§ 4.24 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Elton)
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee. — (Lord Elton.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD in the Chair.]
§ Clause 51 [Compensation for loss of office or diminution of emoluments]:
Lord Winstanley moved Amendment No. 136B:
Page 35, line 9, after ("1972") insert ("such regulations to be made by the Secretary of State and to provide for compensation giving benefits broadly comparable to, or greater than, those available prior to 2nd March 1984 to employees in any similar local authority affected by this Act").
§ The noble Lord said: With this amendment we return to the various amendments which seek to provide greater protection for staff than is now given explicitly in this Bill. I say "explicitly" and underline "explicitly" because very late last night, in response to an amendment similar to mine, the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, gave us a very reassuring reply; although the noble Earl will know that since the hour was so very late we have not had an opportunity to study the Hansard report which is not yet available, so we cannot know precisely how reassuring that reply was. But it seemed to me that the Government were showing a willingness to make explicit in the Bill certain things which perhaps they intended to do, anyway.
§ This amendment is proposed as a means of equalising the schemes for compensation payments to staff who are made redundant. As the noble Earl and indeed the Committee well know, this Bill would limit compensation payments to those payable under regulations made by the Secretary of State under the Superannuation Act 1972 except that it allows any payments to which an employee is contractually entitled under any scheme introduced before 2nd March 1984. It is that particular provision which has caused great concern among staff in the relevant authorities.
§ Prior to 2nd March 1984, three, I think, of the seven authorities to be abolished introduced enhanced schemes for compensating staff made redundant in 184 anticipation of abolition. On that date the Secretary of State announced that no further such schemes would be permitted. This clause as it now is reflects that statement. The staff in the authorities who did not have a scheme agreed are thus excluded even though in some cases schemes were drafted and were subsequently adopted.
§ I should like to make it clear that I fully accept that the Government could not possibly have allowed authorities to enter into binding contractual obligations without any restraint whatsoever. I hope the noble Earl will recognise that I accept that. But I was saying to your Lordships' Committee that we have now passed that stage. The Government are now apparently happy with those agreements which were made prior to 2nd March, but this has of course left others in other authorities in a very different situation indeed.
§ This amendment has three main objectives: first, to provide equality of treatment for staff in all the affected authorities. At the moment, they do not all have equality of treatment. It would appear that some staff in some authorities are perhaps treated more equally than others. Certainly there is no genuine equality across the board. Secondly, it aims to encourage staff to stay with the authorities until abolition to ensure the maintenance of services. That really is a serious problem and the loss of some of the staff at the moment is possibly having a serious effect already and indeed has other potential effects for the future. Anything which we could do to halt that drain of very valuable staff should now be done and this measure could perhaps assist in halting that drain.
§ Thirdly and finally, this amendment aims to ensure that compensation payments are at reasonable levels. If those levels which were agreed before 2nd March 1984 are accepted now as reasonable—presumably the Government do accept them as reasonable, because they allow them in the Bill as it now is—it necessarily follows that those arrived at subsequently on less favourable terms are unreasonable. It seems to me that some effort should be made to equalise these things, and I very much hope that when the Minister replies we will hear that some efforts are being made. I beg to move.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
May we have some help? Can we speak only to Amendment No. 136B or is it in order to speak to other amendments?
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
My information is that we are going to take Amendment No. 136B and my amendment, Amendment No. 136BA, together, because they deal with the same problem although they are worded differently. I rise to move my amendment which is, as I said, very similar to the amendment. moved by the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley.Amendment No. 136BA: Page 35, line 15, leave out ("2nd March 1984") and insert ("the passing of this Act").
§ The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Nugent of Guildford)
The noble Lord cannot move his amendment now. He can debate it but it has to be moved later.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
We can debate this subject as guided by the noble Lord in the Chair. With many other noble Lords I have sat for a great number of days on the Committee stage of this Bill. We discussed various wide-ranging subjects which have had plenty of time on the Floor of the Committee with, on odd occasions, setbacks for the Government. These wide-ranging debates have covered such subjects as refuse disposal, road plans, and so on. However, this amendment is dealing with the most valuable commodity that we are handling in the present circumstances. Probably most of your Lordships are familiar with the figures I am about to give, but I have to tell noble Lords that we are talking about 51,000 people employed in the GLC and the six metropolitan counties. But it does not end there, because dependent on those 51,000 people are a number of other people, such as the families, who are sustained by the fact that these people are in regular, constant and reasonable work.
It seems odd to me that we have had to get this far in our procedures before we have been able to talk on this subject. I think that the Minister, in his reply to the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, last night, briefly referred to the fact that there has been little discussion, if any, with the full-time officers of the trade unions involved. I believe I am correct in saying that that was the message he conveyed. I do not want to go into the reasons for that but I regret it, because it may well be that had that process taken place some of the debates that we are now having could have been avoided. I have said before in this Chamber, and will say it again and will always say, that the best people for resolving and agreeing to terms of employment and contracts of employment are the people involved; that is, the employers and the employees, which in this case would be the successor authorities.
It is a fact, as the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, said, that there are three counties that have already put these schemes into being. I have made inquiries and understand that there was no local political friction regarding them. The three counties concerned are West Yorkshire, with over 7,000 employees; Merseyside with over 5,000 employees and Greater Manchester with over 7,000 employees. These schemes were brought in with the general support of the councils concerned. As I understand it, there was no visible opposition from the Conservative Oppositions in those areas.
I think that my amendment is certainly more easily understandable than the amendment so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley. I do not want to delay the Committee on this issue because it is so straightforward that the Minister may want to reply fairly quickly. The three metropolitan counties who have their proposals literally through the sausage machine and have them accepted should obviously stay as they are. I can understand the guarded stance taken by the Minister in putting an embargo or moratorium on the other three metropolitan counties doing the same, and then on the GLC. However, it is alien to all members of the Committee that we should have two sets of circumstances applying to the people involved in the same jobs and to their transfer.
I have to tell noble Lords, as one who was involved very heavily during the previous local government 186 reorganisation as the then leader of Manchester, that while many of the people who went into these jobs were senior officers (obviously they opted to do so because the wage or salary structures were made so generous by the commission which was, I believe, chaired by the late Lord Greenwood) along with them had to go many other people: literally hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of employees, very often in the manual grades, because there was nowhere else to go. It was Hobson's choice.
It is a little unfair—and I know the Minister to be a fair man although we differ on occasions—that 10 years after the Government should say to these people "We have had a 10-year experiment but it has failed". As a result they will be the only sufferers. Redundancies will take place. Figures have been mentioned but no one really knows the full effect. The noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, made the point that these three metropolitan counties have already passed their schemes, so it would be just a question of the date being altered, as proposed in my amendment, to allow the employees to partake of the terms already agreed by the other three authorities.
I conclude by saying that the schemes are not over generous. They are not so generous as a code that was adopted some years ago—I understand it was the Crombie code—when a change took place which was in most ways considerably in excess of this one. I said I did not want to detain the Committee for long. This is a straightforward issue and on that basis I ask the Committee to support my amendment.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
I want to put one question for answer by my noble friend when he replies, as I hope he will be doing shortly. The tone of the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, was moderate and reasonable, as it so often is, and pitched in a way that the Committee likes. However, he touched on the point that I should like my noble friend to deal with. I refer to the matter of discussions with the staff concerned. The noble Lord said that there had been very little discussion with the full-time officers of the unions concerned. I ask my noble friend to tell us whether the unions have, in fact, been ready to go into discussions, or whether the reports which we have seen in the press that under, no doubt, inspiration of a political character they have been disinclined so to do.
At the same time I ask my noble friend whether, particularly in the case of the GLC as reported in the press, the staff concerned will not enter into discussions with the successor authorities and regard themselves as inhibited from so doing. A good deal has been said about this. It is rather disturbing and I hope that my noble friend will take the opportunity of dealing with the issue when he replies to the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick.
§ Lord Plummer of St. Marylebone
I wish to express my concern for the staff of the GLC and the way they are to be treated in this giant upheaval. The greatest asset that any organisation has is its staff and it is very important that they should be fairly treated. It is not their fault, speaking of the GLC in particular, that they have irresponsible masters who appear to have prevented them from opening these discussions to which the noble Lord referred.
187 The compensation terms and staff transfer arrangements for the GLC are, I believe, unsatisfactory compared with previous reorganisations. This situation has been made worse because the administrative task of dispersing thousands of staff to the successor bodies cannot be achieved, even taking the most optimistic view, within the limited timetable proposed by the Government. To give an example, the transfer of the GLC housing related staff alone to the borough of Tower Hamlets, with effect from 1st July 1985, required two years' preparation; and this was for a discreet function moving only to one borough.
How then can this massive transfer be made in the short time before 1st April 1986? These impediments, coupled with the fact that the terms of the compensation are less favourable than those payable in the statutory reorganisations ever since 1948—during which time I believe they have been applied on some 20 occasions—are unlikely, to say the least, to encourage staff to co-operate unless the terms are improved. It is clear that in the preparatory period before 1st April 1986 the success of the abolition proposals of the Government will be heavily dependent on staff co-operation. Staff who may suffer loss of employment or other detriment will not be motivated to co-operate if they consider that they are being treated unfairly compared with what happened in the previous reorganisations. Indeed, it is ironic that the more favourable terms are to be applied to the GLC staff transferring to the borough of Tower Hamlets with the GLC housing stock in July 1985.
I should like to ask the Minister whether he feels that services can be protected if, unlike what happened in previous reorganisations, staff are not transferred with the work they are doing; also, why, unlike under previous reorganisations, the Secretary of State has not obliged the exporting authorities to draw up staff transfer schemes; and, finally, why, unlike under previous reorganisations, employees and individuals are being denied the basic rights of consultation and appeal. Those are my fears and I hope that reassurance can be given on those points.
The Earl of Gowrie
Before my noble friend sits down, may I say that he presents me with a slight quandary? The very questions that he has asked I dealt with in considerable detail, and I think offered reassurances on, on an amendment last night. I do not know whether it would try the patience of your Lordships' Committee if I simply repeated what I said. May I therefore suggest that my noble friend, not in respect of his remarks about the amendment generally but in respect of his last remarks about this reorganisation compared with previous ones, should read in Hansard tomorrow what I said last night, and if he is not happy, he can of course then come back on Report?
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
Of course all noble Lords share the concern for the staff of the GLC and indeed considerable concern about the problems that have arisen on trades union negotiation. But, dealing 188 with the reasoning behind the speech of my noble friend Lord Plummer, surely that essence of reasoning must support elasticity and a voluntary scheme which is wholly different from mandatory legislation and the principle of imposing a fetter on the way in which the boroughs are to function after abolition. We come back over and over again to the question, in different manifestations, as to whether we are to fetter the discretion of the boroughs after abolition.
There it is. Whatever else they do these amendments seek to pre-empt the content of subordinate legislation by introducing mandatory provisions. They are mandatory provisions which are to require that compensation shall be comparable to or greater than that which would have obtained under the terms of the dismissal provisions in contracts of employment, whether in writing, or in this case with these employees very often by custom, on the basis of—and here we go (and I think that it is fairly complicated) to Clause 51(2) —Compensation in respect of any such loss or diminution".That arises irrespective of whether on abolition the new engagement is taken up outside or within local government service or whether no new engagement is taken up at all either because no such engagement is offered or because there is no wish to take up the offer.
It is entirely right that the compensation should be related to that which was available prior to 2nd March 1984 by virtue of entitlement under contractual rights. The 2nd March was the date when the Government announced their intentions. Although it is common ground, I think, that certain salaries of those in local government service have been grossly excessive, the right to that remuneration and compensation should not be affected by that; hence the date. Indeed, the Commission of Human Rights, or if it did not, the court, would take the view that in any event such rights could not be removed without compensation, irrespective of whether it was alleged that they were to some extent abuses of the rating system.
But the further amendment, Amendment No. 136BC, if it is in order to speak to it—I think that it has been spoken to—binds successor councils on re-engagement—
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
It has not. I am much obliged to the noble Lord. Then I would merely have submitted on the single amendment, Amendment No. 136B—I understood that the other one had been spoken to, but I am wrong about that—
It was Amendment No. 136BA which was spoken to together with Amendment No. 136B. They are on virtually the same point.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
I am much obliged to the noble Lord for putting me right. Amendment No. 136BA really cannot be acceptable. If it were carried, it would lead to a further abuse of the rating system to fund compensation through the residuary body on the basis of salaries which have been even further inflated, and consciously inflated, since the date of the 189 announcement. In my submission, that cannot be right on any showing.
For those reasons—and I hope that I have been sufficiently brief—it would, I should have thought, be wholly wrong to put persons in local government employment in some special legal condition beyond such as is warranted by their terms and conditions of service either under the common law on termination of contract or by statute on termination for redundancy. There your Lordships' Committee will find the cross-reference to Clause 57(3) in the Bill which deals with the entitlement to damages at common law in the case of no continuation of employment, in addition of course to the redundancy payment. As your Lordships appreciated, if there is a continuation of local government service, there is no redundancy in any event.
§ Lord Rochester
Briefly, may I say that it will not surprise the Committee to learn that I find myself much more in sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Plummer, had to say than with what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, has just said. If I may, I should like briefly to support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Winstanley. I am equally happy to support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dean. In my view, broadly they both seek to achieve the same purpose.
The principle is quite straightforward. Where redundancies have to be enforced, surely it is inequitable that compensation for loss of office payable to people currently employed by certain metropolitan county councils should be greater than that available to people employed in other such councils simply because in some cases more favourable severance schemes were adopted just before the date of 2nd March 1984, which was arbitrarily, if I may say so, determined by the Government as the cut-off point for the introduction of such schemes.
As I see it, both these amendments seek, in somewhat different ways, to give equality of treatment to people losing their jobs in consequence of reorganisation. The principle involved seems unexceptionable. I hope very much that the noble Earl, when he replies in a moment, will resist the blandishments of his noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway and respond in a positive way to at least one or other of these amendments.
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
I shall be equally brief. I should like to support both the amendments which have really the same end product, if one can so describe it. One has to take into consideration what was said by the noble Lord who has just spoken. Because of the way they were organising their annual review, three metropolitan counties were able to bring forward their severance schemes before 2nd March. At the moment, I am not discussing the GLC. The other three metropolitan counties were not so far advanced. However, I understand that the West Midlands were placing theirs before their financial resources committee at the beginning of July and it was a case of putting their suggestions through all the voluntary bodies, all the various committees.
190 The amendment relates to severance schemes. One knows that it was the Government's proposal that abolition of the metropolitan counties and the GLC was to secure cash economies. Those cash economies arise from cutting the numbers of staff employed in what they call the two-tier authorities. I think it would be most unfortunate if one half of the metropolitan counties was dealt with in one way on severance schemes and the other half dealt with in a lesser way. I feel sure that the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, will not want to be as unfair as that. Therefore, I should like to feel that when the noble Earl replies, if he does not accept the amendment, he will say that he will look very seriously at the implications that could arise in relation to the metroplitan counties.
The Earl of Gowrie
If I may, I, too, will speak to this amendment and to Amendment No. 136BA in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick. When the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, moved this amendment he was kind enough to say that at a very late hour last night I had provided some reassurance. I can assure the noble Lord and the Committee, or anyone who was not here at about midnight last night, that this was not a mere matter of a spring midnight but that I meant it and that I hope that it will be looked at carefully when the Official Report is published tomorrow.
Without delaying the Committee by repeating myself, the point I tried to put across was really threefold. It was, first, that this exercise in the abolition of the upper tier of local government is not an exercise about putting those who work in that tier out of work. In the long term it is an exercise which, among other things, is designed to save posts. However, most of the redundancies that have been mentioned have been the subject of very considerable confusion, that is to say, the number of 7,100 posts, which will in the end be saved, has been confused with 7,100 jobs to go, and that is a very different matter indeed.
The other important point is that the vast majority of people who are affected by this exercise are liable to be transferred to the successor bodies. Those left to seek recruitment will be a relatively small proportion of total staff, about 30 per cent., supporting councils which will no longer exist. Most genuinely operational staff engaged on functions can expect to be reemployed by successor authorities. Our insistence is simply that it will be for the successor authorities to recruit them.
I also talked about our desire for a voluntary early retirement scheme of the kind which goes equitably across this whole economy, particularly in the public sector. I mentioned the fact that, since the previous reorganisations, a new body—albeit amended by this Government but nevertheless a substantial body—of employment protection law had come into being and that that was a different situation in the 1980s from that which obtained in the 1960s or in the early 1970s. That was the burden of my general remarks. I hope that for the fine print, so to say, they will be looked at again tomorrow.
In moving his amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, emphasised the consequences of this clause for the staff of the metropolitan county councils, in particular of the West Midlands, who do 191 not have a contractual entitlement to local severance terms. The noble Lord and others have claimed that this is unfair, and that this clause, notably in its retrospective effect, discriminates against the staff of those authorities, who, for one reason or another, were slower to introduce their own schemes.
Our objective is, and always has been, to provide compensation terms which would apply generally to this reorganisation and which are fair both to those staff of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils who are left redundant through no fault of their own and to the ratepayers who will have to bear the costs. The position whereby some of the employees of some authorities will be treated more generously than those of others is not of the Government's making, but arises as a result of the pre-emptive and, I should say, misguided and irresponsible action by some (happily, not all) of the authorities concerned.
As I have said, in deciding what terms we should propose we have had to balance the interests of the staff with the interests of the ratepayers. Not surprisingly, therefore, our proposals, which were set out in the November staffing paper, are not quite as generous as those which the metropolitan county councils' own local schemes provide. However, all the metropolitan county council schemes were introduced by those authorities after we announced our general intentions on compensation in the White Paper in November 1983, and safe in the knowledge that they would not have to bear the resultant costs—they would have been abolished and that problem would fall to their successors. I do not think that is really very responsible behaviour, and it is certainly no sensible basis upon which one can prepare regulations.
Amendment No. 136B would require just that. It would require the terms for which our regulations will provide to match, if not better, those resulting from the various local severance schemes existing at 1st March 1984. Our minds are not closed on compensation terms; indeed we have repeatedly invited the unions and the employers to discuss our proposals without prejudice to their opposition to abolition itself. With my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, who put this to me, I very much regret that most have not taken up this invitation and that the opportunities for discussion are diminishing. I welcome, with my noble friend, the suggestion in the remarks that the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, made, that unions should discuss this matter. I hope that the noble Lord will urge his own honourable and right honourable friends, particularly, in another place, to use their influence in that same sensible direction.
It may be that the unions' reluctance to come to the negotiating table on these matters also reflects the view that many among their metropolitan county councils and GLC branches enjoy a contractual entitlement to terms more generous than our proposals and which the Bill does not disallow. If this is the case, I am sorry to say that the confidence of many of their members could be quite seriously misplaced. The information available to us suggests that none of the staff of three authorities—Tyne and Wear, South Yorkshire and West Midlands—enjoys a contractual entitlement to local terms which he or she obtained before my right 192 honourable friend's announcement last year. The other three metropolitan county councils introduced their schemes before that date, in all probability by giving those staff then in post a contractual entitlement to such terms. However, any individual recruited or who has been re-employed by one of those authorities on a new contract since 1st March 1984 will not have such a contractual entitlement. The position of GLC staff is even more uncertain. The council has local Act powers to make compensation payments in excess of those provided by regulation and its staff code describes a scheme which the GLC has operated. However, we have seen no firm evidence from the GLC to suggest that its staff enjoy a contractual entitlement to enhanced terms.
I have explained these uncertainties at some length but we believe it important that individual GLC and MCC employees should not be misled, either mistakenly or perhaps even deliberately, into believing that they have a right to protected terms which, in practice, under this clause, they do not. The unions' and employers' unwillingness to discuss compensation issues only adds to the uncertainties which their members and employees respectively face.
We hope therefore that unions will yet reconsider their attitude. Our door remains open. But it would be wrong, I believe, to use the MCCs' local severance schemes, adopted, as I have indicated, to anticipate our proposals and without regard to the consequences, and therefore to fetter the negotiating position of my right honourable friend in this way. Against this background, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, will not press his amendment.
Before turning to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, and in connection with the two amendments, my noble friend Lord Plummer has correctly described the difficulties which have arisen with the transfer of staff to the London borough of Tower Hamlets consequent on the transfer of housing. I understand that these difficulties arise from this staff transfer being by statutory order and on the GLC's terms and conditions. In dealing with transfer of functions and property under the Bill, we propose instead that the boroughs should be free to recruit the staff they need on their own terms and conditions. As my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway has shown, this, backed up by detriment compensation, will avoid the problems facing the Tower Hamlets transfer.
The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, would effectively disable the main purpose of this clause. In making the announcement on 1st March 1984—the announcement that foreshadowed the clause—my right honourable friend was following an accepted procedure whereby Governments have sought to ensure that the intended effects of their legislation are not undermined by anticipatory actions. That date is the only date that can be justified. We cannot disallow contractual entitlements obtained before that date and the authorities that have introduced schemes subsequently did so knowing full well that we intended to disallow them in this Bill.
Moreover, this amendment would not merely vary the operative date arbitrarily. It would effectively 193 render irrelevant any discussions with the unions or employers, the very discussions that I have urged should be happening. The amendment would of course allow all the existing local severance schemes to stand provided that they give individuals contractual entitlement. But it would also allow any authority to provide even more generous terms between now and Royal Assent. In providing any such enhancements, the GLC and the MCCs would not need to have regard to the cost of their decisions. I am sure that the Committee will appreciate therefore that the amendment, however well intentioned, would be in the nature of a blank cheque. I hope therefore that the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, who is not an imprudent man, will not seek to press it.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
Does not the Minister in his reply indicate that there are not two sets of conditions? If one has regard to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Plummer—no one could have put it better—there are now three sets of conditions in operation. The people transferred from the GLC, with the housing stock, to the boroughs are in receipt of a scheme that I understand is much more generous than the proposals put by the Government some time last year, I think, as the Minister said. So we really have a dog's breakfast, from whatever angle you look at it. You have people moving through no fault of their own—it is a Government decision that is forcing them to move—who, if the Government's proposals as they stand are accepted, will certainly be at a disadvantage compared to people alongside whom they have worked all their lives who had to move because the Government took a decision on another matter a couple of years in advance.
Both decisions are based on political ideology. I do not grumble about that. But it is only reasonable to accept that people affected by the end product should at least expect fair and equal treatment. I have not seen any particular evidence to substantiate the claim made, I think, by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, of gross inflation of salaries by some of the local authorities in order to inflate severance pay. Certainly I have not met anyone who accuses the people with whom I am in contact. There have been some rather loose reports in the press. Whether those can be substantiated, I do not know.
I have never found in local government any local authority—because of the way salaries are structured under binding national agreements—that is able to do what it wants with the salaries of officers. Like teachers' salaries, they are often restricted within a tight ring fence. Unless there is a clearer assertion by the Minister that he will look sympathetically upon equal treatment and that there will not be three sets of conditions appertaining to people who have had no say in the decision, I am afraid that I must test the view of the Committee.
The Earl of Gowrie
If the noble Lord must, he must. The fact is that there is no way that any Government, in taking the normal legislative provisions for anticipatory action on the part of those affected by proposed legislation, can retain equity for those who got in under the wire. It was, in the Government's view, mischievous of them to make 194 that particular kind of anticipation. I do not think that the settlements before 2nd March 1984 were reasonable. By implication, in view of our terms, they are not reasonable. Indeed, they are over-generous. They create an inequity in regard to subsequent employees. As I say, it is not—
The Earl of Gowrie
I want to make the point. Then, of course, I shall give way. The Government are not in a position to legislate retrospectively to remove contractual rights. Apart from anything else—there are other considerations here—as my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway said, we would run right up against the European Court of Human Rights if we did so; and quite right too.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
I am grateful to the noble Earl for giving way on this point. He has repeated more than once that the schemes that have been brought into being by the three metropolitan counties that have got them through are more generous than they should be. However, it is a fact that they are less generous than the scheme brought in by the previous Secretary of State in the last Conservative Government in order to facilitate the transfer of houses from the GLC to the London boroughs. That is the point that I am making. They are, I understand, quite considerably less generous than what was imposed by Mr. Heseltine when he was Secretary of State.
The Earl of Gowrie
I do not think that anything has changed in my right honourable friend's character between then and now. But the world has become a much rougher place.
The noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, must clearly do as he chooses as regards his own amendment. We have discussed his amendment along with my own Amendment No. 136B. However, I point out that it is Amendment No. 136B which is at present before the Committee. If at a later stage the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, decides to press his own amendment, then that will be another matter.
Having heard the debate on both amendments taking place simultaneously, which is a logical course which has been helpful to your Lordships' Committee, I am bound to say to the noble Lord, Lord Dean, that, of the two amendments, I now, perhaps not surprisingly, marginally prefer my own. However, if I could not have my own amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Dean, should know that I would of course support his amendment.
It seems to me that what we are trying to achieve is equality of treatment in respect of redundancy for employees in the relevant authorities irrespective of the particular authority for which they may happen to work. That is what we all wish to achieve.
I listened with the greatest care to the reply given by the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie. The noble Earl gave a lengthy reply, about which I make no complaint. His reply needed to be lengthy and it was very full. Moreover it was complex and I am sure that the noble Earl will agree that I shall wish to study it with 195 great care in the same way as I shall wish to study what he said last night, which we have not been able to read in the Official Report because it has not yet been printed.
However, there was one particular passage in the noble Earl's reply which I noted and which seemed to imply that he was anxious that, by some means or other, by the time this Bill was finally enacted the treatment of these people in respect of redundancy should have been equalised or been made broadly the same. I noted that that appeared to be his intention by one means or another. There are many means by which that can be done, quite apart from my amendment.
In addition, the noble Earl went on to say that he hoped that by pressing my amendment I would not seek to fetter the Government's hands in their negotiations with the unions. I should perhaps be able to answer that question more clearly if I had a clear understanding of the noble Earl's intention as regards his negotiations with the unions. Indeed, in that respect the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter—who is usually so helpful in clarifying matters in your Lordships' House—on this occasion rather muddied the waters, because the noble Lord directed our attention not to the fact that people are being treated unequally in an area in which they should not be treated unequally, but to the faults of the unions which have perhaps brought about some of the inequality.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
I do not think that "muddying the waters" is a particularly accurate or particularly attractive description of what I was trying to say. I simply asked my noble friend the Minister, who has full knowledge of these matters, whether or not the unions were entering fully and fairly into negotiations. He told us that they were not doing so for doctrinal and political reasons. The noble Lord calls that muddying the waters: I call it clarifying the issue.
If the noble Lord does not like mud I should not dream of throwing any. I would merely say that it seemed to me that the issue had become a little more opaque rather than a little clearer. Perhaps the noble Lord prefers that description.
In my view, if there has been an injustice, it little matters who has caused it—it should be put right. If there has been a fault on the part of the unions, it may be the fault of those unions who are actually getting more than justice rather than those who are not doing so.
The Earl of Gowrie
As we are on the subject of unions, I should like to repeat, perhaps to a marginally wider audience than I enjoyed at midnight last night, the fact that some unions have with great courage defied their national leadership and entered into negotiations with the employers. I hope that more will do so and will find the settlements very reasonable.
I am grateful to the noble Earl for that further clarification. I should like to seek yet more information. If I were right in assuming from what he 196 said that his intention in pursuing negotiations with the various unions—and I gathered that he wished to do so if that were possible—would be to negotiate arrangements whereby the treatment of all the employees of the relevant authorities would become perhaps broadly equal, then I certainly would not wish the Government's hands to be fettered in going about that particular business. However, perhaps the noble Earl will confirm that that would be his intention?
The Earl of Gowrie
Obviously we want broad equality in terms of reasonable settlements. However, as I said at an earlier stage, I cannot rectify the position in respect of those who, mischievously in my view, got in under the wire on 2nd March 1984.
§ 5.15 p.m.
I am grateful to the noble Earl as, I am sure, is the whole Committee. This is an important matter. I really would like to support what was said at an earlier stage by the noble Lord, Lord Plummer, that the success of this whole exercise depends fundamentally on the co-operation of staff. We shall not have the co-operation of staff, or the continued co-operation of staff, unless we have fair treatment of staff on an equal basis for all.
My intentions as regards this particular amendment are as follows. I really should like a little more time to study what the noble Earl has said to us today and also to study what he said last night, because I believe that his statements were important. I should like to assess and balance the extent of the undertaking which I received with regard to his aims and objectives in entering into consultations with the unions. Therefore, in the light of all that, and while reserving my right to return to this matter even perhaps on Lord Dean's amendment, but certainly on another occasion in the Bill, I shall for the moment beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 136B.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick moved Amendment No. 136BA:
§ [Printed earlier: col. 184.]
§ The noble Lord said: Let me finally say that, had the Minister said that he was prepared to discuss the whole question from the start with trade union representatives with a view to giving broad-based, absolutely equal treatment to everybody, I might have been sympathetic as regards not testing the views of noble Lords present. However, the Minister was quite adamant that those who already have it will keep it and that those who do not have it will never get it. On that basis, I should like to test the view of the Committee, because it is essential that we know where we stand.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 136BA) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 120; Not-Contents, 178.198
|DIVISION NO. 1|
|Airedale, L.||Kagan, L.|
|Amherst, E.||Kaldor, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Kearton, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Kennet, L.|
|Banks, L.||Kilmarnock, L.|
|Barnett, L.||Kirkhill, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Lawrence, L.|
|Bernstein, L.||Leatherland, L.|
|Beswick, L.||Listowel, E.|
|Birk, B.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.|
|Blease, L.||Lockwood, B.|
|Blyton, L.||Longford, E.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.|
|Bottomley, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Brockway, L.||McNair, L.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Mar, C.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Melchett, L.|
|Burton of Coventry, B.||Milford, L.|
|Campbell of Eskan, L.||Molloy, L.|
|Caradon, L.||Monkswell, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Morris of Grasmere, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Mulley, L.|
|Collison, L.||Nathan, L.|
|Darling of Hillsborough, L.||Nicol, B.|
|David, B. [Teller.]||Ogmore, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Oram, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Parry, L.|
|Delacourt-Smith of Alteryn, B.||Phillips, B.|
|Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Denington, B.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Ennals, L.||Rea, L.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Reilly, L.|
|Ezra, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Falkender, B.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Serota, B.|
|Fitt, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Foot, L.||Shinwell, L.|
|Fulton, L.||Silkin of Dulwich, L.|
|Gaitskell, B.||Simon, V.|
|Gallacher, L.||Stallard, L.|
|Galpern, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Glenamara, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Stone, L.|
|Gregson, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Grey, E.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Hanworth, V.||Tordoff, L.|
|Hatch of Lusby, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Hayter, L.||Walston, L.|
|Head, V.||Wedderburn of Charlton, L.|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Irving of Dartford, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Jacobson, L.||White, B.|
|Jacques, L.||Wigoder, L.|
|Jeger, B.||Willis, L.|
|Jenkins of Putney, L.||Winstanley, L.|
|John-Mackie, L.||Wootton of Abinger, B.|
|Abercorn, D.||Bessborough, E.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Blake, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Boyd-Carpenter, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Brabazon of Tara, L.|
|Annaly, L.||Brentford, V.|
|Argyle, D.||Bridgeman, V.|
|Arran, E.||Bruce-Gardyne, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Buckmaster, V.|
|Barber, L.||Burton, L.|
|Bathurst, E.||Buxton of Alsa, L.|
|Bauer, L.||Caccia, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Caithness, E. [Teller.]|
|Beloff, L.||Cameron of Lochbroom, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Campbell of Alloway, L.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||McAlpine of West Green, L.|
|Cathcart, E.||McFadzean, L.|
|Cawley, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Cayzer, L.||Margadale, L.|
|Chapple, L.||Marley, L.|
|Chelwood, L.||Marsh, L.|
|Clinton, L.||Marshall of Leeds, L.|
|Coleraine, L.||Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon, L.|
|Colville of Culross, V.|
|Constantine of Stanmore, L.||Melville, V.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Merrivale, L.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Mersey, V.|
|Cox, B.||Milverton, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Molson, L.|
|Crawford and Balcarres, E.||Monk-Bretton, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Monson, L.|
|Dacre of Glanton, L.||Morris, L.|
|Darnley, E.||Mottistone, L.|
|Davidson, V.||Moyne, L.|
|De La Warr, E.||Munster, E.|
|Donegall, M.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Onslow, E.|
|Dulverton, L.||Orkney, E.|
|Dundee, E.||Pender, L.|
|Eden of Winton, L.||Peyton of Yeovil, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Portland, D.|
|Elphinstone, L.||Quinton, L.|
|Elton, L.||Radnor, E.|
|Faithfull, B.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Fanshawe of Richmond, L.||Rawlinson of Ewell, L.|
|Fisher, L.||Renton, L.|
|Foley, L.||Renwick, L.|
|Forester, L.||Rochdale, V.|
|Forte, L.||Rodney, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Romney, E.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Rotherwick, L.|
|Freyberg, L.||Rugby, L.|
|Gainford, L.||St. Aldwyn, L.|
|Gardner of Parkes, B.||St. Davids, V.|
|Geddes, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Gibson-Watt, L.||Savile, L.|
|Gisborough, L.||Selkirk, E.|
|Glanusk, L.||Sharples, B.|
|Glenarthur, L.||Shaughnessy, L.|
|Gowrie, E.||Simon of Glaisdale, L.|
|Gray of Contin, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Grimston of Westbury, L.||Soames, L.|
|Grimthorpe, L.||Somers, L.|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.||Southborough, L.|
|Halsbury, E.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Hanson, L.||Stodart of Leaston, L.|
|Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Strathcarron, L.|
|Harvey of Tasburgh, L.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Henderson of Brompton, L.|
|Henley, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Hives, L.||Terrington, L.|
|Holderness, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Hood, V.||Thorneycroft, L.|
|Hornsby-Smith, B.||Torphichen, L.|
|Hunter of Newington, L.||Torrington, V.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Ilchester, E.||Trumpington, B.|
|Ingrow, L.||Tryon, L.|
|Ironside, L.||Ullswater, V.|
|Kemsley, V.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Kimball, L.||Vickers, B.|
|Kinloss, Ly.||Vinson, L.|
|Kitchener, E.||Vivian, L.|
|Lane-Fox, B.||Whitelaw, V.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Wilberforce, L.|
|Layton, L.||Windlesham, L.|
|Lloyd of Hampstead, L.||Wise, L.|
|Lloyd George of Dwyfor, E.||Wynford, L.|
|Loch, L.||Young of Graffham, L.|
|Long, V. [Teller.]||Zouche of Haryngworth, L.|
|McAlpine of Moffat, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.199
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Clause 51 agreed to.
§ Clause 52 [Continuity of employment in certain cases of voluntary transfer]:
The Earl of Gowrie moved Amendment No. 136BB:
Page 36, line 1, leave out ("relevant authority") and insert ("person").
§ The noble Earl said: This amendment is intended to benefit those GLC or MCC employees who may be recruited by non-successor local authorities in accordance with the provisions of Clause 52(1). As it stands, this clause will provide continuity benefits to GLC or MCC staff recruited by successor authorities. This amendment will provide the same benefits to GLC or MCC employees similarly recruited by non-successor local authorities, or indeed by any other employer to which the 1983 Modification Order applies. It will mean that a GLC or MCC employee who at abolition, or when made redundant if earlier, takes up a post elsewhere in local government will derive the same benefits irrespective of whether or not his new employer is the successor authority—an arrangement which was sought during discussion of this clause in another place.
§ This amendment will obviously benefit those individuals who obtain a post in a non-successor local authority, but, as your Lordships will appreciate, under Clause 48(3) such authorities will be outside the Staff Commission "ring-fencing" procedures. They cannot therefore be required to give any preference to GLC or MCC employees. We have therefore refrained from proposing this amendment until we were satisfied that the accrued rights which a GLC or MCC employee will take with him to his new job under this clause would not discourage potential employers from taking him on. The Staff Commission and others we have consulted have advised us, I am glad to say, that this is unlikely to happen.
§ This amendment also complements the one which we shall propose to Clause 57 (and to which I referred during our discussion of Clause 48 yesterday) intended in part to facilitate the recruitment of GLC or MCC employees by non-successor local authorities by enabling a voluntary early retirement scheme in which those authorities could participate. This is of universal appeal and benefit, and I commend the amendment to your Lordships.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
Briefly, I welcome what the Minister has proposed in these amendments. They will benefit the people involved. I wish he could have been more generous on the previous amendment: however, having said that, I welcome this one.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 52, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 53 [Offers of employment by successor authorities]:
Lord Rochester moved Amendment No. 136BC:
Page 37, line 29, at end insert—
("( ) Where a successor authority engages a person who is currently in the employment of the Greater London Council or a metropolitan county council it shall enter into a contract of employment with him such that his tenure and conditions of employment including the scale of his salary or remuneration are not less favourable than those he enjoyed in his employment with the Greater London Council or a metropolitan county council so long as he is engaged in duties reasonably comparable to those in which he was engaged in his employment with the Greater London Council or a metropolitan county council or is engaged in work of equal value; and the expression "work of equal value" means that the person is employed on work which is, in terms of the demands made on him (for instance in such matters as effort, skill and decision) of equal value to the work on which he was employed with the Greater London Council or a metropolitan county council.").
§ The noble Lord said: Late last night, or it may have been early this morning, I spoke to an amendment which sought to require the Secretary of State to designate for transfer to the appropriate successor authority under their existing employment conditions all staff who are in the service of the Greater London Council or a metropolitan county council immediately before the date of abolition and who are wholly or mainly engaged in functions that are to be transferred. One purpose of that amendment was to ensure equality of treatment in relation to the employment conditions of all staff so transferred, rather than that there are eventually two sets of people working alongside each other one set having preferential treatment over the other.
§ The amendment did not seek to place a limit on the number of redundancies that there might eventually have to be, but rather to ensure that in conformity with past practice they occurred only at the final stage, following reorganisation, if a successor body needed fewer employees. In reply—and the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, has already made similar comments this afternoon—if I understood him correctly, he said that the reorganisations contemplated under this Bill were different in kind from earlier ones and that boroughs and district councils must be free to recruit staff from scratch, so to speak. In doing so they could offer what pay and employment conditions they chose but they would give first refusal of jobs to people currently employed by the Greater London Council and the metropolitan county councils.
§ The matter was left in the setting that I would read carefully in the Official Report—which, as we already know, is unfortunately not yet available—all that had been said and meanwhile I would reserve my position so that if necessary I could return with an amendment framed on similar lines at Report stage. For the moment, therefore, the Committee should assume that the arrangements for the recruitment of staff by boroughs and district councils will be those proposed by the Government.
§ In moving this amendment, I will, with the leave of the Committee, speak also to Amendment No. 136BD.
Amendment No. 136BD: Page 37, line 46, at end insert—
("( ) A successor authority shall not refuse to engage a person who is currently in the employment of the Greater London Council or a metropolitan county council without first affording that person an opportunity to appeal against such a proposed refusal to the staff commission established by section 4 of the Local Government (Interim Provisions) Act 1984 and upon hearing any such appeal the staff commission may direct the successor authority to engage the person under subsection (2) above.").
§ This amendment, which immediately follows Amendment No. 136BC, makes this assumption. Its purpose is clear cut and simple: to ensure that where people currently employed by the Greater London Council or a metropolitan county council are engaged by a successor authority, their pay and conditions of employment will be no less favourable than those they currently enjoy, so long as their duties in the new situation are reasonably comparable to those in the old. There would thus be continuity in, for example, their pension rights.
§ If the Government insist on leaving open the possibility of there being some diminution in the pay of such people to being it into line with that of people already employed in or to be recruited from outside by a successor body, then those adversely affected in this way should, in accordance not simply with all precedent but with what is now universally accepted as good personnel practice, receive appropriate compensation.
§ I am talking here not of recently appointed political nominees, I am speaking of dedicated people who, in many cases, have served administrations of various political complexions for a long time. Some of them have expertise which brings benefits extending far beyond the authority employing them. An excellent example is the scientific branch of the Greater London Council whose work we shall, before long, be discussing. The basic principle which I suggest should command the support of the whole Committee is that reorganisation of local government must on no account be used as a means of obliging people like this to continue to exercise the same levels of skill and diligence at a reduced level of pay or under less favourable conditions of employment than those they now enjoy. Given the severe financial constraints under which the successor authorities will be operating, this could easily happen if staff are not given the protection that this amendment seeks to provide.
§ As to the new subsection proposed in Amendment No. 136BD, the appeals procedure for which it provides is needed to ensure that the successor bodies cannot—unless they can in an appeal by a complainant convince the staff commission of the validity of their case—escape from the terms of the first amendment by recruiting people who are not affected by it. Clearly that would be detrimental to former GLC and MCC staff, since they might then find themselves with no job at all. Thus local government would be deprived of skills which would be invaluable in mitigating the disruption which will inevitably be occasioned by reorganisation.
§ A provision of this kind is surely needed to make certain that effect is given to the Government's declared intention, made more explicit by the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, last night, that as many as possible of the staff who would otherwise be displaced should be employed by the bodies taking over the work on which they have been engaged. I beg to move.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
I rise as a signatory to the amendment to support what the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, has said. This amendment expresses the wish to give a continuity of service that perhaps was missing in the Bill as drafted. It has become common practice, when a like-to-like job is transferred where 202 the employees have not been the people who have motivated the change, to suggest that some protection ought to be given. On the previous amendment I moved I said that the metropolitan counties and the GLC—my own experience is with the metropolitan counties—at officer level were manned and started almost entirely by people who transferred from the metropolitan districts within the large conurbations.
I think that it would be true to say that probably most of the top officers who were there a decade ago are perhaps now retired. In the main, a lot of their staff followed them into these particular jobs because they were under the impression that they were jobs that were going to last a long time; and of course recruitment has gone on indefinitely on the basis that these establishments were fixed and were going to be there so far as one could see.
I do not quibble with the political decision to alter that structure. That is what politics is about. If you win an election, you do what you have to do or you do what you said that you would do. Sometimes we do not do that; but that is what we are supposed to do. I think that it is incumbent on us when we do that, irrespective of our political colour, to give the utmost protection to the people who are involved and who have no say whatsoever in the process. On that basis I think that the amendment in the names of my noble friend Lord McCarthy, the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, and myself, and which was so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, deserves support. I said that I did not intend to detain the Committee. I think that the motivation or message behind this particular amendment has been quite clear so far.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
I feel that at any rate in London which is the area with which I am most familiar, the adoption of this amendment would give rise to very serious practical difficulties. It is notorious that salary levels, at any rate in the higher grades in the GLC, are above those existing in the boroughs. If therefore someone transferred from the GLC to one of the boroughs is to carry with him at least his GLC salary then his pay will be quite out of line with that of other people in the organisation in which he is working. One does not need to emphasise that to be very clear what discontent and difficulty that would cause.
The noble Lord, Lord Rochester, says airily that he is not speaking of recently-appointed political nominees. But there is absolutely nothing in his amendment to exclude them. If his amendment is adopted it would apply; and, as your Lordships know, there are plenty of cases of people whose appointments appear to be politically motivated and whose salaries are very high by local government standards. Therefore this amendment would really have an extraordinarily dislocating effect on the successor authorities.
As regard the second amendment which we are discussing, it seems very odd to say that a local authority which for perfectly good reasons may not wish to offer employment to someone redundant as a result of the departure of the GLC, shall not refuse to engage him, really without any apparent qualification unless there is an appeal to the staff commission. That, again, would seem to cause very great difficulties for 203 the successor authorities. I am sure that all your Lordships are anxious about this transition and whether, as on this side of the Committee, we want it; or whether, as on the other side, it is not wanted, we all want it to proceed smoothly. From that point of view it seems to me that these amendments are very counter-productive.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
I do not see how the Government could accept these amendments. They are too rigid. The arguments in support of them are very acceptable indeed. They show the proper compassion that we all feel. We would like to have continuity for people in work; and that is right. But to write into a Bill certain rigid instructions such as these are would, I think, make it almost impossible for the new organisations to work anything like efficiently. I, too, was interested in the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, when he said that he did not intend to include the politically appointed ones but those who were dedicated and who had given their lives to the work.
There is nothing to say that there is that division in the amendment that he wants the Committee to accept. I should have felt that those who were dedicated and who had the experience would be the ones most likely to be acceptable to the new authority. The strength of their appointment would be their dedication, their experience and their knowledge. But I should have thought that to make it a rigid instruction to the new authority in this way would make certain that the alternative to the existing councils could not work at all. I think one has to have a certain belief that the people who take over will want to be fair and just, and that in doing that they will take into account experience and service. I do not think they need this sort of rigid instruction.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Lord Howie of Troon
I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, will not be quite as commercial as the noble Lords, Lord Harmar-Nicholls and Lord Boyd-Carpenter, who spoke a moment ago. The noble Lord, Lord Rochester, rightly distinguished between two types of employees concerned in this redundancy, for that is what it is: those who are political appointees and for whom I myself hold no brief any more than does the noble Lord, Lord Rochester; and others who are employees in the ordinary way of their profession—professional men such as engineers and scientists and others who have been in local government for many years. These people are, in this instance, victims of something which is quite out of their own control. They are being made redundant just as though there had been a commercial takeover. But there is a difference here. This is not a commercial takeover; this is a political act which the Government feel it right to carry out and which the Government are entitled to carry out if they have a majority to support them.
But a political act is different in essence from a commercial one, and the commercial notions of redundancy which are in the redundancy Act which we all know about need not apply where the redundancy is a political one. A political act has 204 political consequences and these political consequences are economic in the case of the employees with whom we are concerned here.
I should have thought that the way for the Government to approach this redundancy was the commonsense one: to try to ensure that the first step in any redundancy in any field of life is carried through; that is, to try to ensure that people are given employment equivalent to the employment that they have lost and the equivalent of the employment is in terms and conditions and salary. I noted that the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, said that he saw strength in Lord Rochester's arguments, although I noticed that he did not see strength in their conclusions. That did not surprise me, because he never does.
I hope that the Government will see the strength in the arguments and the strength in the conclusions. I think that these amendments ought to be accepted and I sincerely hope that the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, will go a great way towards doing so. It may be, as the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls has said, that the amendments do not quite do what they are intended to do. But this is the Committee stage and there is plenty of time for the Government to put that right. They can accept the principle involved in these amendments and come back at Report stage with the form of words that meets the objections of the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, and others. I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, will react to these amendments in this way.
§ Lord Monkswell
I rise in response to a comment which I think I heard the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, make from the Benches opposite a few moments ago. He seemed to imply that employees of the GLC and of the metropolitan counties were, so to speak, over-paid. I think that I am right in saying that the employment situation in local authorities is rather different from that appertaining in private industry. In private industry, it is quite possible for an employer to over-pay one of his employees with no harmful effects to himself. In fact, I am sure that we are all aware of numbers of people employed in British industry who are paid over-inflated salaries.
But the situation with regard to local authorities is somewhat different. If a local authority overpays a number of their staff, an individual ratepayer can take them to court, I believe, and it can effectively be proved to be illegal. I seem to remember—no doubt the Minister will be able to give some advice on this—that some councillors in the past have actually been disqualified from serving as councillors because of this very factor. I may be wrong in my remembrance of recent history, but I think the Minister will advise us that in fact it is almost impossible for local authority employees to be overpaid as such. Therefore, that part of the argument against these amendments will not hold water.
The Earl of Gowrie
I welcome the rather robust view of manifesto commitments taken by the noble Lords, Lord Dean of Beswick and Lord Howie of Troon. I shall recommend them to any of my honourable or right honourable friends in another place who might be wavering.
205 In moving this amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, made an eloquent plea, if I may say so, on behalf of the GLC and MCC staff who are facing an uncertain future about jobs and, moreover, are not guaranteed their present terms and conditions in the post-abolition structure. Uncertainty is, I think, the handmaiden of all forms of change, and it is something we have to recognise. I have tried, both last night and today, to emphasise that the uncertainties for individuals as against the future of some of the posts they currently fill is in fact greatly over-estimated. We would anticipate that the vast majority of people are liable to be redeployed on reasonable terms and conditions and that those who are not redeployed will be involved in our voluntary—and I stress that word—early retirement scheme. Therefore I am not a person who wants in any way to add to the uncertainties which individuals, however misguidedly in my view, may be feeling at the moment. Nevertheless, I cannot, alas, accept these amendments because, as I have made clear, this reorganisaton differs in very signal ways from previous ones, and I feel that the staffing arrangements we are trying to make, while they must be fair and be seen to be fair, must reflect these differences.
In the 1974 or 1965 reorganisations the over-whelming majority of staff were transferred with protected terms and conditions to new employers. In those reorganisations smaller authorities were in general being combined into larger ones and the successor authorities themselves were, by and large, new. What I meant when I said in an earlier intervention that the world was then a rougher place is very simple. Growth in that sector of the economy was proceeding apace. That is not a political point; it is an economic point, because growth has been contracting in this area under successive Governments since the 1970s.
On abolition in this case there will be no successors to the GLC and the MCCs at the same level. Their responsibilities will be dispersed to the various successor authorities and bodies and, as I explained during our earlier consideration of the previous staff clauses, transfer is inappropriate where responsibilities are being devolved and divided rather than being aggregated. Nevertheless, as I have said, most staff will in practice be transferred on their existing terms and conditions. The paper issued last November by my right honourable friend the Minister of State for Local Government set out those groups of staff who will definitely be transferred by order under Clause 50. That paper also set out examples of other groups whom the successor employers may wish to have transferred to them by this means.
All such staff are engaged in activities which will pass to a single successor in each area, but for staff engaged on other GLC or MCC functions our approach has to be different. Those staff will have to be dispersed among the many successors by way of recruitment. This will be within the so-called "ring fence" procedures which the staff commission has just announced in its circular No. 6. These procedures will require the successor authorities to give first consideration to GLC and MCC employees. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has endorsed the commission's scheme and has confirmed to the 206 commission that it will be his general policy, subject of course to a consideration of the merits of any particular case, to use his powers of discretion over authorities, should the commission find it necessary to ask him to do so. Of course we hope that will not be necessary, and we do not expect that it will be. The commission's guidance and the Secretary of State's reserve power of direction give both GLC and MCC staff an excellent measure of protection.
Clause 53 also places a duty on, and gives a financial incentive to, successor employers to get ahead with working out their staffing requirements and make job offers to GLC and MCC staff before abolition. This will enable former GLC and MCC employees to benefit from the continuity provision of Clause 52, which we have just discussed.
The amendment seeks to extend this by protecting GLC and MCC employees' current terms and conditions when they are recruited to comparable jobs with a successor. My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter put very clearly and precisely the disruption that that could cause. However, most of these, and especially the boroughs and districts, already exist and have well-established staff structures which could, as he said, be disrupted. In many cases the numbers of GLC and MCC staff they will take on will be small relative to their existing staff. We therefore believe that those employers should be free to integrate any GLC and MCC employees into their existing structures.
I have no doubt that the amendment is designed to assist GLC/MCC staff and would indeed benefit some by protecting their current pay and conditions of service. However, in practice I believe that this amendment would add to the uncertainties faced by GLC/MCC staff. The amendment acknowledges that there must be some relationship between the nature of a job—its skills, responsibilities and so no—and the rewards that it attracts. However, where functions and responsibilities are being devolved to the boroughs and districts, and especially where the functions are concurrent, there will not necessarily be a straightforward or one-to-one relationship between a GLC or MCC employee's job now and the job to which he will move on abolition. The successor authorities may discharge their new responsibilities rather differently and their existing staff structures may also be rather different. In these circumstances it is likely to be far from self-evident, in many cases, whether an individual's pre-and post-abolition jobs are of "equal value" or involve "comparable duties". Successor authorities could of course avoid this by taking on all GLC/MCC employees whom it recruits on their existing terms, but that would be inappropriate because of the knock-on effects which I have described.
Our approach is designed for—and in my view succeeds in—avoiding these problems. Staff will be recruited by successors on their own terms. If GLC or MCC employees suffer detriment in this process, they will be eligible for compensation for loss or diminution of emoluments. That will be paid by the residuary body and not by the new employer. It will take the form of a lump sum. The successor employers' established terms and conditions will therefore not be affected. Individuals will know their likely entitlement when considering particular job offers and will therefore be able to decide matters in the full 207 knowledge of the facts. At this point perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, that that is hardly victimisation. I hope, therefore, that with that assurance the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, will not press his amendment.
I shall now refer to the rather different, though related, Amendment No. 136BD. I do not disagree with the objective underlying the amendment. On all sides of the Committee I think that there is the common object that GLC and MCC employees should take priority in filling the jobs that will arise in the new structure.
The staff commission exists precisely to further that objective but we cannot accept this amendment which, in our judgment, is unnecessary in the case of the GLC and MCC staff who are to be transferred by order, and also misguided where successor authorities will be in the business of recruiting. Where groups of staff are to be transferred by order, the successor employer will have no rights to refuse to engage any individual who is within the terms of the transfer order. The staff commission, under its powers in the 1984 Act as amended by Clause 48 of the Bill, will be able to advise my right honourable friend whether particular individuals do, or do not, fall within the terms of an order. The commission will design its own procedures for this purpose. Therefore no amendments to the Bill are necessary.
Where staff are to be recruited it is inevitable that for many, if not all, posts there will be more than one applicant from among GLC or MCC staff, each of whom is of course likely to pursue more than one post. The amendment would give all unsuccessful candidates a right of appeal against the successor authority's decision. The final decision would fall to the staff commission, which would have to consider each and every case on its merits.
I am sure that I do not need to spell out in detail to the Committee the implications of this for the process of recruitment and the terrible burden that it would impose on the staff commission. Delay would be inevitable and employees, especially whose who thought that they had found a replacement job, would find themselves in a position of even greater uncertainty.
May I say to the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, who raised the issue of overpayments, that we are not talking about overpayments that can be challenged before the auditor, but about differences in grading and salaries arising from different rates and scales in the case of the GLC and the local borough councils; and differences arising from sizes of authorities in the case of the MCCs.
Throughout these amendments pertaining to the terms and conditions for staff, I have tried to provide not merely emotional assurances but very practical indications of the structure which the Government have set up to protect employees after abolition; and to allay their anxieties now. I hope therefore that both noble Lords will not seek to press their amendments.
§ Lord Rochester
I am not altogether satisfied, if I may so put it, with what the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, has just said. The Committee will recall that the principle on which I sought to base my amendment was that reorganisation of local government should not on any account be used as a means of obliging the long-serving and dedicated people, of whom I was speaking, to continue to exercise the same levels of skill and diligence at a reduced level of pay or under less favourable conditions of employment than they were enjoying. The Committee will recall that the intention was that the amendment should apply only insofar as the jobs to which the people concerned were going were reasonably comparable with those in the old situation.
The noble Earl said that he felt that more, rather than fewer, uncertainties might arise as a result of these amendments being included in the Bill. I must acknowledge that until the very last remarks that he made in relation to the first of the two amendments to which I have spoken, I was minded to put the matter to the test by dividing the Committee. But I took considerable comfort from what I understood the noble Earl to say; namely, that where people suffered some diminution in their pay in the circumstances I have been outlining compensation would be available to them.
I take sufficient comfort from that to enable me, I hope as a reasonable person and seeking to sense the feeling of the Committee, not to press either of these amendments at this stage. But I should like to examine rather more closely and in more detail what the noble Earl has said, in particular in relation to the second of the amendments, when he went into a great deal of detail, and in that way to reserve my position and to leave me free to come back to this general matter if—together with those who have been kind enough to support me—that is the conclusion we reach. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the first of these two amendments.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 136BD not moved.]
§ Clause 53 agreed to.
§ Clause 54 agreed to.
Lord Melchett moved Amendment No. 136BE:
After Clause 54, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Scientific services authorities
§ SCIENTIFIC SERVICES
§ .—(1) On the appointed day there shall be established in Greater London and each metropolitan county a body corporate to be known by the name of the London Scientific Services Authority or by the name of the county with the addition of the words "Scientific Services Authority", as the case may be.
§ (2) Each authority shall consist of members of the constituent councils appointed by them to be members of the authority.
§ (3) The constituent councils in relation to the London Scientific Services Authority shall be the London borough councils and the Common Council.
§ (4) The constituent councils in relation to a metropolitan scientific services authority shall be the councils for the metropolitan districts comprised in that county.
§ (5) An authority established in pursuance of this section shall provide scientific and technical services in the area of the authority.
§ (6) In subsection (5) above, the provision of scientific and technical services includes the employment of staff engaged in, and the provision of facilities for, scientific research and 209 development including ecology and nature conservation or the application of science and technology in support of any function of an authority established under section 9 or Part IV of this Act or the constituent councils of such an authority.
§ (7) Each authority shall be a joint authority within the meaning of Part IV of this Act and the provisions of that Part shall apply to this section as if this section were included in that Part.").
§ The noble Lord said: We now return to the questions concerned with the scientific and technical services provided by the GLC and the metropolitan counties. We touched on these issues in debating Amendment No. 59 and that particular group of amendments when we dealt with the powers of highways and traffic functions; and on Amendment No. 73 where we looked in detail at the question of waste disposal. But an earlier group of amendments, Nos. 131 and 132, which affected scientific services, were in fact withdrawn. I hope therefore that your Lordships will consider that a further debate and some further, I hope helpful, information from the Government about what will happen to these specialist services is warranted at this stage in the Committee.
I believe we shall, at the same time as discussing this amendment, talk to Amendment No. 137 and my amendment to it, Amendment No. 137A. I think that would be convenient for all concerned.
Amendment No. 137: After Claue 60, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Residuary scientific and technical services
§ .—(1) Without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing section, and subject to subsection (3) below, on the abolition date there shall be transferred to the appropriate residuary body the scientific and technical facilities and staff of the Greater London Council or a metropolitan county council.
§ (2) In subsection (1) above "scientific and technical facilities and staff" means facilities for, and staff engaged in, scientific research and development or the application of science and technology in support of any function of the relevant authority.
§ (3) This section does not apply to any such scientific or technical facilities or staff which on or before the abolition date are transferred to another body under an agreement made in respect of services of the Greater London Council between the London borough councils and the Common Council or in respect of services of a metropolitan county council between the district councils for the area concerned.").
§ Amendment No. 137A (as an amendment to Amendment No. 137): Subsection (2), line 3, after ("development") insert ("including ecology and nature conservation").
Your Lordships will be aware by today, if you were not previously—and I am sure that anybody taking part in the debates on this Bill was already so aware—that the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee, of which I am a member, although I was not a member of the particular sub-committee that looked at local government scientific services, made some forceful recommendations about the need to continue the sort of scientific and technical services which are now provided by the GLC and metropolitan counties. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, at Second Reading, acknowledged that, and the force of the arguments put forward by the Select Committee, when he said on 15th April, [Official Report; col. 441):
There is … scope for accommodating a good deal of what your Lordships' Select Committee on Science and Technology says about scientific and support services…".
§ We have touched on a number of these issues before, so I do not intend to go over all the ground in detail, but I should like very quickly to say a word 210 about the sort of services which this amendment covers. I do not think there is any difference anywhere in the Committee about the importance of these services and about the importance of keeping them together and keeping them going in the future, uninterrupted. I want to say a word about the scientific services and to give as an example the Scientific Services Branch of the GLC, just to touch on ecology, which we have debated at previous stages, and to say a word about information technology—something to which the Select Committee paid particular attention.
§ The Scientific Services Branch of the GLC has its origins over 100 years ago, when a chemist was appointed to the Metropolitan Board of Works. But since that time the scope of the scientific services at the GLC has expanded very considerably and, for example, the branch now monitors environmental pollution, air pollution levels, in London; it provides direct support for fire prevention and detection services to the London Fire Brigade and it provides chemical analyses of food and water. Incidentally, to provide that service it needs an input from trading standards officers, which would be true of metropolitan counties as well, and it seems to me that there is a good argument for those officers coming within the remit of the scientific services authorities which this amendment proposes.
§ The Scientific Services Branch also has a major role to play in waste disposal, in investigating whether wastes are hazardous and advising on their disposal; it advises on building materials and construction, making cost-saving and energy-saving suggestions and so on; and it advises in a similar way on the purchase of materials, carrying out tests on performance, on wear and tear and so on. Any of your Lordships who have seen one of those Hazchem warning signs on the outside of a building in London or anywhere else in the country, might be interested to know that that scheme originated from work done by the GLC Scientific Services Branch, and from its work it is now a nationally operated scheme. There are many other examples which I shall not go into—fire protection of historic buildings, improving the quality of water in swimming pools, changes in institutional furniture to reduce the hazards of fire, establishing safety standards for floors and play surfaces and so on. There are a number of very important examples of work which that branch has done.
§ I do not need to spend a great deal of time on the arguments for maintaining this service as a centralised service. Quite clearly, there are economies of scale. In particular, a branch of this sort needs to attract, can attract and has attracted specialists in particular areas and can then employ those specialist skills to the full—something that will be quite impossible if the services are spread throughout a number of different boroughs. Once you get a group of specialists working together, the quality of their work is enhanced by the fact that they are working often in co-operation and with advice from colleagues in the same branch. Different disciplines being able to collaborate together is extremely important. This is what your Lordships' Select Committee meant when it spoke of centres of excellence being difficult and slow to create, but very easy to destroy.211
§ Much the same arguments apply to the ecology branch of the GLC and the expertise that has been built up there. It is a much smaller branch of the technical and scientific services, with six people, but in a way that reinforces the argument about it being impossible to break it up. It is not possible that those six different specialists could be spread around the different boroughs in a way that would make any sense.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ It is worth saying that while this amendment, and my Amendment No. 137A to Amendment No. 137, suggest that the ecology unit should be included with other scientific and technical services, there are some disadvantages in that proposal. For example, the link between planning and the ecology unit would be broken. But we are going to face some disadvantages, however these services are reorganised, if the GLC and the metropolitan counties are no longer there. Bringing these services together makes good sense and there is no way of getting round that, if the metropolitan counties and the GLC are to be abolished. Nevertheless, it seems to me that, with other scientific and technical services, it would be sensible to include the ecologists, the specialists in that unit in the GLC, and any similar people working in the metropolitan counties.
§ I come now to information technology. This, again, is something which the Science and Technology Select Committee of your Lordships' House looked at in great detail. For example, the GLC is a major user of IT. It provides computer services to the ILEA, to all the London borough councils, to other London public authorities, to the Thames Water Authority, to the voluntary sector and so on. Indeed, there are 1,000 mini and micro computers and word processors in the GLC and in the voluntary sector, and over 1,000 terminals throughout London linked to the GLC's main frame computer. This technology is available for over 200 applications, providing up-to-date management information, as operational tools to deliver specific services.
§ As your Lordships can imagine, this represents a very heavy investment in staff and equipment. It is estimated that to disperse these facilities might cost over £30 million, would take several years and, of course, would lead to massive disruption, the loss of expertise, operating efficiency and so on. Once again, the same arguments for keeping the services together apply—the enormous additional cost that duplication would involve, the tremendous economies of scale which are available if the services are grouped together, the retention of expertise, if the service is kept together and maintained, and the future potential, particularly in the case of information technology, which has a great future potential yet to be realised with the use of this technology. It is for these reasons that it seems to me vital that the scientific and technical services should be kept together in a single unit.
§ In conclusion, there is another argument which I should like to put to your Lordships in support of Amendment No. 136BE; namely, that centres of 212 excellence do not just depend on the availability of computers and on the fact that a lot of people are working together in a single unit. They depend on the people themselves—on the scientists and technologists. They depend on their experience and on their relationships with their colleagues. These things cannot be replaced, even with the expenditure of very large sums of money.
§ For example, if the information technology really were to be broken up and spread around the London boroughs, it might be possible to do it at a cost of £30 million or £40 million, or something of that sort, but the relationships between the experts concerned could not be replaced. There would be a very considerable loss, and there will be a very considerable loss, unless there is some certainty among these staff about where their future lies. That seems to me to be the main argument for your Lordships passing an amendment of this sort and putting it in the Bill.
§ We know that the Government are sympathetic. We know that they recognise the force of these arguments. We need to go one step further, to assure the staff concerned that they will have a future continuing to work together to provide these vital services. I beg to move.
§ Lord Tordoff
I rise to talk about Amendment No. 137 which is in the names of members of the sub-committee of the Select Committee. In doing so, I offer to your Lordships the regrets of the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, who unfortunately is out of the country at the moment. Indeed, I regret his absence because he would have moved this amendment much better than I can.
I think, as the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, said in moving his amendment, that there is fairly genuine agreement in all parts of the Committee that certain services should be kept together. We reached a consensus on highways and on waste disposal, and I think that particularly on waste disposal the arguments apply to these other scientific services. I am specifically not speaking to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, because whatever my views may be I feel it is my job today to speak purely on the Select Committee's proposal. If other noble colleagues on these Benches wish to give a view for the Alliance, it is up to them. I am speaking on behalf of my colleagues on the Select Committee and therefore it would not be right for me to offer a view at this stage on the noble Lord's amendment, save only on his Amendment No. 137A, which is an amendment to Amendment No. 137 to include reference to ecology and nature conservation. There is no doubt that the Select Committee is prepared to accept that amendment although I think the feeling is that the meaning is already subsumed within the wording of Amendment No. 137. Certainly there was no intention on the part of the Select Committee to exclude from its considerations questions of ecology and nature conservation.
As the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has said, we have had one or two nods, winks and hints from the Government at earlier stages of the Bill that perhaps on this question of residual scientific services they might be more amenable than perhaps they were in the earlier stages of the Bill on either the transport and 213 highways amendments or on waste disposal. I hope therefore that it is not necessary to say very much to prod them into giving us an answer which we would all like to hear.
Perhaps I may remind your Lordships' Committee of what the Select Committee said on this subject in its conclusions. It recommended,that the Local Government Bill should be amended,in other words, to put into one of the existing joint arrangements the scientific and technical services about which we are talking under this clause—and,
- (1) to empower the residuary bodies to provide scientific and technical services, if that power is not already available under clause 60;
- (2) to empower the Secretary of State by order to confer on any joint authority established by the Bill the further power to provide scientific and technical services"—(3) to empower the Secretary of State by order to establish a joint authority with the power to provide scientific and technical services".Those last two recommendations were contained in Amendments Nos. 131 and 132, which were not moved the other night because it was rapidly approaching midnight and we felt it would be a mistake to get deeply into this general debate at that stage. I am glad that we are now able to discuss this whole area at a much better time of the day, although it is perhaps later in the day than some of us would have wished.
The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has dealt extremely well with the scope of the scientific services. I shall spend not more than a minute or two talking about them myself. I am sure that if your Lordships had been able to come with the Select Committee on its visits to the GLC, to Greater Manchester, to the West Riding and so on, and had seen the teams of people and the equipment that is being used there for the benefit of consumers, for the benefit of trading standards, for the fire services, for the police, for forensic services in some cases, and indeed for coroners' courts in some cases, you would have been quite surprised at the amount of scientific expertise, knowledge and equipment that is at the disposal of local authorities today.
I do not know how many of your Lordships know that on the upper floors of County Hall, which I had a feeling was being sold off yesterday, there is a very large series of laboratories which are performing the sort of functions to which the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, referred. Those laboratories will be very difficult to replace if they are broken up. Certainly the teams of people who are working in those laboratories are I believe irreplaceable, not because certain individuals cannot be transferred, as we have heard earlier today during the debates on some of the amendments on staffing, but because some of the people who are, as it were, at the pinnacle of those teams could not be afforded by the boroughs.
Individual boroughs simply would not need one of those in each borough. It is because of that more than almost anything else, that we need to keep these teams together. It is because of the fact that the Bill as it stands simply does not seem to provide for the retention of those sorts of people within the system, that the Select Committee felt strongly that it had to put down amendments to the Bill on this subject. I 214 may say that it is an unusual procedure in your Lordships' House for a Select Committee to get involved in what is in many ways a highly political Bill. There was a suggestion the other day by a noble Lord from the Benches opposite that it was somehow slightly improper, that perhaps the Select Committee was getting a bit above itself and that the Government were here to govern and Select Committees were here to mind their own business.
I should like to make a particular point here to your Lordships' Committee on the information that we have received. As the Committee will know, it has not been easy for political reasons for the Government to obtain information from some of the existing authorities. When it came to the Science and Technology Select Committee going around on its visits, we had a completely different response. People were perfectly willing to discuss scientific and technical subjects in detail with the Select Committee with no feeling of holding anything back from us. So it may be that your Lordships' Select Committee is in fact rather better informed on some of these subjects than some Government departments. It is a rare occasion and it is caused by attitudes that I deplore; but nevertheless I believe that it is something that noble Lords might like to take into consideration when considering the amendments which are before us.
In addition to some of the services which the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has mentioned, there are many others such as the estimation of asbestos fibres in air samples taken from schools. Many of these things require extremely sophisticated equipment that a single borough would not be able to afford. Even the question of noise pollution—the monitoring of helicopters flying over the whole of the Greater London area or over the whole of a metropolitan county area—could not be engaged in by a single borough.
In Greater Manchester the public analyst serves all the 10 metropolitan districts. The public analyst's laboratory is widely respected not only within the public service but outside. They have links into the universities and they are able to bring their local government expertise and their scientific expertise together in a way in which an outside body, whether it be a consultant or a university department, is totally unable to comprehend. Indeed the evidence that we have received is very much that there should be a greater move towards regionalisation of facilities rather than a breaking down of these facilities. This evidence came to us both from the Government chemist and from a number of other outside bodies that certainly cannot be regarded as political.
I should like to quote from evidence that we received from the Royal Society of Chemistry. The Royal Society of Chemistry is a learned society which is responsible for chemistry for 40,000 or more members throughout the length and breadth of this land and for many overseas as well. It is the body responsible for the examination of public analysts and for the verification of their ability to serve their local authority as a scientific support. When one talks of public analysts, one must recognise that they are now not just a testing station but offer scientific support over a wide range of different subjects. The submission by the Royal Society of Chemistry says: 215Trends over recent years partially in response to environmental considerations have been for scientific service units to be built up on an inter-disciplinary basis and for a large body of knowledge and expertise to be developed within them. These scientific service units have come to serve regional needs especially in the most populous areas of the country, and similar trends are likely in the field of information technology".The society goes on to say:As regards any abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan counties, the Royal Society of Chemistry believes it is essential for existing scientific service units to be retained and for the Local Government Bill to incorporate legislative provisions to this effect".Furthermore, it believes that a,network of scientific service units should be provided ideally established as regional laboratories".Those are the words not of a political party, and not even of your Lordships' Select Committee; they are the words of the Royal Society of Chemistry.
I believe that this document—and I do not propose to read out large tracts of it—emphasises everything that has been said so far in this debate. It underlines the reasons why the Select Committee came to its conclusions. The question, therefore, is: how do we achieve this retention of services since, as I have said, the Bill makes no specific provision?
The Select Committee believes that this reassurance is necessary if we are not going to run into a period, as it were, of human planning blight. There is a great fear that expert knowledge is already being lost. People who fear for the future are already seeking jobs outside the public service in this country and, indeed, outside this country. In some of these cases we have expertise here which is of the greatest possible use to local authorities anywhere in the world. The sooner they can be given an assurance by the Government that their future is secure and that they are able to carry on in the way in which they have been doing—but not necessarily in the same organisation—the better it will be for the future of science and technology in this country as a whole, and particularly in relation to local government.
The Select Committee believes that the obvious place to put this for the time being is with the residuary body. I know that we have had many discussions about matters going to residuary bodies when dealing with earlier amendments, but in this case the Select Committee is not saying it should be put into the residuary body and then democratised, or anything like that. That is far from the minds of its members, because they have also put down amendments which, as I said, have not actually been debated but give an indication of the intention of the Select Committee, which would take these scientific services out of the residuary body at some suitable time and into a more permanent and stable position. It is that position that we seek to achieve and it is that position that we hope to hear from the Government can be achieved.
It is one of the most important sectors of the Bill for the future not only of local government but of science and technology in this country. On behalf of my colleagues in the Select Committee I urge that the Government give as clear a response as they can for the sake of these services and for the sake of the expertise and the people involved.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
Your Lordships may well think that the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has made out an all but unanswerable case that a specialist service, with specialist staff and specialist equipment and a wealth of expertise, ought to be kept together, in London and in each metropolitan county. I have considerable sympathy with the object and spirit of the amendment. The reason why I cannot support it in its present form is that it would set up another series of authorities as joint authorities within the meaning of Part IV of the Bill, which runs against the principle of the Bill especially when linked, as the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, linked it, with highways and waste disposal.
The hope is that on the merits there could be some scope here for give and take and a measure of compromise. Perhaps these functions could be transferred to the residuary bodies with what my noble friend Lord Elton once described as a catalytic role, as in the case of archives, to enable the transition to operate without unwelcome effect; or perhaps some other better solution may be found which would be acceptable to the Government and to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett. Taking into account the relationship of this amendment to Amendment No. 137, and other amendments to which the noble Lord spoke, it is surely right that the problems concerned with the ecology units should be taken into account when consideration is given to this.
Therefore, it is hoped that this amendment will not be pressed to a Division as both the amendment and the Bill as it stands, as I see it, are open to a measure of objection. In the long run, whichever way the Division goes, that does not exactly assist the process of constructive compromise; the scope for accommodation referred to by my noble friend Lord Elton. Perhaps one could devise an accommodation along the lines of the technical services and the archives which are highly specialist technical situations even if, as I would oppose, aligning this to the question of highways or waste disposal.
§ Lord Sherfield
I rise to intervene in this discussion for the purpose of making one point only. Your Lordships have heard a great deal—perhaps rather too much—about the interim report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology in regard to scientific and technical services available to local authorities. Unfortunately, the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, is away and I speak for a moment in his stead. Also, my name appears to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff. This amendment has been well explained by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, and I need add nothing more in support of Amendment No. 137. I want to say only this. Amendment No. 137 does not go as far as the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, but, if adopted, it would achieve the result of keeping the scientific services together. In fact, the Select Committee debated the question whether it should recommend the setting up of an authority but decided against it for reasons which it described; but it did not exclude the possibility of an authority for the future.
If there is a Division on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, which is then lost, the work of the Select Committee in this respect will possibly be 217 frustrated and, perhaps more importantly, the message which would go out to the staff of the scientific services in these authorities from this Committee this evening would be exactly the opposite of what the Select Committee intended. In that respect I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, on the need to give assurance to the staffs involved. Therefore, I join with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, in suggesting to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, that he should not press his amendment to a Division. Could not your Lordships wait to hear what the Government have to say in response to the Select Committee's recommendations and then, if necessary, return to the matter on Report?
§ Baroness Lockwood
As a member of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, and its subcommittee which produced the report to which reference has been made, I support the principle behind these two amendments; but I should like to follow the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, in asking the Government to try to find some accommodation for these services. The import of the Select Committee's report is contained in paragraph 44 where it says:The Committee feels that the retention of the facilities is more important than the precise methods involved".We have already been reminded that the Minister said on an earlier occasion that there is scope for accommodation. I should like to feel that this evening he can assure us that that is something which the Government are now able to take on board and that he will come back to us at a later stage in our deliberations on the Bill to indicate how the services and the teams involved can be retained and kept together to continue the leading work that they have been doing in the whole area of science and technology.
We have been reminded in the course of the discussion that some amendments to the Bill have been made and to a certain extent they have covered aspects of the scientific and technical services. Perhaps the solution would be, as the noble Lords, Lord Campbell and Lord Tordoff, said, to bring the services into one of the joint authorities concerned either with waste disposal or urban traffic and highways; or, alternatively, it may be better to take them into the residuary body until such time as we can determine a permanent future for them. But I think that what we want to hear tonight is that these services will be retained as a unit so that they will continue to function effectively.
The Earl of Halsbury
I should like to reinforce both sets of pleas which have been made this afternoon—both that made by my noble friend Lord Sherfield to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, not to press the amendment to a Division, and that of the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, and others to the Government to come clean and tell us what it is they really want and ought to do.
Two themes have been woven like strands through the whole of these Committee proceedings. One is what I might call the strategic theme of wanting to see the Bill on the statute book and then tidying up the loose ends by powers given to the Minister in the Bill. The other is the tactical theme of wanting to see all the 218 "i"s dotted and all the "t"s crossed before we put the Bill on the statute book. The Government support the strategic theme, and so do I. I think that if we tried to dot all the "i"s, cross all the "t"s and tidy up the loose ends in this Bill we should be in Committee until doomsday. But we cannot apply that principle too heavy-handedly because some services must not hiccup on vesting day. The fire services cannot hiccup, and the Government of course acknowledge that. I think that the scientific services come within the same rating.
In your Lordships' wisdom and through the wisdom of honourable Members in another place, from time to time we legislate statutory obligations into existence. A very large number of them are carried out by public analysts. If I seem to be overemphasising chemistry I must ask forgiveness. I am a chemist and I am a member of the legal and parliamentary committee of the Royal Society of Chemistry which gives the evidence to which my noble friend Lord Sherfield and the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, referred. It has not come to an end of it. It was at it last week. It was interesting for me to exercise my prerogative of sitting in on a Select Committee to listen to my colleagues in the Royal Society of Chemistry presenting the evidence that in part I had helped to formulate for the benefit of the Select Committee.
If one is dealing with the disposal of toxic waste, you do not know whether the waste is toxic or not until a chemist has told you that it is. Those services must continue. If you want to know whether recycled water is to standards laid down by the public health authority, again it is to a chemist you can go. Public analysts are quite rare birds. They have to have a master's degree in analytical chemistry as specified by the Royal Society of Chemistry and then receive an appointment as a public analyst. Some of them operate as servants of a local authority; some of them are what are called consultant public analysts; and they are like a doctor, partly on the national health and partly in private practice. They will take on public analyst work if they have the requisite qualifications.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on behalf of the Government will be able to give us in more or less detail what it is that he plans to do to see that there is no hiccup on vesting day and that these highly qualified, professional people simply carry on with their work unchanged. I do not want to follow the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, into the Division Lobby. As I say, I agree with the Government's strategic philosophy. I just hope that, since the noble Lord now has had a month to think over what was said at Second Reading, he is able to give us the assurance for which we have all asked.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Lord Elton
I have been asked to come clean in order to avoid hiccups and to prevent our staying in Committee until doomsday, which are desirable aims in themselves; and I shall do my best. I regret with the rest of your Lordships, because of his special interest and expertise in this Committee, that my noble friend Lord Cranbrook cannot be with us today. But I must say that we have not suffered too much from his absence because of the admirable expositions of those 219 who have spoken on his behalf round the Chamber. He chaired your Lordships' Science and Technology Committee which recently reported on precisely these issues.
May I break for a moment in order to put one possible misunderstanding straight? I know that unintentionally I gave the impression at an earlier stage in Committee that in some way I was making a comparison between the recommendations of your Lordships' Select Committee and those of the Select Committee in another place. What in fact I said was that I thought it would be a pity to use the recommendations of your Lordships' committee unnecessarily to prevent the implementation of the recommendations of a Select Committee in another place. I meant what I said, but I hope that there will be no incompatibility. I must be very careful not to offend Select Committeemen of another place, so I shall say only that I think that your Lordships' Select Committee has at least as much authority and expertise as any Select Committee in another place.
I think that it may help your Lordships if I start by briefly trying to pull together the amendments mentioned in the debate so far. Amendment No. 136BE, which was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, with great concision and clarity, if I may say so, requires the establishment in all seven areas of a joint authority to provide scientific and technical services. It has the same basic effect as the earlier amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Cranbrook which was then called Amendment No. 132; but there are two differences. First, the present amendment provides for the authorities to be established directly rather than by order of the Secretary of State; and, secondly, it includes specific reference to ecology and nature conservation, thus betraying the noble Lord's considerable interest and expertise in that side of things.
Amendment No. 137 was spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Stedman, and in the process he—
§ Lord Elton
I saw a reference to the "Baron" Stedman on the Marshalled List at a point that we have not reached. I had not realised that I was so subliminally open as to transfer that. I meant to say the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, who also referred to Amendment No. 131.
Amendment No. 131—and I suppose that I am speaking to the ghost of Amendment No. 131—would have allowed the Secretary of State by order, after consulting the joint authorities involved, to transfer responsibility for scientific and technical services in relation to police, fire, passenger transport, highways, waste disposal and any district function to one of the joint authorities established to carry out any of those functions.
Amendment No. 137, which is ahead of us on the Marshalled List, and alive and well, would transfer the existing scientific and technical staff and facilities of the GLC or the metropolitan county councils to the appropriate residuary body.
220 That may seem rather a confusing range of options. However, I believe that the basic intention behind all of them, and specifically of the two that remain on the Marshalled List, is to implement recommendations contained in the report of the committee chaired by my noble friend. I should add that Amendment No. 137 is clearly an interim measure. I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, made that specifically clear. I shall hold him to it because of course if he had not, it would have been open to all the objections which the Committee has repeatedly accepted as rendering that course of action unacceptable. So it is a temporary home that he is looking for, and that brings his designs very close to my own.
The Government fully recognise, I repeat, the importance of the scientific and technical services. We are as anxious, as is your Lordships' Committee, to ensure that valuable support services in this field, as in others, which will be required after abolition, should be retained.
I fully accept the force of the point that in the time between Royal Assent and 1st April 1986 it might not be possible to resolve to the satisfaction of all the parties the future arrangements for these services. I therefore understand the purpose and importance of Amendment No. 137.
I think it may help the Committee to come to a view on Amendment No. 136BE—and noble Lords have echoed this around the Chamber—if I expand a little on that statement and our intentions as to that amendment. I think I can go a considerable way towards meeting the noble Lord's point on it. My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Local Government has of course already made it clear that our department of Government will use its good offices to ensure that support services and facilities can be maintained where successor authorities so wish. This of course includes the possibility of temporary transfer to the residuary bodies until permanent arrangements can be made, as, indeed, Amendment No. 137 proposes.
I can go further than that and repeat that we shall ensure that the residuary bodies take the initiative in encouraging such arrangements; the catalytic role referred to by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway. I give an undertaking that we shall invite them to make special studies of existing facilities and to have discussions with successor authorities well ahead of abolition. I believe that this will achieve what I understand to be the noble Lord's real objectives and those of the Select Committee.
What will happen will be that the residuary bodies will be given a crucial role, as catalysts, for preparing the future of these services, taking over the services on a temporary basis, if necessary, and deciding on permanent arrangements. This will give the successor authorities time to consider permanent arrangements for scientific and technical services. They will in fact be considering it while they are gaining experience by exercising responsibility for the statutory functions which these services support now and which they will be supporting from their temporary base with the residuary bodies.
To establish this point beyond peradventure I shall bring forward at Report an amendment to make it 221 clear that the residuary bodies will take an active part in identifying and securing the future of worthwhile centres of expertise. As has been made clear previously, however—and I refer now to Amendment No. 137 on the Marshalled List—the residuary bodies themselves are not an appropriate long-term solution. It is such a solution that is being sought in Amendment No. 136BE.
I recognise that many noble Lords would like us to determine now how these activities will be organised in the future. Let us look at the alternatives. The first is that preferred by the Government, and I believe the most likely: a joint agreement by the boroughs and districts with one of them probably taking the service on, on behalf of all, on a reimbursement basis. The boroughs and districts already have powers to do that under the Local Authorities (Goods and Services) Act 1970. Moreover, in relation to research and information collection functions, the new clause which we shall be discussing on Amendment No. 140A provides powers for a scheme to designate a lead council. I shall return to that in a moment.
The second alternative is that proposed by those who favour the approach expressed as Amendment No. 131. That consists of using one of the new joint authorities created by the Bill to do the job. However, it is already proposed to give the joint authorities powers to enter into arrangements with local authorities to provide services to those authorities. This is done by paragraph 47 of Schedule 14. The paragraph amends the Local Authorities (Goods and Services) Act 1970 for this purpose. In the event of such arrangements being made, the residuary bodies would already have powers under Clause 55 to ask the Secretary of State to transfer the property concerned in accordance with the arrangements reached by and with the authorities.
The third alternative is that proposed in Amendment No. 136BE, the one now before us. This would provide for the setting up of an additional new body for the specific purpose of entering into arrangements with local authorities for the provision of these services. However, again, Clause 65 already provides for this. Thus, both the first and second of those powers will already be open to us at any time.
Agreements between boroughs and districts and the new joint authorities can be made in time to take effect on 1st April 1986 or after and the staff and property can pass to the body that is to become responsible for support activities. If it takes rather longer to decide on these arrangements, staff and property can be transferred to the residuary bodies on a temporary basis, pending a move from the residuary bodies to their new homes. The Bill allows for that.
Clause 65 also provides powers for the Secretary of State to set up new bodies, if necessary. This means that if the successor authorities see that as the most appropriate way, arrangements can be made under Clause 65, as at present in the Bill, to establish the new body.
The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, asked that such new authorities should specifically include ecology and nature conservation and that they should be mandatory rather than permissive. Of course, we have discussed the future of ecology and nature 222 conservation at an earlier stage. I do not want to go over that ground in detail again any more than he did. However, I hope that the noble Lord will accept two points: first, that the assurances I have given generally apply equally to the particular expertise that concerns him; and, secondly, that in including a highly specific prescription of the kind he wants, there is always a danger that the result will be too narrow when put into practice. I think the noble Lord acknowledged that when he said that there were disadvantages in what he proposed.
My noble friend Lord Skelmersdale assured the Committee on 7th May that the residuary bodies would provide a temporary home for expert units and that we would be looking carefully at the Bill to see how it can be improved. Today I have gone further and explained the active role that we envisage for the residuary bodies and have undertaken to bring in an amendment. I have shown the Committee the flexibility that exists under the long-term arrangements in the Bill. Therefore I hope that the noble Lord is reasonably content that we have sought to meet his anxieties.
However, I hope that all those who feel so strongly about this issue will recognise the unreality of seeking to preserve, for ever, the present services provided by the GLC and the metropolitan county councils. The raison d'être of a support service is the service it supports. Changes in the latter will mean changes in the former. To limit the discretion of successor bodies to avoid what might be seen as a reduction in these services could well have the effect of limiting beneficial change and improvement. These centres of expertise have grown up because there is a need for them and they have proved their worth. There is no reason for that need to disappear. I am confident that successor bodies will see the benefits that such services can provide.
I now direct the Committee's attention again to what I have signalled we propose for later in the Bill, the new clause, after Clause 85, which appears as Amendment No. 140A on the Marshalled List.Amendment No. 140A: After Clause 85, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Research and collection of information.
§ .—(1) A scheme may be made for Greater London or a metropolitan county by the constituent councils whereby one of those councils designated by the scheme has the function of—
- (a) carrying out, or assisting in carrying out, investigations into, and the collection of information relating to, any matters concerning that area or any part of it; and
- (b) making, or assisting in making, arrangements whereby any such information and the results of any such investigation are made available to any other local authority in that area, any government department or the public.
§ (2) Any such scheme shall require the other constituent councils to contribute as provided by subsection (3) below to the expenditure incurred by the designated council in carrying out its functions under the scheme.
§ (3) The constituent councils shall be required to contribute to any expenditure of the designated council which has been incurred with the approval of a least two-thirds of the constituent councils; and the amounts of the contributions shall be determined so that the expenditure in respect of which they are payable is borne by the constituent councils in proportion to the populations of their respective areas.
§ (4) For the purposes of subsection (3) above the population of any area shall be taken to be the number estimated by the Registrar General and certified by him to the Secretary of State by 223 reference to such date as the Secretary of State may from time to time determine.
§ (5) A scheme may provide that, if two-thirds of the constituent councils so decide, the designated council may require all or any of the constituent councils other than the designated council to carry out in respect of their respective areas an investigation into, or the collection of information relating to, any specified matter concerning the area covered by the scheme or any part of it; and where such a requirement is imposed on a council—
- (a) that council shall comply with the requirement in such manner and within such time as may be specified in the requirement; and
- (b) if that council fails to comply with the requirement the designated council may itself do what was required and recover the cost of doing it from that council.
§ (6) The expenditure which is to be borne as mentioned in subsection (3) above shall not include—
- (a) any expenditure of the designated council which is recoverable by virtue of paragraph (b) of subsection (5) above; or
- (b) if a requirement is imposed by virtue of that subsection on all the constituent councils other than the designated council, any expenditure incurred by that council in doing in respect of its own area what is has required the other councils to do in respect of their areas.
§ (7) Any information collected by the designated council, and the results of any investigation carried out by it, in the exercise of its functions under the scheme shall be made available, on request, to each of the other constituent councils.
§ (8) A scheme shall not come into force before the abolition date but shall continue in force until the end of at least two financial years after that in which it is made.
§ (9) A scheme may, in the absence of agreement between all the constituent councils, be made by a majority of those councils so as to be binding on all of them; but a council shall not be designated by a scheme except with its consent.
§ (10) A scheme may contain such supplementary provisions as the councils making the scheme think necessary or expedient and, subject to subsection (8) above, may be revoked by those councils (or, in the absence of agreement between all of them, by a majority of those councils) with effect from the end of any financial year after that in which the decision to revoke the scheme is made.
§ (11) The council designated by a scheme may by giving not less than twelve months' notice to the other constituent councils withdraw its consent to act as the designated council with effect from the end of any financial year not earlier than the second financial year after that in which the scheme was made; and in that event the scheme shall terminate when the withdrawal takes effect.
§ (12) For the purposes of this section the constituent councils are—
- (a) in relation to Greater London, the London borough councils and the Common Council; and
- (b) in relation to a metropolitan county, the councils of the metropolitan districts comprised in the county.
§ (13) Whether or not a scheme is made under this section a London borough council, the Common Council and a metropolitan district council shall have power to exercise any of the functions described in subsection (1)(a) and (b) above.
§ (14) The appropriate Minister with respect to any matter may require any such council as is mentioned in subsection (13) above to provide him with any information with respect to that matter which is in the possession of, or available to, that council in consequence of the exercise of any powers conferred by or under any enactment.").
I have today received a letter from the London Boroughs Association which I think the Committee will wish to consider in connection with this amendment. It is written by Councillor Randall, who says:
I am writing to you on behalf of the association to tell you that you have our full support for the new clause that you have proposed should be added to the Local Government Bill in respect of research and information. The new clause, with its wider powers, should
allow the London boroughs to provide a comprehensive research and information service on all matters that are generally agreed as essential or most effectively undertaken on a London-wide basis.
The association's committees have already given their initial consideration to a number of areas of research and information likely to be required following the abolition of the GLC. These include planning, traffic and housing data collection and analysis, and the scientific services and research library and related facilities currently provided by the GLC. The association's officers are now preparing a comprehensive report that will be considered by the association's committees in mid-June. I cannot say to you that we will by then have a definite blue-print for the future of research and information services for London. Nor do I think it would be appropriate for the association to reach final conclusions at this stage. The association will want to consult with other interested parties and particularly with those London boroughs that are still at this stage refusing to consider the implementation of the Local Government Bill's provisions. Nonetheless, I should conclude by again reiterating the association's support for the new clause which will make the realisation of a joint London borough research and information service far easier to achieve".
§ 7 p.m.
§ I have given an assurance that we shall safeguard scientific and technical support services through any potential difficulties in the transitional period, if necessary by ensuring that the residuary bodies actually take on the staff and the property on a temporary basis themselves. I have assured your Lordships that the residuary bodies will assist in ensuring satisfactory long-term arrangements. Your Lordships do, I hope, now see that these long-term arrangements can be secured under the provisions of the Bill. If your Lordships accept them, then, the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, may be reassured that the work of his Committee would not be frustrated and that no sinister message would go out from this House on the matter to those who work in this important field.
§ I have told your Lordships of the reaction in the field to the new provision that we propose to put into the Bill after it has been published for barely a fortnight. I think that there is sense in the advice that your Lordships have had that you should consider whether this does not actually answer every point that has been raised by the Select Committee, to which I pay the greatest tribute.
§ Baroness Stedman
The noble Lord referred to paragraph 47 of the schedule, which enables a joint authority to be set up under Part IV of the Bill. If it is agreed that there shall be such a joint authority will that authority have precepting powers, or will it only be able to do the work by agreement with the other authorities?
§ Lord Tordoff
I can perhaps help the noble Lord the Minister while certain negotiations are going on in response to the question that has been put to him. Before the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, decides what he wishes to do on his amendment, I should like to respond on behalf of those of us who are supporting Amendment No. 137. The Minister went a long way, I believe, in the earlier part of his remarks, to offer reassurance. I then felt that he started, not to back away, but to cause further confusion. I rather regret that. If that part of the brief had gone back to whence it came, we might have been a little more reassured. I 225 fear that the message that the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, asked for, is not coming out quite as clearly as we would have wished. Nevertheless, it is my belief that the message is there. We shall clearly have to look in the Official Report at what the noble Lord the Minister has said.
I fear more than anything the reliance of the Government still on the lower tier local authorities getting together and doing these things. Certainly, the Select Committee was very worried about that. It did not really believe that the evidence was there to support that view. The Minister clearly believes that this is still a possibility. I hope that his assurances that the interim bodies are to take an active role will at least for the time being be sufficient reassurance to the people, for whom both I and, I believe, the rest of the Select Committee are speaking, that their future is secure. We await with interest the amendment that the Minister has undertaken to put down at Report stage. From my point of view, I would certainly not wish to press the matter any further this evening. I daresay that the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, may take the same view. I would certainly urge him to do so.
§ Lord Elton
We must remind ourselves that this is Committee stage. We get into an awful sort of Second Reading stance on this Bill for some reason. It is, however, Committee stage and we can get up and down. In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, the order would make provision for the money to be raised and it could be raised in the form of a precept.
The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, has, I think, decided to consider what I have said. I hope that I did not sound as though I was retracting anything in the later stages. I was saying something that I should perhaps have stated at the beginning. I have to say it on every occasion. Any prudent manager has to say it. I am not even the manager. The Government are not the manager. One cannot guarantee absolutely that everything now happening will go on happening for ever. One must give the people who use the service the chance to decide what service they want. They may want more; or they may want less. It was right that I should say that.
What I have said is that by the three powers that I have indicated in the Bill, it will be possible for all these services that are wanted to be continued. If the arrangements cannot be made before the abolition date, there is a safe home for these services with the residuary bodies. When they emerge from the residuary bodies, they will emerge in a form in which they can be financed, as I have described to the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman. Indeed, if there was such a voluntary agreement, then the residuary body might actually be a staging post on the way to the regional arrangements that the Select Committee of the House recommended.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
I have only one point to make. The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, was, I believe, uncharacteristically unfair. I thought that my noble friend Lord Elton gave an almost 100 per cent. assurance to the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, thinks that too. The only reason I butt in is that the noble Lord, Lord 226 Tordoff, produced once again a problem which, if you sense it, makes you doubtful about the whole Bill. The noble Lord said that he still had doubts as to whether or not the smaller local authorities could come together. We should always keep in mind, when that thought and doubt arises, that the Minister has reserve powers under the Bill to see that, if they do not voluntarily come together, what is wanted will be done under his authority.
We should take it into account that when my noble friend was making his statement in answer to the two well-presented amendments he was talking with authority as a member of the Government. Whatever doubts one might have about the possibilities of the smaller local authorities coming together, we should have no doubt that, on the authority of the Government spokesman, stated clearly in answer to the noble Lord, the general implementation of preserving what is needed and what is good will, indeed, be carried out.
§ Baroness Birk
I was a little unclear about what the Minister said. I share what may be some of the confusion that the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, expressed. My feeling, when the Minister started speaking, was that he was talking about bringing forward an amendment which, as I understood it, would be very much along the lines of Amendment No. 137, now before the Committee. Further into his speech, the noble Lord seemed to be relying upon what is already in the Bill. He explained how, under various clauses and schedules, what had been mentioned was built into the Bill. It is this aspect that is rather mystifying some of us. Is the Minister intending to bring forward an amendment on Report? Or is he relying on what, as he explained carefully, is in the Bill? We are a little confused.
§ Lord Elton
I am obliged. I have clearly not been as lucid as I would have wished. There are two amendments in question. One, already on the Marshalled List, is Amendment No. 140A. That is the amendment which elicited the letter which I would have thought would have allayed almost all the fears subsequently expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff. He will tell me in a minute why it has not done so.
The other amendment is not on the Marshalled List but I have undertaken to bring it forward at Report. That amendment will specify what I have described as the "catalytic role" of the residuary body, and that is a departure from the scheme in the Bill. So the residuary body is no longer an inert shelf on to which you put this valuable treasure: it is an organisation into the care of which you take it, and that organisation has the duty of finding a home for it before its demise, which is scheduled in five years.
Therefore, if we put those two new items into the Bill and ally them to what is in the Bill already which is old but not sufficiently understood, I still think that we are giving a package which answers all the concerns that the Select Committee can hope to have satisfied. I cannot satisfy the hopes that some of your Lordships may have that every single one of these functions will continue as it does now. That would be something which the noble Baroness, if she were back behind this Dispatch Box, could not do, either.
§ Lord Tordoff
I am most grateful to the noble Lord. Certainly I do not wish necessarily to see every function continued in perpetuity as it is at present. Certainly that is not the view of the Select Committee.
I should like to return to the question of the letter, which I have only heard read out and which I should very much like to study in the Official Report tomorrow. It seems to me that, as regards that letter and also the amendment which is already tabled as Amendment No. 140A, there was a reference to research. When Mrs. Lynda Chalker appeared before the Select Committee, she dwelt to a considerable extent on research. Of course, we are not just talking about research; we are talking about a wide range of technical and scientific duties which reside in the bodies that we are discussing. It is just the slight overemphasis on research rather than on the full range which is a little worrying. I am most grateful to the noble Lord for his most recent summary—
§ Lord Elton
I am not sure of the date, but I think that the amendment that they wrote about appeared on the Marshalled List, at the most, about a fortnight ago, or rather less. You would not expect the whole thing to be seized upon in a moment. It is a profoundly encouraging reaction.
§ Lord Melchett
The noble Lord, Lord Elton, said a little earlier in the debate that we sometimes seem to be slipping into a debate rather like a Second Reading debate, and he wondered why that was so. I must say that during this debate and on previous occasions during our discussions on this Bill I have had to pinch myself to remind myself that we are not debating a Second Reading in another place, and that the Bill has been all the way through another place and through a Second Reading in your Lordships' House, and is now getting very close to the statute book. What we have had from the Government on crucially important issues of this nature is still, to my mind, incredibly vague, extremely uncertain and not at all carefully thought out. The discussion which the noble Lord has just had with the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, seems to me to underline the situation. We have crucial scientific and technical services, and we are still not clear whether we are talking about them or research, what the London Boroughs Association are on about, and so on. I think that the noble Lord should be surprised that any of us has managed to convince himself that we are actually taking part in a debate at a very late stage in the passage of the Bill.
§ Lord Elton
If the noble Lord accuses me of being vague, I ask him to read Amendment No. 140A at some stage. I do not ask him to read it now, because it will take some time. It is fairly detailed.
§ Lord Melchett
I listened to what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, had to say about that. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, who spoke from behind the noble Lord, urged me to withdraw the amendment. Of course, I shall study what was said in Hansard tomorrow, but I must say that I was left with the impression of some vague hope that this would all be all right in due course, heavily qualified by remarks about it all being possible anyway because of 228 provisions already in the Bill. All of that has led to an extremely uncertain outcome.
I made a note at the time that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, talked about this being given initial consideration by the London Boroughs Association. These are crucial services; and these are expert people. Uncertainty has been hanging over them for months and months. The noble Lord comes to the Committee and says that the matter has been given some initial consideration. It should have been given initial consideration years ago, not weeks ago. The noble Lord went on to say that if they agree, "it may be possible", and, "these things can be done" under the existing legislation. He did not use words like "will", or, "we shall ensure", or anything of that kind. As he said himself, he felt it necessary to qualify all that he said, and in my view he did so in terms which did not meet the concern of your Lordships' Select Committee or of those of us who spoke in favour of the amendment.
If I had been left simply with the urgings of the noble Lord on the Government Front Bench and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, to withdraw the amendment because by pressing it and risking losing the vote we would be increasing uncertainty, I must say that I would have pressed the amendment immediately to a Division. It seems to me that nothing could be more vague than the type of terms which the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, used to suggest that we should withdraw the amendment to reduce uncertainty. However, the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, and my noble friend Lady Lockwood made some telling points—as did other noble Lords who spoke earlier in the debate—about leaving the matter.
I am quite happy to acknowledge that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has again gone some way towards assuring us of the Government's commitment to see that if something can be done it will be done in some way or other. However, all of it is extremely uncertain. For example, the noble Lord said that the residuary body would now be acting as a catalyst. It may be appropriate, as this is something proposed by the Science and Technology Select Committee of your Lordships' House, if I dredge up some A-level chemistry from many years ago to remind your Lordships of the function of a catalyst.
As I understand it, a catalyst is used to speed up the reaction between two or more chemicals of known qualities and quantities, with the intention of producing a reaction which will produce a known and desired product or outcome. That is not what the residuary body will do. The residuary body will not be acting as a catalyst as I understand the term: it will be used to look at something with a whole lot of things chucked in—who knows what, but there are a lot of them around, as the noble Lord told us—and it will come up with some type of reaction. Whether the laboratory will be blown up in the process, the noble Lord and the London Boroughs Association do not know and will not tell us.
§ Lord Elton
The noble Lord has a much better recollection of A-level chemistry than I do. He has warned me, and I undertake to stay out of the 229 laboratory in future and to use a different analogy. However, I think that your Lordships knew what I meant.
§ Lord Melchett
My concern—and this is a serious point—is that it will not just be the noble Lord who will be staying out of the laboratory in future but the scientists and technicians employed by the GLC and the metropolitan counties who will be leaving the laboratories in their droves and going to work elsewhere. The exact outcome which your Lordships' Select Committee feared will come about. It seems to me that that is a shameful way in which to treat what your Lordships' Select Committee quite rightly described as centres of scientific and technical excellence.
I do not believe that it will be good enough to leave the matter where the noble Lord has suggested we should leave it. We shall have to come back to the matter at the next stage of the Bill and convince those experts—because I believe that that is the job which your Lordships now have—that they will have a place to which to go, and tell them where it is and what they will be doing. So far the Government have not come clean in any of those respects. In the hope that we shall be able to do that at the Report stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 55 [Establishment of residuary bodies]:
§ Lord Elton moved Amendment No. 136BF:
Page 38, line 38, at end insert—
("( ) Of the persons first appointed to be members of the residuary body established for Greater London or a metropolitan county one shall be appointed by the Secretary of State from among the members of, and after consultation with, the joint committee established for that area under section 93 below.").
§ The noble Lord said: This amendment seeks to establish a link between membership of a residuary body and membership of the organising committee of councillors which Clause 93 requires the borough and district councils to set up in each area. I am sure that it would help if I placed this in the wider context of appointments in general to the residuary bodies and of the tasks which will fall to be carried out before abolition day.
§ The residuary bodies are required to wind up the outstanding affairs of the expiring authorities. At abolition they will take on a number of important but uncontroversial tasks, especially winding up the accounts, administering external debts, administering the superannuation funds, making compensation payments to staff and taking responsibility for residuary property and legal rights and liabilities. These are technical tasks and they are to be transitional responsibilities. The residuary bodies will either wind them up or prepare them for a permanent home with the borough and district councils. That is why we intend to appoint, as chairman and members of the residuary bodies, people committed to working themselves out of a job—people with financial and other related experience, people with public and local government confidence and people with an ability to work with local government in their areas. We do not rule out appointing elected members but the residuary 230 bodies are not representative, nor should there be any potential for conflict of interest with successor authorities.
§ We intend to make initial appointments of a chairman and perhaps two key members of each body on an advisory basis—in accordance, I should add, with normal precedent—before the Bill is enacted. They will be able to start planning for the formal establishment of the bodies after Royal Assent. Later appointments at that stage might be expected to take account of the final form of legislation.
§ The residuary bodies will have a considerable job to do between Royal Assent and abolition day. They will be indentifying the property, rights and liabilities which will fall to them. They will be preparing to take over their functions at abolition. They will be identifying and approaching the staff they need, and they will be acting—it says here because I wrote it, as "catalysts", but I withdraw the word, and your Lordships can substitute another—as the agents of change.
§ These preparations will clearly bring the residuary bodies into frequent contact with the successor authorities. As those authorities will be required by Clause 93 to set up organising committees to coordinate their preparations, and as those authorities will set up the new joint authorities soon after Royal Assent, it follows that those authorities should co-ordinate with the residuary bodies. Accordingly we propose this amendment to secure a link by way of one member in common between each residuary body and the appropriate organising committee. I beg to move.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
I wonder whether this might be an appropriate moment to raise something I recollect has appeared in the newspapers in the last two or three days, and whether I am right about the first named appointee to carry some responsibility in this field? I have warm regard for Mr. Tag Taylor, having worked with him in a number of spheres in the past. But would the Minister care to tell the Committee whether he has in mind that the kind of political background that Mr. Tag Taylor has—and of course one of which he is proud, as he is entitled to be—is a forerunner of the kind of political appointee who will find himself as head of the bodies we are discussing, or whether there will be a wider remit to find the best possible people?
The Minister might say that the best possible people are those with the political background of Mr. Taylor. But could the Minister enlighten the Committee as to how wide his remit will be to ensure, for instance, that there will be senior, or near-retired, or recently retired chief officers of local authorities, et cetera? I am sure that the Minister appreciates that I raise the question genuinely to find out precisely what is in the Minister's mind in these matters.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
I am sorry that the noble Lord has raised that question at this stage. I do not see how anyone other than the head of the armed forces, or a civil servant of the highest rank, can be found who has not paid some interest in politics in their lifetime. I should have thought that the knowledge of politics, and having taken an interest in them, is an adjunct rather than a disadvantage.
231 If we are going to start denigrating people because they have been interested in politics, we are ruling many people out. The noble Lord in a way has done just that. I am rather sad. The objection to this name (which has not been officially announced, so far as I know, but which, like so often, has been bandied about in the newspapers) is because he was known to have been interested and to have played some part in one political party or another.
I do not think that that matter ought to be taken into consideration. If the noble Lord can say that this has been mooted as a possible name, and he does not think that he has the personal qualifications, or he has not got the knowledge to do this job, that is another matter. But to say that because he has shown some sort of interest in politics is a disadvantage, and that somebody ought to be found who never had shown any interest in politics, will make the choice a pretty narrow one.
I have heard it so often, but as one who has played some part in politics at various small levels for many years, and who I hope has been able to be a worthwhile councillor and a not unreasonable Member of Parliament, I hope that the fact that I have been interested in politics in no way removes any abilities I might, or might not, have in business generally.
I am sad that this factor has been brought in. It is unnecessary. The noble Lord is one for whom I have the greatest admiration, and he has great experience, and I would not like him to be kept out of doing a job that he could do well because he has been interested in politics at some time.
§ Lord Elton
Before the noble Lord defends himself may I remind him that the gentleman in question is now called Sir Godfrey Taylor.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
I knew him as "Tag". The noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, has completely misunderstood—and I believe accidentally—the tenor of my inquiries. On the first public announcement of a named person with some responsibility, it emerges that this man—and Hansard will show that he has my greatest respect for the quality of the work that he has done in the past—has been selected. My simple question was: are we to hear from the Minister that it will be that kind of appointment? —that is, political, or people with political experience.
The Minister may well say, yes, in which case the question then is begged, will they be Conservative politicians or will they be from other parties? The Minister knows that there will be some argument, particularly among members of my party, as to whether they wish to be considered to be the heads of residuary authorities, and in effect presiding over the demise of these authorities.
It was a question genuinely raised in order that we could be helped. The noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, not unfairly but unjustly, accuses me of motives which I did not have. I am sure that the Minister will understand why I asked the question.
§ Lord Elton
At least I will answer it. I attribute no malice to the noble Lord at all in asking this question, 232 but he should know that I can confirm that Ministers have been discussing with Sir Godfrey Taylor the possibility that he might chair the London residuary body. Firm arrangements, however, have not yet been made, and when they are made we shall make an announcement in the normal way. We have made no approaches to individuals in respect of appointments to the metropolitan county residuary bodies, but again we are thinking about possible candidates.
There was a bit of a stir yesterday when people said that we should not have got even to this stage. But noble Lords opposite and their colleagues in another place have doubtless cast their minds back to 1975, when after Commons Second Reading of the Shipbuilding Bill the Labour Government of the day started doing exactly the same thing. I need not rehearse other precedents. There are plenty. The only qualification for the job is that the person shall be suitable and able to do it. That is the criterion that will be applied.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 55, as amended, agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 136C not moved.]
§ Schedule 13 agreed to.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
With the leave of the Committee may I say that I am in more than a little difficulty. As I understand it, the usual channels have not yet come to a decision on whether we should break at this point. However, judging by the feeling of the mental pressure around me I understand that it is the wish of the Committee that we should do this. I would therefore suggest that we do not return to this business until half past eight. I beg to move that the House do now resume.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.