HL Deb 13 June 1985 vol 464 cc1427-71

8.2 p.m.

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed.

Clause 21 [Consultation with inner London boroughs and the City]:

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 63C: Leave out Clause 21.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, our aim in this amendment is to delete Clause 21 from the Bill. There are two parts to this clause. The first part obliges the Inner London Education Authority to consult with borough councils over the authority's proposals for expenditure and the financing of expenditure. The second part obliges the authority to consult boroughs over, first, main policy objectives, and, secondly, any change to its main policy objectives.

The main objection to this clause is the inherent contradiction that lies behind it. Part III of this Bill establishes a body corporate which, according to Clause 18, shall consist of members [directly] elected by the local government electors of the Inner London Education Area". Therefore, the proposed body corporate, unlike the existing ILEA, will be directly elected and mandated by the electors of inner London. It is to these electors that the members of the new body corporate will be accountable at the subsequent elections every four years. As the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, stressed in Committee, there is every prospect of people being elected to this authority because of their concern and interest in education, whereas those elected to boroughs will represent a different set of interests altogether. The mandate from the electorate to the new authority will therefore be very clear. I hope the Minister is listening.

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, yes.

Baroness David

Yet this clause obliges the new directly elected single service authority to put aside this mandate and to consult borough councils elected on separate political mandates to administer quite different services.

The existing ILEA is not directly elected but is a sub-committee of the GLC. The representation of borough interests is ensured through the election at borough level of 13 representatives on to the education committee of the ILEA. Part III of the Bill, Clause 18 to be precise, abolishes that direct relationship with the boroughs and substitutes direct elections for indirect representation.

Yet here in this clause, Clause 21, there is a back-door attempt to reintroduce that relationship through enforced consultation. It seems to me that this clause reveals the Government's inherent uncertainty about what they intend to achieve with Part III of the Bill. On the one hand, they have proudly announced the establishment of a directly elected education authority. On the other hand, they continue to pay lip-service to the indirectly elected principle by enforcing consultation with bodies, that is, borough councils with no electorate mandate for education.

When the House debated Part III of the Bill during Committee, Members expressed clear dissatisfaction with the underlying uncertainty of old Clause 21 of the Bill. If this clause which we are now discussing were to remain part of the Bill, it would be perfectly possible for those without political responsibility for education in inner London to delay and block the implementation of the elected authority's main policy objectives, or any changes that that authority may wish to make to its policy objectives.

The consultation process could be lengthy and costly in terms of officer time, if 13 separate boroughs were able to insist on more and separate meetings throughout the year. It seems to me the work of the officer would be extremely difficult and that it would be very frustrating for him not to be able to plan with any certainty. While I am talking about this particular amendment, I have very much in mind the work of the officers. I think they feel strongly about it. I have talked to a good many of them. I think that this is a very substantial argument in favour of deleting this clause.

In addition to revealing the Government's ambivalence on the issue of a directly elected and accountable education authority, this clause reveals the Government's intention to single out ILEA and treat it in a manner different from all other local education authorities. No other ILEA has consultations and constraints imposed upon it. No other education authority will be called upon to refer to authorities elected on different mandates to administer different services.

Finally, the clause ignores long-standing and existing consultations carried out by ILEA. Under the Rates Act the ILEA is obliged to consult both industrial and commercial ratepayers about its expenditure and its proposals for financing that expenditure. In addition, the authority is required, through innumerable regulations, administrative memoranda, and through Section 12(1) and Section 15(3) of the 1980 Education Act, to consult over the establishment, discontinuance and alteration of schools.

Why should that he duplicated in subsection (6) of this clause? I really do believe that this clause is quite unnecessary and should be deleted so that the directly elected principle established in Clause 18 can be made clear, and the indirect influence of those not elected to bear responsibility for education in inner London can be removed. ILEA just simply would wish to be like every other local education authority, without the consultations and constraints put on it by this clause. My Lords, I beg to move.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, having disagreed with the noble Baroness on the issue of proportional representation, I am glad to be able to come back into line with her on this matter. I agree with her. I cannot see the need for this clause. If one takes the obligation to consult on proposals for expenditure under subsection (1)(a), this is surely superfluous because I understand ILEA is to be rate-capped for the first three years. Also I think that under Section 13 of the Rates Act it is already obliged to consult commercial and industrial interests in the area.

Under Clause 21(1)(b), the obligation that is imposed upon it to consult on its main policy objectives would seem to me to defeat the whole object of having a directly elected authority. That is precisely what the authority is to be elected for. It would seem entirely wrong, or at any rate unnecessary, for it to have to consult borough councillors not elected for that purpose.

The noble Baroness, Lady David, has made the point about the cost and the time involved. If the authority is to have constant consultations with the 12 boroughs and with the City, that will mean 13 sets of meetings before every set of policy proposals. The authority will simply not be getting on with the job it was elected to do. It also seems that whenever any disagreement occurs—it is possible that there would be disagreements between individual boroughs—that goes straight back on the desk of the Secretary of State who is then right in the centre of the authority. Again, this defeats the purpose of having an elected authority.

As the noble Baroness has pointed out, subsection (6) also seems to be superfluous. And, incidentally, by importing the boroughs back in this way I am not sure that the Government are not defeating one of their own purposes. It seems perfectly clear that where, for example, there might be a perfectly reasonable proposal by ILEA to rationalise provision in an area, where the authority felt that there was a need, on grounds of falling rolls, to close a primary school, it is almost certain that the borough would be the first to oppose it. So you would immediately set up a clash between the authority and the borough.

On all those grounds, I feel that the Government should think again about this clause. It does not seem to be necessary. It will make the operation of the authority extremely difficult. I do not think that it is necessary that the Secretary of State should figure so centrally in the clause. To introduce a PR note again before I sit down, I would point out that had the Government accepted the idea of PR in ILEA, which would be likely to produce moderate and sensible authorities, the need for all these constraints and restrictions, in my submission, would disappear. However, I am not trying to open that debate again. Apart from that, and simply on the grounds of the totally unnecessary restrictions contained in Clause 21, I believe that the Government should remove the clause from the Bill.

The Lord Bishop of London

My Lords, I rise simply to ask a question. I hope that the Minister will be able to answer it. It relates to the purpose behind subsection (5) of the clause. So far as the authority is concerned, I should have thought that what the clause provides applies to any education authority in the country and that it is not necessary to spell it out again in respect of this particular one. Is therefore the purpose of subsection (5) the reference to the councils? The councils are not education authorities and presumably therefore are not under the obligation laid down in subsection (5). They have been brought into the situation through the earlier subsections of this clause. Is that the purpose of subsection (5)? Otherwise I cannot explain why it should be there. I wonder whether the noble Lord the Minister can elucidate that point.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I should like to oppose the amendment. I must apologise to the House for the fact that I had not realised that we had recommenced discussion on the Bill or I would have been here to listen to the noble Lord who moved the amendment.

Noble Lords

The noble Baroness.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I am sorry. I should have said "the noble Baroness". I looked at the monitor, which indicated that the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, was speaking. Obviously I was sitting in the wrong position in the dining room to see when this matter started.

8.15 p.m.

It is essential to have this consultation with the local authorities in the inner London area. It is particularly important because there is such a difference between the inner London boroughs and the outer London boroughs. I have always lived in inner London and my children, therefore, have been under the Inner London Education Authority. But I have always represented outer London. In outer London, the boroughs are their own education authorities. Local people have a very direct and immediate input. As a resident of inner London, I have never felt that we had any control whatever. And of course the enormous burden of the expenditure of the Inner London Education Authority is imposed directly upon the ratepayers of the inner London boroughs.

In Westminster, where I have always lived, 70 pence out of every rateable pound, which is levied, I think, at a rate of about 135 pence in the pound, was going to the Inner London Education Authority. By far the biggest proportion of the rate was taken by the Inner London Education Authority. If you are to have a precept of that amount, you should have some right to consultation and to express views.

It is very important to realise that inner London will be electing this body and that it will therefore be directly accountable to the public in terms of election. I have spoken in the past about this, and I am still very unhappy that the precept will not be directly upon the voters but through the local authorities. The local authority will bear the burden of any precept raised from the people. This consultation is absolutely essential.

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I confess to some surprise and perhaps a little confusion when I saw that the noble Baroness had tabled this amendment. The surprise and confusion were occasioned by the fact that I had understood that the Labour Party had not been originally opposed to the requirement for the new ILEA to consult the inner boroughs and the City, at least where expenditure was concerned. Indeed, amendments tabled by the noble Baroness in Committee and by her honourable friend the member for Copeland in Committee in another place did in fact seek to extend that consultation to other interested organisations. But of course the noble Baroness is entitled, both as a noble and as a lady, if I may say so, to change her mind. This she appears to have done.

This is a pretty draconian amendment. It would delete the requirement for the new ILEA each year to consult the inner London boroughs and the City about its proposals for expenditure and the financing of its spending before any financial year as well as proposals about policy objectives. I believe, frankly, that it is right that the new body should be required to consult the inner boroughs and the City, as this clause provides. The reasons were given cogently by my noble friend just now.

The new ILEA, unlike the joint authorities, will have no direct link with any other authority in its area. The joint authorities will be composed of members of their constituent borough and district councils. Their members will of course be involved in the budgetary pressures within those councils as well as within the joint authorities. They will be able to weigh the competing claims of services for available resources in the usual manner. But the new ILEA will be a directly elected authority. Its members will not necessarily also be members of borough councils or of the City. It is therefore right that the councils in inner London should have adequate opportunity each year to comment on the ILEA's intended precept and on such issues as may affect or determine the level of that precept.

I know that part of the debate has reflected some concern about the powers of direction of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State under this clause. Those powers are intended to assist the process of consultation and if necessary—although of course we hope that this would not prove to be so—to ensure that genuine consultation takes place.

Clause 21 also contains a requirement for the ILEA to set its financial demands in the context of its strategy. The provision for my right honourable friend to issue guidance—and it is no more than guidance—is intended to help with suggestions as to what information the ILEA should provide on its strategy. I do not think that there need be a fear that the Government will make detailed or cumbersome proposals. However, I believe that it will be helpful if we offer some advice on the identification of topics that are sufficiently important to merit discussion between the new ILEA and the councils. Without a provision of this kind the new body would be able to carry out consultation entirely on its own terms and potentially—although of course I hope that it would never seek to do this—it could reduce the procedure to a sham.

The direction-making power in subsection (4) only comes into play if the ILEA and the boroughs cannot agree upon the manner of consultation. In that I hope unlikely event, it is difficult to see how else a disagreement could be resolved with sufficient speed for consultation to keep pace with the budget timetable. Recourse to my right honourable friend offers a quick and simple process of arbitration and he, unlike a court, will be able to prescribe a form of consultation where there has not been agreement.

Therefore the Government stand firm on the need for these two provisions. However, where the power in subsection (5) is concerned—the power for my right honourable friend to direct the new ILEA to provide specified information—there I accept that the information is of a different kind. I hope that this will give some comfort both to the right reverend Prelate and to the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock. Alternative methods of arbitration would be available. If the new ILEA does not comply with a reasonable request for information, I acknowledge that the boroughs will be able to seek effective remedy through the courts. Therefore if it would help the House I would undertake to introduce an amendment at Third Reading to remove the direction-making power in subsection (5). In the light of that undertaking, I hope that the noble Baroness will not press her amendment.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, before the Minister sits down I should like to ask him a question. I listened very carefully to what he said and also to what the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, said. However, we are now in a different situation. Prior to the Government getting rid of the old type of ILEA, which is now a directly elected ILEA, all the comments that have been made about the boroughs and about consultation would have had some validity. However, now that we have an entirely different set-up with a directly elected education authority there really is no part at all for the boroughs to play, because the people who are now electing the ILEA are ratepayers themselves and it is done through that avenue. It seems to me to be trying to ride two horses at the same time and it is not in line with what the Government have done themselves.

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I tried to deal with that very point at an earlier stage of my remarks. The gist of my argument was quite simple. I said that the new ILEA will not have any direct link with any other authority in its area. It will be a directly elected authority and its members will not necessarily be members of borough councils or of the City. Therefore it seems right to us that the councils in inner London should have adequate opportunity each year at least to comment upon the new ILEA's intended precept and upon issues which may affect the level of their precept, because one tends to look upon local taxation in a package manner. I certainly do so.

Baroness David

My Lords, I also have one question for the Minister before he sits down and before I come back finally on the amendment. Does not the Minister agree that the consultation which the present ILEA carries out is very elaborate and very complete and that it really does a much better job in that respect than many other authorities, whether they be education authorities or anything else?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I am not concerned to criticise the procedures of the present ILEA. I was trying perhaps to import, if you like, into the new body those admirable qualities to which the noble Baroness has given weight.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, would he not agree that the consultations are an essential and that at present, for example, some of the church schools feel very much discriminated against by the ILEA? Indeed many of us cannot agree with the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady David. I sat on a church school committee this week and heard of the terrible discrimination as regards supply teachers for that school. Certainly the local borough would want to give much greater support to the independent and church schools.

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I think that my noble friend has made the point about the type of issues that should be aired very well.

Baroness David

My Lords, the Minister has made some concessions about this clause which we do not like. In the light of that I should like to read what he has said and think about whether we can table an amendment to this clause at Third Reading.

As far as the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, is concerned, perhaps I may point out that she did not hear me speak and therefore I think that it was a bit out of order for her to comment without having heard what I said, and I hope that she will read it. However, the noble Baroness made a point about the expenditure of the ILEA and said that it amounted to 70 per cent. of what the boroughs spent. If the noble Baroness looked at the expenditure of any county council which had an educational responsibility, she would find that probably 70 per cent. of the expenditure of that county council was on education. It is the major local government expense.

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Renton)

My Lords, does the noble Baroness seek leave to withdraw the amendment?

Baroness David

Yes, my Lords. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 22 [Review of administration of education in inner London]:

The Lord Bishop of London moved Amendments Nos. 64 to 67: Page 17, line 24, leave out from ("section") to ("and")in line 26. line 26, leave out ("the first"). line 28, leave out subsection (3). line 35, leave out subsections (4) and (5).

The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, the four amendments—Amendments Nos. 64, 65, 66 and 67—are consequential to an amendment which was carried in Committee to what is now subsection (1) of Clause 22. I am given to understand—and for that I am very grateful—that the noble Earl the Minister has it in mind to accept these four amendments. Therefore by leave of the House I shall make no further comment but shall move the four amendments together. I beg to move.

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, while mildly regretting that the right reverend Prelate has not allowed me to launch on an astonished House my beneficence on this occasion, I can confirm that what he has said is largely right. These amendments tidy up Clause 22 in the light of the amendments made to the then Clause 21, on the review of the new ILEA, at Committee stage. They also remove the power for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to transfer functions from the new ILEA in the light of the now single discretionary review by order. Any such transfer would therefore require fresh primary legislation.

I am grateful for the opportunity which these amendments provide formally and on the record to say to the noble Baroness and to the right reverend Prelate that I am sorry for the misunderstanding which arose in Committee over the handling of the amendments to the then Clause 21 which appeared in their names on the Marshalled List subsequent to the one on which the Committee divided. It was later agreed through the usual channels that, if amendments along the lines of those now before us were tabled on Report, the Government would accept them without seeking to divide the House. I am happy now to do so.

8.30 p.m.

But I have at this point to say, "Now for the bad news". I must make it clear to the House that the acceptance by the Government of these amendments is without prejudice to the Government's position when the Bill returns to another place. No decisions have yet been taken about what the Government will propose to the other place either on this or other issues, but I do not want there to be any further misunderstanding and I think it right that I should reserve our position on the overall review of the new ILEA. With that, I am happy to accept the amendments.

The Lord Bishop of London

My Lords, in thanking the noble Earl the Minister again, may I say that I am sorry if I deprived him of the opportunity to demonstrate his munificence, but I was merely concerned to ensure that in my opening remarks I could not be accused of being ungrateful for mercies received.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 67A to 67D not moved.]

Clause 28 [Metropolitan county passenger transport authorities]:

Lord Sherfield moved Amendment No. 68: Page 20, line 13, leave out ("passenger").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have put my name down to this amendment and to others in the same sense, and in the absence of the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, I shall speak to it. This amendment is directly consequential on the carrying of an amendment at Committee stage by which the highways and traffic functions were added to the functions of passenger transport authorities in the metropolitan counties. The use of the word "passenger" is no longer appropriate in the circumstances.

The amendments are part of the original proposals of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, and I should like to take the opportunity of drawing to the attention of the Government the possibility of accepting the committee's recommendations in place of the Opposition amendment if the Commons decide, as indeed I hope they will not, to overturn the latter.

The passage of these amendments would ensure that when the Bill returns to the Commons there is something which, however indirectly, will draw attention to the Select Committee's recommendations and give the Commons a chance to debate them. There was an original proposal to replace "passenger transport authority" with "strategic transport authority", but the movers of this amendment decided not to use the word "strategic", which for some reason which I do not particularly understand, has some sort of emotional content. I beg to move.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I recognise that these amendments are consequential on the change made in Committee to the allocation of strategic highway functions. On that basis the Government have no objection to them, but I must emphasise to the noble Lord that our agreement does not signify our commitment to the change in allocation. As my noble friend Lord Elton explained at an earlier stage, the Government have not reached a final view on the Committee stage amendments which brought in Clauses 7 and 8.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 68A: Page 20, line 14, leave out ("Transport") and insert ("Stategic Transportation").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the amendment standing in the name of my noble friend on the Marshalled List. The situation is fairly simple and straightfoward. At this stage I propose to say little more. I beg to move.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I wonder whether I could intervene. I understood that, by arrangement through the usual channels, Amendment No. 68A had been grouped with the amendment to which the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, has just spoken. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Graham, that it will receive exactly the same reception as the last one did from my noble friend Lord Brabazon.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, if inadvertently I have caused a rift in the lute, then of course I withdraw what I said. In the meantime, someone better able to deal with this than I am has appeared.

The Deputy Speaker

My Lords, could the noble Lord help me? It would save time in my putting the Questions. Does Amendment No. 68A go with the remaining amendments on that page and the first three amendments on the next page? Do they all stand together? If so, I can put them together.

The Earl of Cranbrook

My Lords, it is true that Amendment 68 is closely related to the later amendments. I was for a moment or two engaged with my noble friend Lord Elton in discussions on other matters, and so I had to hurry down and did not have the opportunity to speak on Amendment No. 68. I should like to reserve the opportunity to speak on Amendment No. 69.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, as I understand it, Amendments Nos. 68 to 72ZA and Amendment 76 go together. I myself was caught up earlier and mistimed it. I understood that they were being moved by the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook; and they will have the effect of removing "passenger" from the phrase "passenger transport authority". The amendments which have been tabled in my name will have the effect of removing the word "transport" and inserting "strategic transportation". I think these amendments are consequential on the acceptance of Amendments Nos. 23B and 23C. I hope they will be accepted. I apologise for not having heard the reply to the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, but from his expression it looks as though he had the same interpretation of the amendments as I have.

The Deputy Speaker

My Lords, I now have to say that the amendment proposed is: page 20, line 14, leave out ("Transport") and insert ("Strategic Transportation").

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I nave already indicated that the Government accept the amendments standing in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, and indeed those of the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael. In saying that I must add that "strategic transportation authority" is a bit of a mouthful, especially when no doubt preceded by the name of the area concerned; for instance, the Tyne and Wear Strategic Transportation Authority. I think it a bit of a mouthful, but I accept the amendment nevertheless.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, if the noble Lord accepts the spirit of it I am sure that the Government can produce other words to make it sound more euphonious.

The Earl of Cranbrook

My Lords, I speak only to Amendment No. 69. This was originally proposed by the Select Committee on Science and Technology.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, may I bring my noble friend to order? We have not had the Question put on Amendment No. 68A.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, am I entitled to speak on Amendment No. 68A just to say that, with my origins, I am not at all happy about the word "transportation"? I hope that the Government will think of something else.

The Deputy Speaker

My Lords, the amendment before your Lordships is No. 68A, and I am told that there are many other amendments which go with it. As I understand it, although I have no power in this House, any noble Lord may speak to any of those amendments on Amendment No. 68A.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, having accepted Amendment No. 68 in the name of my noble friend Lord Cranbrook, and the subsequent Amendment No. 68A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, I would also accept all the others: Amendments Nos. 69, 69A, 70, 70A, 71, 71A, 72, 72ZA, 76 and 76A. I need not detain the House any more on any of those.

Amendment No. 69: Page 20, line 15, leave out ("passenger").

Amendment No. 69A: Page 20, line 15, leave out ("transport") and insert ("strategic transportation").

Amendment No. 70: Page 20, line 16, leave out ("passenger").

Amendment No. 70A: Page 20, line 16, leave out ("transport") and insert ("strategic transportation").

Amendment No. 71: Page 20, line 18, leave out ("passenger").

Amendment No. 71A: Page 20, line 18, leave out ("transport") and insert ("strategic transportation").

Amendment No. 72: Page 20, line 22, leave out ("passenger").

Amendment No. 72ZA: Page 20, line 22, leave out ("transport") and insert ("strategic transportation").

Amendment No. 76: Clause 39, page 25, line 28, leave out ("passenger").

Amendment No. 76A: Page 25, line, 28, leave out ("transport") and insert ("strategic transportation").

The Earl of Cranbrook

My Lords, I speak to precisely that list of amendments. I want to spend a few moments, which I do not think will uselessly detain the House. As has been recognised, these amendments are consequential on other amendments which have been agreed at Committee stage or at Report stage. The necessity for this came about because at Committee stage, in relation to what is now Clause 8 of the amended Bill, a rather radical amendment was approved by the Committee. In the process of voting on that amendment, an amendment of your Lordships' Select Committee, Amendment No. 128A from the original Marshalled List of amendments, was lost. I should like to remind your Lordships that this amendment was different from that which was passed. It read: If it appears that functions relating to highways or road traffic … could with advantage be discharged by two or more metropolitan district councils jointly, the Secretary of State may by order transfer"— to what was then called the Passenger Transport Authority— such functions as may be agreed by the district councils by which those functions are exercisable". This clause differed considerably from how Clause 8 now reads. First, it included the voluntary principle. It depended on a request from more than one metropolitan district before it was actuated. Secondly, it was much more flexible than the present Clause 8. It left out the precise specification of the transferred functions and it left the decision on the functions that were to be transferred in the hands of the metropolitan districts concerned. It therefore recognised local variations such as already existed in the distribution of highways functions among the five metropolitan counties of England. In my view it was therefore more in line with the approach that is favoured by Her Majesty's Government.

I believe that at the same time it was also preferable to the original form of that clause in the Bill before it was amended by the Committee in so far as it left open the following important options. First, it clearly left open the option of retaining skilled teams that at present exist in the metropolitan counties: teams such as those involved with highway design, highway maintenance, bridge engineering, urban traffic control, travel demand forecasting and data gathering, abnormal loads routing, parking policy, and so on. Secondly, and most importantly, it allowed for the retention of these skills in conjunction with the function of passenger transportation for which they are essential support. Thirdly, it provided for constructive interactions within the working environment of these skilled teams. It would have kept alive the spirit of innovation and would have encouraged further evolution of sophisticated management techniques such as have evolved within the metropolitan counties.

My noble friends on the Front Bench have said in the course of debates on this Report stage on Monday and on other occasions that they wished to see the amended Bill in totality before assessing its acceptability to the Government and before making any firm decisions on the likely reaction in another place. But if in another place dissatisfaction is expressed in the clauses on highways and road traffic as they stand in the present Bill, I hope that my noble friends on the Front Bench will take such opportunities as they can to draw attention to the original Amendment No. 128A from the Select Committee and perhaps they will see that that is a useful and constructive compromise that would probably be acceptable to all parties to the advantage of the future running of these essential services within the areas that are now the metropolitan counties of England.

Lord Elton

My Lords, with your Lordships' leave, I am not sure how many amendments have passed and therefore how many speeches my noble friend has used up in proportion to his ration. But as my noble friend referred to the way in which we propose to handle this Bill between the two Houses, I can only tell him, as he well knows, that I cannot commit in this House the Government to doing anything in another place. What he has said will be carefully noted and we still have a copy of his amendment that did not get into the Bill.

The Earl of Cranbrook

My Lords, if appropriate, I beg to move Amendments No. 69, 69A, 70, 70A, 71, 71A, 72, 72ZA.

[Printed above.]

The Deputy Speaker

My Lords, unless any noble Lord objects, I propose to put Amendments Nos. 68A to 72ZA inclusive as a group.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

8.45 p.m.

Baroness Birk moved Amendment No. 72A: After Clause 28, insert the following new clause:

("Reports on Police Authorities and Fire and Civil Defence Authorities

.The Secretary of State shall, in relation to the financial year beginning on the abolition date and the two subsequent financial years lay before Parliament in each of those years a report on the effect of the exercise of his powers under sections 67(6) and 84 of this Act on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of the Police Authorities and the Fire and Civil Defence Authorities established by this Part of this Act.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in Committee when not this amendment but one somewhat similar was discussed, the Minister resisted the requirement for the Secretary of State to publish reports in view of the existing statutory requirements on local authorities to publish information on which their stewardship of public money can be judged. The issue at stake is not whether or not it is appropriate for the Secretary of State to report on matters which properly fall to the new authorities to bring before the public, but whether or not the Secretary of State should report to both Houses on the exercise of his powers as conferred by this Bill. In that respect this amendment is somewhat different from the amendment moved in Committee.

The Minister then stated that the Secretary of State has no locus in relation to joint authorities. He also suggested that: He is not responsible for the way the authorities carry out their functions".—[Official Report, 13/5/85; col. 996.] But this does not quite square with the words of the Secretary of State for the Environment who in May 1984 told the Association of British Chambers of Commerce that: the large expenditure and manpower budgets of the joint boards will be subject to limits set by the Government for the first three years of their existence. We will be able and intend to exert downward pressure on manpower in these areas". That seems very clear statement of intent.

The Bill gives the Secretary of State powers in Clause 84 to control directly the budgets, operation and manpower of the joint boards for the first three years after abolition. The joint boards are automatically eligible to be rate-capped under Clause 67. Ministers have never explained why these powers are necessary. Their sole purpose must be to cut spending and levels of service. If this is not the purpose, why are these clauses in the Bill? Perhaps when the Minister replies he will answer that.

In the Commons, Ministers from the Home Office and the Department of the Environment contradicted each other. The Minister of State, Giles Shaw, in Committee on the subject of savings in the fire service, for example, after abolition, said on 14th February in col. 1417: I doubt whether any would come from the fire services in relation to the money spent on manpower, equipment and services". That sounds very sensible and reasonable. However this appeared to be contradicted by statements from the Minister for Local Government, Kenneth Baker, in Committee on 21st February 1985 in col. 1569. He said: Let me also make it clear that we see scope for saving in the fire services and we shall use the powers in Clauses 64 and 80 to secure those savings". Those are of course the old numbers. They are now Clauses 67 and 84. Perhaps then realising his mistake or not wanting to show the cracks between the two ministries to be quite such deep cracks in the open he then sought to cloud the issue in response to questions. The Home Office would not operate the manpower controls on those services, but it requires manpower controls to ensure that there is not a great explosion of the bureaucratic organisation sides of the fire and police services after abolition". There is quite a nice phrase there: great explosions of the bureaucratic organisation sides of the fire and police services after abolition". That is what he said in reply to questions on that occasion. The powers will be used and in practice cuts will be applied in non-operational areas such as back up services and civilian staff. The Minister should assure the House that there will be no cuts in staff or spending in any of these key areas if he is to try to give us some confidence and reassurance in regard to what has been said in this rather odd, contradictory way by different Ministers from the two different departments.

One group of figures is enough to show that the DoE wants spending to be reduced whether the Home Office desires it or not. The proof of the Government's intentions is in the GRE and target figures for the London Fire Brigade which consistently have been below spending levels. The reduction to GRE in 1983–84 would have meant a 17.5 per cent. cut in spending. A reduction to target in 1984–85 would require a 5.7 per cent. cut. Even the latter reduction would cost the jobs of over 400 firefighters and these appear to be the spending reductions that the DoE would like to see.

The need for the Secretary of State to report on the exercise of his powers under Clauses 67 and 84 of the Bill has been given increased force by the publication of the annual report of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. The police in London can no longer keep pace with rising crime and in trying to operate within rigorously enforced cash limits the police inevitably would be less able to meet all their commitments in the way that we would wish", Sir Kenneth Newman is reported as saying in today's Times.

The amendment relates only to the metropolitan counties but it highlights the need for accountability in the policing of our major conurbations. The annual report of the chief constable is the established method of ensuring accountability to the police authority and, through that body, to the local populace. A report by the Secretary of State would similarly increase the accountability of the Government for the exercise of the new powers conferred by this Bill. A Government committed to law and order must surely welcome the opportunity to give account of the practical implementation of this commitment as expressed in Clauses 67 and 84.

The Minister should tonight give us assurances which it proved impossible to extract in another place or, indeed, when this was raised on Committee. It is quite a simple issue and what I think the House is entitled to know is what the Government have in mind, whether the Government will accept the amendment which asks for a report to be given, and what in fact is the thinking of the Government and whether these contradictions have been resolved or whether the DoE and the Home Office are still busily fighting one another. I beg to move.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I apologise to your Lordships for not being in my place when this amendment was moved. This amendment is on the face of it an entirely reasonable amendment. It is idle to say, as no doubt will be said, that the Secretary of State is answerable to Parliament. No Member of your Lordships' House, or indeed of another place, can ask any effective questions of a Minister without the report on the way in which he has exercised his powers under Clause 67(6) and Clause 84 as regards the police, fire, civil defence authority established under this Bill; or, at all events, not such effective questions as if there were this report.

It is difficult within the constraints of time and in the absence of knowledge to ask any effective question in either House of Parliament and in a debate which can be had on Report. It is in the public interest that under any Administration there should be a report and that there should be a debate on the report. Hence, the justification for this amendment. Police, fire, civil defence are matters of crucial public interest and importance and every opportunity should be afforded by any Government for full debate, a debate in which the Minister should be held accountable to Parliament for the manner in which he has reported his conduct of affairs in this regard.

I have striven throughout this Bill, to the tedium of your Lordships, to hold hard to the line of the constitutional position and I shall continue to do so until the end of our consideration of this Bill. I shall never give up. But the obverse of the coin is that I am wholly compelled as a matter of conscience, of sincerely held conviction, to support the spirit of this amendment.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, developed a theme that there was a measure of inconsistency between one Minister and another in another place. One thing that Ministers have all said is that we are committed to maintaining nationally agreed standards of fire cover and that joint authorities should be established efficiently. There is no inconsistency between the two, but it is too early to forecast what the expenditure of the joint boards will be to meet these objectives. GREs are not a statement of how much cash authorities should spend on particular services; they are one indicator of many, I would suggest to the noble Baroness. But, in response to the immediate thrust of her amendment, I ought, rather as my noble friend did in response to a related amendment at Committee, set this proposed requirement in the context of the reports either by or upon those authorities for which there is already provision in the Bill and elsewhere. That context is important and bears repeating.

Chief constables are required by Section 12 of the Police Act 1964 to submit to their police authorities as soon as possible after the end of each calendar year a general report in writing on policing in their area during that year. Section 30 of the Act requires that report to be submitted also to the Home Secretary; and, while there is no statutory obligation on chief constables to make these annual reports more widely available, it is certainly their practice to publish them.

Each year my right honourable friend the Home Secretary presents the report to Parliament by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Fire Services on Fire Brigades in England and Wales. I am quite confident that the chief inspector will report as appropriate on any matters arising from reorganisation that affects the organisation and efficiency of the metropolitan county and London brigades. Indeed, it is only natural to expect that he would do so.

The other side of the House pressed in Committee to consider whether these reports should be published for Parliament during the transitional three years of precept and manpower controls. As I have already explained, the reports by the Chief Inspector of Fire Services are already presented to Parliament. Chief constables' reports, while they are not formally presented to Parliament—and I do not believe that it will be appropriate now to change the convention—are generally published and made-out copies will be available in the Library.

As the noble Baroness may be aware, Section 27 of the Local Government Act empowers the Audit Commission to undertake studies on the impact of any statutory provisions on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of the provision of local authority services. Furthermore, the Comptroller and Auditor General is empowered to report to Parliament on any issues arising from these reports. So the Audit Commission could produce the reports which the noble Baroness envisages in her amendments.

It has been made plain that the concern lying behind these amendments is with transitional precepts and manpower controls. I suggest that the procedures for precept control over the joint authorities for the first three years after abolition already contained in the Bill will provide quite satisfactorily for the involvement both of Parliament and of the authorities concerned. With the exception of a designation report, which automatic designation under the Bill makes necessary, these procedures follow those for rate limitation set out in the Rates Act 1984. Parliament will be kept fully informed throughout, when proposed expenditure limits for the boards are announced in December, when, at the time of the rate support grant settlement, expenditure levels are confirmed or modified and proposed precept limits are announced.

9 p.m.

Finally, another place will be required to approve by affirmative resolution, probably in the following February, the precept limit of those authorities which have not reached agreement with the Secretary of State.

The joint authorities themselves will have the opportunity to seek a redetermination of the expenditure level proposed by the Secretary of State and subsequently to comment on the proposed precept limit. The very purpose of the precept control is to ensure the economic and efficient operation of the joint authorities. The procedures I have outlined will be repeated in each of the three years for which the scheme will operate and will therefore give Parliament the opportunity to consider its progress. In the circumstances, I cannot believe that a further report would serve a useful purpose.

When the noble Baroness talks about the purpose of manpower controls I am sure she will understand that the purpose of them is to ensure that joint boards are set up, as I have said more than once in answering her amendment, on an economic and efficient basis to prevent excessive new bureaucracies and to ensure that standards of service are maintained. Standards of service is one thing we should all want to maintain.

If I may now turn to the proposed controls under Clause 84 of the Bill which are connected with this, that clause already provides for my right honourable friend to make regulations governing the required content of schemes within the terms of Clause 84(2) and setting out the arrangements for their submission to him and for his approval of those schemes with any necessary modification, or for the making of schemes by him.

Again, in relation to those controls the necessary information will therefore be available to Parliament. Either House will be able, if it so wishes, to debate those regulations, and thus both Houses will be able to call my right honourable friend to account. That of course is quite right, and I believe that the opportunity to debate the regulations in this way is sufficient and meets the concern which the noble Baroness and my noble friend expressed.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, first perhaps I may thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, for his very welcome and extremely strong support for this amendment. I was rather surprised that the Minister either did not take the trouble or perhaps did not have the necessary material to answer the points that his noble friend made. The noble Lord took a slightly different approach from mine. I must conclude that there is not a strong enough answer to this amendment that I have moved.

The Minister referred to my saying that Ministers in another place were not consistent. I meant something quite different. I did not say they were not consistent. They are entirely consistent. The Home Office Minister is consistent in the way he sees it; the DoE Minister is consistent in the way he sees it. They are contradictory because their consistencies are quite different. That is a rather different point from being inconsistent.

The Minister then went on to say that it is not appropriate to change conventions. This Bill uproots and throws out so many things. Conventions are one part of it. When a piece of legislation like this is being brought in which completely uproots so much of the structure of local government and in fact extends its tentacles way beyond local government in general then one must expect the conventions and the methods of dealing with things to be quite different. If the Bill is to be made to work then the ways of dealing with it and of showing accountability must also be different very often from what we know at the present time.

The Minister also referred to the Audit Commission. I have a strong recollection, though I have not the material in front of me at the moment, of the Audit Commission criticising the Government extremely strongly in a recent report. I do not know what note has been taken of that. The Minister also read out a list of ways in which this report will go here and that report will go to Parliament, whereas what is happening is that the Secretary of State is taking unto himself even more and greater powers than he has had in the past. What we are seeking—and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, supported the amendment in a very lucid and clear manner—is the accountability of the Secretary of State to make a report to Parliament on the exercise of his powers.

The Minister did not answer the questions I asked him about rate capping and the effects of Clause 67 and Clause 84, which are extremely important. I think the reply was very unsatisfactory. The Government are always telling us that this is working out well and that they are being as open as they can about everything. In a situation like this where you get the Home Office and the DoE, whose functions have been rather differently allocated up to now, changing in very considerable and drastic ways, it is very important that fire, civil defence and police, which are some of the most important, urgent services that are required in this country, should be dealt with by proper means.

For instance, the London Fire Brigade at the moment operates above Home Office levels of cover in certain limited ways, and it is not the only fire brigade to do so. I am really concerned to hear the Minister talk all the time about "being economic and efficient". That is all very well, but at the same time he talks about keeping up standards. It depends up to what standards you judge your methods for economy and efficiency to be, because, when we talk about fire, civil defence and police, I should have thought that the level of the standards was more important—and my goodness! we have learned some lessons about that recently—than pinning one's intentions on nothing but a sheer cut-down of efficiency. My Lords, I shall finish in a moment because I can see that the Minister is practically bursting to come forward with more words to answer this.

The Home Office recommendations so far as fire is concerned are at a lower—I would not say dangerous—level than fire brigades carry out. What guarantee have we that in these areas there will not be a pressure downwards? In fact, as was said by the Secretary of State in May 1984, which was, I think, after the publication of the White Paper, it is a question for some concern. If we are all to be reassured about the future, all the Government have to do is to take this amendment, or something very similar, so that the Secretary of State does make a report to Parliament.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, may I respectfully suggest that perhaps, if so advised, she might ask my noble friend whether he would be prepared to consider what has been said? We are a thin House tonight and this is a very important question of great public interest. Perhaps if the noble Baroness were prepared to ask my noble friend—I do not know.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, although the noble Baroness has not responded to my noble friend, perhaps with the leave of the House I may comment on one or two of her remarks. I entirely share her concern—

Baroness Birk

My Lords, I am sorry: I thought the Minister wanted to say something first. If he is waiting for me to respond to that, I am very grateful for what the noble Lord has said and of course I would be extremely happy to respond. What I am concerned about, together with my colleagues, is the subject matter and the substance of this: it is not just a question of dividing the House. I am really concerned that we should make some progress in this particular area. It is not very often that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, and I are in agreement inside the Chamber, although we are very good friends outside the Chamber. I think this is something which the Minister should consider quite seriously.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I was about to say to the noble Baroness that of course I agree that the services to which she refers are important. She has talked about the standards which must be maintained, particularly in the case of the fire service; and I should be the first to agree with her that standards are extremely important. I would also point out to her that my right honourable friend has said on many occasions that in no circumstances will the standards and availability of fire cover be reduced below minimum acceptable standards. The Chief Inspector of Fire Services is a person who bears a very great responsibility here. It is certainly one which I am quite sure everybody realises is of particular importance to dwellers in every area that we are talking about.

Perhaps I may say to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway and to the noble Baroness that if it would help both of them I could undertake to bring forward an amendment to Clause 84 of the Bill which, either by placing my right honourable friend under a duty to lay the schemes as approved, modified or made by him before Parliament, or in some other way, would ensure that those schemes are available to your Lordships and to Members of another place. That might meet the concerns which have been expressed tonight. I think myself that it might be mutual ground between us, and I hope that the noble Baroness will consider that approach.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, I thank the Minister for what he has said. Obviously, until we have seen what is going to be put down I cannot say that what he has in mind would meet the case, but it would certainly be moving towards agreement. Perhaps he would like to arrange a meeting with his noble friend Lord Campbell and myself to discuss this.

The noble Lord has not replied to the point concerning Clause 67. These local authorities are liable to be rate-capped and we have had these contradictory statements, first, that there is no intention of cutting down expenses to that extent, but, on the other hand, with rate-capping over their heads, it is going to make life extremely difficult. There has not been an answer to the question I put to the Minister on cuts in staff and spending, because the rate-capping will inevitably take care of that and therefore it would just go on automatically. Certainly, so far as that is concerned, if he has not got the explanation now, I appreciate the problem—because we are already seeing the difficulties in this Bill. He is answering as a Home Office Minister, which is understandable. This was up to now Home Office affairs. But once this Bill goes through, the whole thing becomes very much merged. Perhaps he will recall—and I quoted it on Second Reading—what the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, said about the concerns of the police over what would happen when the changes in the police took place in the Bill. He was in the House and he himself admitted that he had said that in an interview. I do not know whether the noble Lord can help me on that now or if he would like to write and put the letter in the Library or write to me and send a copy to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, as well, and then try and make some progress at the same time on Section 84. How does that grip you?

9.15 p.m.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I do not know how many times I can stand up and answer these particular points at this stage of the Bill. I think all I can say is that shall I study the noble Baroness's remarks and her questions, but so far as precept control is concerned they will mean a fair rate to cover the needs of service and the interests of the ratepayers concerned. I can perhaps elaborate on this in another way to the noble Baroness, but I think that the offer perhaps of an amendment to Clause 84 is the way to approach it. I hope that the noble Baroness will not press her amendment.

Baroness Birk

I shall withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 29 [Number of members]:

Lord Elton moved Amendment No. 73: Page 20, line 42, at end insert— ("( ) The Secretary of State shall consult a joint authority's constituent councils before making any order in respect of that authority under subsection (2) above.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment places a duty on my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, before exercising his power under Clause 29(2) to alter the size or relative position of a joint authority, to consult that authority's constituent councils.

I dare say your Lordships will remember that the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, moved an amendment to the then Clause 28 in Committee intended, in his words, as the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, may remember, to ensure that the Secretary of State does not alter the numbers of any joint authority without first having the views of the metropolitan district councils that are concerned.

I explained to the noble Lord then that, while I entirely accepted the spirit of this amendment, I could not accept it as it stood because it would put my right honourable friend under two possibly contradictory duties: to have regard to the number of local government electors in the areas of the constituent councils, on the one hand, and to the views of those councils, on the other. I undertook to bring forward an alternative amendment on Report which met the noble Lord's point while avoiding the danger which I have just explained. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, on his behalf, will agree that this amendment indeed achieves that aim. I beg to move.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, I do not want to delay the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, speaking but I had also spoken on the amendment and I think had asked for a little bit of flexibility. I felt that in the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, and also on my own behalf, I wanted to thank the Minister for coming back with an amendment which is differently worded but which I think largely covers the point.

Lord Wigoder

My Lords, may I echo those points on behalf of my noble friend.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 34 [Chairman and vice-chairman]:

Lord Elton moved Amendment No. 74: Page 23, line 42, at end insert— ("(8) Each joint authority shall appoint a person to be the clerk to the authority and in making the appointment the authority shall have regard to the desirability of that person being the chief officer of a constituent council of the authority.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment requires each of the joint authorities to appoint a clerk and, in making that appointment, to have regard to the desirability of his being the chief officer of one of the authority's constituent councils.

We had a very good and interesting debate in Committee, on an amendment by my noble friend Lord Molson about the appropriate administrative and servicing arrangements for the joint authorities. My noble friend had sought in his amendment to combine the joint authorities in each metropolitan county, partly, at least, in order to ensure their streamlined administration. I put it to my noble friend then, and I repeat it now, that in my view the best way of ensuring truly streamlined administration of the joint authorities is by involving their constituent boroughs and districts. That is the course which we have encouraged in advice which we have circulated to those councils already and which will be available to the joint authorities when they are established.

The amendment now before us will, I believe, further help to secure our common aim by ensuring that the joint authorities at least give careful thought to the advantages of having available to them the considerable experience and expertise on both administrative and other matters which resides in the professional staff of their constituent councils. I hope your Lordships will agree that this is a valuable addition to the Bill.

There are two points on which reassurance may be needed. First, the provision will not affect the duties and powers of chief constables. Those powers and duties are laid down in the Police Act 1964. They are the chief constable's alone, and are not delegated to him by the police authority. Secondly, it will not prejudice the chief fire officer's management and control of his fire brigade. Under the Fire Services Act 1947 the chief officer of a fire brigade maintained by a fire authority must be directly responsible to that authority. Similarly, the clerk to a joint fire and civil defence authority will be directly responsible to it and not to the chief fire officer. Their functions will be distinct.

I have also heard it said that it would not be appropriate to make the clerk to a joint authority in effect a part-time appointment. That must be, and remains, a matter for the joint authorities themselves to decide, subject to the provisions of Clause 84. The amendment, while it requires them to appoint a clerk—and that must surely be sensible—requires them only to have regard to the desirability of his being the chief officer of one of their constituent councils. Nevertheless, I believe that the joint authorities would be well advised to consider this option very carefully. That is why we have tabled this amendment. It is the arrangement adopted in many of the existing combined police authorities, so it is a proven arrangement. The clerk could, of course, subject to the same provisions, be backed up by appropriate numbers of staff working full-time on the affairs of the authority either within the authority itself or within a constituent council. I hope that the amendment commends itself to your Lordships. I beg to move.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, I hope the Minister will not think I am nit-picking, but two points have occurred to me. Should this provision really be in Clause 34 at all? Clause 34 has as its sideline, "Chairman and vice-chairman", and deals specifically with that matter. If we are now to have a provision dealing with an executive, a clerk to the authority, should it not be a separate clause? It is a different point. One is an executive and the other is chairman and vice-chairman. Perhaps the Minister will answer me on that point in a moment.

The subsection reads: Each joint authority shall appoint a person to be the clerk to the authority". I am a little concerned about tying the authority down, in their making the appointment, by using the words: the authority shall have regard to the desirability of that person being the chief officer of a constituent council of the authority". First, that rather narrows the range of choice for the authority. The Minister may say that the authority does not have to, but nevertheless they are being guided very strongly that way.

Secondly, it may well be that as it is the chief clerk (or whatever the title may be) to the whole authority, they may be looking for somebody of a higher calibre or wider experience than somebody who is from one of the constituent parts, who has a smaller job and who does not perhaps have the range of ability. These are not political points but managerial and executive points. I should like to know whether the Minister will think again about them.

Lord Elton

My Lords, the noble Baroness has raised two points. The first related to whether the amendment is in the right part of the Bill or whether it should be a free-standing entry in the Bill. I shall certainly take advice on that. My own view is that one divides the clauses and the subsections with a view to their separate alteration at a later stage if necessary. But if there is any reason why appointed staff and elected officers or other members from the elected bodies should be dealt with in separate parts of the Bill, I shall certainly look at that.

The noble Baroness is right in saying that the amendment we have proposed is permissive and guiding rather than mandatory, for exactly the reasons she has given—and another one. She asked whether it would not restrict the choice. It will not do so—as the noble Baroness rightly guessed I was going to say. It only suggests that the authority should look at the desirability of having one of its constituent authority chief officers as its clerk, but it does not have to have one. That may be either because the authority can think of somebody better or because none of the officers is suitable or willing to serve. We could not put a duty on the authority which it would not be able entirely to fulfil or unable to fulfil without reducing the quality of the service it would be receiving.

Nonetheless, if the noble Baroness looks at our Committee exchanges she will see that there was a strong current running towards this kind of duality as a means of achieving efficiency. It is in answer to that feeling that I have tabled this amendment, which I now beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 10 [Police and fire services]:

[Amendments Nos. 74A, 74B and 74C not moved.]

Clause 39 [Passenger transport.]

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendment No. 75: Page 25, line 26, leave out ("as from the abolition date").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 78, 80 and 85.

Amendment No. 78: Page 25, line 30, at end insert— ("( ) In that Schedule paragraphs 1 to 4 shall have effect from the abolition date and paragraph 5 shall have effect as provided in sub-paragraph (5) of that paragraph.").

Amendment No. 80: Schedule 11, page 148, line 4, leave out paragraph 5 and insert—

("5.—(1) The Transport Act 1983 shall be amended as follows.

(2) In section 1 for the definition of "Authority" there shall be substituted "'Authority' means, in relation to any such Passenger Transport Executive, the metropolitan county passenger transport authority.".

(3) Section 3(5), 4(3)(b), (4) (5) and (6) and 5(2) shall be omitted.

(4) In subsection (1) of section 6 for the words from "shall supply" onwards there shall be substituted the words "shall before preparing any plan under section 3 above consult the Authority", subsections (3) and (4) of that section shall be omitted and in subsection (5) of that section after the words "shall inform the Executive" there shall be inserted the words "and the Secretary of State"

(5) This paragraph has effect from the abolition date except that it also applies (and shall be deemed always to have applied) in relation to any plan prepared before that date under section 3 of the said Act of 1983 for a period beginning on that date and to any determination to be made under section 4(1) of that Act in the light of any such plan.").

Amendment No. 85: Schedule 16, page 186, column 3, leave out lines 40 to 45 and insert—

("Section 3(5).
Section 4(3)(b), (4), (5) and (6).
Section 5(2).
Section 6(3) and (4).").

These are technical amendments which will put right certain imperfections in the way in which the Bill amends the Transport Act 1983. It may help noble Lords if I explain the background in a little detail. The Transport Act 1983 requires PTEs to produce each year a three-year plan setting out proposed levels of service and fares, the amount of assumed revenue grant, and certain related information. It allows the Secretary of State to give the PTEs advice on the preparation of those plans. It requires PTAs to provide revenue grant to PTEs only in accordance with a determination and it provides for the Secretary of State to give guidance as to what he considers to be the maximum appropriate level of revenue grant; revenue grant up to that level is protected from legal challenge—hence the term protected expenditure level.

The new metropolitan county PTAs will, like the other new joint authorities, finance their expenditure by precepts on the metropolitan district councils. In the first three years after abolition, the Secretary of State will set maximum levels for these precepts. This will mean that the PEL machinery will no longer be needed and therefore the 1983 Act needs to be amended accordingly. The provisions for the PTE to prepare three-year plans and to submit them to the PTA, and for the PTA to make a determination of its proposed revenue grant to the PTE, will remain. The PTA functions under the Act will of course need to be transferred from the MCCs to the new PTAs.

The Bill as drafted goes some way to achieving those changes, but I regret that it does not go quite far enough. Paragraph 5 of Schedule 11 refers to plans submitted and determinations made on or after the abolition date. But of course the plan and determination in respect of the period starting with 1986–87—the first financial year after abolition—will have to be submitted and made in the current financial year; that is, before the abolition date. The new Paragraph 5, which Amendment No. 80 would put in place, will ensure that the new PTAs will be able—before the abolition date—to approve plans in respect of 1986–87 to 1988–89 and to make revenue grant determinations in respect of 1986–87.

Until enactment of this Bill, the MCCs will still have the power to approve PTE three-year plans covering the three years from abolition. They well may, take steps towards exercise of that power (that is, submitting the plan to the Secretary of State) although that would mean a rather more rapid assessment of the plans than in the past. It would be undesirable, however, if their actions were to deprive die new PTAs of the right to approve the plans or were to bind the PTAs in any way given that the MCCs will not be in existence in the period covered by the plans. The new Paragraph 5 (sub-paragraph 5) has the effect of requiring the PTEs to submit the plans for approval to the new PTAs irrespective of whether or not they might earlier have submitted them to the MCCs.

The amendments to Clause 39 are to allow for the variations introduced by the new Paragraph 5 to the timing of the transfer of functions. The amendments to Schedule 16 reflect the fact that slightly more of the provisions in the 1983 Act can be dispensed with than we had originally proposed. They are the provisions in Section 3(5) dealing with the Secretary of State's advice on appropriate levels of revenue grant and the form and content of three year plans, and in Section 4(3)(b) and 6(3) which relate to Section 3(5).

9.30 p.m.

While technical, these amendments are essential so that the authority will in fact be in a position to make a decision on the level of support to be provided for public transport in 1986–87. This is because the Transport Act 1983 requires passenger transport executives each year to prepare plans covering the next three years; that is, at present in the 1985–86 financial year. The PTEs are preparing plans covering 1986–87, the first year after abolition, to 1988–89. The authorities are required by the Act, during the same financial year as the one in which the plans are prepared, to approve the plan and in the light of it, and, if they wish, to make a revenue support examination in respect of the first year covered by the plan.

As the Bill is presently drafted, the function of approving the plan and making a revenue support determination would not be transferred to the new authority until 1st April 1986. Therefore, without this amendment the authorities would not be empowered to approve the plans covering from 1986–87 onwards or to make revenue support determinations in respect of 1986–87 because those things have to be done by 31st March 1986. Hence, it is essential, if the authorities are to be able to provide bus and rail service subsidy in 1986–87, for these amendments to be made. I beg to move.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, the Minister will realise of course that these amendments cannot be opposed because, as he said, it is necessary that the responsibility transfers to a successor body. The objection we have on this side of the House, which we feel should be put on record, is this late inclusion of the amendments at Report stage in your Lordships' House, which is a clear indication that there has been lack of Government preparation for the transaction.

I should like, in a slightly different way and putting a slightly different angle on the points made by the noble Minister, to try to explain how we see it. The 1983 Transport Act provides that each year the PTEs of the metropolitan counties must prepare a three-year plan including, in particular, the requirements for revenue support for the next financial year. Such plans are usually submitted to the Secretary of State in July, having been passed previously by the appropriate county councils whose views on it are incorporated in the transport policies and programme submissions which are also passed to the Secretary of State at the end of July.

The Government's notification of grant is normally received in December. The important thing is that that process is in hand for the coming financial year; but this group of amendments transfers the responsibility for considering the 1986–87 plans and deciding on levels of revenue support to the new joint board for passenger transport—which will now also include strategic highway responsibilities. They highlight the totally inadequate transitional timetable and arrangements, which characterises a great deal of the legislation that we have been dealing with for some time now, particularly in the Transport Acts, and also as it affects the joint boards.

Many of the members will be inexperienced in public transport matters, having probably been called together for the first time in September. The first time they will meet as a body might be in September and anything up to half or more of them will have had no experience of public transport. We all know that people who come quickly to public transport have simplistic solutions to the problems. In the first flush they may well have easy solutions which they will very quickly educate themselves out of.

They have to do this by September and establish a view on the complex and often very controversial issues involved and pass on their considered views to the Secretary of State in time to allow him to respond by December. There will be only the four months from September to December for all the work to be done, and it is an activity which takes at least seven months in normal periods and is part of a continuous planning process. This will have to be assimilated and undertaken in only four months under a cloud of considerable uncertainty as to how the Transport Bill will affect such matters.

The difficulties will be made worse if the new authority is inclined to a different view on public transport. It may be a political matter or it may, as I said, be the first flush of control or authority of new people on the joint boards. A significant change of policy may be required from that already expressed to the Secretary of State.

The uncertainty created by such arrangements can only be bad for transport services in any metropolitan area. The third subsection of Amendment No. 80 removes from the Transport Act 1983 from the date of abolition those sections which oblige PTEs and PTAs to have regard to the Secretary of State's advice and guidance on revenue support when preparing their three-year plans, including those which will already have been prepared for the financial year 1986–87.

Such a change is welcome in removing another aspect of central control. It was in part accomplished when the Bill was originally printed. But it is rendered largely unnecessary by the more draconian powers in Clauses 67 and 84 of this Bill which put joint authorities under an automatic rate capping and detailed control regime, the Secretary of State having so much greater power over them.

As I said earlier, I do not think we can stop these amendments going through because another authority is needed for the purposes of transfer. But not only is it very unfair in asking a great deal of work of the new authority and the other bodies, but there is a strong possibility of it leading to great confusion and throwing a lot of extra work on the department as well. I am sad that at such a late date such importnt amendments should be put down.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, if I may briefly respond to the noble Lord, these plans are prepared by the PTEs and they will continue to be responsible for the planning of public transport. I agree with him that the composition of the PTA will be different from the current metropolitan county council, but it will have the advice of the PTE in the plan. I think that he would agree with me that it would be unfair to press upon the successor authority the plans made by the outgoing authority. Therefore, the new PTA—the strategic transport authority—should have the last say in these plans.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, with permission, let me say that I agree that the new authorities should have the power with the responsibility. Under normal circumstances new personnel and the new contributing bodies would accept the necessity for a transitional period rather longer than this, and perhaps even live with something that they did not like before they made the changes rather than do it abruptly. However, as I said, I have no intention of taking the matter further.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Earl of Cranbrook moved Amendment No. 76: [Printed earlier: col. 1437.]

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I would draw attention in moving this amendment to an anomaly that the sharp eyes of the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, noticed in Amendment No. 80. If an oral change is needed, the words in subsection (2) will need amending. At present it reads, "county passenger transport authority". I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 76A: [Printed earlier: col. 1437.]

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Stallard moved Amendment No. 77: Page 25, line 30, at end insert— ("and further for making provision as to the manner of the exercise of their functions with regard to travel concessions.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendments Nos. 77 and 79A together, as one follows on from the other. I ought to begin by apologising to the Minister for the short notice of Amendment No.79A. Amendment No. 79A: Schedule 11, page 147, line 41, at end insert: ("and after the abolition date every such authority shall be under a duty to exercise those powers so that in any period of twelve months beginning with 1st April, there shall be in force throughout the metropolitan county area (notwithstanding the provisions of any order under section 42 of this Act) arrangements for travel concessions which enable any person of any of the descriptions mentioned in subsection (5) of section 138, to take up throughout that period the concession appropriate to his age or disability.").

Lord Elton

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will kindly give way. I think he may be speaking to a manuscript amendment, Amendment No. 79A.

Lord Stallard

Yes, my Lords.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I think that at an appropriate moment the Chair will have to read it out so that the rest of your Lordships know what is on the table.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, I leave it for the Deputy Speaker to decide when is the appropriate moment.

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Murton of Lindisfarne)

My Lords, I shall read it out now, although I cannot propose it until Amendment No. 77 is dealt with. Amendment No. 79A replaces Amendment No. 79. It says: Page 147, line 41, at end insert"— and then it says: and after the abolition date every such authority shall be under a duty to exercise those powers so that in any period of twelve months beginning with 1st April, there shall be in force throughout the metropolitan county area (not withstanding the provisions of any order under section 42 of this Act) arrangements for travel concessions which enable any person of any of the descriptions mentioned in subsection (5) of section 138, to take up throughout that period the concession appropriate to his age or disability.".

Lord Stallard

My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 77, together with the manuscript amendment, Amendment No. 79A, because the two amendments are linked. I apologise to the noble Lord for the short notice of, and the necessity for, the manuscript amendment. On thinking about the matter and reading the rest of the Bill, and having had discussions with professional colleagues, it became clear that the original amendment had a slight drafting error. It did not make very much sense. The only reason for the manuscript amendment is to correct that drafting error. I think that will become clear as we discuss the two amendments.

Clause 39 transfers functions relating to passenger transport to the metropolitan county passenger transport authorities, or PTAs as we prefer to refer to them. Schedule 11 describes the functions to be transferred. The purpose of these amendments is to ensure that travel concession schemes are maintained by the PTAs after abolition. The amendments do not affect travel concessions in London, which have already been preserved under different legislation.

I make those two remarks because they were the subject of criticisms in Committee by noble Lords and the noble Baroness on the other side: first, on the question of London, and, secondly, on the question of travel concessions. In that paragraph I hope that I have replied to both of those criticisms.

I know that many noble Lords share my concern for and my interest in the benefits of travel concessions. They agree with me that these travel concessions are a tremendous boon to elderly and disabled people. They help to prevent isolation and loneliness by allowing elderly and disabled people to visit friends and relatives. They serve a very practical purpose in enabling elderly people to shop more easily, to visit the doctor, the optician or the dentist. They generally offer a great deal of independence to those elderly and disabled people who live in the community.

As I have said, these views were supported by a number of noble Lords on all sides of the Chamber in the debates in Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, who supported my amendments on that occasion, has told me that if he had been able to be here, he would have been happy to support these amendments this evening. However, unfortunately he has been unable to return from another engagement.

9.45 p.m.

Before the metropolitan counties were established in 1974, local authorities such as county councils, municipal boroughs, rural, urban and district councils all operated and financed their own concessionary schemes offering different benefits. Individuals wishing to travel between local authority areas would have to pay different fare levels depending upon the applicable scheme in the districts through which they travelled. Since they were set up, the metropolitan counties have gradually taken over the responsibility for co-ordinating and financing concessionary schemes. There is now a concessionary scheme in every metropolitan area. We discussed in some detail some of these schemes in Committee. I understand that the schemes straddle counties. They have developed to such an extent that one scheme can straddle different counties and people can travel with the same ticket from one county to another. This includes the shire counties. Some of the shire counties are involved in the interchange of concessionary schemes. That has always been welcomed in the past when we have been discussing these schemes.

Current concessionary schemes in the metropolitan counties are fairly generous. They offer mainly free travel with the exception of Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire where small charges are made. It is interesting to note that in Manchester 20 per cent. of all journeys are made by pensioners or disabled people. The concessions are used to make about 400 million journeys a year. That is fairly heavy use. The concessionary schemes offer substantial benefit to the community.

My amendments are aimed to ensure that concessionary arrangements will continue to exist in areas coterminous with metropolitan counties after abolition. The existing provisions in the Local Government Bill relating to travel concessions are contained in Schedule 12. This schedule states that a PTA shall have the same powers as a local authority to grant travel concessions. Therefore, PTAs, which will be made up of members of district councils, will still be empowered to grant concessions on the same basis as metropolitan county councils do at present. The Transport Bill, to be discussed in Committee, confirms these powers. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, who has just left the Chamber, raised this point in Committee.

What concerns me about the concessionary arrangements after abolition, and what concerns many elderly and disabled people and the organisations representing them, is that PTAs may be unable to fund concessionary schemes. At the moment, 95 per cent. of the £100 million paid for funding concessionary schemes is met by the metropolitan counties. There is a danger that district councils may be unable to meet this cost after abolition. I understand that some have indicated that they would not be able to continue funding concessionary schemes. They would find it almost impossible because this money is not protected. It comes under the same rate-capping restrictions as the other funding and financial operations of the authorities.

There is a danger, therefore, that in some areas concessionary schemes may be withdrawn. I am reminded of our discussions on the precepts mentioned in Clause 67 where local authority funds and precepts will be rate-capped and controlled by the Government for three years. If the Government control finance to that extent, they control, in a way, the amount of money available for the concessionary fare schemes and the fares. So this is one of my fears.

Even more alarming, and a fundamental cause of concern to me, is that Clause 42 of the Local Government Bill will allow individual district councils to break away from PTAs and to make their own arrangements for transport services and concessionary schemes. If sufficient councils leave, the Secretary of State has power to scrap a PTA altogether. Therefore, the uniformity and integration of concessionary schemes will be put at risk and a return to the system which, I have indicated, existed prior to 1974, before the "met" councils were set up, where each district operated a different concessionary scheme, with some operating none at all, becomes more likely. That is something that I would have thought would concern all those who are keen to see the continuation of concessionary schemes.

This trend would undermine the Government's amendments to the Transport Bill. The amendments to the Transport Bill, again mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, in Committee, compel private operators to take part in concessionary schemes, and we welcome that. However, what is the use of private operators taking part in concessionary schemes if in fact there are no schemes? If we have undermined and abolished the whole structure of these schemes; if we have fragmented the district councils and all others responsible into so many bits, then the necessary framework that exists at present—and which I should have hoped would continue to exist—would be abolished. Therefore, the commitment given by the Government, or the amendments passed in the Transport Bill, would be ineffective; they could not take effect. If there are no schemes, then there is no point in having a commitment that private operators must participate in the schemes.

Those are my two main concerns in moving the amendments again this evening. Let me summarise and bring together the argument. My concern is about travel concessions in the metropolitan counties and that the Bill removes the main funders of the concessionary scheme. If we remove the metropolitan counties, then the main funding base is removed and the power to grant concessions will be given to PTAs which may be unable, or indeed unwilling, to fund concessionary schemes. The possible break-up of the PTAs will mean that county-wide schemes will be lost and that would be a tragedy in view of the progress that I have already mentioned. I am sure that your Lordships will agree that that possibility pros ides a real threat to the concessionary fare schemes. Certainly I know that the millions of pensioners and disabled people who are watching these issues very closely as regards this Bill would also regret anything that damaged those schemes.

Therefore, my amendments will not impose a duty on the PTAs to continue to fund concessionary schemes to the same extent as at present. Indeed, that was an objection that was put forward in Committee.

The amendments have taken away that objection. They will not bind PTAs to decisions made by their predecessors. The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, raised that point in Committee and I hope that my amendments have now met his criticisms.

These very modest amendments will simply ensure that in any period of 12 months beginning on 1st April there will be in force throughout the areas coterminous with the present metropolitan county councils arrangements for travel concessions from which elderly and disabled people will benefit. The level of concessions will be left to the PTAs to determine as they so wish. It is not determined by these amendments. So the amendments merely give senior citizens in the metropolitan counties similar protection to that given in London, although the duty of the PTAs will be less restrictive than the duty placed upon London Regional Transport.

I believe that I have met the points that were raised in criticism during the Committee stage. I have studied them and have put forward what I consider to be reasonable amendments which do no more than guarantee the continuation of uniform concessionary schemes within the areas at present covered by the metropolitan county councils. I therefore hope that noble Lords will feel able to support these amendments. I beg to move.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, I should like to support my noble friend Lord Stallard and perhaps emphasise some of the points he has made. I wish to reiterate the point that he made regarding the Greater London Council when the problems and difficulties were enumerated and the whole organisation went over to London Regional Transport. As my noble friend has said, when that organisation was passed over, protection for the concessionary scheme was enshrined in Section 51 of the 1984 Act which placed a reserve duty on London Regional Transport to secure a concessionary scheme if no scheme exists. The amendment would make sure that the concessionary fare schemes which were written in for London would be applicable to all parts, whether it is the metropolitan counties or, as my noble friend said, the shire counties. There should be no difference in a concession which is going to be given to the elderly and to the handicapped.

When I mention the handicapped I make a particular point about the blind. They are in a special category because they have the greatest difficulty in getting mobility allowances. Therefore, public transport is almost a necessity for them. In many of the metropolitan counties a special concession has always been made to the blind. When one is thinking about the handicapped one thinks of that as a special handicap, and it is known by British Rail and also by bus operators.

I was trying so far as possible to keep up with the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, when he was giving us details regarding what is normally known as PEL. I found it extremely difficult to keep up with him. I am not criticising the speed at which he read it, but it was the complication as well as the speed. One will have to read what he said. If I asked him to give a précis of it, I am sure he would not be able to give it without looking at his brief.

When the noble Lord was speaking about the PEL, what I was concerned about was that at the moment the joint board which will pick up the tab will be rate-capped. I think I understood the noble Lord correctly. It is important to remember that. I think everybody in this House now knows that I come from the West Midlands. The West Midlands metropolitan county council contributes just over £21 million towards these concessions. I can give your Lordships all the amounts which the districts contribute. What I wonder is: who is going to pick up that £21,200,000 —it is a colossal amount—when the abolition of the metropolitan counties takes place? That is important.

I tried to follow what the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, was saying, and he will correct me if I am wrong when he answers. I understood him to say that the Secretary of State would control the expenditure of the joint boards. Therefore, the level of the concessionary fares is going to be under his control. The amount of money that he gives will obviously determine how much can be spent on the concessionary fares. If the Government want to get into bad odour and, as the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, said earlier, forget that these matters are all about politics, there might again be serious repercussions if the Secretary of State uses his powers to make cuts which automatically make it more difficult to give concessionary fares.

In the West Midlands, any charge at all will be contrary to the concessionary fare scheme operating now. The West Midlands operate a completely free fare scheme which is for bus and rail. The origin of the completely free fare scheme arose from Birmingham City Council, of which I was proud to be a member when they pressed for the first time for free travel for old-age pensioners. If I have the year right, that took place in about 1955 or 1956. It was opposed by a certain person and we had to have two town meetings to make quite sure that the Bill went through.

A final appeal came to your Lordships' House regarding the concessionary fares in Birmingham. So this noble House decided that it was a fair scheme and should continue, borne by the rates. It would be quite wrong if a decision taken to provide free fares starting in Birmingham when we became the West Midlands County did not spread to the surrounding areas. Birmingham has a population of over a million and a quarter and it would be wrong for the surrounding areas not to have free fares in a coordinated transport system. It would be wrong too if, through the democratic process, having achieved that, the concession were to be lost under this Bill.

10 p.m.

Therefore we must have an assurance from the Government on what will happen about concessionary fares. As my noble friend said, this is a constant problem to all pensioners who have concessionary fares. Every one I meet asks me, "Are we going to lose our passes?" I have received numbers of letters from people I do not know and who do not live in Birmingham but in Dudley and Solihull, areas where they think they might lose their concessionary fares. The pensioners are very concerned and in answering the amendment the Government must assure us that the money will be forthcoming for concessionary fares for the elderly and handicapped. I support all that my noble friend has said on this amendment.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, as your Lordships know, I have spoken on the issue of concessionary fares before because I believe they are of great social and even of health benefit to people to have a degree of mobility. It probably enables us to save considerable public money in other ways such as in the provision of home helps and other care. But I am not sure that these amendments are the right way to achieve this. I hope they will not be pressed tonight.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

Why not, my Lords?

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

Because, my Lords, if they are pressed tonight I believe they will be lost. I could not support them in their present form. I hope that the Minister will take this matter away, think about it and bring forward something for London on the lines of a reserve scheme to which the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, referred. I hope that the district councils will bring in a scheme of their own. In the London provision it was, as she said, a reserve power which would come into force if the boroughs, in the case of London, did not bring in a scheme of their own.

My experience of rate capping in County Hall has led me to believe that rate capping should not be feared as much as people make out. We have found that the rate capping level over there was so high that we were able to bring in a rate below that level, and Mr. Livingstone has recently announced that he has so much spare money under rate capping that he does not know what to do with it. Therefore rate capping may not be as onerous as we feared.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way, but rate capping is applying in the area that I am talking about. Birmingham city is being rate capped so that for every £1 million it spends in excess it has to pay £3 million back, which is a substantial sum. I am concerned that if the districts are putting forward their money, using Birmingham as an example, they are already putting £637,000 into the concessionary fares scheme and the tag of £21 million has to be picked up. Who is going to find that among the district authorities?

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, to continue on that very point, I intended to go into the £21 million. It must be appreciated that that £21 million, which at the moment is in the hands of the West Midlands County Council, is £21 million more that is still back in the pockets of the district ratepayers. So that money will not mysteriously vanish. It will be available: it is a matter whether the districts will apply it to the concessionary fares scheme.

I think it would be a good thing for a concessionary fares scheme to be brought in. On rate capping, I appreciate entirely the point made by the noble Baroness that you go over the rate-cap level. But I believe that most of these rate-cap levels are levels within which most authorities can live, particularly if they look carefully at their expenditure and work out what they should be doing with their money. The GLC has certainly found that it has a great surplus within its rate-cap level and does not know quite what to do with the money, and it is considering whether to pass it on to local Labour authorities so that they would all start up with a nice nest egg. The spare money is really unbelievable under the rate-cap level. I think that this matter needs to be looked at in more detail.

I should like to see the social benefits of a concessionary fares scheme. I believe that people are extremely anxious and, of course, in London we had all scare tactics of how they were going to lose it; and this did not prove so at all. But people are worried. They do care about their concessionary fares and they use them. I should like to see something done.

I do not entirely agree with the noble Baroness when she talks about completely free schemes. She referred to a completely fair scheme, and I agree with that. When I was chairman of social services, and we introduced it first in London on a borough basis, I found the problem at that time was that there was no photograph on the pass and a lot of people sent friends or relations to collect their passes. Applications were made by people who were housebound and could not move. The council was paying a considerable amount for all of these. I thought that if we charged even 50p for the collection of a pass we would eliminate that.

Baroness Fisher or Rednal

My Lords, the noble Baroness is talking all about London, which has nothing to so do with the amendment.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, the situation remains the same. I should like to hear from the noble Baroness whether they have photos on the passes now in her area.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, yes, we do.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, in that case I think you have eliminated the major problem, which was that of people using passes at the expense of other ratepayers when they did not belong at all. I believe that with these photos we can have good schemes. You can ensure that the people who are entitled to use the concession actually are those who are doing so. I should like to see the Government look at this and come up with a scheme, but I do not support these amendments as they stand tonight.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I hope that I made clear in the Committee stage that the Government fully share the desire to preserve concessionary fares. Schedule 11 to the Bill provides PTAs with the same powers as exist in local authorities to provide such schemes and to enter into agreements with other areas outside the metropolitan county councils—which was a point which the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, raised. In practice, I have no doubt that the PTAs will continue to operate concessionary fare schemes and that those schemes will cover all the categories of people mentioned in the 1968 Act as they do at present.

I cannot accept that the PTAs should be tied down to operating particular schemes as proposed by these amendments. It is the policy of this Government, as it has been of previous Administrations, that in the area of concessionary low fares local authorities should have a very wide discretion both as to the nature of the concessions to be made and as to the conditions on which they should apply to the different groups of people covered by the Act. The importance which local authorities attach to their discretion in these matters is confirmed by the differences between some of the schemes operated in the metropolitan counties under the existing legislation. We believe, like our predecessors, that the local authorities are in the best position to determine in the light of the resources available to them how best to meet the needs of the people living in their areas. I am in no doubt that we should leave these decisions to the PTAs just as we leave the same decisions to the discretion of the districts and county authorities in the shire counties.

The original amendment was altered by the noble Lord to provide that if a district council is permitted to secede from the authority during a financial year the existing concessionary fare scheme should continue to apply throughout that year. We would not anticipate that secession would take place during the course of the financial year, and in that sense therefore the amendment would not be necessary. If a district council does make application to secede, the proposed provision for concessionary fares would be one consideration which my right honourable friend would wish to bear in mind in considering that application; but the Government would not accept that a district council which did secede in respect of bus services could be denied the right to make its own decisions about concessionary fares once secession had taken place. We would expect that to be at the start of a new financial year, in the same way as with any other responsible local authority.

Both the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, and my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes mentioned the situation in London under the LRT Act. The situation in London is, I submit, different. The LRT Act reflected the position where there would be no single local authority body in London which would be able to take decisions covering the LRT area as a whole. It is our hope that the boroughs will be able to come together and reach their own agreement on the scale of provision to be made. But if that is not possible, the LRT Act provides for a fallback scheme to be operated by the LRT.

In the metropolitan areas the position is quite different. In their case the joint boards will have the power to take their own decisions on the level of benefits to be provided; and the district councils will have the same power should they wish in some way to supplement in their areas the level of provision made across the county. There is, therefore, no need for specific provision in the legislation limiting the discretion of PTAs and no reason why they should be treated differently from other local authorities responsible for the operation of concessionary fare schemes.

The main concern expressed by both the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, and the noble Baroness, related to precept control over the PTAs, and whether they would affect the provision of concessionary fares. Attention has been drawn to the supposed discrepancy between the actual expenditure on concessionary fares in the metropolitan areas and the provision contained in the public expenditure White Paper. As I explained at Committee stage, this results from a misleading comparison between local authority budgets and Government plans. Plan figures for concessionary fare expenditure have been consistently maintained by this Government in real terms. But local authorities are free to determine their own priorities within the overall resources available, and in 1984–85 they chose to spend rather more than the provision.

They remain free to make similar decisions on priorities in future. In the case of the PTAs, the expenditure levels set under precept control will be a single figure covering a number of services—not only concessionary fares and general revenue support for bus and commuter rail services, but also debt charges, professional and technical support costs and any other items of expenditure for which the joint board is responsible. The PTAs will make their own allocations within the overall total.

Of course, we have made no bones about our belief that the current level of spending on general revenue support for public transport services in the metropolitan counties is excessive and needs to be brought down to more reasonable levels. But we accept that different considerations apply to concessionary fares. That is why we excluded concessions from the protected expenditure limit system introduced by the 1983 Act. Concessionary fares were not included in the advice which we gave last year about the need to reduce expenditure on revenue support in the three years of the planning period starting in 1985–86, and the advice given this year about the continuing need to reduce subsidy.

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, and indeed the noble Baroness, were not reassured by my response to the debate at Committee stage. I had hoped that when the noble Lord read my words in Hansard the following day—as the noble Lord said he would—he would agree that his concern over the ambiguity in the Bill's provisions for concessionary fares was unnecessary.

As I have reiterated today, the Bill provides the PTAs with exactly the same powers to provide concessionary fares as the existing local authorities. I remain convinced that there is no good reason why they should not therefore have the same discretion as existing local authorities. I submit that the amendment would put a restriction upon the PTAs which other local authorities with similar powers do not have. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will not press his amendment.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, I am bound to say that I was not much encouraged by the reply from the noble Minister. It was in fact about the same as the previous reply. I read his words quite carefully. Perhaps I may quote what caught my eye a number of times when I read through Hansard on 13th May, in col. 1005. The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, said then: I think I said that it is up to the PTAs within their precept control to decide for themselves how best to spend the money. I also said that we consider that revenue support has over the years been too high. I would suggest that they should look for savings, or increased fares perhaps, for ordinary travellers and hold the concessionary fares". That is really the nub of the whole reasoning behind the policies of the Government. They are intent on saving money. That is what worries me—the fact that rate capping and the controls over expenditure are all aimed at saving money. That is what worries pensioners and the disabled, who have fought long and hard for these concessions and who now see them about to be whittled down, because the kind of local authorities that we are discussing here will of necessity, because of the controls imposed on them by the Government, have to realign priorities and rethink all kinds of expenditure in their areas. They may well find it impossible in some circumstances to fund the concessionary fares schemes to the extent that they have been funded hitherto.

I have found no consolation at all in what the noble Lord has said this evening, or indeed in what his noble friend has said. I think it is a little naive, after the Bill has gone through its Second Reading, Committee stage and now Report stage, and having heard the Minister virtually repeat what he said in Committee, to believe that the Government are going to make any changes. I think they are bound to stick to the desire to save as much money as possible and to put as many controls as possible on the local authorities they want to abolish. Therefore I have no alternative, I feel, even given this thin House tonight, but to test the opinion of the House on this amendment.

10.16 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 77) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 21; Not-Contents, 61.

Division No. 4
Airedale, L. Monkswell, L.
Attlee, E. Morton of Shuna, L.
Birk, B. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Ross of Marnock, L.
Crawshaw of Aintree, L. Stallard, L. [Teller.]
Fisher of Rednal, B. [Teller.] Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Tordoff, L.
Grey, E. White, B.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Wigoder, L.
McNair, L.
Barber, L. Grimthorpe, L.
Bathurst, E. Haig, E.
Bauer, L. Henley, L.
Belstead, L. Hives, L.
Boardman, L. Hood, V.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Hooper, B.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Hornsby-Smith, B.
Butterworth, L. Kimball, L.
Caithness, E. Kinnaird, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Layton, L.
Carnock, L. Long, V.
Cathcart, E. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Clitheroe, L. McAlpine of West Green, L.
Coleraine, L. Mansfield, E.
Colwyn, L. Mersey, V.
Cork and Orrery, E. Monk Bretton, L.
Cowley, E. Mottistone, L.
Cox, B. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Craigmyle, L. Newall, L.
Davidson, V. Renwick, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Rodney, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Sanderson of Bowden, L.
Elton, L. Skelmerdale, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Geddes, L. Stodart of Leaston, L.
Gibson-Watt, L. Swinton, E. [Teller.]
Glenarthur, L. Trumpington, B.
Gowrie, E. Whitelaw, V.
Gray, L. Young of Graffham, L.
Gray of Contin, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

10.25 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendment No. 78: [Printed earlier; col. 1449.]

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have spoken to this amendment with Amendment No. 75. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 79A not moved.]

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendment No. 80: [Printed earlier; col. 1449.]

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 75. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 40 [Airports]:

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 80A: Page 25, line 31, leave out subsections (1) and (2) and insert— ("(1) In the case of any airport in respect of which a metropolitan county council has property, rights or liabilities, the Secretary of State shall by an order coming into force on the abolition date provide for the transfer of the property, rights and liabilities of the metropolitan county council in respect of the airport to the metropolitan county passenger transport authority.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment converts the Secretary of State's reserve power into a duty to transfer the rights and liabilities of the metropolitan county council in respect of airports to the passenger transport authorities. Such action will enable a countrywide interest to be retained by the areas of the metropolitan county councils.

Every metropolitan county with the exception of South Yorkshire has an interest in regional airports. These airports are run for the benefit of the economy of their areas, as well as of the community at large. Despite Government allegations to the contrary, they are managed as far as possible—and some very successfully—on a commercial basis. The latest published accounts show an exaggerated operating surplus of £80 million and a total, after capital charges and so on have been made, of some £8 million. All the metropolitan counties have undertaken major developments of their airports, increasing their capacity to more than 18 million passengers a year.

Greater Manchester county council has undertaken runway extensions and terminal expansion. Merseyside has constructed a new control tower; and West Yorkshire has extended the runway and terminal buildings. The West Midlands county council has constructed a new terminal. Tyne and Wear county council has undertaken the redesign of the terminal building, a new approach radar room and an expansion to the apron for aeroplanes to be able to be moved around to make better use of the airport. In addition, advanced aviation and navigation equipment is being installed. These and other improvements will be put in jeopardy if such responsibility is fragmented instead of being held by one body.

The continued development of regional metropolitan airports is essential to the economic and social wellbeing of our major conurbations. The business, freight and tourist industries require a sustained and consistent investment and management strategy. If such responsibility is fragmented to various district councils, confidence in the future of regional airports could be badly undermined. This is particularly so, and it is a particularly delicate subject in the metropolitan areas and the areas outside London and the South-East because of the Government's Statement on airports policy, which will be debated in your Lordships' House in a few weeks' time.

The Government's White Paper on airports policy, which was published on 5th June, appears to offer some hope of limited investment and expansion in the regional airports and the metropolitan county council areas, particularly at Manchester International Airport. It makes it quite clear that the overwhelming majority of the anticipated increase in air traffic to the end of the century will be accommodated in the South-East. This gives a feeling of unease and insecurity to the regional airports, which will be bad enough even as it is without having the other insecurity of the controlling authority being dispersed too widely. That decision does little to foster growth in the major conurbations outside London. Increasing the centralisation of resources will make the economic regeneration of the old industrial cities less likely, and the social and economic problems which the metropolitan county councils have—and which they have done a great deal to alleviate—will clearly be made much worse.

The Government propose that all districts within each metropolitan county should be invited to reach voluntary agreement on the distribution of the metropolitan county council's interest in airports, and if agreement cannot be reached by the district councils then the metropolitan county council's interests would be transferred by the Secretary of State to the passenger transport joint board. As I have said, the proposed amendment provides for the direct statutory transfer of the metropolitan county council's interests in airports to the passenger transport authority—or whatever is the new name that we have given it in earlier amendments this evening.

The reasons for asking for that power to be given are really quite clear. Each airport serves the whole of its county area, and not just a part. The commercial and industrial interests of the whole county would be affected if the future of any airport were to be put at risk. It seems eminently reasonable that passenger transport authorities—which, as a result of your Lordships' decisions, now have responsibility for strategic highway functions—should assume responsibility for airports, so that co-ordinated transport planning can continue.

The joint board provides a greater degree of certainty for decision-making than any form of voluntary co-operation. Voluntary co-operation is always difficult to achieve. It is good when it works, but it can create problems of inter-district rivalry. It is well known that to achieve any kind of understanding between local authorities, or in any joint body, often reveals individual rivalries as well as regional and district rivalries.

The certainty of decision-making assumes an even greater degree of importance following the White Paper. I have referred to this point before. Given the ability to precept, once the decision is taken then it would be more certain of implementation. Other co-operative arrangements would require each participating authority—in some cases as many as 10, all with a finger in a single airport—to ratify every single decision before progress could be made.

Without a degree of certainty, essential investment would be likely to suffer. It is the Government's concern that agreement may not be reached which has prompted them to seek the reserve powers in the Bill. In other words, the Government are a wee bit worried at the prospect of having as many as 10 authorities involved. We all know about local rivalries. Sometimes rivalries are very valuable and make areas move forward; but at other times they are the very factors which make areas inward-looking and unprogressive. But obviously the Government are concerned about whether agreement will be reached, and they have therefore taken reserve powers.

I hope that in looking at this amendment the Minister will at least see the purpose that lies behind it, which is the desire to keep the airports—which, although a very important part, are only a single part of an area's infrastructure. If there is any part of any metropolitan county council's area that really can be called a single essential part of the infrastructure, it surely is the airport. An airport is not something that can be moved about. It holds a commanding position and is not a feature that will suddenly disappear. It could flourish, but, given the wrong control and uncertain guidance, it is something that could wither. I believe it makes sense, to avoid the uncertainties that could follow from lack of agreement or being too long in making decisions, to act immediately in order to give the PTEs the control of airports.

This is a view which was endorsed by the House in Committee on 9th May when reaching its decisions on waste disposal, for which similar reserve power was also provided in the Bill. I think that the airports are even more of a cohesive whole than waste disposal. They have been through a difficult time and I do not think we want to make it any worse. I hope that the Minister will give serious consideration to the suggestions contained in the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I do not want to anticipate in any way what I intend to say on 5th July now that we have a debate down on this subject. My interest is instinctively related to Manchester, being a Mancunian and having been, as I have said before in your Lordships' House, a candidate for a constituency at one end of Ringway when my noble friend Lord Winstanley was Member of Parliament for the constituency at the other end of the Ringway runway.

However, I draw the attention of your Lordships to a letter from the town clerk of the city of Manchester in this morning's Guardian—or Manchester Guardian as we used to call it in its heyday.

Lord Wigoder

Hear, hear, my Lords.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, who is another old Mancunian. In his final paragraph, the town clerk says: Only a solid commitment by the Government to develop fully the role of regional airports will enable all other aspects of national aviation policy, including the need for growth in the London airports system, to be judged in their proper context". I am sure that that is quite correct. The regional airports are part of the whole network of airport policy for this country. To a certain extent the Northern Regional Consortium has perhaps overstated its case in trying for its own purposes to suppress any development at Stansted, but the Government do need to think a little more about their policy for regional airports.

One understands that this cannot be a total solution for the airports in the South-East. Nevertheless, there are an awful lot of people in my home country, the North-West of England, who are resentful at having to travel a couple of hundred miles to take a charter flight to the United States when they could climb aboard a plane only a few miles from their own homestead. In those circumstances, it seems foolish to break up what is a very viable organisation at present run by the Greater Manchester Council. I am not making any constitutional points which I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, if he were in his place, would object to. I am trying to suggest that there are ways of preserving the organisation which at present runs Manchester Airport, but outside the Greater Manchester Council. As the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, said, to diffuse that among a large number of different authorities seems to be extremely foolish.

In their White Paper the Government seem to have missed the opportunity of responding in broad terms to the North-South problem in this country. A lot of investment will come down to the South-East for airports both at Stansted and ultimately, presumably, at Heathrow, whereas a much more modest amount of investment in the airport at Ringway in terms of a rail link from Wilmslow and a bit of investment in the tourist board might stimulate more activity in that part of the world. When we have the opportunity to build up a major regional airport, to fragment the control of that airport among a number of districts in the Greater Manchester area seems extremely foolish.

It is on that basis that I support the amendment that the noble Lord has moved. Had I been fast enough on my feet I should have put my name to it. But it was not until early this afternoon that I realised that it was on the Marshalled List, and then it was too late to add my name. At this reasonably later hour of the night I offer my support to the noble Lord on his amendment.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, moved an identical amendment in Committee, so the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, has had plenty of time. The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, made it clear then that his principal concern in so doing was to ensure certainty in decision making about the operation in the future of the airports. He has repeated that concern today. I explained when I responded to his amendment in Committee why I believe it is right to provide, as the Bill currently does, for the metropolitan county councils' interests in airports to be transferred by order either directly to the metropolitan district council or, only if they fail to agree on the operation of the airport by a committee of districts and the transfer of MCC interests to them, to the relevant metropolitan county PTA.

If they wish, the districts may make voluntary arrangements to take over the metropolitan county council interests directly, and with any other co-owners run the airport. If they do not wish to do so, the interests will be transferred to them acting jointly within the statutory context of the PTA. That in the Government's opinion provides a proper and democratic choice. In other words, if they can agree to transfer democratically to the districts, fine. If they cannot, it goes to the PTA.

The concerns expressed by the noble Lord are covered by the second eventuality, I consider, and I consider that this is a choice which should be offered. It would allow some districts, if they so wished, and if the other districts in the metropolitan county agreed, to take no part in the running of an airport and to renounce their rights to any interests in it. That must be sensible. It would allow the interests to pass to those districts which have sufficient interest and enthusiasm to wish to run their local airport. We have invited the districts to consider whether they wish to agree among themselves on arrangements directly to take over the MCCs' interests. They will need—and we have made this clear to them—to have made decisions by 1st September.

Since the exchange in Committee, the Government have published their White Paper on airports policy. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, rather pre-empted the debate on that subject. That White Paper made clear the Government's intention at the earliest opportunity to introduce legislation to provide powers to require designated local authority airports, which will probably include those in the MCCs currently having an interest, to be constituted as Companies Act companies. We believe that that will make for more effective management of what are in many cases substantial businesses. We will encourage local authority owners both to involve the private sector in the development and running of their airports and to introduce private capital by the sale of shares or loan stock in the new companies.

I cannot resist making two points on the White Paper in response to the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, even now. Regional airports are expected to enjoy faster growth than the London airports, and we will encourage that. We have already done quite a lot to encourage it. I point out to the noble Lord that in negotiating our liberal agreements with the Netherlands, of the 10 new services, six have gone to regional airports. After our new liberal agreements with Germany, two out of six of the new services have gone to regional airports, so we are doing what we can.

Nevertheless, there is still a need for additional capacity at the London airports. Indeed, the Government of which the noble Lord was a member in 1978 also recognised this. I am confident that these initiatives will provide the proper basis for the effective running of these airports, which is an aspiration that I think all three noble Lords who have spoken would share. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord will not presss his amendment.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, no. Not on the basis of the explanation but because I am aware of the hour and the fact that it is something which will be discussed more fully when the White Paper comes out, I do not intend at this point to press the amendment.

As the Minister said, we have already raised this exact point in other contexts. We think it is extremely important. Airports will be the hubs of any development in new areas, particularly towards the end of the century. Airports will be particularly important in places such as Manchester and Newcastle. We cannot discuss Scotland in this debate. If we could do so, I should speak a little about Glasgow and Aberdeen.

However, in the areas such as I have mentioned, airports will be so important that I think it would be dreadful if some districts opted out of them. They would still have the total use of these airports, although they would not be involved in any responsibility. Of course, they would not receive any profits from them either, but they would not be given any of the liabilities of them. They would have all the use without any responsibility. I think this is a little unfair to the other airports.

Therefore, I hope the Government will consider this matter, even at this late hour. I think the Government are going to consider many matters between now and Third Reading. In this instance, I shall not press the matter to a Division. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, we seem to have reached an appropriate moment in this Report stage. I therefore beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned.

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