§ 9.34 p.m.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.
We are reaching the end of a long and arduous process. Your Lordships have heard from me very frequently already. You will not wish to hear from me twice on this debate. I shall therefore listen with great attention to your Lordships' views and reply to them at the end of the debate. At this stage, I merely beg formally to move that this Bill do now pass.
§ Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Elton.)
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, what on earth does one say about a Bill such as this? It is more than a Bill. It has become almost a way of life for many of us. We seem to have lived here on this Bill for a great length of time now. It is, however, nice to be able to say something nice about it. That is really about the Minister, not about the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, has really done a quite remarkable job. He was thrown in at the deep end and came to Environment to deal with something like this, and did so with great confidence and extremely good humour and patience. He has always been very quick to his feet with the right words to say—well, right from his point of view. He always put it over extremely well and was always courteous to everyone.
However, the Bill leaves this House in an atmosphere of concern: concern at the future of services to the community which it is the function of local government to provide; concern at the extent of ministerial interference in local affairs; concern at the heavy price that ratepayers will have to pay; and indeed concern for the future stability of local government, not only in London and the metropolitan areas but in the country as a whole. Your Lordships have exposed the Bill for what it is. It is a spiteful measure, I am afraid, conceived in a fit of political pique with no regard for the consequences to the services provided by the doomed authorities nor for the 18 million people whom it will directly affect.
The noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, said in a speech in Newcastle in January last year:If this were an arts issue primarily, there would be no question of abolition of this tier of local government".So clearly, for the noble Earl, the arts are an innocent and unexpected victim of this Bill. There are many more victims, such as voluntary organisations, the efficiency of the police forces, about which the chief constables and Ministers have expressed fears, and the consumer protection service, about which the retail trade is worried.
The Bill, when it came to this House, was a miserable damage-limitation exercise by the Government desperately trying to reduce the disastrous effects of abolition upon essential services. Your Lordships knew it and said so. The Select Committee unequivocally opposed the break-up of highways and waste disposal functions. Your Lordships echoed that concern by amending the Bill to retain those services at county level.
1150 That same Select Committee was concerned to see that centres of excellence, slowly and painstakingly built up by the seven authorities, were not destroyed at a stroke. The Government and your Lordships agreed, with a catalogue of late amendments to the Bill, put in at Report and even at Third Reading today, seeking to give some teeth to the inelegantly named residuary bodies. Those bodies are now, as a result of a Government amendment, agreed only 12 days ago, under a duty to review what professional and technical services it is desirable to maintain after abolition.
Yet despite these welcome changes there remain too many sacrificial lambs on the altar of that crude manifesto commitment. Are we really to believe that the police, fire, civil defence, transport and waste disposal services are to be better served by being taken out of direct democratic control and made subject to direction from Whitehall for three years on the amount that they should spend and the numbers they should employ? Is the planning of London going to be better with 33 strategic planning authorities instead of one? Is this the way to treat a great capital city?
Is the retail trade in Greater Manchester going to be happier with 10 different enforcing authorities for trading standards rather than one? Are the voluntary organisations in London going to feel more secure having to lobby at least 22 different boroughs in order to get a grant? Are they not going to feel that their energies would be better spent giving the help to those in need which they thought they were set up to provide? Why should the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra have to go with a begging bowl to five different authorities on Merseyside in order to recoup the shortfall which the Arts Council has confirmed will arise from this Bill when it said that without significantly more finance it could not run the South Bank?
Why have we had to spend so much time debating the future management of Hampstead Heath? Why are we having to wrestle with the problem of the administration of magistrates' courts in outer London? I am sure that no one realises that one of the many ramifications of this Bill would create chaos in the magistrates' courts of outer London, where I happen to be a JP. Both my noble and learned friend Lord Elwyn-Jones and I have received representations from the four commission areas covering 20 London boroughs. The GLC is now the paying authority. The Bill will replace one paying authority with 20. Changes in the administration of justice should not be a mere fall-out from the Government's political determination to get rid of the GLC.
One remarkable feature of the debates on this Bill has been the amount of criticism from the Bishops' Benches. Although the Government may choose to belittle the objections from this side of the House on the ground: "Well, they would, wouldn't they?", the concern of the right reverend Prelates who have spoken, and indeed put their names to amendments, has been for the people who live in the deprived inner cities and who will surely suffer as a result of this irresponsible measure.
From the Government's own supporters we have heard criticism about the Bill's proposals for housing 1151 in London, the police, archives, trading standards, road traffic, waste disposal, the voluntary organisations, land use planning, and so on. There are many other services. Although the Divisions may not always have gone against the Government, either because of laudable party loyalties or the votes of the silent majority, there has been surprisingly little vocal support from the Benches opposite apart, of course, from the three musketeers and their leading lady!
The Government's propaganda for this Bill, which was the White Paper entitled Streamlining the Cities, talked about removing an unnecessary and wasteful tier of local government in the conurbations. Unnecessary, my Lords? This Bill creates in the metropolitan counties five separate, non-elected county-wide bodies spending between them around 90 per cent. of what the elected county councils currently spend. In London some 60 per cent. of gross revenue expenditure passes from elected to non-elected London-wide bodies. Wasteful, my Lords? Does anyone seriously believe that this hotchpotch of arrangements will save money? At the risk of giving Coopers and Lybrand yet more publicity, we have heard on countless occasions that they found no basis for the Government's claims for savings, and indeed estimate significant extra costs. The Government have been very soft-voiced and have walked on tip-toe regarding the question of costs for some time now.
The progress of the Bill through the House has seen the Government's hopes for savings further reduced by their provision of extra funding for voluntary organisations, by pulling out of the taxpayers' hat £20 million at the last count in the face of pressure from their own Benches. It is a significant sum sufficient to ensure a Government victory when we debated the voluntary organisations. Streamlining, my Lords? That was part of the purpose of the exercise. Not a word have we heard about that from the Government recently. That is hardly surprising. The Bill is splitting services presently managed by seven authorities among 69 boroughs and districts, 26 joint boards, seven residuary bodies, seven co-ordinating committees (or perhaps I should say "subordinating" for the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter), six trading standards joint committees, five Government departments, at least 11 Government quangos ranging from the Arts Council to the Thames Water Authority, and any number of shire counties and districts which will pick up a number of the pieces.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Should your Lordships agree tonight that this Bill do now pass, I ask that it is passed to the other place with three clear reminders. First, it is the duty of Parliament to enact legislation which is clear to those who implement it and clear to those who are at the receiving end. Clarity is a property singularly absent from this Bill, and yet clarity is a property of legislation which this House must promote and defend, if the citizen is to know where he stands.
§ Secondly, any power which this Bill puts into the hands of the present Secretary of State is available to 1152 any future Secretary of State. This Bill enables the Secretary of State to decide how little, or how much, the 26 new joint boards should spend. It enables him to direct how few, or how many, people they should employ. It enables him retrospectively to control the lawful activities of local authorities. It is a law described by my noble and learned friend Lord Elwyn-Jones in Committee as a "monstrous piece of unconstitutional retrospective legislation".
§ Thirdly, let the other place be in no doubt that the major changes which have been made by your Lordships to the provisions relating to highways, traffic, waste disposal and professional and technical services were the result of the informed views of your Lordships' distinguished Select Committee on the problems for these vital services if the Bill were left unrevised.
§ The Bill is the least worthy, the least respectable, the most ill-thought-out piece of legislation that I have ever seen—either in Government or in Opposition—presented to this Chamber. I have seen, I must say, in both capacities some pretty bad Bills. Its retrospective element, its unprecedented number of new central Government powers, may be in keeping with the rest of its contents, but they do nothing to promote confidence in the future for local government, and assuredly they do nothing to enhance the reputation of Parliament nor of this House as the warning voice against the abuse of power by covetous Governments. Sadly, my Lords, this Bill contains nothing for anyone to be proud of, despite the valiant and long fought out efforts of many Members of this House.
§ Baroness Stedman
My Lords, we are being asked tonight to pass a Bill which has not been supported by any of the independent or professional bodies, and one which gives a major increase in central Government control over local government. It is a Bill which has not set out any coherent framework for a new system of local government in London or the metropolitan counties, or for the transition to it from the existing system.
The 1972 Act required a review of the working of that Act within 10 to 15 years. That option has not been taken up by the Government. The Layfield Committee has reported on local government finance, and that has been ignored, even though finance is linked with the structure functions and the accountability of local government. The Audit Commission was set up specifically to study the issues of economy, efficiency and effectiveness, and yet it has not been asked to undertake an examination of either the existing or the proposed structures.
The original White Paper was greeted with hostility by those who were to be affected by it and with concern by those who were unclear as to the nature of the reorganisation or the effects that it would have on services. There were many calls for an inquiry, all of which were ignored by the Government. The Government have been totally unable to indicate any prospect of real savings without cuts in services, and instead of returning services to a single tier of local government, the districts, we now have several layers. We have county-wide joint boards, we have joint 1153 committees, we have the residuary bodies—all of them under increased control by the Secretary of State.
When the Bill came to this House we were told that some 67 per cent. of expenditure would have passed to the joint authorities. The amendments that have been made in this House since then have increased that figure to almost 90 per cent., and those amendments were based on the evidence of the only parliamentary body that has examined the issues of abolition in detail, which was your Lordships' own Select Committee. I fear that if the Government believe that the changes they are proposing are logical, there will be more pressure in regard to changes in the shire counties.
Indeed, in an article only last Friday in the Municipal Journal it is alleged that there is a proposal to abolish 333 non-metropolitan district councils and create an enlarged county tier of local government and that that is under consideration by Ministers in the Department of the Environment. The article goes on to allege that a paper has been prepared by officials considering the likely problems of administering London post-GLC which suggests merging some authorities to create larger administrative units, with a third of the 33 London boroughs being absorbed into neighbouring authorities. Then ILEA could be abolished and education returned to individual boroughs and the Government could then look at the non-metropolitan areas where it is proposed that the district functions should be transferred upwards to the shire counties. If this is so, as stated in the article, why rush into this Bill at this time? Why not consider reorganisation of local government as a whole after implementing the review specifically allowed for in the 1972 Act?
One of the greatest weaknesses of this Bill is the financial aspect of abolition in budget preparation and in precepting. Each of the four joint authorities in the metropolitan areas will issue its own precept to the districts. Each joint authority will establish its own arrangements for the precept. Each rating authority will have to collect and transmit four precepts, and collect its own rate and a separate levy for the residuary body and the probation service. Pity the poor ratepayer who will receive at least five local authority rates or precepts, plus a water rate and often a town or a parish precept. The "met" districts will have to wait for the delivery of four precepts for their funding.
The timescale for the implementation ignores all the practical problems that are involved in reorganisation on this scale. For most of the authorities concerned the first meetings after Royal Assent will be in September and yet by November the joint authorities are supposed to submit their establishment schemes to the Department of the Environment. I do not believe it can be done; 18 months was too short a time at the last reorganisation to do it properly.
It is a cheap Bill and it is a cynical Bill which has rejected the democratic processes. It enshrines the principle that local services should not be controlled by directly-elected authorities. It has fragmented the structure of local government in London and the metropolitan counties.
1154 The noble Lord, Lord Elton, has maintained his good humour, his courtesy and his consideration throughout the long days of argument and discussion. I pay tribute to him for the skilful way in which he handled the Bill at very short notice, but I believe he will come to regret the part he has had to play in guiding the Bill through this House. I believe, with the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, that it is ill-conceived and ill-thought out. It has been used to try to find modest economies in public expenditure. It has shown little respect for democratic procedure, and the savings, if there ever were any, will not be achieved, due to the costs of all the quangos. It is all being done against much too tight a timetable, with no proper safeguards for strategic planning across the board. The democratic structure of the British constitution has been very severely weakened by what is proposed in this Bill. Any future Government will be faced with yet another major upheaval in local government. Local government cannot be dealt with in this piecemeal fashion and I believe that the Government may well live to rue the day when they set out on this course of disruption and destruction.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down and by leave of the House, perhaps I may say that she made one assertion which, if I did not reply to it now, I think I would encourage your Lordships to believe it to be true. I have no hesitation in telling the noble Baroness that she can glean no truth whatsoever from the article that she quoted from the Municipal Journal and that the document that she fears is not circulating within the Department of the Environment.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, we are now near the end of a long series of debates on this Bill which, whatever else they have shown, have shown that your Lordships' House is a lively and sometimes pugnacious place. But I should like to begin by echoing the words of both noble Baronesses who have just spoken in paying tribute to my noble friend the Minister. We recall that he was posted—and I think that one of the noble Baronesses used the inelegant expression, "pitchforked"—into his present position just before the Bill began owing to the regretted and regrettable illness of his predecessor to whom I think at this moment your Lordships would like to extend their sympathy.
My noble friend Lord Elton has really conducted this Bill with quite consummate skill, judgment, tact and charm and has had in mind the fact which commentators outside appear still to be unaware of: that there is no built-in Government majority in this House, and that Ministers conducting a controversial Bill have to work their passage and earn their support by the arguments they adduce. If my noble friend will allow me to say so, I think that not only your Lordships on this side of the House but the whole House have very greatly admired the process.
Perhaps I may also say, speaking from this position, how much I have admired the way the noble Baroness, Baroness Birk, has conducted the opposition. I know 1155 from my own experience the difficulties of opposition when you have very little technical support, very little of the assets by way of briefing and officials that Ministers have. Yet the noble Baroness has never been failing in her attacks on the Bill which retained, even this evening, her usual vigour and willingness to attack. I may also say to her how much when she has really been caught out, as she has been once or twice, she has endeared herself to us by the really delightful smile that she has given by which she has acknowledged that. I should like to say that hers has been also a consummate performance which has reflected great credit on this House.
We are near the end and the last thing that your Lordships would wish is for me to recapitulate the arguments on this Bill. Indeed, I cannot help recalling the remarks of some historian who wrote, "This is all that is known, and more than is known, about the Britain of the 5th century". Probably what has been said here is more than is known on this subject. We have been over it again and again, and whatever else we have done we have not very often succeeded in convincing each other. The Bill has now reached this late stage. It will very soon—I would guess perhaps in the course of the current month—be the law of the land and in those circumstances I should like to make an appeal. I know that many of your Lordships feel that a mistake has been made. The noble Baroness said this. I know equally that many of my noble friends think that a sensible improvement is being made in the structure of local government and that the case for two-tier authorities in the metropolitan areas and in London is a bad one and that the new system will be more efficient and economical.
History, in due course will prove which of us is right; but we have to go through what is always the very difficult period of transition. So far, we have been subjected to an unprecedented publicity campaign, professionally managed, technically efficient, and press advertising with extremely well-drafted advertisements. I must say in parenthesis that I had great sympathy with one recent advertisement in a newspaper by the Merseyside County Council, which began with the moving words, "We are not the GLC". I could not help feeling some sympathy with Merseyside in that they had been moved to put in those emotive words, but my sympathy was perhaps a little diminished when I saw the figures of the amount of their ratepayers' money they had spent on publicity.
§ 10 p.m.
§ All that has been going on, within the law but perhaps not wholly within the spirit in which local government has been conducted in the past. However, I express the hope that now that Parliament has all but spoken, that will stop, and it will no longer be thought right to use public money to support publicity campaigns against what very soon indeed will be the law of the land.
§ We have had the utmost freedom of expression and of criticism while the matter has been going through Parliament. But I appeal, not only to noble Lords opposite but also to people outside, to accept now that these changes are going to happen and that those who 1156 are really concerned with the public interest will want to make sure that they happen in the best possible way. Indeed, those of your Lordships who think that what is being done is a mistake, that errors are being made and that damage will be done, have perhaps more reason than those of us who think that this is the right thing to do to try to mitigate what they think are these ill-effects by securing that the transition is as smooth as any transition can be.
§ Those of us with some experience of administration know well that there are always growing pains and minor crises when one has transfers of power of this sort. We have seen this in recent years, have we not, in what used to be the overseas colonial empire? We have also seen it in the reorganisations of local government. There will be hitches and difficulties and there may even be hardships, but surely it must be the wish of all of us that these shall be as small and as harmless as possible and that we should seek, whatever our views on the merits of what is being done, to make the change take place as painlessly as possible and with the least possible damage to individuals.
§ That brings me to my second appeal. It has been pointed out—it was even pointed out earlier today—that the outgoing local authorities, or some of them, and some of the trade unions who represent their staffs have been still refusing discussions and cooperation with the Government and with the incoming authorities over the problems of transition and the personal problems of those whose jobs are being changed. Now that we have reached this stage, surely there is no justification whatsoever for continuing that attitude.
§ If one is concerned, as most of your Lordships are—I certainly am—with the wellbeing of staffs and of people, including indeed one of our own colleagues, whose own position is being drastically changed by these reforms or developments, surely we want to see to it that these things happen with the least ill-effects and the least unfairness or injury to individuals. One cannot wish for that without doing all one can to secure that proper sensible discussions take place in advance. We are now only nine months from D-day. There is none too much time for the discussions which should result in individuals being fitted into their proper vacancies or being properly compensated if they cannot be so fitted in.
§ I beg noble Lords, particularly noble Lords opposite, to use their influence, which is great, with the local authorities concerned, and perhaps even more with the trade unions concerned, to suggest to them that they have fought and fought hard for their point of view but that they have lost and that now it is their duty to try to make the change and the transition work as well as possible. I do not ask any noble Lords or any of those outside who are concerned to abandon their conviction that what is to be done is a mistake. That in a free country is their entitlement. But I ask them as people with some responsibility for the well-being of their fellow citizens to try to use their influence so that helpful, sensible discussions shall take place and so that what they regard as the evils of this transition shall at least be minimised. I hope that we can send the Bill to another place with that request as the unanimous expression of view in this House.1157
§ I hope and trust that the very great changes which we have made—and I do not minimise them in the slightest—will work towards what all of us in your Lordships' House want to see, the well-being and happiness of about a third of the population in our country who are affected. We wish to see them benefit and prosper from these changes, and therefore surely we wish to see these changes take place in the most helpful, practical and sensible way possible.
§ Lord Stewart of Fulham
My Lords, I join very readily with the most deserved compliments which the previous speakers have paid to the Minister and to my noble friend Baroness Birk for their conduct of the business of this Bill. But when my noble friend Baroness Bi raises the question of whether we can say anything nice about the Bill, I find it more difficult. At the court of King George III there was a particularly spiteful diarist who once committed to paper his opinion of the appearance of one of the ladies of the court. He gave it as his judgment that "the first bloom of her ugliness was wearing off". I am wondering whether one can say that about this Bill.
It is, I think, true that in this House we have made—and we have reason to compliment ourselves—a number of improvements to the Bill. I would say this to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. His speech, now that the battle is over, was one of conciliation, such as the victorious are always most likely to preach. But if he wants an attitude of conciliation and of calm, all I can say is that I hope the Government will not, by the automatic use of a docile majority in another place, proceed to undo the improvements we have made here. If they do that, it will not be asking for any conciliatory attitude from anybody else.
While I am referring to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, I must say that when he describes to us how the Minister does not have any in-built majority to rely on, but has to do it all by sheer logic and by the conversion of those on his Benches to the merits of the argument, I can only implore him, in the cockney phrase, to "come off it", because it really was not like that at all. We all saw, and we were quite pleased to see, because a new face is always welcome, a number of persons turning up who voted the way the Government wanted. But I am very doubtful indeed that they were all of them so completely convinced by the argument.
§ Lord Stewart of Fulham
My Lords, no speech from anybody on this side would be complete without an interruption from the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls. As I was saying, I think one could just pay the Bill the compliment paid by the diarist of King George III's time. But it remains a very unsavoury picture at the end.
The Government began by trying to do the impossible. They said that they were going to abolish the upper-tier authorities. They were going to be cut to pieces and their functions distributed to the lower-tier bodies. So they set to work on paper. They cut them up. They then found that a number of the functions cannot be cut up in that fashion; that the police, the 1158 waste disposal, the fire service, the trading standards and a number of others, cannot be cut up in that way. So they then proceeded, having cut something up, to try to stitch it together again by the device of joint boards.
We are now told that we are no longer to have two-tier government in the metropolitan regions. The trouble is that what we now have is a one-and-three-quarter-tier government, which is probably as clumsy an arrangement as one could have. It is not a single-tier arrangement; it is an arrangement in London of borough councils, and elsewhere of district councils. Then on top of those, covering the metropolitan areas, are the joint boards. This is failing to do one thing that was claimed for the Bill. It is not making local government more democratic; it is not bringing it nearer to the people. In ordinary local government elections the man or woman who stands for election knows what the powers and duties of the authority are and what he or she will be responsible for if elected. In the situation we are going to have now, you will know, if you stand as a borough council candidate in London or a district council candidate in the other regions, that you will be a member of that council, but you will not know on to what joint boards you will be put. The public will find it very difficult to say at any moment who is responsible for the way in which a particular function is run in the area in which they live. It may be the district council or the borough council; it may be one of these boards.
The financial situation that will result was brought to the attention of all of us very strikingly indeed by the important amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, earlier this evening. What is the situation? Let us take it in London. I use the example of London because it is most familiar to me, but it applies similarly to the others. A London borough has to set to work and fix its rate. It has to do that, knowing that several bodies are going to precept on it and that the persons on those bodies—about one-thirtieth part of them—will be members of its own council. The others will be from other councils. The councillor cannot control what will be the decision of the joint body on which he sits.
It is in that situation that the various London boroughs have to frame their rates. There is no means of knowing that the rate they want for their direct needs and the various precepts piled on them by the joint boards will add up to a burden which they can reasonably present to their ratepayers as a whole. That case has been put and has not been answered by the Minister tonight, nor earlier. That knocks a hole in another of the claims that was made for this Bill—that it was going to be a Bill to bring about savings.
At no time have the Government seriously challenged the conclusions of Messrs. Coopers and Lybrand on this matter. Whenever we have had references to savings, they have been references to cutting away, by the Greater London Council, expenditure of a kind of which the party opposite disapproves. I think that we should grasp this: compelling your political opponents to give up spending money in a way of which you disapprove may be something which you are entitled to do if you win, if you are victorious, but it is not of course a saving. It is not the process of getting a given result in 1159 a more economical manner. At no point have the Government been able to show any real economies or any real saving of money, as distinct from cutting services or from preventing their opponents from doing what they want to do. So on the claim that it is more democratic and on the claim that it is more economical, this Bill falls down.
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ We find also that when one tries to reform local government one usually studies the matter very carefully in advance. That was done 20 years ago, when we had the Herbert Report which preceded the London Government Act 1963. One usually has a proper, detailed, scholarly study. On tries to secure as much support as one can from the general public and expert bodies.
§ What has been done in this case? The only serious study has been, as was pointed out by a Select Committee of your Lordships' House, not at all comparable with that of the Herbert Committee. There has been no serious study of the problems of local government in London or elsewhere as a prelude to this Bill.
§ We have, it is true, a document entitled Streamlining the Cities. I may say in passing that this was a propagandist document, paid for by the taxpayer, and it ought to have caused great horror among some noble Lords opposite. There is no doubt that that is what it was. That document was paid for by the taxpayer and it was a propagandist document. I do not complain, because one must have that kind of thing in government from time to time. However, I do not see why, when the metropolitan authorities reply out of their funds with propaganda, noble Lords opposite get so worked up about it.
§ So we had the document Streamlining the Cities, but there was precious little study of local government in it. There was merely an explanation of the fact that the Tory Party had given a pledge to abolish the metropolitan tier and was going to go ahead with doing that, no matter what happened. So there was no proper study in advance and expert support at all. This was pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman.
§ None of the expert bodies which might have been interested in this matter—whether the subject was town planning, medicine, agriculture, or trade and industry—came down definitely in support of the Bill. Nearly all of them came down against it. A few were persuaded to modify their hostility after the Government had been as placatory as possible, often at quite considerable cost to the taxpayer on the way. Not that I complain about that, either. But there was no positive wave of support from expert opinion in favour of the Bill.
§ Nor was there any volume of popular support. Here I fear that the party opposite must have been greatly disappointed. Nobody doubts, of course, that Mr. Kenneth Livingstone conducted his propaganda in a highly flamboyant manner. He gave noble Lords opposite the impression that his methods would be extremely unpopular and that they would have a jolly easy job of showing how little Londoners wanted him. Noble Lords opposite have learned over the past few 1160 months that few people have done more than they have to increase Mr. Livingstone's popularity with the electorate of London. It serves them right.
§ The Bill, then, had no proper study in advance. It had no technical, expert support. It had no popular support. How has a Bill of that kind managed to get as far as it has? What was the driving force behind it? We all know perfectly well. We all know why the metropolitan authorities are being got rid of. It is not because they are wasteful, even if that charge could be proved—which it has not been. It is not because their structure is particularly untidy, because it is a good deal tidier than the structure which this Bill provides for the local government of the metropolitan areas. The metropolitan counties and the GLC are being abolished because they have Labour majorities. We all know that perfectly well. I hope that no one will question it.
If I may use another historical quotation, it is reported of Disraeli—and whether it is history or legend I do not know—that he once said about Mr. Gladstone:
I do not mind him having the ace of trumps up his sleeve. What I resent is his supposition that God put it there".
In the same way I shall not particularly mind noble Lords opposite carrying through a Bill which is a straight piece of partisan stuff abolishing local authorities which have had the bad taste to have Labour majorities more often than not. What I do object to is seeing that disguised as a very thin pretence of being a magnificent structure of efficient and orderly local government, when nothing in the Bill justifies that claim.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
My Lords, I suppose that I am one of the very few on these Benches who have been cheered by the Labour Party because of my views on the Greater London Council and the establishment of the metropolitan boroughs. When my party brought in the Greater London Council and the metropolitan boroughs I thought it was a mistake. I thought it was a move in the wrong direction, and so did the Labour Party. The Labour Party voted against it and argued against it with the same vehemence that it is now using in order to preserve it. It was right then and it is wrong now. However, I remember the cheers I received when that party thought I was right when I happened to agree with it.
In response to the comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, I always remember having the view that one of the main reasons that the Labour Party was against the establishment of this extra tier of government was that it thought that they would not have Labour majorities. The history of county councils showed that they always seemed to bring Conservative majorities against the smaller local authorities. The Labour Party's enthusiasm in those days to prevent the metropolitan counties being set up was as narrow and as partisan as the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, in an aside, seemed to suggest is the case now in a different respect.
The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, was the agent against me in 11 elections in Peterborough. She was a good agent and it took a bit of winning against the noble Baroness. There was a recount in 1950; a 1161 recount in 1951; seven recounts in 1966; and four recounts in February of 1974. All that was because the noble Baroness was so able. When the question of setting up the Greater London Council and the metropolitan boroughs came forward the noble Baroness was against that happening then with the same degree of enthusiasm that she shows today for their retention. I am impressed by the way that, when it suits the party outlook, views can seem to change. However, I welcomed the cheers when I received them then and I hope that it will not be long before I shall again earn cheers from the Benches opposite on other matters.
On the question of whether or not we are doing the right thing, it is quite clear that the local government situation as it existed before we brought about that great change—my party did that—needed some improvement and change. But the direction in which we moved was wrong, and I applaud my noble friend and I applaud the Government for having the courage to face up to the fact that their own idea has not worked out in the interests of the nation as they thought it would. I believe that for anyone not to face up to that when they truly believe it is to show the kind of weakness which if it were in a party would mean that I would not want to be a member of it. It is because the Government have changed their minds and recognised that, that I applaud them, and I hope they will see this measure through to the end.
I did not like one phrase used by the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, for whom I have a great respect. He said that in view of the amendments which we have made in your Lordships' House he hoped that a docile majority would not alter the Bill back again, or do anything about it, when it goes back to the other place. Of course, we know that a majority is always docile when it is the other party's majority. When it is their own party it is not docile; it is well-thought out, it is patriotic and it is everything that is good. I happen to hope that when this Bill goes back to another place some of my honourable friends there will recognise some of the weaknesses that we have introduced into it. I hope they will have the courage to look into it, face up to it and perhaps make one or two amendments. We shall bring it back again so that it has the sort of value that I hope it will have eventually.
If the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, will allow me—I am one of her fans and she knows that; she has been very good and I admire her very much—I must say that when she continually quotes Coopers and Lybrand it shows that, while she is a superb politician and indeed a past master at the Dispatch Box, she has not really faced up to the real cost of these things. It is not confined to the actual money you can save in the cost of running the machine, running the local authorities. It must be remembered that there are businesses, industries and houses of commerce outside that are affected. I should like to tell the noble Baroness that whatever Coopers and Lybrand say the actual saving may or may not be on the alteration of this machinery of government, removing this unnecessary tier of government will save industry, commerce and the shops of this country a lot of money.
I am still actively in business, small businesses in the metropolitan area of the West Midlands that the noble 1162 Baroness, Lady Fisher, talks about with a great deal of knowledge similar to my own. I want to tell her that when we have wanted to undertake developments and have asked for projects to be considered, because of the edicts which came from the metropolitan boroughs, the cost and the delay involved in what we should have liked to do in developing our businesses—which would have increased the wealth of this country and may well have made a little contribution to the unemployment problem which is uppermost in all our minds—we have been frustrated. It is this unnecessary tier which has held us up and which has had a view different from that of the real local authority which knows the area. In working out the cost of this change, not only the cost of the machine itself must be considered but also the cost that it puts on top of the people who are held up, delayed, and have to go to extra trouble in order to accomplish planning and developments which at the end of the day are in the best interests of the nation.
The final thing I want to say on democracy is that I cannot understand the argument of whether or not what will be left in this Bill will be more democratic. It has to be. Democracy is nearer to the voters under this Bill. The big county boroughs and the metropolitan councils—and for all I know the Greater London Council, because I do not pretend to know anything about the machinery in London—almost are too far removed from the actual voters for their members to be known. They are merely party names on a list. But when you get to the level of the boroughs and the smaller authorities, the people who are being elected are known and do understand their areas. If it is democracy you want, I believe you are there getting nearer to the sort of democracy that I think fulfils the real aim of that word than exists on these bigger authorities.
I can say that with some authority. As I mentioned on a previous occasion, I was the elected Member of the European Parliament for an area which covered eight constituencies. Whether I was good, bad or indifferent, I was never known in that huge area at anything like the level of when I was a Member for the constituency that the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, knew. There was a chance that any qualities or weaknesses that you had might be known at that level; but over an area of 500,000 voters, as I found, you were just a name or a cipher. You hoped that you did a reasonable job, but you were not a real, democratic representative of people who really knew you. I am convinced that this bringing of democracy nearer to the voters themselves is more likely to fulfil all its attributes than anything that existed before. So I want to congratulate my noble friend on having organised an answer to many of the unfair arguments that have been put on the other side and making them sound acceptable to a majority sufficient to get his business through the House.
Many will not enjoy my final words. I feel that the way that the opposition to the Bill has been organised in this House has not been at the highest level, bearing in mind the real function of this Chamber. I know that this will not be acceptable. It is only my view. I hope that my instinct is wrong, but it tells me that we have gone very near to stepping over the line and going outside the remit extended to this noble House in 1163 playing our part in bringing legislation to the statute book. I hope that we shall have learnt a lesson about that. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and my noble friend Lord Home will continue their investigations to see to it that any lessons that we can learn from the way the oppostion has been conducted will be learnt in the interests of the House and of parliamentary government.
I congratulate my noble friend on having led the Bill to what I think is a successful conclusion. I have enjoyed any little part that I have tried to play. I admired very much the skill, assiduity and tenacity of the noble Baroness who has been the leader on the other side.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Lord Kissin
My Lords, I should like first to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on the way that he has conducted the debate. The fact that we are all smiling and sitting here in a friendly atmosphere is due to him and the way he conducted the great battle with his protagonists who, I think, have maintained an atmosphere in the House which is rare and admirable. It cannot be found in many parliaments of the world.
I do not want to address myself to the practical aspects of the Bill. I am more concerned with the underlying principles which the Bill has attacked and changed and the implications which arise from its introduction. If I remember rightly, the noble Lord said that it fulfils the promise that the Conservative Party Manifesto gave in 1983 to remove an unnecessary tier of government. However, if one examines the Bill it is clear that the metropolitan councils will be removed but many of their activities will be placed in the hands of the residuary bodies and a plethora of joint boards.
In reality only one thing, I fear, has been removed, and that is the democratically elected authorities for the metropolitan areas. I consider that a regrettable step. Democratic accountability is not simply a desirable principle. It also provides direction and purpose to any governmental process. Without that direction, the result is likely to be a bureaucratic structure that is unable to respond to the needs and wishes of society. I believe that the Bill has not done away with the tiers that the Government set out to abolish.
When I voted for certain amendments—and this is another point that I wish to make—my purpose was to express my opposition to an ever-increasing centralisation of power in our political structure. In my lifetime, and in the lifetime of many noble Lords, we have seen the extreme effects and dangers of the tendency to centralise power in the hands of the Government. We saw these examples before the war and we have seen them since the war, and I think noble Lords will agree with me that in many instances they have led to catastrophic results, in many instances they have led to undesirable results, and in only a very few instances have they achieved what they set out to achieve.
Centralisation of power in Government hands is generally increased in order to allow the Government to act forcibly against certain developments which 1164 they anticipate. But the Government of the day have no certainty, and they cannot foresee how subsequent Governments may utilise the power and structure they have created. I do not doubt the motives of the Government in promoting the Bill. But almost inevitably Governments of another day, with another purpose, can use the law introduced by their predecessors to achieve ends contrary to the philosophy and the purpose for which it was introduced, and often contrary to the principles of democracy.
Perhaps I may make a side remark. I am puzzled. We have just survived a miners' strike. It was then that the Government fought hard to persuade the leader of the union to confirm his actions by referring to a democratic process of ballot in the union that he represented. He did not accede to the Government's request, and the Government have (and I am afraid we all have) paid a high price. In Britain, the principles that underpin our unwritten constitution include a diversity of governmental structures. Thus, both the other place and this House share in the process of making the law of the land, and the elected authority has the final say. However, the structure relies on the checks and balances, and it is our joint responsibility to seek the best balanced solution to any legislative problem.
It is my belief that in this context it is wrong to talk about "unnecessary tiers of government". I think it is also wrong to concentrate powers so heavily in the hands of the Secretary of State. It seems to me a matter of principle that where governmental processes are carried out as they will be in London and the other metropolitan areas after the passage of the Bill, it is essential that we retain a system of democratic accountability. Whatever the Government's motives are in abolishing local authorities with which they disagree, they have provided a precedent for a future Government which may be of a very different political complexion.
It is for this reason that I think that certain precedents that have been created by the introduction of this Bill, such as retrospective legislation and the creation of independent bodies, are very dangerous steps to take. Some of the bodies which are being set up will be in existence beyond the life of this Parliament. The precedent to which I refer will allow members of a new and politically differently oriented Government to use this type of law for entirely different aims, often perhaps contrary to the principles of democracy and not thought of when this law was introduced.
I should have preferred it if the Government had tackled this problem by redefining and cutting down the powers and responsibilities of the various metropolitan councils, without using the term "abolition". It is to me fundamental that, in introducing a new law, Government and Parliament must evaluate any such law not only in its current use but also in its potential use in the future. It is my view that any law should be so structured that a system of democratic accountability is always maintained. In many parts of the present Bill this vital element has been eliminated. The abolishing of an elected authority and the transfer of powers to new, unidentifiable bodies and finally to the Secretary of 1165 State creates precedents that could be very far reaching in different conditions.
I believe very deeply that our country possesses a uniquely educated society with very firm traditions. Elements of this Bill, I repeat, make a break with this tradition and could introduce a new concept that could be detrimental to the democratic progression that we have achieved. I do not, for a moment, wish to exaggerate the point. I just wish the House to take note of it. I want to put on record that it is the duty of Parliament to give careful thought to all the implications that can arise from the creation of precedents in a new law that we are now accepting. If such new concepts are not very clearly defined, we may well mortgage our future democratic rights. I believe that we have a duty to protect the democratic progress of our country.
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Lord Brockway
My Lords, there are a few comments that I should like to make before the Bill is passed. The first is to express an appreciation, which, I am sure, is shared by all the Back-Benchers on this side of the House, and indeed by many others, of the way in which my noble friend Lady Birk and her team have conducted their opposition to this Bill. It has been done with a thoroughness and a detail, an ability, an ingenuity and a persistence that have been a great parliamentary performance. I extend that appreciation to the constructive proposals which have so often been made by the spokesmen of the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party. I even extend it, if I may, to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for the good humoured and knowledgeable way in which he has made the best case for what we regard as a very bad case.
I need not say that I am opposed to many measures of the Government. But I feel particularly deeply about this Bill. I understand the opposition of the Government and their supporters to the metropolitan councils and to the Greater London Council. The Minister has argued this case in detail on administrative lines. I think there is no doubt that the intensity of the opposition that exists in the Government party is to the Socialist policies that so many of the metropolitan councils have carried out, and particularly the Greater London Council. I wonder how many of the unknown who came to swell the Government majority in this House understand or are even aware of the adminstrative case for this Bill. It is because of their dislike of Mr. Ken Livingstone and the Socialist policy of the Greater London Council that they feel so intensely upon this matter.
I support what the Greater London Council and some other metropolitan councils have done because I believe that they have sought to express basic human values which are necessary for this nation and the world. I turn to unemployment. The campaign which the Greater London Council has carried out against unemployment and its activities within its limited powers to improve the situation are surely a first necessity of this time. It has appreciated what is happening to the character of our people, with the man in the home regarded as a failure, frustrated because he cannot get a job; the school-leavers, after eight years' education, not wanted in the world 1166 because there is no place for them. No wonder there is violence, and that is particularly true of the black school-leavers who are completing their education.
In a practical way even the Government have had to co-operate with the enterprise board of the Greater London Council to deal with the problem of unemployment. Secondly, there is the Greater London Council's stand against racialism and its appointment of a department with an able head in order to seek to thrust back the racialism which perhaps is even growing in this country today. Thirdly, there is its stand for women's equality in its contracts with all companies providing services to the Greater London Council. It has in the greatest detail insisted that there shall be no discrimination either on the ground of race or on the ground that an applicant is a woman. And there is its stand for disarmament and peace, and the exhibitions which it has staged against the danger of nuclear war in the world. These are all the basic human rights which this nation and the world need today, and the Greater London Council in its policy, in its statements and in its activities, has sought to express them.
The significant point is that with these challenging Socialist policies, according to opinion polls it has nearly three-quarters of the support of the population of London. The Government claim that they stand for democracy. In destroying the Greater London Council, they are repudiating the democratic desires of the people of London.
What a waste all this time and expenditure on this Bill will prove to be. Yes, my Lords, you may seek temporarily to destroy it, but come the next general election and you will have a Government which will restore it. The failure of the Government's policy in these respects must be clear to all those who have taken an objective view of the situation. I regard it as a disgrace to Parliament that we should be passing this Bill tonight.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, it is not my intention to make a Second Reading speech which either condemns or commends this Bill, or seeks to anticipate what may happen in another place or thereafter in your Lordships' House, or to champion the cause of conciliation, or to make any party political points. All this has been the burden of the speeches of noble Lords who have preceded me. The least said at this hour after those excellent speeches, the better.
My sole purpose, having taken an active part in the debates, is to say a short word of appreciation. It would indeed be churlish to depart from your Lordships' House without such a sincere word of appreciation and gratitude to noble Lords on the Benches opposite, and in particular to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, for her tolerance of my interventions on the constitutional issue as I saw it. I am grateful to her and, indeed, to noble Lords opposite for their forbearance.
Before we put this Bill to bed—and perhaps put ourselves to bed with a sense of infinite relief—may I thank my noble friend the Minister for his flexibility of conduct and his sensitive handling of this innovative measure, which enabled certain concessions to be made, even some on which the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and I found ourselves in agreement.
§ Viscount Mountgarret
My Lords, may I ask the indulgence of your Lordships' House, the debate having gone on for rather a long time on the Motion that this Bill do now pass, to ask whether it would be possible to make a plea to the Government? Having succeeded, in the main, in getting this Bill eventually on to the statute book, for which they must be congratulated, and bearing in mind the fact that they have probably restored the situation to that which existed before the introduction of the reorganisation of local government in 1976, would they consider restoring to us and to the United Kingdom our orginal county boundaries, which were reorganised then in a rather arbitrary fashion?
A large majority of those affected would welcome this. I trust that the Government will be sensitve to this plea. Restore to Bristol the status of its city and county. Restore the White Horse to Berkshire, from whence it roamed. Give back to his Grace the County of Rutland, of which he is the Duke, or to my Lord, Westmorland, of which he is the Earl. Yorkshire is dear to me, and there was the partitioning off of some area to Lancashire. Dare I say: what would Henry Tudor have thought of that?
Puppet sub-counties have emerged, such as Cleveland, Tyneside and Humberside. But in their hearts the inhabitants of these areas think of themselves as being Yorkshiremen. The Ridings are no longer, and for no reason. I have lived in the West Riding for all my life, but for some reason it now becomes part of the county of North Yorkshire, with no noticeable boundary at all other than a rather lone holly bush between Harrogate and Harewood, whereas before the boundary of the North Riding and the West Riding was the distinctive feature of the River Ure. Wales has lost its identity. Give it back its Glamorgan, its Pembrokeshire and its Caernarvonshire, and so on. Scotland has suffered a similar fate.
I might almost turn to cricket, but at this stage I think I had better not do so. However, what about the counties of Herefordshire and Worcestershire, and so on? There is no such thing. Worcestershire is a first class county; Herefordshire is not. Yet there is a county now of Herefordshire and Worcestershire. I therefore ask that with the passing of this Bill the Government might consider whether it might be possible to restore our traditional boundaries of our country that have been in existence for well over 1,000 years.
My Lords, at this late hour I shall not detain the House for more than a minute or two; but I thought that it might be of interest to tell your Lordships of a little research that I embarked on over the weekend. My researches have revealed that if one adds together the proceedings of the Second Reading, the Committee stage and the Report stage of this mammoth Bill one finds altogether that we have taken up 108 hours and 10 minutes. The number of words spoken—I have worked this out carefully, but the figure is not absolutely right I am sure—were some 952,426—and I should say that we have probably reached one million words because the average words spoken every day have been in the region of 52,000 or 53,000. There have been 489 amendments tabled at 1168 the various stages, of which 82 have been approved and the remainder have been not moved, withdrawn or defeated. This Bill may go down as the Bill of a million words.
If my researches have revealed one thing it is the immense debt we owe to the supporting services. I want here to pay a particular tribute to Hansard and the Public Bill Office. All of your Lordships will agree that their support has been quite remarkable. They produce one's speeches in an impeccable condition, never a semi-colon confused with a comma, no matter how late the hour may be. If a little slip occurs it is generally of our own making. I also add a very warm tribute to the Public Bill Office who cope in wholly admirable style with all the amendments thrown upon them at the last minute. I know that I have been guilty of this myself. These amendments are often conflicting and complex and they come out in apple-pie order. We owe them a very great debt of thanks.
Having been connected with about eight or nine amendments, although I have listened to the olympian pronouncements of the noble Lord the Minister with great attention and considerable profit, there is still one area that I am not happy about, and I think this view is probably shared by other noble Lords. That is, what is to happen to the vast collection of expertise that has been accumulated by so many people over so many years in the the GLC and in the metropolitan counties? I am thinking of the expertise built up about the ethnic minorities, economic development, and so on. I may be wrong, but I do not think we have had an assurance on that. I wish this Bill well and once more I should like to pay a very warm tribute to the noble Lord the Minister.
§ Lord John-Mackie
My Lords, like the noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret, I rise to make a last minute plea to the Government. Before doing so, I too should like to congratulate the speakers on our Front Benches, including my noble friend Lady Birk. Her remark to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that he was pitchforked into this is not an inelegant one, if I may say so to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. Pitchforking is a very rhythmic operation if done by an expert, but that may not apply to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter.
§ Lord John-Mackie
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Birk started her speech after her compliments to everybody by commenting on her concern about various matters. My concern is: what will happen to the farming estate and the three demonstration farms? This is an estate of 12,500 acres and it will be fragmented among a plethora of local authorities which will do no good to it at all. The importance of the farming estate during the goings-on on the Bill was lost because, for some unknown reason, it is under the arts and recreation section of the GLC. I know that farming is an art but I do not consider it a recreation. Any amendments that were put down did not cover the farming estate. One of the remarks made—and I am pleased to see the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, here—during the Agricultural Holdings Bill by the 1169 Government and by their supporters was on how important it is to keep the tenanted sector in agriculture and to keep the farming ladder. I cannot understand—nobody can understand—how they can do this to this estate, how they can break it up in the way they are going to do it; because this provides both these things.
§ 11 p.m.
§ They now have a chance to put their money—to use the expression—where their mouth is or was. I understand that the Secretary of State has regulatory powers and it is not too late to do something about it. My noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton several times emphasised in the various amendments that were put down that many of them were not wrecking amendments but were amendments to improve the Bill. It would certainly improve the situation if the Government took these powers to keep this estate intact. As I say, it is not going to wreck the Bill. The management is there, as well as everything else. I appeal to them to do this, for it would improve the situation immensely. If they do not do it, then I am afraid that I would have no faith in the Government's real interest in agriculture in that sector.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, many of your Lordships have made very kind remarks about my conduct of this Bill and have given me a sympathy which, in part at least, I think I deserve for the way in which I came upon it in the first place. I am most grateful to your Lordships for that but I honestly must say that it would not have been possible to do so had your Lordships not equally been good tempered and patient and enabled me to do it. I am grateful to your Lordships for never setting about me with the sort of provocative political attacks which one is so tempted to make on occasions when one's political sympathies are aroused.
While I am on the subject I should like to repeat the recognition which I gave at an early stage to the conduct of the opposition of all parties, led with great ability by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and to repeat on the record what is too often not realised by those who are not in this House. Whereas I have a very considerable body of skilled and expert advisers (to whom I should now like to pay a tribute which is justly due: that they so often give me the right advice, often in writing, which I can read in emergencies), whereas I have the services of a complete department of state and other departments of state where necessary, the noble Baroness and her coadjutors do not. They do this in their spare time and it really is a remarkably polished and professional performance which your Lordships have seen and which outsiders have seen, exceptionally, which this Bill has received. I am grateful to your Lordships for that.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, perhaps the Minister will allow me to pay a tribute, a very warm tribute, to many outside this House who have served the Oppostion very well indeed by enabling us most effectively to present their case which, of course, was our case, too.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, that was a very proper intervention and I am glad to embed it, as it were, in my speech like a currant in a bun.
Let us briefly look at the background to exchanges and make sure that we understand it. The noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, produced one of a series of misapprehensions, which I shall have to address in a moment, to the effect that Her Majesty's Government were in possession of a majority in your Lordships' House. He made that statement notwithstanding a number of resounding defeats of Her Majestys' Government. I would refer him to the statistical analysis of this myth which was given to your Lordships' House on 17th May 1984 by my noble friend the Chief Whip. I shall not read the whole of his answer, because it went on for so long. But it gave the same result in every possible computation. My noble friend was asked whether he would provide the figures on which the Government based the statement made in the House on 26th April that in almost every case and in almost every way of looking at it the Government do not have an overall majority in this House. My noble friend gave the figures at col. 1506 on 17th May, 1984. He said:On the 26th April of this year, the day on which I made the claim quoted by the noble Lord [Lord Beswick] 1,097 Peers were in receipt of a Writ of Summons of whom 462 were Government Peers, or 42.1 per cent … If you exclude those Lords who were on leave of absence the figure becomes 936, of whom 424 were Government Peers or 45.3 per cent. If you exclude again those Lords who had not taken the Oath during the current Session the figure becomes 865, of whom 398 were Government Peers, or 46 per cent".Then my noble friend proceeded to another series of analyses, breaking down your Lordships' numbers by the number or frequency of attendance, and in every single case the number of Conservative Peers were fewer than 50 per cent. We are not operating with a built-in majority, my Lords. We have to persuade your Lordships, and that is the results which your Lordships see in the Division Lobbies.
§ Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord for a minute. He has not quoted the riposte I made to the Government Chief Whip at that time. The point is of course that those figures are correct, if one works on the assumption that every Cross-Bench Peer is against the Government, but the fact is that one must take the Cross-Bench Peers out of the equation. Noble Lords may protest, but one cannot assume, the noble Lord and the Government Chief Whip cannot assume, that every Cross-Bench Peer is against the Government. In fact, if one—
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, the noble Lord was kind enough to protract his intervention for long enough for me to get hold of the exchanges he has referred to. He has referred to his interjection—an interjection in the exchanges which I was quoting from—and he said I should go on to quote him. He has now quoted himself, and it is right for me to quote the reply of my noble friend Lord Denham, who said, at col. 1508:My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, is giving weight to another popular fallacy: that all Peers are deemed to be Conservative until proved innocent".1171 So I hope your Lordships will accept that while the decisions of your Lordships' House on this Bill may not be agreeable to noble Lords opposite, who have been patient and courteous but who still do not agree with us, the fact is that they have been decisions of your Lordships' House not secured by a built-in permanent Conservative majority. If one asks the right reverend Prelates—I have chosen the wrong Prelate, my Lords, to illustrate this—
The Lord Bishop of Norwich
My Lords, can the noble Lord the Minister give some sort of personal explanation for choosing the wrong bishop? I thought I was a right reverend.
§ Lord Elton
All bishops, my Lords, are right reverend, but on some occasions one chooses the wrong reverend to illustrate one's point. That, then is the background.
The noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, has done some arithmetic. With the advantages of departmental assistance and some micro-electronics, no doubt, I think I can update his figures. I think we have spent almost exactly—or a little over—130 hours on this Bill. We have voted, I believe, 30 times and we are sending to another place over 90 amendments. So if your Lordships are in doubt as to whether or not this is a revising Chamber, that doubt may be set at rest. I cannot of course tell your Lordships what will be the fate of all those amendments, but there is no doubt whatsoever that in many respects this Bill will be a great deal better when it leaves this House than when it arrived here, and that is thanks to the hard work of your Lordships all round the House.
I do not know that I should fall for the temptation of answering every point that was made during this debate. To some of the points I shall reply on paper. Your Lordships are anxious to go home; or, if your Lordships are not, I am.
I can tell my noble friend Lord Mountgarret that what he proposes about boundaries and names of local authorities is far outside the scope of this Bill. The Bill does not provide an opportunity to pursue the (to him) attractive objectives which he sets out. It is true that the local government Boundary Commission is able to examine the questions of change of boundary, but it is not up to my right honourable friend to initiate those matters.
Your Lordships were asked at the beginning of this debate to regard the introduction of this Bill as a matter of pique. I shall not answer that point at length because I answered it at Second Reading, and my noble friend the Leader of the House assisted me in putting the record straight on it. Nor was it done at the last minute, or to abolish one set of Labour-dominated authorities simply to hand over a great deal of that power to other Labour-dominated authorities.
A good deal has been made about the cost of what we are doing. Doubts have been thrown on the savings that will result. The noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, asked me why I had not seriously contested the finding of the Coopers and Lybrand analysis of the cost of abolition in London. I had not thought it necessary because it showed that there would be 1172 annual savings of about £40 million. It is true that we think that annual savings will be about £50 million. But I thought that the fact that a firm which had been commissioned by the GLC to examine this question came up with an answer saying that abolition would save a lot of money spoke for itself.
Attempts have been made once more to alarm the voluntary sector. I remind your Lordships of the considerable efforts we have made to assist and protect that sector; not simply to buy votes but to protect the voluntary sector, which we all believe is integral to the British way of life. Indeed, we have also taken the opportunity to introduce what I believe is an exciting new departure in the form of the trust for London, which I believe is beginning the steady removal of voluntary funding away from the political field. That is what I should like to think it will become.
The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, suggested that the Secretary of State would have a terrible power to direct the manpower and financial levels of the joint authorities. Indeed, I think she rather alarmed the noble Lord, Lord Kissin, in the process because he warned us with considerable experience of the dangers of centrist government sapping away at the roots of local democracy. It was a pity that the noble Baroness did not say that every one of those powers relating to the Secretary of State and the joint authorities is limited to three years and cannot be renewed. It is simply to stop the cost getting out of hand in the transitional period.
The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, who astounds me by becoming ever more coherent, fluent and persuasive in his advancing years, whereas I seem to be moving in the opposite direction all the time, catalogued areas of concern to which the GLC had addressed itself. He approved of the political slant of the address which they had given. It does not appeal to me, but that is not the fact that matters. The fact that matters is that it will be open to the successor bodies to follow the example of the GLC in every single particular that he mentioned if they wish to do so. We are not destroying a political philosophy: we are removing a very large bureaucracy which is too big to justify itself by the functions which it performs.
I had not intended to refer to the recent release to the press and the fact that the GLC is now proposing to leave a blueprint for a far bigger, far more powerful authority than that which we are now abolishing. But the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, said that this would be the object of the next Labour Government. I would therefore mention that it appears that this proposal involves setting up an elected authority for London with powers over the police which they will take from the Home Secretary—powers extending far beyond their territory into the commuter land which supplies the working population of London in large numbers.
I want to bring my remarks to a close. I shall not therefore reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, on the matter of the Boundary Commission or the Audit Commission, except on paper. I shall come to what is the remaining important point that ought to be put on the record by the Minister in charge of the Bill. It was ably made for me by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, whose frequent cogent and useful interventions in our debates I am glad to acknowledge. 1173 The will of Parliament is in the process of being declared. It can no longer be in doubt that it will prevail. It is essentially an elected body, though this is not an elected House. No Government can govern without a majority in another place. It has decided that the powers of seven large bureaucratic but elected bodies shall be devolved for the most part to their subordinate equally elected democratic bodies in cooperation, where necessary, to conduct those functions together.
That does not set a dangerous precedent. It does not bring power closer to the centre of government. It does not threaten democracy. It does not cast a blight on the future of the voluntary organisations. It is not an act of political pique. What we have set our hands to do, and what we determined to set our hands to do long before noble Lords opposite recognised that we did, was to remove a layer of government that was unnecessary and which costs money. It costs we think 50 million unnecessary pounds a year in London alone; the Coopers and Lybrand often quoted report suggests that it is only £40 million. But only £40 million, my Lords! This is money worth having. The money that is spent ought to be in the hands of the truly local authorities; that is, the boroughs in London and the districts elsewhere.
This has been a long row to hoe. I believe that we have hoed it thoroughly. I am grateful to your Lordships for your tenacity and patience. We send this Bill with many amendments to another place. It remains simply for me to say once more, I beg to move.
§ On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.