§ 2.57 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Elton)
My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now further considered on Report.
§ Moved, That the Bill be further considered on Report.—(Lord Elton.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ Clause 84 [Exercise of functions by new authorities in initial period]:
Baroness Birk moved Amendment No. 84AYA:
Page 58, line 32, leave out from ("period") to end of line 34 and insert ("having regard to any such scheme").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I suppose that one good thing can be said about today; it is that it is the last day of the Report stage of this Bill. We now come to Clause 84. This clause makes provision for the Secretary of State to make schemes, the effect of which will be to allow him to intervene in the affairs of a new authority's staff numbers, the buying in of external services by that authority and the authority's internal organisation and management arrangements.
§ The power is available for a three-year period from the abolition date. The clause will also, in subsection (4), enable unlimited supplementary provisions to be contained in any regulations laid down. The Secretary of State will be able to change his mind and vary schemes already approved. He will he able to draw up such transitional arrangements as he thinks are necessary to effect an end to the period for which these controls are to be applied under present proposals.
§ I think that I should apologise to noble Lords for explaining the clause, because I am sure that everybody has Clause 84 right at the tips of their fingers. The purpose of the amendment is to recognise that schemes could be neccessary to allow public decisions about staffing and organisation of joint boards. However, it removes the requirement that schemes are mandatory. It accepts the need for the schemes, but we do not think that the schemes should be mandatory. The amendment does this for several reasons. First, mandatory schemes threaten cuts in essential services; secondly, they will be inflexible in operation; thirdly, they will allow the Secretary of State to enforce privatisation without due consideration; and, fourthly, they deny proper choice to the boroughs and districts.
As the Bill has progressed, it has become clear that, particularly on manpower, the Government see these controls as central to any prospect of finding savings from the Bill. This appears to be the main point on which the Government feel that they can make savings. Since this Bill has been proceeding, we have also had the Coopers and Lybrand report. The position is made clear in a minute of the interdepartmental working party: this is a document dated July 1984, and I quote from it:
The Treasury said that there appeared to be different views on the nature of manpower controls. Apart from the need to avoid a repetition of increases in staff following the 1974 reorganisation of local government, they saw manpower control as the only way of delivering savings promised from abolition.
It has to be emphasised that the services in which these savings are to be found are essential services. I am not talking about any smaller or peripheral services. The essential services are: police, fire, public transport and waste disposal. No one has previously suggested that any of these services are overmanned: in fact, very often the reverse is the case. The Home Office believes that more police are necessary in the metropolitan counties and has recently approved another 168 posts in the London Fire Brigade. Compulsory schemes will be used to make cuts in essential services. That is presumably one of the reasons for the schemes, and there is certainly ample opportunity if the clause is left as it is at the moment.
There is clear disagreement between the departments on this issue, with the Department of the Environment being forced to seek savings in order for
it to justify abolition. That difference between the departments came out in another place, and we also saw it here when in Committee I had some exchanges with the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur. In the other place Mr. Giles Shaw, the Minister of State, Home Office, stated (in Standing Committee G at col. 1947 of Hansard on 5th March, 1985):
There is no intention to reduce the operational needs to maintain the fire or police services in relation to the claimed savings under the Bill.
That appears to be contradicted by the statement made by the Minister for Local Government, Mr. Kenneth Baker, when he said in Committee on 21st February, 1985 (at col. 1569 of Hansard):
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.
I may say that those clauses are now Clauses 67 and 84.
§ Mr. Baker then attempted to cloud the issue by saying that the Home Office would not operate the manpower controls on those services, but that it requires manpower controls to ensure that there is no great explosion of the bureaucratic organisation sides of the fire and police services after abolition. One of the problems there is that if there is a cut in the police services it may easily follow—and indeed it may be absolutely necessary—that more people are moved into the administrative side. That would remove the police from their other duties on which there has been a great concentration and agreement that their increase in necessary.
The Government have never made clear the implications of this clause for police or fire brigade manpower. The Minister's previous assurance that fire standards would not fall below the minimum Home Office standards is not encouraging in this respect. Major brigades, particularly in large cities, would be in danger of falling below such standards. In some areas, if spending cuts were approved, categorical assurances are needed that existing levels of spending will be maintained. No assurances have been given on levels of police spending and manpower, and a report in the Guardian on 4th March, 1985 stated:
the Government plans to rein in the board's spending power for their first three years, and chief constables may well find themselves battling with the Home Office over finance".
That particular problem of what will happen, particularly in the metropolitan counties, has been raised again and again in your Lordships' House.
§ Without this amendment, compulsory powers will be in the hands of the Home Office. The clause will create an inflexible system during the immediate period after abolition. That is going to be a very crowded and rather chaotic period in any case, unfortunately, or so it would appear. The timetable in which schemes will have to be made is too short to be workable. By enforcing a mandatory system the Government will be setting in concrete a series of decisions reached in great haste. They will deny the opportunity for plans to be adapted as the joint boards develop.
§ The Home Office advisory memorandum for the fire services issued on 2nd April, 1985, sets out the timetable for the making of schemes. The new 552 authorities will be established in early September. First meetings must be held within three weeks of establishment and by mid-November—that is, at the most only eight weeks after its first meetings—the authority is expected have submitted its draft establishment scheme to the Home Secretary, together with its draft management scheme; its proposed methods of obtaining support services; its application for redetermination of provisional expenditure levels; the necessary input to enable the Government to make draft transfer orders; and the necessary input to enable the Government to make property transfer orders. That timetable is basically and absolutely unrealistic. In relation to the support services, for example, the new boards will need to make an assessment of their needs at the same time as the co-ordinating committees, and residuary bodies are also considering their roles in relation to the common services. In such a fluid situation it cannot possibly be practical or right to make firm judgments in advance.
§ Finally, the clause is clearly designed to force the joint boards to privatise their services. That is not to say that there may not be some instances where all the evidence is on the side of doing so. But this clause is not just an incentive; it gives a definite push in that direction. By removing the element of compulsion, the amendment would allow decisions to be made on operational grounds by the joint boards, which the Government see as the accountable local bodies. That is surely a much better way to do it.
Clause 84 makes specific reference to the obtaining of services other than by their own employees; that is to say, privatisation. It is in these proposals, a serious area of concern, that the Government's intentions are not clear. In Committee in another place on 21st February 1985 (at col. 1571 of Hansard) the Minister of State at the Home Office said, with reference to the possibility of privatisation,
there cannot be an advantage in certain sectors such as vehicle maintenance, because there are controls and statutory standards.
§ Exactly one week before the statement, the Department of the Environment issued a consultation document entitled, Competition in the Provision of Local Authority Services. Paragraph 42 of that paper related specifically to fire appliances and vehicle maintenance as matters to be subject to private sector tendering. It therefore shows how important it is that the various Government departments involved should get their act together before there are put into the legislation such mandatory controls as will give the flexibility, which is absolutely essential if this Bill is to work at all, for that to happen.
§ The Government's clause will also deny proper choice to the boroughs and districts. The Government have consistently agreed that joint boards are democratic bodies, since they are composed of elected representatives who will take the decisions. The powers in Clause 84 believe that claim. The boroughs and district representatives are evidently not to be trusted to exercise their own judgment. I am sorry that I have had to take a little while to explain this, but it is a very important clause and it is important that the amendment should be properly explained and understood.
§ My Lords, I beg to move.553
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, I oppose this amendment. Control of manpower under Clause 84 as it stands is surely a crucial provision to ensure that the process of reorganisation is not misused to create some kind of extravagant new bureaucracy. The effect of this amendment, as the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, of course appreciates, is not limited to the police and fire services, on which she spoke. By virtue of subsection (3) it "also" applies to such services, and the effect is to remove this control from the Secretary of State in the initial stages in favour of an advisory scheme. This control by the Secretary of State affords a prudent and requisite safeguard to ensure that the financial savings engendered by abolition shall not be squandered.
As to the report of Coopers and Lybrand, all reports are dependent upon the value of the information upon which they are based, and, as I understand it, it has been said by my noble friend the Minister on more than one occasion that that information was far from complete and far from satisfactory; and in any event the report points in more than one direction.
Finally, as to the privatisation of services, this is no bad thing, taken by and large, but I accept that it is a political question and a question upon which the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and I may well not agree.
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
My Lords, I should like to follow up something that my noble friend Baroness Birk has said. What concerns me is that the Secretary of State is saying in this Bill that he wants to make quite sure that he is looking at manpower levels in particular. Yet when the Government answer any questions which concern local authorities or which, as in Question Time today, have to do with manpower levels in the hospitals, they always give the answer: "It is not our policy to interfere with local authorities"—or hospitals, as the case may be—"as long as they work within their budgets". Why are the proposals for these new authorities any different from the Government's so-called policies of noninterference with manpower service levels as long as they fall within the budgets?
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Lord Kilmarnock
My Lords, it seems to me that the amendment of the noble Baroness points up a genuine cause for public concern. In particular, if there is any threat of manpower cuts in the fire service, I think that that would give rise to very serious public concern, especially in the light of recent experiences and worries felt by people about sports grounds.
On the matter of privatisation, I am not sure that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, is entirely correct in saying that it is purely a political question. It is also a technical question. The point is that the services should be provided correctly. Surely, at the end of the day, it is the joint board which will be accountable for anything which is subcontracted out by it, and therefore it should be up to the joint board and not the Secretary of State to decide whether such services should be contracted out. It seems to me that there is also a strong likelihood that single-service authorities will be bound to experience higher costs, especially in the provision of specialist support services. In a sense, the Government's acknowledgement of the need for controls implicitly concedes 554 that this is likely to be the case. It therefore does not seem right for mandatory controls to penalise services where reorganisation is bound, by its nature, to increase some costs; as, for example, in scientific services, financial services, publicity, technical services and so on.
As the Bill now stands, it is still not clear to what extent these services will be provided by the residuary body, by the joint committee or by the successor bodies themselves. It is clear, I think, to all professional opinion that any move away from integrated provision of such services is likely to lead to an increased cost. This takes us back to Thursday. Since the Government refuse to have a co-ordinating body to pool some of these activities and thus reduce costs, would not the noble Lord agree that it is quite wrong to act punitively on the new boards from the outset of their operation?
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, if this amendment were put into the Bill, it would remove what seems to some of us to be an important safeguard against extravagance and over-manning. It has been the sad experience in the past, when reorganisations in local government have taken place, that often there have been sudden increases in bureaucracy with the recruitment of additional staff—a growth of staff which has involved an additional burden on the ratepayers. As I understand it, the words which this amendment seeks to leave out of the clause are there largely to enable the Secretary of State to stop such a situation should it arise. Should there be no such extravagances, no such over-manning, I should have thought it very unlikely that my right honourable friend would find it necessary to exercise these powers, but it is really an exercise in rather facile optimism to believe that there is no risk of this happening.
I was intrigued by the concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, over the wishes and needs of other departments of Government. I should have thought that this is a matter for the Ministers concerned to resolve with each other. Though I am sure they are enormously grateful to the noble Baroness for this solicitude for their interests, I myself have sufficient regard for their abilities to believe that they can fight their own corner in Whitehall without the splendid assistance of the noble Baroness. But this is a serious amendment. If it were to be inserted, there would be a quite serious financial risk involved and a wholly unnecessary one. Therefore, I very much hope that your Lordships will reject it.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I should like to start by drawing your Lordships' attention to something that your Lordships may have noticed already. It is that not for the first time in our proceedings on this Bill we are involved in a debate on a major matter of substance on the basis of an amendment that your Lordships have not been able to see in print until the morning of the debate. I fear that those of your Lordships who came from afar and did not reach the House until midday, or after, will have been somewhat taken aback. I think I ought to start, therefore, by explaining why the Bill contains the proposals that are in Clause 84, what the effects of those proposals would be, and how the amendment of the noble Baroness would alter those effects.
555 In fact, let me start with the last of those explanations, because I think it will considerably sharpen your Lordships' interest in the others. The words which the noble Baroness seeks to cut out of the clause in lines 30 to 34 are the words that make it a duty for the joint authorities to act in the way approved by the Secretary of State. The words with which she seeks to replace them provide only a duty to keep that approval in mind. It may be a very small piece of surgery, but its effect would be dramatic, because it would be to negative the essential purpose of the clause, as my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter aptly pointed out.
That purpose is a temporary purpose and I must correct the noble Baroness, with all due courtesy, on this. The clause has effect for three years and three years only. There is no provision for it to be extended. The effect is, I repeat, temporary and the noble Baroness need not fear that it will continue at the end of its life as stated in the statute. It is temporary, but it is nonetheless vital. We know it is vital, because we have seen what has happened in earlier reorganisations where there has been no central control of the initial process of change.
In 1965, and again in 1974, all the ingenuity of the local authorities involved seemed to go into the elaborating of costly little empires for members of their existing staff to rule over in the new establishments. I well remember the frustrations that we, the ratepayers, felt as we saw new arrangements, intended to promote a lean and efficient administration, producing these stout and cumbersome arrangements, and there was nothing that anyone could do about it. The process had been started, there were no controls and we were lumbered with the result and with paying for it ad infinitum. We learned in those exercises the necessity of setting a limit on bureaucratic expansion. We also learned that change creates an opportunity to set the foundation for economic and efficient organisation that occurs only once and cannot be easily repeated. That is why the proposals in Clause 84 are in the Bill. Let me explain what they are and how we intend to use them.
The effect of subsection (1) of Clause 84 is to give the Secretary of State a power. The Secretary of State is, of course, whichever Secretary of State is involved with the joint authority in question. The power—and it is a power, not a duty—is a power to make regulations for the making of schemes. The schemes under these regulations are, in all cases, schemes for the ordering of the matters listed in subsection (2). In the case of the police and fire authorities, they include also the matters listed in subsection (3).
The matters common to all joint authorities are the number of people to be employed for any particular purpose, the arrangements for buying in goods and services from outside and the arrangements for general management. With a joint police authority or a fire joint authority the scheme may extend to include the number of people included on the establishment of the force or brigade. The clause therefore has the effect of amending Sections 4(2) of the Police Act 1964 and Section 19 of the Fire Services Act 1947.
These are, however, temporary amendments, as the effects of the clause itself are, as I have told your 556 Lordships, purely temporary. This is because subsection (1) of the clause is so drafted that the powers I have spoken of are given to the Secretary of State only until three years after abolition day. That is an important consideration, because it bears out my statement that these powers are designed to guard against the uncontrolled growth of bureaucracy only in the early formative years of these authorities and there is no intention, and in the Bill there is no power, to set up a new central government control of these functions of local authorities in perpetuity.
Your Lordships clearly want to know how these powers are to be exercised, so let me take the position of each of my right honourable friends in turn and tell your Lordships of their intention towards the authorities with which they will be concerned. If I may start with the ILEA, your Lordships may recall that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science made clear in another place on 5th February that the Government do not at present propose at all to make regulations under this clause in relation to the new ILEA. That is because an administrative structure is already in existence for it. Nor will the ILEA be facing the prospect of rate limitation for the first time as regards 1986–87.
It should be clearly understood, however, as my right honourable friend also made clear, that if there are indications that decisions taken by the ILEA will have implications for manpower that do not serve the objectives of economy, efficiency and effectiveness, regulations under this clause will be made. The content of any such regulations would depend on the circumstances that they had to meet.
The noble Baroness and noble Lords have asked me to make clear in what circumstances we would judge it appropriate to make regulations. We are talking about decisions to be taken by a body which does not yet exist, for a period which has not yet started and which extends to March 1989. I think that I can be forgiven at such an early stage for not saying what might be in the regulations as regards education.
But turning to the strategic transportation authorities, my honourable friend the Minister of State at the Home Office made clear in Committee in another place that the great majority of staff will be employed not by the passenger transport authority as they were then proposed to be, but by the existing passenger transport executives which will continue to operate under the direction of the PTA. The staff of the PTA itself will have largely advisory and secretariat functions. The exceptions to this rule will be staff employed in connection with the tunnels in Merseyside and Tyne and Wear who will be transferred directly to the PTA and airport staff, if the PTA takes over responsibility for the running of an airport from the metropolitan county councils.
We would therefore expect the numbers of staff employed by the PTAs to be strictly limited. If we saw any reason to believe that this might not be the case, we would certainly make use of the power to control the staffing of the new joint authorities and, if necessary, their organisation and management which this clause confers. We may also need to look again at our intentions in the light of our stance on the amendments which your Lordships have carried to 557 create strategic transportation authorities, which strike at this area of concern.
The noble Baroness's principal concern is, I think, with the police and the fire service; at least, she devoted much of what she had to say to those two topics. During our earlier debate on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, to Clause 28, the noble Baroness vouchsafed a confusion about the proposed use of the transitional manpower controls in relation to police authorities, and said that while the statements of individual Ministers were internally consistent with themselves, they were externally inconsistent with the statements of their colleagues—
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, inconsistent or contradictory, I always try to modify what the noble Baroness says against me, in case it might be a little more wounding than she intended.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, there is nothing at all wounding about it. There is a question of using the word correctly. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, probably misunderstood what I said. He had said that I thought Ministers were inconsistent. I said, no, I had not said that at all and I was being very kind to the Ministers. What I said was that they were entirely consistent in regard to themselves and their departments, but contradicted the inconsistencies of other departments. It was not wounding at all. It was just a statement of fact, which I think should be accepted and applauded. I intervened only because I thought that we may have a little lighter exchange in the middle of the Minister's very expert and extremely good answer.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, and I withdraw any suggestion that she has ever been wounding, either deliberately or accidentally, and I shall try to use the word accurately. If she says that we were contradicting each other, that is what she thinks we were doing and that is the charge to which I must reply. In doing so, I would ask her to start by considering the two bedrocks of principle on which the use of Clause 84 will rest. The first is that central government manpower control, which already exists in relation to, for example, the establishment of police forces, is needed over the activities of the joint authorities as a whole to ensure that they are established in a fully satisfactory way. That means a way that meets the needs of the service, but does not involve the kind of expansion of bureaucracy which we saw and criticised after the 1974 reorganisation.
The second principle is that the police and fire services in the abolition areas must maintain proper levels of service to the public. I remind the noble Baroness that precept and manpower control do not automatically involve arbitrary cuts in either expenditure or service levels—far from it. Indeed, our commitment, and it is a commitment, is to ensure that the operation of the police service and the 558 maintenance of national minimum standards of fire cover will not be affected by reorganisation. As I said in our earlier debate, it is still too early to say how that commitment will translate into levels of cash and manpower. For one thing that depends to a large extent on what the new authorities inherit from the abolished authorities.
I think I heard the noble Baroness say that the Home Office has recently approved a major increase in the London Fire Brigade establishment. The information of the noble Baroness cannot be correct because the Home Secretary is not in fact required under the fire services legislation to approve any increases in establishment of the fire brigades; the only requirement and his only authority is to approve reductions. So any such increase is a matter entirely for the fire authority, which is the GLC. What level of manpower will be required to provide an adequate cover for London will in the first instance therefore be a matter for the new joint authority. But it will be subject to the controls in this clause of the Bill and to the maintenance of national standards. So there will be what I think you might call a creative tension between the desire to increase numbers and efficiency and the desire to contain numbers to make the service efficient. But the interest and the safety of the public is protected by the commitment I have already given.
The precise operation of the transitional controls in relation to these services must take into account the need to continue the existing arrangements for the services, including the powers exercised by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. It would not be defensible to run a new control system for part of the manpower of the services separately from existing controls. Our objective has therefore been to take powers which will enable us to operate a single scheme for the transitional three-year period. Thereafter, the existing controls will be exercised as they are now without the benefit of this clause.
We intend to apply the controls differently as between the police and fire services, to reflect the different statutory positions of the two services and the different existing controls. So far as police are concerned, reflecting the unique statutory position of the police service and the tripartite structure of Home Secretary, police authority and operationally independent chief constable, there is already provision under Section 4(2) of the Police Act 1964 for the police force establishments to be approved by the Home Secretary. For three years this power will be exercised under Clause 84(3).
My right honourable friend intends to use the powers in Clause 84 during the three-year period to extend his present control in two ways. I take it that this is the information which the noble Baroness wished me to give. The first is to control the civilian elements in the police service. It would be unrealistic to require the new joint authorities to review their police officer strength while not at the same time requiring a review in relation to civilians. Your Lordships will appreciate the close interrelationship in the police service between civilians and police officers, and our policy, which is, I believe, widely supported, of extending the use of civilian staff wherever possible to release police officers for operational duties. That is a policy we wish to encourage.
559 I emphasise that because the noble Baroness was suggesting in her speech that the effect of this constraint might be a reduction in civilian posts which would lead the police authorities and chief constables to take uniformed officers off the beat and away from the patrol car and put then behind desks. I can assure my noble—the noble Baroness; your Lordships can see how her charm is getting through to me; I nearly said "my noble friend". I can assure the noble Baroness that this is a policy we have long established. When I was at the Home Office we got significantly more police out from behind desks on to the beat as a result of this policy, but it would not be right then simply to allow recruitment of civilian staff to go completely uncontrolled. I think that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State should have the power to intervene if it appears that it is necessary to do so. I say again that this is a power, not a duty, that the clause gives him. My right honourable friend's second purpose in applying this clause to the police is to control the technical, administrative and financial support, as I have desribed.
So far as the fire authorities are concerned, there is already provision for the Home Secretary to consider reductions in the operational establishment in order, as I have said, to protect national minimum standards of safety. For the transitional period he will use his powers in Clause 84 to ensure that national standards of fire cover are maintained. I repeat once again that he will not use this power to impose arbitrary spending cuts on the service as the GLC continues to suggest. The GLC is guilty of irresponsible scaremongering in this respect. My right honourable friend does however intend to use Clause 84 to secure economic and effective administration of the fire service. As with the police, he intends to require the joint authorities to seek his approval to their proposed technical administrative and financial support system.
I have expained the purpose of Clause 84. I am certain that it is a purpose of which your Lordships can safely and indeed heartily approve. It is, after all, simply to see that ratepayers get value for money and are not saddled by this reorganisation, as they were by the last, with a cumbersome and unnecessarily expensive bureaucracy. I have also explained to your Lordships that the amendment of the noble Baroness would entirely defeat this purpose. Instead of having to stick to the scheme approved by the Secretary of State, if he finds it necessary to introduce one, as we propose, the new authorities would simply have to have regard to it, which means that they need do no more than bear it in mind.
I cannot help feeling that, if not the motive, the effect of this amendment is at bottom to limit the discretion of each of the Secretaries of State. It is, I concede, an entirely healthy instinct in opposition to grudge every power with which Parliament invests central government. It is an instinct which I applaud. The noble Baroness has been doubtful about the power and wise to test the need for it. I believe that I have more than justified it; indeed, I believe that it has been more than justified by the expensive course of events in the last reorganisation. Even so, we recognise the lingering reluctance to let this power go into the hands of the Secretary of State, who could use it in 560 ways of which your Lordships might be kept in ignorance. That is why we have an amendment to which I understand the noble Baroness does not now wish to address herself but to which I must draw your Lordships' attention. I refer to Amendment No. 84AZA, the next amendment on the Marshalled List.
The amendment requires the Secretary of State to lay a copy of any of the schemes made, approved or varied by him before both this House of Parliament and another place. This power in Clause 84 is needed. It is not uncontrolled. It cannot be used without your Lordships' knowledge. Your Lordships should therefore leave it intact. If your Lordships accept this amendment you will remove the entire effect of that power from the hands of the Secretary of State and expose ratepayers everywhere to the dangers against which I really believe your Lordships wish them to be protected.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, I must first thank the Minister for giving such a long and detailed explanation. While I do not agree with the upshot of it, it is important and useful to have on record exactly what is intended in this clause. The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, naturally concentrated on the costs and on the dangers of the costs getting out of control. I really must tell him that there are other means for dealing with the matter. This is not entirely the purpose of the clause and in any case the Government with their financial controls on local authorities and their use of rate capping can deal with that quite satisfactorily. The question of costs, even under the clause with the amendment, would have to be taken into account by the local authorities.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, perhaps the noble Baroness will permit me to intervene. Surely her argument falls, because although at the end of the day rate capping could arise and restrict expenditure, meanwhile, in the absence of the words which the noble Baroness seeks to delete from Clause 84, additional and unnecessary staff could be recruited and employed and require redundancy rights.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, the Minister has made great play of the fact that this is a very temporary measure, that the whole scheme will last for only three years. My concern is that the transitional period is of great importance, given a cobbled-together Bill of this kind and the very short length of time there will be between the moment when the Bill goes on the statute book and everything comes into operation.
The extra manifestations of this Bill and its far-flung consequences are much greater than the Government ever realised when they originally put those words in the manifesto. I am certain of that, and it has become obvious all the way through the passage of this Bill, both in this House and in another place. I am certain also that most noble Lords opposite, if they give this matter their frank and honest consideration, will agree, even if this affects areas in which they happen to be particularly interested.
The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, thanked me ironically for my concern for other departments of Government. Such concern was not the reason I mentioned the problems between the Home Office on 561 the one hand and the Department of the Environment on the other. It is we who, at the end of the day, are the recipients or non-recipients of the services concerned. That is the angle which concerns me. It is not a personal concern for one Minister or another, but a concern for what will happen to urgent and essential services if we do not get matters as right as we can in this Bill.
The Minister stated that the effect would be temporary because the transitional period was only three years. Again, I return to the point that the transitional period is absolutely crucial. We will be coming later to Amendment No. 84AZA. I did not want to take the two amendments together because they cover two entirely different points. Amendment No. 84AZA does not deal with my point at all. It merely states that the Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament a report on whatever scheme he has decided upon. By then the decision will have been taken.
At one point the Minister referred to "we, the ratepayers". I, too, am concerned about the ratepayers. Concern for the ratepayers is not the monopoly of one party or one portion of this House; it is a concern felt by everybody. Without repeating all that I said before, I would say that the Minister's arguments still do not get away from the various points I made concerning the effect of the mandatory schemes and the removing of any prospect of flexibility in the future.
In accepting the amendment the Secretary of State would still be able to make a scheme or require the authority to do so. That provision is not being taken away. I have the feeling that noble Lords have not read the amendment correctly. I am extremely sorry, though it was not by my choice and was not my fault, that this amendment reached the Marshalled List rather late. I sent an apology to the Minister when he received a copy of the amendment, but I take his point that that does not mean that other Members of the House saw it then. I accept that and I am sorry.
However, although the authority would still have to carry out the functions involved, there would be discretion for the authority as to which aspects of, and to what extent, the scheme would be followed. The amendment would not take away the Secretary of State's power and effectiveness altogether. It would not cut out all that; it would just cut out the words at the conclusion of the clause which take away the entire flexibility of the scheme.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness a question for clarification? I understand she is now saying that the Secretary of State would still have the power to require the authority to make a scheme, that the authority would then make a scheme, but that having made a scheme, the authority would be free to discharge its functions in some different way while having regard to that scheme. That seems to be a rather remarkable proposal for your Lordships to accept.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, we are not altering the words which state that:the Secretary of State may by regulations provide for the submission to him by the authority, or the making by him, of 562 schemes with respect to the discharge of those functions so far as concerned with any of the matters to which this section applies; and it shall be the duty of the authority to discharge those functions in that period"—So the authority is having a very large duty placed on it.
§ Baroness Birk
Yes, my Lords. All I am removing are the words,in accordance with any such scheme as approved or made by the Secretary of State and for the time being in force".So the authorities will have to have regard to it. The Secretary of State starts off by making the scheme; they do not start it off all on their own.
It now seems to be the case that the joint authorities in which the Minister has all along placed such trust—and we have argued about this—are very doubtful. If the Secretary of State still wants powers, surely he is admitting that the joint boards on which the Government are now placing a great deal of reliance are not sufficiently accountable for the normal pressures on elected authorities to deliver the services economically, efficiently and effectively.
Clause 84 unamended shows a great lack of trust and confidence in the joint boards. If the Minister and the Government feel that way about them, perhaps we should all be even more worried than I am at the moment. It does not seem to me that we are to have a very great meeting of minds on this point across the Front Benches, even if we continue arguing, and as this is Report stage, it is difficult for us to do that. I shall therefore test the feeling of the House.
§ 3.47 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 84AYA) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 83; Not-Contents, 121.563
|DIVISION NO. 1|
|Airedale, L.||Elwyn-Jones, L.|
|Amherst, E.||Ewart-Biggs, B.|
|Ardwick, L.||Fisher of Rednal, B.|
|Aylestone, L.||Fitt, L.|
|Banks, L.||Gaitskell, B.|
|Barnett, L.||Gallacher, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Galpern, L.|
|Birk, B.||Graham of Edmonton, L.|
|Blease, L.||Hampton, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Hanworth, V.|
|Boothby, L.||Hatch of Lusby, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Houghton of Sowerby, L.|
|Bottomley, L.||Hughes, L.|
|Brockway, L.||Hunt, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Irving of Dartford, L.|
|Campbell of Eskan, L.||Jacques, L.|
|Caradon, L.||Jeger, B.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Jenkins of Putney, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||John-Mackie, L.|
|Collison, L.||Kilmarnock, L. [Teller.]|
|Crawshaw of Aintree, L.||Leatherland, L.|
|David, B.||Listowel, E.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.|
|Davies of Penrhys, L.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Denington, B.||McNair, L.|
|Diamond, L.||Mayhew, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.|
|Mishcon, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Monson, L.||Shinwell, L.|
|Mulley, L.||Stallard, L.|
|Nicol, B.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Northfield, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Oram, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Phillips, B.||Strauss, L.|
|Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Ritchie of Dundee, L.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Rochester, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Ross of Mamock, L.||Walston, L.|
|Seear, B.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Serota, B.||Wootton of Abinger, B.|
|Ailesbury, M.||Layton, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Leathers, V.|
|Allerton, L.||Long, V.|
|Ampthill, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Arran, E.||Lyell, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Bauer, L.||Malmesbury, E.|
|Beloff, L.||Mancroft, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Marley, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.|
|Blake, L.||Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Maybray-King, L.|
|Buckinghamshire, E.||Merrivale, L.|
|Caithness, E.||Mersey, V.|
|Cameron of Lochbroom, L.||Milverton, L.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Molson, L.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Montgomery of Alamein, V.|
|Cayzer, L.||Moran, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Morris, L.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Cowley, E.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Cox, B.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Davidson, V.||Northesk, E.|
|De Freyne, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Orkney, E.|
|Denning, L.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Dilhorne, V.||Pender, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Peyton of Yeovil, L.|
|Dudley, B.||Plummer of St Marylebone, L.|
|Effingham, E.||Porritt, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Portland, D.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Rawlinson of Ewell, L.|
|Elliott of Morpeth, L.||Reay, L.|
|Elton, L.||Reigate, L.|
|Faithfull, B.||Reilly, L.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Renton, L.|
|Gainford, L.||Rodney, L.|
|Gainsborough, E.||Romney, E.|
|Glenarthur, L.||Russell of Liverpool, L.|
|Gowrie, E.||St. Davids, V.|
|Gray of Contin, L.||Savile, L.|
|Greenway, L.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.||Shaughnessy, L.|
|Halsbury, E.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Somers, L.|
|Harvington, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Hayter, L.||Swinton, E. [Teller.]|
|Home of the Hirsel, L.||Terrington, L.|
|Hood, V.||Teviot, L.|
|Hooper, B.||Trenchard, V.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Trumpington, B.|
|Kaberry of Adel, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Kemsley, V.||Vickers, B.|
|Killearn, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Kimball, L.||Ward of Witley, V.|
|Kinloss, Ly.||Whitelaw, V.|
|Kinnaird, L.||Wynford, L.|
|Lane-Fox, B.||Young, B.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Young of Graffham, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.564
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Glenarthur) moved Amendment No. 84AZA:
Page 59, line 17, at end insert—
("( ) The Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament copies of any scheme made, approved or varied by him under this section.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Elton has already said, this amendment will require the appropriate Secretary of State to lay before Parliament copies of any schemes which he may require the new authorities to make under Clause 84, as approved or modified by him, or of any schemes which he may himself make under the powers available to him in this clause.
§ The amendment honours a commitment which I gave to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway in debate on the proposed amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, to Clause 28 of the Bill. Both the noble Baroness and my noble friend expressed concern then that there should be more rigorous requirements imposed on the Secretary of State to make available to Parliament information about the operation of the transitional expenditure and manpower controls over the new authorities. I entirely accept that Parliament should indeed be fully informed about the operation and the effect of these controls. My noble friend made the point that it needs to be so informed in order to be able effectively to hold Ministers to account for their actions. He is of course absolutely right.
§ I suggested to your Lordships during the earlier debate that the arrangements for transitional precept control already provide for Parliament to be kept fully informed throughout. Parliament will be involved when proposed expenditure levels for the authorities 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. Finally, another place will be required to approve by affirmative resolution, probably in the following February, the precept limits of those authorities which have not reached agreement with the Secretary of State.
§ I remain convinced that these arrangements are adequate, without the need for further amendment. I accept, however, as I made clear in response to that earlier debate, that there is scope to improve the proposed arrangements to ensure that Parliament is kept properly informed as regards the transitional controls under Clause 84. The clause of course already provides for the appropriate Secretary of State to make regulations governing the content of schemes, within the terms of subsection (2), and setting out the arrangements for their submission to him and for his approval of those schemes with any necessary modifications; or for the making of schemes by him. Parliament will be able, if it so wishes, to debate these regulations. As currently drafted, however, the clause does not provide for Parliament to be involved at any later stage in the process. This amendment corrects that omission by requiring the schemes, as approved, modified or made, to be laid before Parliament.565
§ The amendment is intended as a constructive and helpful response to the points made in our earlier debate. I hope the House will accept it in that spirit. I beg to move.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for having lit the beacon and even more grateful to my noble friend the Minister for having followed the light. The amendment is entirely satisfactory from my point of view and I hope from the noble Baroness's but we have not had an opportunity to discuss it. However, it meets my measure of concern which at one time we both shared. Whether or not it satisfies the noble Baroness is a matter for her, but I am grateful to my noble friend for having taken the point.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for taking trouble over this matter and writing to me in advance. However, having welcomed the amendment to the extent that it is an improvement on what is in the Bill, I am sorry to sound churlish but I cannot welcome it wholeheartedly. It does not cover the point that I was making and the point that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, was making, as I understand it from the Official Report.
The original amendment called for a report on the effects of the Secretary of State's use of his powers, while this amendment refers only to any scheme made under the clause, and that, I am afraid, is not likely to be much more than a pious hope. It is very important that the exercise of power should be accountable, and as I understood it that was the point that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, was making too. The noble Lord spoke about the justification for the original amendment which was much longer, more clearly spelt out and probably stronger. He went on to say: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".—[Official Report, 13/6/85: col. 1441.]The amendment now offered does not show the kind of accountability whereby the Secretary of State can be questioned. It merely says that he:shall lay before Parliament copies of any scheme made, approved or varied by him under this section".Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, has changed his mind in the interim. But the amendment is not really what I understood to be in his mind at the time.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, to be frank with the noble Baroness and the House, I am grateful for what I can get. That is the truth of the matter. I realise that it is difficult to get exactly what one wants.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
My Lords, I just want to come in in defence of Parliament. The noble Baroness seems to think that if by statute a document is laid before Parliament then that is the end of it. It means nothing. Once it is there it is up to Parliament to use all the facilities that it has to comment on it if there is anything in it worth commenting on. I do not think that the noble Baroness should leave it on the record that the words literally mean that copies of the scheme will be laid before Parliament and nothing could flow 566 from that. Parliament will have it in its hands, and that is the real defence.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, of course that is so if the scheme is subject to the affirmative resolution. Nevertheless, it is quite different from being able to question the Secretary of State before the order is made. The original amendment was much stronger. As I said, the amendment goes some of the way but it does not go far enough. I appreciate what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, said: sometimes one has to be thankful for small mercies. We have often been in that position on the Bill. I do not intend to argue further about the amendment. I am quite certain that n the circumstance the Minister did his best.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Lord Tordoff moved Amendment No. 84ZA:
§ [Printed 20/6/85; col. 459]
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment is in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, and others. Sadly, he cannot be with us today to move it. In his absence and in the absence of my noble friend Lady Stedman, and with the agreement of the noble Lords, Lord Shackleton and Lord Sherfield, I shall briefly move it.
§ Let me say straight away that this is the last of the amendments that came from the activities of the Select Committee, which will be a relief to some noble Lords who have become slightly irritated by the Select Committee doing things to the Bill. But I would defend its position as the Members of the Select Committee have looked at the scientific and technical aspects of local government in relation to the Bill and have spent a considerable amount of time receiving evidence from all sorts of quarters. It is not that they are any more clever than Members of your Lordships' House but perhaps a little better informed in detail on some aspects.
§ I hasten to say that this is essentially a probing amendment. It is partially a repeat of an amendment which was not moved at the Committee stage. I think that it was Amendment No. 131 which was a precursor to Amendment No. 137 on which we had a full debate later on. The difference is that the words "professional" and "technical" have been substituted for the words "scientific" and "technical", as was done in the Government's amendment, Amendment No. 81C, on a previous day during the Report stage. It is phraseology of which the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, and the rest of us thoroughly approve. It subsumes a wide range of technical services which perhaps were not explicit in our original definition.
§ We are trying to provide for the period after the residuary bodies are wound up. It has been argued many times—and I have lent my voice to this—that one of the problems to which we should address our minds is that of expert teams of scientific and professional people who have been working for local government and who are necessary for the good government of the country at local level into the distant future. That is not to say everybody in the scientific and professional field can expect to be retained, but it was our interest to provide reassurance for a number of those teams into the 567 longer-term future and not just while the residuary bodies were there, lest that expertise became fragmented to other institutes of learning, private industry or even abroad. We believe that that would be a grave loss.
§ We believe that it is important that the option contained in the amendment is available and the future of the scientific and professional services is explicitly covered by the Bill. However, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, wrote to my noble friend Lady Stedman, following a letter from her on 23rd May after an earlier stage of the Bill. I believe that in that letter he has largely answered the worries which lie at the back of the amendment. My object in putting it before your Lordships today is to give you the opportunity to hear what was said and to give the Minister a further occasion to reinforce what he said in the letter.
The Minister said that we should have a look at the Local Authorities (Goods and Services) Act 1970 because it provides that a local authority may supply goods and services to and undertake the maintenance work on behalf of another authority; and that the Bill extends the definition of "local authority" in that Act to include the new authorities established by the Bill. He said:
As I had explained earlier in my speech at col. 221 therefore the Bill already allows the boroughs and districts if they so wish to enter into arrangements for one of the joint authorities in each metropolitan area to provide scientific and technical services to them".
That essentially provides the answer to the question which my noble friend asked and which in a sense we are asking again in the amendment. The question of payment for those services is apparently also covered by that Act, and therefore there could be the opportunity for precepting or other methods of payment to be used to preserve those services.
§ In moving the amendment, I should just like to ask the Minister to confirm what he said in his letter to my noble friend so that your Lordships have it on record and specifically so that the people involved in that sector of local government can have that reassurance from the Minister in the Chamber. I beg to move.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, the concern for a measure of reassurance which has been expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, is not only well understood but welcome. This probing amendment may have been drafted for all one knows—and perhaps the noble Lord could confirm this—before Amendments Nos. 84A and 84B were tabled in the name of my noble friend the Minister and other noble Lords, and before my noble friend's Amendment No. 81 CBA which was carried in last Thursday. If this amendment were not to be pressed to a Division it may well be found that the concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, and of the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, and others who have put their names to this important amendment may be met by the other amendments to which I have referred.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff. I should like to point out that the recommendations of the Select Committee, from the scientific and technical side, 568 which were unanimous, are still not entirely satisfied, though I am bound to say that the Minister has gone some way to meeting them.
Nonetheless, it is important for your Lordships to realise that some very valuable services are at risk—ones which the Government had not fully considered when this Bil came before your Lordships. I think it is important therefore that the helpful letter from the Minister in regard to the 1970 Act should be on the record. Therefore I shall not repeat the arguments that the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, has advanced beyond pointing out that the Select Committee which examined these provisions was unanimous and very strongly in favour of them.
There is one other point to which I should like to refer, especially since this is the first opportunity since last Thursday's debate to raise it. I should like to raise a point on the procedure which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, called in aid on Thursday night. I had thought of raising this on the Motion that the Bill be now further considered on Report, but I came to the conclusion that I did not wish necessarily to make too much of a mountain out of this particular molehill, though it is not an insignificant one. Although I think the Minister is not likely to use those particular arguments with regard to this amendment, there are other amendments coming before us and I hope he will refrain from using them as he did as a main part of his arguments for rejecting the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, and the noble Lord, Lord Diamond. On that occasion he raised the question of returning on Report to matters of general principle already decided.
I am aware that the practice has recently developed strongly on the Government side not to come back on Report stage. Nonetheless, this is not consistent with our Standing Orders. When I say that, I am referring to the Companion to the Standing Orders, our procedure. Noble Lords will be well aware that there are restrictions at Third Reading. There are no restrictions on Report, other than that arguments fully deployed in Committee should not be repeated at length on Report.
I am bound to say that some of those arguments were repeated at some length. Of course it would have been perfectly proper for the noble Lord to object to that rather than to object to the dangerous concept that the Government themselves should not have the right to try to reverse a decision taken in Committee and the Opposition should be free (whichever Opposition it is), to return on Report.
I think this is the kind of erosion of our customs which I should not like to see happen except explicitly. The noble Lord has always been courteous. I have given him forewarning of this and I have also given forewarning to the Leader of the House, who I know is unable to be here. Nonetheless, I hope that this is a matter that will be further considered, possibly and probably by the Procedure Committee, though my recommendation would be to postpone that consideration until the autumn when the House is perhaps in a less fractious mood.
Lord Home of the Hirsel
My Lords, I am bound to say that, if the noble Lord had not put it into my head, it would never have occurred to me to raise the question of the propriety of this amendment in the context in which he has spoken just now. It does not repeat in detail anything that has happened on Report, nor does it offend against the principle of the Bill. Thus this has rather been dragged in. Nonetheless, the other day I raised this in Committee in respect of an amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Molson.
I do not necessarily want to repeat the procedures that go on in another place. Nevertheless, I think there is wisdom in two of their practices. The first one is that the principle of the Bill should not be challenged in Committee once the principle has been accepted on Second Reading. The second one is that amendments on Report do not duplicate and repeat those moved on Committee on which decisions have been taken. It seems to me that those two procedures in another place lead to expeditious and efficient procedures. Therefore I think that, while not adopting them formally, we would be wise to conform to some extent with those two practices in another place. If we are to change this matter, I think I would agree with the noble Lord that this should be looked at by the Procedure Committee and it should be done later on, perhaps in the autumn. I would much rather it was done through the usual channels without the formality of going to the Procedure Committee.
If I may say so, there is one thing of which the Benches opposite should perhaps take note. They have been very clever in prolonging, quite legitimately, the proceedings on the Committee stage and the Report stage. We might be even cleverer if one day we are in opposition. Thus I think it serves both parties that we should have a look at this matter again and see if our procedures need adaptation.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, because I have no right to speak a second time, before the noble Lord sits down may I say that I have no intention of widening it to the really very revolutionary remarks that he made on Committee with regard to this. It seems to me that his brief return to the Commons has rather infected him.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penhros
My Lords, we must listen to the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, with great respect. I certainly do so because of his very long experience both in this House and in another place. I listened very carefully to the points he made just now. However, I am bound to say to him that I disagree with him.
In the first place, the last charge that could be made against my noble friends on this Bench is that they have prolonged the proceedings of the Committee. In this sense they have not been as clever as they might have been or as the noble Lord might have wished them to be. The fact is that they have adhered to all the agreements which the usual channels have made throughout. Indeed, to accuse this side of the House of behaving in any way contrary to either the rules or the conventions is in my view quite mistaken.
570 The noble Lord must have observed that opposition to the Bill comes not only from this party but from the alliance, from the Cross-Benches and from members of his own party. That is a fact which is well known in this House and beyond. For him to say, further, that we should look at the practice of another place is quite proper. We should look at it and learn from it, and the point that he made was a reasonable point.
However, there are procedures which take place in another place which we should not follow. One of those is the application of the guillotine. That is the one matter which lays an extra burden upon those who have criticisms to make of the Bill. This is one of the matters that has worried us: that there was inadequate discussion of the Bill in another place, thus placing an extra burden of responsibility upon my noble friends, upon members of the alliance parties, upon certain Members on the Cross-Benches and indeed upon thoughtful Members on the other side who have made some very constructive speeches.
I believe my noble friend Lord Shackleton was absolutely right to make the point he did, in view of what went on last Thursday. Certain things were said from the Government Front Bench to which I took considerable exception. I am not proposing to go into those at this time because that is now all over and done with. Nevertheless, in my view the Companion to the Standing Orders, to which the noble Lord, Lord Home, was properly referred, has in my opinion been fully observed by this party. We were perfectly entitled, or at least my noble friend Lord Barnett and the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, were perfectly entitled, to put down the amendment that they did. It was fully in conformity with the Companion to the Standing Orders. If there were difficulties on Thursday night, they were not created by this party but by the desire of the party opposite to prolong the debate until all their noble friends were present.
Lord Home of the Hirsel
My Lords, as the noble Lord has kindly chosen to follow up what I said, I do not of course mean that there was any obstruction of the Bill on the Opposition Benches. I do not think as a matter of fact that if the rules of the other place had been applied, the two amendments moved by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, and by the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, would have got past the Table. They would have done so in this House, of course. As the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has said, there are no restrictions. I just do not think that if we had had the Commons practice, which I am not necessarily advocating, those two amendments would have been allowed.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, at the risk of turning this debate into a Committee stage, which is not my intention, the procedure is totally different. They would never have been called by the Speaker.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
My Lords, without accusing anyone of anything, as the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition said, and bearing in mind that the whole purpose of the amendment, as explained by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, is to have a letter sent to the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, put on the record, I am glad that my noble friend Lord Home, with his 571 vast experience, has intervened. The comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, are very important because of his own significance. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, is a former Leader of the House and is held in the highest possible esteem. If a matter is to be considered by the Procedure Committee or through the usual channels, the comments of the noble Lord properly carry much weight.
My only reason for intervening is that it is pretty clear, as the exchanges have shown, that the rules as we understand them, and indeed the conventions as we understand them, have not been breached. There is no question of that. We should however bear in mind—especially the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, because of the importance that I attach to any contribution that he makes in this field—that we have got very near to the rules possibly being broken. The reason that I make that assertion with such confidence is a feeling, as expressed by my noble friend in his reaction to the comments that have been made, that I had at the end of the Committee stage. I was perhaps being very presumptuous considering that I have been a Member of this House for only 12 years. However, I said at the end of the Committee stage that I hoped that the manner in which various amendments had been withdrawn did not mean that they would be brought back again on Report and on Third Reading merely to take up time. The fact that—
§ Lord Tordoff
My Lords, I understand the response that the noble Lord makes. This is however somewhat wide of Amendment No. 84ZA. It might perhaps be best if we took the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and left this matter to the Procedure Committee or the usual channels.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
My Lords, I could not agree more. It is a pity that this matter has been introduced at the tail-end of an innocuous amendment. However, the noble Lord who raised it is a significant figure. It is clear from the words used by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition that the matter is to be looked into. I believe that any reactions from all parts of the House should be on the record at the earliest stage. I am merely saying here that I do not believe that rules or conventions have been broken. But we have gone pretty near to it. I hope that no words used by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, will encourage this development to go even further and perhaps over the line.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Viscount Whitelaw)
My Lords, may I first apologise to the House for the fact that I was not present? I was engaged in an important meeting. I hope that the House will excuse me. I know, having had a word with the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, roughly what has been said. It has been reported to me that there is a feeling on all sides, I understand, that the matter should be examined by the Procedure Committee. When that is to be done is a matter, I would modestly suggest to the House, that might be discussed through the usual channels. Those discussions could decide when would be the best time for the matter to be put to the Procedure Committee so that we can derive the best advantage from doing so.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
My Lords, may I say on behalf of my noble friends that I am grateful to the noble Viscount for what he has said. This is something, as he must be aware, about which many of us are deeply concerned.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, one has to admit that your Lordships' House is the most fascinating place. One really never knows what is going to happen on a simple probing amendment, which I understand this to be. I am sure that no one is in the least interested in my views on the question that we have just been discussing. In any case, they are already on the record. I shall therefore leave the matter in the safe hands of my elders and betters.
The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, has made clear—I am most grateful to him—that this is a probing amendment, because the amendment itself goes a good deal wider than the concern to which he has asked me to address myself. I take it from the fact that he has narrowed the concern that I am right in thinking that he and his noble coadjutors on this and preceding amendments at this and earlier stages are now limiting their concern to this issue. The noble Lord was quite right to refer to my letter of 12th June to the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman. His quotation, although incomplete, was entirely sufficient to draw out the elements of the situation that he wants on the record. However, for the fullness of the record, I would say again that it is quite understandable that there was a concern. The matter to which we address ourselves is not immediately apparent on the face of the Bill.
The assurance of the procedures to which the noble Lord has referred is achieved by an amendment which the Bill itself as already drafted makes to another statute already enacted. The effect of paragraph 47 of Schedule 13 of the Bill is to attract the effects of the Local Authorities (Goods and Services) Act 1970. It might further simplify things if I were to read the first subsection of the first section of the Act which says:Subject to the provisions of this section, a local authority and any public body within the meaning of this section may enter into an agreement for all or any of the following purposes, that is to say—".The effect of the Bill of course is to make the joint authorities local authorities for the purpose of this section and to bring them into the operation of this section as the other successor authorities, the boroughs and districts, are already plainly there. The purposes listed are:It goes on to say that,
- (a) the supply by the authority to the body of any goods or materials;
- (b) the provision by the authority for the body of any administrative, professional or technical services;
- (c) the use by the body of any vehicle, plant or apparatus belonging to the authority and, without prejudice to paragraph (b) above, the placing at the disposal of the body of the services of any person employed in connection with the vehicle or other property in question;
- (d) the carrying out by the authority of works of maintenance in connection with land or buildings for the maintenance of which the body is responsible."a local authority may purchase and store any goods and materials which in their opinion they may require for the purposes of paragraph (a) of this subsection".573 That gives your Lordships the scope of the Act that the Bill attracts. The effect of the amendment is to apply the provisions of the Act to the new joint authorities so as to enable any of them to supply any goods or services to, or on behalf of, any of the other successor bodies as if they were themselves local authorities. The borough and district councils are clearly local authorities already. It is under these provisions that all the successor bodies, both the councils and the new authorities, are already able to set up joint co-operative schemes under the Bill. They will be able to do so by voluntary agreement and to agree the apportionment of costs. The normal method, no doubt, will be for one of the councils in the group to agree to act as lead council and to supply the service in return for a fee, for cash, or for counter credit.
The question of how that counter-payment shall be calculated will lie at the heart of the agreement, and I was going to say that it lies close to the heart of the amendment, but I am reassured to find that it does not. This saves your Lordships some five or six minutes of explanatory text which I would otherwise have delivered, and that can only be a good thing. For your Lordships' final reassurance I would say that the letter I wrote to the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, on 12th June was, according to what I understand is the convention of this House, placed in the Library and is there for anybody to consult.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Lord Tordoff
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Minister. There is one small point I should like to come back to with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. The noble Lord suggested that these matters were already covered in amendments debated last Thursday and which are on the Marshalled List for later today. If he looks, he will find that those amendments largely deal with the intermediate period while the residuary body is in existence. This amendment seeks to go beyond that point.
It was so as to seek on behalf of the people we have been talking about in regard to the longer term the reassurance that we have subsequently had that we felt it necessary to put down such an amendment. It was with that purpose in mind and not to duplicate anything which has gone, or is about to happen, that we put down this amendment. I am most grateful to the noble Lord the Minister, and I hope that what he has said gives as much reassurance to the people we are seeking to protect as it does to me and my noble friends. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Baroness Birk moved Amendment No. 84ZAA:
After Clause 86, insert the following new clause:
§ (" Research functions.
§ .—(1) The Secretary of State shall by order taking effect on the abolition date make provision for each residuary body to exercise the functions relating to research and the collection of information to which this section applies.
§ (2) This section applies to the establishment and maintainance of an organisation for the purpose of assembling, disseminating and keeping up to date information concerning the area of a residuary body or any part thereof, and the commissioning of research and carrying out of surveys.")574
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment is concerned with research functions and fits in well after the amendment we have just discussed. Clause 87 provides for a lead borough to set up an organisation for research and the collection of information for Greater London and the metropolitan counties. However, there is in that clause no compulsion. For this reason this important function could well collapse, which would be a tremendous loss all round. The amendment would make for an effective obligatory arrangement.
§ Clause 87 is certainly an improvement on an earlier clause, since it shows that the Government have accepted that a co-ordinated service is necessary, and that is a good basis from which to start. The case for this has been made by independent academic and professional institutions, and the value of the function has also been recognised by the Government. I do not think that there is anything between us on that.
As recently as 1980 the Department of the Environment, in a letter to the then director general of the GLC, Sir James Swaffield, said that the GLC's.
research and information activities have become … one of its hallmarks".
It went on to say that it did not think that any further legislation was then necessary because it had such an important place.
Whatever reason there may have been for ensuring by legislation that such an organisation was set up, it seems to us that it is now well and truly established and no longer needs to be underpinned by legislation".
That is quite different from the provisions made in this clause.
In its evidence to the Marshall Inquiry Westminster City Council said that,
it is unikely that [London authorities] would be able to perform their own functions satisfactorily without the research and intelligence function of the GLC".
§ However, Clause 87 as it stands still suffers from some serious defects. First, it does not guarantee the continuation of the reserch and information services. The clause could mean that there is no scheme at all—this could happen—or that it would be a partial scheme, or a temporary scheme, since the lead borough could pull out after two years. We know—it has been said on other occasions, and was a point made by the Select Committee, and in the amendment we have just discussed—that it takes a great deal of time to build things up, but it is so quick and easy to destroy them. These avenues of research and information which are of such importance could, one fears, suffer that kind of fate.
Secondly, the clause relies on authorities which necessarily have to take a local view—and that is the borough councils and district councils—to take either a London-wide or, in the case of the metropolitan counties, a county-wide view there. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester said on 18th June at col. 170 of Hansard:
individual boroughs will need to be helped to take a perspective which transcends their own particular boundaries and needs.
The Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, remarked:
The GLC, for example, is a single authority and it is natural that its committee and departments should look at problems from the point of view of the whole of the area for which they are concerned. That will not necessarily be the case for the constituent successor
authorities and it may need some sort of provision to make sure that good local authority practice continues in this way".
That was on the same day, at col. 173. I believe that only a London-wide authority or, in the case of the metropolitan counties, a county-wide authority such as the residuary body could undertake the kind of review and research entailed which is often wide spread.
§ Thirdly, it disregards the needs of many public, private, and voluntary bodies currently assisted by the services, as well as the needs of the new bodies to be created by the Bill. The clause relates only to borough and district councils. In practice, 20 statutory bodies (including London Regional Transport, the Metropolitan Police, London Docklands, so far as London is concerned) and the four Government departments, the South-East Regional Planning Conference, and various voluntary bodies and private associations benefit from these research and information services. The Bill as a whole will fragment a cost-effective and efficient service which currently offers the necessary, continuous and comprehensive flow of information, unless something along the lines of the amendment I move is included.
§ The Bill sets up a number of new bodies which would each require specialist information, including social, economic, and environmental information, land use data, population change, transport networks and traffic. These bodies include the Planning Commission, the proposed joint borough planning committee, the authority for waste disposal, the fire and civil defence authority, the ILEA in London, the new unit for grants, and the scientific services body. At present all this is provided efficiently from one centre in London, and in the metropolitan counties from the centres there.
§ Fourthly, the arrangement can be expected, as it is at the moment, to produce an inadequate and slower service. It will be hard to get agreement on cost sharing and the content of surveys and studies. There are some examples of what may happen. Taking London it seems unlikely that some boroughs—those which are experiencing less social stress—will have the inclination to contribute to monitoring the regeneration of London's inner city areas or policies to improve the lives of the deprived groups there, even though such improvements have benefits for the whole of London.
§ This point came out throughout the debates on the voluntary services, and I think in other areas as well. The point was made from the Bishops' Bench and all around the House, and not just from these Benches, that particularly when money is short boroughs and districts are practically forced to concentrate—or they feel that it must be their first priority—on their own local districts. Unless they feel that the piece of research envisaged has a particular application to themselves, they are not going to be happy about being asked to contribute, and will possibly not do so, to something which goes right across the whole of the area. In that way the overall standards across Greater London could be lost, for example. An example of this occurred in 1971 when a decision was taken to leave it to the boroughs to act collectively on land use data. The boroughs failed to agree on a mutually-compatible land use information system and the result 576 was that a totally consistent set of data was not achieved and has not yet been achieved some 14 years later. We should take that example to heart because it is exactly what might happen if this area in the Bill is not strengthened.
§ Before the 1965 reorganisation, collection of essential information on London's trends and problems was fragmented and inefficient, and the performance of individual authorities varied considerably. That was why the Herbert Commission recommended that a statutory function should be set up on behalf of all public and private bodies in London. It was to ensure that these aims continue to be met that this amendment has been put down.
§ I should have said that I was also speaking to Amendment No. 84ZAB at the same time.
§ Amendment No. 84ZAB: Leave out Clause 87.
§ I apologise and I beg to move.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I should like to add my plea to that of my noble friend Lady Birk for the secure continuation of a research and intelligence service for London and the metropolitan counties. My noble friend has made the point effectively that the arrangements for a lead borough proposed in Clause 87, although an improvement on the original proposals, do not provide that security which we believe to be necessary and which has been held to be necessary from an early stage in London government and in the government of the metropolitan counties.
My noble friend referred to the Herbert Commission. I could give many more quotations from that commission's report which support the need for a research and intelligence service which goes outwith the needs of the boroughs even taken collectively. The Herbert Commission report referred to the need for a continuous service and a service which would provide information for the benefit of central government. I am sure that the Minister's advisers will confirm that that has been the case for the past 20 years. Herbert said that there could only be one absolutely first-rate organisation providing these research and intelligence services in London. I believe that this argument can be applied effectively to the metropolitan counties as well. Therefore I believe that the case for a central and effective research and intelligence service, right from the outset of reorganisations of local government over the past 20 years, has been effectively made.
If we consider the achievements of the research and intelligence services in London—I do not presume to speak for the metropolitan counties—we can see that they have been responsible for initiating, if not carrying through, decisions which have saved London billions rather than million of pounds. In general their concern has been to avoid the misdirection of resources. It has always been their concern particularly in recent years to see to it that the allocation of rate support grant has been fair to London and that there has been a recognition of the problems of London and other inner city areas. The scheme for the Thames Barrier (which cost £500 million but potentially is likely to save London millions of pounds as the land level continues to decline on the east coast of England) originated from a study by the research and intelligence division of the Greater London Council. The abandonment, which I believe to be correct, of the 577 policy of new and expanded towns was brought forward by the kind of research produced by the GLC's research and intelligence division; the support work for the inner city programme, the pressure on Government for the national dwellings and household condition surveys—all of these have come out of the research and intelligence service, which, as my noble friend said, is devoted not only to the needs of the boroughs but to the 20 statutory authorities and many other voluntary bodies and bodies such as the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
I should also like to reinforce the point made by my noble friend when she referred to the remarks last week of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, about voluntary organisations. His objections as I understand it, to the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), were that it was not enough for individual boroughs to have the responsibility to carry out a review of social needs in the area as a whole and that there ought to be some wider body capable of carrying out that review. If that argument applies to the analysis and the annual review of social needs, surely it applies very much more to the continuing responsibility which there ought to be in London and the metropolitan counties for research and intelligence. I believe that the logic of the Minister's arguments last week ought to lead him to support this amendment or, at the very least, to indicate ways in which at Third Reading he could give effect to the spirit behind it.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, when what is now Clause 87 and was then Clause 86 was added to the Bill in Committee on 21st May, the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, gave notice of her dissatisfaction with it and said that she would be back. I welcome her back on that notice. The concerns which she raised then and again today have of course received fairly close attention during Committee and Report. The noble Baroness was concerned, first, to say that in London in particular but elsewhere by analogy the research and information functions of the metropolitan authority are extremely valuable. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, endorsed that. I accept that a great deal of valuable work has been done, and much useful information supplied to people who, as the noble Baroness pointed out, are not necessarily always local authorities or, indeed, authorities in any other sense in the metropolitan or Greater London areas.
We have considered at some length the principle that the provision and organisation of support services must be a matter for successor authorities to decide. The point at which there is a danger of divergence of view between the noble Baroness and her friends and myself and my friends is the extent to which the provision of a particular level of service would be dependent upon a demand for it. I may be wrong in this, but it appears to me that again and again we come to the proposition that this is a good thing. "It must be good, for so much that is good has come from it; therefore it is all necessary and therefore it must be perpetuated in its present form". That is not the precise statement of the amendment proposed by the 578 noble Baroness, Amendment No. 84ZAA but it is certainly an inference that one can deduce or infer from it.
There I have to differ from the noble Baroness, as do my noble friends, in that we believe that if that argument is carried to its logical conclusion one finishes up with an extremely large, efficient and effective provider of a service with no takers at all. What we feel is that the proper place is somewhere between the extreme where there is a vast supply for nobody and a negligible supply against a very great demand, and that we should provide for the generation of a service commensurate with the demand for it and the use that will be made of it. I am always happy to give way to the noble Baroness.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, I wanted to ask a question on that specific point. The Minister made a point about there not being a demand for a service. In general one cannot find fault with his statement that one goes on and perhaps builds things and so on. This is something different. The noble Lord is using that argument about demand. Research and information has become built into the county-wide system in local government and has spread its wings, as I and my noble friend explained. As this is so important, can the Minister give me the evidence that there is less demand for the type of research and information service that we are discussing? I think that this is absolutely crucial to this whole question.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Baroness. I hope that I can dispose of what I think is a misconception. I am not making the thesis that there is minuscule demand for this, or that the demand is either less than or more than what is provided. I am saying that the provision ought to be of a sort which matches that demand, which may be greater or may be less and will not necessarily remain the same. That is what we provide for in the Bill.
We have discussed at some length the general principles that there must be a market for the product of a service. We have also discussed the question of interim arrangements by the residuary body which will not only automatically receive any property such as common service computers not transferred elsewhere but will also have an active role in ensuring that there is no hiatus in the provision of specialist services. We have provided an elaborate arrangement in the Bill, in Clause 87, which was welcomed by some of your Lordships at an earlier stage. This, the noble Baroness added as a sort of codicil to her main speech, it is intended to sweep away in putting the noble Baroness's arrangements in the form of her first amendment of the two on the Marshalled List.
I wonder if I can encourage the noble Baroness to be a little more optimistic about what is provided within the Bill by telling her that I understand that the London Boroughs Association is already considering the arrangements needed under Clause 87 and I am sure that the boroughs will have appropriate arrangements in place, and may have them in place before abolition. Those arrangements can perfectly well allow of customers other than the local authorities and the joint authorities to use those services, so that there will be no limitation there.
579 If the noble Baroness, as she is quite entitled to do—and I sometimes wonder if any of us do this often enough—says that it is all very well saying that things are lovely in London but what about everywhere else?—then I invite her to follow up the comparison which she and her noble friend made (or the link that she and her noble friend set up) between Clauses 87 and 48 and the importance of getting county-wide schemes in being. I quite agree that we discussed that on Clause 48. I invite the noble Baroness to cast her eye to the bottom of the same page of the Marshalled List, to the Government amendment, No. 84ZB, which actually proposes to require the preparatory committees to consider having schemes under both Clauses 48 and 87.
We have actually recognised the link which noble Lords and the noble Baroness pointed out, and short of actually providing a duty, which has all the difficulties which I have already suggested to your Lordships that this would provide, it seems to me that we have gone all the way in trying to see that what the noble Baroness wants to happen, and which we want to happen, will happen.
I see a difference between Clauses 48 and 87. I have agreed that in Clause 48 the authorities need to have regard to the needs of the whole area. Here, in Clause 87, the job is in any event about gathering information about the whole area; so that they are surely bound to look at that area as a whole. For example, Clause 87(1)(a) provides for investigations into that area: that is to say, the area as a whole. I do not see that there is a need to follow through into this clause the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth) who I think raised this at an earlier stage, on Clause 48.
Nonetheless, the machinery is there to see that all the people concerned with setting up this service, and who I accept will need this service, are actually faced with the need early on by a committee whose job it is to see that it is met in good time.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, it was never my intention to press this amendment, but I must say that the Minister's reply makes me even more depressed than I was before. I should very much like to be optimistic about this whole question but there is nothing in the Bill that gives one any feeling of optimism. In my intervention I asked the Minister very specific questions about the evidence that there was less demand for this county-wide research and information service; and obviously he could not say. He just went back to saying that we should start all over again and build up a demand.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, will the noble Baroness do me the reciprocal courtesy of yielding? Perhaps I have not made myself clear. What I am saying is that there is no evidence to suggest that the level of information either in London or anywhere else is exactly right now, and still less evidence to suggest that it will always remain the same. We think it should be answerable to the pressures, and that is what our arrangements provide for.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, if I may say so, I think the Minister is making the most out of a really bad case. We are not in any party political area; we are in 580 the area that we were discussing before on the professional and technological side. But it is even wider than that because the research involves social research and a wide range of research. The Minister knows as well as I do how difficult it is to build up these structures of research. You may alter them from time to time and take them away from one area. Then as something new comes along you have to evolve something different. Nevertheless, this is something that is there and working well. There have been no attempts to say (and the Minister either has not wanted to say or has not been able to say) that there has been undue extravagance here or that this has become completely redundant, or anything like that. This is not so at all.
He also referred to the elaborate arrangements in the Bill to deal with this. Again, I say as a rhetorical question (so that he need not feel that he will have to answer this again): what on earth are we doing setting up elaborate arrangements to replace something that has been working well for some time and is working extremely well? I am sorry to say that it seems to me that the case against the amendment is a very poor one. I do not blame the Minister for that. I am afraid it is all inherent in this wretched Bill. In moving the amendment I was perhaps being a little optimistic in thinking that, on something like this which is really not a party political matter at all, the Government would be able to take a rather more relaxed view of it and also a more productive view as far as research is concerned. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 84ZAB not moved.]
§ 5 p.m.
§ Clause 94 [Preparatory committees of successor councils]:
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 84ZAC:
Page 69, line 39, at end insert—
("( ) for the financial year commencing in April 1986 and for each financial year thereafter co-ordinate—
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 84ZAC which stands on the Marshalled List in the name of my noble friend. In order to be helpful to the House, I need to refer to Clause 94. As the Minister and his colleagues are well aware, what we are discussing in this amendment is how to make satisfactory arrangements which will better aid the smooth transition from the present situation to the new one. This is a clause which deals with preparatory committees of successor councils, and in Clause 94(1) on page 69 we are talking in terms, before 1st September 1985, of establishing
a joint committee to discharge the functions mentioned in subsection (2) below;".
In that subsection a number of matters are referred to which that joint committee is charged with looking
after. These are referred to in Clause 94(2)(a), as follows:
(a) to co-ordinate the making of preparations by those councils—
I want to stress the word "preparations"—
(i) for the transfer of the functions of the Greater London Council or the council of that county which will on the abolition date become functions of those councils by virtue of any provision made by or under this Act".
The second matter the Committee will be charged with in regard to preparations is,
(ii) for the exercise by those councils of functions which by virtue of any such provision will on that date cease to be exercisable concurrently with those councils".
Later, in Clause 94(2)(b) they are charged with considering,
whether any of those functions could with advantage be discharged jointly by those councils or any of them …".
Then they are charged with consulting and co-operating—
as respects matters affecting those councils or their areas, with the new authorities, the residuary bodies and any other body to which functions or property of the Greater London Council or the council of that country will be transferred".
Again, they are charged under Clause 94(2)(d) to
exercise the committee's powers under section 95 below so as to obtain from the Greater London Council or the council of that county and their officers any information the committee may require for discharging its functions under this section.
The joint commitee which will be established under Clause 94 is quite clearly instructed to carry out a number of very important matters and yet there is a glaring omission, to the best of my knowledge. However, I am sure that the Minister, as always, will be very helpful to us and will explain why in this situation there is a glaring omission. We believe that glaring omission would be put right by our amendment because in addition to the important functions to be carried out by the joint committee we are also saying,
for the financial year commending in April 1986 and for each financial year thereafter".
the joint committee shall co-ordinate—and I would stress the word "co-ordinate"—
§ This amendment accepts that the proposed joint boards would operate as independent bodies. We are not arguing about the sanctity or authority of the separate joint boards in respect of police, fire, passenger transport, highways, strategic highways and of course waste disposal. We are not concerned at all about the fact that these bodies to a very large extent will be able to plough their own furrow; but the amendment seeks to make each of them aware of the others' intentions through a forum of discussion with the preparatory committee. The Minister may tell us—as I think he has done if not 23 times, 36 times—that there is no need for what we see as a danger unless we put it on the face of the Bill. Single service boards are imbued with a pursuit of professional excellence ethic. That is only natural as their sole function is the provision of one service. Thus proposals are brought forward which, in the eyes of 582 that service, are reasonable but which, when compared objectively with the proposals of other services, have a lower priority. That assessment of relative priorities is presently achieved by the metropolitan counties' multi-service structure. This amendment would provide a forum whereby the joint boards could consider the merits of proposals from each service and the need for a balance between the services. Such competition between services for scarce resources is a feature of multi-service authorities, and it would be highly desirable to make provision for it within the new framework. Again, the amendment would provide for a forum where not only could priorities be assessed, but also the total call of all the county area joint boards upon the ratepayers could be considered.
§ These features can be demonstrated by the 1984–85 budget process of the West Yorkshire Metropolitan County Council. Service departments brought forward their budget proposals: they were considered together and the priorities were judged by elected members. By, the end of the budget cycle those proposals has been cut back by 8 per cent. overall. Within the overall 8 per cent. individual services had faced cuts ranging from 3 per cent. to 30 per cent. Without the competitive element there would have been no incentive to examine critically the proposals brought forward and the 8 per cent. reduction would not have been achieved.
I think the Minister, as always, is prepared to listen not just to the views of politicians, whether they are elected members of councils or whether they are Members of another place or of this Chamber. I know that he listens very carefully to the views of respected bodies. Let me tell the Minister what the Society of Metropolitan Treasurers have to say on this point:
Single-purpose authorities such as the proposed joint boards will lack the financial discipline imposed when several services compete for a common restricted resource pool.
The Minister will agree with me that there will he a common restricted resource pool. Let us go from the professionals to the users of the service: the Association of British Chambers of Commerce. 'This is what they are saying about the present set up:
A statutory precepts board should be established. This would be asked to receive and review the budgets for all county-wide services and to consider those budgets in relation to each other and to the budgets of the individual districts as well as to comparative need, value for money and the ability to pay.
§ This amendment does not go so far as the association in asking for a statutory precepts board, but it relies upon a reasonable approach being taken by the members of each board in the wider interests of the receivers of services and the ratepayers. The Minister will be well aware that at the end of the day, although we recognise the merit in a small group of people being charged with looking after a specialist service to the community, whether it be fire, police, waste disposal or passenger transport, at the end of the day it is the same people publicly who are going to have to fund them all. It is the taxpayer, with subvention; and the ratepayer, by direct levy.
§ This amendment asks the Minister whether he can assure us that without the need for that, as merely one additional responsibility for the joint committees to consider together the budgets which are in the minds 583 of these specialists, to see whether it is possible to point out to them that if they persist there will be a problem and a confrontation. There will be the need for some county council or some mechanism to say, "enough is enough: we are going to knock you back." I am quite certain that these people would welcome the opportunity at the earliest possible stage of being invited to think again. As the Minister well knows—and it is to the credit of these committees—one can imagine the police joint authority being very keen and being carried away by the needs which they can see in their area for remedying some possible deficiencies that they might have seen. For instance, they may want to increase provision in their budget for items such as some new equipment or to go abroad in order to see what other police forces are doing. As the Minister is certainly aware, there are always fresh needs for spending more money, not least on the police services. One can see them going ahead merrily saying, "We know the public will want us to do this and here we have a budget which is £112 million, and that is right", while the fire service joint board may very well be saying the same thing.
The Government lay down national standards—unless the Minister is going to tell us that they are maximum standards, and he cannot, because they are national standards which are acceptable to him—and you will have, as happened with the GLC in latter years a situation where it is said, "Though the Home Office lays down national standards, we want to improve those standards because we believe, rightly or wrongly, that the national standard is a minimum standard and we want to add a little more to it". So, you will have committees, if not empire building, desirous to provide the best service.
The same, of course, will apply to passenger transport. You will be looking at experiences in other parts of the country and there will perhaps be places which say "Well, we want to move towards what the Tyne and Wear Metro has". I simply envisage the possibility from my own experience serving on a local council. But every Member of this House will know how at budget time some body has to reconcile competing claims for what is likely to be for the foreseeable future, as the Minister and I would agree, a severe limitation on the free action of every public body, and must say, "Though there is a public need, some body has to try to co-ordinate".
The prime function of this amendment is to co-ordinate the preparation of budgets. It is not saying to the individual joint committees that they cannot even consider something. By all means let them consider it and bring it forward and cost it; but we want some body—and we think this is the appropriate body, but it may not be—to look, in the first instance, at what it is that the separate joint boards covering a county area are thinking about, so that, rather than have a fight at the end of the day, we have a careful co-ordination of the spending of public money. I believe the Minister will share my view that that is a desirable objective.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, as I detect he is about to do, can he clear up what may be a misconception or a mishearing on my 584 part which other noble Lords may have picked up too? I think I heard him say at an earlier stage that the amendment was for transitional purposes. It starts off:for the financial year commencing in April 1986 and for each financial year thereafter",which does not sound to me like a transitional purpose. Can he clear my mind on that?
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, I cannot recall using the word "transitional", but the record will confirm it. If I did, I can understand the Minister having difficulty trying to reconcile "transitional" with "starting in April 1986 and for each … year thereafter". The purpose here is to recognise that for as long as the joint boards are in existence—we are looking at this against the authority of the residuary bodies, and I mentioned five years as the period—we see the necessity, as do those outside the House who are advising us and who are concerned in these matters, for some means of simply co-ordinating. At the end of the day, these people will produce their budgets and somebody has to reconcile and determine how much shall be spent. We are saying, as does every person who has served on local government committees, that some committee of every council, whether it be the finance committee, the general purposes committee or the co-ordination committee, has to reconcile competing claims between various bits of the empire. We are asking: "How will that be done at the joint board level?" We are suggesting, because in this particular clause a range of functions is laid down for the joint committees—it says that the joint committee is "to discharge the functions mentioned" and there follows a range of very important matters, including to "co-ordinate the making of preparations"—that one of the things that it could usefully take on board are the matters referred to in this amendment. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, proposed this amendment in tones of almost virgin innocence, the suggestion being that it was only a mild and reasonable variation of the Bill. It seems to me, and so I think it will seem to many of your Lordships, to be a great deal more than that. It seems to me to amount to an attempt, far from the first during our discussions on this Bill, to set up a powerful top tier authority in both the GLC area and the metropolitan counties. The noble Lord was a little evasive when my noble friend Lord Elton asked him about the proposed duration of this power. The amendment is perfectly clear. It covers 1986 and the years thereafter, with no limitation of time whatever.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, as the amendment stands, it is therefore a permanent proposal. I hear that the noble Lord admits this. This is, of course, a challenge to the main concept of the Bill because it is proposing to set up this powerful body on top of the boroughs to which it is the purpose of the Bill that power should be entrusted. The noble Lord at one 585 time said—he will find this in Hansard—that of course this body would have no power. This is simply not consistent with the framing of his amendment. You cannot co-ordinate—that is the word used in the amendment—the budgets of a number of different authorities without having the power in the ultimate resort to impose your will upon them. Co-ordination implies subordination. It implies the power to say, "No, such and such a body, I am afraid you cannot take your budget beyond this point". Equally this applies to the co-ordination of precepts; either you are just discussing precepts as an amiable after-dinner topic—for myself, I can imagine none more disagreeable—or you are taking power to say, "You shall not precept for more than—or less than—a particular figure". This is a proposal to set up—I hope your Lordships will be clear about this, for all the innocent reasonableness of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton—a very powerful body, which is in conflict with the general purposes and policy of the Bill. This is financial power. The late Iain Macleod once remarked that money was proverbially the root of all evil, but he added that it was also the root of everything else. Of course, in local government financial power is what really matters.
Therefore I hope that in considering this amendment your Lordships will appreciate that it is a very significant one, and one which I venture to suggest is wholly contrary to the purpose, the spirit and the intention of the Bill. It is in fact a proposal to set up a finance and general purposes committee with powers over the GLC area and the former counties and therefore in the all-important area of finance to perpetuate these organisations which it is the purpose of the Bill to abolish. I hope your Lordships will now see the amendment in this light and take the view that it would be quite wrong, apart from the merits of the matter, at this stage of our discussion of the Bill to introduce into it so damaging a change.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, I defer to the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, who in moving this amendment referred to an omission. There is no omission other than in the eye of a beholder antipathetic to the principle of this Bill. The structure of Clause 94 follows the basic principles of the Bill. It is idle to contend, as my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter has just pointed out to your Lordships, that this is some mere co-ordination of budgets, that there is no power, for the reasons which my noble friend stated and which require no repetition from me, for the effect of this amendment is to set up a sort of super-precepting body for the successor bodies to roll up all the precepts into one precept and to erect this third tier of administration. This cuts clean across the fundamental principle of the Bill.
I would have wished to enter into the exchange in which the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, ventured to speak on Amendment No. 84ZA, which, with the greatest respect, involved no breach whatever of fundamental principle. But as I had spoken once and this is Report stage, I hope it is proper to deal with that matter now in context with this amendment where, assuredly, those matters arise, as my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter has just pointed out.
586 The principle at stake is two-fold: first, the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan counties and, secondly, the devolution of functions to single-tier administration. Both aspects of the principle have passed both Houses of Parliament and were expressly affirmed by your Lordships at Second Reading, at Committee stage and again, up to now, on Report, notwithstanding the Gold Cup amendment. It simply does not make sense for your Lordships to hear that one can challenge either aspect of the principle on the grounds that something—this was the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, at col. 404 of the Official Report—that has gone through both Houses and been affirmed more than once in your Lordships' House is more cost-effective. If you do not do it, says the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, your Lordships' House has no role. Better that your Lordships' House should have no role on one Bill than have no role full-stop, because if one breaches the accepted convention, which this amendment assuredly does, in the end one can only invite imposed reform and the importance of that far transcends this wretched amendment to this Bill.
§ Lord Molson
My Lords, I am very much impressed by the arguments whch have been put forward by my two noble friends. If the amendment were to have the effect that the total burden of rates would be increased, or even be likely to be increased, I should not for a moment support it, and as the danger has been so forcefully demonstrated by my two noble friends, I certainly shall not support this amendment.
However, I should like to ask my noble friend the Minister: are we going to have three precepts in the same area, without any previous consultation between the bodies responsible for levying them? If there is no proper consultation, I can imagine that the ultimate burden will be greater and not less than it was before the introduction and, as I hope, the passing of this Bill.
I should like to throw out the suggestion to my noble friend that, between now and Third Reading, he should look at it from that point of view and, bearing in mind the warnings given against going back on the principles of this Bill, that something in the nature of consultation between the different precepting authorities might be encouraged by the Government in the wording of this Bill.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I do not think it is necessary to go to issues of great principle as to the manner in which your Lordships conduct yourselves to demonstrate that the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, has very ably, courteously, clearly and with much restraint introduced a very bad amendment. We have had amendments about a general precepting authority—I think my noble friends are right on this—on almost every other day at every stage of this Bill, and at each stage your Lordships have decided against them. The noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, has come in as a fresh bowler and has chosen fresh words and a fresh approach. I do not have that advantage, and therefore some of the things I may say may not sound so unfamiliar and so elegant as some of the things that the noble Lord, Lord Graham, has said. But that does not mean that they lack force.
The point at which his amendment assails the Bill is Clause 94. That is the clause which establishes joint 587 preparatory committees. The word "preparatory" does not occur in the text of the Bill; it occurs in the descriptive title in the margin. Nonetheless, it may have misled the noble Lord into thinking that these committees are temporary—that is why I challenged him on that point—and that would do something, though not very much, to make his choice of action slightly less unpalatable than it otherwise is, because the effects of his amendment would at least be limited in time by statute.
But the noble Lord has clearly demonstrated to your Lordships that it is not intended to be temporary, except where it is dealing with a body which is itself temporary, and the temporary element is dealing with London and the other residuary bodies. I am very glad to have it on the record from the Front Bench opposite that those are seen as temporary bodies. In fact, the preparatory committees are, as I told your Lordships earlier, not merely preparatory; they will also have open to them a co-ordinating role after abolition takes place and that role could well be an important one, which could continue for some considerable time. The committees are to be joint committees, made up of members of the borough or district councils in the area in whatever proportions they happen to choose and will take all decisions by simple majority.
For the purposes of this debate, the functions given to the committee in any area are not really relevant. All we need to do is to put the composition and procedure of the committee together, with the functions that the noble Lord wishes to give to the committee, and to secure the definition of a single word. Without such a definition, the amendment is an unguided missile, and we need to know from the noble Lord where he intends it to land. I listened very carefully to all his arguments and I am still in some doubt.
The word is "co-ordinate". It has a common usage and it has a dictionary usage. The common usage is to see that everything rubs along more or less together in consultation and the dictionary usage is to ensure that it does. The noble Lord said that he wanted something low key and my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, with great perspicacity, said that if you put in the Bill that it is to co-ordinate, you mean that it is intended to do something; that co-ordination means subordination, because the people co-ordinated will not have the option to do things that do not fit in with other people, and the arbiter in the decision as to whether or not they fit in will be the joint committee to which this amendment is addressed.
The Association of British Chambers of Commerce must have seen what has gone through the House already in the way of provision for consultation. They see it as not being enough and therefore presumably do not want something low key; they want something effective. The dictionary definition of "co-ordinate" is,to bring parts into proper relation".If that is what the noble Lord means, he is proposing to put into this rather mild advisory committee of ours a substantial and crucial power. It is the power to direct by simple majority that other joint authorities—also, be it noted, composed of councillors 588 appointed for the purpose—shall alter their budgets and adjust their precepts according to its own diktat. Unlike the other committees, there is no requirement that this one shall be made up in any way to reflect the political balance of the councils nominating its members. This committee may therefore well be significantly less representative of the electorate than the new joint authorities, and yet they will be subordinate to it when it really matters, as my noble friend says, on decisions affecting the rates.
Your Lordships are already weary of rejecting the idea of an overall county-wide precepting authority. The only way in which I can bring a glimmer of friendliness in my feelings to what the noble Lord has said is by saying that in our debates on waste disposal we were advocating the policy of recycling. It seems that this idea is recycled here yet again. Noble Lords opposite are never tired of proposing such ideas and that is exactly what we have here. In the metropolitan counties it would in fact be a super-precepting body, and I would ask your Lordships to rouse yourselves from the lethargy which the return to this idea yet again may induce to resist it. But in London, what will this new function consist of and upon what will the considerable new power be deployed? It will concentrate the force of its 33 intellects on the co-ordination, in whatever sense that word is taken, of the budgets and precepts of the waste disposal authority and of the fire and civil defence authority, and nobody else. That amounts to less than 4 per cent of the spending on all local services in London.
I wonder whether it is not becoming clear that at one end of the scale in the metropolitan areas it is a power which exceeds anything your Lordships would wish to give, and anything which your Lordships have so far decided to give, to what would become a middle tier; and whether in the area of Greater London it would not in fact amount to concentrating a great deal of administrative and electoral time on a subject which at 4 per cent. of the whole would not rate it.
I do not want to recapitulate the arguments on these matters all over again. I count on your Lordships to remember them. I hope I can persuade the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, and his friends to do so and not to press this amendment. If he wishes to go on with it, I would with great vigour and some confidence suggest that your Lordships would not have any of it.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, perhaps I may make the next period for the Minister as relaxed as possible by saying that I do not intend to press this to a Vote. I come back to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Molson. Is there not a danger, he asked, that when the dust dies down, separately precepting authorities with legal responsibility to undertake a function, as a joint committee, could very well collectively produce a greater cost to the ratepayer and taxpayer than that which is ostensibly the reason for the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan counties, the waste of public money? The Minister may tell us that that is not possible. He obviously knows the kind of people who are going to serve and the kind of decisions that they are going to take.
The alternative to our attempt to co-ordinate is to leave them unco-ordinated. What will be the outcome 589 of being unco-ordinated, without fetter of any kind? The fetter I proposed was certainly not power, the power to say, no. I shall come back to the misinterpretation of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter of my use of the word "co-ordination" as "subordination". The alternative to co-ordination is unco-ordination. If they are left to be unco-ordinated, we are faced with the power—my amendment would not interfere with the power to raise what is required—of the separate authorities to raise the precept that they wish to raise in order to carry out their function. As I said to the Minister and to the House, it may very well be that, left to their own devices without "some body", with a capital B, having some responsibility to seek to co-ordinate, and because they are imperialistic if not empire building, and certainly anxious to make sure that their community has the best—not the biggest, but the best, and it could be costly—we could suddenly finish up with the ratepayer saying, "Just a moment, left uncoordinated, this is what we have. Cannot some one at some stage seek to bring about a consideration and consultation?" That is what we have been seeking to do. If the Minister tells me that he envisages a situation where there is no power in the Bill or in the future for individual authorities to be called to discuss and to consult, I shall be very surprised.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I think the noble Lord invites me to intervene. There is permanent consultation in the bodies themselves because the bodies are made up of elected members of the constituent councils. Co-ordination is constant and precepting will be open because it will be a requirement on every precepting authority, every rating authority, to state the amount of every precept. The electorate will know what their individual elected representative has let them in for.
As the noble Lord has permitted me to intervene, perhaps I may ask him to return, as he has promised very clearly, to the question of co-ordination. If it is high profile, it seems to me to have no purpose, given that we already have built in co-ordination. If it is intended to be high profile and actually to change something, I think it is wholly unacceptable to your Lordships, and I do not think the noble Lord should withdraw the amendment; I think it ought to be decided by a Vote.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, the Minister if he wishes, can decide that he wants to see this killed stone dead by a Vote. It will not bother me or this side of the House. It is not a matter of central principle. We have put forward this amendment because we see it as a possible means of improving the arrangements. The Minister can take it from me, as I know he will if I look him straight in the eye, that if he wants to vote on it and vote it down, we on this side of the House will not oppose it. We are not in the business of losing Votes regularly. That is quite likely to be the outcome. This is not an argument of that size. We are trying simply to get a better arrangement.
The Minister raises the point that in every one of these bodies which are made up of politicians it is possible to make sure that they consult others and that 590 they are also accountable to their ratepayers by publishing the precept. I have news for the Minister. It is always possible in any group or council to have powerful individuals who seem to get their way more often than others who are in the same group. It may be that the police authority will always get the biggest slice of the cake because the people on the councils in that area are more powerful than others. It may be the fire authority or the passenger authority. There is consultation and co-ordination at council level and there are meetings.
I can honestly see the Minister being more fearful than I was at the attempt to beef up the function and the power of the committee. The Minister is talking now not of preparatory committees, but of co-ordinating committees. If we have on the face of the Bill, on page 69, mention of preparatory committees—and I believe that the Minister was saying that we are now to be talking about co-ordinating committees—and the Minister declares that he will define and interpret co-ordination as he wishes, and as he is entitled to do, then my co-ordination is as benign as his. This is not an attempt to give powers to the committee, be it a preparatory or a co-ordinating committee, and I can see the distinct semantics and advantages involved. It is simply to try to avoid the possibility that later in the day people would get very cross at the fact that there would be no attempt by any body (and we thought that this was the correct body, although it may not be) to say: "Let us look at what you are doing at an early stage. Let us simply tell you that if you all proceed with what you are doing, the ratepayers of this authority will be faced with a bill that is 20 per cent. or 30 per cent. higher than it was". There would be no power to say, "Go back and reduce it". There would simply be the power to ask, "Will you reflect on this?".
The Minister, it seems, wants to rest on the relationships at a local council level, with council officers and councillors meeting and discussing these matters not in a co-ordinated way but in an ad hoc manner. We were attempting instead to give the transitional and subsequent periods a little more purpose.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, has left his place; but he talked in terms of damaging and cutting across the whole principle and philosophy of the Bill. I do not view this amendment in that way. To that extent I say to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, that I am naïve. I did not believe it was possible, but I know now that it is, for simple words and simple arguments, in the case of any attempt to alter or amend any words on the face of this Bill, to be viewed by the Government's supporters with suspicion. Noble Lords are entitled to be that which they patently are, suspicious, about every and any motive behind attempts by this side of the House to improve the Bill. We were seeking to improve the Bill, but certainly we are not minded to press this amendment. It was simply an attempt, supported by bodies of professional standing and integrity outside this House, to make a worthy change to the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.591
Lord Elton moved Amendment No. 84ZB:
Page 70, line 12, at end insert—
(" ( ) consider whether it is desirable that a scheme under section 48 or 87 above, or schemes under both those sections, should be made by those councils and, if of that opinion, promote the making of such a scheme or such schemes;")
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I foreshadowed this amendment when we discussed Clause 48 early last week. Its purpose is to add to, or rather, make more specific, the duties of what I now call the co-ordinating committees under Clause 94. The amendment will add to Clause 94(2), which lists the duties of those committees, the specific task of considering the need for schemes under Clause 48, dealing with grants to voluntary bodies, or for schemes under Clause 87, dealing with research and information. If the committee think that such schemes are desirable, they are to promote the making of those schemes.
§ I see this as little more than sensible recognition of the likely way that councils will proceed in practice. Clearly, schemes under Clause 48 or Clause 87 are co-operative efforts and it would obviously be sensible to discuss them in the forum offered by the co-ordinating committees. I described this before as a nudge in the right direction, and that is what it is. It does not inhibit discussions through other channels. For example, I know that in London the co-ordinating committee will find a scheme under Clause 48 well on the way to being set up. The committee need do no more than note the desirability of the scheme and give the scheme its blessing. Nonetheless, this is a useful addition to the pattern of work of the co-ordinating committees. I beg to move.
§ Lord Hayter
My Lords, I am all in favour of this amendment as I am of the other amendments in relation to this clause. However, and as the Minister may know, some slight worries are felt about the clause as a whole. This amendment could perhaps be strengthened before Third Reading and I should like to explain to the House why I think that should be done and how it could be done. Under Clause 94, councils of each of the abolition counties will have to get a joint committee ready by 1st September; in other words, in just over two months' time. Before then, few committees of the councils will take place. It is even less likely that meetings of the councils will take place in the month of August.
So far as the appointment of members is concerned, in subsection (3) each constituent council has to agree by at least a majority to the number of councillors they may each appoint to the new joint committee. What a wonderful opportunity this is to dither. There is no statutory machinery for them to consult as to how they should go about doing that. If they wanted to make any delay, I feel certain that they could do so.
The first meeting of the joint committee shall be on a day and at a time that the councils may determine. This is stated in the Bill as drafted. Again, what a lovely opportunity this provides for delay. In point of fact, some committees have patently said that they will not take these decisions until the Bill has received Royal Assent. That will be yet another cause for delay.
592 Would it not be a solution to define the membership of the joint committees in exactly the same way as is set out in Schedule 9 in respect of police, fire and passenger transport? Then there would be a definite number of people involved and no cause for further inaction. Indeed, to return to the amendment we have just been discussing, such an arrangement would seem to have some value, in the sense that new members of the committee would be more aware of the rating and precept problems which have been touched upon.
I believe that the Minister knows about this point, because there has been some correspondence on the matter. There is a suggestion that if he could think again about the constitution of the committees, there would be a corollary so far as Clause 94(4) is concerned, because the new committees would be able to fix their own meetings and therefore that particular subsection would not be necessary. The Minister knows about some of the misgivings I have expressed, and if he feels that there is any justification for them, it would be very helpful if these points could be cleared up before Third Reading.
§ Baroness Faithfull
My Lords, I rise to support my noble friend Lord Hayter. Those of us concerned with the work of the voluntary sector are grateful to the Minister for this amendment, in that there must now be co-ordinating committees to debate the need for a scheme or schemes under Clause 47 or 48. As the noble Lord, Lord Hayter, has said, the Minister should state whether he is happy over the question of time. As the noble Lord also said, the amendment instructs councils that they must appoint members to the joint board or committee—or co-ordinating committee, or whatever it will be called—and that it must meet. But does the Minister not agree that this action could be put off for a considerable length of time? It is unlikely that it would be taken before 1st September.
The noble Lord, Lord Hayter, referred to Clause 94(3) and 94(4) which concern the number of members of each council on the joint committee and the fixing of the first committee meeting. Would it not be possible to arrange for Clause 94(4) to be removed and to use Schedule 9, so that the joint committee dealing with the voluntary sector could be on the same lines as, for instance, those for fire and passenger transport?
May I raise with my noble friend the Minister a second point relating to transitional financial help for county-wide work in both London and the metropolitan areas? In London, arrangements have been made for transitional grants from urban aid for local schemes on a tapering basis, but I understand that no such help is forthcoming for the county-wide schemes in the metropolitan areas or, indeed, in London. In a previous debate the Minister said that transitional assistance to local schemes and projects will free money for the county-wide projects, but in the metropolitan areas a number of local authorities do not have local schemes so there is no money to free. I know that my noble friend the Minister is well aware of the worry of councillors, particularly in the metropolitan districts, about the difficulties over rate penalties.
Besides being worried about the rate penalties, there is one further point that I should like to make which 593 does not appear to have been made during the passage of this Bill. I imagine that nothing can be done, but I should like to make the point, all the same. We have spoken about the position of those people employed by the metropolitan counties and the Greater London Council, but we have never spoken about those people whose jobs are at risk in the voluntary sector.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, I shall not keep the House for more than a few minutes. I share the reservations expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Hayter, and the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull. The Government have recognised the drawbacks of the voluntary joint arrangements both for grants to voluntary organisations and for the research and collection of information but I certainly do not feel that this amendment takes the place of the sort of scheme that I put forward. I think the same applies to Clause 48 covering the voluntary organisations. The trouble is that it does not answer the fundamental objection that it is a permissive power only and that the district councils and boroughs may be unable or unwilling to agree to such schemes in time for payments to be made in 1986–87 because of the very short timetable for implementation. I think that is the point which the noble Baroness made—that they slip out of the arrangements altogether. It is important to realise that if the districts and boroughs do not agree to schemes there is no fall-back mechanism to protect the countywide and trans-district voluntary bodies for the transitional period.
The position of the voluntary bodies does not appear to have been covered to any great extent in the amendment tabled by the noble Lord. I join with the noble Lord, Lord Hayter, and strongly press the Minister to think again between now and Third Reading. It is absolutely essential that schemes are made. Perhaps it may be necessary to give default powers to the co-ordinating committees so that they at least can get things moving; otherwise, even with this amendment, the position will be almost as bad as before. I hope the Minister will consider what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Hayter, the noble Baroness and what I have said about this matter.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, not only I but my honourable and right honourable friends study very closely what your Lordships say on every issue in these debates and I certainly undertake that that will be the case on this occasion. There was a marvellous moment when my noble friend Lady Faithfull said from behind me, "I should like to support my noble friend" and I was halfway through preparing a smile of incredulity and delight when she said, "Lord Hayter". I am still rather put down by that unfortunate disappointment, which I am sure all your Lordships who have been long in this Chamber on these debates will readily understand.
§ Baroness Faithfull
My Lords, I hope the Minister will allow me to point out that at the beginning of my remarks I said that we were grateful for the first step of the amendment.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, that is what encouraged me to expect a friendlier continuation of the speech so 594 effectively made by my noble friend, as always, from between my shoulder blades.
I am in a little difficulty concerning the anxieties expressed by your Lordships. I think I should first explain that schemes under either Clause 48 or Clause 87 can perfectly well be set up without going through this committee at all. The committee is already a long stop. I hope that is clear. If the committee did not exist there is no reason why the schemes should not get going. The committee is there to assist them to get going if there is dilatoriness or a lack of energy.
I am not very favourably inclined to the idea of spelling out the detail of how the committee should be set up because in doing so one can go into an enormous amount of detail on the face of the Bill if one wishes. I shall obviously consider between now and Third Reading what your Lordships have said. But I hope that your Lordships will feel that this is, as my noble friend Lady Faithfull said, a step in the right direction and will be prepared to endorse the amendment on its own merits.
I should not like your Lordships to feel that in saying these words I am committing myself to coming back at Third Reading, but, if the advice is that it would be possible to do something to smooth the path of the committee in one of the directions suggested in the debate, then, if that can be done without difficulty, I undertake to do so.
§ Baroness Faithfull
My Lords, I do not understand one comment made by my noble friend the Minister and I shall be grateful for an explanation. He said that the schemes can get going without the committee. I am not sure that I understand how.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I have not replied to my noble friend's questions on Clause 48 because they seem to fall very wide of the amendment we are debating and also because I have answered in full the point that she made when we were debating that clause. The clauses to which I referred provide for the seetting up of schemes. The committee under this clause is to assist by bringing people together to discuss matters which, as in London, they may well have long ago started discussing.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Lord Elton moved Amendment No. 84A:
Page 70, line 19, leave out ("and").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a small paving amendment for Amendment No. 84B, to which, with your Lordships' leave, I shall also speak and, in fact, it is to that amendment that I must address myself.
§ Amendment No. 84B: [Printed 20/6/85; col. 442.]
§ Here again, I foreshadowed this amendment in our debates last week when we were discussing Amendment No. 81 CBA dealing with the positive role of the residuary body on specialist teams. The amendment arises directly from the commitment I gave to the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, in Committee on 23rd May when we were discussing Amendment No. 140AM. I said that I would consider sympathetically something along the lines of that amendment which ought to have the co-ordinating 595 committees consider joint purchasing arrangements. Amendment 84B does just that. The duties of the co-ordinating committee are now to include the consideration, in consultation with all succcessor authorities of the need for joint arrangements for the provision of goods. Consultation will extend to the boroughs, districts, joint authorities, the new ILEA in London and the residuary bodies.
§ If the co-ordinating committees see advantage in such arrangements they are to promote the making of them. Noble Lords will note that the amendment omits mention of Section 101 of the 1972 Act—the power for local authorities to make joint arrangements—(I think that should, in fact, be a reference to Section 1(1) rather than Section 101) which was referred to in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Graham, and, indeed, is mentioned in Clause 92(2)(b). This is to avoid being unduly restrictive in the arrangements for joint purchasing which may be made. It would, for example, prevent the residuary bodies taking part in such arrangements because they are residuary bodies, and I am sure that it is right to leave the maximum number of options open.
§ That point is particularly relevant to the main addition that I made to the noble Lord's original amendment. I have included services as well as goods. As I explained on Thursday, that is to complete the picture in relation to the consultation that is needed on the provision of specialist teams.
§ I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, for bringing this amendment to your Lordships' attention in the first place and to my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Hayter, whose names I see below mine on the Marshalled List. I think that that in itself is a good testimonial. I beg to move.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Lord Molson
My Lords, I should like to express my gratitude to the Minister. We have had a number of discussions of this matter and he has shown flexibility and understanding. I should not like the amendment to pass without expressing to him my gratitude.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, I am sorry but I think that this must be said again. The amendment goes down the right road of realising that there is a need to co-ordinate services, but the provision is still weak. It does not place a firm duty on the district councils or boroughs to investigate all opportunities for joint working arrangements as well as the incidental provision of services and goods. Local authorities have power to provide each other with services under the Local Authorities (Goods and Services) Act 1970. That power is mainly used by one authority to buy in a little-used service from another which needs to provide it on a larger scale, and payment is normally on a reimbursement basis at the time.
Joint working arrangements would require a financing system involving a positive commitment by the participating authorities to sustain the combined operation. Buying goods or services on an as-required basis would not provide stability for service organisations. With those shortcomings it is unlikely that the co-ordinating committees could conclude that there were advantages in the setting up of joint 596 arrangements on a reimbursement basis. I see that the preparatory committees have now turned into the co-ordinating committees. I wonder, in parenthesis, whether the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, will now call them subordinating or subordinate committees as well.
The requirement which is absolutely essential is that there should be a firm duty placed on the successor authorities to enter into joint working arrangements for those services where economy, efficiency and professional and technical expertise demand such arrangements. The approach suggested by the Government on several occasions in the debate of a lead district providing services to other districts is impractical without a firm financing agreement.
The amendment moves a little way in the right direction, and I appreciate that the noble Lords, Lord Molson and Lord Hayter, probably feel that they have as much as they can get. But it is a great pity that the provisions in the Bill continue to place their faith entirely in voluntary arrangements. I still think that this is a basic weakness in this area.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, there are of course various statutory provisions enabling local authorities to make joint arrangements with their neighbours in various contexts. My recollection is that on all those occasions—I cannot from recollection specify a different one—they have been voluntary arrangements. I should have thought that it is properly within the spirit of the co-operation that we expect from the London boroughs in the years to come that what my noble friend Lord Elton and the Government have proposed—namely, a voluntary arrangement—is more appropriate than a compulsory one.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend. I rise simply to acknowledge his support and to tell the noble Baroness that I agree with him and not with her; to acknowledge belatedly the assistance that I have had from my noble friend Lord Molson in proceeding on what noble Lords all think is the right path, though some think that it is longer than others; and finally to say that when I said that the "101" in my speech should probably be a reference to 1(1), I was wrong. If your Lordships see a different number appearing in the text, that will be so that it makes sense. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Lord Elton moved Amendment No. 84B:
§ [Printed 20/6/85; col. 442.]
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 96 [Other provisions for implementation of Act]:
Lord Irving of Dartford moved Amendment No. 84C:
Page 71, line 19, leave out ("and their officers").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should like to make a declaration of interest which I have made to the House before. Going back over 30 years I have had membership of a local authority, and that still continues. I also have an association with NALGO.597
§ I want to probe the propriety and the wisdom of Clause 96 which was inserted at the Committee stage in this House and introduced at a very late stage in the passage of the Bill—indeed, six months after the Bill was introduced to Parliament. The effect of the words which I wish to have deleted by means of the amendment would be to impose yet another statutory duty on officers of the relevant local authorities.
§ In a quite proper manner and in pursuit of legitimate objectives, members of NALGO in branches covering staff of the GLC and the metropolitan counties have been refusing to co-operate in preparations for abolition of their employing authorities. These members are concerned about protection of their jobs and conditions of service, and refusal to co-operate is a legitimate course of action in pursuit of such concern. The imposition of a statutory duty by means of the words, "and their officers", would make such legitimate action automatically unlawful, and I hold that this is quite unfair.
§ The Government have a constitutional right to impose statutory duties on local authorities if they should think fit. If there are political disputes among elected political bodies at central and local level they should be resolved among the respective elected bodies and not by the imposition of a statutory duty on officers. Each officer is employed by a local authority and is answerable to that authority for the performance of his or her work under his or her contract of employment. The imposition of a statutory duty on officers of the relevant authorities to cooperate with each other cuts across their terms of employment and raises many potential problems—for example, as to whether the duty to co-operate does or does not form part of an officer's established duties under his or her contract of employment.
§ The noble Lord, Lord Elton, said on 23rd May in the House on moving this new clause that the staff of the affected authorities would welcome the clarification given by this statutory duty. In fact the position is quite the contrary. The affected staff do not welcome the statutory duty at all and would far rather it was not imposed. It would give rise to conflicts of interest and place staff in very difficult positions indeed, which difficulties they do not have to face at present.
§ If the amendment is made the clause would still impose a duty on relevant local authorities to co-operate with each other. It would then be up to those authorities to deploy staff as appropriate in order to comply with the duty. That is the correct way to approach the matter if the Government require, as they obviously do, to impose a statutory duty. The inclusion of officers in the statutory duty creates far more difficulties than it is intended to solve. Last week the noble Lord, Lord Elton, urged the union to negotiate. I can give no undertakings at all, but does he not think that it would encourage the union to do so if he accepted the amendment? I beg to move.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, I do not think that the matter is quite as simple as has been suggested by the noble Lord. Regrettably it is the fact that to date there has been a singular lack of co-operation, 598 certainly in London, between some of the outgoing authorities and their staffs—the GLC in particular—and the successor authorities. This can be to nobody's benefit. Indeed, it can only result in waste, inefficiency and cost to the ratepayers. The sooner this period of non-co-operation comes to an end, the better. For your Lordships to accept this amendment would of course be to encourage non-co-operation. I am sure that is not the intention of the noble Lord. However, I suggest to him that it would be the effect.
The noble Lord also made the point of the position of some of the officers, who I think all your Lordships recognise are in a very difficult position because it is not only their employers, it is in some cases, regrettably, their trade unions that are telling them not to co-operate with the successor authorities. From that point of view, I think the inclusion of the officers in the statutory duty is from their point of view an advantage. They must know that this Bill is going through. If they have the devotion to their jobs that I think most of them have, they will want to see the transition go through smoothly. Yet they are put in a position by not only the failure of their unions to cooperate but by in some cases the giving of instructions by their unions not to co-operate.
I suggest to your Lordships that it will greatly strengthen their position if they can turn round to their unions and say. "I am sorry; we are under a statutory duty to co-operate and you cannot order us to breach our statutory duty". I hope therefore that these words will remain in the Bill.
§ Lord Silkin of Dulwich
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Irving of Dartford in his amendment. I do so for two reasons: first of all, because the words which he seeks to remove in my view are totally unnecessary, in that the duty upon the authorities must involve a duty upon the appropriate officers to carry out the authority's duty; secondly, because it seems to me to create a nonsense.
To ask that the officers of each of these authorities should co-operate with each other, presumably meaning both with the authorities and with all the other officers of all the authorities concerned, seems to me to be asking the impossible. If it be suggested that that is a duty that can be enforced, then it is a grossly unfair duty to place upon their shoulders in that way. It seems very likely that in looking at these matters the officers of one authority will take a different view from that of the officers of a different authority. How can they possibly co-operate with one another in the sense that is intended by this clause if that is the position in which they find themselves?
As I have said, it seems to me that it adds nothing at all to the meaning of the clause and the effect on the clause to delete those words. I hope that the Minister will look at the amendment in that light.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, when I first heard the noble Lord, Lord Irving of Dartford, put forward his case, it seemed to me that consititutionally he had a point worth our consideration, for the simple reason that normally local authorities are responsible for what their officers do. However, in the unusual 599 circumstances which will arise under this Bill when it becomes law, and for the somewhat pragmatic reasons which my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter has put forward, I think that in spite of that constitutional position it may be right to mention the officers in these circumstances. That is because the local authorities will be on the way out and some of the councillors may simply refuse to take responsibility upon themselves because they are on the way out. That might be an understandable attitude on their part. Unless some positive obligation were placed upon the officers, who after all will be the ones with the expertise, then the matter might go by default and the necessary handover might not take place effectively.
However, on this amendment there is an ancillary point which I hope I am in order in mentioning. It is this. Normally, local authorities—and that means the elected councillors who are the members of local authorities—are responsible for whatever the officers do in the course of the official duties in their employment. However, here it would seem that the officers themselves are given a separate responsibility, irrespective of the wishes and duties of the councillors. The officers themselves will be guilty of a breach of statutory duty under this clause if they fail to co-operate in the way mentioned. That being so, one wonders whether in those circumstances the responsibility will have passed entirely to the officers or whether the outgoing councillors will still have a residuary statutory duty. I am sorry for springing this somewhat abstruse point upon my noble friend but it may be one which should concern us.
§ Baroness Phillips
My Lords, I am always tempted by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. I have been tempted several times this afternoon and resisted. However, I wonder whether he has ever been in the unfortunate position where he was asked to co-operate in his own redundancy. There is no record in history of anybody working towards the abolition of his own job. This is really beside the point. This is asking something above and beyond the call of duty. These officers are employed by these particular authorities. They are not employed by something which is not yet in existence. It seems to me to be asking a great deal if one is going to ask them to co-ordinate and to co-operate in an action which is still being debated in Parliament; otherwise, they will be accused of being disloyal.
I saw people who went through the terrible trauma of the abolition of the Middlesex County Council. I have mentioned this before. Such an abolition has a terrible effect. As soon as it was rumoured that the Middlesex County Council was to be abolished—abolished by a Government of the same colour as we have now, who do not seem to have had any confidence in the thing they have created, which is very curious—as soon as it was mooted, all the young men left to seek other appointments. Those people who remained were asked to do impossible things. They are now being asked to do something even more impossible. The noble Lord who moved this amendment has raised a very vital and important point. I think it it our duty to support him and the people who are employed at the moment by the particular councils.
§ The Earl of Onslow
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, is actually inaccurate about people not co-operating in their own redundancy. I should just point out to her that when India became independent the whole of the India Office co-operated in its own redundancy because the Indian Civil Service was abolished. Abolishing the Indian empire was rather more difficult than abolishing the GLC
§ Lord Molson
My Lords, I think this amendment must be resisted. I think it was in today's or yesterday's paper that I read that the financial officials—I think they were auditors or treasurers—of the Liverpool MCC had been suspended by the Left-wing council there when seeking to obey the intructions of the Audit Commissiion. This is a plain and clear case where Parliament must intervene and make it quite plain that the officials owe a duty to Parliament and to the state which cannot be interrupted by the Left-wing tendencies of the councillors who happen to be at the present time in office.
§ Lord Taylor of Blackburn
My Lords, may I point out that there is a difference between Liverpool City Council and the MCC in the Liverpool area? The noble Lord is at cross purposes between the two.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
My Lords, I cannot understand why the words are so limited, in view of the arguments that have been adduced by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Silkin, and by the noble Lord, Lord Irving. How can "the relevant authorities", which they would leave in the Bill, co-operate if the officers do not? That is exactly like saying, "We will let you fight with both hands, provided they are tied behind your back". I should have thought that if it was considered desirable that there should be any cooperation among local authorities for these sorts of reasons, it would automatically, and should automatically, include the officers. My experience is different to that of the noble Baroness. I have not found a reluctance among officers, when they have not been surrounded by all the political overtones that exist here, to do their duty, even though, in terms of their own employment or position, it has been marginally to their disadvantage.
§ Lord Silkin of Dulwich
My Lords, I wonder whether, on the basis of the argument that has been put forward the noble Lord would wish to add, "and their councillors".
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, I hope that the Minister recognises the anxiety of my noble friend Lord Irving and many of the officers who serve our councils and councillors—those they are serving at the moment. There are divided loyalties. It is all very well for the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter to have Left-wing councils to hit at, and to have trade unions and trade unionists to hit at. The noble Lord, Lord Irving, speaks on behalf of the officers themselves. There have been smokescreens brought into a situation that it very serious. I was sorry to hear the noble Lord, Lord Molson, introduce pejoratively an illustration that is not denied.
601 The noble Lord, Lord Renton, talked about situations where these things have been done in a voluntary way and where there has been collaboration. Members opposite must understand, as I believe they do, which explains why I am so unhappy about their stance, that what is being done now is creating a wholly different atmosphere in councils, among councillors and among council officers. I had some experience 20 years ago of the situation described by my noble friend Lady Phillips. It was very unhappy. But, by gum, there was not then the venom that has been directed against the councils and councillors by the Government.
At stake apparently is the inability of successor authorities to be better served through collaboration. The Minister must tell us who is to decide and interpret the word "co-operate" in line 20. Who will be the man, woman or body who will decide that an officer is failing to co-operate? The Minister must tell us who is going to interpret that situation. Who is going to decide what this clause means? If the Government and their supporters are concerned that officers, out of loyalty to their councils, are going to refuse to co-operate, we need to look at Clause 96(2). It states:A person in the service of the Greater London Council or a metropolitan county council may enter into a contract of employment with a successor authority for the rendering of services by him to that authority concurrently with his service to the council".If the Minister wishes to make progress and to avoid lengthy litigation and lengthy legal processes, the services of the officers that are sought can be obtained very simply, by offering them terms of employment. By the exercise of Clause 96(2) they would be giving to the successor authorities, the bodies and the residuary authorities the same loyalty that they are devoting to their existing councils and existing employers. If ever there was a case of sledgehammer to crack a nut, this is it. The removal of the words as proposed by the amendment would satisfy a fine body of public servants. Not by one whit would the Government be stopped having their way.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I suggest to your Lordships that those satisfied would not be so much a fine body of public servants but the trade unions which claim to represent them and which have resolutely resisted, on many occasions and on many subjects, any idea that they should co-operate in the dismantling of the present system, and the replacement of it by something else.
After making that point as strongly as I can, I should like to deal first with some of the ancillary points that have been raised. The most abstruse one that bounced towards me from over my right shoulder—there has been some good television lately and I think that I should have been watching it more closely—was about the existence of a residuary duty after abolition. If I and my advisers have understood the question correctly, I understand that the answer is that there would be no such residuary duty. I undertake to talk to my noble friend afterwards to discover whether I have understood him correctly, and if not, to take an opportunity to correct the record.
602 The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, said that there was an inherent absurdity in asking people to co-operate in the implementation of something already being debated in Parliament. I assure her that nothing in Clause 96 will have any force whatever in law, until the statute is on the statute book and until it is out of Parliament and Parliament has finally made its decision known. In that context I should say that your Lordships have been discussing at some length matters of loyalty. It seems to me that we must look occasionally at the overall principle of the society in which we live and not merely at the narrow areas in which a particular issue bites.
The supreme temporal loyalty of every Member of this House, as of every member of a local authority and as of every employee of a local authority, is to the Sovereign which, for purposes of legislation, is the Crown in Parliament. When this Act is on the statute book, that will be the voice of the sovereign power in this country. If individual local councillors think that they have the right not only to resist that decision but also to encourage their employees, their staff, to resist that decision, I suggest that they think again. It helps no one's perception of the realties of power in this country to suggest that the removal of these words from the Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Irving of Dartford, in a temperate speech and properly avowing his interest, suggested, does anything but deceive the people involved about those realties.
The duty of the local authorities will be distasteful to some, but to not all, of their elected members. Some of them will relish it. It is to ring out the old order and to ring in the new. That will be the duty of their staff. Whatever the necessity of the words in the statute, the perception of the common man, on taking out those words, would be that staff should in some way be protected if they declined to co-operate for the purposes that Parliament has laid down simply because it was against the wishes of the elected masters who will, shortly, in many cases, leave power for good. That would be a great mistake.
My only other tangential remark is to clear up a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Blackburn. I think he was suggesting that Clause 96 referred only to the subordinate councils. If he looks at Clause 96(4), he will find that'relevant authority' means the Greater London Council, a metropolitan county council and a successor authority".and then it defines "successor authority" as well. That is the meaning of the Act as it will be. The force of the Act, as it will be, will be that wherever co-operation is needed, it shall be forthcoming.
There is no protection from a failure to co-operate in the text of the Bill at the moment. As to who will test whether or not co-operation is taking place, if everybody behaves in a sensible and responsible manner, nobody will have to, but if it becomes necessary, it will be the courts which test whether or not the law has been obeyed, because that is what the courts are there for and it is always the courts which do it. I hope nothing more will be said in your Lordships' House this afternoon to suggest that resisting the will of Parliament is a proper course to encourage in anybody in this Kingdom.
§ Lord Irving of Dartford
My Lords, I do not think that any of us held that view in any of the statements that were made. Our case is that the words are superfluous to achieving the Government's objective. I do not intend to press the amendment because I hope—and the Minister has fought the Bill very hard all the way through—that between now and Third Reading he may be persuaded that, as we have got this far through the Bill, there may be a case for some gesture of encouragement. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ The Deputy Speaker (Lord Murton of Lindisfarne)
Is it your Lordship's pleasure that the amendment be withdrawn?
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, tempting as it would be to follow the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Graham, to make a gesture, the noble Lord, Lord Irving, made it perfectly clear in seeking to withdraw this amendment that he thought that just for once, if I may paraphrase what he said, there may be some conciliation possible between this and the next stage, to which my noble friend quite properly replied, "No". If the noble Lord is seeking to withdraw the amendment under a misapprehension, I do not think it is right, in the interests of the House, that he should be allowed to do so.
§ Lord Irving of Dartford
My Lords, perhaps I ought not to have been under any misapprehension. I thought I was entitled to withdraw the amendment, and the wish that the Government should think again is one that is or is not capable of resolution by the Government as the case may be. It is not a question of any commitment, and I have not asked for any commitment. I ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Elton moved Amendment No. 84D:
Page 71, line 23, at end insert—
("( ) In the case of the Greater London Council and the council of a metropolitan county the duty imposed by subsection (1) above includes in particular the duty to co-operate with the joint committee established under section 94 above by the London borough councils and the Common Council or, as the case may be, by the district councils in that county.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 84D. As we have been developing our thinking in the light of your Lordships' views, the importance of the co-ordinating committee has become clear. This amendment is a simple addition to Clause 96 to recognise that the general duty placed on councils and officers in Clause 96(1), which we have just been discussing, may not be taken explicitly to cover relations between the GLC and the metropolitan county councils and their officers and the members and officers forming the co-ordinating committee.
§ It is clearly desirable that the duty to co-operate should extend to all those participating in the process of planning for transfer, and this new subsection extends the duty in subsection (1) to cover that aspect. It thus extends to officers involved in such work the protection that your Lordships have welcomed. I am 604 most grateful to my noble friend Lord Molson for his help in developing this line of thought, and to the noble Lord, Lord Hayter, for his support, which appears on the Marshalled List at least. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 97 [Continuity of exercise of functions]:
Lord Melchett moved Amendment No. 84E:
Page 72, line 13, at end insert—
("(2A) Anything which at the abolition date is in process of being done by or in relation to any of those councils in the exercise of or in connection with any statutory duties which by virtue of any provision made by or under this Act become duties of another authority, or of other authorities in respect of their respective areas, shall be continued by or in relation to the authority ("the successor authority") by which those duties become exercisable or, as the case may be, become exercisable in respect of the area in question.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 84E. It would be for the convenience of your Lordships to speak to the amendments which follow in my name, Nos. 84F to 84K, which are all consequential, or follow from, the first amendment.
§ Amendment No. 84F: Page 72, line 17, after ("(2)") insert ("or (2A)").
§ Amendment No. 84G. Page 72, line 23, after ("above") insert ("or duties to which subsection (2A) above").
§ Amendment No. 84H: Page 73, line 11, after ("functions") insert ("or duties").
§ Amendment No. 84J: Page 73, line 15, after ("functions") insert ("or duties").
§ Amendment No. 84K: Page 73, line 18, after ("functions") insert ("or duties").
§ I do not intend to press this amendment. I want to raise an aspect of the functions of local authorities which are to be abolished under this Bill (the metropolitan counties and the GLC) which, so far as my researches have led me, I do not think has been raised at any previous stage, although I admit that I might be wrong about that. It is the highway functions relating to footpaths and the maintenance of definitive maps of footpaths, in particular under the new procedures introduced by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
§ That Act enabled local authorities responsible for footpaths to maintain definitive maps and to keep them up to date by making incremental changes—that is, minor changes—over the years rather than definitive maps having to be redrawn once and for all, a process which normally took many years to complete, if it was completed at all. My worry about the transfer of functions which will take place under the Bill is that, as I understand it—and I should be grateful if whichever noble Lord who is to answer this could confirm it—all responsibility for rights of way in the areas where metropolitan counties and the GLC are to be abolished will be passed to the district councils.
§ Highway matters are fairly complicated at the best of times, and procedures for amending and maintaining definitive maps showing public rights of way are extremely complex. My first concern is to suggest that the district councils to which these responsibilities will pass will not necessarily have the relevant expertise or experience to deal with these matters.605
§ My amendment would require authorities to continue activities which had been begun by the authorities being abolished in pursuance of a statutory duty. I had in mind particularly inquiries which were being undertaken following a complaint by a member of the public about a public right of way which was obstructed. It is the statutory duty of the highway authority to maintain public rights of way. If one is obstructed, the highway authority has a statutory duty to deal with the obstruction and clear it.
§ As I understand the Bill, what will happen is that these functions will pass to successor authorities, but they will not be under any requirement to continue with the work to deal with an obstructed footpath, for example, and it is possible that a member of the public would have to register a complaint over again to the new highway authority, the district council, and that seems to me too onerous a burden to place on members of the public. That is my second point—that members of the public should not be required to complain again if they have registered a complaint to a highway authority about an obstructed footpath.
§ The third point I want to ask the Government about is how a member of the public will know whether a successor authority is going to continue to deal with a complaint of this sort, if indeed they are, and how they will know whether the district council has decided simply to leave any outstanding matters to do with public rights of way, and not continue to deal with them and wait for a new complaint? If a member of the public does not know whether a complaint is going to he dealt with, it seems to me very difficult for them to know that they should reapply to the council. I do not want to detain your Lordships too long at this stage of the Bill, but I hope that that has explained to the Government the particular worries I have about public rights of way and the way they will be dealt with by successor authorities. I beg to move.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, I am relieved that the noble Lord is not going to press this amendment, because it is of general application, and it binds successor authorities to this continuity of implementation irrespective of whether the decision was good or bad, and irrespective of the stage of implementation of the prior decision. In those circumstances one cannot, in the form of this amendment or the spirit of it, seek under this Bill to hind the successor authorities in this way. I take the point that the noble Lord makes about information. Obviously some procedure will have to be designed to deal with that situation. Personally I am grateful to the noble Lord for having raised this matter.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, for his clear explanation of his anxiety, which is much as I believed it might be, and for the small but welcome notice he gave me of his interest.
Perhaps I should start by making it clear that the clause as printed in the Bill makes arrangements for the continuity of all functions being transferred from the GLC or the MCCs to the successor authorities. By using the word "function" we encompass both discretionary power and statutory duties. Duties are 606 effectively transferred by the Bill with each function by the transfer of that function itself, which carries with it any associated statutory duties or obligations.
The noble Lord is anxious about the carry-through not so much of the duty as of the application of the duty in a particular case. He would appear to wish to force the successor authority and others to continue the processes where they are in relation to a statutory duty which has already been begun. I think I understand that concern and, if so, I am happy to reassure him. There is no question of allowing the successor authorities to escape statutory duties under the Bill as drafted. The clause does not override or negate any statutory duty which will be inherited by the successor authorities when they inherit the functions. If the GLC or an MCC has a duty to do something before abolition, its successor authority will, in general, have a duty to do it after abolition. Certainly there is nothing in the clause to affect that, but it would not be right for us as legislators to oblige the successor authorities to meet their duties in exactly the way chosen by the GLC or the MCCs.
Perhaps I may take as an example the case of development control. Under section 29 of the Town and County Planning Act 1971 all local planning authorities have a duty in dealing with planning applications to have regard both to the provisions of the development plan and to any other material consideration. They are also required in general to take into account representations received. These duties will apply with equal force to any borough or district council which takes over the consideration of any application which originally went to the GLC or to the MCCs for determination. Here we have a process begun, and the duty of continuing the process is in a sense still there because the authority must continue the consideration. But it would surely be wholly wrong, would it not? to add to the duty to consider, a requirement for the successor authority to reach the same conclusions that the GLC or the MCCs would have reached. Let us suppose, for example, that the MCC had indicated to the person applying for the planning permission that it was minded to refuse. Let us suppose then that the applicant replied after 1st April 1986 with additional information supporting the application. It would seem wholly inappropriate not to allow the successor authority to take its own view of all the relevant facts. After all that is no more nor less than the metropolitan county council itself would have done had it remained in office.
The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, took another example which was complaints in relation to the obstruction of a footpath. As local authorities have a duty to investigate such complaints, that duty will again be transferred to the successor authority and the complaint in hand, so to speak, would be part of the inherited duty. Therefore the amendment is not necessary to achieve that. Incidentally, if the amendment were made, successor authorities might be driven to continue in the same direction—I was going to say down the same path but that would become too involved! This is why we object to the amendment. The duty must and will without the Bill being amended remain, but the method of carrying out the duty must be for the successor authorities. What they will not be able to do is to say that because 607 such a matter was raised before 1st April therefore they will not bother with it. I think that is what the noble Lord was concerned with.
As to satisfying himself that something is being done about it, the complainant will be in the same position as he is in now. If he has no evidence of fact, either by the obstruction being removed or in any other way, he will have to raise the matter again. That is what he would do if he complained to the existing authority. If the chain-link fence, if that is what the noble Lord has in mind, remained across the pathway then, even if the authority remained the same, he would still have to go back to that authority, so nothing would have changed.
§ Lord Melchett
; My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that reply. It has gone some way to reassuring me about the matters I wanted to raise. I still have one concern, which is the first point I mentioned over the ability of district councils—which, I understand, will become responsible for these activities when the MCCs are abolished—to undertake the task. After all in other areas it will be the county council as highway authority which would normally take on this responsibility rather than the district council, or in some cases the job might be transferred to the district councils.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I may be quite wrong about this, for I rely entirely on personal memory, but I remember the footpath legislation being brought in and the purple lines we had to draw on the parish map. My clear recollection is that then it was the district councils which were responsible for co-ordinating this. I may be wrong for they may have done it subordinate to the county council, but I do not see a great difficulty.
§ Lord Melchett
My Lords, I think the noble Lord was right in the second part of what he said, that the district councils do it in some areas where the county council transfers the obligation to them rather than doing it itself. It is possible, but that would be in places where the district council showed some willingness and expertise. However they will not have any choice in the matter in areas where the MCCs are abolished. That is my concern, given the good record that many metropolitan councils have on dealing with footpath matters and speedily responding to complaints or requests for help from the public. Indeed, in some cases they actively encourage members of the public to come to them with worries and concerns about footpaths and rights of way.
On the main point about which I was concerned, the noble Lord has given me a satisfactory reassurance for which I am grateful. I am delighted to have the Government's approval on this occasion. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 84F to 84K not moved.]608
§ Clause 99 [Transfers of property, rights and liabilities.]:
§ The Deputy Speaker
My Lords, in Amendment No. 84L there is a misprint at the end of the first line. The word "first" should read "second".
§ [Amendment No. 84L not moved.]
§ Schedule 16 [Repeals]:
§ Lord Elton moved Amendment No. 85:
§ [Printed 13/6/85; col. 1450.]
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a technical amendment, 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. I am happy not to do so if your Lordships want to take it on trust, but for those of your Lordships who depend on Hansard I ought to say that the Transport Act 1983 requires passenger transport executives 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 require revenue grant to PTEs only in accordance with determination and it provides for the Secretary of State to give guidance on 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".
§ If your Lordships are feeling relaxed about this, so am I, because I am now reminded that my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara spoke to this with Amendment No. 75. Therefore your Lordships are forgiven for looking a little glazed as I raise all this detail. I therefore simply beg to move.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, I rise only to say that it is pleasant on this, the last amendment, to say that I have no objection to it whatsoever.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 86 not moved.]