§ The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Elton)
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Elton).
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair.]
Lord Hayter moved Amendment No. 8:
After Clause I, insert the following new clause:
§ ("London Metropolitan Authority
§ .—(1) On the abolition date there shall be established a body corporate which shall be known as the London Metropolitan Authority.
§ (3) As from the abolition date the London Metropolitan Authority established by this section shall be the strategic authority for Greater London.
§ (4) The London Metropolitan Authority shall only exercise such functions as are vested in it under this Act and shall do so within the financial provision laid down under this Act.").
§ The noble Lord said: Rising as I do from these independent Benches, I feel somewhat as Daniel must have done as he went into the den of lions. Your Lordships will remember that he had three friends in the city of Babylon; and I have three friends in connection with this amendment—the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, and the noble Lords, Lord Plummer and Lord Seebohm.
§ If your Lordships will allow me, I should like a quick word with the Committee on procedure. It has been agreed among those chiefly concerned that Amendments Nos. 8 and 9 would be more happily debated together, as the issues are to some extent, although not by any means completely, similar. Therefore, after I have moved Amendment No. 8, I 122 expect that the noble Lord, Lord Molson, will speak to his amendment before it becomes a free-for-all.
§ Amendment No. 9: Insert the following new clause:
§ ("Metropolitan Authorities.
§ .—(1) On the abolition date there shall be established for each metropolitan county a body corporate to be known by the name of that county with the addition of the words "Metropolitan Authority".
§ (2) Each metropolitan authority shall consist of members elected by the local government electors of that metropolitan county in accordance with this Act and the Representation of the People Act 1983.
§ (3) As from the abolition date each metropolitan authority established by this section shall be the strategic authority for that metropolitan county.
§ (4) Each metropolitan authority shall only exercise such functions as are vested in it under this Act and shall do so within the financial provisions laid down under the Act.").
§ Lord Sandford
I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord so early in his speech, but I hope that what he has suggested about discussing the two amendments together will not preclude the Committee having a further discussion an Amendment No. 9 after this debate. The issues are very different. The metropolitan counties have a different range of functions which are to pass to their boroughs. The scale of their activities is of a quite different order, as is their complexity. The operations of London have repercussions in the Home Counties not to be compared with those of the other metropolitan counties. I therefore hope that we will have a further debate on Amendment No. 9.
§ Lord Hayter
Indeed that will be so, because after Amendment No. 8 has been dealt with, Amendment No. 9 will be formally moved by the noble Lord, Lord Molson, and his colleagues, and of course there can be further debate at that stage. To come back to Amendment No. 8, this seeks to—
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
I beg the noble Lord's pardon, but there are some of us who do not feel it right that we should enter into the London controversy as we have no knowledge of London. But the metropolitan counties are a different matter. We have views on them from personal contact. I should have thought that to avoid confusion the two amendments ought to be taken completely separately rather than my noble friend's intervention on Amendment No. 9 while the argument will be confining itself to London on Amendment No. 8.
§ Lord Denham
I think that this is very much in the hands of the Committee. Where there are similarities between two amendments, I think that it would be quite proper for those who wish to speak on the metropolitan counties to come in on the debate of the noble Lord, Lord Hayter, if I may so call it. But when that matter has been disposed of and we then address our attention to my noble friend's amendment, it would be quite proper for noble Lords to address themselves to different issues that occur on that amendment. I do not think that there is any loss to the Committee or disagreement at all on this.
§ Lord Hayter
I am beginning to feel that I am speaking in another place. Amendment No. 8 seeks to set up a new, directly elected metropolitan authority which would become the strategic authority for London. May I make two points on what the amendment is not about? We are not proposing a new Greater London Council under another name but an entirely different type of public authority. We are not seeking to interfere in any way at all with proposals in the Bill to devolve certain powers to individual London borough councils. On the other hand, we are concerned with the way in which essential city-wide functions of a strategic character would be administered in the future for the good of all London and its people.
This new clause, if your Lordships approve it, is a framework in which we would be able to determine only those functions which should be allocated to that London-wide authority in the course of our consideration of the Bill. The Committee will of course have to consider the financial aspects of that authority. For our part, we feel that it should be under strict financial control.
If I may point out some of the advantages of this amendment, the new clause would, if your Lordships agree, enable us to avoid the unnecessary and expensive dispersal of services such as the South Bank Arts Centre, the Historic Buildings Unit, the Thames barrier, the scientific services, the supplies department, the central computer services and many others which at the moment are going to non-elected quango bodies. Secondly, it would make possible the retention of the fire brigade and civil defence services under democratic control instead of the awkward transfer to a central joint board. Thirdly, it would allow us to keep together the unified, city-wide waste disposal services which have worked so effectively over the past 20 years, instead of adopting the Government's latest idea of several waste disposal groupings which many feel is a most extraordinary idea.
Fourthly, it would preserve devolution to the boroughs in that they would continue to receive those functions which could sensibly be devolved to them. Indeed, in both Conservative and Labour administrations there has been a continuous progress towards decentralisation to the boroughs on the GLC's own initiative over many years, particularly in the case of house management, planning control, traffic management and some parks and open spaces.
As for the cumbersome proposed joint arrangements under which the 32 borough councils would have to decide, for example, upon grants to voluntary organisations, we feel that these can be more conveniently carried out by this new metropolitan authority under whatever terms your Lordships might think fit.
Perhaps most important of all, the preservation of a metropolitan authority would save the heavy costs caused by the massive dislocation and disruption which hasty reorganisation always brings in its train. Like many other noble Lords, I am convinced that the attempt to break up and redistribute the wide range of services administered at County Hall in the space of only a few months between Royal Assent and the 124 abolition date next April is courting disaster. We believe that this new clause would enable many useful improvements to be made to democratic London government with the minimum upheaval in essential public services. The people of London are entitled to no less.
Your Lordships will also note in this new clause that we want this new metropolitan authority to be elected by Londoners. One of the strongest objections to the present Bill is that it takes away all the voting rights for several million people over public services in the main urban areas. Many of us feel, nevertheless, that the GLC has far too many councillors, and it might be better if the new metropolitan authority had one directly elected member, say, for each of the 32 boroughs. However, that is for your Lordships to decide at a later stage in the Bill if this amendment is carried.
The issues, to my mind, are quite straightforward. The Ministers say that the GLC is an unnecessary teir of government but they are not removing and they cannot remove the tier of city-wide services. They are merely transferring them to other authorities, to joint boards, groupings of boroughs, new quangos and Government departments. Thus in one way the main question for the Committee to decide is whether these complex arrangements for the upper tier of local government are a better system than that which we now propose. London services are better housed and co-ordinated under one roof than dispersed among a variety of existing and newly created bodies, most of them different in type from one another.
On Sunday last I met an architect who was explaining to me the difficulties that he foresaw with regard to building regulations which, at the moment, are all housed in the GLC and include details of the fire precautions and the means of escape in buildings. These records go back several years, and will continue. The imagination boggles as to what happens when this central library of statistics relating to these matters is split up among 32 boroughs. By keeping a single elected authority for London (albeit a slimmed down authority, as I was explaining), we ensure that there is an organisation to handle the transitions to many other important changes on 1st April next year. Londoners clearly want to keep a directly elected body to represent the interests of the capital as a whole. Who is to say that they are wrong?
All the main professional bodies are critical of the new system proposed in the Bill. Even some of the present Ministers, I understand, were in favour of a strategic authority when they were discussing the matter in the Marshall Inquiry in 1977. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Marshall, himself recommended a stronger though rather different strategic authority, in his report which was published the following year.
My sixth important issue relates to charity in the true sense of the word, and to leisure. I wish to re-emphasise that my friends and I are committed to a new metropolitan authority which will continue those sensible policies of the GLC such as its support for those voluntary organisations which do so much to help the poor, the disadvantaged, the disabled and the ethnic minorities in this great city. We are also convinced that this admirable work, like the GLC support for the arts, embraces leisure, and that sport, 125 recreation, our heritage and our environment can be much more successfully conducted by a new body under a strict régime of financial control which Parliament is entitled to require of it.
This next subject cropped up during the whole of yesterday. This proposal does not wreck the Bill. On the contrary, it is designed to rescue it. It will rescue the major public services from dispersal. It will rescue the democratic character of London local government from obliteration by quangos and Whitehall. It will rescue the Government from the consequences of hasty reorgansisation.
I started by referring to Daniel. I shall close with another reference to him, because as a child I used to sing with great fervour the hymn: "Dare to be a Daniel, dare to face the foe". However, when I look around this Chamber I do not feel that I am looking at foes. Of course there are serious party political angles in the context of this Bill. Basically we are all trying, in our different ways, to do the same thing, which is to devise a scheme which will serve our London for years to come. Party political policies should be founded on reason and common sense. I am not sure that that is exemplified in this Bill. But it is on reason and common sense that we are relying in putting forward this amendment. I beg to move.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Lord Molson
It was thought by a number of us who are primarily concerned that it might be for the general convenience of the Committee if these two amendments, which to a considerable extent, though not entirely, cover the same ground, could be discussed in a general debate on the two of them. Of course that will not preclude any noble Lord who does not participate in the first part of the debate from rising when I rise later to move my own amendment.
I find myself in very general agreement with the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hayter. As regards both amendments, we accept wholeheartedly the principle of the abolition of these councils. The amendment I am moving does not aim at creating an MCC Mark 2. It is merely an attempt to provide directly elected authorities to deal with matters which inevitably cover a much wider area than the districts to which most of the powers under this Bill are being delegated.
One of the main differences between London and the metropolitan county councils is that in London the police come under the Home Secretary, and, under existing legislation, London Passenger Transport is a quango which will not be affected by this Bill. It is otherwise in the case of the metropolitan county councils. In discussing this Bill, it is important for us to consider what effect it may have upon those two vital services in the metropolitan county councils.
In my speech on Second Reading I devoted my attention almost entirely to demonstrating that the Government had completely abandoned one of the leading sentences in their White Paper, called, Streamlining the Cities. In that, they referred to the heyday of a certain fashion for strategic planning, the confidence in which now appears exaggerated. All the experience of the last decades has demonstrated the vital importance of strategic planning. If I may offer a definition of "strategy" in that sense, which cannot be 126 found in the Oxford Concise Dictionary, I should define it thus: "strategic" means the co-ordination of numerous local initiatives to meet the needs of a larger area.
I am glad to say that the Government not only have adopted the word "strategic" but also in a number of respects they provide for it in detail in the Bill. The only difference will be that instead of the strategic authority being the local authorities which are being abolished by this Bill, the strategic authority will become the Secretary of State. If mistakes have been made by the strategic authorities in the past, that is riot a reason for assuming that the Secretary of State, who is also human, may not also make mistakes. Indeed, he is more likely to make mistakes because of the immense increase in the scope of his responsibilities. I have not personally added up the number of additional powers that he is taking under this Bill but I understand that they amount to 90.
The Bill, as it is, recognises the inevitability of strategic needs being dealt with by central authorities. These are, in the case of the metropolitan county councils, police, fire and passenger transport. They are to be dealt with by joint boards. In addition, there is to be a residuary body exercising other responsibilities which cannot be devolved. The purpose of the amendment of my noble friends and myself is to include among the responsibilities of the elected authority that we are proposing, in addition to the three I have already mentioned, planning, mineral planning and waste disposal. A further two are trad:ng standards, to be dealt with by an amendment to be moved later by my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn, and scientific and technical services, as recommended by a Select Committee report, dealt with by an amendment, I understand, to be moved by the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield and perhaps by my noble friend Lord Cranbrook.
I take planning first, because it really embraces all the others. If your Lordships turn to Schedule 1 of the Bill, you will find that each unitary development plan shall have two parts. Part I,shall consist of a written statement formulating the authority's general policies".The schedule continues at line 25, on page 75:In formulating the general policies in Part I of a unitary development plan the authority shall have regard—I leave out paragraph (c) which is irrelevant, but would mention the next paragraph, which states:
- (a) to any strategic guidance given by the Secretary of State …
- (b) to current national and regional policies;"(d) to such other matters as the Secretary of State may direct".So there we have it, very clearly set out, the strategic planning so contemptuously dismissed in the first White Paper is reinstated with the Secretary of State as strategist and also having complete authority to deal with tactical matters. I know very well, as my right honourable friend Mr. Kenneth Baker was at pains to point out in another place, that the Secretary of State has long been empowered in last resort to give guidance to planning authorities.
But consider how greatly his responsibilities are being extended under the Bill. Previously his main work was to consider appeals against seven structure plans, the plans of the six metropolitan county 127 councils and the Greater London Council. In future he will have to co-ordinate 69 unitary development plans. Under the Bill as it stands at present he will have no strategic advice in that task, except in the case of London where he will have the benefit of the advice of the London Planning Commission. He will also be greatly assisted, I am sure, by the South Eastern Regional Planning Authority, which has rendered such immense service in the past, first under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford and more recently under that of my noble friend Lord Sandford. It may well turn out, if the Bill goes through in anything like its present form, that something analogous might be found useful in other parts of the country. I can only hope that it will be as useful in those areas as it has been in the South-East of England.
Within the context of strategic planning I pass to waste disposal. This is inextricably connected with general planning and mineral planning. I shall give two examples. I have made them as brief as I can, while setting out the main benefits that they confer. The West Yorkshire Metropolitan County Council has organised and is carrying through a great reclamation scheme. There is a great despoiled area which it is intended to reclaim for agriculture and recreation. The site is a worked out gravel pit. It is to be filled with household refuse from Leeds and Bradford and spoil from adjacent collieries. The infilling material will have to be transported across several district boundaries. Three districts and one nationalised industry are co-operating to get rid of their waste and to fill this worked out quarry in order that it should benefit not only themselves but also the community as a whole. The planning has been done by the West Yorkshire Metropolitan County Council, and it is being organised by that council's engineers.
I should also like to mention briefly—all this, I think, is relevant—a land reclamation scheme of the Tyne and Wear Metropolitan. County Council which embraces both Peelaw quarry and Wardley quarry, involving land in two districts. It seeks to solve problems of the coke industry and to improve the amenities of several residential areas. Great schemes of that kind to reclaim the devastation that resulted from the industrial revolution require to be planned at a high level for the benefit of the districts. Such schemes involve technical experts of several disciplines. They are invariably costly, but are not, on that account, to be condemned.
I am not, of course, disparaging in any way the able and conscientious officials in Marsham Street. But how can they have the local knowledge with which to imagine great reclamation schemes of that kind and carry them out? In addition, I am much concerned to learn that in the last year or so the number of officials in the Department of the Environment has been very substantially reduced, just at a time when it would appear desirable that the number should be greatly increased.
Co-ordination of transport of waste to the nearest dump is of the utmost importance, and under the Bill it is not covered because one of the joint boards will 128 deal with passenger transport and not with goods transport. Under the present system, a district may not get planning permission if its neighbour with planning authority over that particular area wants to use the dump for its own purposes. So it may result in the most suitable waste arrangements being precluded because the authority with the planning permission is not the authority which has the most need to use it.
As a result of this, instead of there being a uniform and common charge over the whole of the MCC area for the disposal of waste which can amount to something very considerable, it may well be that the cost of disposing of waste will vary from one district to another and probably be much higher in the case of those in the centre and far from the periphery.
In addition to that, under this system of fragmentation, the total cost of disposal added up by all the districts will probably be substantially more than if it were dealt with by one single co-ordinating authority.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
Will my noble friend give way? One is interested in the metropolitan counties and what will flow from any alteration. My noble friend is using the words "may happen", and he went a little further and said "would probably happen". Will he tell me what did happen before we had the metropolitan county boroughs interfering? It worked then; what is the reason why it will not work in the future as it did in those days?
§ Lord Molson
It is very simple to give an answer to that. It is that the previous system was very unsatisfactory and was declared to be so at the time by an impartial inquiry. But, in any case, my noble friend may avail himself of the opportunity of making a speech later when, no doubt, he will have very important points to raise.
It is relevant, especially when the Government attach so much importance to private enterprise, to note that the National Association of Waste Disposal Contractors and the British Road Federation are both critical of these provisions of the Bill. A new and very interesting argument has emerged only in the past week or 10 days. The Prime Minister, with her usual percipience and energy, has noted the very remarkable report called Wealth from Waste, produced by a Select Committee of the other place. She has adopted their recommendation that one Minister—that is Mr. Trippier, I think—should be appointed in order to deal with and organise the recycling of waste. All the evidence pointed to the need for something of that kind, and it is typical of the right honourable lady the Prime Minister, that she has taken note of that and has insisted upon one Minister being given special responsibility for dealing with this important matter.
Under the present arrangements, there will be three separate joint boards. That means that each will have its own budget. From the Chancellor of the Exchequer downwards, people responsible for finance have to decide what priority to give to one service or another: education, housing, roads or whatever it may be. The effect of having three separate joint boards will be that they prepare their budgets separately, without any necessary co-ordination or any established principle of giving priority to one particular service or another.
129 There is one very important matter which I am sure will appeal to any of your Lordships with a legal outlook: the principal responsibility as regards planning in the past has been that the Secretary of State has been what I might call an ultimate court of appeal when, under planning schemes, it appears that some mistake is being made. He will be in an embarrassing position under this Bill when he is responsible at a lower stage for co-ordinating the different unitary development plans and somebody then complains and takes his appeal to the same authority who was responsible for it in the first place. I do not doubt that any Secretary of State will show complete impartiality in a matter of that kind, but it will perhaps be difficult to persuade a disappointed litigant that that is in fact the case, if the Secretary of State upholds the decision that he had given at an earlier stage.
So far I have put the views of the metropolitan county councils who are no doubt biased in their own favour. I could cite numerous responsible independent bodies, but there are only two which I wish to quote. The first—perhaps at first sight surprisingly—is the National Farmers' Union. They point out that they have 1¾ a million acres within these metropolitan county councils. They say that the National Farmers' Union is apprehensive at the potential adverse implications for agriculture of the withdrawal of democratically elected strategic authorities for the metropolitan areas.
The Association of County Councils—and I apologise for the length of this quotation but as a matter of fact their memorandum on the subject is quite masterly and is closely reasoned and no words are wasted—write in their summary:My Association … at first sight may seem to have no interest in the reorganisation of local government in London and the metropolitan areas. … This letter is however directed solely at the practical consequences of the present Bill for our own member authorities, principally those shire county councils which adjoin London and the six metropolitan counties, in the context of strategic planning, highways and transportation and waste disposal. As county planning autrhorities, [we] are deeply concerned at the prospect of fragmentation of responsibility for stragegic planning within the metropolitan areas. Instead of the present six structural plans and one Greater London development plan, it is proposed there should be 69 unitary plans".That brings me to the matter of the green belt. The Government found it necessary to withdraw two of their earlier circulars relating to the green belt and housing and replace them with circulars which met with I think almost universal approval. I am absolutely confident that they will seek to carry out in the spirit and in the letter the policy that they have indicated. But I am concerned that the machinery should be such as to enable them to do so effectively.
The Government started with the idea of devolving authority on the smallest possible councils and I am sure that they did not realise the extent of the consequence—a concentration of power in the hands of the Secretary of State. I have an uneasy feeling that many members of my party have an idea that town and country planning is a socialistic conception. Of course, that is quite a mistake.
The original town and country planning ministry was set up by Winston Churchill during the war and the first Minister was W. S. Morrison—Shakes Morrison—known here as Viscount Dunrossil. The Parliamentary Secretary was Harry Strauss, known 130 here as Lord Conesford. They were two Conservative Ministers who began work on what afterwards became the great Town and Country Planning Act, enacted and administered by Lewis Silkin. If I venture to draw attention to some of the preliminary work done by Conservative Ministers, it is not intended in any way to detract from the outstanding quality of the work of Lewis Silkin, which will be familiar to noble Lords in all parts of the Committee.
Therefore, it comes about that in an attempt to decentralise authority as much as possible, if this Bill is not amended it will result in a great concentration of power in No. 2 Marsham Street.
When the Normans conquered this country they set out to replace the rather loose administration of the Saxons by a centralised administration in London. As a means to that end they drew up the Domesday Book with particulars of all cities and towns, and even manors. All that information was made available to London. Much the same thing will result from the enactment of this Bill in precisely its present form. Whereas the Domesday Book of the 11th century has always been associated with the name of William the Conqueror, the Doomsday Book of the 20th century will be associated with the name of Patrick Jenkin.
§ Lord Elton
I think that it might be for the convenience of the Committee, having heard the proposals of both the noble Lord, Lord Hayter, and my noble friend Lord Molson so lucidly put forward, if I were to give the first intimation of the Government's position on this before we spread into a much wider debate, to which my noble friend Lord Gowrie will reply. The noble Lord, Lord Hayter, said that he felt like Daniel come to the lions' den. I had already reflected that I had wished I had spent ratter more time pulling thorns out of the lordly paws of my noble friends and others in preparation for this afternoon; but I must rely upon the argument, which I do with some confidence.
This Bill, to which noble Lords have given consent by a majority of two-to-one, is a Bill to abolish the GLC and the metropolitan county councils. That principle is not in doubt; it has been decided. This is not a Bill to modify those authorities; it is not a Bill to take away some of their powers or to trim their expenses. It is a Bill to get rid of them altogether. Some noble Lords do not think that the authorities ought to be abolished, and they sit opposite. Some noble Lords think that the authorities should be merely trimmed in some way, and they sit in various places. A few noble Lords even think that the authorities are doing a reasonable job and ought to be left alone, and they do not sit very close to me. Every noble Lord who felt like that had a chance to have a say during the Second Reading debate, and plenty of then did so. Noble Lords heard them out, considered what they said, and voted them down, two-to-one. Noble Lords then gave the Bill a Second Reading.
We are not therefore here to consider whether abolition should take place; we are here to decide how it should be done and who should do the things which the Greater London Council now does in London and which the metropolitan county councils do in the 131 metropolitan county areas which will have to be done after they are all gone. I do need to remind noble Lords and noble friends of that because, with the best will in the world, it does not seem to me that to abolish one set of elected London and county-wide executive authorities in one breath and to establish a second set in the next amounts to abolition at all. It is true that both the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hayter, and his supporters and that tabled by my noble friend Lord Molson and his, leave a good deal to the imagination. They have since told us rather more of what is intended; but the amendments do not tell us much about the bodies which they seek to create, and in a sense that is to their advantage. After all, it is the practice by every good novelist: you leave out all the leading details of the character and appearance of your heroine and hero in order that the readers shall fill in the blanks with what they find most attractive. Even so, in spite of this silence on the subject, I wonder whether they have not told us too much.
What they tell us is the same in both of their amendments, so let us look at them. The first subsection in each case tells us that the new bodies are to be bodies corporate, like the GLC and the MCCs. The second subsection in each amendment says that they are to be elected, like the GLC and the MCCs. The third subsection says that they are to be authorities, like the GLC and the MCCs. The fourth subsection says that they:shall only exercise such functions [and expend such money] as are vested in it under this Act".Those may seem like important restraining words; but are they? After all, the GLC can only exercise such functions as are vested in it by Act of Parliament now, and the metropolitan county councils can only exercise such functions given to them by Act of Parliament now. Neither the GLC nor the metropolitan counties can spend a penny, except as the law laid down by Parliament now allows.
We can narrow the law; we can take out, for instance, Section 137, but we shall still leave the authority an immense amount of discretion, and all the expansionary pressures that operate on the GLC now will operate on it then. Let us look at how those pressures have worked on the GLC.
Since 1981 the average increase on the rates for all English authorities was 27 per cent.; for the GLC in the same time the precept has risen by 102 per cent. That is the result of the sort of pressures to which these new bodies will be exposed. The GLC is a pale shadow of the LCC. Just before it was abolished the LCC was responsible for 50 per cent. or more of the spending on local authority services. The GLC's powers have been successively diminished year after year since long before Ken Livingstone said that he wished my noble friend had gone the whole hog in his report and got rid of it altogether—something, incidentally, which my noble friend told us in a letter to the Daily Mail was not within his terms of reference to do.
That authority is now only responsible for 11 per cent. of spending on local services. So I hope that my noble friends who have fond and justifiably respectful recollections of the LCC will not confuse the two bodies; because it is not the LCC to which we are 132 addressing ourselves—it is a different animal altogether.
There is no point in reminding noble Lords of all that the GLC does not do because I did that at considerable length on Second Reading. However, I think that I should pick up a point which the noble Lord, Lord Hayter, made, although at this stage I do not intend to go into too much detail. He read out a long list of services which he said could be dealt with only on a London-wide basis and mentioned most existing GLC services. We do not accept that. Under this Bill responsibility for three-quarters of the GLC's current spending will go directly to the boroughs. There will be need for some co-operation in provision of these services, but that is already beginning to appear among some of the authorities.
The noble Lord, Lord Hayter, also said that his amendment would leave the police under democratic control, if I understood him aright. The noble Lord shakes his head and I understand him doing that. As he knows, and I know, the police have been under the Home Secretary in the Metropolitan area since they were founded; so I withdraw. I concede that he did not make the point and that I misheard him.
The GLC no longer get enough to do to justify their continued existence. Yet they still continue to spend very large sums of money in ways which antagonise large numbers of their own people. It really has come to something, has it not, when they can spend 10 million of ratepayers' money on an advertising campaign against Government policy. It is that kind of spending—and spending on the half-page spread last week which advertised still further spending; spending on an astonishing range of voluntary activities including, I notice, the I think rather offensively misleading suggestion that, for instance, MENCAP would go out of business if this Bill went through—that my noble friends who drafted these amendments clearly and rightly want to stop. But the words in the amendment will not stop it because they add nothing to the law in this respect.
The law can only define areas of activity and types of activity. Within these definitions the new bodies would be as free to act as the old. The amendment does nothing to change them. I noted with great interest that the noble Lord, Lord Hayter, said that he wished to support only the sensible policies of the GLC. Those were his words. I am sure that I did not forget that. The word that interests me is not "sensible", which is not surprising; it is "policies", because you cannot legislate for policies. You can legislate only to produce the machinery by which other people's policies are implemented; so he has not provided the control to achieve what he says he wishes to achieve.
Although these amendments leave much to the imagination they can have but one of only two results. Either the new bodies will have a lot to do, in which case they strike straight at the heart of the Bill because they make a mockery of abolition, or they will have next to nothing to do, in which case they will be seized by the same frustrations and ambitions as the present GLC and have the same opportunities for self-aggrandisement and waste. I apologise for my voice. I am sure that it is neither your Lordships' excellent air conditioning nor our atrocious climate, but merely my 133 cold. Whichever the answer may be, either is utterly unacceptable to this Government, and, I judge, to this Committee.
My noble friend Lord Molson addressed several specific themes. I shall be brief on the subject because we are to debate them, but I want to pick him up first of all on the question of planning, where he said that this Bill would provide a concentration of power in the hands of the Secretary of State which we have not seen before. Who is now the final arbiter of strategic planning decisions? Who decided on the M.25 motorway? Who decided on the third London airport? Who has to decide about the Mansion House scheme? Who decided, and will decide further, about the development of London's dock site? Who decided about Vauxhall Cross? In every case the Secretary of State. That is therefore nothing new in this Bill.
Moreover, I have to remind my noble friend, who I know is much more experienced and expert than I am, as I freely admit are many of your Lordships in this highly technical and difficult matter of planning, that even to me it is clear that since Section 35 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 was put on the statute hook the Secretary of State has the power to call in any, and every, planning decision which affects the strategy of the region in which it is taken. That is nothing new in the Bill.
I freely admit that in order to do so he needs the best advice. I tell my noble friend, as he well knows, that there are regional offices of my department, but there are also such bodies as Serplan, presided over most ably by my noble friend Lord Sandford, and I hope that when we come to his amendment we may find areas where we can go forward together on this. But that is for later.
I am now looking at the threads of my noble friend's introduction to his amendment. I notice the reference, for instance, to waste. I do not deny for a moment that a great deal that now is done is done excellently from the points of view of both the aesthetics and the hygiene of the operation, but it does not follow that it cannot be done as well under a different system, and co-operation is already developing, even in London, towards that end. If my noble friend is anxious about what would happen if the co-operation is not forthcoming, I direct his attention to the reserve power for the Secretary of State in Clause 9, where he will be able to do exactly what my noble friend feels should be done.
There is in this Bill a place for all the proper functions of the GLC and of the metropolitan county councils. Your Lordships will doubtless test that statement with many amendments, but this I must tell you: if you seek to set up elected bodies to discharge those functions, you will be striking at the heart of the Bill and loading your successors with all the troubles with which we are now contending. We undertook to abolish the GLC, and we undertook to abolish the metropolitan county councils. This is a firm commitment of the Government. That commitment, which your Lordships firmly endorsed at Second Reading, was not to replace the GLC or the MCCs with something a bit different; it was to get rid of them. We shall not do it if your Lordships pass these amendments. I ask your Lordships therefore to uphold 134 the principle established at Second Reading and, I regret to tell my noble friend, throw them out.
§ Baroness Birk
I shall speak to the two amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Hayter, and the noble Lord, Lord Molson. Before doing so I must take up some of the comments made by the Minister who has just spoken. He started off by saying that what the amendments do is just trim what is already in existence, the GLC and the metropolitan county councils. That in fact is absolutely untrue, as I shall seek to show.
He then went on to say that at Second Reading this was all voted down. In the first place, there was no vote at all. We did not vote on the Second Reading. What we discussed on Second Reading was the whole Bill. There was no vote taken on the abolition. The Bill went through on that score. But I would remind the Minister that out of over 50 speakers, the overwhelming majority pointed to things about which they were concerned in the Bill, and they all added up in the greatest extent to matters which were dealing with what the noble Lord, Lord Molson, referred to as matters of vital strategic planning.
§ Lord Elton
I hate to interrupt the noble Baroness, but it is better to do it now than when she is really in her stride. She will agree, will she not, that what we voted on was a reasoned amendment, and the reasoned amendment addressed itself to precisely what we are discussing now, which is strategic authorities. Therefore, I think it was a fair reference that I made.
§ Baroness Birk
The noble Lord is quite right; the reasoned amendment referred to a framework for strategic services. That is correct. Nevertheless I and a great many other noble Lords—some of whom did riot support the amendment but afterwards explained to some of my noble friends and myself why they did not—believe that that amendment was treated at Second Reading as a vote of confidence in the Government and a vote of confidence in the Bill. That is entirely different from discussing individual amendments today, once the House is in Committee.
§ 4 p.m.
§ Baroness Birk
The Minister then went on to talk about abolition, how that had been decided and how anything of this nature was contrary to that decision. I put it to him that in taking the best part out of what one is abolishing, preserving that and improving upon it, one is doing something constructive. This is what these two amendments set out to do. On the other hand, if with the machinery of abolition one gets rid of the good with the not so good or the bad—however it is described—one's actions are destructive.
The noble Lord, Lord Hayter, referred to GLC services. The Minister said (I am not just transposing some of his words) that he was leaving most of the GLC services. This is just not true. Later amendments deal with functions, and if the Minister looks at them he will find under "planning" that many of the present planning functions that the GLC has will not be 135 retained under this new structure. The Minister made much of something we have heard many times in this House; that is, the money spent. Here it is usually referring to the GLC rather than the metropolitan counties. He mentioned 10 million of ratepayers' money spent on advertisements. An institution or an authority does not have to be abolished to deal with that. Even if it is to be abolished one does not have to ensure that one does not set up anything as an alternative in its place to deal with that problem. A government can deal with that, if they wish to do so, by legislation. They can deal with spending; they can restrain and restrict. Governments have those powers. They do not have to deal with it in this way.
The Minister also said that one cannot legislate for policies. That is absolutely true. Legislation always arises out of policies and follows policies, but the two amendments are not meant to do that. The Minister also said that the GLC would either have a lot to do or nothing to do. That is going from one extreme to the other. The amendments are correctly seeking to set up structures. The functions would then be decided. When the Minister read out the four paragraphs of the amendment he read out that the authority, whether it be the London Metropolitan Authority or, as in Amendment No. 9, "each metropolitan authority",shall only exercise such functions as are vested in it under this Act".Those functions can be as wide or as limited as Parliament declares. This is what it is about. The Minister also made a rather unfair point that not enough was being said about the structures that were being set up and that perhaps it was wise not to do so. He made some comment about writing a novel. I will not take him up in that because on literary grounds I think he is wrong about that as well. But the structures are what is being set up in these amendments. Throughout the Bill all sorts of functions are mentioned. Some of them, it may be decided, should be part of this elected authority and some of them should not. That is what the amendments are seeking to do.
One considers how the Bill has proceeded in the other place and the attention it has received from outside sources, be they organisations, professions, individuals, commerce or industry. The theme that has gone through it like a running thread (or perhaps I should say a running sore), is the lack in the Bill of any provision for proper strategic planning. This is what these amendments are seeking to put right, in conjunction with later amendments on functions. This can be proved not only by what went on in another place but what has been included in the Marshalled List of amendments before your Lordships' Committee. Amendment after amendment deals with the different functions ranging from county-wide operation of highways and traffic, voluntary organisations, nature conservation and waste disposal to archives. One could go on, but I do not want to take up the Committee's time. It is this that is the key point of the Bill to everybody except the Government, who do not seem to be aware or concerned.
I find it strange that the Government should be so obdurate about this. They are not recreating a GLC or new metropolitan counties. They say their objective is 136 to devolve to the boroughs and to the districts. We have been through that at Second Reading and in the lengthy debate we had yesterday on the committee of inquiry. We are all aware, and it has never been denied, that devolution is not just to the boroughs and districts. The devolution is to the joint boards and joint committees, and far more goes in centralisation to the Secretary of State. It is all very well for the Minister to say that of course the Secetary of State has always had powers and that he can do this. He made much of the Secretary of State being able to pick up some of these things. He changed his tune and played it both ways. I do not blame him for that, but he cannot blame me for spotting it. He made great play with the point that the Secretary of State could step in and at the same time said that he had always had all these powers. That is not true. We have counted 123 powers in this Bill. They are not all new. Many of them are far in excess of any powers that any Secretary of State has been given in the past in a democratic parliamentary Government like our own. It is this that concerns most people.
I finally turn to the practical side. We live in an age where technology and science are playing a greater part. It is more and more important that certain services which are absolutely essential to these large populations of people should be carried out on a wide basis. To start breaking up such services is a retrograde step and taking what I can only call a Luddite attitude. It is going backwards, reacting in the worst possible way. The noble Lord, Lord Hayter, pointed to the costliness of what the Government are doing. I pointed out yesterday, when we discussed the committee of inquiry, that the setting up of these joint boards and joint committees and all the consultations involved will cost much more in the end. That has been backed up by people such as Coopers and Lybrand and the efficiency side of PA, the consultants. We have heard much of this, but the Government still need reminding.
Then we come to what is to be done about the capital city. Despite what the noble Viscount the Leader of the House said when he wound up on Second Reading, ours would become the only capital city in Western Europe which does not rest on an elected body. That seems to be absolutely wrong and is felt to be so by many people inside and outside London and in the country as a whole. It is quite interesting that, although the opinion polls on what people feel about this issue have been taken around London—and they make very diverting reading which cuts right across what the Government are doing—this is a matter which affects the whole country. It is not just a London question. It is not just a metropolitan county question. It is a question for the whole country. It is a national question.
If one of the reasons the Government have so set themselves against anything of this sort—which could be a very much better, more fined-down structure on which to conduct the strategic planning, the strategic services—is that they and other noble Lords are worried because they do not want to recreate a GLC in its old image, or even the metropolitan counties as they were, then they are certainly going about it the wrong way. The Government should pay attention to this very reasonable request for directly elected assemblies or authorities, as they are called.
137 One need only look at the names of those noble Lords who have put their names to these amendments; one can hardly call them revolutionaries. Certainly, some of them are very loyal supporters of the Government and they must feel extremely strongly to have shown such courage in doing what they are doing today. But if this Bill does not have a central core on which to build for strategic functions, and if the Government do not take this opportunity to produce something which could be better than we have at the present time, I fear that the result will be another change within a decade. That will mean that there will be a new structure which might be built along lines which are nothing like as good as what is being suggested at the moment. If there is a new structure built along the lines of these amendments, there will be an element of permanence injected into the whole thing, which is crucial for the future of local government. If not, there is bound to be another major upheaval within the next decade, possibly even sooner. This could mean that our structure of local government may not survive two disruptions in such a short time and, surely, no Government would want to take responsibility for that.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Plummer of St. Marylebone
I strongly support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Hayter, to which I have also put my name. The overwhelming need for a London metropolitan authority is, I submit, irresistibly demonstrated by the Bill itself and is supported by every non-political and professional organisation which is concerned with Greater London's administration.
The reasons that I shall give to substantiate these arguments are briefly as follows and are drawn on my experience as a borough councillor, as a member of the London County Council, and as a member of the Greater London Council, of which I had the honour to be Leader for some six years.
First, the Bill recognises that there are a number of functions which cannot be satisfactorily performed by a London borough acting independently. Thus a separate, London-wide, planning commission has to be created for planning. This is to be forced through despite being condemned as unsatisfactory, less efficient and largely unworkable by no less than the Royal Town Planning Institute, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, the Royal Institute of British Architects, the CBI, the London Chamber of Commerce and many other professional bodies as widely dispersed as the National Farmers' Union, the Council for the Protection of Rural England and the London Green Belt Council. The Bill will, in fact, fragment the planning system and place excessive detailed controls in the hands of the Department of the Environment and the Department of Transport.
Secondly, under the Bill a separate London-wide body has to be created for fire and civil defence. Already this is in trouble for, although the Government have called several meetings with some of the London boroughs to try to make plans, only just over one half of them have attended these meetings. Even then they have been unable to agree among themselves and the usual non-co-operation prevails. 138 Why not, then, keep this important service within a London metropolitan authority?
Thirdly, a joint board is being created for London-wide waste disposal, if the boroughs do not co-operate by setting up seven groups of boroughs. As the noble Lord, Lord Molson, has pointed out, even if they co-operate, the Association of County Councils—for it is the counties which receive most of this waste—have pointed out in a strongly-worded letter the folly of the Government's plans and say that they are doomed to failure.
Fourthly, there is no specific provision within the Bill to ensure that such services as Scientific, Technical, Computing and Information Technology can be properly sustained as a vital resource to meet the needs of London overall. For those not aware of the size of this department and its absolute need to work alongside other departments providing strategic services, I would give a thumb-nail sketch of its operation. Connected to the council's central computer—of which there are two—are 1,000 terminals from London boroughs and district councils outside London and in the surrounding areas, providing information on things like housing mobility. Further terminals connecting in-house departments of the GLC and ILEA also exist. In addition, another 1,000 terminals are connected to those using the GLC's software, giving services on a whole range of statistical packages on such matters as planning, science, traffic, housing, population, public health, etc.—and the "etc." is not small. Dry stuff, you may say, but absolutely essential to a city as large as Greater London.
Handling the sheer scale of this operation both efficiently and effectively—and I may say that this department was commended as the most efficient in the country by the Audit Commission recently—will be impossible without the comprehensive use of the computer services department. But, and it is a very big but, if the two departments—that is, supplies and computer services—are fragmented, it will reduce efficiency and increase costs.
The Select Committee on Science and Technology in their interim report published this month concluded that,The great conurbations require specialist staff and facilities to meet them. Economic, efficient and forward-looking services demand excellence, integration and continuity. The existing services should be improved, not by being dismembered, but by being encouraged to progress. Centres of excellence are slow to develop but easy to destroy".That is probably one of the few inquiries that have so far been made into this whole matter.
It is no use moving this centre of excellence, to which I have referred, to another residuary body as they cannot carry on their work in isolation. The central computer service provides a single focus in London, so that the direction and management of services can be collectively applied to define and address problems facing London as a whole. It is available to London boroughs and agencies to meet local issues and it maintains the essential links between professional areas and their shared expertise. It maintains a major employment base within Greater London, within which a London metropolitan authority could retain, invest in and develop a centre 139 of expertise to assist London's, and the United Kingdom's, economy. It cannot operate in isolation from the services which it serves and it must retain the professional relationships and links which will be lost in the restructuring which is proposed under this Bill.
The supplies department, to which I referred earlier, has an annual turnover of some £180 million, which may, it is said—and they still do not seem to know—go to the Inner London Education Authority, which is surely a recognition of its "all-London" character. This department serves not only the Greater London Council and the Inner London Education Authority, but also 33 London boroughs, Buckinghamshire and several other bodies. It has over 20,000 separate points of delivery and yet the Government do not yet know where it is going.
I come to Thamesmead, in which the GLC and the ILEA have to date invested some £250 million, which has an annual running cost of about £16.4 million and which, during the next five years as a minimum will require a further £34 million for infrastructure and a park and millions more for housing. Who is capable of taking over this giant development by 1st April 1986, with the added problem of staff melting away to find other jobs?
One of the most serious flaws in this Bill is the lack of any effective machinery for carrying out the massive upheaval which is due to take place as soon as 1st April next year. The long list of residuary bodies and hastily assembled groups of boroughs, which this Bill will create, will never be as efficient as a new London metropolitan authority with—and I emphasise this—strictly controlled powers and finances.
The acceptance in this Bill that many functions will be dependent upon co-operation is, in itself, a recognition of the London-wide nature of such functions. That factor, plus the problems inherent in borough co-operation or non-co-operation—and past experience indicates wishful thinking as regards co-operation—surely makes the case for a metropolitan authority. Because the requirements for transport are inextricably linked with land use in a complicated web of cause and effect, the fragmentation and separation of highways, traffic and planning powers will, I strongly believe, negate the hitherto comprehensive strategic planning which is required. A London-wide body is essential to deal with the large and increasing proportions of the working population who cross borough boundaries on their daily journeys between home and work. This is made all the more important because borough boundaries often bear little relationship to the structure of the road network or the pattern of traffic movement.
Lastly, the amendment provides for the London metropolitan authority to be constituted with elected members. Only by this democratic process will there be visible accounting. Why should Londoners be denied the right to vote on all these vital services, which have a major effect on their quality of life? If the Inner London Education Authority is to be elected, why not for the administration of other functions? The noble Lord, Lord Elton, paraded the excesses of the GLC, but Parliament—and I must say again what I said on Second Reading—gave it the powers. It simply 140 took advantage of what it could do. Is Parliament really powerless to control local government, so that the only solution is to dismantle it and to remove the elected representatives?
As the noble Lord, Lord Molson, said—and it applies equally to London—the amendment has the added advantage of enabling Parliament, drawing upon 20 years' experience, to delineate what is strategic through its choice of which functions are to vest and how it is to be financed. Add up the number of bodies which, if appointed by this Bill, will be making financial demands on the ratepayers, each with a separate precept or a grant from central funds. Each of them will form its own budget, without regard to the demands of other bodies. Each of them will require separate staff accounting for and administrating similar activities. What a tangle there will be and what, as The Times said, "an expensive mess".
The noble Lord, Lord Elton, and Ministers in another place, as well as my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway, have made much of the importance of the manifesto commitment and its effect on the conventions of this House. It appears that they are not aware of a letter in the Hampstead and Highgate Express of 12th April this year from Sir Geoffrey Finsberg, who is president of the Greater London area of the Conservative Party and vice-chairman of the Conservative Party, with special responsibility for London. I should like to read to your Lordships' Committee paragraph 3 of that letter. In it Sir Geoffrey Finsberg says:It is clear that we differ on what, if anything, should replace the GLC and I see nothing wrong or damaging in this. I believe that no directly elected body is required and others think it is. This is no split, because the details of the legislation were not any part of an election manifesto".It is no coincidence that all the capital cities of the countries of western Europe have an authority responsible for a range of public services for all, or at least part of, the area of the city. London, which is bigger than most, must have one also if it is to survive, and I trust that this amendment will receive widespread support.
§ Lord Evans of Claughton
Perhaps I may say, after that masterly and magisterial speech from the noble Lord, Lord Plummer, that I should not think very much more needs to be said in defence of this amendment so far as Greater London is concerned. My fear after yesterday is that a great deal more will be said. The noble Lord has put it so well that I hope the noble Lord, the Minister will attempt to give a full and detailed reply to those very serious strictures. I hope, too, that the noble friends of the noble Lord who has just spoken have listened to him with very great care.
The noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, yesterday accused me of sitting on the fence. It is at any time a painful operation to sit on a fence, and I must concede that there have been times when the reforms proposed have not met with my approval; nor does the present position. I am very much in the position of the man in Tipperary who asked the way to Dublin, and the person he asked replied "I wouldn't start from here, anyway". That is our position in the Alliance. We would not have started from here to reform local government, though we need reform; and we believe 141 there should have been detailed inquiries before there was reform.
However, I say that although I would not have started from here this is the preferred solution of myself and my party to the difficulties in which this Bill has put local government: the semi-destruction of local government, and certainly the destruction of one very important tier. Since, apparently, we must have changes, this seems much the best solution to the problem, and I hope that so far as concerns both the Greater London Council and the metropolitan counties, these two amendments will receive the Committee's support. As I have said, they have both been introduced very clearly and succinctly, and I believe the arguments have been unanswerable.
It is extraordinary, as has been said before, that not only capital cities in Europe but very many of the more built-up metropolitan areas in Europe have strategic, planning, technical and engineering overall elected bodies. They seem to work well in Europe, so I am told and so I have read, and I cannot see why this retrograde step is necessary in this country. Indeed, I think the Government have recognised that there must be overall county-wide authorities because they are setting up battalions of joint boards, joint committees and joint working parties; and they are replacing a very few authorities with a plethora (69 I believe) of bodies. We know already that 67 per cent. of the metropolitan county councils' current spending will be run not by democratically elected bodies, either at first hand or second hand, but by three joint boards; and a further 15 per cent. will be the subject of joint working arrangements which have not yet been fully worked out or presented to your Lordships.
A county-wide administration for strategic services it sought, as I have learned at a meeting which I attended today in this building. It was a technical services seminar which was attended by nearly every professional and technical body within the industry. As the noble Lord, Lord Plummer, says, whether they are private industrial concerns or local government, if they are technical planning bodies they all seem to agree that it is necessary to have county-wide strategic planning and technical services authorities. The National House Builders' Federation, the British Road Federation, the National Association of Waste Disposal, the aggregate construction material industries, many retail consortia and many more, have all agreed. Indeed, the fragmentation of technical and strategic services, built up over the past 10 years, whether concerning waste disposal, transport services or roads, will decrease efficiency and inevitably increase costs. Special teams are in the process now of being broken up because of the fear of reorganisation. Many senior officials in metropolitan counties are losing some of the best members of their staff because of the fear of the break-up that is coming. Once this Bill has gone through your Lordships' Chamber, and if it is not amended very much, those teams will disappear almost overnight as people will seek jobs in organisations which have a longer life.
I remember that on the reorganisation of local government in Merseyside in 1972, we had a Merseyside area land use and transport study, known 142 as MALTS. That had done an enormous amount of useful work in studying the needs of the Merseyside area under the terms of the existing all-purpose authorities. The mere fact of reorganisation broke up that team, and it has taken a number of years in Merseyside County Council to re-establish such an organisation. If that happens during the time when a new organisation is being set up on a county-wide basis, how much more likely are such break-ups to occur after this Bill becomes law? Even the CBI and the Association of British Chambers of Commerce have proposed the retention of services at county level. They have not proposed the continuation of elected authorities; but such bodies as normally give strong support to the Conservative Party have proposed that there should be county-wide bodies to run strategic services under a single body.
It seems, then, that the real argument is about whether such county-wide bodies should not only exist but as to how they should exist and whether they should be directly elected or not; whether they should be elected, nominated or chosen from the boroughs. When I was a county borough councillor, my experience of joint boards was that, broadly speaking, they were very difficult and contentious; and minority boroughs are oppressed. My experience of joint boards is not good, and I am sure that many people will remember the old LCC and will recall that some of the joint boards set up under that organisation were not very good. It seems to me therefore that the only objection is not one in principle to the existence, of county-wide strategic services but an objection to elected authorities. That is what concerns me. The Government's philosophy is very good in the sense that they believe there should be county-wide bodies; but they seem to resent the concept of those bodies being elected. It worries me intensely that, because of the accident of geography and politics, most of the metropolitan areas and the Greater London area tend inconveniently from time to time to return Labour-controlled councils; and therefore to get round the will of the people, however stupid that will might be, the Government now seek to abolish a tier of local government which seeks to represent the views of those people. Noble Lords on the other side of the Committee shake their heads. Perhaps they will describe to us later, if they accept the concept of county-wide non-elected bodies, why they will not accept the concept of county-wide elected bodies.
The noble Earl said earlier that I was sitting on the fence. I want to paraphrase something that W. S. Gilbert said about your Lordships' House many years ago; and I shall paraphrase by saying:He has said very little up to now but he has said it very well.I hope that when the noble Earl replies to this debate he will say a great deal more and give positive reasons and answers to the very clearly adduced arguments that have been put to him, and not seek to sweep all the arguments put against the Government proposals under the carpet.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
I share the view expressed by my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls at the beginning of this debate that it has been a mistake to take together Amendments Nos. 8 and 9, because, although the principle involved may be broadly 143 similar, the subject matter is substantially different. The operation and the standing of the GLC on the one hand and of the metropolitan authorities on the other, differ widely and so do their powers. I think that from the point of view of an effective debate it is much better to concentrate first upon one and then upon the other. I shall therefore follow the line that I think most speakers so far have taken—that of dealing solely in my speech with the first amendment: that dealing with the GLC.
The Committee listened, as it always does, with very close attention, and I think on this occasion with some emotion, to my noble friend Lord Plummer in the very impressive and powerful speech which he made against the Government's proposals. The Committee will also share the sympathy which I feel with him as an old friend, if he will allow me to say so, although I disagree with him on this matter. In view of the fact that he built up the Greater London Council and, more than any other single man, contributed to the considerable degree of success that it had in its earlier years, he would be—I am not sure whether to say more than human or less than human—if he did not feel very strongly indeed about its abolition. He speaks too with vast experience of these matters but (I am sure he will allow me to say this) also with the inevitable bias of one who has been very strongly associated with one side of the issue. I must say to him, as I must say to your Lordships, that the enthusiasm which he has expressed for the GLC and its departments is not expressed by the leaders of a great many of the London boroughs.
I quoted to your Lordships on Second Reading the views of the leader of Kensington and Chelsea who said that, frankly, under all leaderships the GLC had been a nuisance to them in interfering with their work. There are other local authority leaders who take the same line. They equally, your Lordships can say—and I shall say it for your Lordships—have the bias of those who have worked on that side of the fence.
I listened with great attention and sympathy to my noble friend and I must confess that in my case he did not carry conviction. One thing that he said I must dispute. He said that to carry this amendment would be not inconsistent with the manifesto on which the party to which both he and I belong was elected at the last election. To refresh your Lordships' memory, perhaps I may be allowed to quote the passage:The metropolitan councils and the Greater London Council have been shown to be a wasteful and unnecessary tier of government. We shall abolish them and return most of their functions to the boroughs and districts. Services which need to be administered over a wider area, such as police and fire and education in inner London, will be run by joint boards of borough or district representatives".I do not expect those words to have very much impact on noble Lords opposite but it is perfectly plain, it seems to me—here I would address my noble friends in particular—that they are completely inconsistent with the setting up of another all-London elected body. It is perfectly plain, rightly or wrongly—this is of course a matter of legitimate dispute—that that is the mandate on which the Government were elected; that is the mandate on which a large number of Conservative Members were elected in London; that is the basis on which the other 144 place has carried this Bill; and that indeed is the basis on which your Lordships carried the Second Reading.
I really must, if I may, take up what the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, said about this. The noble Baroness tried to suggest that there was nothing inconsistent between this amendment and the so-called reasoned amendment which your Lordships rejected on Second Reading. Both amendments propose the setting up of a new all-London elected body. It is surely inconsistent with the rejection by this House of a reasoned amendment that asked for just that. The noble Baroness was for once—I do not think I have ever before accused her of naivety—very naive when she said, "Well, we shall set up the framework and then we will find functions which we will put in by later amendments". With respect, that is surely not the way for the legislature—
§ Baroness Birk
What I said was that these amendments set up the structure. There are further amendments already on the Marshalled List which deal with the functions. In fact, I have two such amendments in my name following. They run all through the Marshalled List of amendments, from all sides of the Committee. We are not making them up at all.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
There is nothing inconsistent between that and what I said a moment ago. The Committee has yet to consider the amendments which the noble Baroness has put down. It will be her experience that the Committee does not automatically or universally accept amendments which she moves. Sometimes they are rejected. What the noble Baroness is proposing therefore is to set up a structure and then frankly find things for it to do. That surely is the wrong way round. The right way, if one is to consider this rationally, is to identify functions, if you can find them, which it is essential for a London-wide elected body to perform and then set up the body to discharge them—not to set up the body first and then seek to find functions to heap on to it.
I would with respect make the same criticism of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hayter. It was in great contrast to the speech of my noble friend Lord Molson on Amendment No. 9. Whereas my noble friend Lord Molson, most generous in his time, gave us a long list of the functions that his elected bodies would perform in the metropolitan counties, the noble Lord, Lord Hayter, left it all very happily vague. He said something to the effect, "Oh, well, we shall try to minimise the upheaval in functions which the dissolution of the GLC would bring about".
I would bring the noble Lord, Lord Hayter, and, if I may, your Lordships, back to the central point. Is it intended under this amendment to set up a body with very considerable powers and functions, or is it not? If it is so intended, surely we are really reversing the decision to abolish the GLC and we are setting up the GLC Mark 2 with all the problems and troubles which will flow from that. If, on the other hand, it is intended that its functions should be small and trivial, why incur the expense and why ask public spirited men and women to spend their time getting elected to it and serving on it? That really is the dilemma which your Lordships have to face.
145 We come then to the point which has been made once or twice in the opposite sense as to whether you really can limit by statute such a body in what it does. Once you have precepting and election, it is astonishingly difficult to restrict the precepting and elected body from extending its functions. If, as undoubtedly would be the case at the moment, such a body was dominated by the hard Left of the Labour Party, as is the GLC at the moment, then it would undoubtedly exercise all its considerable ingenuity and energy to extending its functions.
Let me remind your Lordships what the GLC itself has already done. It has no authority over the police. It has no police powers or responsibilities at all under the Act of 1965. But it has nonetheless incurred considerable public expenditure on setting up a large police committee with a large and expensive staff. To do what? Simply to seek to interfere in the operation of the police, where it has no business whatsoever. That is a very good example of what a similarly constituted elected or London body would do, however much your Lordships try to tie it down by detailed and precise legislation.
I have not seen—the noble Baroness says she has put down amendments on functions; it may be that she will point them out to me—any of the detailed restrictions which it is suggested could be imposed. Nor have I seen the detailed financial restrictions. One must be left with a very profound suspicion that if this is really to be put into the Bill we shall have basically a defeat of the whole concept of the Bill. We shall establish an elected body for all London which will devote its energies and its expenditure from the ratepayers on extending its functions. For that reason, however attractive it may seem to some of your Lordships, I suggest with great humility that there is a very great danger indeed in this proposal.
I want to deal with only one other matter. The noble Lord, Lord Hayter, suggested in his speech that one of the functions—this is one of the functions he did suggest—of the new elected body should be the support of voluntary organisations. I am glad to see the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition in his place because he will recall that, at about a quarter to two in the morning last Tuesday week, when he was winding up the debate for the Opposition, he referred to the remarks I had made in my speech a good deal earlier about the way in which it seemed to me that the Labour Party at County Hall were deliberately seeking to alarm charitable bodies.
The noble Lord referred to me and to this issue at quite considerable length. I hope he will allow me to say—and I have given him notice that I was going to raise this matter—that he departed from the normal high standards of courtesy which he shows in your Lordships' House by refusing three times to give way to me when I sought to defend the argument of mine which he seemed to be traducing. I will therefore take this opportunity to defend my argument.
The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, said, "It isn't a case of us trying to alarm the good causes and the voluntary bodies. On the contrary, they are coming to us".
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
I see that the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, applauds but that the Leader of the Opposition, who is a wilier bird, remains much more sensibly silent.
The noble Lord's words sounded very well until, perhaps, your Lordships saw the half-page advertisement in The Times inserted at public expense by the Labour majority at County Hall. In that advertisement it was suggested in plain terms that an enormous list of charities will not be able to carry on if the GLC is abolished. That is not the charities coming to alarm Her Majesty's Opposition; that is Her Majesty's Opposition spending the ratepayers' money to suggest to the charities that they may have to end if the GLC is abolished. From any view that is surely an attempt to alarm those charities. They include many excellent charities, such as MENCAP. Noble Lords will be aware that the director-general of MENCAP, which is a splendid charity, has issued a public statement that he regrets this action by the Labour Party at County Hall in seeking to alarm the public and perhaps to undermine the splendid charity for which he works.
No doubt some of the bodies which are recipients of the GLC's beneficence may have cause for alarm. I doubt whether the successor bodies will necessarily make any grant to Gay Teenagers, to the Gay and Lesbian Employment Bureau, or even to CND—bodies which have been well supported by the GLC. But it is introducing an utterly unfair element into this controversy to try to alarm the excellent bodies which are the main recipients by going to the point of placing an advertisement which puts their future continuance in doubt, as the GLC has done. I apologise to noble Lords for having to repeat this—unlike the noble Lord I shall of course give way.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
I am grateful to the noble Lord for showing me the usual courtesy. I would point out that on the last occasion, in our Second Reading debate, I was replying to the noble Lord's argument at the very end of my speech. I would normally give way in a debate, as the noble Lord knows, in reasonable circumstances.
Perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to say to him that the criticism I made was not in any way associated with the advertisements placed by the Greater London Council or by any other organisation. They were criticisms we made on the basis of information we received as Members of your Lordships' House. We were fully supported by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool, who made it plain from his own great experience that there was universal fear among voluntary organisations that, as a result of this Bill, they will be without funds which they now receive.
The noble Lord's argument was that the borough councils will raise rates. He knows perfectly well that local authorities are under considerable difficulty, in view of the policies of the present Government, to raise their rates at all. The case I made that voluntary organisations are deeply concerned stands; there is no question about it. The evidence is independent evidence, and the noble Lord should know it well. It has nothing to do with the advertisements which appeared in newspapers and which were not very good advertisements anyway.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
I am of course grateful to the noble Lord for that intervention. I shall follow it up if I may. The noble Lord said that the charities concerned were not disturbed by the advertisement. Has he seen the statement made by people who organise several of those charities, saying that they were disturbed by it—including the statement by Mr. Rix of MENCAP? It is not right or accurate for the noble Lord to say that they were not disturbed by that disgraceful advertisement.
If the noble Lord is to justify that advertising—and there has been much more of it but I shall save your Lordships' time and quote only one example—and if the Labour Party is ready to descend to those depths of controversy, and thus alarm good people who are doing good work with an unnecessary charge of this kind, then it seems to me to indicate, as I believe it will to many of your Lordships, how thin they really regard their case. I am grateful now to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos. If he had given way on Second Reading I could have spared your Lordships this.
§ Lord Alport
I have not seen the advertisement to which he has referred but I have plenty of evidence in my own files of letters from organisations in London and from the North. These are voluntary organisations which are gravely concerned by the situation without having been influenced in the slightest way by any of the propaganda to which my noble friend has referred and which, frankly, I have not seen.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
I am of course indebted to my noble friend—as I must, because of the courtesies of this House, describe him—for that extraordinarily helpful intervention. My noble friend, being a logical and fair-minded man, will accept that if there is a genuine alarm it does not exactly cause it to be reduced by the body involved in London taking space in the newspapers to tell voluntary organisations in terms that they may not be able to carry on. Your Lordships will not feel that that amounts to reassurance, nor that it was intended as such.
The proof of the matter, as your Lordships will fully appreciate, is that when one has been receiving beneficence from a particular body and one knows that in future one will have to go to other bodies to receive it, then naturally one is disturbed and anxious if one is responsibly running a charity. Of course that is so. What I object to—and I believe the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, in his heart, is very unhappy about it—is when that anxiety is deliberately played on in the hope of putting pressure on public opinion and upon Members of Parliament to support a particular local government structure.
This is probably the most important amendment to the Bill. It is vital to the whole structure of the Bill. I beg of your Lordships to reflect not only on the important local authority administrative arrangements involved but also on the whole political and public impact, on Her Majesty's Government and on public opinion, if your Lordships were to decide at this stage of this Bill to carry anything of this sort into law.
§ Lord Mishcon
Before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps he will permit an intervention from somebody who had the privilege of sitting in County Hall for some 18 years under the old London County Council and who was the first chairman of the GLC's General Purposes Committee. My intervention is prompted by the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, is known in your Lordships' House, as he was known in another place, for being a great debater of more than 40 or 50 years' experience. I do not believe that the noble Lord has had one minute's experience of London government.
I merely want, as somebody who was a colleague on the opposite side at County Hall, to pay my tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Plummer, and say that I agree with every word that he has said even though we were political opponents. The noble Lord, Lord Plummer, spoke out of knowledge; the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, spoke out of debating skill. May I ask the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, as an old parliamentarian, whether he really believes that Parliament is so powerless that it cannot contrive an Act which will limit the powers of a local authority and its powers of spending money?
§ 5 p.m.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
The noble Lord was polite about my capacities as a debater but his intervention was a singularly adroit, but largely irrelevant, piece of debating.
On his second point, I can only say that I have not so far seen any legislation which has shown itself capable of containing the ambitions and efforts of people of the type now controlling the GLC when they are intent on using their public position, their patronage and their precepting power. I have never seen any legislation which is capable of doing that. If the noble Lord would draft such legislation—he is very good at drafting—I should be very happy to see it.
As regards the noble Lord's earlier personal observations, no one in this Committee can compare with my noble friend Lord Plummer in experience of local government, but I have had considerable connection with local government in London, which is why I spoke about it. For some years I was chairman of the Conservative Party's Local Government Committee, deeply involved in the affairs of London at a critical time; and, just to cheer up the noble Lord, before the war I stood for the old LCC, but as I stood for the constituency of Limehouse the noble Lord will not be surprised to hear that I was unsuccessful.
§ Lord Seebohm
As my name is on the amendment perhaps I may be permitted to speak. I shall be very brief. I shall not risk being accused of verbosity or filibustering. I should like to start by saying how strangely unmoved I am by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. He is probably the most brilliant debater in this Committee but he uses a very different crystal ball from the one that I use. Moreover, I think he has largely misinterpreted the intention of the amendment in using such phrases as, "it is going to be small and trivial", or, "large, unimportant". It is going to be small and very important.
My first reason for supporting this amendment is one which your Lordships might think slightly 149 frivolous or emotional. I have spent most of my career travelling round the world and I suppose I have visited all the important capitals in the world. Every time I came back to England I realised that London was the finest city in the world. What frightens me is that this Bill, if it goes through in its present form, may well create in London a badly-managed, headless monster. That must be avoided at all costs. Your Lordships may think that I am being frivolous, but I am not. To me this is an important point.
I have had a certain amount of experience in local government. Some years ago I was working on a committee, which was parallel with that of local government reform, the chairman of which was the then Sir John Maud. One of the things which we found out, and with which a certain member of the Committee on my left will agree, is that London is different. I do not know the pros and cons of the metropolitan counties but I do know that in looking at matters to try to get some universally appropriate scheme for the personal social services of local government we found in every case that London is different. Therefore, I am not going to talk about the metropolitan counties but will talk about London.
The Bill as it stands will delegate all matters of importance to a bunch of co-ordinating bodies. Anybody who has been in local government—I think the noble Lord, Lord Evans, mentioned this point—or, for that matter, in business, finds "co-ordination" or "co-ordinating body" to be dirty words. A co-ordinating body is incapable of managing. It consists of delegates, not elected people, who are looking over, their shoulders at the body which has sent them there. They invariably have to think about how what they are doing will affect their own borough. They have to be jolly careful to see that they do not offend their boroughs too much or they will not get elected the next time. That is what happens. A classic example is the Council of Ministers in the EC. Its members are all delegates and there are at present problems with the CAP. With cereals the position is being completely upset by one country only—that is Germany. To my mind this is a very serious defect and I do not believe that co-ordinating bodies can manage.
I went to a conference three weeks ago. It was a very high level conference in Paris run by the Institut de l'Entreprise, which is the French equivalent of the CBI. There were a great number of people there. We had one session devoted to the EC and at the end of the discussions I asked the panel to say whether they thought there was any hope for the Common Market unless many of the powers were taken away from the Council of Ministers and put into the European Parliament. The answer was even shorter than my question—it was just, no.
As I said, I am going to be brief but I want to refer to the leaflet issued by the Department of the Environment. It is the official document called, After the GLC. It is most disturbing reading. Naturally, I shall not read it all but I refer to question 5:Will there still be a strategic overview of London affairs?The reply is:There are two main spheres where there will be a continuing need for some strategic planning".150 I do not know why they state that there are two, but there it is. They are,for the London area: land use and transport.A new London Planning Commission will advise the Secretary of State on strategic land use",and so on.The Secretary of State for Transport will provide a framework of guidance on traffic matters that will give maximum discretion to boroughs within a coherent overall approach".And so the leaflet goes on. The Secretary of State appears many times—too many times—in this document. I have a strong feeling that it is not just decision-making which will go back to Whitehall, Marsham Street, or wherever, but that a considerable amount of administration will go with it, which will enlarge the departments in London. In my view, that is not local government.
The Government have made clear some of their feelings on this when they agreed that the ILEA should continue but that it should be an elected body Why, after all the other things they have said against elected bodies? Are they frightened of it? I think that the only alternative is to have an elected body for London which can take an independent view of all those matters which cannot reasonably be handled by individual boroughs. We have been given the example of voluntary bodies and I am certain that it is an important one. I will not go into that today, but when we reach Clause 47 we shall no doubt have some tough speaking. We have also spoken about waste disposal and I believe the boroughs have been working on that for a long time but are getting nowhere at all.
I end as I began. London is different. I believe that we must have a head to London. I said I would be brief. I do not think I have been verbose and I hope that this amendment will be very strongly supported.
§ Lord Sandford
I rise to make four short points in support of the amendment. I start by introducing properly to your Lordships the Standing Conference for London and South-East Regional Planning. It has already been mentioned twice, and at the moment I have the honour of chairing it. With the GLC it consists of the 12 Home Counties, the 32 London boroughs and the 98 shire districts in the Home Counties. I will not say any more now about the details of the standing conference except that because its existence bears on 20 or 30 of the amendments that arise in this part of the Bill I have placed in the Library copies of some documents which those Members of the Committee who have so far taken part might find useful.
I support the amendment for a number of reasons, but most specifically because it is the preferred solution for the whole of this standing conference. The conference supports it with no dissentient voice, and I would ask the Committee to bear in mind that of the 12 Home Counties, three-quarters are Conservative; of the 32 London boroughs, half are Conservative; and of the 98 shire districts in the Home Counties, three-quarters are Conservative.
I have only two other points that I want to make. The first is about the thoroughness with which Ministers claim the consultations leading to the manifesto commitment have been discharged. Neither 151 of my two noble friends who are now dealing with the Bill were on the scene at the time and so I thought it may be important that somebody who was involved with local government should make that clear, though it pains me and shames me to do so.
The thoroughness of the consultation is of the same character as that which has landed the Conservative Party with a commitment to abolish the domestic rate from which we have been trying to escape for the past 10 years. It is the same thoroughness which led Ministers to introduce the Local Government Finance Bill of 1981 and then to withdraw it when it was half way through the Committee stage in the Commons. This proposal has not been prepared for and thought through with anything like adequate thoroughness, so much so that when the White Paper was produced the existence of the standing conference—and it has been in existence for 20 years—was overlooked altogether.
The last point that I want to make is one that my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter and the Minister raised earlier. It is to the effect that if a new directly elected body for the metropolitan area were to be created, it would be impossible to control its expenditure. That simply is not the case. Almost all the abuse—and, good heavens, there has been enough of it—that has been apparent in the case of the GLC has been by way of an excessive and irregular use of its powers under Section 137 of the main Local Government Act. When under the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act of 1981 the power to raise money under that section was increased and extended, it would have been perfectly possible for the Government then or at a subsequent moment to cap the use of Section 137 by the high spending local authorities. Even now they have not tried to do so.
The Lord Bishop of Southwark
Perhaps I may make a few contributions to the extremely important debate on the amendment by way of just commenting on one or two things that have emerged during the course of it. The first is that I noticed the extent to which on both sides we are very much involved with fear. I illustrate that in this way. There is on the one hand fear of a phoenix rising from the ashes. That has been a dominant theme in a number of speeches this afternoon. Outside this House people refer to the danger that the baby will grow again into another monster. It seems as if so many people are concerned about that that they think that that is what must be stopped at all cost, regardless of the consequences.
On the other hand, there is another fear. It is that we shall see the collapse of many good and important things that are currently going on, and, indeed, that we may see a further concentration of powers both in the hands of central Government and to some extent in the hands of non-elected bodies. That fear leads people once again to speak of monsters. We had headless monsters being referred to in a speech just now. I think that the very use of the word "monster" and the fears that are around are making it difficult for us in some ways to see clearly what it is that still has to be decided, and it is that with which I am particularly concerned.
152 5.15 p.m.
The Minister in his early speech spoke about the question of who will do the things that remain to be done after abolition. It seems to me that the amendment is primarily concerned precisely with that issue. Those of us who are in favour of the amendment are anxious about some of the things which we do not think will be done or done adequately, and we do not find that the arguments meet the concerns that we have.
One of the primary fears seems to be that one cannot limit the function of a directly elected body to do the particular things that it is asked to do (as subsection (4) states) and that it will almost certainly begin to do more things and take unto itself a great many more powers of one kind or another. I find that very difficult to understand. I am not a constitutionalist, but that does not seem to me to be true of other things. I should be very grateful to the noble Lord the Minister if he could fill out a bit more why it is felt to be such an impossible task to fulfil.
He said that it would be a body that had either too much to do, or, I think I heard him say, too little. I am not sure why we cannot have something which has a clear function that is neither too much nor too little but which has a job to get on with that is best done in that way. It sounded a slightly dangerous argument. It might almost be used as an argument for the abolition of this House; but I shall not press that. But if a body that has, as it were, very little to do is not thought worth having, conclusions might be drawn from that.
Again we were reminded that the amendment in a sense—
§ Lord Elton
I wonder whether the right reverend Prelate will allow me to say two things? One is the obvious thing that this House has very important work to do. I should have thought that he would accept that the work that he is engaged on now is work of some importance. The other thing is that he is assuming that there are three areas in anything one considers—too much, too little and just right. But the fact is that here we have an area where either there is no point in having a body sufficient to justify its presence, or, if it is justified, it is open to all the pressures that I outlined in my speech at the opening, and therefore it is too much.
The Lord Bishop of Southwark
I thank the noble Lord very much for that. What I was trying to say was that we are a body, I believe, which has very limited powers; yet I do not believe that we have an unimportant task to do. That was the point that I was wanting to make. It seemed to me that that was a valid point to make in this context.
It was pointed out to us that there is a great danger in leaving things to the reader's imagination. Perhaps I may just say that the anxieties which are being expressed and which have led to this amendment are precisely that we feel that there are a good many things in the Bill which, if not exactly left to the imagination, are not clearly enough spelled out.
Perhaps I may pass from that to a particular concern that I want to express, and it is of course that which concerns the voluntary organisations, as an example. 153 Clearly it applies to other areas, notably strategic planning, on which a great deal has been said already, and I shall not go over that ground again. But one of the major concerns of the voluntary bodies, as they have been expressing their concerns to me and many others over a long period—it does not have anything to do with recent advertisements—has been about the great help that they have received in having in London a body which has been able to provide policy overview and some sense of long-term planning.
Perhaps that has not always been so. It may be a bonus of comparatively recent arrival. But having once experienced it, it seems very sad if we are now in real danger of seeing that once again disappear, given the nature and extent of some of the problems which we have to face in a great capital city and the need for focusing resources and enabling people to cope with them in the most effective way possible. I want to underline that point, and that is one of the reasons why we very much want to see a body which can exercise that kind of overview.
There is the point that goes with that which is whether and to what degree such a body might have any powers of funding. I just want to draw attention to the fact that, if I understand it correctly, Section 137 allows a strictly limited rate to be raised for general purposes, as it is now. Why would it not be possible for a similar provision to that to allow a very limited rate to be raised for precise purposes to do with the meeting of social need in a great city such as this, across the boroughs? I am not dealing with local funding of local voluntary organisations; I am thinking primarily of the cross-borough needs.
It is here again that I think we need to address ourselves as to what the practical solutions might be. So far, we still see very little that is tangible and definite; just the hope that the two-thirds of the boroughs will co-operate sufficiently to agree a policy and then raise the necessary funds. Many others have already pointed out how very risky that seems, in view of past history.
Thus I should like to stress that this amendment would, for instance, go quite a long way to alleviate some of the acute anxieties that are being expressed by management bodies and workers in this field. I think it is helpful to illustrate it in one particular way so that the Committee can understand why there are these other fears to which we have to address ourselves, alongside the fears that are being expressed about excessive powers, which will lead us back to the very point from which this Bill seeks to take us away.
The noble Lord need not have worried because I am going to say only a few words. I shall put them in the form of a question. I am going to raise a question for the Government Front Bench which I suspect underscores the concern of a great many people who are in favour of this amendment. I shall not go over the very long arguments for or against, as to whether this amendment seeks to reproduce the Greater London Council and the metropolitan counties. I do not believe that it does.
154 However, what worries me is this. Let us take strategic planning as a broad expression of the needs that have to be met when the GLC, for instance, is abolished. I do not suggest that the Committee is not completely clear about what is involved in strategic planning. However, there is one stage in strategic planning, which, if I may, I shall illustrate by specifically referring to the planning of land uses.
There is an initial stage, what we might call the germination, the gestation and the development of an idea for the imaginative use of land in a metropolitan county. The metropolis of Greater Manchester or the area presently covered by the GLC may be taken as examples. That idea has to be thought up before it becomes a question of co-ordinating and managing to carry on the countywide administration. That is a different stage which I suggest can be carried out if necessary by a non-elected or a not fully elected body. However, the gestation stage is crucially important and it should germinate from the minds and wishes of the people directly elected by the citizens of the countywide area.
I have here details of half a dozen schemes from the Greater Manchester authority. Each started with the planning authority, which is a fully elected body, thinking up a scheme which has become a great success and which is welcome to that city. It is also true of London. Land use is only one example. However, my question to the Government is: whether they are satisfied that under their arrangements this fully democratic germination of the ideas for the uses of land will be continued. Alternatively, will it be that ideas which are supposedly good for the good citizens of London, for instance, are put by a board or a quango to the Secretary of State for him to pronounce what is good for the citizens of the countywide area of London? That is my point. Perhaps the Minister would like to reply either now or when he winds up.
While I am on my feet perhaps I may disabuse the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, of any misconceptions he may still harbour about the depth of concern in the voluntary organisations about their future and about the prospect of particular projects and possibly whole organisations folding in the light of what we presently know about this Bill. I speak with complete knowledge of this.
§ Lord Elton
I shall be guided by the Committee. I have spoken once. This is not Second Reading and of course I am allowed to speak umpteen times, if I wish. However, I think we want to get on. On the other hand, there is a limit to the number of issues which my noble friend can pick up in the wind up. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has specifically asked me this question, it might just be helpful if I say to the Committee, if the Committee will allow me, that I have already explained that the Secretary of State is already in the strategic authority position that he sees as being necessary. The noble Lord's concern is not for that; it is whether the germinative function can properly be discharged by somebody who is not, as it were, endemic to the area affected by being elected, or however.
What we have in mind for strategic guidance is fairly simple material such as has already been issued on a number of occasions in the form of circulars. I am glad 155 to hear the noble Lord, Lord Plummer, say that the final version of one of them was acceptable to everybody. These will be proposals to start with. They will be published. They will be available for consultation. In London there will be the London Planning Commission available to advise the Secretary of State. As a statutory body they will be able to take advice from absolutely everybody, including SERPLAN, the distinguished and useful body of my noble but disaffected friend Lord Sandford, which of course is not a statutory body and cannot be incorporated in the legislation. Thus there is machinery to get to the Secretary of State informed opinion about what should be in the advice and also comment on the advice when it is produced.
If I may go on for a second longer, that is the device for unitary planning. I am sure the Committee are familiar with the idea of unitary planning. Each local authority—and I emphasise the word "local"—will have a plan for its area, in two parts. The top part, Part I, will perform the function of the segments of the existing strategic plan. The bottom part will be the local plan. Thus it will look like a patchwork quilt. The function of the strategic guidance will be to see that it knits together into a proper patchwork. I hope that I have not detained your Lordships' Committee too long.
§ Lord Stewart of Fulham
It is interesting that in this debate so far nearly every speaker has drawn attention to the fact that in London and in every other metropolis there are certain functions which are unavoidably metropolitan. Sometimes they are of a technical nature, such as fire fighting and waste disposal, and sometimes of a personal nature involving, for instance, the wisest way to give help to voluntary bodies. But that they exist is now not seriously in doubt. All the correspondence we receive, unprovoked by any advertisements there may be in the press, brings that out. The Government themselves admit it by the fact that in the Bill they do not intend to return these functions to the boroughs; they create a hotchpotch of joint boards, Government nominees, advisory bodies and so forth.
Therefore the question at issue is this. Ought the undoubted metropolitan functions of a metropolis to be carried out by an elected metropolitan authority or ought they to be carried out by the kind of patchwork that this Bill provides? We have not been provided with any convincing reasons in favour of the patchwork solution. Originally it was suggested that it would be cheaper. Nobody in this debate has seriously tried to defend that proposition. It certainly would be more complicated. All the history and experience of joint boards indicates that they are complicated, contentious and often ill-tempered in working together. We have no reason to suppose that we shall get a better result in that direction.
So when it comes to the crunch, what is the argument on which all the Government speeches—those of the noble Lords, Lord Elton and Lord Boyd-Carpenter have fallen back? It is that they dislike the policies of the present Greater London Council and that if there is another metropolitan authority it will pursue similar policies. We are warned against that danger.
156 5.30 p.m.
This is the argument, if it can be so called, that is repeatedly advanced. It is no good noble Lords shaking their heads. We have all heard them. How can they be sure that they will get what they want even if they press through this Bill? What is to prevent borough councils with views and policies similar to those of the GLC at the present time getting majorities?
There has been a great deal of argument about opinion polls. One thing is quite certain—that this Bill is unpopular in London. Electoral reactions in London, if the Government had allowed them to proceed, would have been far more in favour of the kind of policies now in favour at County Hall than in favour of anything that the Government want.
The only means therefore by which the Government can prevent what they object to is to make sure that there will not be majorities of that sort either on the borough councils or on any of the joint boards that the borough councils create. In fact, the Government have really got the wrong Bill for their purposes. What they wanted was a simple Bill of one clause saying that persons who are reasonably open to suspicion of having a political philosophy repugnant to noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite should not be eligible for election to borough councils.
§ Lord Stewart of Fulham
I quite understand that the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, is annoyed. I am showing what the Bill is really about and what we all know it is about.
§ Lord Stewart of Fulham
If that is the case, I am delighted. That is what this is about. If the Government had had the nerve, they would have introduced a Bill of that kind and we should have known exactly where we were. It is because they are not doing so that we have this hotch-potch of joint boards and of this, that and the other, which does not stand up to any serious intellectual examination. Those are the reasons which convince me that we should support the amendment.
§ Baroness Faithfull
As a matter of courtesy to the Committee, although I have put my name to the amendment, I shall not make my speech because all that I wish to say has already been said. I shall simply make a few comments. First, I am a good Conservative. I believe in the policies of my party. I believe in the abolition of the GLC. I believe in the devolution of as many powers as possible to local authorities. I work for a local authority myself. My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter talked about the alternatives in the manifesto. He mentioned joint boards. However, he did not say that the manifesto talked about quangos, devolution of decisions to Ministers, lead authorities and also the creation of ILEA as proposed. I would therefore suggest that the manifesto, with which I agree, did not specifically and in detail recommend how the Bill now before your Lordships' House should be carried out.
157 Amendment No. 8 recommends a managerial structure for the administration of London-wide duties. In the Second Reading debate, my noble friend Lord Whitelaw said:We shall … return most of their functions to the boroughs". [Official Report, 15/4/85; col. 582]With this, I concur.
I come to the point of Her Majesty's Government's terror of GLC Mark 2 arising. I still maintain, like other noble Lords, that the Confederation of British Industry is right in its paper stating:Powers of such an authority would be strictly limited by tightly drawn statute so that they can concern themselves with the relevant services and nothing else.Furthermore, the amendment restricts financial expenditure to those functions laid down by statute. Such an authority legally could not stray into the strange and bizarre fields which the loosely drawn 1962 Act allowed Mr. Livingstone to do. The London-wide authority acting outside the terms of this amendment would be denying the sovereignty of Parliament.
I take up another point made by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter concerning voluntary organisations. There have been many meetings in your Lordships' House and outside concerned with the worries of the voluntary organsisations. I have not seen my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter at any of those meetings to hear the points put forward by the voluntary organisations. I agree with the right reverend Prelate that they are real. Furthermore, if the committee wished, I could mention voluntary organisations that have already had to close. So the proof of the pudding in that case is in the eating.
If the amendment is carried, we shall have a structure that is understood by the people of London to carry out their services. Instead, as many noble Lords have said, we have a voluminous diffuse, diverse and complicated set of recommendations. No business firm would build its structure in such a way. Her Majesty's Government enjoin efficiency—and rightly so. The people of London are entitled not to a disparate, unrelated set of services, but to a sound and unified structure to carry out the London-wide duties.
§ Baroness Denington
We have had some magnificent speeches. I pay particular tribute to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Plummer. If anyone in this Chamber knows about London government, what is needed, what it does—so much of what it does has never reached the light of day—and the services given by expert groups of officers, it is the noble Lord, Lord Plummer. He knows, having been the leader of the GLC.
I shall be brief. I do not intend to go over points that have already been made. I should like, however, to pick up two points. One was the reference of my noble friend, Lady Birk, to the fact that we are talking not just about a London issue but a national issue. It is indeed a national issue. The importance, the prestige and the standing of the nation's capital city is very important to the nation as a whole in the community of nations. I can assure your Lordships, as could the noble Lord, Lord Plummer, and other noble Lords who have been members of the GLC, that the GLC, 158 representing London, commands enormous prestige abroad.
Those of us who have been in County Hall have, over the years, received and talked to many people from the cities of this country seeking information about how to deal with problems in a great city and a great conurbation. Year by year, as we know, these problems become more difficult as the complexity of modern living increases and creates new problems. People come to see what is done. If it is not done at County Hall, County Hall has always referred them to the borough where they know that that particular problem is looked at and dealt with very carefully.
It is a matter of prestige. It is not only other people, members of other councils who come to us; it is also a question of this nation's capital city being invited to other world events. The noble Lord, Lord Plummer, will remember that he and I had the pleasure and honour of going to a conference called by the Mayor of Tokyo, when we were both on the council. The conference was for the great cities of the world. Those invited were ourselves from London and representatives from Paris, New York, Moscow and Peking. Peking did not respond, but the rest of us were there. According to my memory, we were allowed only three representatives each. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Plummer, was leader at the time. I went from my side of the council, and there was the chief executive, too. We were to discuss the problems of the world.
Who would be invited now? Truly I cannot imagine; perhaps it would be whoever was the chairman of a group of boroughs, and as we have said here this afternoon, they do not cover all the services. The chairman of one of the quangos might be invited, but he would be representing only a certain facet of London's problems. It is necessary that we have the prestige of an elected—and the word "elected" is so important—authority to represent this capital city of ours and this nation.
The other quotation I want to read to you is very short; it is of Mr. Kenneth Baker speaking in the other place on this very subject. He said:If one creates such a body"—the body we are talking about—which has executive functions, it must have the power to appoint staff and to raise money. If one creates such a body, it will inevitably be a mini GLC, there is no halfway house, that is the essential dilemma and the difficulty".Very clearly, courageously and properly put, and there it is. Surely, unless one has a very dyed-in-the-wool view of this particular problem, the case has been made for an elected authority in London. I sincerely hope, in the interests of the nation again, that that view will prevail here tonight.
What we are asking for is not really a mini GLC—the expression "GLC" has become horribly emotive—it is not a GLC, it is the strategic authority which will carry out these essential, central powers and services for the capital city. I wonder that the Government is so fearful. It seems to me that its abolition has at the bottom of it—what shall I say? I shall not say "fear"—the fact that they have got really rattled by Livingstone across the water. A government has no business to get rattled; it should not get rattled and it is a sign of great weakness if it does get rattled.
159 5.45 p.m.
Why does it get rattled? Rates were a great issue on which the Government stood firm and won. They won, so what are they frightened about? We all agree that governments in the end must always win. We cannot have democracy unless that is so. On the rates issue, the Government came out on top. I would say that on the issue we are discussing today—this amendment—if the Government accept the amendment they do not lose, they triumph. Government should not seem to shrink from difficulties instead of facing them and showing that democracy can always win. The answer is in our hands.
§ Viscount Ingleby
I speak from this position not only from necessity but also from choice. I am sure we would all want to adopt policies which would unite the country so far as possible. Is this amendment not something which the great majority of Londoners would support? I believe that it would be supported both by those who want to see the excesses, the abuses, of power at County Hall curbed, and it would also be supported by those who would like to see some form of directly elected London-wide government to continue. I have come into contact with a good many taxi drivers and I have not found any supporters of Mr. Livingstone; but they all want to see some form of directly-elected government for London to continue.
May I ask your Lordships to think for a moment about the effect of this amendment on the existing council's staff? At the moment they are refusing to co-operate. I believe if this amendment were adopted, the great majority of staff would co-operate with the Government. Without their co-operation, is it conceivable that the transfer of power can be got through in the eight months available? I hope that all Members of your Lordships' House who would like to see people in this country more united than they are at the present time—and I am sure I am counting all Members of the Committee—would share that view. I hope they will support this amendment.
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
I should like to enter into the debate regarding the metropolitan counties. Since 1974 and the reorganisation, the metropolitan counties are what we call the worse half of the two nations. They are in the majority areas where there is the gravest unemployment and the highest amount of industrial dereliction. They are either in development areas or else they are in assisted areas. The Government have recognised the difficulties of those areas, the EEC also, through its regional aid, has been giving them the infrastructure to help regenerate the areas. So when we are talking about the metropolitan counties, in the main we are talking about one half of the nation. Therefore, it is important that their democratic voice and the organisation of local government is comparable with that of the metropolitan City of London, and, as so many people have said in this debate, the capital city which all Britishers love, London. Therefore, I go along with the sentiments expressed, but I would make quite sure that the government which is decided on for the 160 metropolitan counties should be considered quite seriously.
There has been widespread concern about the fragmentation of services and I shall not go into great detail about them, but the services that the metropolitan authorities are covering are in a much wider complex than those in the London areas, operating police, fire and consumer services, strategic planning and of course transport policies. Because they operate all those services, there is a need for interdependence of one upon the other. Therefore, with that interrelation of services it is important that the interrelation of services which is operated in the main by paid officials shall be cared for as well, so that the public are vitally interested in it, by a single democratic body which is also carrying out the will of the people living in the metropolitan areas.
I shall not go into great detail because the time of the Committee is limited, but when looking at the membership of the authorities, as set out in the amendment, it is important that we look at the composition of the membership of the authorities in relation to the services to be provided, both in number and in complexity. That will result in a number of people on a committee being required to balance the needs of the area representation against effective discussion and decision-making.
The amendment dealing with the metropolitan counties provides for the Committee to set the limits as the Bill progresses through the Committee stage. During the Report stage in another place the Secretary of State for the Environment said that there is a need for planning, transport and traffic to be considered over a wider area. However, the Secretary of State considers that the wider planning and highway role properly falls to the Government. I believe that this is one of those very serious centralising tendencies of the Bill, especially when the needs that are enumerated are county-wide.
The Government accept that those needs are county-wide but wish to take those needs and their servicing to the centre. How unfortunate that is, because the centre of Government—Whitehall—goes to the metropolitan counties and the very large local authorities in this country for advice, which it passes on to Ministers. It is rather ironic that these same people who are so competent in running services—and many noble Lords have spoken about the effective teams that are in the metropolitan counties—are the teams who supply central Government or the regional officers with this information. These are the officers who we say perhaps will not be useful in the future.
Several of the Government's criticisms about the metropolitan counties could quite clearly also apply to the shire counties. There is a slight overlap in the shire counties, as there is in the metropolitan counties. Therefore, we must ask ourselves whether this is a one-sided reorganisation of local government as we know it. If we abolish the metropolitan counties, the surrounding shire counties, which abut the metropolitan counties, will have to deal with a complex set of relationships with all the districts that surround them that are now in the metropolitan counties. That will make the difficulties much more complex for the shire counties.
161 We shall, of course, see a destabilisation of the whole of local government if these proposals go through. We shall find that the larger shire districts will be able to argue with added weight that, since the last reorganisation, the case has been made for an extension of their powers. We can name these large towns that have always felt so neglected because they do not have the status of the metropolitan district councils. Bristol is a very fine example. It believes that it was very badly treated under reorganisation.
Therefore, destabilisation of local government, as put forward in this Bill, will mean future headaches for the Government and therefore we shall see no permanence in this reorganisation. There are seven metropolitan districts with a population of less than 200,000 which, under the Bill, will be given additional powers. That fact will not be lost upon the eight shire districts which have a population in excess of that. Quite obviously, they will want equal standing. Of course, it has been said that direct election of members of the local authority is the most important characteristic of the British local government system. Joint boards and residuary bodies are therefore not part of a local government system because they are not directly elected. Therefore, in this country we have two systems of local government: that which is non-elected, and that which is directly elected.
During the course of the Bill it can be said that the services can be retained at county level, and that if we work hard on the amendments to this Bill fragmentation can be avoided. Our amendment on the metropolitan counties affords the opportunity for combining county-wide functions on a commonly financed basis. We ask that democratic accountability be maintained.
In conclusion, if the metropolitan counties and councils are swept away without adequate thought of replacement, the only way in which they will be dealt with comprehensively will be by central Government and regional civil servants, and not by locally elected members. That is fundamentally unacceptable.
Viscount Colville of Culross
One of the threads that has run through this debate—and, in view of the cries from the Opposition, I promise to be brief—has been that related to strategic planning. I am bound to say that I am glad I have listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, because to judge by what she said and to judge by what a number of others have said, including my noble friend Lord Molson, it could be thought that central Government never had anything to do with strategic planning until this Bill came along. The noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, must know that that is absolutely untrue. My noble friend Lord Molson will see that the schedule to the Bill dealing with unitary development plans says that district and borough councils shall have regard to:any strategic guidance given by the Secretary of State … and to current national and regional policies".I am not sure whether my noble friend was suggesting that that was something new. I am sure he knows too much to make any such suggestion.
162 As for strategic guidance from the centre, this has been in existence more or less ever since the planning system began. I need not go back any further than the Government of the party opposite—and this is not a party political matter at all, because they operated it in exactly the same way. There were the regional economic planning councils, and a very good job they did. They were abolished in 1980, although it was then said that the regional planning boards of officials would continue in being under the chairmanship of the Department of the Environment regional directors, to whom my noble friend referred, and that they would have a close working relationship with local authorities and with all other appropriate advisory contacts in the regions. As anyone who has ever been concerned with planning knows full well, from time to time strategic guidance has been given in the form of circulars which emanate, after discussion, from the Department of the Environment or the Ministries that preceded it, and which override and give guidance to all those at the stage of preparing development or structure plans and at the stage of dealing with individual decisions.
My noble friend Lord Molson suggested to the Committee that there was something novel in the Secretary of State giving guidance for the purposes of preparing a structure plan and then at the end of the day coming to decide, as the court of appeal, on the individual propositions which were put forward within it. There is nothing of the kind that is novel in this. It has been going ever since 1947 and there is no novelty in its being introduced in the Bill in this respect.
Then there is the necessity to deal with current regional and national policies. Does my noble friend Lord Molson think that there is anything new in this? No; there is not. This was introduced in 1968 when the concept of structure plans was brought in by the party opposite. It is not party political. It has worked perfectly satisfactorily ever since, and I am sure that it will continue to do so.
That has led, not only in the metropolitan counties and in Greater London but all over the rest of England and Wales, to an interlinked system of structure plans which are the strategic planning for the country as a whole. They have all been approved by the Secretary of State either for Wales or for the Environment, in England, and they all link together. Most of them are comparatively recent, and the structural work and the strategic work has been done. We therefore have a situation where for all the seven metropolitan areas there is in existence a comparatively recent strategically planned structure plan within which they can work.
What then has to be done next? There is a familiar process of revision. There has always been—and this, again, is nothing new—a requirement both in preparation and in revision of structure plans for the authority which is preparing it to consult widely with neighbouring authorities who may be affected. I do not think that this goes back to 1968; I think it goes back to 1947. It is even more lacking in party politics because it is plain common sense. That is what is suggested for the local authorities under this Bill That 163 is what they all had to do before 1974, except in London; that is what they all did, and that is what they are going to do again. There is nothing new in this.
Let us take two points which have been raised as specific strategic planning issues. First of all, let us take the green belt. The green belts have been under dispute in individual cases and as a matter of strategy since the circular in 1955. By this time they have crystallised into extremely firm strategic policies which surround a number of the metropolitan areas with which this Bill is concerned. I am particularly familiar with the London one but I also know that which surrounds Birmingham and the conurbation which goes with it.
There is no strategy to discuss any more in relation to the structure plans and the green belt, but what there is is a matter of defining the inner edges. This has never been a matter for structure plans or for strategy. It has always been a matter for the districts, or the boroughs, within which the particular piece of land lies. That will continue to be the case, because under this Bill there is not the smallest change in that respect.
My noble friend Lord Molson also mentioned the question of waste disposal. It is fairly common ground, at least in London and I think in the West Midlands, that there is not room within the boundaries of the counties concerned to dispose, at least by way of land fill, with all the waste that is produced. So what happens? It goes out into the surrounding counties, as indeed the Association of County Councils say in their representations. In the case of London, it goes all over the Home Counties. It goes to Bedfordshire; some of it goes down to Avon, and it goes to any place where they can find a suitable hole to put it in.
There is one extremely important area of strategy which I admit would have to be co-ordinated, and that is who is to be interested in which particular geographical segment of the country. I concede that that is a matter for groupings of boroughs where some sort of agreement surely ought to be able to be reached. If it is not, they will merely be in competition with each other. But it is not the issue of strategy which matters from the point of view of waste disposal. What really matters there are the people who are at the receiving end. If it is suggested in your area that a certain hole should be dug to remove gravel, and instead there shall be dumped 10 years' worth of domestic refuse which is coming from a far distant city, I can tell you that there are many people in the area who will object. This has to be dealt with not by the metropolitan counties but by the county planning authority, the shire county planning authority, in whose area the hole is situated.
Most of these county planning authorities have by this time produced a subject plan relating to minerals and waste disposal, and after public inquiry objection, and everything else they have decided which places are tolerable for this purpose and which are not. That is where the waste disposal crunch comes, but it is not a matter for the metropolitan counties or the GLC; it is a matter for the receiving authorities. There will be no change under this legislation. I just hope that the Committee has not been so carried away by what appears to be the novelty of some of these propositions that it will forget that we are not changing procedures, strategies, and the entire concepts which have underlain planning law ever since the war.
§ Lord Plummer of St. Marylebone
—can he explain why then the planning process, which he is putting forward as the best one under this Bill, has been largely condemned by all the professional associations, including the London Green Belt Council? In regard to waste disposal, this has also been said by the Association of County Councils to be unworkable.
Viscount Colville of Culross
This is the third debate on the reform of local government that I have attended. On all those occasions practically everybody always opposed all change.
§ Lord Bellwin
I think it most unfair when people on this side who want to speak for the Government and against this amendment are being denied the opportunity, by shouts from the Opposition. I have sat patiently listening for exactly three hours—not too patiently at times—but I think that I shall pay deference to the feelings of the Committee, which wants to give its decision on this, and I shall not make the speech I had prepared. But there should be no doubt at all in anyone's mind as to where I stand in this matter in that I was one of the people originally concerned with the proposals we have before us, and I shall put down my bona fides as regards service in local government alongside those of anyone else in your Lordships' Committee.
My feelings for the authorities concerned are no less than those of anyone else. I smiled when I heard my noble friend Lord Plummer say, "Is Parliament powerless to control local government?" I smiled even more when I heard the "Hear, hears" from the other side. I remember so well for years the bitter way they have fought every attempt to control local government, and how they have constantly told us how wicked a thing that would be to do. I am not impressed at all by that.
I have said that I shall say only a few words, and that is what I mean. But I should like to say to my noble friend Lord Molson before he leaves the Chamber that I at least am looking forward to the day when the metropolitan counties no longer have the highway function, and when people in my town can decide whether they locally want to have a zebra crossing at the bottom of the street without having to go miles and miles away to some county authority for them to tell us.
I could make a long speech along similar lines, but clearly this is not what your Lordships want tonight. It is what I should like, but not what your Lordships want. I say only this to my noble friend Lord Plummer, for whom I have the greatest admiration and respect. I sat at his feet alongside my noble friend Lord Marshall and the late Sir Frank Griffin when I first went into local government, and of course I have 165 a great regard and respect for him. I would say that the GLC as it is now is not the LCC that my noble friend knew. My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter was so right: the GLC is not even the same GLC as many of your Lordships knew. In the last two or three years it has lost transport and housing. And so what is it that this whole debate is about?
When my noble friend Lord Colville says, as he did, that we are going back in the county areas to what was there before, that is right. To intimate that this will not work is to say that it never worked, and the fact is that it did work. I am one of those who is not convinced that it has worked any better. I know one thing: it costs many millions of pounds more.
Because I am receiving looks from my colleagues on the Front Bench, I will sit down. But I want to repeat my overwhelming rejection of the amendments. I hope that my noble friends on this side, at least, and many of those I hope are my friends on the CrossBenches—and (who knows) perhaps even one or two on the Benches opposite—will join with me in voting against the amendments.
The Earl of Gowrie
The looks coming from the Government Front Bench towards my noble friend Lord Bellwin are of universal love and approbation. He has nothing whatsoever to worry about.
As long ago as 1968 I was one of those who voted in your Lordships' House for the abolition, albeit in the very gentlemanly and phased-out way, of the hereditary peerage. I am very glad as an hereditary peer that it did not get through because I would have missed a debate of great interest and occasional high drama about an important and controversial subject. I hope I may respectfully say to all who took part in it that I think it was a superb debate.
There are three strands to the Government's policies in respect of local government. Perhaps I could quickly put this Bill in a general context. The first strand is to abolish unnecessary tiers of local government in the interests of economy and to avoid duplication and overlap. In respect of planning, this point was beautifully dealt with by my noble friend Lord Colville. If the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, accuses me of hiding behind rhetoric and not dealing with the arguments, may I say in regard to that argument that my noble friend has dealt with it so well that it would be superfluous for me to add anything to what he said. The other purpose of abolishing unnecessary tiers of local government is to neutralise bodies which, by definition, by the fact of their existence, act as upward motors generating additional public spending. This Bill deals with that part of the strategy.
The second strand is to establish mechanisms to control local government spending and establish some discipline over it, given that over 50 per cent. of local government finance is provided by central Government and by taxpayers generally. This is what is popularly known as rate capping. I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, that that is an important part of the intellectual basis of the whole policy. One of the reasons he made me so cross was that he denied that there was any basis other than a purely instinctive political basis to this policy. The 166 intellectual basis to the policy is argued brilliantly and cogently on page 90 of the book, Inside the Treasury, written by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury in the previous Labour Government.
The third strand is to investigate whether there is a more equitable method of bringing local spending and local taxation into a rather closer correspondence than at present. That is what we are working on at the moment,
In respect of this first policy strand, with which the present Bill deals, very few people in this exciting debate have argued that the GLC and the MCCs are not unnecessary or wasteful tiers of government. My noble friend Lord Bellwin has just reminded us cogently that the old LCC was responsible for 50 per cent. or more of the spending on local services, but the present GLC—this is another point to make to the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham—is responsible for only 11 per cent. of local services. Yet the GLC's precept has risen by 102 per cent. as against a rise of only 27 per cent. for all other local English authorities. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark was inclined to compare the GLC and the metropolitan county councils to your Lordships' House, of which I believe it was once said:They do nothing in particular and they do it very well".Our objection to this tier of government is that they do rather little in particular and they do it extremely expensively, whether well or not.
My noble friend Lord Elton—recovered from a debilitating bout of 'flu—spelt out in a brilliant speech the basis of the Government's policy as it was approved by the House at Second Reading. It is abolition of the top tier authorities; it is not modification of them. Those who support the amendments claim that the authorities they are proposing in lieu of the GLC and the MCCs are so different that they represent a new start and not a modification. One only has to add up the functions which are adduced for these new authorities to see that that is simply not true. The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, made a general case for a strategic authority and she and my noble friend Lord Plummer referred specifically to the strategy for planning and highways—which was dealt with by my noble friend Lord Colville—for fire and civil defence, for waste disposal, for scientific services, for Thamesmead. The noble Lord, Lord Evans, came smartly off the fence, stunned perhaps by my comments yesterday, and referred to joint authority services—that is to say, police, fire, passenger transport and the like—and scientific services.
If we add all that up, the new London authorities and the new metropolitan county authorities proposed in these amendments would be responsible for strategic planning, strategic highways, strategic housing, fire and civil defence, waste regulation and disposal, arts funding—I am sharply aware of the overlap in that field—sports funding, funding for voluntary bodies, together with such support services as scientific services and supplies. My noble friend Lord Molson added to this list and argued that the new authorities should have in addition police, passenger transport and trading standards.
167 The idea that these amendments and those who support them are not hostile to the principle of the Bill is surely simply wrong. The noble Lord, Lord Hayter, seemed to be asking us to keep the GLC virtually intact. I congratulate the noble Lord on the modest and moderate way in which he introduced his amendment, but nevertheless I must say to him that the phrase "strategic authority" does not in my view disarm the financial timebomb ticking away in any such tiers of local government. I do not think that "Son of Frankenstein" is an immodest or all that inaccurate description of a body in which all the functions I have listed could be found.
Perhaps more seductively, another key point made by those supporting these amendments is that the new authorities would be closely controlled in financial terms. I admired, as I always do, the sheer nerve of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, given her hostility to rate capping, when she was able to make this point with a straight face. Are the proponents of these new authorities really arguing for detailed and permanent controls over their spending on each of the functions I have listed? Would there be a separate tier of financial controls over and above the financial controls for the districts and boroughs? Financial controls in this field are difficult and contentious enough as it is. Are we really proposing to proliferate them?
International comparisons were made in respect of the issue that has been known in shorthand as the "Voice for London" and the ceremonial representations of our capital city. The noble Baronesses, Lady Birk and Lady Denington, and the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, referred to this, as did others. The noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, made comparable points relating to the MCCs. Of course we should take note of what other countries do. The Institute of Local Government did a study of the practice in 12 metropolitan areas in eight countries. The results were most interesting and varied. They showed that in Holland, for example, there is a directly elected strategic authority for Rotterdam; an indirectly elected non-statutory co-ordinating body for The Hague; but no metropolitan authority at all in Amsterdam. Copenhagen has a small, indirectly elected authority with a very small staff, and 80 per cent. of its budget is spent on transport.
If your Lordships look at the description of the government of Paris in the report, you will find that there is no single authority covering the whole of the conurbation, except the regional government which covers a much wider area and that is indirectly elected. In the conurbation itself, the Ville de Paris—which everyone thinks of as Paris with its mayor—covers only a small fraction of the area and contains only around a fifth of the region's population. That is simply not city-wide government in the sense meant by the proponents of a single successor for the GLC. In Spain, Madrid has simply a co-ordination agency. In Italy, Milan has no metropolitan authority.
As to the ceremonial functions, whatever the qualities of the new chairman-elect of the GLC, the honourable Member for Newham North-West, Mr. Banks, I am quite sure that official visitors will be able to come to London in future without too much disappointment at not meeting him. We are a 168 monarchy; and there is a perfectly good Lord Lieutenant. In fact, we have had an admirable Lord Lieutenant of London sitting on the Opposition Benches in this House for many years.
My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter seemed to me to make the definitive speech on the exploitation of voluntary bodies by the GLC. I have here a letter which was recently received by the Secretary of State from the Matthew Trust, which I think adds an illustrated slide to the sensible and wise things my noble friend said. It says:We wish to ask you to satisfy yourself that the grant-making policy of the Greater London Council to voluntary agencies, particularly those in Conservative boroughs, does not rest on the political contributions registered charities may or may not make towards the political compaign of the present Labour GLC to save the GLC. Since this trust received a grant from the Greater London Council in 1983 we have received some 23 indirect invitations from the Greater London Council to participate in what can only be described as political action to save the Greater London Council".I am sharply aware of some of the shenanigans of this kind that have been going on in respect of the arts.
To sum up, I do not think I could do better than quote the wise words of my noble friend Lord Elton. He said that to abolish one set of elected metropolitan authorities with one breath and to create another set of elected metropolitan authorities with another breath is quite contrary to the whole purpose of the Bill. He said that the GLC does not have enough to do to justify its existence and what it does, it does extremely expensively. He said that the Secretary of State already has the power to pull in all and every strategic decision of any importance affecting London and the regions.
These amendments, by providing for directly elected multi-purpose authorities in London and the metropolitan counties, strike at the heart of the Bill and act as an incentive for additional public spending. They are wrecking amendments. If they are pressed to a Division, the Committee should reject them decisively.
§ Lord Hayter
I am tempted to reply to the noble Earl, but I shall not. Instead I shall thank all those people who have spoken in this Committee. I would not insult your Lordships by trying to repeat any of the arguments. Most of you have been here throughout. It has been a most interesting debate and I end up with this simple question: are the proposals of this amendment a better solution for the manifold problems of London than the Bill as it stands?
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 8) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 209; Not-Contents, 213.171
|DIVISION NO. 2|
|Airedale, L.||Beaumont of Whitley, L.|
|Alport, L.||Bernstein, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Beswick, L.|
|Attlee, E.||Birk, B.|
|Auckland, L.||Birkett, L.|
|Avebury, L.||Blyton, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Boothby, L.|
|Bacon, B.||Boston of Faversham, L.|
|Banks, L.||Bottomley, L.|
|Barnett, L.||Briginshaw, L.|
|Brockway, L.||Kilmarnock, L.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Kinloss, Ly.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Kirkhill, L.|
|Buckmaster, V.||Kirkwood, L.|
|Burton of Coventry, B.||Kissin, L.|
|Campbell of Eskan, L.||Lawrence, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Leatherland, L.|
|Chandos, V.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.|
|Chichester, Bp.||Lloyd of Hampstead, L.|
|Chitnis, L.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Lockwood, B.|
|Collison, L.||London, Bp.|
|Cranbrook, E.||Longford, E.|
|Crowther-Hunt, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||McCarthy, L.|
|Darcy (de Knayth), B.||McGregor of Durris, L.|
|Darling of Hillsborough, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|David, B.||Mackie of Benshie, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||McNair, L.|
|Davies of Penrhys, L.||Mais, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Mar, C.|
|Delacourt-Smith of Alteryn, B.||Mayhew, L.|
|Denbigh, E.||Meston, L.|
|Denington, B.||Minto, E.|
|Diamond, L.||Mishcon, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Molloy, L.|
|Donnet of Balgay, L.||Molson, L. [Teller.]|
|Dudley, B.||Monkswell, L.|
|Eldon, E.||Monson, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Morris of Grasmere, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Morris of Kenwood, L.|
|Ennals, L.||Mountevans, L.|
|Esher, V.||Mulley, L.|
|Evans of Claughton, L.||Murray of Epping Forest, L.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Northfield, L.|
|Ezra, L.||Ogmore, L.|
|Faithfull, B.||O'Neill of the Maine, L.|
|Falkender, B.||Oram, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Paget of Northampton, L.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Parry, L.|
|Fitt, L.||Peart, L.|
|Foot, L.||Perry of Walton, L.|
|Gaitskell, B.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Gallacher, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Galpern, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|George-Brown, L.||Raglan, L.|
|Gifford, L.||Rathcreedan, L.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Rea, L.|
|Glenamara, L.||Reigate, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Reilly, L.|
|Greenhill of Harrow, L.||Rhodes, L.|
|Greenway, L.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Grey, E.||Roberthall, L.|
|Hacking, L.||Robson of Kiddington, B.|
|Hampton, L.||Rochester, Bp.|
|Hanworth, V.||Rochester, L.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Hatch of Lusby, L.||Russell of Liverpool, L.|
|Hayter, L. [Teller.]||Sainsbury, L.|
|Head, V.||Sandford, L.|
|Henderson of Brompton, L.||Seear, B.|
|Henniker, L.||Serota, B.|
|Hirshfield, L.||Shackleton, L.|
|Hooson, L.||Simon, V.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Stallard, L.|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Stamp, L.|
|Hunt, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Hunter of Newington, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Hutchinson of Lullington, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Ingleby, V.||Stone, L.|
|Inglewood, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Irving of Dartford, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Jacques, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Jeger, B.||Tordoff, L.|
|Jenkins of Putney, L.||Tweeddale, M.|
|John-Mackie, L.||Vickers, B.|
|Kagan, L.||Wakefield, Bp.|
|Kaldor, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Kearton, L.||Walston, L.|
|Kennet, L.||Wedderburn of Charlton, L.|
|Kilbracken, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|White, B.||Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.|
|Willis, L.||Winstanley, L.|
|Wilson of Langside, L.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Wilson of Rievaulx, L.||Wootton of Abinger, B.|
|Aberconway, L.||Enroll of Hale, L.|
|Abinger, L.||Ferrers, E.|
|Ailsbury, M.||Foley, L.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Forbes, L.|
|Aldington, L.||Fortescue, E.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Fraser of Kilmorack, L.|
|Allerton, L.||Freyberg, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Gainford, L.|
|Annaly, L.||Gardner of Parkes, B.|
|Arran, E.||Geddes, L.|
|Astor, V.||Gibson-Watt, L.|
|Atholl, D.||Glenarthur, L.|
|Barber, L.||Gowrie, E.|
|Bathurst, E.||Grantchester, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Granville of Eye, L.|
|Bellwin, L.||Gray, L.|
|Beloff, L.||Gray of Contin, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Gridley, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Grimston of Westbury, L.|
|Biddulph, L.||Grimthorpe, L.|
|Birdwood, L.||Haig, E.|
|Boardman, L.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Halsbury, E.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Harmar-Nicholls, L.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Harris of High Cross, L.|
|Brocket, L.||Harvey of Tasburgh, L.|
|Brookeborough, V.||Harvington, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Henley, L.|
|Broxbourne, L.||Hertford, M.|
|Bruce-Gardyne, L.||Hives, L.|
|Buchan, E.||Holderness, L.|
|Buckinghamshire, E.||Home of the Hirsel, L.|
|Burton, L.||Hood, V.|
|Buxton of Alsa, L.||Hornsby-Smith, B.|
|Caccia, L.||Howe, E.|
|Caithness, E.||Hylton-Foster, B.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Kaberry of Adel, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Kemsley, V.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Killearn, L.|
|Carnock, L.||Kinnaird, L.|
|Cathcart, E.||Kinnoull, E.|
|Cayzer, L.||Kintore, E.|
|Chelmer, L.||Lane-Fox, B.|
|Chelwood, L.||Lauderdale, E.|
|Chesham, L.||Layton, L.|
|Clitheroe, L.||Lindsey and Abingdon, E.|
|Coleraine, L.||Lloyd-George of Dwyfor, E.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Loch, L.|
|Colwyn, L.||Long, V.|
|Cowley, E.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Cox, B.||Lyell, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||McAlpine of Moffat, L.|
|Craigmyle, L.||McAlpine of West Green, L.|
|Croft, L.||McFadzean, L.|
|Dacre of Glanton, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Davidson, V.||Malmesbury, E.|
|De Freyne, L.||Marchwood, V.|
|De La Warr, E.||Margadale, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Marley, L.|
|Denman, L.||Marshall of Leeds, L.|
|Digby, L.||Masham of Ilton, B.|
|Dilhorne, V.||Matthews, L.|
|Dormer, L.||Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon, L.|
|Dudley, E.||Merrivale, L.|
|Duncan-Sandys, L.||Mersey, V.|
|Dundee, E.||Middleton, L.|
|Eden of Winton, L.||Monk-Bretton, L.|
|Effingham, E.||Montagu of Beaulieu, L.|
|Elibank, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Mountgarret, V.|
|Elton, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Enniskillen, E.||Munster, E.|
|Erne, E.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Napier and Ettrick, L.||Shannon, E.|
|Nelson of Stafford, L.||Sherfield, L.|
|Newall, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Norfolk, D.||Soames, L.|
|Northesk, E.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Nugent of Guildford, L.||Stodart of Leaston, L.|
|Onslow, E.||Strathcarron, L.|
|Orkney, E.||Swansea, L.|
|Orr-Ewing, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Pender, L.||Swinton, E. [Teller.]|
|Penrhyn, L.||Terrington, L.|
|Perth, E.||Teviot, L.|
|Peyton of Yeovil, L.||Teynham, L.|
|Portland, D.||Thomas of Swynnerton, L.|
|Radnor, E.||Tollemache, L.|
|Rankeillour, L.||Torphichen, L.|
|Rawlinson of Ewell, L.||Townshend, M.|
|Reay, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Redesdale, L.||Trenchard, V.|
|Remnant, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Renton, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Renwick, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Rochdale, V.||Ward of Witley, V.|
|Rodney, L.||Weinstock, L.|
|Romney, E.||Westbury, L.|
|Rotherwick, L.||Whitelaw, V.|
|Rugby, L.||Wilberforce, L.|
|St. Aldwyn, E.||Windlesham, L.|
|Salisbury, M.||Yarborough, E.|
|Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.||Young, B.|
|Sandys, L.||Young of Graffham, L.|
|Selkirk, L.||Zouche of Haryngworth, L.|
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Lord Molson moved Amendment No. 9:
§ [Printed earlier: col. 122.]
§ The noble Lord said: I have no intention of making another speech, but several noble Lords expressed their disappointment at the informal arrangement that has been arrived at and perhaps they will wish to speak on this amendment. So I move it formally. I beg to move.
§ 6.39 p.m.174
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Clause 2 agreed to.
§ [Amendments Nos. 10 to 11B not moved.]
§ Clause 3 [Local planning authorities]:
Baroness Stedman moved Amendment No. 12:
Page 2, line 17, at beginning insert—
("the metropolitan county planning and passenger transport authority is the county planning authority for the county and ").
The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 13, 14, 15, 17, 18, 20, 26, 42, 57 and 120.
Amendment No. 13: Page 2, line 19, at beginning insert—
("the London Planning Authority is the county planning authority for Greater London and ").
Amendment No. 14: Page 2, line 20, at end insert—
("( ) In that Act "metropolitan county planning and passenger authority" means an authority of that name established by section 27 of this Act.
( ) In that Act "London Planning Authority" means the London Residuary Body established by section 55 of this Act.").
Amendment No. 15: Page 2, line 21, leave out subsection (2).
Amendment No. 17: Page 2, line 25, leave out subsection (3) and insert—
("(3) Notwithstanding any other provisions of this Act, from the abolition date this Act shall have effect so as to transfer the functions relating to the receipt, consideration and determination of planning applications for mineral extraction and waste disposal, from the Greater London Council and the Metropolitan County Councils to the London Planning Authority and Metropolitan County Planning and Passenger Transport Authorities respectively.").
Amendment No. 18: Page 2, line 36, leave out subsection (5).
Amendment No. 20: Clause 4, page 3, line 4, at beginning insert—
("( ) Part I (Strategic Plans) of Schedule I to this Act shall have effect with regard to strategic plans made by the London Planning Authority and each Metropolitan County Planning and Passenger Transport Authority.").
Amendment No. 26: Schedule 1, page 74, line 4, at end insert—