment which any prudent business of a large size would carry out in the event of reorganisation. It would endeavour to do a series of sums internally by the use of a suitable number of spread sheets, if done manually, or by computer—I have no doubt the DOE has done that—to determine the effect of any steps to be taken had they been taken now. In other words, they could envisage the situation and could have their own internal checks. There is nothing more in the amendment than that. It is purely to ensure that the DOE has its sums right. It made an error of £700 million on 21st December last: who knows it may not have made other errors in the advice it has given to Ministers? This is a double entry check, in effect, to make sure that the Ministry is doing its own sums properly, as Ministers are entitled to expect.

If the Government accept this amendment they are helping themselves, and the next time they come to your Lordships' House after abolition they will be able to say: "True enough; we did all our sums. There were one or two corrections here and there, but by and large we have done the job properly". If they do not do the proper checks they will be in the same position as they are now—they will not have the remotest clue what will happen. I beg to move.

Lord Skelmersdale

It seems to me that the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, has come to the conclusion that the boroughs and districts will not be the main bodies taking over the roles of the GLC and the metropolitan counties. Nothing could be further from the truth. However, I can readily see how he has been persuaded to this view.

The GLC have put considerable effort into confusing this issue with a barrage of misleading statistics. They claim that their current spending is £1,874 million a year. It is not. They spend around half of that. How then, the noble Lord will ask me, did they arrive at that figure? The answer, as the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, will well know, is by astute accounting. They have added to their base spending figure of £712 million the money that will be spent by the Inner London Education Authority. This is quite unreasonable. The GLC do not control the budget of the ILEA or its policies now, nor will the boroughs after implementation.

Another way in which the GLC's figures have been inflated is over the subject of transport. Since the London Regional Transport Act, which was the subject of long debates in your Lordships' House last year, LRT has had no involvement with the GLC, except as a precepting body. It has nothing to do with this Bill. It is therefore unreasonable to include the GLC's spending on supporting LRT in this comparison. We have done our figures. I could go on at greater length, but perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, will allow me to turn to the amendment itself, which reads: Before the abolition date … there shall be a report detailing the proportion of the budgeted net revenue expenditure of the Greater London Council and each metropolitan county in the financial year 1984–85 which, had this Act been in force, would have been in that year expenditure of the councils of London boroughs or metropolitan districts", and so on—meaning all the successor bodies. I am sure that the noble Lord will accept that reading. This amendment should never be implemented, for one single, simple reason. We do not know, we shall never know, how the bodies in question would have done anything, because they were not there. Therefore, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Bruce of Donington

I am very relieved that eventually, after reading something which had no relevance at all to the amendment, the noble Lord got down to the amendment itself. I completely understand that the Government are not intellectually capable of putting themselves into the position which this amendment seeks to put them in, of thinking what the state of affairs would have been. I can assure the noble Lord that this is quite elementary in business. If he will consult with his business colleagues, who are well familiar with the process of preparing cash flows on certain assumptions, he will understand. However, the noble Lord is apparently determined not to understand the amendment. I deeply sympathise, but I am merely trying to be helpful to him, as many of his noble friends will be able to tell him afterwards. What I said was perfectly reasonable and what I am asking for is even more reasonable. I am only trying to help the noble Lord. He should not be so injured by it. I really cannot understand it.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I do not know whether my noble friend is seeking to withdraw the amendment, but another word or two is in order. The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, is incapable by his nature of being abusive, but he has delivered a most abusive speech and he has delivered a speech to an abusive brief. It was quite irrelevant for him to speak about the views of the GLC and the way in which the GLC have presented their statistics, in the face of an amendment moved by my noble friend which puts a demand which cannot be seen as anything other than perfectly reasonable. The demand is that there should be some estimate made by the Government of that proportion of the expenditure of the directly elected authorities—in other words, the GLC and the metropolitan counties, and the London borough councils and the metropolitan district councils, respectively—which would continue to be the responsibility of directly elected bodies, and that proportion which would become the responsibility of quangos and of Government departments.

There is nothing unreasonable in that. It is a proper consideration. It does not deserve the dismissive comments of the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, or the tone in which this debate is being conducted. It is not just a matter of what the GLC have been saying or, indeed, what the metropolitan counties have been saying. For example, the Society of Chief Executives in the London boroughs has expressed at some length its very detailed concern about the situation of the capital debt of the Greater London Council. It has expressed very detailed concern about staffing matters and about the conflict of evidence—and there is a conflict of evidence—on expected savings. There has been very much concern, not just about the future of individual services but about the whole financial structure of local government in London and in the other metropolitan areas. I really think that we deserve a more serious and considered reply than we had from the Minister on this occasion.

Baroness Lockwood

I, too, should like to support this amendment. It seems perfectly reasonable to ask the Government to give us a breakdown of the financial estimates which are contained in the Bill. The Ministers opposite have indicated, both at Second Reading and today, what advantages, financial and otherwise, they think are going to be achieved by the passing of this Bill. Surely therefore we are entitled to know how those sums are made up. I would suggest to the noble Lord that it is not an impossibility. I hope the Committee will forgive me if again I refer to the work of the Select Committee. When the Select Committee visited West Yorkshire in order to look at the engineering and the transport services, we were so impressed by the services which we saw that we asked for a breakdown. They were able to provide a break-down of the financial costs.

They gave four possible alternatives for those services. The alternatives were estimates on the services if they were broken down on a borough basis or on a joint basis between one or two districts or taken over in their entirety. The four estimates which the department were able to produce for the Select Committee—and it is all part of the evidence of the Select Committee, which is public property—indicated quite clearly that there was a difference in the cost of the services according to the kind of successor body that was to operate. Surely, if that could be done by one department, it could be done by the Government on behalf of all the services which are involved.

Lord Bruce of Donington

In order to allow the Government time to study the amendment, I ask the leave of the Committee to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Denham

My noble friend may wish to reply to the noble Baroness. The noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, has made a speech this evening on one amendment, a different amendment, which was the most enormous filibuster that I have ever heard in this House. All right. We want to get this amendment out. My noble friend will reply to that.

Lord Skelmersdale

I have detailed figures which I shall be perfectly happy to make available to noble Lords, perhaps by putting them in Hansard. I did not use them for a very good reason. I thought that they would be unintelligible, certainly to me, at this time of night. And if I cannot understand them when delivering them, then of course it makes it rather difficult for noble Lords opposite to understand them.

However, perhaps I could say that the situation in London is quite clear. The GLC proper had current spending of about £350 million last year, excluding the ILEA and the payments made to LRT. That is a reasonable measure of the level of service activity. A small amount of that—around 5 per cent.—will become the responsibility of bodies outside local government. The rest becomes the responsibility of the boroughs jointly or individually. About one-quarter is spent on the fire services and three-quarters on the other activities being taken over by the boroughs.

As I have said, I had no intention of being—I cannot remember the expression used by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, but whatever it was—

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

It was "abusive".

Lord Skelmersdale

I had no intention of being abusive to the Committee. I delivered my speech for exactly the reasons which I have just given.

On Question, amendment negatived.

Baroness Nicol had given notice of her intention to move Amendment No. 7: Page 1, line 15, at end insert— (" ( ) Before the abolition date the Secretary of State shall publish, subject to the consent of the authors—

  1. (a) all responses to the White Paper "Streamlining the Cities" (Cmnd. 9063);
  2. (b) all responses to consultation documents associated with that White Paper; and
  3. (c) all other representations not otherwise covered by this section which express support for all or part of the provisions of this Act.").

The noble Baroness said: In order that the Committee may recover its normal good temper and courtesy, I shall not move this amendment.

[Amendment No. 7 not moved.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

Lord Denham

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

House adjourned at half-past ten o'clock.