HL Deb 24 February 1986 vol 471 cc861-83

5.45 p.m.

House again in Committee on Clause 4.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (The Earl of Listowel)

Before I call Amendment No. 17A, I must point out to the Committee that if that amendment is agreed to I cannot call Amendment No. 17B.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

Before my noble friend the Minister speaks to Amendment No. 17A, may I know whether the observations of the Chair cover also Amendment No. 17C, which seems to me to be in the same position?

Lord Elton

I can reassure my noble friend that they do, because the amendments to which I shall speak cover the same ground.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

I thank my noble friend.

Lord Elton moved Amendment No. 17A:

Page 3, line 31, leave out subsection (4).

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 17A, I will, with the leave of the Committee, speak also to my own Amendment No. 18A, which goes with it, and I shall be covering the same ground as that covered by Amendment No. 17B, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, and Amendment No. 17C in the name of my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter.

I am sure that your Lordships will agree with the main principle behind these amendments. We consider that the code should be subject to the scrutiny of both Houses of Parliament, and Amendment No. 17A provides for such scrutiny. Your Lordships will be aware that the Bill as introduced in another place contained no provisions for parliamentary scrutiny. There are, in the case of a code of practice such as the Bill proposes, arguments both for and against such scrutiny. Nevertheless, the view of the other place was that such scrutiny should be provided for, and the Government have accepted that view and so, I believe, have your Lordships.

That having been accepted, it was of course plain that the code of practice should be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure in your Lordships' House as well as in another place. That is the purpose of the proposed new subsection (5)(A). The proposed new subsection (5)(B) is a consequential amendment that provides for parliamentary scrutiny of amendments and revisions to a code. It seems wrong to us that the first version of a code should be subject to affirmative procedure but that the Secretary of State could immediately revise the approved code in any way he wished, without further approval. Also in our view, the negative procedure is more appropriate for revisions of the code. In practical terms, revisions may be of a very minor nature indeed, and a further requirement for affirmative resolution could prove too inflexible. There is a precedent for having a different procedure for revisions. In Section 14 of the Local Government Finance Act 1982 the provision for a code of audit practice is so constructed.

Details of the procedures we are proposing can be very briefly described. By Amendment No. 18A, the Secretary of State would be required to lay before both Houses of Parliament any code he proposed to issue and it could not be issued unless it had been approved by a resolution in each House. The procedure for revision of the code is very similar to the negative resolution procedure for statutory instruments but it will not of course mean that the codes are statutory instruments; I merely use it as an illustration. The Secretary of State is required to lay a draft before each House for 40 days. If during that time either House resolves that the alterations be withdrawn, then the Secretary of State could proceed with the proposed revisions laid before Parliament—Clearly my text has omitted an important negative. If during that time either House resolves that the alterations be withdrawn, then the Secretary of State could not proceed with the proposed revisions laid before Parliament. I am obliged to Members of the Committee, for not having noticed that omission either.

I have not yet heard what my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter or the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, have to say on their amendments, but I hope they will agree that in the light of what I am proposing their amendments are rendered unnecessary. Therefore, I beg to move Amendment No. 17A.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, whose amendment is before mine, desires to speak now. If not, I shall make a few observations, but I was waiting for him to speak.

Lord Airedale

I think the peg upon which I hung my amendment is about to be taken away and I shall not be able to move it; but I am quite satisfied.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

I am very much in the same boat. As my noble friend knows, at Second Reading I raised the question of the position of this House. I only tabled my amendment when we came to the first day of the Committee stage last week and my noble friend had not then tabled an amendment to bring this House into approval of codes of practice. Therefore, I tabled this amendment simply as a precaution in case the pressure of public business prevented my noble friend from doing so before we reached this stage.

However, there is one point of difference and of interest particularly in the light of the earlier observations of the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham. I am sorry that he is not in his place. As I understand it, the original proposal was for a negative resolution procedure and my amendment sought simply to put this House in the same position as another place. I beg the Committee's pardon, I should have said an affirmative resolution procedure. My noble friend's amendment introduces the affirmative procedure for, at any rate, the first round.

That has one rather interesting point. Although it is a fairly well established convention that the House does not disagree with another place on delegated legislation of this kind the precedents are, curiously enough, much stronger against it doing so in the negative than in the affirmative case. Some Members of the Committee will recall that there is a not too remote precedent of this House rejecting an affirmative resoution in the case of the Rhodesia order. The noble Lord, Lord Elysian-Morgan, appears to recall that.

Lord Elystan-Morgan

It was 1967.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

The adoption of the affirmative procedure in my noble friend's admendment in some degree meets the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, with whom I happen to agree. Obviously in the circumstances my amendment will be excluded anyhow if, as I hope, the Committee accept my noble friend the Minister's amendment. However, I felt that that explanation as to why my amendment had been tabled, and the quite significant difference in the character of the procedure in the two, was worth remarking upon.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

I think the Committee owes a considerable debt of gratitude not only to my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, but also to my noble friend the Minister. However, I wonder whether my noble friend the Minster could possibly arrange for the Committee to be informed of the constitutional position that arises on the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham.

I have no experience of conventions in another place, and practically none of those in this place, but I like to know what I am doing. I have not the slightest idea of the effect of this. I think it is reasonable that all noble Lords should be informed authoritatively of the constitutional position that arises. I hope noble Lords will not think this intervention out of place.

Baroness David

Of course we on this side of the Committee are pleased that this House has been brought into the whole affair. Having said that, it is only a partial satisfaction because it is the convention of this place that we do not vote against orders, regulations and so on; and equally, that we should not vote against a draft. We have sometimes put an amendment to regulations but they have never altered the words of the regulation or order, whatever it may be. The example of Rhodesia is true as the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, said; but we think it was an affirmative, not negative, resolution.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

It was certainly an affirmative resolution. Indeed, I based my whole argument on the point that it was.

Baroness David

This order will be an affirmative order when it comes before the House. However, I should like to make it quite clear that the power of this House is very little indeed on these orders. The power of the other place is not all that great. It will not have the opportunity to amend the code of practice. It can vote either for it or against it, as I understand it, and our power is really nil. It is a courtesy which we are glad to have.

The Government have conceded half the case by making the initial code subject to the affirmative procedure, but we think that it is rather illogical to allow only the negative procedure for revisions to the code. It would be quite possible for the Government to slip by quite large alterations to the code without your Lordships being aware of them. I know that the noble Lord said that most revisions to the code would probably be quite small, but we cannot be certain of that.

Therefore, we would in fact prefer the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, because that would give us the opportunity at least to see and comment on revisions to the code. It would be nice to have confirmation from the Government—

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

Will the noble Baroness allow me? With respect, surely we can comment whether the procedure is affirmative or negative. In neither case can we amend. The only distinction is that the precedents are rather stronger against rejecting a negative procedure than they are against rejecting an affirmative one.

Baroness David

I understand that. We can if we notice that they are on the Order Paper; but I understand affirmative resolutions have to be brought before the House.

Lord Mottistone

I do not understand why the noble Baroness should think that my noble friend's amendment would be any better in what we can say and what we can do than would be the Minister's amendment. In both cases we can adopt as strong a position as we can and sometimes Ministers pay attention and withdraw orders to amend them and lay them again. That has happened within the past year. It does not make any difference whether it is under the negative or affirmative procedure. I do not think that the Rhodesia incident is one which can be called a real precedent; it was a very special case. It is about the only one that has happened in the time that I have been in the House, which is nearly 20 years.

We are making rather a meal of this matter. I think that the Minister's amendment is the better one because it gives a proper position relating to revisions which are not in the Bill at the moment even with the amendment of my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter. I should have thought we have a very good solution in Amendment No. 17A and that we should go ahead with it.

Lord Elton

I am grateful to both my noble friends for their support. I simply say that when an order is laid before the House the convention is that if it is an affirmative procedure then the Motion is to approve it, and that Motion can be voted against. If it is known in advance that it will be voted against, then the Government can take what steps they think appropriate either through the Whips or by amending the order.

The noble Lord, Lord Elysian-Morgan, is making what I can only describe as a face of distaste at what I suggest, but I recall that when I was sitting where he is sitting now I discovered that there was an inconsistency in a sugar order. I do not recall what on earth the sugar order was about, but I do remember the inconsistency. I remember informing our Whips and the Government Whips of this inconsistency, and the Government then withdrew the order, took it off the Order Paper, amended it and brought it back in a satisfactory state. So this does happen. If the noble Baroness who is sitting opposite is going to tell me that, despite her vigour and vigilance which we all admire so much, things will get past her on the Order Paper, then I shall be disappointed to hear it. If I were honest I should be somewhat relieved, because one always expects trouble from an Opposition which spots anything on the Order Paper.

But the fact is that we have a procedure whereby very large amounts of legislation can be agreed by Parliament simply by acquiescence, and the more that is required to be done positively the more time is eaten up which cannot be used for more important things. Given that the important measure of the main code will be on the affirmative order, I should have thought that the Committee would consider it appropriate to spend a lot of time on that—from the debates that we have already had it is quite clear that we shall do so—and that the alterations, which cannot amount in total to as much as the code, in most normal cases might be dealt with by the negative procedure. The hawk-eyed Opposition, aided by the Alliance on one side of them and the Cross-Benches on the other, will keep a very close eye on the Order Paper (as will no doubt some of my noble friends behind me) and alert the Government, your Lordships' House and the world to anything that needs stopping. They have the means so to do in the amendment which I now beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 17B and 17C not moved.]

6 p.m.

Lord Ardwick moved Amendment No. 18: Page 3, line 35, at end insert ("and bodies representative of employees of local authorities.").

The noble Lord said: Subsection (5) says that the Minister, before issuing, revising or withdrawing a code [shall] consult such associations of local authorities as appear to him to be concerned etc. My amendment simply adds, and bodies representative of employees of local authorities.".

In moving this amendment I should like to make clear that I continue not to accept the need for a statutory code of practice at all. Self-regulation by local authorities is by far the better course. A professional code has just been published by the Institute of Public Relations for this purpose and I think that if the Government read that code they will find that it is a very promising and pretty rigorous one. However, if Ministers insist on a code which is backed by an order approved by both Houses of Parliament, it is essential that council officers who are likely to be involved in carrying out its provisions should be consulted as well as the associations. The draft code published in December 1985 and written by the Department of the Environment is a warning of what can happen when the professionals are not asked first. Anyway, that code is now withdrawn, thank goodness.

Clause 4 as it now stands provides for consultation between Ministers and local authority associations. That is all right, but it is not quite wide enough; it misses out the people whose professional job it is to operate the code. The local authority associations represent the councils themselves—that is, the elected members—but the officers also need to be consulted. In practice nowadays the information and public relations functions in most councils are carried out by professional journalists and professional public relations people who work in the press and PR departments of the town hall or the county hall. Large numbers of them are members of the National Union of Journalists. I think it would be wrong not to give their representative body the same right to be consulted as the local authority associations. The Government can only benefit from the advice of professional men and women of long experience in the field of journalism and public relations.

I have drawn the terms of my short amendment, which is taken from a clause in last year's Local Government Bill, wide enough to enable other bodies representative of employees to be consulted if the Secretary of State thinks it appropriate, but obviously I am concerned to involve those members of staff who work specifically on information and publicity and who will be directly affected by the existence of a statutory-based code. I hope that the Government will see the amendment as being aimed at improving the operation of the clause and will be able to accept it. I beg to move.

Lord Kilmarnock

Very briefly, from these Benches we should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, in his amendment. It seems to us fairly important that Clause 4(5) should be widened to require the Secretary of State to consult bodies representative of council employees. These officers will have the difficult task of interpreting the code, often in circumstances of high pressure from other officers, from journalists and of course from their elected members, as the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, has already explained.

It seems to me that this is such an extraordinarily reasonable, sensible and straightforwardly practical amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, should have no difficulty in accepting it. As the clause has already been significantly improved by the Committee, perhaps the Government would now like to improve it a little further.

Baroness Faithfull

May I ask the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, exactly what he means by, bodies representative of employees of local authorities"? I am not quite sure about this term because there are many bodies in one local authority who are representative of the employees. I wonder if I may ask him for information.

Lord Ardwick

I do not think I can go any further into it than to give a generalisation—the principle that employees' organisations should be represented: the professional organisations as well as the local Authority associations.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

I am afraid that I oppose this amendment for almost the very reason that was given by the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, before I decided to speak. It is rather vague, and it is far too vague and imprecise to be enshrined in the words of a statute. I know that it sounds a little trite for a lawyer to make that sort of comment, but that is the reason I oppose this amendment.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, does not persist in his amendment because I think it will cause a little disruption between the employees and the local authorities. At the end of the day, the associations of local authorities are the authentic voice of any point of view which comes from the local authorities. I think that even to suggest, by adding the employees' representatives to the statute, that they are not, would perhaps create some sort of disruption. I look to the local authorities, who would have the power under the clause as it now stands, to take into account their employees' point of view. Those of us who have served on local authorities know that that is done.

Before a local authority forms its own view, it takes into account the official view of the employees, particularly the associations identified by the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick. To suggest that there will have to be two horses in the shafts may well risk a disruption, which is unnecessary. For this reason I hope that the noble Lord does not pursue this particular amendment.

Lord Mottistone

I should like to add to the words of my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls, with which I entirely agree, the fact that, as I see it, the amendment as worded applies to all bodies representative of employees of local authorities, whereas I think that the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, was really making a plea for the NUJ in particular. I think that what my noble friend Lord Campbell had in mind is that this amendment, as worded, covers all the trades unions of all the employees of the local authority, which is really going much too far for a matter which is particularly concerned with publicity. In any case, I agree with the arguments that my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls has made, that the trades unions are not responsible for publicity but it is the responsibility of the local authorities, and it is the responsible people who need to be consulted in the usual way. It happens in lots of Bills. This is a very special case. I hope that the noble Lord will not press the amendment.

Lord Underhill

It appears to me, with respect, that the two previous speakers have interpreted the amendment wrongly. With the amendment, the subsection would read: consult such associations of local authorities and bodies representative of employees of local authorities as appear to him to be concerned". The decision will rest with the Secretary of State. I am president of one of the local authority associations. As the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, says, we take into account the views expressed by advisers. I am certain that the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives could do a vital job if it was consulted by the Secretary of State. As the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, said, these are the people who have to carry out the various matters. It has already expressed serious concern about the type of advice that it will have to give its members. It is doubtful whether local authority associations would get direct advice from such people as journalists and public relations officers, who are also vitally concerned.

Lord Howie of Troon

I am a little surprised to hear the noble Lords, Lord Harmar-Nicholls and Lord Mottistone, remind us how amenable and agreeable the local authorities are, since we spent a good part of last year with the Government trying to abolish them for not being amenable and agreeable. That is a most welcome change. I should like to have seen it a year ago, but it is never too late.

However, I think that there is something in what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, said about the imprecision of the amendment. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, will be inclined to agree. But I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, and others that the idea underlying it is sound. I should like an assurance from the Government that the Minister will consider the principle and perhaps come to an arrangement to have a more precise amendment.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, is right in saying that the amendment, if adopted, would involve consultation only with such associations of employees as the Secretary of State saw fit. But he knows the trade union world well enough to be aware of the hornet's nest that the Secretary of State would stir up if he started consulting one trade union and not another. He knows very well the friction there. It would be clear that under the amendment NALGO would expect to be consulted and perhaps—and this is a sobering thought—SOGAT 82.

Lord Skelmersdale

In the interests of harmony, I start by agreeing with one thing that the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, said. He quoted subsection (5) absolutely correctly! Why does the Bill empower the Secretary of State before issuing, revising or withdrawing a code to consult such associations of local authorities as appear to him to be concerned and any local authority with whom consultation appear to him to be desirable"? It is for the very reason that my noble friends behind me have stated. It is they who are the Aquarians; it is they who carry the can.

I accept that some employees of local authorities will be responsible for the day-to-day use of the code of practice on publicity, but they are among a number of other representative organisations which have an important interest and with which the Government would clearly wish to discuss their proposals but which are given no special status in the Bill. I do not think that we should be justified in making a statutory requirement to consult with them.

6.15 p.m.

I can readily accept that consultation with such bodies is desirable—the right bodies; again I refer to my noble friends behind me. The noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, may perhaps know, for instance, that my officials have had informal discussions with the local government branch of the Institute of Public Relations about the areas which the code might cover. In addition, my honourable friend the Minister for Local Government has also discussed the Bill, including the code of practice, with the TUC Local Government Committee where the major local government unions were represented. Such discussions are always helpful; but I see no reason why the Bill should require them. To do so would immediately imply that any body not included on the list of required consultees would have no right to comment, and I do not think that the Committee would wish that to be implied to those organisations outside local government which clearly have an important contribution to make. Those include bodies representing voluntary organisations and the advertising industry, for example.

I fully agree with the comment of noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, about professional men with long experience; but, as my noble friend Lady Faithfull pointed out, those are not necessarily the employees referred to in the amendment. My noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway and the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, said that the phraseology in the amendment is vague. I am not sure that I should like to be quite as hard-hearted as my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls and describe it as disruptive.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, produced two arguments. He spoke first about advice being given to members of local authority associations. It occurred to me, perhaps rather naughtily, that it may be more appropriate to have an amendment for local authority members to consult the appropriate officials. That is a flippant point. The noble Lord mentioned the Local Government Act 1985. As I understand it, the provision that he was referring to is Section 51(5)(a), which is in the part of the Act dealing with staffing matters and so it cannot be described as a good precedent for the amendment. Staffing would cover all employees of the existing metropolitan authorities and the GLC.

I hope that I have said enough to persuade the noble Lord that at best the amendment is not quite as full as he intended and that it certainly would not have the general approval of the Committee.

Lord Ardwick

I take it from those words that the noble Lord may look at something else at a later stage in the Bill. All that I am concerned about is that the Minister should consult the employee associations that he thinks relevant concerned with the operation and interpretation of the codes. That narrows the provision considerably, but I agree that that is not expressed in the amendment. It may be possible to contrive something more acceptable than I have done so far.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Elton moved Amendment No. 18A:

Page 3, line 37, at end insert— ("(5A) A code shall not be issued unless a draft of it has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament. (5B) Where the Secretary of State proposes to revise a code he shall lay a draft of the proposed alterations before each House of Parliament and—

  1. (a) he shall not make the revision until after the expiration of the period of 40 days beginning with the day on which the draft is laid (or, if copies are laid before each House of Parliament on different days, with the later of those days), and
  2. (b) if within that period either House resolves that the alterations be withdrawn, he shall not proceed with the proposed alterations (but without prejudice to the laying of a further draft).
In computing the period of 40 days no account shall be taken of any time during which Parliament is dissolved or prorogued or during which both Houses are adjourned for more than four days.").

The noble Lord said: I have spoken to this amendment, and I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Murton of Lindisfarne)

Perhaps I should say that if Amendment No. 19 were to be agreed to I should not be able to call Amendment No. 19A.

Lord Campbell of Alloway moved Amendment No. 19: Page 3, line 38, leave out subsection (6).

The noble Lord said: I am advised that, as this amendment is bound up with Amendment No. 16, and as I have spoken to that and there has been a Division on it, I need only move it formally. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Elton had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 19A: Page 3, line 38, leave out ("the provisions of the codes in force") and insert ("any relevant provisions of a code").

The noble Lord said: I rather think that this is another peg which has disappeared.

[Amendment No. 19A not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 4, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?

Baroness David

The Government have all the time had considerable difficulty with this clause. They have certainly faced difficulty today. A draft code was produced but has had to be withdrawn. We can, however, guess something of the Government's intentions from that draft code. We hope very much, of course, that the next one will be very different from the draft that has now gone.

During our discussion on Amendment No. 16, the Minister suggested that the local authority associations were satisfied now that the draft code had been withdrawn. I have here a letter written by the vice-chairman of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities to the Minister of State, Mr. William Waldegrave. That letter was written the day after the meeting at which the Minister was present with the local authority associations. I should like to quote a few lines from it. It states: You will have recognised yesterday that our primary concern at this stage is not the content of the code but its status in legislation. As you know, our preferred option is self-regulation as recommended by Widdicombe—the removal of Clause 4 from the Bill". So they are only partially satisfied.

I should also like to quote the comments of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives on Clause 4. They state: On all issues, local authorities, their members, officers and ratepayers, are entitled to seek from Parliament a clear statement in a statute of what is or is not permitted. The overlaying of a code of practice by the Secretary of State, as provided for in Clause 4 will produce a state of confusion for those who have to interpret the legislation. It will lead to the provision of two sets of rules, neither of them easy to interpret, one in statute and one a code of practice of uncertain status". Well, we have improved the clause today—quite substantially, I think. I still believe, however, that it would be very much wiser for Clause 4 not to stand part of the Bill and that we go back to what Widdicombe suggested in paragraph 211 of the report. This states: As we have indicated, the criteria for such a body this is a sort of complaints body— could not readily be laid down in statute. The question, however, arises of devising a nationally accepted code of practice. While it might be possible to develop such a code over time we do not think this would be a simple task". Indeed, the Government have found that.

Again, the report states, in paragraph 242: We believe that tone and presentation is important, and it should be controlled. Undoubtedly it would be best, in our view, if this could be done by self-regulation within local government, or through the agency of the local authority associations". I should like to think that the Government could still see that as the way forward and decide perhaps themselves to get rid of the clause.

It has emerged from the debate—because the Government would not accept the very simple amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway—that really what they wanted to do was to impress the ratepayers and to suggest that they were putting something tough into the Bill. I think, in fact, the Minister said—I copied it down—that ratepayers will have something to go by. Maybe, with the thought of elections in May and this Act coming into force on 1st April, the Government would be able to say that they had done something very tough, that they had included this code of practice and that local authorities shall have regard to it.

Lord Elton

As a matter merely of fact, I have made clear that there will be no code of practice in April. That is when we start talking about it. It will take quite a long time to get it ready. I doubt very much that it will be ready by May, or whenever it is, that the great decisions are taken.

Baroness David

I was not suggesting that the code would be ready but that the Government would be able to say that they had put in a clause that will demand a code of practice and that the local authority associations will have to have regard to it. This is the reason, it seems to me, why the Government were so adamant about not accepting the earlier amendments.

We are opposed to this clause standing part of the Bill. However, as we have improved the clause considerably by the amendments already accepted by the Committee, we shall not press it to a vote.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

I oppose the amendment, and here I am afraid—

Lord Elton

It is not an amendment.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

I am much obliged. I oppose the proposal that the clause shall not stand part of the Bill; and here I part company with the noble Baroness who has just spoken. Clause 4, as it now stands, amended by Amendments Nos. 16 and 19, serves a vital and important purpose of clarification of the status of the codes. The advisory status, as now established beyond all doubt in this area of codes devised in consultation, will afford, I would have supposed, a requisite adjunct to self-regulation. It could do a lot of good. I do not see that it could cause resentment or do any conceivable harm. I cannot therefore support the Opposition on Clause 4 not standing part of the Bill.

Lord Denning

I oppose the suggestion that Clause 4 stand part for three reasons. First, the clause, as it originally stood, has been emasculated by amendments already made by your Lordships. The first amendment confines the guidance to local authorities in order to determine expenditure on publicity. That confines the code to a very limited field. The other amendment is much more important. We have struck out subsection (6) which states that local authorities "shall have regard to". That means that there is nothing in the statute to say what the effect of this clause is.

We have discussed codes of practice before, and I have quoted on an earlier occasion what was stated by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross. Everyone, I think, agrees. The noble Viscount said that, if Parliament is going to do this sort of thing… then it must at the same time apply its mind to saying, in terms, what is to be the effect of the code".—[Official Report, 15/1/86; col. 1083] What is the effect of the code? It is not equivalent to regulations. That is clear. Is it as lowly as a circular issued on departmental authority? That has no legal force at all. Or is it something in between—a code that has statutory approval but not a word to explain what will be its effect if the matter should ever come before a court? Looking at this constitutionally, I would say that it is wrong to have a code in force in which nothing is said about what will be its effect.

Thirdly, the Widdicombe report wisely said, "We cannot decide about this at the moment. Leave it to the time when we get to our final report". Surely, that is a much better way of dealing with the matter than having this clause as it is at the moment. According to what I read, the local authority associations have reaffirmed their willingness to develop and agree a code of practice on the timing and presentation of publicity based on self-regulation within local government, saying that Clause 4 should be withdrawn. It seems to me that this is right, and that in view of the developments that have taken place it should be withdrawn.

Lord Silkin of Dulwich

Not for the first time I find myself very much in agreement—

Lord Campbell of Alloway

I am much obliged to the noble and learned Lord. I wish only to ask a question by way of clarification before the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, sits down. Would the noble and learned Lord look, in view of what he has said—I put this with the utmost respect—at Clause 4(1), dealing with codes of recommended practice? Will he then look at Amendment No. 16 which provides "for the guidance of local authorities"? Would the noble and learned Lord not agree that that makes it totally plain beyond all peradventure that the status of these codes is, as he said when he supported my amendment, advisory only and of no legal effect?

6.30 p.m.

Lord Denning

If it has no legal effect then I think that we should have a clause in to say, "This clause is to have no legal effect." Otherwise people will misuse it.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

Embellish the Bill.

Lord Silkin of Dulwich

As I was saying before giving way to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, not for the first time I find myself very much in agreement with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, particularly on the second point regarding the effect of the clause.

I would say that had subsection (6) been left in the clause I would still have found this clause extremely difficult, because one would then have had in subsection (1) a description of the code as being a code "of recommended practice", and in subsection (6) a requirement to "have regard" to it. I would have found it very difficult myself to square the concept of an instruction to "have regard" to something which is merely recommended. We have at least now removed that uncertainty. We have nothing but a code of recommended practice. For the life of me, I cannot see why the Government cannot issue as many codes of recommended practice as they like without incorporating them in a statute.

Lord Kilmarnock

It is always dangerous for a layman to come between noble Lords learned in the law, but I still find it extremely difficult to understand if, as the Government argue, no inflence can be exerted on the judiciary by the existence of a code what the value is of having a statutory based code at all. We continue to argue that a professional, self-regulatory code operated by the IPR in agreement with the local authority associations would do just as well.

One further point is that the powers of your Lordships in respect of this legislation have received a certain amount of debate this evening. We are told that any code which comes before us will now come in the form of an affirmative instrument in the first instance, and then as a negative instrument for any revisions. In spite of the instances which have been given of the exercise of your Lordships' powers in relation to the Rhodesia Order some considerable number of years ago, and the interesting reminiscences of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on a Sugar Order when he was sitting on the Opposition Front Bench, I do not think that we should be under any illusion that we should have a great deal of effect—if any at all—on any code that eventually comes before us, or any revision of it. That is something we should bear in mind.

I understand that the noble Baroness will not press her objection. However, as a practical consideration, the Widdicombe Report, Part I, at paragraph 218 says that they believed they should consider this matter further and that they would do this with the local authority associations. It appears to me that when they saw the Bill and saw Clause 4 in the Bill, they will have desisted from that intention. Is this not a good moment to put the consideration of the matter back into Widdicombe's court? Should they not be encouraged to proceed to explore with the local authority associations a formula for a code of good practice which could eventually be adopted? Pending that process of consideration, would the Government not be well advised, even with Clause 4 in the Bill, to delay any further action on a code and not to bring anything further forward until we have the Widdicombe Report, Part 2, with its recommendations after discussions with the local authority associations?

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

I think that the amendments which we have made to Clause 4 are a mistake; but we have made them, and that is now the position. I cannot accept the claim by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, that, because it has no clear legal enforcement behind it, the existence of a clause which has been recommended by the Minister would not have some good effect on any decisions which may flow from it. I believe that it would. I believe that the fact that the code was there, that it had had the support of the Minister, and that it was written into the statute would give it that extra status which would make it more likely—even though it could not easily be legally enforced—that the terms behind it would be generally accepted.

I think that we ought to keep in mind what the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, said on a previous amendment with regard to it being made purely self-regulatory by the local authority associations. I do not think that certain authorities would accept that self-regulation. They would get the bit between their teeth and do things with which, I am certain, Members in all parts of the House would not agree. I am not saying, if we leave Clause 4 as it is now amended, that it would be a clear answer to people who wanted to do that. However, I think that it would be that little bit stronger in trying to persuade them to accept the general message which would come from the code itself. I think we still ought to have Clause 4—amended though it is—in the Bill. I believe that it can only do good and is not likely to do any harm.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

I wonder whether I might have a very brief word before the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, speaks for the Opposition. In its unreconstructed state I should certainly have voted against the clause standing part. But it has been notably improved and clarified. In my view, it has not—as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, said—been emasculated. Matters have been made clearer. We now all know the import of the legislative language of the clause, whereas we did not know that before. The clause has been not only improved by Amendments Nos. 16 and 19—which have taken out misleading words and have substituted precise words—but it has also not imported imprecise words by the grace of the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, withdrawing his Amendment No. 17.

Further, I think that we must be grateful to the noble Lord the Minister for his Amendments Nos. 17A and 18A. I believe them to be a distinct improvement on a number of grounds, not only because the amendment includes the House of Lords—as it should—but it also leaves out the old subsection (4), which was thoroughly misleading in that it referred to codes of practice coming "into force". We now know that they now have no force at all; so that is an improvement. It is an improvement in that it differentiates between initial codes and variations of codes. If we have affirmative resolutions for variations of codes we shall have no parliamentary time to talk about anything else at all.

For all those reasons, I think that we have given this clause some precise meaning, and I would now no longer oppose its standing part of the Bill. Instead I think that it would be wise to leave it to Widdicombe.

Lord Underhill

There is only one brief point I wish to raise. Although as the clause is now amended it is recommended practice for guidance, I should refer to subsection (2) and remind noble Lords what that says: Different codes may deal with different kinds of publicity or different kinds of local authority or the same kind of local authority in different circumstances or different areas". It might be helpful if the noble Lord the Minister could explain why we might want a different code of guidance for a metropolitan district from that of a shire district, a London borough, or a Scottish district? Why might we need a different code of practice for a shire county from that of a Scottish regional authority? Perhaps the noble Lord the Minister could explain exactly what the words mean, or the same kind of local authority in different circumstances".

Lord Elton

Perhaps I may save a little time by reminding the noble Lord that he is only talking about the bigger authorities. Does he really think that a Scottish regional authority should be subject to the same guidance as a parish council?

Lord Underhill

Of course not, but this gives scope for so many different features. In case the noble Lord missed what I was saying when he intervened and asked me a question, let me remind him that I was referring to the different circumstances within a particular kind of authority. What are the different areas? The North of England may have a different kind of code from that in the South of England and from that which applies to the shire counties. We need an explanation as to why that is so. Frankly, my mind boggles at the number of computations that there could be in having different codes applying to different parts of subsection (2).

Lord Elton

Let me begin by endorsing what the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, said in different terms by saying that I imagined, in my innocence, that when Members of the Committee voted amendments to the clause which they voted for on the grounds that they were an improvement to the clause they did not do so in the spirit of somebody giving a respray to his car before he put it on the scrap heap! It seems to me that noble Lords have spoken eloquently about the virtues of amending the clause in the sense which my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway in a somewhat peripatetic manner has persuaded them to do. I understood that what they were doing was improving the clause for the purpose of putting it in the Bill. I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, suggested that that was the appropriate course for those who had voted for the amendments and I was surprised that some Members of the Committee should think otherwise.

The status of the code will of course be what my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway wishes it to be: that is, a code of guidance. It is true that Widdicombe suggested that it would be a great deal better to have self-regulation among the local authorities, and I have already addressed that point at some length. I need only say that it is not clear from our understanding of recent events and recent utterances that all local authorities would be keen to participate in constructing or, indeed, conforming with a voluntary code, and that the expectation of Parliament and the public is that the Secretary of State will see that a code is delivered. He cannot do that—can he?—unless the Committee gives him the authority to do so, and that is what the clause does.

We would be failing in our duty if we did not ensure that the clause was in the Bill and if we made no provision at all for dealing with the very important matters that we intend it to cover. We hope and expect the associations to have a considerable voice in the content of the code. The noble Baroness read out a letter which said that still the first choice of the associations was self-regulation. I have to say that we do not see that as an acceptable choice for the reasons which I have given, but we remain of the view that the Secretary of State must be in a position to ensure that from our discussions a code emerges and is put in place. Nothing that was said last week or that I have since read has led me to suppose that the discussions will be withheld or that they will not be fruitful.

We live in a changing society. Some of the most rapid changes have taken place in the world of communications. As a result, information which one used to take only by choice at a newstand, or in restrained statements of fact on the hoarding, is piped down cables, echoed from satellites, beamed into the living room, spewed out of ticker tapes, flashed onto Prestel screens, multiplied on disc and tape cassettes; it is galvanised, televised and sloganised until there is no escaping from it. All that costs a great deal of money and affects a great many people.

Where that money belongs to the public, they have a right at least to know that there is a code of standard good practice devised by the Secretary of State in close consultation with the local authority associations and other bodies—as my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale made quite clear—and approved by both Houses of Parliament under procedures which are in fact effective when they bring such matters to your Lordships' House and to another place. I question whether sugar was an appropriate example. However, it was the example to hand in my memory, and one has to make the best of the material that one has to hand. It is a fact that the machinery is present and that the Committee can make use of it.

6.45 p.m.

We are not asking to censor local authorities. We are not asking to curb freedom of speech. We are not asking even to stop Labour councillors making political speeches that promote Labour policies. That may be tempting, but we have not done it. There is no question of stopping politicians of any party speaking in a personal capacity on anything.

All that we want to do is to ensure that some guidelines are set in the light of some of the less desirable developments that have taken place in local authority publicity and which the Widdicombe Inquiry clearly recognised. The only way in which the Secretary of State can ensure that is if you give him the authority. I have said that he does not wish to dictate to local authorities, nor to censor them; nor could he have done so even if he had wished to do so and even if my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway had not succeeded in his amendments, because you could stop him by rejecting any code that even hinted at such a preposterous move. The power and the opportunity for you to do so are here on the face of the Bill.

My honourable friend and I have already had useful talks with the local authority associations. I believe that they will result in a code which even in its revised status will, as the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, said, be very beneficial. It would be a disappointment of a great order to deny it to those who expect it. I beg to move that the clause stand part of the Bill.

Lord Airedale

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, has pointed out how the draftsman has gone to town with the word "different" in subsection (2). The word "different" occurs five times in three lines of print. If, when we get to Report, we can leave out the first word of subsection (2), which is "different", I am sure that that will make matters much easier for the noble Lord, Lord Underhill.

Lord Elton

I am not sure how keen I am to make things easier for the noble Lord, Lord Underhill; I get more pleasure from making them more difficult! The point of having this range of choices open is to avoid being boxed in by some absurd and unforeseen position when it arises. I thought that the noble Lord was only concerned about different authorities having different provisions and I pointed out that, whereas it might be quite reasonable to have shires and districts and metropolitan districts and London boroughs under the same constraints, it may well be—and comments made in Committee earlier have suggested that this is likely to be the case—that parish councils ought to have some different criteria applied to them because they are different animals doing, basically speaking, a different job. I keep using the word "different" too, because it is relevant on every occasion.

I cannot, as I stand here on my feet, detect what would be the effect on the wording of subsection (2) of the deletion of the word "different" where it first occurs in line 26. If it has a beneficial effect, which the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, believes will make life easier for the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, then the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, being so much better disposed towards the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, even than I am, will doubtless put down an amendment at Report. However, that is something which we could do while still leaving the clause in the Bill, and I ask the Committee to do that.

Clause 4, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 5, [Separate account of expenditure on publicity]:

Lord Mottistone moved Amendment No. 19B: Page 3, line 42, at end insert— (", and public bodies or voluntary organisations receiving money for publicity from Local Authorities must make available to the public their accounts, constitution, lists of officers and names of any other groups which share their offices.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment is designed to make public the information relevant for keeping a public check on the implementation of Clause 2(3). The Committee may think that it is a bit elaborate for doing that. The reason for the amendment is that there are quite a few different ways in which money may be spent which are not clear as to whether or not it is being used for publicity. I shall give the Committee an example. Indeed, I shall give you quite a few examples because I think one wants to explain the position fully. I am sorry that the amendment has been taken quite so close to what is normally the dinner break, but that is no fault of mine and I shall seek to say as much as I think I need to say.

Groups may be funded for some purpose other than publicity—for example, running costs or research. They may be awarded a grant for wages. How will anyone know whether any part of that money is being used for prohibited purposes?

The Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom has the wages of its information officer paid by the London ratepayers via the GLC. Who, if this Bill were enforced while the GLC were still in existence, would monitor his work to ensure that he never uses his time to publish material which contravenes the Bill? A number of so-called resource centres are council-funded. They provide graphics, typesetting and printing facilities for other groups. These frequently include local branches of political parties. To keep track of all these activities it is essential to have public records of groups which are funded for publicity and groups which, though funded for some purpose other than publicity, actually publish material.

To give another example, many organisations which receive ratepayers' cash are interconnected. They have common officers, similar objectives, and often share the same address. For example, Lespop (Lesbians and Policing Project); GALOP (Gay London Police Monitoring Group); RAMPET (Research and Monitoring of Police Equipment and Training Group); and, ALTARF (All London Teachers Against Racism and Fascism), each of them GLC-funded, have a common address at No. 38 Mount Pleasant, London.

Another example is that many organisations share common officers. I do not mean "common" in one sense, but officers who are shared between them. For example, the chairman of the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom is Loretta Loach, who works for Spare Rib. Both those organisations receive GLC money. Charles Landry was treasurer of the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom and a director of the Comedia Press, which also receives GLC money. Mike Jempson, a Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom committee member, works for the GLC-founded GLEB. Your Lordships may say that with the GLC being phased out this will not happen in the future, but I think your Lordships are aware that organisations of this type are all too likely to be taken on, in same way as they now function, by other local authorities.

In the same way as companies have to register the names of their directors and the details of other directorships held by those directors, I suggest that publicly-funded groups should also be required to disclose the names of their officers and of other publicly-funded groups with which those officers are connected. It is only by those means that we can track down whether Clause 2(3) is being contravened.

In addition, the object of the amendment is that these organisations should, like companies, have to file their constitutions and accounts and give access to the public to other information which groups have submitted in support of their grant applications. The amendment also asks groups to name their other principal sources of funding to assist in determining whether they are likely to support a political party.

Lastly, any organisation which is in receipt of council funding, and is either funded for political purposes or is funded for some other purpose but engages in publicity, will be required to disclose that fact to a member of the public if requested. To keep track of all these activities it is essential to have public records of groups which are funded for publicity and groups which, though funded for some purpose other than publicity, actually publish material. It is only by having the comprehensive nature of Amendment No. 19B that one can keep a proper track publicly of whether the terms of the Bill, and in particular of Clause 2(3), are truly being adhered to. I beg to move.

Lord Denning

I hope your Lordships will not accept this amendment, because I suggest it is unworkable. The voluntary body or organisation with which I have been most closely connected is the National Marriage Guidance Council, whose fundings were mainly from the local authority. They came in a lump sum, such as £10,000, but there was no segregation into publicity or other purposes. No doubt some of their funds were used for proper publicity supporting the institution of marriage. One could not say that they had received money for publicity, but for their general purposes. It seems to me that one could not work this provision in relation to the innumerable bodies which receive money from local authorities because publicity is not separately itemised. I hope my noble friend will not press it.

Lord Underhill

The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, in moving his amendment, did not refer to subsections (1) and (2) of the clause. Subsection (1) provides: A local authority shall keep a separate account of their expenditure on publicity". Subsection (2) states: Any person interested may at any reasonable time and without payment inspect the account and make copies of it". Despite the amendment which the noble Lord has moved, there already seems to be a considerable amount of information; otherwise, he could not have referred to all the grants that have been made to the various bodies.

What does the amendment mean by: must make available to the public"? Surely, if subsection (1) and (2) mean anything the information will be there. Is it suggested that all this information should be detailed in a council minute; the whole of the constitution of a voluntary body or similar organisation which is receiving a grant—

Lord Mottistone

The amendment is calling upon the subordinate bodies, public bodies and voluntary organisations, which receive this money, to make public their own accounts. We are not seeking to add to what the local authorities have to do. That is why the other part of subsection (1), which is already in the Bill, and subsection (2), are not relevant to this amendment. This amendment seeks to widen subsection (1) to call upon these other bodies—bodies of the nature of those of which I gave examples—to make public their constitutions, accounts and lists of officers. We are not seeking to add to the local authorities' requirements. I think the noble Lord believes we are.

Lord Underhill

I am glad that the noble Lord explained that, because I was assuming from his amendment that he was wishing the local authorities to make these details public. But there are still points which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, has brought forward which make this amendment objectionable. I have no objection to any organisation making public what its aims are, but when we consider the details that are required here they include, accounts, constitution, lists of officers and the names of any other groups which share their offices". That last item is surely going rather far. I am not suggesting that we should hide any insidious organisation which occupies someone else's office under some pretence, but to ask an organisation to detail any body to which it may sub-let its premises is surely going a bit too far. The whole of this amendment seems to be along that line.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

May I ask my noble friend, when he replies, to clear up a point for me? It is not very clear, and it arises on the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. If a local authority, in order to secure publicity for political purposes, gives a sum of money to some either public body or voluntary body outside, is that gift of money caught by subsection (1)?

7 p.m.

Lord Broxbourne

I rise only for a moment to express some surprise at the misapprehension under which the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, laboured as to the effect of this amendment. I should have thought, and respectfully submit, that the drafting of the amendment is admirably clear. It is an amendment designed, as my noble friend has said, not to lay an additional burden on local authorities but to impose a perfectly reasonable obligation on bodies receiving moneys out of the public purse. In so far as such bodies have nothing to hide, then they have no reason to be apprehensive of this amendment.

Lord Elton

My noble friend has brought before your Lordships an amendment of which I agree the effects seem to be fairly clear and not to lay an additional burden on local authorities. It would require public bodies and voluntary organisations who received money from local authorities for publicity to make certain information available to the public. I must say that the kind of information which it might produce, if it is like that my noble friend produced—and I am much indebted to him for the fascinating expose he gave us of the ramification of bodies funded by the GLC—would be interesting for the public to see. But as I have described it, this is a narrowly framed amendment. However, I think it raises general questions about ensuring proper accountability for local authority decision making and about the way some local authorities use their discretionary spending powers to fund what could well be described as peripheral and politically charged activities.

These are matters which the Widdicombe inquiry is still considering in the context of its main report. As you Lordships know, the committee is due to submit its main report this spring. I think we should be ill-advised to pre-empt that report by legislation in this field now. We will wish to consider the issues in the light of the committe's recommendations, but I should not wish to make any commitments at this stage in the relatively narrow field of local authority publicity alone.

It is arguable that grant aided bodies should be accountable, whether they are grant aided for publicity or for some other purpose. In that case it would be anomalous to make provisions of this kind only in the case of publicity grants. I can tell my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter that the local authority have to include a grant in the account, but it will not be for party political purposes because of Clause 2, which will rule them out; so they will not get the grant, and it will not go into the account.

I should only add that I recognise that my noble friend's underlying concern is the nature of some of the groups that are grant aided by local authorities under their discretionary spending powers, including Section 137 of the 1972 Act. I have to say that the Government are concerned also in the same way about some recent funding. Our evidence to the Widdicombe inquiry very clearly reflects this concern. However, here again is a matter which is much wider than the narrow issue of local authority publicity which Part II of the Bill addresses.

I can assure my noble friend that the Government will very carefully consider any recommendations the committee of inquiry makes about the use of authorities' discretionary spending powers. We shall consider the need for further legislation in the light of what the Widdicombe inquiry's main report concludes. I think that that will be the right time and that my noble friend's enthusiasm, though well directed, is just fractionally premature, given that we share his interest and we will retain it until a later and I think more suitable opportunity, when we can direct it at a wider field than merely local authority spending on publicity. I hope he will feel able to await that date and withdraw his amendment.

Lord Mottistone

Yes, I can see the problem. It needs something as comprehensive, even to cover the narrow gap of publicity. Of course, I covered publicity because that is the nature of Part II of the Bill, and it is the nature of the title of Clause 5.

I see the point my noble friend makes. He almost said—perhaps he cannot say more—that there will be further legislation when Widdicombe makes his final report, and that this kind of matter will be included, possibly on the lines which I suggest. I do not know whether he can be a little more open on that.

Lord Elton

Well, I did; I almost said that.

Lord Mottistone

Well, with that almost reassurance I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Skelmersdale

In begging to move that the House do now resume, I should say that it is not proposed to return to this Bill until five past eight. I beg to move that the House do now resume.

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

House resumed.