HL Deb 13 May 1985 vol 463 cc967-1010

House again in Committee.

Clause 23 [Metropolitan county police authorities]:

Lord Monkswell moved Amendment No. 109F: Leave out Clause 23 and insert the following new clause:

("Metropolitan and Northumberland Police authorities.

.—(1) As from the abolition date, a police force shall be maintained for every metropolitan district in England and in the County of Northumberland.

(2) From that date the police authority for a police area consisting of a metropolitan district or the county of Northumberland shall be a committee of the council of the district or county constituted in accordance with the provisions of this section to be known by the name of the district or county with the addition of the words "police committee".

(3) The police authority for a police area consisting of a metropolitan district or the county of Northumberland shall consist of such number of persons as may be determined by the council of the metropolitan district or the county of Northumberland, and of that number—

  1. (a) two thirds shall be members of the council of the district or county of Northumberland appointed by the council,
  2. (b) one third shall be magistrates appointed by the magistrates' courts committee for the district or the county of Northumberland from among their own number.

(4) The magistrates to be appointed members of a police authority for a metropolitan district or the county of Northumberland shall, subject to section 24 below, be appointed at such times, in such manner and for such terms as may be prescribed by rules made by the Secretary of State.").

The noble Lord said: I hope that I shall not detain the Committee too long. Amendment No. 109F replaces Clause 23 with a new clause which sets up new police authorities on the basis of metropolitan district boundaries and gives back to the county of Northumberland a much modernised police force of its own. These forces will replace the very large metropolitan county police forces.

With the leave and indulgence of the Committee, I shall mention other amendments which are subsequent and consequential to the main amendment to give a better idea of its full intent. Amendment No. 109G makes provision for transitional arrangements between the present metropolitan county police forces and the new police authorities and chief constables to ensure an orderly change from the very large metropolitan county police forces and the smaller and more local police forces set up by the new Clause 23. Amendment No. 109G: Clause 24, leave out Clause 24 and insert the following new clause:

("Interim police committees.

24.—(1) On the day thirty days subsequent to the Royal Assent to this Act there shall be established in each metropolitan district and in the county of Northumberland a body corporate which shall be known by the name of the district or county with the addition of the words "interim police committee".

(2) These interim police committees shall consist of such members as determined by reference to section 23(3) above.

(3) It shall be the duty of each metropolitan district council and the Northumberland county council and each magistrates' courts committee for such a district or county to appoint the first members of the interim police committee for that district or county not later than thirty days subsequent to the Royal Assent to this Act.

(4) It shall be the duty of each metropolitan police authority, together with the relevant interim police committees and each chief constable to make such transitional arrangements as may be deemed necessary to enable the change from metropolitan county police force to metropolitan district and Northumberland county police forces to take place without loss of police effectiveness, to arrange and agree the equitable division of property, rights and liabilities and manpower between successor authorities.

(5) The metropolitan county police authorities and the interim police committees shall cease to exist on abolition day and on that day all their property, rights and liabilities (including rights and liabilities in respect of contracts of employment) shall vest in the respective police committees.").

Amendment No. 121ZD deletes part of the provision relating to the composition of police authorities. Amendment No. 121ZD: Clause 28, page 19, leave out lines 2 to 5.

This is really a drafting change as the point is covered by new Clause 23. It should be mentioned that the involvement of magistrates in the police authorities is retained at one-third of the membership of the police authorities, I may say not because of the merits or otherwise of judicial involvement in the accountability of the police but to minimise change and to reduce the scope for contentious argument in this debate.

Amendment No. 121AZF is a drafting amendment. Amendment No. 121AZF: Clause 29, page 19, line 17, leave out paragraph (c). The subsection is rendered null and void by Amendment No. 109G, which changes Clause 24.

Amendment No. 132C withdraws the power of the Secretary of State to set up new local police forces in an ad hoc way, and is really a drafting amendment because new Clause 23 does the same job on the basis of a planned change and treats each metropolitan district equally. Amendment No. 132C: Clause 41, page 25, line 12, leave out paragraph (a).

Amendment No. 132D ensures some stability for the new local police forces to get on with the job by preventing future reorganisations for a period of five years unless there is specific primary legislation. Amendment No. 132D: Page 25, line 45, after ("area") insert ("only after a period of five years from the abolition date").

The main effect of these amendments will be to replace very large police forces—on average 6,500 strong—with smaller, more local and more effective police forces with an average strength of 1,000. They will also ensure that the police and local communities will have some stability in the immediate future for at least a period of five years without the prospect of the uncertainty which will be generated by the Bill as it stands.

The Committee should make no mistake. The inclusion of the provisions of Clause 41 will be deeply damaging to the effective operation of the police. The prospect of chief constables, chairmen of police authorities, chief executives and assorted civic leaders journeying up and down between their respective local authorities and Whitehall, arguing for or against setting up new local police forces—not just for the metropolitan areas but for every shire county that has large towns within its boundaries—must be horrific to Ministers, just as it is to those of us who have an interest in effective policing. Not only will that have a damaging effect on relationships at senior level and interfere with the clear decisions that need to be made at that level; it will also have a bad effect at local level as police forces try to establish and maintain links with local communities.

I am sure that we would all agree that the job of the police is, on the one hand, to fight crime and, on the other, to maintain public order. Let us look at the situation facing us. The police forces are better paid than ever before. They are equipped with all the technical gadgets that large size and hence large budgets make possible. Their powers of stop and search, arrest and detention are draconian to the extent that some are virtually unusable.

Here I must make a point. It is not my intention in this debate to criticise the activities of chief constables or police authorities in metropolitan areas. I would go further and say that from my own knowledge I would single out Margaret Simey and Gay Cox, the respective chairpersons of the Merseyside and Greater Manchester police authorities, as two of the most impressive examples of dedicated and effective women in public service in this country.

But we are faced with a rising incidence of crime and more problems of public order than we have had for a long time. While I would be the first to recognise that the major causes of increased crime will be the effect of unemployment, bad housing and other such factors in a society that preaches private greed and public squalor—the "I'm all right Jack" attitude and the attitude of self-help which in effect means the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer—I can also recognise that public order problems are not helped by the appearance that an alien authoritarian order is being imposed on people. My argument is based on the fact that 80 per cent. of crime can be dealt with only with the active assistance of the public.

I would also argue that public order will depend on the active acceptance by at least 80 per cent. if not more of the public of the fact that the police are the legitimate custodians of public order—implicitly that the police are working to protect them and are not the agents of hostile authority. It follows that the most significant resource available to the police in the fight against crime and the control of public order is their good relationship with the public.

That relationship must be good at all levels, from top to bottom—between chief constables as the operational head of the force and the police committee as representatives of the community. Here I must stress that by "the community" I mean the whole of the community and not specific sections of it represented by particular groups of representatives. Obviously the relationship between individual officers and individual members of the public is crucial.

Another vital resource is the individual ability of policemen and women and the auxiliary staff who make up the force. One of the problems with large police forces is that the chief constable cannot know all the individuals in a force 6,500 strong, but with smaller police forces he will be able to utilise his men and women much more effectively because he will be able to get to know their strengths and weaknesses and take account of them rather than treating the men and women as numbers on a roster.

Since the war we have grown used to the arguments for economies of scale. We have seen some of the effects of that in the way local government has been reorganised. It might be argued that one of the main reasons for this Bill that we have in front of us is the very real criticisms that were levelled at the local government reorganisation in 1974.

When we consider what has gone before in this Committee stage, it is interesting that almost all the arguments from this side of the Chamber have been in terms of retaining county-wide (or in the case of London, London-wide) services on a conurbation basis, rather than devolving them to the district levels. With this amendment from this side of the Chamber we are seeking to take a function of local government that is currently provided at the metropolitan county level and bring it down to the district level.

The Government have already conceded the arguments for smaller police authorities by the inclusion of Clause 41. I hope that they will recognise that what these amendments of mine seek to do is to make police forces more local than they are at present. This is for the benefit of the police in carrying out their duty to fight crime and maintain public order for the benefit of the local communities. I beg to move.

Lord Glenarthur

The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, has described the effect of his amendment. I think he has made a strong case for the closest possible relationship between local elected members and the police, and I do not disagree with him. It is, after all, the very purpose of this Bill to pass to the metropolitan district councils as many as possible of the responsibilities currently held by the county councils. However, we have always recognised that there are some services, of which the police is one, which can be sensibly administered on abolition only on a countywide basis. The White Paper made clear that we are satisfied that the present general structure of police authorities is really working well and that it would not be appropriate now to consider breaking up existing police forces. I stand by that judgment.

The noble Lord, in speaking to his amendments, has perhaps tried to persuade the Committee that the metropolitan district councils would be entirely capable of running their own forces. I should remind the noble Lord that so strong were the arguments thought to be, including those by the party of which the noble Lord is a member, for single forces over a wider area, that, even before the Local Government Act 1972 created the metropolitan counties, the process of amalgamation had already begun in those areas.

There are currently seven combined police authorities in England, including the Northumbria Police Authority which encompasses the areas of Tyne and Wear and Northumberland county councils. The noble Lord referred to Manchester. However, I have to tell him that none of the district councils in Greater Manchester has expressed to us any interest in setting up as a separate police area or in leaving the Greater Manchester police area to combine with another area or areas. None of the county boroughs in the area had a separate police force immediately prior to the creation of the Greater Manchester metropolitan county in 1974. Manchester and Salford had been amalgamated for police purposes in 1968, while Bolton, Bury, Oldham, Rochdale and Wigan were combined with the Lancashire county police area in 1968, and Stockport was combined with Cheshire in 1967.

However, I do not by any means entirely discount the noble Lord's arguments. Although the noble Lord puts it another way and disapproved of it, that is why Clause 41 of the Bill provides a power for my right honourable friend the Home Secretary to establish a metropolitan district or a group of districts as a separate police area within its own police authority and police force. Thus there are powers there in the Bill to achieve the noble Lord's central objective. I suggest to the noble Lord that this power, with the flexibility to make whatever arrangements might be judged right in the future, is more appropriate than to take what I think is precipitate action now to create separate police authorities in the way that he should like to see.

8.45 p.m.

I think that there are two important matters for the noble Lord to bear in mind. One is caution and the other is flexibility. I do not believe that it would be right, on abolition, to break up the existing forces in the metropolitan counties. I am all the more convinced, in the light of the arguments which he has deployed, that it is right to retain, on the other hand, the flexibility which Clause 41 offers. I know that there are others who do not agree and that they will seek in due course to delete that clause from the Bill. However, I believe that that, too, would be wrong.

My right honourable friend has made it clear that he does not intend to take the initiative in using his proposed powers under the clause. However, he has made it equally clear that he would be prepared to do so if the district councils satisfied him, once the joint authorities had been in operation for a reasonable time, that they would administer the services more effectively and that provision in the rest of the metropolitan county or nationally would not be adversely affected.

That is why I suggest to the noble Lord that those key features of caution and flexibility are best met by Clause 41, not by adopting the amendment which he has proposed. I suggest that what we have proposed is the right way. It has been operating for many years—and operating effectively. There is not the demand for the noble Lord's proposal from the police services which he seems to indicate that there is. I hope that with that he will not see fit to press his amendment.

Lord Monkswell

I thank the noble Lord the Minister particularly for his opening remarks when he advised the Committee that I had a very strong case. However, I must take issue with the noble Lord the Minister in the sense that he repeated, I think on more than one occasion, the concept of sensible administration. When one is talking about the organisation and the relationship between local government and the police one is not talking about only an administrative relationship. One is talking about a very close relationship that involves the provision of finance, advice on the feelings of the local community with regard to police operational matters, advice from the chief constable to the police authority about operational and other matters, as well as a very intricate relationship with the Home Office. We are not talking about an administrative function of local government.

The noble Lord the Minister has said that he is happy with current police arrangements. I am surprised that a Government who were elected on a very strong law and order ticket, should, after six years in office, with the present incidence of crime and level of public order, say that they are quite happy with the police arrangements.

The noble Lord the Minister also intoduced into his arguments the policies of the Labour Party as they pertained 20 years ago. I think it must be recognised that 20 years ago the arrangements for dealing with the local constabulary were, quite honestly, in a mess.

Here I shall introduce the response to the Government's wish to include Clause 41. We had the ludicrous situation of Luton Town having been established as a police authority, losing it to Bedfordshire and being re-established again, and then losing it again. I am sure that that did not do the people of Luton and Bedfordshire one bit of good whatsoever, and the genuine criticisms of the Labour Party to the ad hoc developments and arrangements with the police were legitimate criticisms. There was some resolution of that criticism with the introduction of the Police Act and the introduction of the local government Bill of 1972.

It is precisely to avoid this ad hoc development, this Government interference if you like in local matters, that I seek to propose this amendment. My final words must be that I recognise that this amendment has been tabled very late; there have been very few speakers, although I am gratified to see the attendance in the Committee is improving now. There have been only two speakers so far in this debate. I feel that it would be wrong to test the feelings of the Committee on this subject. I advise the Committee that probably I shall seek to bring something similar before it at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw this amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 23 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 109G not moved.]

Clause 24 agreed to.

Clause 25 [Metropolitan county fire authorities]:

[Amendment No. 110 not moved.]

Lord Renton moved Amendment No. 110A: Page 17, line 43, after ("Fire") insert ("and Civil Defence").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 110A. I suggest it would be convenient to the Committee to discuss with it the dozen or so other amendments on the Marshalled List which are in my name. These are to Clauses 25, 36 and 37, and Schedules 10 and 11. I should point out they include Amendments Nos. 121AZA to 121AZE on page 7 of the List. There is a forgivable mistake on the Marshalled List, in that my name has been omitted, but if my name had been placed in front of Amendment No. 121AZA as was intended, then it would have indicated that I had tabled those five amendments. Amendment No. 112A: page 18, line 2, after ("fire") insert ("and civil defence"). Amendment No. 113A: page 18, line 3, after ("fire") insert ("and civil defence"). Amendment No. 114A: page 18, line 7, after ("fire") insert ("and civil defence"). Amendment No. 121ZE, Schedule 10: page 140, line 5, column 3, after ("fire") insert ("and civil defence"). Amendment No. 121AZA: page 140, line 24, column 3, after ("fire") insert ("and civil defence"). Amendment No. 121AZB: page 141, line 5, column 3, after ("fire") insert ("and civil defence"). Amendment No. 121AZC: page 141, line 18, column 3, after ("fire") insert ("and civil defence"). Amendment No. 121AZD: page 142, line 5, column 3, after ("fire") insert ("and civil defence"). Amendment No. 121AZE: page 142, line 21, column 3, after ("fire") insert ("and civil defence"). Amendment No. 122B, Clause 36: page 22, line 39, leave out ("and fire") and insert ("authorities and fire and civil defence"). Amendment No. 125A, Schedule 11: page 144, line 15, after second ("fire") insert ("and civil defence"). Amendment No. 127A, Clause 37: page 22, line 41, leave out subsections (1) to (6) and insert— ("(1) Any functions which immediately before the abolition date are exercisable by a metropolitan county council by virtue of regulations made under section 2 of the Civil Defence Act 1948 shall on that date become functions of the metropolitan county fire and civil defence authority; and accordingly references in those regulations to a county council shall include references to such an authority. (2) Any functions which immediately before the abolition date are exercisable by the Greater London Council by virtue of those regulations shall on that date become functions of the London Fire and Civil Defence Authority; and accordingly for any reference in those regulations to that Council there shall be substituted a reference to that Authority. (3) Subsections (1) and (2) above are without prejudice to any functions exercisable under those regulations by the authorities there mentioned in their capacity as fire authorities."). Amendment No. 127H: page 24, line 8, after ("or) insert ("or (2)").

All these amendments have the same purpose and effect; namely, to provide that civil defence in the metropolitan counties shall be the overall responsibility of a joint fire and civil defence authority, as the Bill already proposes for London. I believe and dare to hope that this commends itself to the Government and all sides of the Committee. May I say, would it not be lovely to find a way we could agree, and here the chance is heaven sent and comes on this amendment.

May I remind your Lordships that civil defence has to be planned, prepared, and if the need should arise it should be operated on three levels: first, central government has various departments involved, with the Home Office, of course, mainly responsible. Then, if we go to the other end of the scale we find that at truly local level, we may say at the grass roots, it has to be done by district councils and even with parish councils helping them, so that district councils would operate the warden and rescue service, the care of the homeless, emergency feeding and make good use of volunteers in doing so. All this is a responsibility laid upon the district councils in the Civil Defence General Local Authority Functions Regulations, 1983, which were approved by Parliament.

Then I come to the third level which comes between the two that I have mentioned because the efforts of district councils need to be co-ordinated, and planning staffs with their necessary expertise have to be provided. Communications also have to be provided, not merely at district level or indeed even at county level; but communications have to be provided on a wide enough scale to meet operational requirements and indeed to embrace the co-operation of all the services concerned.

The Bill as it stands, in what are at present the metropolitan counties, does not provide for those essential responsibilities. The metropolitan county councils are to be abolished-rightly in my opinion. I am a keen supporter of the Bill; but the Bill does provide in the metropolitan areas for joint fire authorities. If my amendments are accepted, those joint fire authorities would become joint fire and civil defence authorities.

I suggest that among the various advantages of doing that, there are really three principal ones. The first is that it would provide expertise for planning and co-ordination at the proper level, the co-ordinating level. Secondly, it would save quite considerable expense because if we do not do it in the way I am suggesting there would have to be separate planning staffs at district council level for each district council which would of course mean extra cost.

Thirdly, the proposal that I am putting forward would enable staff training and the recruitment and training of volunteers to be done at what is at present county level. I think I should mention that I have been in touch with some of the professionals in this matter. The emergency planning officers would welcome a joint fire and civil defence authority in what are now metropolitan counties. They have been assured, I am told, that the fire service would not dominate the scene because just as there would be a chief fire officer for each joint authority, also there would be a chief emergency planning officer. But of course the authority composed as put forward in Schedules 10 and 11 would be responsible for both sides of the matter.

We all know that at present some metropolitan county councils have a deplorable record in civil defence. They prefer nuclear free zones and the delusion that there is nothing that can be done. Some of them hold this view in spite of the dedicated work of their emergency planning officers. Speaking for myself, however, and I believe for many others, I am confident that before long those areas will make up for lost time and will be ready to cope with their responsibilities for dealing with emergencies in peace and war—war, whether conventional or nuclear. There is, I believe, a growing understanding that this is what needs to be done. I beg to move.

9 p.m.

Lord Mishcon

This amendment, moved with his usual skill and clarity by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, will not, I hope, be met with constitutional arguments—namely, that this is a joining up of services that would be contrary to the whole principle of the Bill. I should be so displeased if the noble Lord were met with that argument—a pretty weak one, in any event—because I have amendments down in my name that go precisely to the same end. I should therefore find myself allied with the noble Lord, Lord Renton, in defeat instead of what I hope will be the case, allied in victory.

There is no doubt at all that these services should be combined for the very good reasons that the noble Lord has so persuasively put forward. I wish to speak briefly. It is, I think, sensible to make brief speeches at this hour of the night. And, especially when you are on a good wicket and you have an ally like the noble Lord, Lord Renton, you do not go and ruin it by making a long speech that wears down the patience of other noble Lords. I would therefore mention quickly the following points. In regard to staffing, touched upon briefly by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, it is obvious that if you split these services—quite apart from the need for communication of expertise—you land yourself in a rather extraordinary situation. I am advised that there are insufficient numbers of staff to provide for even a single officer for metropolitan district councils if you divide the present staff that exists.

Apart from that, the real, important point that I know the Committee would want to take into account is that the amendment does no more than propose the same system, as I understand it, for the metropolitan counties as is proposed for London. Possibly the most succinct sentence that I can utter before sitting down is this: 36 points of contact, 36 spheres of responsibility, and 36 separate plans in this field especially, make no sense.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

I should like briefly to support the spirit of the amendment. The masterly exposition of my noble friend Lord Renton of the true nature of the problem of civil defence wholly supports the spirit of the amendment. Whether there is a joint fire authority and a joint civil defence authority as separate entities, or conjoined as proposed, is a matter for the consideration of the Government. The key is training at county level, the point so tellingly made by my noble friend. Of course, the chief emergency planning officer would be involved, as also, one hopes, if an awkward emergency were to arise—there could be such a situation—would a senior police officer.

As regards recalcitrant authorities, clearly the reserve powers under Clause 9 of the Bill, which are of general application, would be appropriate. Without wishing to introduce an unfriendly note on this amendment, I wish to say that I take a different view about the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon—I think it is Amendment No. 119A. If that is the amendment, may I deal with it later when it is moved?

Lord Mishcon

I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I wish only to make the position entirely clear. There is a grouping of various amendments in my name and that of a colleague. They are, if I remember correctly, Amendments Nos. 127C, 127E and 127G. They are grouped with an amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Renton. Amendment No. 119A is entirely separate and will be moved separately. I would only ask the noble Lord, who is one whom I admire very much, that when he next prepares a speech and reads from it that the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, is masterly, he will do precisely the same so far as I am concerned because it would help.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

I apologise but I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, as always, for putting me on the right track as to which amendments were the relevant amendments. In due course, if and when we come to Amendment No. 119A, I undertake to say that the noble Lord's presentation was masterly.

Lord Glenarthur

My noble friend Lord Renton has a very proper and well-known interest in civil defence matters. Of course, the Government fully recognise that it is essential there should be proper and effective co-ordination of civil defence planning at the three levels he described—that is, nationally, regionally, and locally. Indeed, we have already taken two important initiatives to ensure such co-ordination—the development of a fully co-ordinated central plan embracing all Government departments and the undertaking of a pilot study to explore the scope for improving regional co-ordination. But much more remains to be done, although I can assure your Lordships that we are fully seized of the importance of co-ordination.

My noble friend argued, and in this he was supported by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon—entirely, I think—that proper co-ordination of civil defence planning in the metropolitan counties can only be achieved if that planning is undertaken on a countywide basis. The Government have listened carefully to arguments which have been deployed not just in this House but elsewhere within the country. And we are persuaded by them. We are persuaded that, as is the case for the fire service, civil defence planning can only sensibly be administered on abolition on a countywide basis. I hope that I shall not disappoint my noble friend Lord Renton but I fear that I shall perhaps disappoint to some extent the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. My noble friend has given a list of the amendments which he proposes to move. The amendments to which the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, referred, which stand in his name—Amendments Nos. 127C, 127E and 127G—are not necessary in terms of my noble friend's amendments.

Lord Renton

If my noble friend will allow me, I should like to try to avoid confusion. I was not presuming to pre-empt the discussion on the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, which are entirely separate in their effect.

Lord Glenarthur

My noble friend has made that point, but perhaps I may anticipate what the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, might say if he were to move his amendments. They are, in fact not necessary. As I understand it, if the amendments of my noble friend Lord Renton are accepted, they will be redundant. I can only conclude by saying that I should be delighted to accept my noble friend's amendments.

Lord Mishcon

Perhaps I may add to the general acclaim which I hear from the Govenment Benches for the noble concession made by the Minister. Perhaps I may point out that these amendments were put down with exactly the same purpose and it would have been within the normal graciousness of the noble Lord the Minister if he had recognised that and had merely said that the spirit of both sets of amendments was accepted, rather than to have said merely because the noble Lord, Lord Renton, is his very good and noble friend—and I envy him that friendship and I hope that I share it—"that amendment is accepted and the others are redundant because they come from this Front Bench". That does not meet with the usual graciousness for which the noble Lord has now become very well known.

Lord Glenarthur

Having been in the fortunate position of accepting an amendment from my noble friend, or, for that matter, from any other quarter of the Committee, the last thing I should want to do is to indicate any lack of civility to the noble Lord opposite in relation to the intention of his amendments. Nevertheless, I get the drift of what he said, and I hope he will accept that his argument has been met by the Government accepting my noble friend's amendments.

Lord Mishcon

I rise for the last time. I accept that the joint arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and my humble self from this Opposition Bench have been met by a concession from the noble Lord the Minister.

Lord Renton

I believe that it remains for me to make two points. First, I should like to say how grateful I am to my noble friend for saying that my amendments are accepted. Secondly, I should like to commiserate with the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, and to assure him that, in moving these amendments, I had no ulterior motive whatever to frustrate him. So long as he feels that the amendments which are being accepted meet the main purpose that he had in mind, which is similar to my purpose, I hope that he may be content. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Renton moved Amendment No. 110B: Page 18, line 1, leave out ("fire").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 111 not moved.]

Lord Renton moved Amendment No. 112A:

[Printed earlier: col. 973.]

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 112A and 113 not moved.]

Lord Renton moved Amendment No. 113A.

[Printed earlier: col. 973.]

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 114 not moved.]

Lord Renton moved Amendment No. 114A:

[Printed earlier: col. 973.]

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 115 to 119 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Clause 25, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 26 [London Fire and Civil Defence Authority]:

Lord Mishcon moved Amendment No. 119A: Leave out Clause 26 and insert the following new clause:

("Fire services and petroleum licensing in London

26. The Secretary of State shall by order taking effect on the abolition date make provision for the London Residuary Body to exercise the functions relating to fire services and petroleum licensing undertaken before that date by the Greater London Council.").

The noble Lord said: I hope that the good will of the noble Lord the Minister and his reasoning will equally prevail in regard to the amendment which I am just about to move. Briefly, perhaps I may remind noble Lords what this amendment seeks to do. It is that by order the Secretary of State shall make provision on the abolition date: for the London Residuary Body to exercise the functions relating to fire services and petroleum licensing undertaken before that date by the Greater London Council". This being the Committee stage, I wonder whether your Lordships will spare me having to put forward any manuscript amendment in the sense that together with fire services one obviously would want to include emergency planning. As I shall advance the same argument, I hope your Lordships will take it for granted that I am asking for the functions relating to the fire services, emergency planning and petroleum to be vested in the London residuary body.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

I am sorry; I did not follow. The noble Lord said, "emergency"—

Lord Mishcon


Lord Campbell of Alloway

I am much obliged.

Lord Mishcon

That was a friendly intervention and I am grateful for it. I was referring to emergency planning.

Will the Committee take it for granted that in this argument I am accepting, as we all must accept, the abolition of the Greater London Council? At the Committee stage this is what I have to accept, and what I do accept. In answer to the earlier constitutional argument, except that your Lordships are a little fed up with hearing my voice I would have endeavoured to intervene by saying that there is a sharp difference in the sentencing policy of this country going back over the centuries, between ordering that somebody be hanged And also ordering that they be drawn and quartered. I was accepting, and do accept, the hanging. I am trying to see that the Bill is sufficiently improved, upon the basis of the hanging taking place, that there is not a further sentence of being drawn and quartered: in other words, that services are not emasculated and that the advantages of cohesion of services are maintained.

On a personal note, in the good old days of the London County Council, among other chairmanships (including that of the council itself) I had the privilege of being the chairman of the London Fire Brigade for five years. I also had the privilege at a different time for some four or five years of being the chairman of the supplies committee of the London County Council. As a result of personal experience, I can tell your Lordships how it was that the other services benefited from the fact that the fire service was wedded to them in some way and how the fire services benefited from the fact that they, too, were wedded to other interlinked services.

9.15 p.m.

The supplies department of the London County Council—this was a reputation inherited by the Greater London Council—had the approbation of audit commissions and generally of people concerned with local government expenditure because it was known that the policy of bulk buying and very careful administration kept costs down considerably. The supplies department would buy for various departments of the council. That was not the only way in which things were coalesced, but I do not want to go back into the past because we are now considering a very different situation in relation to the various services and the way in which inter-house, as it were, they can be linked.

Let me give one example of what will be the position in the future as against what happened in the past, though I invoke the supplies services as a distinct example. For one moment I shall consider the superannuation fund. The London residiary body has a function, the servicing of the superannuation fund. That will mean that former non-uniformed staff of the brigade will draw their basic pensions and the payment of those pensions together with Pensions Increase Act payments. As an employer, the brigade will pay into the fund. As an employer of uniformed staff it will also be responsible for paying pensions to retired uniformed staff. Obviously would it not be preferable and more efficient in the use of experienced staff if all pension payments, whether to uniformed or non-uniformed staff, whether fund borne or rate borne, were made by one body?

I now turn to the next item, computer facilities. I looked at the Secretary of State's yellow paper. In paragraph 2.27.5 I found the following: The residuary bodies may have a particular interim role in maintaining at abolition some central facilities and support services which underpin both their own activities and those of successor bodies, in particular computer facilities and systems. The residuary bodies will be empowered to continue to provide such services to other bodies on an agency basis until permanent replacement arrangements can be developed and put in place. For these and any other directly supplied services, the residuary bodies will recover their costs from their customers". It is logical that computer facilities should be placed under the residuary bodies. In the available time, it is going to be quite impossible for ILEA, the London waste disposal authority, the London fire and civil defence authority and how many other bodies one can only imagine formed out of the GLC organisation to develop their own programs and computer facilities for such functions as accounting, invoice payments, salaries payments, pensions payments and personnel records. All such bodies will need to rely upon existing computer facilities and computer systems with which the future staff of these new bodies are already familiar. The best home for those facilities obviously lies with the London residuary bodies, and inter-organisational links can be minimised if the fire service is also part of the residuary bodies.

I referred to the supply services. Perhaps I may link with that scientific services because, also in the yellow paper, there was expressed a little glimmer of hope that borough co-operation would produce joint arrangements for both those services—centralised purchasing and scientific services. As I have said, there is absolute and total agreement as to the success and efficiency of London's supply department used, indeed, by all the London boroughs as well as the GLC services, ILEA and a number of other organisations.

In all the comment and observations on the Government's proposals there has been nothing but praise as well for the GLC scientific branch and many pleas that a method of ensuring its continuance as an entity should be found. In short, there is universal agreement that both organisations should remain intact and universal agreement that co-operation between London boroughs is, unfortunately, very much of a non-starter. The logical answer must be to retain both services within the London residuary body.

The logical answer adds to the argument for placing the fire service also with the residuary body in London. The fire brigade spends about £5 million a year, through the GLC supplies department, on such items as uniforms, fuel, non-specialist vehicles, office equipment and stationery, laundry and cleaning and security services. Some 7,000 square feet of supplies department warehouse space is required for brigade uniforms and footwear alone.

As for the GLC scientific services, the links with the brigade are such that they have even been called Siamese twins. A team of scientists are on rota to ensure that at least one is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to give on-the-spot advice at chemical incidents and fires involving chemicals. Scientists also assist in investigating the cause of fires, giving advice on the suitability of materials, giving technical advice on operating procedures and attending various meetings on fire service matters with the Home Office, the Ministry of Defence and British standards committees. They carry out many more functions as part of the GLC's work as a fire authority.

I am going to beg the Government—and I mean this—that whatever their political attitude may be towards the CLC (and I have said that does not come in any way as part and parcel of my argument: I am accepting for the purpose of this argument the policy decision to abolish the GLC), for the sake of the citizens comprised in the Greater London area, they should not break up working arrangements and partnerships which have stood the test of time and have served the citizens of London well. They have proved their worth, both financially and operationally. I am asking that these partnerships are kept alive and are closely connected under the umbrella of the London residuary body. It would be an act of logic, reason and reasonableness and would not be, if the contrary were shown, blind dogma following a principle and doing ill service to the citizens of London. I beg to move.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

It is only with a due sense of extreme caution that I presume to oppose an amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, on a subject such as this, which is wholly within his special expertise. As I undertook to say—and I would have said it even without the undertaking—it is a masterly exposition, but the joint authority provision relating to fire services is scattered around this Bill in Part IV, and Clauses 22 to 41 and Schedule 11.

Although I do take the point of the noble Lord about the absence of petroleum licensing and of emergency planning, and I will add to that, if I may, the storage of hazardous substances and chemicals which have a propensity to cause fire, and although I should like to see some inclusion of appropriate safeguard provisions in the Bill, I do not accept this amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, as usual, has drawn your Lordships' attention to important matters which may well have been to some degree overlooked; but what is not understood is why the London residuary body should take this on board, unless the intention is to make it a permanent body and not a temporary body with a lifespan of some five years.

The effect—and I speak only of effects and not of intention—would be to load up the residuary bodies with yet another function. Assuredly it is not in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, to support any assertion at some later stage that they should be elected because, if I may say so, the noble Lord is a stickler for constitutional propriety. But the difficulty is, and I wish to state it frankly—the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, I see is in her place and she was unable to give any assurance in this regard earlier today—that the effect of amendments such as this could well run counter to the principle of the Bill as accepted on Second Reading.

It would do so in two ways, and they are distinct. One would be by rendering the residuary bodies permanent bodies instead of temporary bodies existing for five years until the London boroughs sort themselves out, there always being the residual reserve power under Clause 9. The second would be by opening the door—albeit ajar but open it nevertheless—to the question of election. For these reasons, as I see no necessity for transferring these functions to the residuary body, I oppose the amendment.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Plummer of St. Marylebone

I supported the abolition of the GLC because I recognised that it was in need of reform. But I am solely concerned to ensure that the arrangements which follow shall be as efficient as those which have gone before.

In Clause 26 once again a prime strategic role carried out by the GLC has been recognised by the proposal to set up a joint board for the fire service and civil defence in London. The London Fire Brigade will remain, at least for the moment, a single unit run by a joint board of borough nominees. This means that the brigade, which has been under local democratic control since 1889, is now to be under indirect control through nominees to a joint board. I have to say that there is a danger therefore that the safety needs of London as a whole will be lost in favour of narrow local interests.

Experience over the years has shown that it is important that decisions on the siting of fire stations or location of appliances should be taken as at present purely on operational grounds in the light of priorities across the region as a whole. At the same time I would suggest that a joint board of 33 members must be too large for effective managment.

There is then the unrealistic timetable for the planning process issued by the Home Office in its advisory memorandum, which also appears to be much too optimistic. According to the timetable, the new authority is expected to be established in early September. Its first meeting must be held within three weeks of establishment. By mid-November—that is, at the most only eight weeks after its first meeting—the authority is expected to have submitted its draft establishment scheme to the Home Secretary; its draft management scheme to the Home Secretary; its proposed methods of obtaining support services to the Home Secretary; it application for redetermination of provisional expenditure levels; and the necessary input to enable the Government to make property transfer orders.

I would submit that this timescale is surely totally unrealistic, even if the Home Office have assumed that the joint board members—who, after all, are part-time borough councillors with other committees to attend on their own borough councils—and their staff can retain their mental and physical health while forgoing sleep for an eight-week period. I do not see quite how this is all going to happen.

The track record of the Home Office is also not altogether conducive to optimism in achieving such a timescale, given that they have not yet issued the report on fire cover standards which the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council agreed on 27th November 1984 should be promulgated to local authorities. They have also failed to provide local authorities with adequate guidance in connection with the making of plans under the Civil Defence (General Local Authority Functions) Regulations 1983.

Other comments in the Home Office Advisory Memorandum show, I think, a lack of understanding of the integrated nature of the strategic services of the GLC now in support of the fire brigade to which the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, has referred. For example, the memorandum states that the statutory transfer of staff will relate only to staff, managed exclusively by the Chief Fire Officer and dedicated to fire brigade work". No mention is made of the staff in the architect's building regulation division engaged on statutory fire precaution work which, believe me, is so important to the safety of Londoners. What will happen in regard to other excellent in-house professional and technical services on which the London Fire Brigade at present relies?

Paragraph 22 of the Home Office memorandum states, among other options, that the new authority might wish to recruit former staff of the GLC's scientific services branch. Again, I think that this shows a complete failure to recognise the effects of fragmentation of this branch, when any loss of collective expertise and experience would inevitably affect adversely the complex range of work currently undertaken for the fire brigade.

Despite what my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway said, I believe that the logical answer is to place the fire service with the residuary body in London. Whatever the Government's political attitude towards the GLC may be, it should not break up working arrangements and partnerships which have stood the test of time and have proved their worth, both financially and operationally.

I should like guidance from the Chair, if I may, because I am not clear whether we are also discussing and including in the amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, moved the civil defence side of this, because they are essentially inter-related—

Lord Elton

I am not moving these amendments. Presumably, it is for the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, who moved the amendments, to answer.

Lord Mishcon

I can see a lot of force in what the noble Lord says. That is my brief comment at this moment.

Lord Skelmersdale

I understood that the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, was addressing his mind to a whole series of amendments not necessarily in his name. Perhaps he would like to explain the position.

Lord Mishcon

I am most grateful to the noble Lord the Minister. I hoped that a short intervention might have been more appropriate. But I ought to say that, in fact, I am speaking not only to this amendment—I apologise for not making this clear to the Committee earlier—but to Amendments Nos. 123A, 124D, 126A, 127B, 127D and 127F: Amendment No. 123A: Page 22, line 40, at end insert ("and in the London Residuary Body"). Amendment No. 124D: Schedule 11, page 144, line 14, leave out ("Fire and Civil Defence Authority") and insert ("Residuary Body"). Amendment No. 126A: After Schedule 11, page 144, line 29, leave out ("Fire and Civil Defence Authority") and insert ("Residuary Body"). Amendment No. 127B: Clause 37, page 23, line 3, leave out ("Fire and Civil Defence Authority") and insert ("Residuary Body").

Amendment No. 127D: line 12, leave out
("Authority") and insert ("Body").
Amendment No. 127F: line 15, leave out
("Authority") and insert ("Body").

Lord Plummer of St. Marylebone

As I understand it, that includes civil defence and perhaps I may say that the Home Office memorandum relating to this also contains some unrealistic proposals. Illogically, the Greater London Council's discretionary responsibilities and statutory duties for contingency planning for major emergencies and natural disasters in peacetime are to be laid on the shoulders of 33 London boroughs. I heard the noble Lord, Lord Renton, when he made a case for providing expertise and co-ordination at the proper level and for not having some separate staff. Indeed, the noble Lord the Minister referred to the fact that there should be proper co-operation on a county-wide basis. Bearing in mind that "emergency planning" embraces all contingency planning for war and peace, and utilises the skills of the same staff, the proposed split is, to say the least, irrational and highly uneconomical. There is also the question of the capacity and expertise of off-site emergency plans which provide for major accidents—

Lord Elton

I am trying to be helpful and perhaps the noble Lord will give way. I may have misheard him or, alternatively, I may have misunderstood him. I thought he was under the impression that under the Bill it is proposed that civil defence and fire should be separated in London, but that is not the case. If I have misunderstood him, I apologise.

Lord Plummer of St. Marylebone

It is separated in certain ways which I find unrealistic. For instance, paradoxically, the preparations for war emergency planning, which I hope are less likely to require implementation, are to be undertaken by the new London authority, whereas planning for major accidents, which are more likely to occur and would be no respecter of borough boundaries, is to be devolved to the London boroughs, which lack the expertise, the resources or the strategic overview necessary for the effective co-ordination of all aspects of emergency planning and its implementation.

I could mention other aspects of this Home Office memorandum which give cause for concern, but as time is short I hope that my noble friend the Minister will justify the Government's position in this respect. I am afraid that the tone of this memorandum and its contents in no way allay fears that the proposed joint board will not be unwieldy, bureaucratic and more costly, all of which will be to the detriment of future safety standards in London.

Lord Elton

I am drawn to the Box by two things. I shall be succeeded shortly by my noble friend Lord Glenarthur, who is more intimately familiar with the up-to-date detail that comprises the lot about which my noble friend Lord Plummer has addressed your Lordships. I am drawn to the Box partly by the lure to which my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway also rose, and partly by the lure of the great pleasure of addressing in debate the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, with whom I passed so very many agreeable hours in previous years when I was at the Home Office.

The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, has accepted that abolition will take place. I compliment him on that. He wants to preserve the cohesion of the London fire service, and I compliment him on that. What puzzled me very much was the fact that he proposed to maintain this not by transferring the function and responsibility of the fire service to a single statutory joint authority, which for other services has been regarded as attractive by his noble friends, but by transferring it to a body which is due to expire five or six years from now.

It seemed to me that, if the service provided by the London Fire Brigade was as vital as both he and I thought it to be, it was odd that it should be transferred for safeguarding to such transient hands. The reason I was lured to the Box in that respect was that I could see no sense in it going to a temporary body unless the temporary body was to become permanent, or unless the noble Lord had a specific home for the London Fire Brigade to go to at the end of the period of five years. The noble Lord offered us no thoughts on that and therefore one is left with the perhaps unworthy doubt that the noble Lord might be intending for the London Fire Brigade to remain in the hands of the London residuary body for more than five or 15 years. That we have discussed often. I do not want to bring your Lordships back onto the well trampled ground of the principles of the Bill, but we have discussed this issue before and come to a view on it.

A number of the reasons that the noble Lord gave for this being a good place to be chime in rather with the perhaps more plausible reasons given by my noble friend Lord Plummer, who also agreed with abolition and also wishes to preserve the cohesion of the London Fire Brigade, as do we. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said that bulk buying was an important saving for the London Fire Brigade and should be preserved for it. I would remind the noble Lord, first of all, that in Merseyside Liverpool City Council effectively carries out the bulk buying for the whole of the authority. Therefore this can be done on an agency basis. We shall have a very large purchaser in the GLC area after abolition in the form of the new ILEA. It will be possible for them, or for a consortium of London boroughs, to act as the joint purchasing agency. It is not unusual in local authorities for one discrete organisation to act as the purchasing authority for others.

9.45 p.m.

The noble Lord expressed his concern about pensions. Firemen's pensions are in a separate scheme which is already the responsibility of the fire authority and would be the responsibility of the new board itself. Civilian firemen, on the other hand, are members of the general scheme and will go to the residuary body or to the body to which they eventually transfer after the period of five years.

The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, spoke of the dedicated computers: that is, the computers already at work exclusively for the London Fire Brigade and which operate, I believe, the Hazchem system. They will of course be transferred with the fire brigade, which is a going concern. As to the other computers, it is not our intention that we shall lose the benefit of those. They will not be dissipated on transition, at abolition. They will go to the residuary body in the interim.

I accept that the needs of safety are pre-eminent. I should have acknowledged the noble Lord's knowledge of this subject. The fire brigade has grown very considerably from 115 square miles to 620 square miles in the interim since the noble Lord served. The other statistics have increased likewise. I was responsible for fire service matters in the Home Office for only three short years. In that time and at that distance from the serving brigades I realised what an intense interest and loyalty they generate in those who are interested in the brigades and who have responsibility for them. I recognise that in the noble Lord, and in no way do I want to gainsay the propriety of the noble Lord's wish to preserve the cohesion of the London Fire Brigade. What I do want to say is that it does not seem to me, for reasons which have become tedious to your Lordships, that the London residuary body is something to which the brigade should be passed—particularly with no other home for it to go to afterwards.

I will not have satisfied noble Lords in respect of the CFBAC documents on standards of fire cover which my noble friend is shortly to issue, or on a number of other points of detail. If my noble friend wishes particular items to be picked up, I look to him for that purpose.

Lord Mishcon

I am going to be very brief in my reply, for the following reasons. First, the two people who engaged for so many years—if I may humbly say this on my own behalf; but I have no need for humility on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Plummer—and who happily engaged in the service of London, have both united on opposite sides of your Lordships' Committee, and in the light of their long experience, in favour of this series of amendments.

Your Lordships will appreciate that it is not a question of dogma involved here; it is a question of practical experience. But for me to talk about an amendment of this kind—and I am not exaggerating when I say this—on which we feel so sincerely in regard to the safety of the citizens of London, and to test it in a Division at this hour of the night, with a fairly sparse attendance, would not be, in my view, living up to our responsibilities. Speaking for myself—and I cannot speak for the noble Lord, Lord Plummer—I would not be happy in my conscience if I asked the Committee to divide now and did not take this opportunity of dealing with the matter at a future stage of this Bill.

The other reason I make a brief speech is that we really are in danger of becoming hoist with our own petard. The petard is this. If you try to transfer something to another permanent body, you are going at the root of the Bill because you are setting up another permanent body. If you then say, "Well, we are trying to make the best of things and what we are doing, if you face us with that argument, is to say that there was no Royal Commission, no proper inquiries were made and the matter is being dealt with in a most casual way. What we are therefore trying to do is to see that you put it"—and I answer the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, in this straightforward way—"into a body that has at least five years of life". What the noble Lord, Lord Plummer, and I, and others with experience of these matters feel, is that when you have had that experience during the five years it will not be we who will be asking for an extension of time on these five years but a responsible Government. You cannot have it both ways.

It is a good debating ploy but we are not dealing with debating ploys. In this amendment we are dealing with the safety and the lives of Londoners. I shall not get your Lordships emotional and sentimental in regard to, say, waste disposal, although I suppose that has a lot to do with the safety and health of Londoners. There are certain matters in the Bill which you cannot get romantic and sentimental about; but I can get sentimental about looking after Londoners when it comes to a huge disaster, let alone the question of war. What do you do in the event of war? Do you find everything split all over the place and, in an emergency, trying to get a united organisation backed up with other services? Are you then proud, having carried through an amendment on a debating point? I would not be. Therefore, because of that, I ask your Lordships' leave—

Lord Elton

Before the noble Lord concludes, I can see that he understands petards very well and is therefore an artilleryman as well as a fireman. It is a serious point and not a debating point as to whether the London residuary bodies are the proper recipients of a service such as this with no designated subsequent home for it. On the other hand, we have in the joint London Fire and Civil Defence Authority a body which is, contrary to what my noble friend Lord Plummer sought to convince your Lordships, of an appropriate size for dealing with these congruent issues which are extremely important to Londoners. It is in a position to do so and it will have the resources so to do. I believe it also has the time. The time is perhaps whittled away to the extent that some people concerned are not allowed to talk about future arrangements for political reasons, and that I deplore; but there is time.

I do not believe that the safety of Londoners is in any way at risk. I yield to nobody in my admiration for the emergency services of this country, the London Fire Brigade in particular. I do not believe that this transfer would in any way inhibit their efficiency, their morale or their future.

Lord Mishcon

I accept, as will your Lordships, the sincerity of the statements made by the noble Lord the Minister. I think the country would be a little happier in accepting these brave assertions if they did not run contrary to the advice of those engaged in these matters on the practical front as well as on the political front. If the noble Lord the Minister and his Government had decided to have behind them the force of an inquiry and a Royal Commission, or whatever it might be, before embarking on these reckless exercises, the country would listen to such assertions with a great deal more sympathy, understanding and confidence.

All that I can do is to put at your Lordships' disposal—and I do it in all humility—the experience of some 20 years in London government. I can say only this to your Lordships. For the reasons that I have already advanced I think that it would be quite wrong of me to put this amendment to your Lordships in order to test the feeling of the Committee. What I shall do in the circumstances, and most reluctantly, is to ask your Lordships' leave to withdraw the amendment and return to it at another stage.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Renton)

Is it your Lordships' pleasure that the amendment be withdrawn?

Noble Lords


The Deputy Chairman of Committees

Leave is not given.

On Question, amendment negatived.

Clause 26 agreed to.

Clause 27 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 120 not moved.]

[Amendments Nos. 121 and 121ZA not moved.]

[Amendment No. 121ZB had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Clause 28 [Number of members]:

Lord Tordoff moved Amendment No. 121ZC: Page 18, line 42, after second ("the") insert ("views of each of those councils and to the").

The noble Lord said: We now move to Clause 28, which considers the membership of joint authorities. The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that the Secretary of State does not alter the numbers on any joint authority without first having the views of the metropolitan district councils that are concerned. It is important to set criteria under which the Secretary of State may exercise the new powers granted under this clause. One would not for a minute accuse the present Government of gerrymandering, but subsequent Governments might. The clause at present gives the Secretary of State unfettered powers to alter the numbers.

We are told that the districts are having powers returned to them, and the very least that should happen is that the Secretary of State should consult them before altering the membership of the joint boards. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said that democracy is strongest where the voter is closest to the seat of power, and one would hope that the Secretary of State will be prepared to consult at that democratic level.

This is one of a number of amendments which go into this area, but before we get into more detailed considerations we should like to have the Government's views, first, on the necessity of the Bill as it stands in terms of altering the numbers on joint authorities; and, secondly, whether they are prepared to consider accepting this or a similar amendment at a later stage which would put some constraint on the Secretary of State and stop him altering the numbers on joint authorities, as it were, at will. I beg to move.

Lord Elton

I am glad to say that I entirely accept that it would be appropriate to precede any change in the distribution of membership on a joint authority by consultation with the councils concerned. The noble Lord will forgive me if I reserve discussion of the way in which the number is arrived at until we come to the amendment in the names of several of his noble friends. The name that I remember is that of the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, because the matter relates to Rochdale. We shall get to the mathematics then. I am sure that in practice there would always be such consultation, but for the avoidance of doubt I am prepared to see a statutory consultation provision written into the clause.

We cannot accept the amendment as it stands because it puts the Secretary of State under two possibly contradictory duties. But I undertake to bring forward an amendment on Report to ensure that before making any changes in the membership of the joint authority the Secretary of State is required to consult the constituent councils of that authority. I hope that those noble Lords who tell me how inflexible I am have heard me speak.

10 p.m.

Lord Tordoff

I had expected to hear the Walls of Jericho falling at that. I say "Jericho" because it is just outside Bury, which is near Rochdale. I am most grateful to the noble Lord, and we look forward to the clause coming forward at a later stage.

Baroness Birk

Perhaps I, too, may add my thanks. I have said, I think more than once, how inflexible the Government are. It is very good to hear of this little piece of flexibility.

Lord Tordoff

With those remarkable words, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 121ZD not moved.]

Clause 28 agreed to.

Schedule 10 [Number of members of joint authorities]:

Lord Mottistone moved Amendment No. 121ZE:

[Printed 13/5/85; col. 973.]

The noble Lord said: On behalf of my noble friend Lord Renton, I beg to move Amendment No. 121ZE. I understand it has been agreed to.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Tordoff moved Amendment No. 121A:

[Printed 7/5/85; col. 603.]

The noble Lord said: It will perhaps be for the convenience of the Committee if I point out that although five subsequent amendments are shown on the Marshalled List as appearing under the names of myself and my noble friends, and noble Lords who are associates on this clause, I believe they should stand under the name of the noble Lord, Lord Renton. Therefore I am speaking only to Amendment No. 121A.

As the noble Lord the Minister said, the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, has his name to this amendment. He has written to me today to offer his apologies for not being able to be here to speak to this amendment. I am also advised on this subject by another eminent Rochdalian, who is perhaps not so eminent but is larger in girth than the noble Viscount.

A noble Lord

Heavens above!

Lord Tordoff

I was not actually thinking of the noble Lord, Lord Evans, but of the honourable Member for Rochdale, who could give the noble Lord, Lord Evans, at least nine stones.

As the noble Lord the Minister has said, we now get into the arithmetic. It is really with a view to probing the Government on the arithmetic of the joint boards that this amendment has been tabled. As I say, this is a probing amendment. The object of the amendment as it stands is to increase the representation of the Rochdale District Council on the joint boards proposed in the Bill from two members to three. It raises the general question of the appropriate number of district nominees on the joint boards for police, fire, transport, and now waste disposal. It may be supposed that since this amendment is to a degree to assist minority representation on district councils being fully represented on the joint boards, the Liberal Party and the Alliance might be considered to be in a position of wanting this for their own particular purposes. That line of reasoning will not stand up in Rochdale because, as I understand it, the people who would be excluded under the present arrangements, as matters stand, are the Conservative Party.

The fact is that the proposed number of joint numbers bears no relationship either to the number of district councillors or to the populations they serve. For instance, in Greater Manchester only 30 out of the 642 district councillors will be appointed to a joint board, as compared with 22 out of 378 in West Yorkshire. This is part of the general arithmetic of the metropolitan counties being of different sizes and having different compositions.

However, some joint boards will be dominated by a relatively few constituent councils. For instance, in West Yorkshire an agreement between Leeds and Kirklees would dominate the whole of the joint boards, and Birmingham only needs to carry two other authorities with it for a majority. Sheffield holds a dominating position in South Yorkshire, and really this begs the question to some extent. Who do the individual members represent? Should they present a united front on behalf of their own authority, or do they act on behalf of their political affiliations? It is these questions that the amendment seeks to probe.

In relation to Rochdale, I should say that although it is the second smallest of the districts within the Greater Manchester Council, to have only two seats would mean that the people actually represent something over 100,000 constituents each, whereas the others, most of whom have three, with the exception of Manchester, who have five representatives, and Bury, who have two, represent populations of between 70,000 and 86,000 to 87,000. It is our belief that this whole question could be solved by increasing the number of members of the joint boards. In the case of Greater Manchester if this were increased from 30 to 33, if Wigan and Stockport were given an extra seat, and Rochdale was given an extra seat, the representation would be much more nearly equal across the whole span of the Greater Manchester area.

That illustrates the difficulties of giving reasonable representation on joint boards to different sized districts. It also illustrates the difficulty of making sure that all political interests are represented in due proportion on the joint boards. It is to try to identify these problems and to see what the response of the Government is that I beg to move this amendment.

Lord Elton

The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, said that this is a probing amendment which he brings before your Lordships. I shall read his speech with at least as much interest as he reads mine because it is a subject of great interest.

At the outset, I promised to explain to your Lordships the arithmetic. I think I should say that it is necessary that the arithmetic should be the same, and the formula by which seats are allocated to constituent councils should be the same in each case. I was glad to note that the noble Lord, although he appeared to have a special affection for Rochdale, which I could understand even more if the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, himself were here, did not seek to advance special pleading although he sought to advise me that if I were to agree with his probing amendment, it would be my party that benefited. I do not know whether that is special pleading or not. But as it is advanced on my behalf rather than his, I suppose his is marginally more acceptable.

The principle on which we worked and which produced the result to which the noble Lord drew attention is straightforward, and I can easily describe it. We take the district with the smallest electorate in the county and give it two seats. We then divide the number of electors by the number of seats to get the ratio for that authority of votes to seats. As it happens, in Greater Manchester there is a smaller electorate than Rochdale, and that is the electorate of Bury where there are 133,161 electors. That allocation gives us a ratio of votes to seat of 66,581: 1. If we apply that ratio and round it to the nearest whole number of seats of the remaining districts, we find that Rochdale has 152,853 electors, which, on that ratio, is worth 2.3 seats. This is rounded to two. It is possible to argue that the joint authorities that we propose are too small and it has been argued in another place that some are already too large. Our view, therefore, is that we have struck about the right balance. The authorities are not so large as to be unwieldy. On the other hand, we have ensured that each council is represented by at least two members.

The noble Lord did not say but may afterwards think that he might have said that Rochdale's entitlement to appoint only two members would inevitably mean that it will be in conflict with the requirement in Clause 32 to reflect party balance in making those appointments. In effect, he said so in another way as a philosophic rather than legalistic point. That clause expressly recognises that the reflection cannot always be complete, and that is why we have the words "so far as practicable" in the first line of the clause. If we were to increase the minimum number of seats from two to three, my understanding is that the average increase in the size of the authorities in question would be about 50 per cent. Therefore, this narrow adjustment at the bottom makes a fairly serious adjustment at the top.

The noble Lord asked me what the nominated members of the authority would represent. They would represent exactly as the Bill suggests; a combination of the interest of their council and of their party. That is why they are nominated by the council to reflect party balance.

Lord Tordoff

I am grateful to the Minister. It is obviously too late at night to start bandying arithmetic. I note that he has based his argument on the electorate, whereas, without having gone into the figures, the argument that I sought to place before him was inherently based on population. All I can say is that the arithmetic comes out rather differently on that basis. It would be wise if all of us were to go away and exchange numbers in reading Hansard tomorrow, and perhaps come back to the matter at a later stage. I am nevertheless grateful to the noble Lord for explaining the Government's position. I shall take further advice from those who have suggested to me that this is something that we should examine. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

As has already been mentioned, above Amendment No. 121ZA there should have been printed the words "by the Lord Renton".

Lord Elton

I come to the noble Lord's assistance. I think the noble Lord meant to say "Amendment No. 121AZA".

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

I am most grateful for the correction. Above Amendment No. 121AZA, those words should have been printed. I propose, unless any noble Lord objects, to put that and the next four amendments as a group. Does any noble Lord move?

Lord Mottistone moved Amendments Nos. 121AZA, 121AZB, 121AZC, 121AZD, 121AZE:

[Printed 13,75/85; col. 973.]

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 10, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 29 to 33 agreed to.

Clause 34 [Disqualification]:

10.15 p.m.

Lord Molson moved Amendment No. 121AA: Page 22, line 20, leave out first ("the") and insert ("any")

The noble Lord said: This is a very simple amendment which I can move in a very few words. In this clause the Bill provides that a paid officer of a joint authority, who is employed under the direction of a committee or sub-committee, or a joint committee: shall be disqualified for being appointed or being a member of that other joint authority or for being elected or being a member of the local authority, as the case may be.

In recent years I think that there has been an increasing abuse in that paid officials of one local authority have begun to stand for election in other local authorities. I believe that there is a complete incompatability of responsibility between being the paid official of one local authority and being the elected member of another. I thought that this was an opportunity to raise this point, and I hope that the Committee will accept that there is something wrong in a paid official of one local authority being an elected member of another. I therefore move to delete the word "the" and to substitute the word "any". I beg to move.

Lord Elton

My noble friend's amendment would disqualify any employee of a joint authority from being an elected member of any local authority anywhere in the country, and not just, as we propose, from being a member of any of that joint authority's constituent councils. The Government thought long and hard about what provision should be made as regards disqualification of joint authorities' employees from membership of those authorities' constituent borough or district councils. Our overriding aim, which my noble friend has made clear that he shares, has been to ensure that there can be no conflict of interest, either real or apparent, between a person's employment and his interest as an employee, and his interests as a member of a local authority.

We came to the conclusion that it was right to retain unchanged the existing provisions of the Local Government Act 1972. Section 80 of that Act provides that any employee of a joint board or joint committee is disqualified from being a member of any of that board's or committee's constituent local authorities. The architects of the 1972 Act, and Parliament when it approved that provision, clearly judged that there was a potential conflict of interest in such circumstances against which there had to be safeguards. Employees of the joint authorities stand in precisely the same position and our view, therefore, is that the same safeguards ought properly to be provided. I remind noble Lords that this is not a Bill to create new powers and duties; it is a Bill to redistribute existing powers and duties.

However, my friend would have us go much further than the status quo. He would wish to see an employee of a joint authority disqualified from membership of any local authority. My noble friend is right that there is very real concern that some local authorities may be abusing the existing provisions of the 1972 Act by, for example, making cosy arrangements between themselves for a councillor of Authority A to be given a job with Authority B which in fact allows him to spend his whole, or almost his whole, time on the affairs of Authority A while he is provided with a salary by the ratepayers of Authority B. We share that concern and that is why we have established an inquiry, the Widdicombe inquiry, to consider this and other potential abuses.

I wonder whether I have said enough to convince my noble friend that we are considering exactly the problem to which he addresses this amendment but that it would not be proper to use this Bill for that purpose in advance of the findings of the inquiry, both because we shall not have had the recommendations of the inquiry and because it is beyond the purposes for which the Bill is constructed. I am sorry not to be more friendly to my noble friend because in this case his heart is pre-eminently in the right place.

Lord Molson

I am very much obliged to my noble friend. It may have been an oversight on my part, but I did not know of the appointment of, if I heard aright, the Widdicombe Committee. I am glad that the Widdicombe Committee is considering this matter. I realised that in putting down this amendment it was going outside the scope of the Bill, but I thought as I perused it that here was an opportunity to make a good point, which I did. Recognising how fundamentally conservative the Government are, even in this somewhat destructive and revolutionary Bill, I bow to their desire not to make any radical change outside the scope of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 34 agreed to.

Clause 35 agreed to.

Clause 36 [Police and fire services]:

[Amendment No. 121B had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

[Amendment No. 122 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 122A had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Lord Mottistone moved Amendment No. 122B:

[Printed 13/5/85; col. 973.]

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 123 and 123A not moved.]

[Amendments Nos. 124 to 124C had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Clause 36, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 11 [Police and fire services]:

[Amendments Nos. 124D and 125 not moved.]

Lord Mottistone moved Amendment No. 125A:

[Printed 13/5/85; col. 973.]

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Skelmersdale

I believe that Amendment No. 126 belongs to Schedule 11. There is a misprint.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

I am much obliged; I apologise.

[Amendment No. 126 not moved.]

[Amendments Nos. 126A and 127 not moved.]

Schedule 11, as amended, agreed to.

Lord Mishcon moved Amendment No. 127ZA: After Clause 36, Insert the following new clause:

("Reports on fire and police services

.—(1) The Secretary of State shall each year prepare and on the anniversary of the abolition date lay before each House of Parliament a report on the performance by each of the joint authorities for fire and police services established under this Part of the Act of the functions transferred to it under this Part of this Act.

(2) Each report prepared under this section shall include details of—

  1. (a) the level of service provided by the joint authority;
  2. (b) the total expenditure of the joint authority; and
  3. (c) the number of staff employed by the joint authority.")

The noble Lord said: I propose to deliver the shortest speech your Lordships have ever heard me deliver. Why not? I beg to move.

Lord Elton

I shall tell the noble Lord why not. In many respects, these joint authorities are identical to local authorities. They will be given all the local authority powers necessary to run their services. The Secretary of State does not report to Parliament on the way in which individual local authorities fulfil their functions and there is absolutely no reason why he should report on the joint authorities. He does not appoint the authorities. He is not responsible for the way the authorities carry out their functions. They are statutory bodies whose members are appointed by the constituent councils. The Secretary of State has no locus in relation to these bodies. It would not be appropriate for him to report on their performance, therefore. That was as short as I could make my speech.

Lord Mishcon

Would that I could reply in as short terms. I think that the noble Lord the Minister who has replied to me in the way that he has—and I am most grateful to him for taking the trouble to do so—has ignored the fact that the Bill gives the Secretary of State, as I understand Clause 66, the power to control, for at least three years, the budgets of the new police and fire authorities. He is also—and your Lordships might not have understood that from his reply—able to direct the manpower levels, the external servicing and the internal management schemes of the new authorities, if I have correctly understood Clause 83; and we are looking to see how, from the point of view of the economics of the country, these things are being dealt with, especially with the Secretary of State's powers. I thought therefore that when I said, "Why not?", the noble Lord the Minister was going to reply, "Why not?"; and that this amendment was accordingly going to be agreed to.

Lord Elton

I have a longer speech. I thought the noble Lord was going to be more easily satisfied than he was. My speech was addressed to the long term. The noble Lord's reply was addressed to the short term. The powers to which the noble Lord referred were interim ones, as he well knows. But since the noble Lord still requires convincing, I must tell him that the openness and accountability which he seeks is already plenteously in the Bill and elsewhere. The Bill extends to the joint authorities the provisions of Part II of the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 on the publication of information by local authorities.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment issued in 1981 codes of recommended practice on the publication of annual reports and financial and manpower statements by local authorities. The 1980 Act enables him, if he considers it necessary, to make regulations requiring authorities to comply with any part of the codes or to all of them. He has not so far found this necessary but he has the power.

The noble Lord addressed a wide range of bodies. If I may refer to chief constables, they are required by Section 12 of the Police Act 1964 to submit to their police authority as soon as possible after the end of each calendar year a general report in writing on policing in their area during that year. Section 30 of the Act requires the report to be submitted also to the Home Secretary. While there is no statutory obligation on chief constables to make their annual reports more widely available, it is their practice to publish them. Reports made by inspectors of constabulary to the Home Secretary on the efficiency of forces under Section 38 of the Act are not published, it is true. Each year my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, however, already presents a report to Parliament by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Fire Services on fire brigades in England and Wales. I am confident that the chief inspector will include in his report any matters arising from reorganisation that affects the organisation and efficiency of the metropolitan county and London fire brigades.

The noble Lord's concern was really addressed, I think, not to the long term, and therefore I am perhaps boring rather than enlightening him by giving him information which he already has. But we do not think it would be proper to require an annual report in the way that the noble Lord suggests because there appears to be no terminus to his requirement.

10.30 p.m.

Lord Mishcon

The noble Lord never bores me; nor does any member of the Committee. Infrequently, he does enlighten me. Obviously I am going to study very carefully what the noble Lord has said; but I wonder whether, in his kindness, he would equally consider the possibility of even publishing these annual reports for Parliament during the interim period. I do not require his answer now; I am merely asking whether he would kindly consider that matter. In the circumstances, I ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 37 [Civil defence]:

Lord Renton moved amendment No. 127A:

[Printed 13/5/85; col. 973.]

The noble Lord said: This amendment is consequential on amendments standing in my name which have already been agreed to. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 127B, 127C, 127D, 127E, 127F, and 127G not moved.]

Lord Renton moved Amendment No. 1:27H:

[Printed 13/5/85; col. 973.]

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 37, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 38 [Passenger transport]:

[Amendments Nos. 128 and 128A had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Lord Stallard moved Amendment No. 128ZA: Page 24, line 20, at end insert ("and for securing that certain of those functions are exercised on terms no less favourable than they are exercised immediately before the abolition date:).

The noble Lord said: We now come to the most important amendments to the Bill to be moved so far. It is very heartening to me to see so many noble Lords whom I know share my interest in and concern about the subject matter of these amendments still in their places at this late hour. I am now dealing with Amendments Nos. 128ZA and 128B. One follows from the other. Amendment No. 128B: Schedule 12, Page 145, line 41, at end insert ("and shall be under a duty to exercise those powers so as to grant or secure that there are granted travel concessions—

  1. (a) on terms no less favourable than any such concessions available in that metropolitan county area immediately before the abolition date; and
  2. (b) to all persons of the descriptions mentioned in subsection (5) of that section who wish to take up such concessions.").

Clause 38 deals with the transfer of functions relating to passenger transport to the metropolitan county passenger transport Authorities; but it does not state which functions are to be transferred. Does it mean all the functions or only some of the functions; and, if it is the latter, which functions will be transferred and which will not? It ought to be obvious that in view of that ambiguity which exists in relation to these functions, a great deal of concern has been caused about the possible future, for instance, of the concessionary fares for the elderly. That is something with which I am mainly concerned and it is the subject of this amendment: namely, those people who qualify for concessionary fares, such as pensioners, men over 65 and women over 60, the blind and the disabled. It is not clear from this clause what will be the position in relation to those functions in the metropolitan counties if this clause goes through unamended.

Local authorities, including the metropolitan county councils, are at the moment empowered to grant concessions by virtue of the relevant Transport Acts. Those Acts also allow local authorities to reimburse passenger transport executives or any public service undertaking in regard to these commitments on behalf of the elderly and the disabled. As I understand it, the concessions operate in the following manner. An estimated amount is paid to the transport operator to reimburse him for notional journeys lost. This money comes mainly from the county council, from the county council rate for transport which is collected by district councils, although I know that in some instances the district councils contribute towards the cost. Here may I say that we are aware that London has been dealt with under separate legislation. Again, that is not very clear but it is not the subject of these amendments. It is certainly not as clear as it might be, even in that particular instance.

The Local Government Bill before us proposes to create metropolitan passenger transport authorities to fulfil the passenger transport functions of the metropolitan county councils. Such joint authorities—we have heard a lot about them this evening—which have been proposed in this Bill by the Government will consist of members nominated by district councils and will have the power to levy a rate for transport. A Bill being discussed in the other place based on the White Paper Buses, will—as I understand it so far from listening to and reading the reports of discussions on it—allow district councils to break away from the countrywide transport scheme and make their own transport arrangements, including concessions. Therefore, we can well understand the fears, apprehension and concern caused to pensioners' organisations, and many voluntary organisations such as, for example, Age Concern which continue to press for some clarity on the future of these concessions.

Quite rightly, they worry that joint authorities and district councils may be unwilling or unable to fund concessions in their present form and that concessions for the elderly people will be lost or reduced in value in some areas. Of course, their fears are perfectly well and readily understood by those of us who have read further into this Bill, because Clause 66 states that the precept issued by each passenger transport authority will be controlled—or capped, in other words—by central Government for three years following abolition, and by controlling the precept the Government effectively determine the level of services, fares and concessions in each metropolitan area.

There are, therefore, good grounds for fears about the future of these concessionary fares for the elderly, the disabled, and the blind. They are all at risk unless we can clarify the position. These amendments are an attempt to clear up the ambiguity that exists in Clause 38 and Schedule 12 as they are printed at the moment.

I appreciate—and I do not have to repeat it at this late hour of the night—that most Members here will know the tremendous boon that travel concessions have been to the elderly and disabled. Those of us who still mix among our local people in the voluntary organisations will know that, because of these concessions, people are able, for the first time for many years, to get about, to travel, to visit places and people. They are, as I said, a real boon to people in those circumstances. At this point many of us are becoming committed to and interested in sponsoring and furthering schemes to bring in these old people who can now travel to all sorts of places. We intend to harness their expertise, experience, and skills to teach the youngsters who can be brought to those centres and so on. I think that this is a really worthwhile project and a very great experiment. It is one example of a project that would be in danger if these concessions were abolished or tinkered with in any way.

I hope that with those few words—there is scope for a long speech on the question of concessionary fares—and with the amendments themselves the Government will see fit to accept that this clause needs clarification, particularly in the area of concessionary fares, and that they will accept the amendments. I beg to move.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

While I have considerable sympathy with many of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, I cannot at all see that these amendments do the job that he suggests. I strongly support concessionary fares, and anyone who has worked in social services is well aware of their great social benefit and of the benefit to the health of those who are able to have them.

Amendment No. 128ZA says: at end insert ('and for securing that certain of those functions'"— it does not even specify what functions— 'are exercised on terms no less favourable'"— it does not say to whom they are favourable, be they the passenger authority or the passengers— 'than they are exercised immediately before the abolition date.') The noble Lord, Lord Stallard, referred to ambiguity, but this amendment is so ambiguous in itself that it is of no help in securing any comment on concessionary fares.

I do not know whether he also spoke to Amendment No. 128B, but paragraph (a) of that is not acceptable. I know from my own experience that certain experimental schemes were introduced immediately before London Transport was handed over to the transport authority, and they were ideas that even in this House were not thought appropriate.

I remember the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, and I discussing how the morning concession hour was not very suitable, because it was affecting people getting to work, although the evening hour was eminently suitable to continue, and there was a great debate at that time. Although I should like to be confident—and I am convinced that the Government must intend that concessionary fares continue—I do not think that these amendments are the way to ensure it. So for that reason I do not support them.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

I should like to support my noble friend Lord Stallard. I think all Members of this Committee who know my noble friend will appreciate the long service that he has given in the London area in helping those who are disadvantaged in all fields, whether they be the disabled, the elderly or the homeless. Because he feels so strongly about the matter, I give him my support.

As regards what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, this amendment applies to the metropolitan authorities. London Transport has already been dealt with and so this amendment has to do with metropolitan authorities. If you are elderly or disabled, you will still be able to travel in the West Midlands at the concessionary fare until 11 o'clock at night, and so it is not too late for me to have the attention of noble Lords tonight.

Over the last five weeks I have had more letters and petitions about this amendment than I have had during the whole 10 years that I have been a Member of your Lordships' House. Only last week, I had three very large petitions—not encouraged by me—from the WRVS organisations, which have Darby and Joan clubs in the West Midlands. I have had many individual letters from elderly people in the Dudley area of the West Midlands, who are concerned that Dudley might pull out of the travel concessions when this Bill goes through. I have also had at least 50 letters from women's institutes and co-operative women's guilds, who are all concerned that they might lose the companionship that comes from being able to travel to their clubs and organisations at the concessionary fares.

Birmingham, from where I come, has the largest transport undertaking in the West Midlands, and free travel concessions for the elderly and disabled were included in a Labour manifesto. Then, when the Labour Party again controlled Birmingham City Council in 1954, they agreed that free travel should be given. Arising from that, a so-called Independent challenged the local authority and I think it was the Birmingham local authority who, for the last time, called two towns meetings which supported the local authority. Can your Lordships imagine trying to call a towns meeting when you have 1½ million inhabitants?

If your Lordships go into the Library, you will be able to read how that same individual appealed to this noble House to do down what the Birmingham Labour Party wanted to do because it was contained in its manifesto. Fortunately, the appeal was upheld on behalf of the local authority. Therefore, Birmingham, the largest undertaking in the West Midlands, got its free travel through real democratic procedures, and did so the hard way. I say that because much time has been spent in this Chamber talking about manifestos which did not involve the hard grind through which the West Midlands had to pass.

10.45 p.m.

I would suggest, as my noble friend has suggested, that the travel concessions can really be cost-effective. This was the point that the noble Baroness mentioned. If people can get out of their homes and, as many of them would say, get away from the four walls that surround them, they can overcome loneliness. People say to you, "Somebody always talks to you on the bus". If you live a very lonely life that is very important to you. It can be cost-effective because it prevents the use of the social services and no doubt doctors' services.

In conclusion, in supporting my noble friend, I would say that to cut off travel concessions would be unfeeling and uncaring. I feel sure that the Government would not want to be classified as unfeeling or uncaring. Therefore I plead with the Minister to make it a duty of the new passenger transport authorities to retain the concessionary travel arrangements that they inherit.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

I defer to the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, but I have to oppose this amendment because, with respect to him, I think that his concern is misconceived. As to the first point that he raised, as I construe Clause 38, it is a transfer of all functions. No doubt I shall be corrected if I am wrong.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal; of course we are not concerned with London transport—it is not in the Bill—we are concerned with the metropolitan county passenger transport authorities which operate under Schedule 12. But where is the misconception? I would suggest that perhaps it is here. They will be under a statutory duty under the Transport Bill now before Parliament. Under this Bill the groups that will be eligible for travel concessions remain the same as under the Transport Act 1968, but with the addition of children. I think that that is achieved in Clause 138(5) of the Transport Bill.

To import the inflexibility and the rigidity, to maintain in perpetuity a minimum of terms which obtain before abolition date, appears to me to be wholly inappropriate. It would constitute an unnecessary and unacceptable fetter upon the manner in which the process of devolution of power under the principle of the Bill is supposed to operate. It is understood that it is proposed to amend the Transport Bill which is now before Parliament to oblige private operators to take part in local authority travel concession schemes. No doubt my noble friend the Minister, when he comes to reply, will deal with this.

Is it not therefore plain that travel concessions as such are not under attack at all? Is it not wholly inappropriate to lay down mandatory minimum terms for these metropolitan county passenger authorities which operate under Schedule 12 of the Bill? The suggestion that the Government are unfeeling or that there is any chain of causation in logic from the setting of a precept to the terms of the concessionary fares would be, I suggest, to stretch imagination far too far.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

Perhaps I may help the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, in construing this amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Stallard. The noble Baroness made only two objections to the amendment. She said, first, that some of its terms were vague. She cited two examples. She said that the word "functions" in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, was vague.

The noble Baroness went on to say that the phrase, on terms no less favourable than they are exercised immediately before the abolition date was vague because it did not indicate to whom those terms applied.

With respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes—and I have, very sincerely, the highest respect for the tremendous work she has done for local government over the past few years—the word "functions" in the amendment is perfectly clear. If one reads Clause 38, one finds that the functions are there defined. It states that the object of Schedule 12 is, as from the abolition date, for transferring functions relating to passenger transport". Therefore, that is an adequate definition of the functions for the purposes of this Bill. The clause goes on to make it clear that it is not the GLC that is concerned; that the functions relating to passenger transport are to be transferred to the metropolitan county passenger transport authorities.

As to whom the terms apply, that is made perfectly clear if one reads the proposed amendment with Clause 38. The amendment makes it clear that the terms applying on terms no less favourable must be for the passengers.

With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, I did my best to follow his argument. I understood him to refer to Clause 138 of the Transport Bill which is still before the other place; therefore I was not able to follow the argument he put forward so eloquently, in his fashion, in that respect. That is entirely my fault, no doubt; nevertherless, I do not believe that the objections raised by Members opposite so far take away from the value of this amendment. I support most strongly what has been said by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord. Lord Stallard.

Baroness Lockwood

I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, missed a very important point made by my noble friend Lady Fisher in relation to concessionary fares. At present, concessionary fares apply across the whole of a county. If one of the district authorities decided to contract out of the passenger transport organisation and set up its own passenger transport service, then it would be possible for that particular district to fix a concessionary fare—perhaps at a different level, or in any case at a level which could apply only to that particular district. In the conurbations, it is very important that the people to whom concessionary fares are available should be able to travel freely across the whole of the conurbation at the same charge.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I, too, share the desire to preserve concessionary fares and agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, and with others who have spoken that they are indeed a tremendous boon to the elderly and the disabled, However, these amendments, if accepted, would place specific restrictions on the powers of the PTAs which would apply to no other local authority outside London. Over the rest of the country it has always been the case that local authorities had full responsibility for taking their own decisions about the level of benefits to be provided through concessionary fares. The amendments would remove that power in the case of the PTAs, binding them indefinitely to decisions taken at a particular point in time by their predecessors.

Yet the importance which local authorities attach to their discretion in these matters is surely confirmed by the significant differences between some of the schemes operated in the metropolitan counties under the existing legislation.

Four of the counties operate schemes at present based on free fares, while Greater Manchester has a standard fare of 10p and West Yorkshire a half-fare scheme, although I understand that it is considering proposals to replace this with free travel. The Government have no wish to remove the scope for the PTAs or any class of local authority to use their own discretion in these matters.

The power of local authorities to take their own decisions on concessionary fares will be preserved by the Transport Bill, which has just completed its Committee stage in another place, as I believe the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, pointed out. The definitions of the groups eligible to receive concessionary fares will remain precisely the same as they are under the 1968 Act, with the addition of children where the powers of the shire county councils have been in some doubt. This is a point made by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway. The powers of the metropolitan county councils to provide concessionary fares for children were specifically confirmed in the 1983 Act. What the Bill will do, however, is extend participation in concessionary fare schemes to all operators, both public and private. That represents a very real advance, from the point of view of pensioners and disabled people, on the present situation where authorities have the power to restrict the usage of their schemes to a limited range of operators. I confirm what my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway said, that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has given an undertaking in another place to amend the Bill to give local authorities a power to oblige operators to take part in their schemes.

I see no reason to believe that the PTAs will seek to restrict the extent to which their schemes cover the needs of all three groups listed in the 1968 Act; that is, pensioners, blind people and the physically handicapped. All the schemes operated by the MCCs apply to all three groups, and I would have thought it rather insulting to the members of the PTAs to suggest, as the amendments do, that they might wish to restrict that coverage in future.

Noble Lords have suggested that expenditure precept control would affect concessionary fares. Noble Lords have drawn attention to the discrepancy between the figures in the White Paper and the provision for 1985–86. These two figures are not, and were not intended to be, directly comparable. The first records what the local authorities were actually spending in 1984–85 and the second represents the provision made by the Government for what they regard as the appropriate level of expenditure on concessionary fares in 1985–86. That provision is in line with the provision made by the Government for this service in earlier years. The provision has, in fact, been increased in line with inflation. Local authorities are, however, free to make their own decisions about spending priorities within the resources available to them. As the figures show, their view about the level of spending on this item which was appropriate in 1984–85 was different from that of the Government. This position will not change in the future. Local authorities will still be able to make their own decisions within the limits of their overall resources.

Noble Lords have drawn attention to the fact that the overall expenditure of the new joint boards will be subject to the precept control set by the Secretary of State during the first three years of operation; but the expenditure level set by the Secretary of State will be a single figure covering all the services provided by the joint board—not only concessionary fares and general revenue support for buses and commuter rail services, but also debt charges, professional and technical services, tunnels and airports. These, incidentally, are what the functions of the PTAs will be. It will be for the joint boards to make their own decisions about the expenditure to be allocated to concessionary fares within that total.

It is true that the Government have never made any secret of their belief that the current level of spending on the general revenue support for public transport services in the metropolitan counties is excessive and needs to be brought down to more reasonable levels. It has, after all, doubled in real terms since 1979–80. But we have never suggested that the same consideration would necessarily apply to concessionary fares and that is why, when we took power in the Transport Act 1983, the Secretary of State indicated to the metropolitan counties the amount of expenditure and revenue support which he believed was appropriate for each of them. When we established the PEL system we deliberately excluded concessionary fares from the coverage of it. When in June of last year we gave preliminary advice to the PTEs about the need to bring revenue support down to the level of provision thought appropriate by the Government over the three years of the planning period under the 1983 Act, that advice applied to revenue support and not to concessionary fares.

11 p.m.

I hope I have been able to satisfy some of the concerns expressed by noble Lords who moved the amendment, but I would say that the amendments would place restrictions on the discretionary responsibility of the PTAs which do not apply to other authorities with similar powers to provide these fares. I would therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Kilmarnock

Before the noble Lord sits down, would he not agree that the action of this Bill and the Transport Bill as he has outlined it to us and when it comes to us, coupled with the precept control in this Bill, would be likely on the whole to diminish concessionary fares for elderly people? That being the case, do the Government not agree that they ought to keep this area under review? What would they do if they found that concessionary fares were being diminished across the country?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I think I said that it is up to the PTAs within their precept control to decide for themselves how best to spend the money. I also said that we consider that revenue support has over the years been too high. I would suggest that they should look for savings, or increased fares perhaps, for ordinary travellers and hold the concessionary fares.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

Can the noble Lord tell us what he means by revenue support being too high? Does he mean that everybody has been travelling on the cheap and some cheaper than others? What does he really mean by that phrase?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I think I mean more or less that everybody has been travelling extremely cheaply in certain districts. As I said, revenue support has doubled in real terms since 1979–80. In the same period the shire counties have kept their support to the rate of inflation.

Lord Stallard

I am grateful to noble Lords on both sides of the Committee for their support of the amendments, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes. I admire the work that she has done in this field in London on the councils on which she has served. But I was surprised and saddened when she said that she supported most of what we said but did not quite agree with the amendments and felt that they were not clear enough. Had she said that she would come forward with a clearer amendment of her own or help me to draft a better one if this one was not drafted properly, I should have been only too happy. It is disappointing if that is the only point of disagreement.

Likewise, I tried to follow the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, but he took us to the Transport Bill, which is not yet before the House. Like his noble friend the Minister, he seemed to be dealing with a debate pitched some months ahead when the Transport Bill may come to this House, an amendment on concessionary fares may be moved and some of us may speak on he amendment. I do not think that he really answered the points raised tonight. Obviously we do not have time to go into all the ramifications of those things tonight, but we shall come back to this.

Need I say that, to say the least, I am disappointed, as will be thousands of people outside who are concerned about what I call the ambiguity of the clause and schedule? The provisions could have been tightened up. If noble Lords thought that the drafting of the amendment was incorrect, the Government could have offered to assist if they accepted it in all other respects. I am not too big to accept their assistance. But that is not what they did. I am extremely disappointed. I shall read the debate very carefully tomorrow. I reserve my position to come back to the subject at the Report stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 128A had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Clause 38 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 128B not moved.]

[Amendment No. 129 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Schedule 12 agreed to.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 129A: After Clause 38, insert the following new clause:

("Reports on highways and passenger transport.

.—(1) The Secretary of State shall each year prepare and on the anniversary of the abolition date lay before each House of Parliament a report on the performance by each of the joint authorities for highways and passenger transport established under this Part of the Act of the functions transferred to it under this Part of this Act.

(2) Each report prepared under this section shall include details of—

  1. (a) the level of service provided by the joint authority;
  2. (b) the total expenditure of the joint authority; and
  3. (c) the number of staff employed by the joint authority.").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 129A. I am very conscious of the lateness of the hour. We have been discussing this matter so fully that a fairly brief resume of what is implied and what is asked for in the new clause will suffice, I am sure, to inform the Committee of the purpose of this amendment.

The purpose of the new clause is to require to be laid before Parliament annual reports on the performance of the new passenger transport authorities established by Clause 27 of the Bill. At present the metropolitan county councils set out each year their policies and programmes outlining the past, current and proposed level of transport provision and finance. These transport policies and programmes, or the TPPs (as they have become known) are very important documents. They allow for the publication of the plans, the annual reports, the budgets, and give detailed presentation of county-wide needs and priorities, level of service, expenditure and staffing levels. The new clause seeks to ensure that this level of public accountability must continue.

If the Secretary of State is to decide the joint boards' finance and manpower, as he is at present under the Bill, he should be answerable to Parliament for the consequences of his decisions and his actions. There are real fears that the Government will impose on the transport joint boards financial constraints which could have a serious impact on the level of service. If these restrictions on the service of public transport have to be the consequences of Government action, then Parliament should be kept informed.

The Secretary of State should report to Parliament on an annual basis, giving a full analysis of the level of service provided by the joint authorities. I believe that these are modest proposals. As I have said, these reports are already provided by the metropolitan counties. I believe they are the kind of proposals which the board of any private company would assume it would have to implement in relation to its shareholders. Therefore I commend this new clause to the Committee. I beg to move.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My hope is that my noble friend the Minister may look favourably on this. It is a reasonable request. It would provide public safeguard. It is something that is worthy of consideration.

Lord Elton

I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, would do me a kindness and save the Committee a little time by referring to the remarks which I made in my first brief response to the amendment of his noble friend Lord Mishcon; in a similar sense I refer to what I said on Amendment No. 127Z in relation to reports on fire and police services. I had expected the amendments to be taken together and everything I said in response to that amendment related also to this.

However, I did not deal specifically with transport matters. I will tell the noble Lord that the passenger transport executives, the PTEs, and the passenger transport authorities, the PTAs, are already required, by Section 16(1) of the Transport Act 1968 to produce and publish joint annual reports on the exercise and performance of their respective functions. The reports contain a substantial amount of information. As I am sure the noble Lord knows, a typical report will have sections covering, among other things, bus operations, rail operations, finance, personnel, engineering and property.

The PTEs are required under Section 3 of the Transport Act 1983 to prepare each year a plan containing their proposals for the following three years in respect of services and fares and their assumptions of revenue support. The plans which are published have to be accompanied by estimates of their costs, the demand for their services and the benefits to potential users. Subject to only limited amendment by the Transport Bill, these requirements, I can reassure the noble Lord, will remain. The reports and plans prepared in accordance with them will provide a very comprehensive picture of past performance and future intentions. The reports envisaged by the noble Lords will contain no information which was not already publicly available. They would merely create an unnecessary additional task for the Government and the PTAs. Given that what the noble Lord wants is to preserve the safeguards, and given the fact that they are preserved, I hope the noble Lord will be content with that.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. I think there is a slight difference, since he is going to have such responsibility now, in not providing the reports direct to Parliament, but I do see the point he has made and think perhaps when we get to the Transport Bill there will be an opportunity to probe further. So with his reassurance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 39. [Airports]:

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 129B: Page 24, line 21, leave out subsections (1) and (2) and insert— ("(1) In the case of any airport in respect of which a metropolitan county council has property, rights or liabilities, the Secretary of State shall by an order coming into force on the abolition date provide for the transfer of the property, rights and liabilities of the metropolitan county council in respect of the airport to the metropolitan county passenger transport authority.")

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 129B removes a misunderstanding. The proposed amendment provides for the direct statutory transfer of the metropolitan counties' interest in airports to the passenger transport joint boards. The reason for this is threefold. Each airport serves the whole of its county area, not just a part of the area. The commercial and industrial interests of the whole county would be affected if the future of any airport was put at stake. The passenger transport joint boards are now under Amendment No. 58D, which was discussed last week, the effective strategic transport authority of the county area, and it seems only logical and common sense that they should assume responsibility for the airports so that co-ordinated transport planning can continue.

The joint board provides a greater degree of certainty (and this is the real purpose of the amendment, to remove uncertainty) for decision-making than any form of voluntary co-operation. They are given the ability to precept and once the decision was taken, it would be more certain of implementation. Other co-operative arrangements would require each participating authority, in some cases as many as 10, to ratify every decision before progress could be made. Without that degree of certainty, essential investment in a field that is growing rapidly all the time would be likely to suffer. There is concern that agreement will not be reached. This has prompted the Government to seek the reserve powers in the Bill, and it surely makes sense to avoid uncertainty immediately. That was a view endorsed by the Committee on the 9th May, when reaching its decision on waste disposal arrangements for which similar reserve powers also exist in the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

As the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, explained, his amendment would require MCCs' interests in airports to be transferred by order to the metropolitan county PTA. It removes the prior option for the metropolitan district councils to agree on the distribution of those interests among themselves, and on voluntary arrangements for the continued operation of the airports.

Let me briefly sketch out the background to Clause 39. Greater Manchester, Tyne and Wear, West Yorkshire, Merseyside and West Midlands MCCs have interests of some sort in the relevant regional airport. The extent of those interests varies, both legally and financially. Manchester is 50 per cent. owned by the Greater Manchester Council and 50 per cent. owned by the Manchester City Council. There is a joint committee. Incidentally, that seems to work extremely well, so there is no reason why that should not work. Again, Newcastle is split between Tyne and Wear, which have 72 per cent., and Durham County Council with 14 per cent. and Northumberland which have 14 per cent. Leeds/Bradford airport is 33⅓ per cent. owned by West Yorkshire MCC and one third owned by Leeds Metropolitan District Council and Bradford Metropolitan District Council. So there is no reason why joint committees should not work. The MCCs' interests in these consist of the right to make appointments to those committees, and to share in the financial benefits and liabilities. Clause 39 provides for those interests to be transferred, by order, either directly to the metropolitan district councils or, only if they fail to agree on the operation of the airport by a committee of districts, to the relevant metropolitan county PTA. I f they wish, the districts may make voluntary arrangements to take over the MCC interests and, with any other co-owners, run the airport. If they do not wish to do so, they may allow the interests to be transferred to them acting jointly within the statutory context of the PTA. This, in the Government's opinion, provides a proper and democratic choice.

It is a choice which I believe should be offered, because it would allow some districts, if they so wished and if the other districts in the metropolitan county agreed, to take no part in the running of an airport and to renounce their rights to any interests in it. That must be sensible. It would allow the interests to pass to those districts which have sufficient interest and enthusiasm to wish to run their local airport.

I believe that this amendment would both unnecessarily restrict the districts' free choice and run counter to the best interests of the airports. I hope therefore that it will not be pressed.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I am grateful to the noble Lord for explaining one or two points that were perhaps confusing. I would suggest, however, that the proposals in the Bill could lead to as many as 10 different authorities having a finger in a particular airport. The examples given by the noble Lord involved two or three authorities. In respect of Manchester, he was talking about two very powerful authorities. I shall, however, study the noble Lord's reply carefully. I am grateful for what he has said, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 39 agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 130, 131, 131A, 132 and 132A not moved.]

Clause 40 agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 132B, 132C and 132D not moved.]

Clause 41 agreed to.

Lord Denham

This is the position, I believe, that has been agreed through the usual channels that we should reach tonight. I beg to move that the House do now resume.

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

House resumed.