§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Consideration of amendments on Third Reading resumed.
§ [Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 not moved.]1075
Lord Sandford moved, as amendments to Amendment No. 2, Amendments Nos. 6 and 7:
Subsection (2)(c), line 1, leave out ("in areas adjoining") and insert ("for areas in the vicinity of").
Subsection (2)(c), final line, leave out ("adjoining").
§ The noble Lord said: Before explaining these two amendments to your Lordships—which should not be very difficult because my noble friend on the Front Bench has already done so—I should like to use this opportunity to do what I had intended to do at the outset of this stage; namely, to thank the Government for Amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 21 which they have introduced in fulfilment of pledges given to me and to the Committee at an earlier stage.
§ The amendments strike a practical balance between the aspirations of the Government, which are to abolish the GLC and not allow anything like it in its place, and the wishes of the planning authorities in the home counties to have a single body with which to relate in order to conduct strategic planning for the whole of the London and home counties area, without too much of a hiccough on the passage of the legislation. This the amendment does by establishing the Committee of Planning Authorities for London, by relating it in a satisfactory way to the body referred to rather coyly in subsection (2)(c) but which is in fact the South East Regional Planning Conference, and at the same time by eliminating from their proposals the London Planning Commission, correctly recognising that with this structure that body, which would not be democratically elected, is no longer needed. For all those reasons I welcome this amendment and assure the Government that the South East Regional Planning Conference will be able to work effectively with this structure.
§ The amendments themselves are minor and technical and are required only because the South East Regional Planning Conference contains a number of major counties such as East Sussex, West Sussex, Hampshire, Bedfordshire and Oxfordshire, which are inextricably involved with the capital in a whole number of matters concerning regional planning but which do not actually adjoin Greater London. That is the reason for the amendments, and I am gratified to know in advance that they are acceptable to the Government. I commend them to the House.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for his courteous welcome. There is no coyness in my reply to him when I say that I am very happy to accept the amendments which he now proposes. I believe that they will be an improvement to the Bill and I am most grateful to him for spotting a possible defect in the drafting which had escaped our notice.
§ The Deputy Speaker (Lord Alport)
My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I shall put Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 en bloc.
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 8 not moved.]
Baroness Birk moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 2, Amendment No. 9:
Subsection (2)(c), at end insert—
("( ) give the strategic guidance mentioned in paragraph 2(4)(c) of Part I of Schedule 1 to this Act.").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment deals with the question of strategic guidance, but the House will no doubt be pleased to hear that I shall not raise again the question as to what exactly the guidance will say or what form it will take. Frankly, on this side of the House, we do not feel that the Government are going to be able to tell us any more than the sparse comments they have offered up to date. As I said earlier, I am prepared to give the Government amendment a small cheer, but as it now stands it is deficient because it fails to give the joint committee a positive role in the new planning system. Its responsibilities as set out in the Government amendment are singularly rather vague. If such a committee is to bring together the collective knowledge of London which the borough councils undoubtedly have, it surely makes sense to use this resource to prepare the strategic planning guidance instead of leaving it to be done by rather more remote civil servants in Whitehall.
Moreover, such a role for the Secretary of State is quite unnecessary. Perhaps I may briefly explain. SERPLAN has recently published its consultative regional statement. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, that my copy has finally arrived. I have it with me. Representatives of more than 140 local authorities in South-East England have co-operated in this work. The foreward of the document states:
It is the first stage in a process intended to provide a fresh and effective context for planning in the region in the 1990s. The Secretary of State for his part has agreed to consider any proposals conference may put to him concerning the updating and extension of the Government's current regional strategic guidance for land use planning".
So, therefore, out of this will come a new Government statement of strategic guidance for London and its regions.
§ That seems to be a perfectly proper exercise of Whitehall responsibility, giving its views on the broad direction of regional development. But why, I wonder, do the Government see a further role for themselves in issuing guidance at a much more detailed level within London for the borough unitary plans? They are not going to do this anywhere else in the region, just within London. The Government may have been reluctant to relinquish their role when the Bill contained no planning body representative of the boroughs; but as of this afternoon, when the amendment moved by the Minister was accepted, it now does. Therefore, we have a rather different scenario at the moment, and this makes an added case for the amendment I am moving.
§ The authorities, acting through the joint committee, are surely capable of preparing strategic guidance relevant to their individual needs and compatible with the Government's overall regional framework. We are being told all the time that it is not accepted that the boroughs are capable of meeting the responsibilities which the Government are giving them. It therefore seems rather odd that the Government should feel that in this instance they have to behave quite differently, and differently from the rest of the South-East region, by expecting the guidance to be given in London by the Secretary of State.
§ In addition, this amendment would not interfere with the unitary plan proposals in the Bill. In short, here is an opportunity for the Government to offer 1077 more devolution of planning responsibilities to the boroughs and remove at least one of Whitehall's many fingers in the post-abolition pie. I commend this amendment to the House. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Stedman
My Lords, as the noble Baroness has said, Amendment No. 9 is designed to give the joint planning committee a real job of work to do. At the moment, as I see it, the committee is to perform a useful role as a kind of forum within which views about the area can be expressed and analysed. However, there is no requirement for that body to commit its views in writing or for the local planning authority to have any proper regard for those views. In short, the boroughs can agree to disagree and very little will have been gained in the process.
If, on the other hand, the boroughs, sitting on their joint planning committee, are required to issue guidance for the planning over the wider area, then they will have been given a task. This would have the effect of bringing them together in a common piece of work. Such guidance would be similar to that which the Government will issue if the amendment is not carried.
If the amendment is carried, that guidance to be given will remain in local hands, such as the structure planning in the counties is in local control at the moment. The amendment would leave the same powers in the hands of the Secretary of State as those which he currently enjoys and which, even under this Bill, he will continue to enjoy in the shire counties. It would not prejudice his right to give any national or regional guidance. Neither would it affect the Secretary of State's power to call in, if he felt it was appropriate, or to intervene in the making of, land use plans.
In other words, it is the distribution of power between national and local level which will be left as it is at the moment, with no need for the Secretary of State to take closer control of local affairs. I join with the noble Baroness in making a very strong plea for the joint planning committee to be given a real job of work to do, in order to ensure that it remains active and effective.
In the future arrangements under this Bill there will be considerable call on local councillors' time in order to meet the demands of the various joint committees and the other arrangements which have been made. Without a definite function in mind for the joint planning committee, there is every chance that it will decline in its importance, in terms of the time which local councillors are willing to devote to it. It will therefore decline in influence also. That would be a very great pity, given the very important job that has still to be tackled, to bring about much needed economic and environmental change within the area.
§ Lord Sandford
My Lords, I am very glad to hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, that she has received a copy of the SERPLAN document, which I sent as long ago as 22nd May to noble Lords who were participating in our debates on this issue, with the rather different purpose of helping those taking part to see the need for the kind of body that we now have in the Bill. But I believe that both noble Baronesses are going too far with their Amendment No. 9.
1078 The SERPLAN document also shows regional strategic guidance in course of preparation. What is contained in its pages at the moment is the fruits of the efforts of a number of working parties set up between local planning authorities and industries such as those concerned with sand and gravel, cement and building. The document is now out for consultation with all the local planning authorities in London and the South-East. That is to say, it is strategic guidance being prepared. That is the word which the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, used and it is an entirely appropriate function for the new committee we have just incorporated into the Bill.
That in itself is more than enough work for those authorities to be engaged in, but when it comes to the final stage—namely, the issuing of the strategic guidance which has been prepared for the Secretary of State—that is a job for the Secretary of State and not for the joint committee or the separate local planning authorities. The reason it is so important for the Secretary of State to issue the guidance is that he is then tied in to the decisions incorporated in the final document and obliged to have regard to them when he calls in matters for his own decision and receives reports from his inspectors. If he has issued the guidance which has been prepared for him by the local planning authorities, he is much more closely bound to have regard to them in the planning decisions he finally makes. That is why it is not appropriate for the newly-constituted planning body for London to give the strategic guidance. That is going too far.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, perhaps your Lordships will allow a brief intervention if I apologise for not being in my place when the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, moved this amendment. I shall be very brief.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, put it, the joint committee should be given "a real job of work to do". That involves granting mandatory, statutory executive functions in this sphere; the issue of what my noble friend has called, quite rightly, strategic guidance. That is a matter for the Secretary of State and I suggest that the amendment is therefore inappropriate.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I am most obliged to my noble friend Lord Sandford for really sufficient exposition of why I myself am opposed to this amendment, and I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway for his support of this. Perhaps I ought nonetheless to parade my credentials in resisting the amendment—or both Amendments Nos. 9 and 20, which embody the proposals of the noble Baronesses concerning strategic guidance.
We propose in the Bill that strategic guidance should come from the Secretary of State. The model for that strategic guidance will be the letters issued in the South-East by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, to which I referred before and which are available for your Lordships to see in the Library. So neither the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, nor I need go on about what is going to be in them.
The noble Baroness will see that they are not very detailed matters, as she seemed to think we would be producing if this amendment is not carried. We expect the guidance to cover population, housing, industry 1079 and so on, but in general terms. The joint committee will have a positive role, as my noble friend has said, in pulling together the views of the boroughs and putting them into the guidance.
The noble Baroness, on the contrary, has proposed that the guidance should come from the joint committee. In my view, there are at least two sound and conclusive reasons why that should not be so. First, it is always the Secretary of State who must in the end make strategic decisions. I previously cited the M.25 ring road and the third London airport as examples, and I quote them again. Secondly, as decisions of that kind cannot be taken by a joint committee of London boroughs because they affect areas far outside the areas for which alone they are responsible and indeed take place there, so the guidance which infers what strategic decisions may be taken cannot be given by them either.
Strategic guidance cannot be given by a substrategic body because it is in no position to grasp the strategic issues and has no reason whatever to subordinate its own substrategic interests to the truly strategic interests of the region.
I shall not now rehearse again the workings of the unitary planning system, or list again its benefits and safeguards. The issue before us now is a simpler one. It is simply this: should the strategic guidance, which local planning authorities in London bear in mind as they draw up their plans, come from the London authorities themselves, as the noble Baroness proposes, or from the genuinely strategic authority of the Secretary of State? That authority, I should remind your Lordships, will be informed, through the new committee, of the pan-London issues and the views thereon of the London boroughs. The Secretary of State will not operate in ignorance, nor in a policy vacuum and many—indeed, most—pan-London issues will, of course, remain to the boroughs themselves to decide. But it must, I think, be obvious to your Lordships that London cannot be left to develop its own strategy within the South-East region, and I ask your Lordships to reject these amendments as firmly as the others which the noble Baroness has brought forward.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply—I think that is the courteous thing to say—but I cannot say that he has convinced me in the slightest degree; nor has the noble Lord, Lord Sandford. I was not under any impression that the guidance was going to be in extreme detail, but even in its broad brush attempt it would still be special guidance for London coming from the Secretary of State rather than regional guidance. There would then be the joint committee giving the guidance as mentioned in the Bill.
I can only go back to what I said. It seems that the proper exercise of the Secretary of State's authority is to give views on the broad direction of regional development, but I am afraid there has not been a very clear or acceptable answer to the question of why the Government see a further role for themselves in issuing guidance at a much more detailed level within London. With great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, what he said against the amendment is almost contrary to what I may call the philosophy 1080 running through his plan; but that is a point for him, not for me. It seems a great pity, having moved the amendment this afternoon which alters the picture—I am sure the Minister will agree with that—that the Minister does not see that this would be a much clearer, simpler and more economic way of going about things. Therefore, I wish to test the feeling of the House.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 9) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 122; Not-Contents, 171.1082
|DIVISION NO. 2|
|Airedale, L.||Kilmarnock, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Kirkhill, L.|
|Attlee, E.||Leatherland, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Listowel, E.|
|Banks, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.|
|Barnett, L.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Lockwood, B.|
|Birk, B.||Longford, E.|
|Blyton, L.||Lovell-Davies, L.|
|Boothby, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Mackie of Benshie, L.|
|Bottomley, L.||McNair, L.|
|Broadbridge, L.||Mais, L.|
|Brockway, L.||Mayhew, L.|
|Buckmaster, V.||Melchett, L.|
|Burton of Coventry, B.||Meston, L.|
|Caradon, L.||Mishcon, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Monson, L.|
|Chitnis, L.||Morton of Shuna, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Mountevans, L.|
|Collison, L.||Mulley, L.|
|Crawshaw of Aintree, L.||Nicol, B.|
|Darling of Hillsborough, L.||Northfield, L.|
|David, B.||Ogmore, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Oram, L.|
|Davies of Penrhys, L.||Parry, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Denington, B.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Donoughue, L.||Rathcreedan, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Rea, L.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Ezra, L.||Roberthall, L.|
|Falkender, B.||Robson of Kiddington, B.|
|Falkland, V.||Seear, B.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Serota, B.|
|Fletcher, L.||Shackleton, L.|
|Gaitskell, B.||Shepherd, L.|
|Gallacher, L.||Silkin of Dulwich, L.|
|Galpern, L.||Stallard, L.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Stedman, B. [Teller.]|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Grey, E.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Hanworth, V.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Hatch of Lusby, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Hirshfield, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Hunt, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Irving of Dartford, L.||Walston, L.|
|Jacobson, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Jacques, I.||Wigoder, L.|
|Jeger, B.||Willis, L.|
|Jenkins of Putney, L.||Wilson of Langside, L.|
|John-Mackie, L.||Wilson of Rievaulx, L.|
|Kagan, L.||Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.|
|Kearton, L.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Kennet, L.||Wootton of Abinger, B.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Hylton-Foster, B.|
|Allerton, L.||Inglewood, L.|
|Alport, L.||Ingrow, L.|
|Annaly, L.||Ironside, L.|
|Annan, L.||Kaberry of Adel, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Kemsley, V.|
|Barber, L.||Keyes, L.|
|Bathurst, E.||Killearn, L.|
|Bauer, L.||Kilmany, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Kimball, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Kinnaird, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Lane-Fox, B.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Layton, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Lindsey and Abingdon, E.|
|Brookes, L.||Loch, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Long, V.|
|Cairns, E.||Lyell, L.|
|Caithness, E.||McAlpine of West Green, L.|
|Caldecote, V.||McFadzean, L.|
|Cameron of Lochbroom, L.||Mackintosh of Halifax, V.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Mancroft, L.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Marley, L.|
|Chelwood, L.||Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon, L.|
|Clitheroe, L.||Merrivale, L.|
|Coleraine, L.||Mersey, V.|
|Constantine of Stanmore, L.||Middleton, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Milverton, L.|
|Cowley, E.||Molson, L.|
|Cox, B.||Mottistone, L.|
|Craigavon, E.||Mountgarret, V.|
|Craigmyle, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Craigton, L.||Munster, E.|
|Crawshaw, L.||Murton of Lindisfame, L.|
|Croft, L.||Nairne, Ly.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Dacre of Glanton, L.||Onslow, E.|
|Darcy (de Knayth), B.||Orkney, E.|
|Davidson, V.||Peel, E.|
|De Freyne, L.||Pender, L.|
|De La Warr, E.||Peyton of Yeovil, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Plummer of St Marylebone, L.|
|Digby, L.||Porritt, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Radnor, E.|
|Dudley, E.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Eccles, V.||Reay, L.|
|Eden of Winton, L.||Reigate, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Renton, L.|
|Elles, B.||Renwick, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Rochdale, V.|
|Elliott of Morpeth, L.||Rodney, L.|
|Elton, L.||Romney, E.|
|Faithfull, B.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Fanshawe of Richmond, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Forbes, L.||Sanderson of Bowden, L.|
|Forester, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Savile, L.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Freyberg, L.||Sharpies, B.|
|Gardner of Parkes, B.||Shaughnessy, L.|
|Glenarthur, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Gowrie, E.||Slim, V.|
|Gray of Contin, L.||Somers, L.|
|Greenway, L.||Stockton, E.|
|Gridley, L.||Stodart of Leaston, L.|
|Grimthorpe, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Halsbury, E.||Swinton, E. [Teller.]|
|Hannar-Nicholls, L.||Taylor of Hadfield, L.|
|Harvey of Tasburgh, L.||Terrington, L.|
|Harvington, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Hemphill, L.||Thomas of Swynnerton, L.|
|Henley, L.||Townshend, M.|
|Holderness, L.||Tranmire, L.|
|Home of the Hirsel, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Hood, V.||Trumpington, B.|
|Hooper, B.||Ullswater, V.|
|Vaux of Harrowden, L.||Wise, L.|
|Vickers, B.||Wolfson, L.|
|Vinson, L.||Wynford, L.|
|Vivian, L.||Yarborough, E.|
|Westbury, L.||Young, B.|
|Whitelaw, V.||Young of Graffham, L|
|Windlesham, L.||Zouche of Haryngworth, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ [Amendments Nos. 10, 11 and 12 not moved]
§ Clause 6 [National Parks and countryside functions]:
Lord Melchett moved Amendment No. 13:
Page 4, line 2, after ("countryside") insert ("and areas for urban nature conservation").
§ The noble Lord said: This amendment would insert in Clause 6, in a part of the clause which was added by your Lordships' House at the Committee stage of the Bill, the words "and areas for urban nature conservation". The purpose of the amendment is to ask the Government to make a statement about their intentions, in particular in regard to the ecology unit of the Greater London Council and ecologists working for the metropolitan councils. I think this was a subject which some of us expected to come up at Report stage but which did not do so for various reasons.
§ I hope the Government will be able to give me and any other of your Lordships who are interested in this an assurance that the statement which they will now have to make under Clause 6, subsection (2), will include detailed information about the future of these ecologists—where they will be working and how they will be funded. I hope that the Government will be able to give us a positive assurance today that they intend that these very small teams of expert staff will be kept together and a home will be found for them, first in the residuary body and then in some other place.
§ I am aware that the Government answered a question about this subject, for Written Answer yesterday, which was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, that went some way at least to describing the mechanisms which the Government have available to ensure that ecological services continue. I do not think it went quite as far as I hope the Government will be able to go today in giving your Lordships an assurance that those services will actually continue. My Lords, I beg to move.
My Lords, as I moved the main amendments on the subject of urban nature conservation on the 2nd May and the debate was concluded on 7th May, prehaps I may add a few words. I am very grateful to noble Lords in all parts of the House who supported those amendments on that occasion. We seemed to be pretty unanimous about them. The reason they had to be put down was there was no provision made in the Bill for the continuation of urban nature conservation by the districts and boroughs after abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan counties. The burden of our argument on that occasion, when these amendments were 1083 moved, was that ecological advice is far better provided at Greater London and metropolitan county levels than dispersed to the boroughs and districts. I think all those who spoke argued that it would be more economical and more efficient to do it in that way.
The amendments sought to make it obligatory for the boroughs and districts to carry out what most of us regard as their duties in these respects; but I confess that I was wrong in going beyond the Long Title of the Bill and trying to make it obligatory using the Bill as a vehicle. It was the wrong vehicle. As we have no rules, perhaps I did not actually err from them, but if I did I certainly owe noble Lords an apology. Since the Committee stage I have had several discussions with a number of my noble friends, including my noble friends Lord Elton and Lord Skelmersdale, and indeed I have been in correspondence with Mr. Kenneth Baker. I have had nothing but helpfulness. Unfortunately, during the Report stage this subject somehow was lost. I was away myself, being a little bit under the weather, and that could have been part of the reason. Anyhow it was lost, and I think that this was probably the reason why my noble friend answered a Written Question which I put down, still having anxieties about this, which appeared in today's Hansard. I shall be extremely brief, but if I may I shall quote just one sentence from the Department of the Environment Circular No. 108 of 1977 which was referred to in that Written Question. It comes from paragraph 2:The Secretaries of State look to local authorities to take full account of natural conservation factors both in formulating structure and local plans and in the consideration of individual planning applications".That was as long ago as 1977. Last month we had the White Paper, which is the Government's reply to the first report from the Environment Committee of the House of Commons—I confess that I found most of the White Paper very disappointing, but we are not discussing that now—and in it there is a nugget which says the same thing in even more forthright terms. When I went to see my noble friend—he will not mind my saying this—I had the White Paper with me and I wrote "Aha!", against paragraph 4 in large red letters. He read it upside down and did not seem displeased. Paragraph 4 reads as follows:As the Report [the House of Commons Report] points out, there has been something of a revolution in attitudes to countryside issues in the last five years. Conservation is not now an optional extra with which land use and agricultrural policies are decorated, but is built into the structure of policy-making, as it should be".I think that that quotation says everything that we have been talking about and makes it perfectly clear that the Government wish to achieve what we have been asking them to achieve.
I am not sure that this amendment is entirely necessary. It might very well be wrapped up already in the clause which it seeks to amend. I am not certain about that. But I see absolutely no harm in this amendment. At any rate, it has served the purpose of enabling me to round off a subject about which we have had a lot of debate, and it is clearly a subject to which noble Lords in all parts of the House—and indeed Members in another place—attach great importance. I hope therefore that my noble friend will feel able to accept this amendment.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, seeks to add the words, "areas for urban nature conservation", to the matters on which my right honourable friend will be required to lay a report before Parliament under Clause 6(2) of the Bill. Your Lordships will remember that that was added to the Bill in Committee.
Before addressing myself to the merits of the case, I should make it clear that, as with other amendments carried in Committee against Government advice, we still have to take a final view on that subsection. Subject to that, we will also wish to look at the drafting to see whether any technical improvements are needed. That said, however, I accept that there is much force in the noble Lord's argument that any report on countryside matters should also cover nature conservation areas within the towns.
Indeed, no one listening to or reading our debates in Committee could have the slightest doubt that when your Lordships agreed to what is now Clause 6(2) urban sites allocated to conservation were uppermost in your minds. Whether temporary or permanent, those facilities clearly play an important part in introducing city dwellers to the countryside. In the light of the great interest shown in the House, I would certainly envisage that they would be covered in any report on facilities for the protection and enjoyment of the countryside.
The noble Lord asked about the future of ecology units. As he well knows, Clause 88 of the Bill, which is based on the powers used by the GLC to collect ecological information and to undertake research into the natural environment, also provides for the borough and district councils to make schemes for London or county-wide research and information activities. The co-ordinating committee to be established in each area will have a specific duty to consider, and where desirable promote, the making of such schemes. That statement was in the Written Answer that my noble friend Lord Elton gave to my noble friend Lord Chelwood.
I readily accept that the noble Lord does not feel that that goes far enough. I suspect what he wants is 100 per cent., and a 100 per cent. assurance from the Government. But as we have made clear from this Dispatch Box all along, it is absolutely impossible to give that assurance in such concrete terms. It will be for the successor bodies—in this case the borough and district councils—to decide what use they wish to make of those powers. In order to concentrate their minds, in the later stages of the Bill we have made provision to give the residuary bodies a catalytic role—so ineptly and inaptly named, as the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, pointed out, I seem to remember, on one occasion.
In spite of that we have provided in the Bill that as long as the successor bodies want those to continue—and I have no reason to suppose that they do not want them to continue—every facility will be given to them to continue. Having said that, I return to the amendment. Subject to the reconsideration of Clause 6(2) which I have already mentioned, I am willing to accept the amendment without of course any commitment on the wider context.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, may I ask him whether he agrees that in supporting the amendment as a matter of construction "countryside" could not conceivably include an area of urban nature conservation such as the garden of a redundant church, and that it is appropriate to have this amendment in the statute when it becomes law?
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, I would agree that an urban conservation area would not be included in the word "countryside", but I would have expected, and I am so advised, that it would be included in the phrase currently in Clause 6(2)—"wider county areas".
§ Lord Melchett
My Lords, it is nice to have agreement from the noble Lord. I am very grateful indeed to him. Two things that he said gave me a great deal of encouragement. First, I think he said that he had no reason to believe that the successor authorities would not wish the ecological services provided by the G LC and the other metropolitan counties to continue. That matter has been subject to considerable debate, as the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, pointed out, as the Bill has been going through your Lordships' House and indeed another place. I am sure that if there were any reasons for the successor authorities not to wish the services to continue, the Government would have heard about them by now; so what the noble Lord said must be encouraging.
Secondly, I am very encouraged indeed that the noble Lord has agreed to accept the amendment and that we shall therefore have a Government Statement about the future of those services in due course. With many thanks on my behalf, on behalf of the many people who will be affected and on behalf of the many more who believe that nature conservation and the ecological services are important in metropolitan areas, I commend the amendment to your Lordships.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 21 [Consultation with inner London boroughs and the City]:
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Arts (The Earl of Gowrie) moved Amendment No. 14:
Page 17, line 14, leave out ("or as the Secretary of State may direct").
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, this amendment deletes from Clause 21 the power for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science to direct the new Inner London Education Authority to provide specified information to the inner London boroughs or the City for the purposes of the consultation required by this clause between the new authority and those councils.
§ As I explained on Report, the power for my right honourable friend to direct the new ILEA to provide specified information is of a different kind to his other powers under this clause. If the new ILEA does not comply with a reasonable request for information, the councils will be able to seek effective remedy through the courts. The power of direction is therefore on reflection unnecessary.1086
§ The amendment fulfils an undertaking which I gave to the noble Baroness, Lady David, on Report to delete the power of direction. I have pleasure in honouring that commitment. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend perhaps I may say that we are delighted to see that the Government have honoured their word and tabled the amendment; but I still have to say that it does not go far enough. It does not alter the substantive content of the clause which will force ILEA, which will be a directly elected education authority, to consult authorities with no specific educational responsibilities on its budget and policy objectives. No other education authority is subject to such consultation and constraint. As has been said before, we consider that the whole clause is unnecessary. However, half or even quarter of a loaf is better than none, and we welcome the amendment.
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
My Lords, I should like briefly to say that although I support the existing amendment, I should have been very unhappy had my noble friend moved any further amendment on the subject. I think that the consultation is absolutely necessary, particularly in view of the vast amount paid by the cities of Westminster and London for the education of the whole of London. Consultation is essential.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 48 [Grants to voluntary organizations]:
§ Lord Elton moved Amendment No. 15:
Page 31, line 20, at end insert—
("( ) Each constituent council in Greater London or a metropolitan county shall exercise its functions under this section, and under any scheme made under this section, with due regard to the needs of the whole of Greater London or that county, as the case may be, and each scheme shall provide for those needs to be kept under review.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, at Report stage the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), tabled an amendment which would have required each of the constituent councils in a scheme under Clause 48 to carry out an annual review of the needs of the inhabitants of the whole of London or the county. I explained the difficulty with that particular formulation. I was especially concerned lest we oblige each of the authorities to prepare its own report on the whole area. The result might have been a host of independent reports, many of them perhaps in conflict with each other. That seemed to us not to be the best way to achieve what we all wanted, which was for grant applications to be considered against the background of an assessment of local need across the whole county or across Greater London, as the case might be.
§ On the strength of an assurance that I would try to meet the principle of what the noble Baroness was after, she withdrew her amendment. I believe that this amendment meets the concern expressed in particular by the noble Baroness that Clause 48 should not operate in a "policy vacuum".
§ The amendment will impose two clear requirements on the borough and district councils. First, they set up collective arrangements. They will have to provide for 1087 county-and London-wide needs to be assessed. There will be a continuing requirement for the scheme to provide for an up-to-date assessment of need. I do not propose that this should be an annual requirement. We do not want the review of needs to turn into a yearly bureaucratic exercise by town hall officials, nor do we want it to be intermittent. Instead, we are looking for a continuing and evolving assessment for the problems. This is something to which the voluntary sector may well themselves contribute. The way in which the review is carried out will be for the authorities to decide. But there will be an unavoidable requirement to keep needs under review. It will be written into the legislation itself. At earlier stages I had taken the view that we could assume that it would be good local authority practice to do this, but now there will be no question about it; needs will have to be reviewed.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ As well as reviewing needs of the wider area, we must also be sure that those needs are taken into account. The amendment now before us goes further than the one we considered at Report stage. Local authorities will now be required to have regard to these wider needs, both in establishing a collective grant-giving scheme and in making decisions about grants and a grants budget. They will have to act on their assessement of need. That is the second important part of this amendment—it deals with the fear of a policy vacuum.
§ It would not be appropriate at this stage for me to rehearse the measures we have already announced to protect the voluntary organisation affected by this legislation. That is on the record. This clause and the amendment before us give specific power to local authorites jointly to fund county-wide activities of voluntary organisations, enshrined in law, with the force of law. It should be evidence enough of the Government's intentions, but if intentions are not enough, let me assure the House that it is also our will. I am sure there is no single borough or district which is so ill-disposed towards voluntary organisations that it would not readily join with its neighbours in continuing to support worthwhile voluntary organisations funded by the GLC and metropolitan county councils. I have made it clear that the local government finance arrangements will be adjusted so that boroughs and districts are not disadvantaged by abolition. They will have the resources available to take on this extended responsibility for grant aiding the voluntary sector, and I shall ensure that they understand this point.
§ The Government nevertheless understand the fears of voluntary organisations, which are largely fears about the unknown. Throughout the progress of the Bill our door has been open to them. We have on many occasions met representatives of voluntary organisations. We shall carefully monitor progress on the implementation of the Bill when enacted, and our doors will continue to be open to the voluntary organisations to discuss any problems which arise.
§ That is my undertaking for the future. More immediately, I understand that this amendment is very welcome to the voluntary sector. It is a real 1088 strengthening of the Clause 48 arrangements and I hope that it will find support from all sides of your Lordships' House. I beg to move.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, having spoken in favour of this amendment at the last stage, perhaps I may acknowledge with gratitude the form in which the spirit has materialised and also the way in which my noble friend has given a helpful explanation.
Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)
My Lords, I should like to welcome this amendment most warmly and also to thank the Minister for his very full explanation to the effect that it has the force of the law behind it. The amendment does all that the Minister undertook to do at Report stage—to ensure that any scheme set up addresses itself as a whole to the needs of the entire area. I think it is true to say that some of the voluntary organisations would have liked an annual review, but I think equally one can argue that it is preferable to keep matters under continuous review and, as the Minister has said, that it is not intermittent.
I particularly like three points about the Minister's amendment. First, the review of needs is linked specifically to what the constituent councils actually do, so that it cannot become a mere paper exercise. Secondly, I think his modified "needs" are a great improvement on my social "needs". Thirdly, as well as having a collective responsibility to keep the needs of the area under review, each and every constituent council is encouraged to adjust its perspective beyond its own boundaries when carrying out its functions under this clause.
In these respects I agree that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, is better than the one that I moved on Report. The voluntary organisations are happy with it. As the noble Lord the Minister said, they had been very worried over a long period of time throughout this Bill and they welcome this amendment. I thank the Minister very much indeed.
The Lord Bishop of Rochester
My Lords, as I supported the noble Baroness in the original amendment she moved, I should like to thank the Minister not only for the amendment, but I think rather more particularly for his speech and for the way in which he made it clear to the House that he understood the fears, the undoubted fears, of the voluntary organisations in certain parts of London. I should like to thank him for the assurance that he has given the House that his door will remain open—I think that was the phrase he used—and that the process will be carefully monitored in the months and years ahead. I am as grateful to him for that assurance, which will be in the written record of the House, as I am for the amendment.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede moved Amendment No. 16:
Page 31, line 28, at end insert—
("; for the avoidance of doubt a regional tourist board is a voluntary organisation for the purpose of this section.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the amendment standing in my name. Most noble Lords will have their own concept of what is a voluntary 1089 organisation. That probably does not include a regional tourist board. However, the definition given in this clause clearly embraces regional tourist boards. They are non-profit-making and they directly or indirectly benefit the area concerned.
§ I have tabled this amendment in order to give the Minister the opportunity publicly to confirm the statement made by his right honourable friend the Secretary of State in a letter to the chairman of the London Tourist Board, now renamed the London Visitor and Convention Bureau, that that board and therefore other regional boards come within the category of voluntary organisations which may receive funding under this clause.
§ Perhaps I may add that I was intrigued to learn from the English Tourist Board this afternoon that after waiting for over a month for clarification of this matter from the Department of Trade and Industry, it received a letter at lunchtime today from the department, confirming the eligibility of regional tourist hoards under this clause. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
My Lords, I am a little puzzled. The amendment contains the words, "for the avoidance of doubt". Putting in those words has created a doubt that was never previously there. It is perfectly clear to everybody who knows anything about this matter that the regional tourist boards are non-profit-making, non-statutory, and fall very clearly, without any doubt, within the scope of Clause 48 as it stands. I believe that it would be a mistake to indicate, by these words at this stage, that there was a doubt in the matter when there was no doubt at all. It weakens, rather than strengthens, what the noble Lord wants.
§ Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may inform him that the English Tourist Board was concerned about this and it wrote for clarification, as it had some doubt.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, I welcome this amendment being tabled for clarification. I hope that the noble Lord will be satisfied, when the matter has been investigated, that notwithstanding delays, there is no doubt at all. Regional tourist boards are established on a voluntary basis and, as I see it, they fall within Clause 48.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I am so glad to meet the phrase "for the avoidance of doubt" even peripherally in a statute. I am reminded of a correspondence which I am told took place in The Times, about the turn of the century, when the pond in St. James's Park was drained and the soft mud was exposed below. A letter appeared in The Times from the Chancellor, saying that he had been walking in St. James's and had seen some wagtails there, leaving their imprints on the mud of the pond and that at this time of year it was unusual; for the avoidance of doubt, these were pied wagtails and not grey wagtails. The next day but one there appeared a letter in The Times saying that the individ- 1090 ual who wrote it had been in St. James's innocently pursuing his pastimes in the soft mud of the recently drained pond when he saw a Chancellor go by; for the avoidance of doubt, this was a Chancellor of the Exchequer and not a Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. That may be thought irrelevant to the debate, but I could not resist the pleasure of sharing it with your Lordships.
The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulhrede, asked a short question, and I can give him a short answer. I can assure him that any body whose activities are not carried on for profit and which is not a public or local authority does fall within the definition of voluntary organisations in Clause 48. So long as regional tourist boards are constituted in this way, they will come within the category of voluntary organisations which may receive funding under a Clause 48 scheme as they have, I understand, this afternoon—somewhat belatedly, I confess—learned themselves.
§ Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 59 [Redundancy and compensation payments]:
§ Lord Dean of Beswick moved Amendment No. 17:
Page 41, line 19, at beginning insert—
("( ) The Residuary Body in each of the metropolitan county areas or Greater London as appropriate shall exercise its functions in relation to the payment of redundancy payments and compensation to persons not designated by the Secretary of State in accordance with section 52 in accordance with the provisions of this section, and the Secretary of State shall exercise his powers under section 53 in accordance with the provisions of this section.
( ) Regulations made by the Secretary of State under section 53(2) above shall not provide for compensation which is less beneficial in any respect than the compensation payable under the provisions of the Greater London Council Housing (Compensation) Regulations 1980 to persons entitled to compensation thereunder.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I shall speak as briefly as possible, although my remarks might have been even shorter had I not been silenced when this subject was last before your Lordships at Report stage by the action of the Deputy Leader of the House at the instigation of the Government Chief Whip. Most of what I intend to say now could have been said then. However, what happened then necessitates my going through the exercise now.
§ The amendment relates to the functions of the residuary body for the payment of redundancy and other compensation to former staff. Clause 53 limits compensation for loss of employment or diminution of emoluments. Except where a person has an entitlement by virtue of contractual rights acquired before 2nd March 1984, payments shall be made in accordance with regulations made by the Secretary of State.
§ Some of these regulations already exist. The Government have indicated that there may be further regulations to deal with abolition, but these will only introduce minor improvements relating to redundancy. They will be inadequate in my opinion to cope with the number of redundancies anticipated. 1091 This amendment will ensure that all staff receive compensation in accordance with terms available in previous statutory reorganisations. These terms, known as the Crombie code, orginated with the setting up of the National Health Service in 1948 and were applied when the GLC was set up in 1965. Every reorganisation of local government since then has made use of the code. Its terms are enshrined in 23 sets of regulations between 1964 and 1980.
§ The Government broke with these arrangements in 1980 and reorganised the Health Service at that time without the code. They argued that the code's provisions were complex and could be replaced by individual arrangements. Despite these statements, the compensation arrangements proposed in the Bill cannot be expected to do what Crombie did; namely, to provide a reasonable income to retirement age for those who have lost their jobs and compensate those forced to take lower paid posts. The Government have so far given no indication of how they propose to meet the needs of those who are forced into a lower income. The Government argue that abolition is not an exercise in putting people out of work. In fact, the quantification at present is that 7,100 posts in net terms will disappear as a result of abolition.
§ The last reorganisation of local government, which is still in process, was the transfer of GLC housing to the boroughs. The latest round of redundancies in this area will be announced later this year. The order made in 1980 confers Crombie benefits. In other words, two reorganisations which affect staff in the same authority will be proceeding on different terms of compensation. I find it hard to see how the Government justify this line of thinking or the imposition of such a policy. Crombie is more important, not less, in the current reorganisation, because there will be widescale redundancies as functions are dispersed to successor bodies. The protection of staff is even more important where institutions are to be removed without replacement.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ I should like for a moment to cast minds back to the Minister's reply at Report stage. The noble Lord, Lord Rochester, in not moving an amendment, referred to the fact that he understood that negotiations were taking place at the time and that he did not want to pre-empt or intrude on any such negotiations. I believe that I recall the Minister saying in his reply that no negotiations were taking place. However, on the same evening, in reply to another amendment, the Minister said that discussions were taking place between certain people. I think that he referred to certain staff, or the representatives of staff, within the West Mislands metropolitan county. Anyone who has been involved in negotiations of any kind knows that discussions always precede the formal negotiations. I should therefore like to ask the Minister whether there has been any development in these discussions which may go some way to resolve the difficult situation in which many staff who are to be displaced and made redundant as a result of the Government's Bill will find themselves.1092
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
My Lords, I should like to support my noble friend Lord Dean. I know that we have already received some assurances from the noble Lord regarding the staff commission. I speak with some experience as one of three people who served on the new towns staff commission. As a staff commission, we visited all the local authorities concerned while the transfer of housing was going on. We met not only the local authorities but also all members of the staff. We regarded that as a necessary function. We recognised that in any reorganisation those who earn their living in local government or public service have normally given many years to that service and are therefore worried not only about the loss of their job but often also about the loss of pension rights. This reorganisation takes place in identical circumstances. Many of the staff know full well that there will be no job at the end of the road when the Bill is finally passed. They know it full well because the Government have stated clearly that the idea of the Bill is to save money. My Lords, you only save money, in the long run, by having fewer staff.
It is therefore important that the Government should inform us now if they can say anything about the speed at which the staff commission is moving. While we know that the Bill will go through, it has to be remembered that abolition means that many staff become innocent victims. They have no alternative. They work for the metropolitan counties. If the metropolitan counties are abolished and the district councils do not want to take on the staff of those councils—many of them will not need to do so—this will affect many people who have given years of service. Many of them, who joined the service over 10 years ago, have worked hard to make workable a stratum of local government which the Government feel is unnecessary. They have worked in good faith for a public body believing their jobs to be secure so long as they performed their task well and efficiently and to the best of their ability. We now find that there are differences even between the metropolitan counties because some metropolitan counties were able to put in their bids earlier than others. So there is a difference between the compensation at present paid by different metropolitan authorities.
I say very sincerely to the Minister that he must recognise that these are men and women who have jobs now. They must be adequately safeguarded by adequate compensation for loss of jobs or else jobs must be found for them. Alternatively, redundancy payments and an assurance of the continuation of pension schemes must be made apparent. Perhaps the Minister can tell us how the staff commission is proceeding on those particular points.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, I oppose this amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, referred to the question of negotiations or discussions which arose on the day of the Gold Cup amendments in which the noble Lord, Lord Rochester—who I do not see in his place—played a somewhat enigmatic role as a sort of éminence grise. The noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, is right, because it is relevant to bring those matters which were discussed on Gold Cup day into play on this amendment; it is strictly relevant.
1093 As I understand it, the Government's intention is to issue regulations which will set out scales of compensation. It is understood that, by and large—and no doubt my noble friend the Minister may be able to confirm this—these will not be less generous than those afforded under any existing local government severance scheme. In due course when these regulations are laid before Parliament noble Lords can satisfy themselves as to whether, to use the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, they are adequate, reasonable and fair.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, that the question of compensation is of the utmost importance. Indeed, I believe I said so when I spoke on the amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, moved.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, did not move his first amendment, but he did move his second amendment. I spoke on his second amendment and I have no intention of boring your Lordships by repeating what I said on that occasion. However, it is relevant.
I would suggest that this amendment is premature in two senses: first, because it pre-empts consideration of the regulations which will be laid before your Lordships; and, secondly, because it pre-empts the discussions, which so far, as I understand it, have been inhibited by certain Labour-controlled councils and certain trade unions, to which my noble friend Lord Sandford referred earlier today. Therefore, with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, is it really on, if I may put it that way without any hint of offence, to complain that no indication is given by Her Majesty's Government when, as I understand it, the Government are trying to have sensible discussions and when certain trade unions and certain Labour-controlled councils, for the reason of political opposition to this Bill, are refusing to play ball?
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, for giving way. I should like to refer to something that took place on the last occasion we discussed this particular subject. It is on record that, in reply to one of the amendments, the Minister said that the people involved in this exercise could not be afforded the same rates of redundancy as were afforded on previous occasions. He said that no one could expect the residuary authorities to carry such a burden. I may not have got the words quite right, but I think the message that the noble Lord conveyed to us was that they would not receive the same benefits.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, with respect, I did not understand my noble friend to say or mean that, but my noble friend the Minister must speak for himself. As I understand it, he was really saying that, first, looking at the matter straight up, factually, there is no doubt that these obstructive activities have damaged the interests of staff. Secondly, as I understood it, my noble friend the Minister was saying that it would be wholly unreasonable to seek to indulge 1094 in a sort of cover-up by an over-generous award based on obstruction. I do not think that my noble friend went further and said that these people would in any way be positively or intentionally penalised. But in any event, for those two reasons the amendment is premature, and because it is premature I oppose it.
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
My Lords, unlike my noble friend, I do not use the word "premature"; I think it was long overdue that the Labour Party tabled an amendment concerning the staff which really cared about staff interests. It is very sad that this amendment has been tabled at this stage when it is far too late and far too ill-thought-out for anyone here to support it.
The noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, spoke very well and very clearly from her own experience, but that sort of statement should have been made long ago. As we know, some authorities have adopted an ostrich-like attitude, as have the unions in these authorities, and have said that because the Bill will not go through they will not consider any of these issues on behalf of all these people.
Last week the London Boroughs Association met but they could only bring in the lowest possible level of reserve concessionary fare scheme because the Labour boroughs would not attend. It is high time that the other side realises that this Bill will become law and looks at the interests involved.
On other points, such as that concerned with the Crombie formula, I understand that as long ago as 1980 we were told that that formula would not be used any more. The point has been raised in this House again and again about the difficulties caused by housing transfers in London when people on one level are transferred to a borough which pays on a different level. It is an extremely complex issue and the staff commission will have a great deal of work to do. I hope that good terms and certainly rewards for those who have held their jobs for a long time and find themselves redundant will be achieved. But I do not think that this amendment is the way to do it.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
My Lords, by leave of the House, the noble Baroness has questioned the role of the Opposition Labour Party and its concern for staff. I must remind the noble Baroness that during all stages of this Bill amendments have appeared on the Marshalled List in my name, in the names of members of the Liberal Party and in the name of my noble friend Lord McCarthy, who unfortunately cannot be present today.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord for a moment, perhaps I may point out that the noble Lord is speaking to his own amendment on the Third Reading of an important Bill, and therefore any criticisms and replies that he wishes to make would, within Standing Orders, be pertinently made when he winds up on the amendment rather than by constant intervention.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
My Lords, by leave of the House, may I say that on 20th June I personally asked the other side to speak on that amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, was not willing to move, and they declined to do so.
The Earl of Gowrie
My Lords, Third Reading is usually a reasonably ecumenical occasion and I do not want to reopen the controversies of a previous stage of the Bill. But I must say that I think that the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, taxed our patience a little, at least on this side of the House, and indulged in what I can only call a "whopper", which I would define as a statement exaggerated to a comically intense degree.,
No one muzzled the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, so that he could not represent staff interests, except conceivably his own Chief Whip who concluded—rather erratically, as it happened—that other forms of business, other amendments, might better be taken on the day of the Gold Cup at Ascot, thereby displaying a lamentable lack of knowledge of the private lives of the contemporary Conservative Party.
However, that is water under the bridge. It is simply for me to register that the noble Lord was not prevented on any occasion from dealing with staff matters. I only said at the Report stage of this Bill that I could not reply to him within a time span of something like 15 minutes. I am delighted to reply to him now.
I think that my noble friends have pertinently and trenchantly illustrated a new and rather unpleasant technique in contemporay politics. It is not that one objects to a particular piece of Government legislation—obviously it is the right of the Opposition or of any given local authority to object to the legislation—but by not co-operating with its implementation in any way one then seeks to represent one's own party as somehow being concerned with the interests of those who are affected by the legislation.
The Government have made it clear all along, as I shall spell out in a little more detail in a minute—not at length, because this is the inappropriate place—that we are delighted to engage in discussions about matters which affect the staff. But all but a few of them have been pretty well forcibly prevented from engaging in discussions with us.
I really do not think that this is the moment to go over all the ground on this issue, as I spoke at some length in responding to amendments tabled at earlier stages, and I hope that the House will accept this. I do not propose to dwell either on the specific defects of the amendment except to point out that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will make the compensation regulations under Section 24 of the Superannuation Act 1972 rather than under this Bill. Moreover, Clause 59 of this Bill does not place any liability on the residuary bodies to make compensation payments to former GLC and MCC staff under those regulations. That too will be specified in the regulations. In explanation, Clause 59 concerns only statutory redundancy payments and compensation payments to which staff may be entitled under their former contracts of employment.
These distinctions are not just legal or academic niceties but serve to demonstrate the significance—the significance for the staff themselves—of the compensation regulations which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is committed to make. As I have emphasised throughout the various debates we 1096 have had on compensation issues, we would prefer to make those regulations in the light of discussions and negotiations with the unions and employers concerned. That is the usual and proper way of doing things.
This amendment would render such discussion irrelevant except perhaps at the margins. It would specify the compensation terms that would be available to staff. Moreover, it would specify that the terms would be those which have been available under the Crombie code, which are the terms for which the 1980 GLC regulations provide. As I explained at Committee stage, and also on Report, the experience of the London housing transfers has been one of the factors which persuaded us not to adopt the staff arrangements which have applied to previous reorganisations.
Those GLC housing staff transfers have taken place on Crombie terms as provided by the 1980 regulations. In the same year (as we said in our original White Paper, Streamlining the Cities), we made clear that the Crombie terms would be withdrawn. This amendment would require us to go back on that commitment.
As I have explained, the Crombie code was drawn up many years ago. We live now in harsher and more straitened times and those terms are no longer relevant or appropriate to reorganisations such as this one. Even the MCCs themselves have recognised this. Not only would Crombie terms be more generous than those we have proposed, but they would also be more generous than those available under the various local severance schemes which the MCCs have introduced in anticipation of their demise.
The proper way to settle compensation terms is through negotiation and constructive discussion. On redundancy terms, our offer is on the table. It has been there since November. We shall shortly issue proposals on compensation for financial detriment. As I made clear to your Lordships on Report, if the unions come to the negotiating table they will not find us inflexible, but equally they too have to be realistic.
The invitation is there. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has written to the chairman of the TUC Local Government Committee urging him and his colleagues to take up this offer. The decision is of course theirs, but we believe that the time has long since passed when the unions can allow their generalised political opposition to abolition to inhibit their proper role in representing their members' interests. I hope, therefore, that they will respond positively to our invitation. We are ready to meet them quickly if they do.
May I quickly give an answer to the question put to me by the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal. The activities of the staff commission are a matter for them. The commission are an independent body with the remit laid on them by the Local Government (Interim Provisions) Act, but I understand that the commission have issued six circulars setting out the arrangements for looking after the interests of staff affected by abolition. The latest of these sets out ring fencing procedures to give GLC and MCC employees priority in obtaining posts with successor bodies.
1097 The commission have also established their presence in the areas of the GLC and the MCCs. They have appointed assistant commissioners and they have visited all MCC areas to make it easy for staff to contact them. Against the background of the activities of the staff commission and of my right honourable friend's continuing and viable offer to employers and unions, I am sure that if the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, has the best interests of staff at heart, as he constantly claims, he will not find it necessary in any way whatsoever to pursue this amendment.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
My Lords, I listened intently to the Minister's reply to the amendment. When I rose earlier I was perhaps out of order, and I have no wish to pursue my reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, but I must say that I have not noticed during any of the proceedings on this Bill where she herself has been so compassionate that she has tabled any amendment on behalf of the staff. I do not think that my party or I need any lessons from that direction.
The Minister in his reply has underlined what I said when the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, so graciously gave way. What comes through clearly is that there is going to be a diminution of redundancy payments and protections afforded in the past under previous Government reorganisations of this kind, whether by a Conservative or a Labour Government. Irrespective of whether or not the trade unions respond, the present people are not going to enjoy the same benefits which have historically been given in these exercises. Otherwise there would not have been the need for one amendment on the Marshalled List. That was what it was all about.
Having put the case, we shall await the negotiations or discussions—I understand that this is still at the discussion stage, according to the Minister—to see what bears fruit. Having said that, I do not see any point at present in pressing the amendment before the House.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 95 [Co-ordinating committees of successor councils]:
§ Lord Diamond moved Amendment No. 18:
Page 69, line 39, at end insert—
("( ) for the financial year commencing in April 1986 and for each financial year thereafter consult the joint authorities for Greater London or for the appropriate metropolitan county as the case may be with regard to—
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a modest amendment. but I hope the Government will find it helpful. It provides a forum for discussion and consultation, nothing more than consultation, on the finances of the joint authorities. I shall briefly put the amendment in context. As your Lordships know, the Bill has passed down from upper tiers to lower tiers many functions, but not all of them. It has created joint authorities for those functions which it has not passed down. Those joint authorities are small in number, but the amounts of finances involved are 1098 large in proportion. In the metropolitan counties what the Bill has not passed down to the lower tiers is some 90 per cent. of the expenditure. That is an important amount of expenditure, because for practical purposes the whole of the expenditure which was previously precepted to the lower-tier local authority broadly remains. It is a lower figure for the GLC, I believe. The noble Lord, Lord Barnett, quoted the figure and he will correct me if I am wrong. I believe, off-hand, that it is about 70 per cent., but for the metropolitan authorities it is over 90 per cent. Each of these joint bodies is a precepting authority. Each issues its own separate precept, and so we would have a number of precepts added to the local authority rate. That is what the Bill has created.
§ I should draw your Lordships' attention to what the Bill had destroyed. It has destroyed the mechanism for securing a comparison of these different budgets, each of which now will be separate for the joint authorities. It has destroyed the capacity for comparing one with another in considering their respective merits which was the case with one single overall body which had one budget and one precept. Before that single budget and single precept could arise the constituent elements had to be compared one with another. We are all familiar with the fact that anything approaching sensible financial control of local expenditure at local or national level requires the setting off of one budget against another. Each budget may be perfectly good, wholesome and sensible in itself, but the totality of them may provide a wholly intolerable burden. Therefore, as a result of what the Bill has provided, we have a gap in the sense that there is no forum for this essential and cost-saving comparison of budget with budget and precept with precept before they are finalised.
§ 6.15 p.m.
The need to create that forum is not an original idea of mine. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Molson, who said:
I should like to throw out the suggestion to my noble friend that … something in the nature of consultation between the different precepting authorities might be encouraged by the Government in the wording of this Bill".—[Official Report, 24/6/85; col. 586.]
That is exactly what is provided. A consultation between different precepting authorities might be encouraged by the Government in the wording of the Bill. That is why I suggest that these words be added to this clause.
If the amendment is carried—and I hope it will be—it will mean that an awareness of the totality of expenditure will be provided and it will be possible to consider that totality rather than simply piling precept upon precept. As far as I can see, this amendment provides no problem for any noble Lord sitting on either the Front Bench or Bank-Benches opposite. It creates no new authority. It concerns a function of the existing authority provided by this clause. It creates no difficulty with regard to the period envisaged, because when the noble Lord, Lord Elton, discussed this at a previous stage—again, I quote from col. 587—he said, in talking about the preparatory committees, which is what we are talking about in this clause:
the role [of the preparatory committees] could well be an important one, which could continue for some considerable time".
That is all that is envisaged in the amendment—that this process could "continue for some considerable time". If it proved useful, it would naturally continue for a long time. If it proved useless, it would wither away.
§ I am no lawyer, but it is possible that subsection (2)(d) may provide the power to do what I am suggesting. If that is the case—and the noble Lord the Minister suggests that it is, in response to this amendment—I would say only that it is far better that this important function should be spelt out rather than left unreferred to except by implication.
§ I hope that the Government will find this amendment useful and helpful in their search for economy. It would be blessed by anyone concerned with good financial management. It offends not a single principle of the Bill and I hope that it will prove acceptable. I beg to move.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, this amendment assuredly presents certain problems. It is a pale shadow of amendment No. 81 ZAC, I believe it was, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, but moved on Gold Cup Day by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. Amendment No. 18 substitutes the word "consult" for the word "coordinate", which was discussed at considerable length in your Lordships' House. My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter made the telling point that "coordinate" involved power and the executive use of power, and that it was unacceptable. At the end of the day on a Division your Lordships rejected the need for co-ordination, the need for some supra-general purposes financial committee, and for this further tier of administration.
But back it comes again in another form; hence the problem from certain of us on this side of the House. If there was no need for co-ordination, then what is the need for the type of consultation proposed in relation to the preparation of estimates and the fixing of precepts? Putting the matter shortly, I hope, the problem arises because, quite apart from the question of form, this amendment, albeit in another form, again seeks to erect a tier of administration which is not within the spirit of the Bill. The reason given by the noble Lord is that it is helpful in the search for economy, if I caught his phrase aright. This is very near to the expression used by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, on Gold Cup Day—the expression "cost-effective".
The thesis appears to be—and this is the objection that raises the problem—that you can challenge the principle on the basis that what you are proposing is either more cost-effective or more helpful in the search for economy. You can do that; and, if you do not do it, your Lordships' House (in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Barnett) has—and I quote—"No role to play". This creates a problem, and the problem is that under the Parliament Act and under the conventions of your Lordships' House there are certain areas where this House has no role to play. This is not within that area—I concede that straightaway—but it touches on the fringes of it. I would oppose this amendment.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, an amendment moved by a former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and seconded (on the Marshalled List, at least) by another, which claims to help to restrain public expenditure, would seem to come with rather formidable credentials. But I am not sure that those credentials really stand up to analysis, because this is, as my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway has pointed out, simply a repetition of an amendment brought forward on Report with the compulsory powers involved in that previous amendment eliminated.
It is not only, therefore, somewhat repetitive—and I shall come to the point in a moment as to whether such an amendment is at all appropriate on Third Reading—but it is also obviously an ineffective proposal. If you are to study (let us take the case of Greater London, for example) the budgets of 33 boroughs, and if you are to study the precepting powers of a number of joint authorities, it is plain to any of us with experience of these matters that you have to have a large, efficient and highly-paid staff for the purpose. It is obviously going to be quite a large and elaborate bureaucratic machine.
For what purpose, my Lords? As I understood the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, and as I understand the reading of the amendment, this body, so briefed, so supported, will be able to discuss these complex financial questions with the boroughs and the joint authorities; but at the end of the day those boroughs and joint authorities will be perfectly free to tell it where it gets off, if I may use a colloquialism. All this effort, all this bureaucracy, all the public expense, will have come to nothing. Therefore, if this is the noble Lord's idea of achieving public economy, it perhaps casts a somewhat revealing light on the expenditure patterns of the previous Labour Government in which he was involved.
I now come to the other point, as to whether this really is an amendment which your Lordships should be taking on Third Reading. Perhaps I may quote your Lordships from page 99 of the Companion to the Standing Orders:The principal purposes of amendments on Third Reading are to clarify any remaining uncertainties, to improve the drafting and to enable the Government to fulfil undertakings given at earlier stages of the Bill.It is considered undesirable that an issue which has been fully debated and decided upon a previous stage of a Bill should be re-opened on Third Reading".On both those points—on the point that it does not come within the principal purposes of Third Reading amendments as defined, and, on the second ground, that it involves virtual repetition of an issue which has already been decided at an earlier stage—it seems to me (and I say this with great respect to the noble Lord) that the tabling and taking of this amendment is in breach of the rules of this House.
§ Lord Henderson of Brompton
My Lords, I wonder whether I might have a word immediately after the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, because he has spoken specifically on the procedures of the House. For myself, I would say that the Table must have passed this; otherwise, it would not be appearing on the Marshalled List. But let that pass, because Peers 1101 must be responsible for their amendments. But also I think the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, very clearly drew a distinction between the amendment which was moved on Gold Cup Day and the amendment which is before us now. I respect the noble Lord's clarity in drawing a distinction between the two, and for that reason I would say that it is not the same amendment, or approaching the same amendment, and it is therefore perfectly within the rules of order for it to be tabled on the Floor of the House.
§ Lord Henderson of Brompton
My Lords, may I make one other point before the noble Lord interjects? He quoted the principal reasons for the moving of amendments on Third Reading. I would only say that the word is "principal", and not "only".
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Of course, I accept that "principal" is the qualification; but that would not seem, if it is to mean anything at all, to let in a broad amendment on a broad issue of policy which plainly does not come within the qualifications as set out in the Companion. Therefore, I feel that the noble Lord is putting far too much weight on the word "principal" and is not giving it its natural meaning. On the other point—that the issue has already been decided—as I said to your Lordships (and I would have hesitated to do anything else, since it is a fact) the amendment is not the same as that moved at an earlier stage because it lacks the compulsory punch. But it raises the identical issue; that is, the issue of the taking into the hands of one of these controlling bodies the whole allocation of finance and of precepts. If the words of the Companion are to mean anything, then I suggest to the noble Lord that it is the same issue.
§ Lord Henderson of Brompton
My Lords, I do not know whether or not that was an interruption of my speech, but may I take it as such? I think that what it boils down to—and, of course, I shall not bandy words about the use of the word "principal" in the Companion to the Standing Orders because I do not think that that is really a significant point—is the interpretation of the House as to what is the same issue. I thought that the noble Lord very clearly distinguished between the amendment before the House today and the amendment before the House on what has come to be known as Gold Cup Day. Obviously, it is for the House to decide whether this is or is not the same issue. I should have thought that the element of compulsion was such as to make it quite different, and for that reason I would not have thought that it was out of order today. However, it is a matter of opinion, and if necessary the House has to decide.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
My Lords, I think the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, is not on the right beam on this occasion; and in matters of this kind of course we look upon him very much as the expert and the person to whom we ought to listen. There is no doubt that the spirit behind the discussion on Report stage and today is identical. The spirit behind it, then and now,—and 1102 it has run through all the discussions on the Bill—is that the noble Lords who have been moving and supporting these kinds of amendments have no confidence that the new bodies, the voluntary associations of bodies, can do the job. All along they have said they are not capable voluntarily of getting together and that there must be some over-riding guidance from somebody or other. That is what this does now and it is what it did on Report stage. True, the word then used was "co-operate" and now the word is "consult", but the general message is exactly the same.
The reason why I wanted to join in this debate very briefly is because of what flowed from the amendment itself. I hope that noble Lords will take heed of the intervention made the other day by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, on whether we were not getting very near to undermining the procedures and the general conventions only upon which this House can function. I believe this particular amendment comes very, very near to the borderline indeed. It was discussed in detail and there was no need for it to be repeated on Third Reading; and when we see the number of amendments on Third Reading, covering the scope that they do, it makes me think that the fears expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, the other day have a very real basis. That is one of the points I would adduce as evidence in support of his view that we ought to be very careful as to how we misuse the accepted and traditional procedures of this House.
To turn to the amendment, I do not believe that there is any need for it, and I do not think my noble friend could possibly accept it. If he did so, he would be saying that he believed the new authorities were not capable of carrying out the job that they would have to do. Of course, they will consult with all kinds of people, and I have no doubt that they will use all the available knowledge that is there and they will consult. One always did so when one served on council committees. There is no need for it to be written into the statute that they should do what any normal committee would do in carrying out its functions.
My final word is that I believe that repeating the same arguments on Third Reading as we have had before could be a very dangerous beginning to something which could very well undermine the standing of this House on matters in the future.
§ Lord Barnett
My Lords, I must say that I find the contributions of the noble Lords, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, Lord Campbell of Alloway, and in particular, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, rather sad. There seems to be a reflex action of "support my Government, right or wrong". One day they may find themselves in a situation when even the Government will recognise that the amendment which is being moved so well by the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, has some validity and should be accepted. I hope this might be the right occasion for that to happen. I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter—one of my predecessors both as chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and as Chief Secretary to the Treasury—for him to lambast the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, and myself over the growth and lack of control of public expenditure comes a little ill. When I left office it was £70 billion, which I thought was a lot of money. 1103 Actually, my Lords, it is a lot of money. It is now some £130 billion, and a little higher as a proportion of GDP than it was when I left office.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Would he say what level it was when he took up office?
§ Lord Barnett
My Lords, it was higher; and I am happy to tell the noble Lord that I managed to reduce it under a Labour Government. I am obliged to him. However, I am particularly unobliged to him and to his noble friends for the way they have disagreed with the noble Lord, Lord Diamond. I am a relative newcomer to this noble House, but I must say that to argue that the traditions of this House are that we should not perhaps debate these things on Gold Cup Day or that they come a little late in a Bill—no matter how good—and therefore we should dismiss them, is rather an odd argument for any debating chamber, and particularly so for your Lordships' House.
I would have hoped that they could discuss an amendment on its merits, and that is all the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, did. It is all that I have ever done, whether or not it comes on Gold Cup Day. I am sorry if it disobliges some noble Lords on the other side of the Chamber, but that happened to be a day on which we were sitting in your Lordships' House. I accept and understand that the traditions and conventions of this House are normally such as to ensure a Conservative majority. If by any mischance we happen to debate things that are slightly outside the traditions of this House, and on a day which happens to be when certain horses are running, and that therefore it inconveniences some of your Lordships, I can only say that I am sorry. However, the Bill is inconveniencing and costing a great deal of money to many people in this country. Therefore it is not unreasonable that we should debate amendments on their merits, and that is all we ask.
All that the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, was seeking to do, as I had sought to do on a previous occasion—I hate to put it that way, but I did it on Gold Cup Day—was to ensure that there should be a better way of controlling public expenditure. I would have thought that was something which the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, could have supported on its merits.
The difference between this amendment and what we debated before is that the previous new clause sought to set up—in my view rightly—an elected, coordinating authority because if one is to control properly public expenditure the body should be responsible to the public who are responsible for paying the funds. But, very well, your Lordships did not wish to accept that. That does not mean to say that the idea of controlling through a co-ordinated system large levels of public expenditure—as the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, said, some 90 per cent. in the metropolitan counties and over 70 per cent. in the Greater London authority—is wrong. When one is controlling that level of expenditure, it surely is not unreasonable that there should be some kind of coordination and some kind of look at whether the priorities in the expenditure are right.
1104 What is so terrible about that, whether one decides to do it on a particular day or on another day? It must be sensible to look at it. All I am asking noble Lords to do is to look at it—and I hope it might inconvenience them even more if the noble Lord, Lord Elton, will accept the amendment because it is a very simple and sensible one. It may come very late in the day and late in the Bill, and it may run contrary to the traditions spoken of by the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls. He prefers traditions whereby he always wins—and I understand that—but what we prefer on this side of the House is to have a tradition of sensible legislation. We do not have sensible legislation at the present time and all I am asking is that your Lordships should support the amendment so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, and ensure that there should be a better co-ordination of priorities and control of expenditure than exists at the moment in the Bill.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, whether or not this amendment comes fully, exactly and convincingly within the reference in the Companion to the Standing Orders, I intend to treat it as though it did because I wish to examine the merits; but I put it on record that I do so without prejudice to any future decisions on the procedure in your Lordships' House.
I must say that there is one way in which noble Lords opposite pay full respect to the tradition of your Lordships' House. There is about the Palace a flavour of continuity in everything that we do—not perhaps entirely on the lines of, "my Government, right or wrong" but obviously there are times when my position must look more agreeable to the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, than it does to me on certain occasions. In every other respect it touches all departments, and I suppose it is just as reassuring to see that there is always an amendment on central precepting and finance on the Marshalled List for this Bill as it is to see that there is always a milk pudding on the menu in your Lordships' Dining Room. Whether rice pudding, tapioca, ground rice or sago, it is always there—not very exciting, not very often chosen, but always there.
So it is with the noble Lord's "ground rice version" of the original grand design to have a county-wide executive precepting authority. I accept that it has been watered down a lot—something of which our catering department would not approve—but I accept that has been done in an attempt to dispense with the objections which I raised, and which your Lordships endorsed, to the earlier formulation.
It was an honest attempt. I do not hesitate to acknowledge that by removing from what was proposed the idea that the Committee should coordinate and hence, in some sense, alter or determine the financial arrangements of the joint authorities, they have removed one specific and important feature to which we took exception. I am grateful to the noble Lord for that. However, before I become too grateful I must look a little more closely at what he is now putting before us. That brings me to a preliminary question, which is the question of scale. The noble Lord said that over 90 per cent. of the expenditure of the upper-tier authorities was not to be passed down to the lower-tier authorities. I remember a brisk exchange at an earlier stage on an interjection by the noble Lord when we touched on that matter. At that 1105 stage I pointed out to your Lordships that the proportion of the total local authority spend—not the upper-tier spend only, but the total spend at which we are looking—
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I have not finished the sentence. Since I did not quite hear what the noble Lord said, it has left me somewhat surprised. But the point I am making is that the volume at which we are looking as a volume of a percentage—a proportion of the total local authority spend at both levels—is very small. I must remind your Lordships that it is to the upper-tier spend only to which the noble Lord refers and therefore a small proportion of the total local authority spend. That overlooks the fact that over 75 per cent. of spending on local services in the metropolitan counties is in the hands of the districts, and under 4 per cent. of spending on local services in London will fall to joint authorities. That is the magnitude in local authority spending terms of the problem which the noble Lord is examining.
We are considering the co-ordinating committees of successor councils to be set up, mainly to prepare the way for abolition but also to continue to consider whether joint action is needed on certain functions. The new regime will include separate joint authorities for separate functions in each abolition area; for fire and civil defence in all areas, for instance, and for the police as well in the metropolitan authorities. Those authorities will be precepting authorities. The concern of the noble Lord is that these authorities should not determine their level of precept having regard only to the interest of their own service. I trust I have understood him correctly.
Before we look at the merits of what the noble Lords propose as a cure for the defect which they perceive in our arrangements we need to consider very carefully whether the defect itself exists. No medicine is good medicine if you do not need to be cured. I therefore think that I must remind your Lordships yet again of who will be sitting in all the seats around the table of every joint authority that the Bill sets up when it sets its precept. They will be elected councillors, councillors elected to serve the interests of the people who live in each of the boroughs or districts to which the joint authority works. Every constituent council will be represented on every joint authority; and every joint authority will have representatives from every constituent council. The councillors who make the precept of the joint authority will be councillors involved in making the rate for their council; and vice versa. The district councillors on the fire authority will sit at the same table as the district councillors of the police authority when they are examining the level of rate. At Report stage, noble Lords wanted coordination. That is where co-ordination will take place. Those are the people who will do it.
What they now want is consultation. We turn to the amendment and ask ourselves: what does that mean? In the main subsection we find that it means something not transitional but permanent; and that it is to happen annually. It says that for each financial year from April 1986—
§ Lord Diamond
My Lords, the noble Lord said that it is permanent. He knows that is not the case There is no limit put on it, just as there is no limit put on the Government's own clause. There is nothing which says that it is permanent. He must not mislead the House.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, our understanding of the English language obviously differs. When a statute says that something shall be done for each financial year starting X, and does not say when it will finish, it seems to me to take some initiative to stop it happening because the requirement will remain in the statute. I think that is fairly plain. It may not be intended. I am of course very happy to give the noble Lord the credit for not intending it, and to modify my hostility to what he proposes by, for the time being, pretending that it is not in the amendment.
Then this is something which is to start in the financial year 1986 and continue until some unspecified point in the future, when, for some unspecified reason, it stops. The committee is to consult each joint authority in its area about two things: the preparation of its annual estimates of income and expenditure, and the preparation and fixing of its precepts. In other words, the committees are to consult the authorities about their budgets while they are making them.
So they consult; they get the information. And what then? If they do not use it they will have achieved nothing. But the amendment gives them no power at all to do anything with it—neither to publish it nor to pass it on; and still less does it propose that they should use it in any way to persuade the authorities to adjust their levels of precept. If that is, as it seems to me to be, a correct interpretation of what is proposed, the amendment would impose upon the committee an exercise which might be interesting but which would be singularly lacking in point.
I think that I heard the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, begin to argue the merits—and I listened to the words with care—of controlling public expenditure by a sensible arrangement of consultation. It may be, therefore, that I am not right in the interpretation of what the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, proposes and that there is intended a method of control. Either he intends that the committee should exercise some sort of control over the authorities—and that is something against which your Lordships have set your face in one form or another on a great many occasions—or all that is sought is a free flow of information, which is far more innocuous.
I have already tried to explain to your Lordships why I believe that that free flow of information will be achieved by what is already in the Bill. But if I have failed, or if I am wrong, I then have to ask your Lordships this. If the intention is that each of the joint authorities shall be put in a position by this amendment to act in the full knowledge of the plans and intentions of the others, does this amendment not place the duty to consult in exactly the wrong place? What is the point of this committee consulting when it has no power to set the precept? Surely the duty, if there is to be one, and if it is necessary—and I do not think the answer to either is yes—must properly rest 1107 upon the joint authorities who will fix the precepts to consult each other.
I suppose that that would be an arguable case. But it is not the case that has been argued. I am very clearly of the opinion that the duty which the noble Lord proposes is superfluous. The power, as he rightly says, exists already in subsection 2(d). If the committee wishes to consult, it already may. What the noble Lord proposes is a duty which is a medicine designed for patients who are not ill. I am clearly of the opinion that if the patients were ill and the medicine were needed, then the amendment prescribes it for the wrong people. I therefore ask your Lordships to decline to take it, as you so wisely declined to take similar mixtures in the past.
§ Lord Diamond
My Lords, I hope your Lordships will forgive my saying that everything I have listened to has confirmed for me the wisdom of this amendment, because everything that the Government have said has been to misunderstand how to control public expenditure—at which they are very bad—and everything which noble Lords behind have said has been based on some misapprehension.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, said there was a new tier of government. I cannot find it. It is an amendment attached to an existing committee set up in the Bill. There is nothing new about that at all. Other noble Lords have said that we are repeating something we have already discussed. The Minister was good enough to say that that was not so. What was discussed before—and what I imagine they are referring to—was a question of co-ordination which the other side interpreted as meaning subordination and creating a higher authority which could compel. It was that compulsion upon which the other side and the Minister relied. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, has been good enough to acknowledge this. There is no charge whatever against me of repeating something which has been decided before. It is totally different.
I am grateful for all the lectures I have had on how to behave in this House with regard to the procedure. I thought I had established a reputation for being as careful of the procedure of this House as any other noble Lord, including the noble Viscount the Leader of the House. I hoped that that was so. I have tried to do that. I have gone further than the Government Chief Whip in interpreting our rules for self-discipline. I had the privilege of being a chairman of Standing Committees in another place for more than 10 years. I had the privilege of being elected by all sides of this House as Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees. I think that is the title. I am very conscious of the need to ensure that neither I nor any member of my party goes beyond what is thoroughly acceptable according to the precedents in your Lordships' House. Of course I consulted, as I should naturally do, to make quite sure that what I was doing was perfectly proper.
What has been alleged, in terms not central to the argument, if I may say so, but in terms of why we should not discuss it, is totally misplaced. Let us get down to the amendment itself, which I was entitled to bring forward and which I brought forward honestly as an attempt to do the best I could—not the best, but the best I could—with regard to helping the Government 1108 to achieve one of their objectives of saving money. I could not do the best because your Lordships had ruled it out on the basis of the information gained, partly by listening to the debate and partly by attending the races at another place. But at all events, your Lordships as a whole ruled it out and it was not possible therefore to repeat that process. I had therefore to rely on something much more modest, much less effective, but at all events of some effect, which any sensible Government in my view would welcome.
I now turn to what the Minister said with regard to the reasons he was not prepared to support the amendment. I thank him for the clarity with which he described the difference between this amendment and the previous one. First, we went back to this irrelevant arithmetic. Let me make it clear—because if a person of the ability of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has not appreciated the point, it is quite obvious that I have not made the position clear—that what we are considering is comparing one budget with another budget so that the comparison will take place and people will choose which is the better expenditure rather than pile one upon another and reach intolerable levels of expenditure. So far as local authority expenditure at the moment is concerned, that is already done because within each local authority one has the finance committee and one has the compulsion to set one against the other before arriving at one's rate. Therefore any proportion of the local authority expenditure is irrelevant to our consideration.
What we are considering is what the Government have done under this Bill. Under the Bill they have said that, so far as the metropolitan counties are concerned, 90 per cent. of the expenditure of the metropolitan counties shall be dealt with by joint bodies, each one of which shall have its own precept, each one of which shall be its own master in its own house. Each committee composing the joint body believe that they are doing a good job and need this amount of money to give it effect. Of course they believe that. They are honest men trying to do their best, but incurring expenditure. All I am saying is that we should not have a system under which a series of bodies of honest citizens and councillors set up their respective budgets and each one has to be precepted on the lower tier. Let us have a system under which they are all looked at together in one forum. This is all the amendment does. It looks at it in one forum, the forum of the clause which already exists.
There is nothing new. There is no problem about timing, with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Elton. I made it quite clear in my speech that there is no time limit put on the clause as it is. It could continue for a short time or a long time. There is no time limit put on the amendment. If the amendment is found to provide useful machinery, people will keep it going; if not, it will wither away. I think it will provide useful machinery. I believe that the Government are mistaken in thinking that the separate bodies will each consider what the others are doing and therefore limit their own expenditure. I think the noble Lord the Minister is thoroughly mistaken there. Each of these bodies will say, "We want this expenditure. We are doing a good job." I hope that the nod I see from another former Chief Secretary is a nod of approval, 1109 but I do not want to make too much of that. I believe in the amendment and I appeal to the Government to give it fair consideration.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 18) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 99; Not-Contents, 161.1110
|DIVISION NO. 3|
|Airedale, L.||Kennet, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Kilbracken, L.|
|Attlee, E.||Kilmarnock, L. [Teller.]|
|Aylestone, L.||Kirkhill, L.|
|Barnett, L.||Kissin, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.|
|Birk, B.||Lockwood, B.|
|Birkett, L.||Longford, E.|
|Bottomley, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.|
|Brockway, L.||Mcintosh of Haringey, L.|
|Buckmaster, V.||Mackie of Benshie, L.|
|Burton of Coventry, B.||McNair, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Milner of Leeds, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Morris of Kenwood, L.|
|Collison, L.||Morton of Shuna, L.|
|Crawshaw of Aintree, L.||Mulley, L.|
|Darling of Hillsborough, L.||Nicol, B. [Teller.]|
|David, B.||Northfield, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Ogmore, L.|
|Davies of Penrhys, L.||Oram, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Parry, L.|
|Denington, B.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Diamond, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Donoughue, L.||Rea, L.|
|Elystan-Morgan, L.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Robson of Kiddington, B.|
|Falkender, B.||Rochester, Bp.|
|Falkland, V.||Scanlon, L.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Seear, B.|
|Gallacher, L.||Serota, B.|
|Galpern, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Gifford, L.||Silkin of Dulwich, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Stallard, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Hanworth, V.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Hatch of Lusby, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Henderson of Brampton, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Hirshfield, L.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Hooson, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Hutchinson of Lullington, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Irving of Dartford, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Jacobson, L.||Walston, L.|
|Jacques, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Jeger, B.||Wigoder, L.|
|Jenkins of Putney, L.||Wilson of Langside, L.|
|John-Mackie, L.||Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.|
|Ailesbury, M.||Brabazon of Tara, L.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Bridgeman, V.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Brookes, L.|
|Allerton, L.||Brougham and Vaux, L.|
|Annaly, L.||Broxbourne, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Bruce-Gardyne, L.|
|Barber, L.||Buxton of Alsa, L.|
|Bathurst, E.||Caccia, L.|
|Bauer, L.||Caithness, E.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Cameron of Lochbroom, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Campbell of Alloway, L.|
|Boardman, L.||Campbell of Croy, L.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Carnegy of Lour, B.|
|Chelwood, L.||Lyell, L.|
|Chesham, L.||McFadzean, L.|
|Clitheroe, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Coleraine, L.||Mancroft, L.|
|Colwyn, L.||Marley, L.|
|Constantine of Stanmore, L.||Marshall of Leeds, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.|
|Cowley, E.||Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Merrivale, L.|
|Craigmyle, L.||Mersey, V.|
|Craigton, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Cranbrook, E.||Mountgarret, V.|
|Crathorne, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Croft, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Nairne, Ly.|
|Davidson, V.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Orkney, E.|
|Digby, L.||Peel, E.|
|Dilhorne, V.||Pender, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Peyton of Yeovil, L.|
|Dudley, E.||Plummer of St Marylebone, L.|
|Eden of Winton, L.||Radnor, E.|
|EUenborough, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Elliott of Morpeth, L.||Reay, L.|
|Elton, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Faithfull, B.||Reigate, L.|
|Ferrier, L.||Renton, L.|
|Forester, L.||Renwick, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Rochdale, V.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Rodney, L.|
|Gainford, L.||Romney, E.|
|Gardner of Parkes, B.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Glenarthur, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Gowrie, E.||Sanderson of Bowden, L.|
|Gray of Contin, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Greenway, L.||Savile, L.|
|Gridley, L.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.||Shannon, E.|
|Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Harvey of Tasburgh, L.||Slim, V.|
|Harvington, L.||Stockton, E.|
|Hayter, L.||Stodart of Leaston, L.|
|Hemphill, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Henley, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Holderness, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Hood, V.||Swinton, E. [Teller.]|
|Hooper, B.||Taylor of Hadfield, L.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Thomas of Swynnerton, L.|
|Inglewood, L.||Thorneycroft, L.|
|Ingrow, L.||Townshend, M.|
|Ironside, L.||Tranmire, L.|
|Kaberry of Adel, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Kemsley, V.||Trumpington, B.|
|Keyes, L.||Ullswater, V.|
|Kilmany, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L|
|Kimball, L.||Vickers, B.|
|Kinloss, Ly.||Vinson, L.|
|Kinnaird, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Kinnoull, E.||Whitelaw, V.|
|Kitchener, E.||Windlesham, L.|
|Layton, L.||Wise, L.|
|Lindsey and Abingdon, E.||Wolfson, L.|
|Liverpool, E.||Wynford, L.|
|Loch, L.||Varborough, E.|
|Long, V.||Voung of Graffham, L.|
|Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Zouche of Haryngworth, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 7.4 p.m.
Lord Northfield moved Amendment No. 19:
After Clause 95, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Amendment of s. 137(4) of Principal Act.
§ After the words "rate of 2p" of section 137(4) of the Local Government Act 1972 there shall be inserted the words "or, in the case of a local authority in Greater London or a metropolitan county after the 1st April 1986, 4p".").1111
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in case the noble Lords, Lord Boyd-Carpenter and Lord Harmar-Nicholls, want to give another lecture about what is out of order, may I say right away that this amendment arises out of the need to clarify certain matters which were not resolved at an earlier stage of this Bill? This amendment stems directly from the unsatisfactory and incomplete nature of the exchanges at Report stage.
§ I had pointed out, in what I believe was admitted to be a moderate speech, that in the metropolitan areas and in London, the Bill can result in the curtailment of, and actual cuts in, local authority expenditure on fostering the local economy and sustaining employment. One is speaking in many cases of areas of high unemployment, having problems of urban decay which make the attracting of industry into those areas all the more difficult.
§ In that debate the Government spokesman, the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, did not seem to realise that crucial parts of such expenditure are severely limited under the Local Government Act 1972, in Section 137. The noble Earl seemed to imply that the ending of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils meant that spending could be made up at will by the authorities which will continue to exist afterwards.
§ After those unsatisfactory exchanges, when the noble Earl failed to deal with the points I had raised, he sent to me a letter of apology. I shall deal with that letter in a moment.
§ I believe we can start on common ground. The Government agree that local authority activity in the area of sustaining the local economy and helping employment is a legitimate part of an authority's role. The Government are on record in that respect, in paragraph 10 of their 1982 White Paper. Secondly, the Government agree that significant parts of the spending are limited, by Section 137 of the 1972 Act, to the product of a 2p rate, and that at present, because we have a two-tier system in these areas, this becomes a 4p rate. After the abolition of one tier, the areas in question will be limited to only a 2p rate, as only a single tier will remain. One may therefore expect a possible cut in expenditure under this head following abolition of the metropolitan county councils and the GLC.
§ In parenthesis, I may say—and I did not make this point at Report stage—that such an arrangement will put the areas affected at a great disadvantage compared with even the rural counties which, without the need for such expenditure in their towns, will have the benefit of a 4p rate; 2p by the county and 2p by the district. But areas of great need will be limited to the product of a 2p rate. Secondly, in parenthesis, I may point out that there is a grave disparity between what is happening in the urban areas of England compared with what is happening in Wales and Scotland. There the Welsh and Scottish development agencies have vast sums which can be spent in urban areas. In many cases this results in industry which would otherwise be attracted to the decaying urban areas of England being lured away to Scotland and Wales, where there is often a lower level of unemployment than now exists in urban areas of England.1112
§ Given that situation, what did the noble Earl the Minister say when he wrote his letter of apology? I shall take it in three parts, and then I will have completed what I have to say. The noble Earl said that the 1963 Act, concerning local authority land, and the 1978 Act, which deals with the inner urban areas, would leave a lot of room to expend beyond the limit of the 2p rate. That is not true at all, because those two Acts are limited to the provision of buildings and industrial premises, the acquisition of land, and help with the rental payments of factories. But many other things are done under Section 137. I shall give a list of a few of them.
§ In fact, Section 137 provides the only means of giving the following: special help towards industrial training—for example, in supporting the Government's ITeC initiative; help with export marketing schemes among the firms in the locality; support for the enterprise boards, which in many cases are doing a very fine job for the whole of the metropolitan areas; help to local enterprise trusts; loans to small businesses for start-up or for seed-bed activity; total promotion of the whole area to attract industry, which can be done only under Section 137; help to design and build factories; help to chambers of commerce; sponsorship of apprentices; and grants to students who are released from industry for training. Time limits me, but I could give a list as long as my arm of the things that cannot be done under the two Acts which the noble Lord seemed to think would be of such help. Those must be done under Section 137. So we are left with an area which might be cut following a fall from a 4p to a 2p rate.
§ The second point made by the noble Earl in his letter was that there might be room for an increase in spending under Section 137 by particular district authorities who at present do not spend up to a 2p rate and, therefore, can make up for the departure of their metropolitan council. But that depends on particular cases. Take, for example, the West Midlands. The total product of a 2p rate in that district is £8.5 million, and it is already spending quite a lot of that on a number of important projects. Expenditure by the metropolitan authority is £8.5 million; so it cannot spend enough to make up for the cancelling of that £8.5 million spending by the metropolitan authority. That is totally beyond the resources of a 2p rate, and it cannot be raised as a means of getting out of the problem.
§ The third point that the noble Earl made in his letter was that the Government insisted on waiting for the Widdicombe Report. I was to some extent in error in thinking that Widdicombe had not been asked to look at this issue, but I still feel that that was not the main issue the inquiry was being asked to look at but rather the issues of whether Section 137 is being used for much less desirable causes, such as party propaganda.
§ What can the Government do if they are not prepared to accept this amendment, which would reinstate the 4p rate? The first action the Government could take is to ask Widdicombe for an early report on this issue. Why not say that we do not want a gap between the ending of the metropolitan counties and the beginning of the new regime? While we are waiting for Widdicombe we could actually have a reduction in this very important part of local government 1113 expenditure. Certainly the gap would exist if, after Widdicombe, we had to wait for legislation as well. Therefore, why not ask the Widdicombe inquiry for an early report on this aspect of its study?
§ The second aspect, and my final point, is that the Government could examine special cases like the West Midlands, where I have given the example of the fact that the district councils cannot possibly make up, under Section 137, for the cancellation of the expenditure of their metropolitan parent. If there is to be a shortfall we can examine it now in the spending of those district authorities on their legitimate activities, and the Government can use their power under existing legislation to increase the 2p rate provision. The Government can, by order, increase this beyond 2p.
§ I move this amendment in order to try to get some clarification on an issue that was, admittedly, left unresolved at an earlier stage and in the hope that we can make some progress now. I beg to move.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, I rise simply to say from the Labour Front Bench that we are very grateful for the case that has been made by my noble friend, and we certainly support all that has been said.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, the noble Lord who moved the amendment began by challenging me to raise the question as to its appropriateness under the Companion to the Standing Orders. I do not propose to bore your Lordships by repeating what I said on an earlier amendment, but for the sake of completeness I shall just say this. If the view which I ventured to put then to your Lordships as to the proper construction on page 99 of the Companion (which seemed to have some support among your Lordships) is right in respect of the earlier amendment, it is plainly even more right in respect of this amendment, which, I say with respect to your Lordships, seems to come nowhere near the terms of the Companion. Having registered that opinion, I now say a word or two on the merits of the amendment. This is a most unfortunate amendment to move at this time. Many of us, as ratepayers, have been very angry at the use made, particularly by the GLC in London, of the powers under Section 137. As the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, parenthetically admitted, the powers under this section are those which have been used for the deluge of propaganda about this Bill to which our fellow countrymen, and your Lordships, have been exposed. Ratepayers, whatever their views on this Bill or the policies of the Government, have had to pay substantial sums to support a political propaganda campaign carried out by the GLC with public money using the powers given to them by this section.
It has been a wholly one-sided operation because, in the curious way our constitution works, the Government of the day have no such funds available to put the other point of view by way of propaganda. We have therefore been exposed, and public opinion may well have been affected—even some of your Lordships may have been affected—by the outpourings of propaganda for the past two years, the main purpose of which has been to suggest that the 1114 GLC is wonderful and that it is terrible to lay hands on it. That this has been done under Section 137 is not a very persuasive point, at any rate to some of your Lordships, in favour of raising the poundage permitted. In those circumstances, I hope that my noble friend will very firmly reject this amendment.
§ Lord Tordoff
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, can he tell the House whether he believes that the Section 137 provisions should be totally removed from local government or whether there should be some control on the expenditure under Section 137?—because they are two totally different concepts. The second suggestion would bear on what he said, but I wonder whether he believes that the Section 137 provisions should be removed totally from the hands of local government.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, I did not suggest in my speech, nor do I think, that the powers under Section 137 should be totally abolished. But I agree with what I think the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, has in mind: that the abuse of these powers by certain authorities in recent years, particularly their use for purely party political propaganda, should be controlled and restricted.
§ Lord Gifford
My Lords, I declare an interest in contributing briefly to the discussion on this amendment because from time to time I have given professional advice to the GLC about its powers. I rise only because of the importance of the amendment and not to trespass on that ground, except that I need to say, in reply to what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, that whatever the merits of the spending by the GLC and the metropolitan authorities on advertising, it has not been done under the section which we are discussing in the amendment. It has been done under Section 142 of the Local Government Act, which gives power to put out information. Therefore, whatever is said for or against that, it does not impinge on the debate on this amendment and should not be allowed to divert us.
In addition to the types of projects which my noble friend Lord Northfield mentioned, Section 137 has enormous value in the funding of projects and organisations which would not be within the normal powers of local authorities. The ones I particularly have in mind, from my own experience, are legal advice centres, law centres and various other kinds of advice agencies for people in our cities who are in desperate need of help of one kind or another. There are hundreds of such organisations funded by the GLC.
When abolition comes the boroughs will have to consider whether they can take on the funding of those organisations. They will now be met not only with the difficulty of their actual spending but with the fact that they will be legally restricted to the product of a 2p rate both to fund the projects which they are already funding—and some are spending up to that limit—and to fund projects which have been hitherto funded by the GLC. That will mean that some projects will go by the board because there will not be the legal powers to fund them; and that is wrong.
1115 I understand that in the original White Paper the Government said that they would consider whether to extend the range of the 2p rate to those councils, which, as my noble friend Lord Northfield said, will now be those areas which will have only one council, and I implore the Government if they cannot accept the amendment, to give a positive answer about what will be done about Section 137 powers in future.
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, is quite correct in that the recent GLC funding has been through Section 142, but my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter was correct that at an earlier stage Section 137 was used in a similar way. One of the reasons for the change was the council's advice from the noble Lord who declared the interest—
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
True. However, my Lords, one thing I learned at County Hall was that if you want to spend money for political purposes, there are many different sections under which you can do it. We also seem to be using the National Health Act quite a lot to give grants to various projects, and so there is a wide choice of items.
I think the Section 137 situation is unsatisfactory as it stands. I do not think this amendment is the right answer because it would give everyone an extra 2p without any restrictions. I have said in this Chamber before that I thought there should be a ceiling on Section 137, because some small authorities which raise only a very small rate with the 1 p really need more money than they have available and others for which a 1p rate raises well over £1 million find that 2p gives them quite a large spending sum. So I think it is a section of the Local Government Act which requires attention, but I do not support this amendment because I do not think that this is the way to deal with it.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, in broad terms Section 137 allows a local authority to spend a sum of money equal to what it can raise from its ratepayers by a 2p rate for any purpose for which it has no specific authorisation but which is legal and which the authority considers would be for the benefit of its area and the people living in it. The exact calculation for any authority depends on its rateable value and its eligibility for block grant; but I do not need to trouble your Lordships with the precise details. At present both the boroughs and the GLC have this power in London and both the districts and the metropolitan county councils have this power in the metropolitan counties. Under this section the upper tier authority, whether it is the GLC or a metropolitan county council such as Merseyside, can spend on its own behalf an amount of money more or less equal to the total 2p rate product for all its constituent borough or district councils. In 1985–86 that amounts to £39.3 million for the GLC and, for example, £4.2 million for Merseyside and £7.4 million for Greater Manchester. We are speaking, may I remind your Lordships, not of the amount of 1116 money actually spent but of the amount of money for which there is a power to spend. That difference is a material and important one.
Noble Lords opposite have pointed out that removing the upper tier authority in any area halves the amount of money available for spending in that way. At this point we need to stop and remind ourselves of what the word "available" actually means. It does not mean that that money is painlessly and unnoticeably present in some convenient deposit account, which is topped up by a rich uncle. Section 137 does not supply the money; it merely authorises its expenditure. Whether it is spent by a district or borough council or the GLC or a metropolitan county council, it comes from one place and one place only, and that is the pockets of the ratepayers, supplemented by block grant.
Noble Lords are concerned about the reduction in power to spend, and so indeed are we, but we must remember who actually pays it out in the first place. I think your Lordships will agree that that requires us to be at least a little interested not only in how much of it is being spent, but also in what it is being spent on. After all, the process is one that noble Lords opposite wish to continue. Much of this money is spent on the voluntary sector. It goes to organisations of which your Lordships can thoroughly approve and which we clearly wish to continue.
I should like to clear up two points. First, Section 137 is neither the only nor even necessarily the most important power under which boroughs and districts can fund the voluntary sector if they so wish. There are also the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976, the Housing and Homeless Persons Act 1977, the Children and Young Persons Act 1963, and an Act of the same title of 1969, to name only four.
This Bill will take the funding of even more voluntary organisations out of Section 137, because Clause 48 gives its own power to the boroughs to act collectively to fund organisations serving more than one borough. I refer your Lordships to Clause 48(11) on page 31, which reads:The powers conferred by this section shall not be regarded as restricting those conferred by section 137 of the principal Act".Secondly, even for those local authority groups which have to be funded under Section 137 the likely call on the 2p rate will be substantially reduced by the arrangements I have already announced for assistance by central Government over the first four years of the new system. Where any borough or district council takes up funding of a single borough or single district scheme that has previously been supported by one of the abolished authorities, it will be able to claim back 75 per cent. grant funding in the first year, 50 per cent. in the second and third years, and 25 per cent. in the fourth and final year of the scheme. This of course is subject to the acceptability of individual projects for receiving public funds and to the overall limit of Government funds available. Your Lordships will know that we have set aside £40 million for that purpose over the four years. These grants will be paid under the Local Government Grants (Social Need) Act 1969.
These payments of transitional grant by the Government to the boroughs and districts will have 1117 two important effects. The first effect, and the most obvious one, is that they will sharply reduce the cost to boroughs and districts in the early years of taking on the schemes from the defunct authorities. The other effect, which is no less important to our present consideration, is that the part of the expenditure by a local authority that is supported by our transitional grant is not included in the calculation of total expenditure for the purposes of the 2p limit. The Government grant will therefore sharply reduce the effect of the Section 137 ceiling on any individual council's programme. Taking on a programme worth £100,000 in the first year will thus cost the council only £25,000, or take up only £25,000 of the authorised amount to spend provided by Section 137.
Although we do not have complete information across the whole field, it is becoming clear that most boroughs and districts are at present spending well below their Section 137 ceilings. That is important because it means that there is unused capacity to spend in the authority and because Government transitional grant will minimise the amount of that capacity taken up by the expenditure inherited from the defunct authorities. But the authority to spend is not in itself enough. Quite obviously the councils must have the money as well as the power to spend it, and I have already pointed to where that money has to come from.
Your Lordships may ask how all this will look to the ratepayer. Even with our transitional aid it may well not look attractive. It might if the inherited expenditure had come from pockets otherwise untouched by abolition, but it will not. Rate demands in the abolition areas will be different next year from what they are this year, if only for the striking reason that neither the GLC nor the MCCs will be there to slap on them the substantial precept that they have hitherto had to carry.
Once again I remind your Lordships that the whole of the £40 million currently spent by the GLC under its Section 137 power has its origins in one place and one place only, which is the power of the GLC to precept and the duty of the ratepayer to pay. In terms of resources, therefore, the transfer of the obligations to support the voluntary sector from the GLC to the boroughs and from the MCCs to the districts is entirely neutral. Given the fact that boroughs and districts generally are at present spending less than the full amount that they are entitled to spend, given the availability of £40 million of Government money to help keep them below their Section 137 ceilings until the year 1989–90, and given that the expenditure under Clause 48 will not be covered by the Section 137 ceiling, I believe that both the means and the will exist to take on the funding of voluntary organisations after abolition day.
I am strengthened in that view by a further fact. A good deal of your Lordships' concern has focused not on the voluntary sector as such but on other activities dependent upon this source of cash, and in particular upon the enterprise boards set up by the upper-tier authorities. Your Lordships' interest was focused by the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, took up the cause with his amendment.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ This is not the proper occasion to argue the merit of these boards. Some of your Lordships will in any case already be aware that they vary in their approach quite remarkably, and a comparison between the operation of the Greater London Enterprise Board, for instance, and that set up in West Yorkshire will point up what I mean. But the merits are not at the moment central to the issue. What is central to the issue is the fact that Section 137 is not, as has been suggested, the only source of funding for economic development. Other sources are available and they are, as it happens, already in use. That closely affects the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Northfield.
§ For example, the statistics available to the department show that in the year 1984–85 local authorities spent over £100 million providing serviced industrial land and factory premises. Those are important and valuable contributions to economic development, almost none of which has been done under Section 137 powers. Instead the 1963 Land Act provides local authorities with wide powers to undertake those initiatives, and it is constrained by no such rate product as is set by Section 137.
§ Similarly, the 1978 Inner Urban Areas Act is available to urban programme designated authorities. All but a handful of those authorities are in the GLC or the metropolitan county areas. That Act provides a useful additional power to provide loans and grants to promote economic development and improve the economic infrastructure of an area: It also is unconstrained by a rate product limit. The valuable work already being carried out and supported by my department through the urban programme will continue, and I am glad to assure your Lordships that the districts and boroughs will be reallocated that part of the programme previously administered by the GLC and the metropolitan county councils.
§ With my noble friend Lord Gowrie I therefore think that the argument advanced by the noble Lord. Lord Northfield, that that effect of the Bill would he to reduce spending on economic development in the most decaying urban areas is not substantiated. The problems of unemployment will not be solved merely by the expenditure of vast amounts of public money. Local authorities can also perform just as valuable a role by ensuring that the right conditions are created in which private enterprise can flourish, by adopting a positive attitude towards planning applications for local economic development and by helping small firms.
§ There is another factor. Your Lordships will know of the committee of inquiry that has been set up under the chairmanship of Mr. David Widdicombe QC. The noble Lord, Lord Northfield, referred to that in his opening speech. That inquiry is not only into the possible political abuse of public spending, as he acknowledged and as my right honourable friend made quite clear in making the announcement. Its terms of reference are to seek wide clarification of the limits and conditions that govern those expenditure powers generally. I should certainly expect economic development activities to figure large in the committee's interests, and I do not think that we can properly now adjust the expenditure base of what it has just started to examine.1119
§ Political abuse is of course of concern, and we are all well aware of examples of it. Your Lordships will no doubt recall the venture of Islington Borough Council when it funded to the tune of over £200,000 a news co-operative to publish a free local newspaper. That was widely criticised, notably during your Lordships' debate on the Local Government (Expenditure Powers) Bill. After eight months the venture collapsed, leaving ratepayers with a debt reported to be £13,000.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
My Lords, I am deeply grateful to the Minister for mentioning that example, because I raised the matter in the House. Will he join with me in expressing surprise that the Government Whips were used to defeat an amendment to precisely that Bill which would have stopped that expenditure in Islington?
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I am never surprised by anything that the Whips do; I have been in the House too long. As to the merits of that particular decision, I am afraid that I am not possessed of the background. But I am glad that the noble Lord shares my view of the abuse.
How many authorities have now declared themselves to be nuclear-free zones—whatever that means? Sheffield, Lambeth, Manchester and Newcastle, to name but a few, have done so. What it actually means is more ratepayers' money being spent on members and officers going to conferences of questionable merit both in this country and abroad and more propaganda through the letterbox. I think that this may be what the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, meant by information. I do not know precisely what he meant.
It has come to my notice that South Yorkshire County Council local government affairs working party, which has a local government affairs officer, I understand, has with pride produced, in what I suppose the noble Lord would call the mode of information, a list of things which includes leaflets, pamphlets, consultants' books, newsheets, posters, placards, carrier bags, hats, videos, local and national press advertisements, displays at sporting events, barrage balloon, information bus, stickers, badges, beer mats, bus advertisements (internal and external), record, naming a locomotive, letters to companies, letters to voluntary groups, meetings with interest groups, cavalcades of public service vehicles, public notices, messages on buildings, the county CAT, draft resolutions for organisations, T-shirts and sweatshirts. That may be information but I am not sure that it is something that ought to be vying with the legitimate targets of voluntary organisations to spend on things which we would support.
We would clearly wish to be presented with a very persuasive case before we could agree to giving those authorities more scope for pursuing their expensive brand of politics. Of course by raising the Section 137 ceiling we give them a licence to do just that. I have therefore to tell the House that despite claims to the contrary the evidence is far from clear that there is an immediate general need to increase the maximum headroom available to the boroughs and districts after abolition. In practice, many are spending well below it.
1120 I have spoken long enough to make your Lordships realise that we would see this as being not only unnecessary but in some cases widening the door to an abuse which ought to be terminated.
§ Lord Northfield
My Lords, I shall not enter into an argument with the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. I simply disagree with him. If I paraphrase what he read out from the Companion to the Standing Orders, my amendment falls into order under two headings which he read out—the need to clarify something unresolved and the need to explore the effects of the Bill. He read those two out, and the amendment has clearly led to that sort of discussion and falls under both those headings.
Once again the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has answered the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, by going on to explain a great deal that has not been on the record before about the impact of the Bill on the local authorities. It needed to be done today, and I do not apologise for doing it.
The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, saddened me. It was simply a brief read out without any reference at all to what I said—none at all. I said, first of all, I was dealing with the industrial matters. He then read out most of what I had said again but failed then to comment on the issues that I had raised. I asked, for example, why not ask Widdicombe to report early on this issue so that we could see that there would be no gap between the ending of the metropolitan councils and the assumption of those duties by the district authorities. I secondly asked whether he would examine the case of bodies like the Midlands where the expenditure under Section 137 by the districts cannot possibly on the arithmetic make up for the ending of expenditure by the metropolitan councils. He did not do me the courtesy of answering either of those points. It is rather disgraceful that we raise important issues and all we get is a general brief read out on the whole issue.
The noble Lord went on to say that a lot of this is reprehensible. Let me again give him the figure. In the case of the West Midlands, £7.5 million out of the £8.5 million which it spends under Section 137 is spent on industrial promotion. What room is there for vast extravagance on the reprehensible things about which he was talking?
I feel bound to place on record my protest. We have a very good-tempered debate which is put in moderate terms and we get no answer. It is not right that we should just have briefs read out when we put specific questions and give specific figures which need an answer in this Chamber.
I shall not pursue the matter this evening because I do not think that it is right. Over the years we have had fights about Section 137. We have gradually convinced the Government of its usefulness. They switched horses on this issue in the early 1980s from utter opposition to acceptance. The best way to progress is by continuation of the gentle persuasion which has led to this amount of success so far. In those circumstances and with enormous regret that the issue has not been dealt with adequately this evening, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.1121
§ The Deputy Speaker (Lord Cullen of Ashbourne)
My Lords, earlier in our proceedings Amendments Nos. 3 to 12, which were amendments to Amendment No. 2, were duly considered and disposed of. However, by an oversight, after Amendment No. 12 had not been moved the noble Lord on the Woolsack omitted to put the Question as to Amendment No. 2 as amended. I have therefore to put to your Lordships the Question, That Amendment No. 2, as amended by Amendments Nos. 6 and 7, be agreed to.
§ On Question, Amendment No. 2, as amended, agreed to.
§ Schedule 1 [Development plans]:
§ [Amendment No. 20 not moved.]
§ Lord Elton moved Amendment No. 21:
§ [Printed earlier.]
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 1. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Schedule 12 [Residuary bodies]:
Lord Elton moved Amendment No. 22:
Page 152, line 36, after ("shall") insert ("forthwith").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, we debated the insertion of what is now paragraph 8 of Schedule 12 on 20th June. My noble friend Lord Cranbrook sought at that stage to insert into the paragraph a date by which the residuary bodies should report to the Secretary of State on the views of the successor authorities about the need for the residuary body to take over specialist teams. Where the residuary body has an indication that a successor authority is likely to wish to enter into an agreement, it must make a report to the Secretary of State. With the insertion proposed by this amendment, it must do so forthwith. I believe that that is a more effective injunction to act without delay than any particular date would be, and is free of some of the disadvantages, which I earlier outlined, of having a particular date. Your Lordships will not wish me to elaborate. I beg to move.
§ Lord Tranmire
My Lords, I welcome this amendment from the point of view of archives, but I should like to ask my noble friend three questions. I shall keep them short. First, I do not think this House has realised that some of the archives in Yorkshire are in fact the property of the Yorkshire Archaeological Society. At the present time they are looked after by the West Yorkshire Metropolitan County Council, and an amount of £20,000 a year is paid. I should like to ask what will happen to that agreement, which was made in 1976, after abolition date, and how far this particular amendment will affect that.
Secondly, I should like to ask: under this amendment, if one has a metropolitan district council that delays making a decision as to whether it wants to join in a joint authority, can it be included later on? I say that because the Calderdale District Council, which used to be a part of the constituency of the very energetic noble Lord, Lord Houghton, took nine years to reach a decision, from 1974 to 1983, before they 1122 joined our joint archives committee. I am afraid that as the residuary body has a life span of only five years it will be difficult to get them to join unless something is done about it.
Thirdly, there is this very short point. Can my noble friend give us some assurance that the residuary body will have on it members who have some knowledge of archives and archaeology? I think they are the only three points I want to make. If my noble friend can give that assurance, either now or in writing, I should be very grateful. I find at the present time, at this stage of the Bill, there is a great deal of concern among archivists. I think my noble friend has done a great deal to improve it and I think this new amendment will make a great deal of difference.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, perhaps, by your Lordships' leave, I may reply. Any formal agreement that exists at abolition will either pass to a successor by order or fall to the residuary body, because under the Bill contracts are treated as property.
As to the length of time it will take to come to a composition between the warring factions of different parts of the country, I hope that by adding a duty on the residuary body to bring those matters to a conclusion within five years we have added to the contentious formula with which local authorities have in the past had to deal the ingredient which will make five years sufficient, where eight years was an insufficient period before. After all, we are talking about a continuation, not a new concept.
As to the composition of the residuary bodies, they will of course have to have wide experience on many matters. I cannot undertake that every residuary body will have an archivist upon it, or an archaeologist. However, I can undertake that they will be the kind of people who will acquire the necessary expertise before they take decisions.
The Earl of Cranbrook
My Lords, on the matter of the single word "forthwith" in the amendment, it was of course a concern that there would be such a delay in the presentation of a report by the residuary body to the Secretary of State that the intentions might be nullified. I am grateful to my noble friend for his amendment. I appreciate his reasons for not wishing to insert a firm date in this context into the Bill. I believe that his amendment, which will require great promptitude, quite clearly, will have the desired effect.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ 7.45 p.m.
Lord Elton moved Amendments Nos. 23 and 24:
Page 152, line 38, leave out (", if in the light of the report he considers it expedient to do so,").
Page 152, line 40, at end insert ("unless he considers it inexpedient to do so").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 23 I beg leave to move also Amendment No. 24. These amendments follow on from the second part of the discussion we had on this paragraph on 20th June. My noble friend was then seeking, with Amendment No. 81 CBC, as it then was, to make more certain the process by which the Secretary of State carries into effect the report of the residuary body on the specialist teams to be 1123 transferred. The paragraph as redrafted states very clearly that the Secretary of State shall take the report of the residuary body into consideration and make such orders as he considers appropriate, unless he considers it inexpedient so to do. This is a change of emphasis, not of substance. But I believe it will be welcome to noble Lords who have expressed concerns on that matter. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
§ Baroness Birk moved Amendment No. 25:
Page 152, line 40, at end insert—
("(3A) Subject to sub-paragraph (3B) below, it shall be the function of a residuary body to provide professional or technical services to the joint authorities established by section 10 or Part IV of this Act in its area.
(3B) If a majority of the constituent councils in the area of a residuary body agree a scheme for the provision of professional and technical services to all of the joint authorities in that area, those constituent councils may submit that scheme to the Secretary of State and if he approves the scheme sub-paragraph (3A) above shall not have effect for the duration of the scheme.
(3C) The London Residuary Body shall provide any technical or professional services to the Inner London Education Authority on the application of that authority.").
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 25 I shall speak at the same time to Amendments Nos. 26 and 27.
Amendment No. 26: Page 152, line 45, leave out ("new authority").
Amendment No. 27: Page 152, line 48, at end insert—
("( ) In this paragraph "professional or technical services" includes administrative, financial, legal, personnel, scientific, computing, central purchasing, research, intelligence, information, library and archive services and acquisition, disposal, management and maintenance of property.").
Throughout the House of Lords' consideration of the Local Government Bill Peers from all sides of the House have argued for the retention of scientific and technical services at the county-wide level. Much of the case has been based on the report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, which stated at page 23, paragraph 75:
There is an obvious case on the grounds of economy for replacing the multiplicity of joint authorities with a single joint authority in each metropolitan county and in London. If this were done, the combined authority would be an excellent employer of scientific services and would develop the scientific and technical links between functions which already exist".
The committee also went on to stress the importance of the effectiveness of the administration of London on preserving the integrity of many of its specialist services. While the committee considers scientific and technical services principally in relation to highways and traffic management, environmental health, waste disposal and information technology, the report also states that equally important subjects such as fire, police, housing, planning, museums and archives are not covered specifically, but the committee are confident that many of their conclusions are as relevant to those as to the cases studied.
§ The residuary body, which was not of course included in the Government's original proposals, has assumed a new importance at almost each stage of Parliament's consideration of the Bill. Increasingly, it has been seen as adopting a positive role in ensuring the continuation of the county council's principal services, acting as, in the Minister's words, a catalyst in 1124 the promotion of adequate joint arrangements between successor authorities. It has in fact become the longstop which could even take over services if the successor authorities cannot agree suitable arrangements by 31st March, 1986.
§ Services and groups that have already been mentioned in this context are: superannuation, debt administration, land reclamation, expert teams in highways and traffic management, computer facilities, county analysts, trading standards, archives and archaeology. Such a list, and indeed, the idea of so expanding the role of this quango, is an indictment of the Bill's fundamental assumption that the district councils and boroughs can and will co-operate on the provision of services that require a county-wide perspective or resource. It is also a clear indication of the unseemly haste with which the Bill has been progressed.
§ The considerable pressure that arose from concern about the future of specialist skills compelled the Government to introduce an amendment at Report which sought to satisfy some of the criticisms, not least those arising directly from the Select Committee. That amendment is now included within paragraph 8 of Schedule 12. It provides that a residuary body shall review the professional and technical services of the metropolitan county councils, ascertain from the successor authorities if they would wish the residuary body to continue to provide any of those services and, if any successor authorities so indicate, report to that effect to the Secretary of State. Having considered that report, if he considers it expedient, the Secretary of State makes an appropriate order.
§ I must say at this point that when the amendment was introduced on Report it was the kind of amendment with which it was very difficult to deal at that stage. In fact, we almost had a Committee stage in which we were jumping up and down asking questions of the noble Lord the Minister before he resumed his seat. It was extremely difficult, added to which the noble Lord, Lord Plummer, and the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, had an alternative amendment. The confusion became very great. I must say, quite frankly, that I do not think that the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, really managed to get a fair hearing for her amendment because of the fact that it was, so to speak, an alternative. It was quite difficult in that atmosphere to be able to elucidate it completely.
§ In addition, the Government amendment placed on the Marshalled List on Tuesday had been changed by the Thursday. I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if I say it was Thursday, 20th June, rather than Gold Cup Day. That made it all extremely difficult. Reading through Hansard, one can see the real concern and worry of noble Lords in all parts of the Chamber in trying to grasp what was going on and at the same time seeing the various alternatives before them. The weakness of the provisions in the Government amendment, now part of the Bill in Schedule 12, is that there is still reliance on voluntary co-operation which all independent analysis suggests will not materialise. In consequence, we maintain that the provisions will lead to major uncertainty, will precipitate the break-up of county-wide specialist services, will lead to duplication of staff and resources, will not provide a common services authority, will 1125 leave open to question the definition of professional and technical services and will not establish a single authority as recommended by the Select Committee on Science and Technology. It will also leave once again an enormous amount of discretion with the Secretary of State.
§ At Report stage, in addition to the amendment put down by the Government and explained as clearly as he possibly could by the Minister, the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, on behalf of the Select Committee, attempted to improve the Government's proposals by tabling amendments that sought to fix a date before which the residuary body should make a report and to remove an element of the discretionary power of the Secretary of State. The Minister has now tabled amendments that the House has accepted for Third Reading consideration that are presumably intended to deal with these issues. Frankly, I did not feel that I wanted to take the time of the House to argue the amendments, which seem to me a huddle of semantics rather than taking things very much forward in the Bill. None of them, in our view, is adequate.
§ Consequently, I felt it necessary to table this group of amendments which certainly strengthen the purpose which all of us, in odd ways, seem to be trying to achieve—the Minister in one way; the late, lamented amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Plummer, and the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, in another, and now the amendment that I am bringing forward. I felt it necessary to table these amendments because there needs to be much greater certainty in the continuation of vital services that apply to the common servicing of joint authorities. Subparagraphs (3A) and (3B) of Amendment No. 25 provide that the residuary body will provide the professional and technical services to all the joint authorities unless a majority of district councils or boroughs have some alternative scheme which the Secretary of State agrees.
§ The initiative still lies with the councils and boroughs to come together. This is the Government's aim. It is their apparent belief that it will happen. At least that is what they always say in answer to any amendments such as this. The advantage of these amendments is that should the local authorities not come together, as indeed almost everyone fears they will not, there will still be the certainty of suitable joint servicing arrangements which is the objective that the Select Committee wanted. In view of the lateness of the hour and the amount that we have tried to get through, I shall rest my case there and beg to move.
§ Baroness Faithfull
My Lords, it is inevitable and logical that I should support the amendment. As the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, has said, there was an amendment down at Report stage on 20th June to which I spoke shortly but did not move. The amendment, as your Lordships know, was in the name of my noble friend Lord Plummer and of myself. My noble friend Lord Plummer much regrets that he is unable to be with us tonight. My noble friend the Minister, in many of his speeches, has talked of the key role of residuary bodies. This amendment does not challenge in any way Amendments Nos. 22, 23 and 24 of my noble friend. Indeed, we are very grateful for those amendments. We are very grateful to the 1126 Minister. I must confess, however, that we feel that the amendments do not go far enough.
This amendment does not challenge the principle of abolition. It deals only with the mechanics and the mechanism whereby the Government's policy can be delivered in a cost-effective way along with the smooth running and efficiency of the immediate implementation of the Bill.
A repeated claim has been made by Her Majesty's Government that this Bill will make local government more cost-effective. Frankly, the savings now talked about, when translated into rate precept terms, amount to the odd penny here and there. The purpose of the amendment, as I see it, is to achieve, even at this stage, maximum cost-effectiveness. Your Lordships have decided on a way of running London which encompasses a number of pan-London boards, bodies or committees; one for fire services, one for Civil Defence, another for waste disposal, and a residuary body which will be looking after certain technical and professional matters such as computer services or financial services and which will now be looking after a variety of highway matters.
As the Bill now stands, each successor body may, if it so desires, reach an agreement with the residuary body to provide those core technical and professional services. Those noble Lords who have experience of such things—and, one way or another, I suppose that every one of us has experience of the working of local government—will know, as I do, of the almost congenital desire of local government to build its own attendant bureaucracy. I do not believe that merely to say "they may" goes far enough. We do not need a proliferation of independent bureaucracies, each attached to a specific successor body. It must surely be cost-effective and more efficient that the successor bodies shall look to the residuary body for the provision of professional and technical services.
§ 8 p.m.
§ It was during the debate on Amendment No. 15 that my noble friend the Minister (admittedly when dealing with another sphere altogether) spoke of enshrining in law, with the force of law, certain recommendations. I believe that the word "shall" should be enshrined in the Bill. We do not need each body to have its own computer services, its own financial services, its own scientific services, and so on. Why not have those concentrated in the residuary body, as is the case, and say to the successor bodies that they shall take such services from that body? To do this would in no way cut across the principles contained in the Bill. We shall still have all the successor bodies upon which your Lordships have decided, and we shall not have a series of separate supporting bureaucracies for each.
§ I shall cut short my speech as time is getting late, but perhaps the difference between my noble friend the Minister and myself is that my noble friend is an idealist. He expects people to co-operate and do things of their own free will. I regret to have to say that, having been a chief officer of a local authority and having worked in local government all these years, I am a realist. I think it would be nice to combine realism and idealism. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to accept this amendment.1127
§ Lord Henderson of Brompton
My Lords, I should like to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, and to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, on having put down this amendment at this stage, if only because it has elicited that very remarkable speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, a speech which I believe she would have been able to utter if proceedings had been more favourable or more orderly at the previous stage. I feel very strongly that our procedures need looking at because the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, had a most unsatisfactory deal at that stage and today she has had the full opportunity to express her view, which she has done most eloquently.
I should like to hang my remarks on one function which is mentioned here; namely, the archival services. These have already been touched on in an earlier amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire. I should like to mention the archival services partly because I have been intimately concerned with an archival service and also because my name was attached to an amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, and the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, during an earlier stage in our proceedings. The amendment sought to ensure that the London-wide and county-wide archival services would remain and have a proper chance of remaining after abolition date. Unfortunately I was not able to take part in the proceedings, but of course I read what took place then. I believe I am right in saying that the Minister gave some kind of assurance that the residuary bodies would actively promote the provision of archival services on a London-wide or county-wide basis.
Unfortunately the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, cannot be here this evening, but I know he joins with me in asking the Minister categorically to repeat in more specific terms that assurance. I have to say, as the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, said, that the county archivists are most anxious about the future of their services. They are very anxious to be reassured by Her Majesty's Government about the role of the residuary bodies on their behalf. In other words, will the residuary bodies actively promote the establishment or the maintenance of these services?
That is the only technical service about which I am competent to talk. I know how anxious they are. All the other technical services must be equally anxious. Those are the requirements, and no doubt it is about that which the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, will speak. Frankly, the weakness of the amendment of the noble Lord the Minister, to which this is an amendment and, I think, an improvement, is that the noble Lord's amendment (which is now inserted in the Bill) has no requirement that there be agreement by a successor authority before it is serviced by the residuary body.
Unfortunately this is how it looks to the archivists and no doubt to all those people who have in mind these services which they believe will collapse or disintegrate. As soon as one successor body chooses to go it alone and provide its own specialist services, there are the seeds of decay, there is collapse staring them in the face. All these teams of excellence may find the whole organisation crumbling before there is time for the residuary body to step in and stop the rot. This is what they want to know. I gather that that is the 1128 purpose of the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and it is that which has elicited the powerful speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull. For that reason I very much recommend that this amendment be agreed to.
The Earl of Cranbrook
My Lords, it is true that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, has said, Amendment No. 25 incorporates one of the options that was envisaged by your Lordships' Select Committee when its report was prepared. However, perhaps I may speak for myself for once and not for the Select Committee, and give a personal view. I believe that quite a lot of water has passed under bridges since then. My noble friend has made accommodations in Amendments Nos. 22, 23 and 24, which your Lordships have recently approved, and he has moved a very considerable way towards the wishes of the Select Committee, which I expressed in a previous debate.
I am now inclined to believe that the parliamentary exercise has, to some extent, represented a compromise but nonetheless is in some degree satisfactory. There has been useful constructive revision of the Bill following the suggestions of the Select Committee about which your Lordships have perhaps heard too much. I believe that in a short time the initiative will pass from Parliament to the arena of local government, and this will include teams of archivists and other professional teams who are concerned that their services, the importance of which has been fully recognised, should continue to be available to all ratepayers throughout the present metropolitan areas of England and throughout London.
The onus will lie on the successor authorities. These authorities will have a very clear obligation to apply their resources to constructive interactions with the residuary bodies and to get involved in a common attempt to identify and to preserve all these present professional and technical services that are threatened along with the abolished authorities. I believe that this must be stated very clearly and must now be the message that goes out to the professionals who are concerned about the continuation of their services. I believe that any metropolitan district council or London borough council that fails to participate in these exercises will do a disservice to its ratepayers.
§ Lord Drumalbyn
My Lords, perhaps I may add a short paragraph to what has been said. I hope that my noble friend will be able to clarify this for me. I am not clear whether what we have been talking about here includes those bodies which come under the successor body to the metropolitan counties. Some of these may consist of technical services, or may contain technical services. I was a little worried about what my noble friend said on 13th June at col. 1380 of the Official Report when talking about the residuary body knocking on each council door and asking,Do you want any of the following services?My noble friend said:One of those services will be the trading standards services that we have mentioned".If that is so, it would seem that this has been caught up indirectly in the independent services, and that would be highly undesirable.
1129 I am not clear whether the residuary body will make inquiries as to whether or not those arrangements will ensure co-ordinated and uniform trading standards services, taking account of the interests of all concerned and in particular the interests of consumers, traders and manufacturers, and the efficiency of the trading standards service as a whole. This could be caught up there.
The point is a simple one. I can sum it up by saying that the residuary body puts a question to the district council. The answer they get may be true or it may be false. If it is false, in that case the possibility of including a service will be foregone, it will slip away. The offer of the residuary body will have been declined and then nothing can be done about it. I hope that my noble friend will be able to clarify the position. I am afraid it is rather a fast ball and that it has a sharp break at the end.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, it may be a fast ball, but it seems to have been rather a slow over, judging by the expectations borne in on me about the rate of proceedings at the beginning of this debate. Perhaps I may begin by extracting, from what I planned to say, the undertakings I was asked to give and the repetitions I was asked to make. I am glad to repeat, as I have been asked to do by two noble Lords and by the Society of Archivists, the undertaking that if there is not a voluntary scheme at abolition day, the intention is that the archives shall be transferred to the residuary body but that the staff shall, for the time being, also be with the residuary body, and that the residuary body shall have a duty to find a permanent home for the archives and the staff before the expiry of five years. That is what I was asked to do, and I am glad to do it in terms.
I was also asked about trading standards. I was not certain that I got my noble friend right, and that was why I looked worried and why he was kind enough to repeat what he was saying. We accept the need for the districts to co-ordinate enforcement of trading standards, hence the joint committees in Schedule 7, paragraphs 15(4) and (5). These committees will also have a duty to co-ordinate preparations for the districts to take over trading standards functions.
If for some reason the joint committees are not able to sort out the arrangements for staff and property engaged on trading standards by the abolition date, the residuary bodies will be there to step in and take on the staff and the property until permanent arrangements are made. They will do this under Schedule 12(8). It was to that paragraph that most of your Lordships' concern was directed.
I do not want to extend proceedings unduly. I think your Lordships are aware of the provisions we now have in the Bill which are that the residuary body will have a duty to inquire of every successor authority whether they may wish the residuary body to provide for them an agreement under which they will look after the staff and the property necessary to discharge a function which is properly the function of the successor authority.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ That was what we were debating when my noble friend Lady Faithfull received what the noble Lord, 1130 Lord Henderson of Brompton, described as a poor deal. I always regret it if this happens to any of your Lordships. I suppose I should confess that I regret it slightly more if it happens to one of my noble friends than if it happens to somebody I cannot describe by that engaging term, but it is a term which I still extend to my noble friend Lady Faithfull.
I have just had a look at Hansard. We were engaged in a complicated but not a labyrinthine procedure, which we have managed with total success this afternoon. We were considering an amendment to which other amendments had been put. In that case there was an alternative to that amendment which took the form of my noble friend Lady Faithfull's amendment and that of the noble Lord, Lord Plummer, who could not on that, or on this, occasion be present.
I suggested to your Lordships that we should decide the shape of my amendment before we decided whether it was preferable to the other. That appeared to be understood by everybody. My noble friend spoke for a column and a half, or perhaps a little more, of Hansard. I much regret if she did so under the impression that, having accepted my amendment, it would still be open to her to move her own. That I regret, but I am glad that she has now had the opportunity to speak because I had no wish whatsoever to silence her; or should I say that I would never confess to such a wish, or put it into operation?
We now come to the three amendments on the Marshalled List in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, whose concern again focuses on the professional and technical services for which the Government provided added protection at the Report stage, and which we further strengthened just now with Amendments Nos. 22 to 24. In each of the cases addressed in the amendments the noble Baroness wishes to transfer functions to the residuary body which is, I remind your Lordships, to be a temporary body. I remind your Lordships also that the function of the residuary body is to wind up the affairs of the abolition bodies, and it is not to take on the affairs of the successor bodies.
The danger I see in what the noble Baroness proposes is that she makes it a duty on the residuary body to provide specific services. It is also, I understand, the intention that the residuary body alone shall be permitted to provide those services. We believe with conviction that the services which are to be provided to the successor authorities must be those services which those authorities themselves want. They are the clients.
It is no earthly use producing services when nobody wants them. They must therefore be produced at the behest of the consumer who, in most cases, will be the successor authorities we are speaking of, although they might be able to provide services elsewhere as well. What the noble Baroness proposes in her first two amendments would short-circuit that and pre-empt arrangements which the successor authorities could perfectly well voluntarily arrive at in the five years' interregnum provided by the residuary body.
I must briefly mention Amendment No. 27, because I find that quite extraordinary. It seeks to take the simple phrase "professional or technical services" and 1131 stretch it until, frankly, it breaks. My noble friend Lord Cranbrook welcomed our choice of phrase as usefully encompassing the range of activities that concerned the Select Committee, and was kind enough to suggest that we had reached an acceptable compromise. Like all such phrases, it is not absolutely exact, but I believe that what it would cover is generally understood, as is what it would not cover. What it most certainly would not cover is administrative services. This raises the prospect of the whole bureaucracy of the GLC and the MCCs being tipped into the residuary body and kept there.
The debates that we have had on the future of specialist services and technical expertise I believe have been among the most useful on this Bill. They have had a profound and continuing effect upon the drafting of part of it which we have, I hope, finally put to bed. I ask the House not to intrude on it further in a way which I simply cannot recommend your Lordships to accept.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that rather negative reply. On this amendment I was, as was the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, very much impressed by the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull. It is obviously difficult, and I appreciate her dilemma when one is arguing, even in the gracious and charming way she does, against one's own Government. One has to feel very strongly about something to do that. She also speaks from a vast experience and what she said about realism having to be mixed with idealism is absolutely right.
On the other hand, the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, if he will forgive me, is leaving things very much to faith and hopeful thinking. There is nothing wrong about that, but the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, was rather more right than he was. After discussion on one of the reports of the Select Committee at one stage of this Bill, I heard him on radio talking about the substance of an amendment. But he also said that he was not a politician and did not understand that part of it. Therefore, if he will forgive my saying so, he is not really aware of how these things can go wrong, how they will not necessarily work and how the local bodies will not co-operate just because one hopes that they will. So on that side of the argument, I do not entirely go along with him.
The Minister said something that was interesting when he gave the firm undertaking on the archives. I believe I am right in thinking that he said that if there was not a voluntary scheme the archives would be transferred to a residuary body and at the end of the five years—I believe I am correct but perhaps the Minister will intervene if I am not—they would be found a permanent home if nothing else had arisen. I think that was the gist of what he said. Am I not right?
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, the noble Baroness has been kind enough to give way. If no scheme is arranged on abolition day and no other step is taken and no order made, then automatically because they are property the archives go to the residuary body. The residuary body then has a duty not only to look after them but also to see if anybody wishes an archive service. They will go to every constituent successor authority and ask 1132 them whether they wish the service. If they can get their act together immediately, which is the phrase we have been using lately, they will continue to look after them, continue to hold the staff and the staff will continue to be able to deliver the service which is a function of the constituent authorities. At the beginning of the five years the residuary body has a duty to see that it can get everything disposed of by the end of the five years. That is the duty about which the noble Baroness is inquiring and I can confirm that it exists.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, I thank the Minister very much for underlining and clarifying what I thought he meant. That is what Amendment No. 27 says, but what it does is to spell out the services. It was clear from the questions put to the Minister that people were not satisfied about having a general statement on archives, but picking out the particular services, if there had been anybody here who wanted to talk about libraries or other services, such as financial and personnel services. "Profession" is a much wider word than "technical": I know the Minister said that was stretching it to breaking point. I shall not argue about "administrative", although I should be prepared to say that "administrative" would come within the confines of "professionalism" because administrators are professional people. I do not think that I can accept that point, either.
The curious thing about all this is that what the Minister has said adds up to an acceptance of this amendment. It really does. He looks rather sceptical, but that is the brunt or thrust of what he has said. Because it goes against the grain of the Bill, although he has come so far, he still will not go that slight stage further. As we have said on a previous amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, that is not necessarily the best that we can get but it is much nearer than anything we have had up to now. It meets the Government a great deal of the way and satisfies a great many Members of your Lordships' House and not just people sitting on the Benches behind me. In the circumstances, I intend to test the feeling of the House.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 25) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 74; Not-Contents, 115.1133
|DIVISION NO. 4|
|Airedale, L.||Ennals, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Ewart-Biggs, B.|
|Aylestone, L.||Faithfull, B.|
|Birk, B.||Falkland, V.|
|Bottomley, L.||Fisher of Rednal, B.|
|Brockway, L.||Gallacher, L.|
|Buckmaster, V.||Galpern, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Gifford, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Graham of Edmonton, L.|
|Collison, L.||Hacking, L.|
|Crawshaw of Aintree, L.||Harris of Greenwich, L.|
|Darcy (de Knayth), B.||Hatch of Lusby, L.|
|David, B. [Teller.]||Hayter, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Henderson of Brompton, L|
|Denington, B.||Hooson, L.|
|Diamond, L.||Houghton of Sowerby, L.|
|Elystan-Morgan, L.||Irving of Dartford, L.|
|Jeger, B.||Rea, L.|
|John-Mackie, L.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Kagan, L.||Robson of Kiddington, B.|
|Kennet, L.||Scanlon, L.|
|Kilmarnock, L.||Seear, B.|
|Kinloss, Ly.||Silkin of Dulwich, L.|
|Kirkhill, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Kissin, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Mackie of Benshie, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|McNair, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Monkswell, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Morris of Kenwood, L.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Morton of Shuna, L.||Thurso, V.|
|Napier and Ettrick, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|Nicol, B.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Northfield, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Ogmore, L.||Wilson of Langside, L.|
|Oram, L.||Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.|
|Pitt of Hampstead, L.||Winstanley, L.|
|Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Kilmany, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Kimball, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Kinnaird, L.|
|Barber, L.||Kitchener, E.|
|Bathurst, E.||Lauderdale, E.|
|Bauer, L.||Layton, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Liverpool, E.|
|Boardman, L.||Long, V.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Lyell, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||McFadzean, L.|
|Brocket, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Brookes, L.||Marley, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.|
|Broxbourne, L.||Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon, L.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Merrivale, L.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Mersey, V.|
|Chelwood, L.||Molson, L.|
|Chesham, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Clitheroe, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Coleraine, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Naime, Ly.|
|Cowley, E.||Norwich, Bp.|
|Cox, B.||Onslow, E.|
|Craigavon, V.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Craigmyle, L.||Peel, E.|
|Craigton, L.||Pender, L.|
|Cranbrook, E.||Peyton of Yeovil, L.|
|Crathorne, L.||Radnor, E.|
|Crawshaw, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Croft, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Davidson, V.||Renton, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Renwick, L.|
|Digby, L.||Rochdale, V.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Eden of Winton, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.|
|Elliott of Morpeth, L.||Sanderson of Bowden, L.|
|Elton, L.||Savile, L.|
|Ferrier, L.||Sharpies, B.|
|Gardner of Parkes, B.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Glenarthur, L.||Stodart of Leaston, L.|
|Gowrie, E.||Swinton, E. [Teller.]|
|Gray of Contin, L.||Thomas of Swynnerton, L.|
|Greenway, L.||Thorneycroft, L.|
|Grimston of Westbury, L.||Tranmire, L.|
|Halsbury, E.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Harvey of Tasburgh, L.||Ullswater, V.|
|Henley, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Holderness, L.||Vickers, B.|
|Hooper, B.||Vinson, L.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Vivian, L.|
|Inglewood, L.||Westbury, L.|
|Ingrow, L.||Whitelaw, V.|
|Ironside, L.||Windlesham, L.|
|Kaberry of Adel, L.||Wolfson, L.|
|Keyes, L.||Wynford, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ [Amendments Nos. 26 and 27 not moved.]
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, in moving that further proceedings after Third Reading on the Local Government Bill be now adjourned, I would say that we will not return for further proceedings on this Bill until 9.30 p.m. I beg to move.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.