HL Deb 13 March 1986 vol 472 cc753-85

Further considered on Report.

Lord Elton moved Amendment No. 7: Page 3, line 6, leave out from ("1972") to ("power") in line 7.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 7 I also, with your Lordships' leave, will speak to Amendments Nos. 9, 10 and 13. These are all amendments to Clause 3(2) of the Bill and concern Section 137 of the 1972 Act in England and Wales and Section 83 of the 1973 Act in Scotland. These existing provisions allow local authorities to incur expenditure in the interests of their area where they have no relevant specific powers.

Broadly they specify the limited circumstances in which a local authority may incur expenditure under Section 137(1) which is in the interests of the area on publicity. Your Lordships will be aware that we made a clear statutory prohibition on the use of Section 137(1) powers for publicity subject to two limited exceptions. In line with Widdicombe we do not consider that local authorities should have general powers to provide publicity which they consider to be in the interests of their areas, as I was saying just before we broke for dinner. We have, however, always made it clear in our proceedings in this House and in another place that Section 142 should be available to local authorities to publish information which relates to what is being carried out under Section 137(1).

This matter was raised in another place. My honourable friend the Minister for Local Government then made it clear that he considered that Section 137 was a function, so that this had been achieved. He promised that he would look at the possibility of an amendment which would introduce a provision to remove any doubt that Section 142 was available for this kind of publicity. It was expressed in terms of making it clear that Section 137 spending was a function for the purposes of Section 142.

Our Amendment No. 10 puts it beyond doubt that this is the case. It also makes it clear that publicity of this kind which relates to Section 137 spending should fall within the 2p limit in Section 137. It is in our view most important to make the position on the Section 137 account quite clear, and this follows the recent Court of Appeal judgment in the case of The District Auditor v. Leicester City Council, which held that all the staff and related costs spent on carrying out projects authorised under Section 137(1) should be included in the account and count towards the limit. I hope your Lordships will agree that it is sensible that the Bill should make the point clear since it has already been established, and in a way which is consistent with the Leicester judgment.

Amendment No. 13 makes similar provisions for Scotland. That amendment then makes clear the general position on Section 137 related publicity. There is, however, an outstanding and specific problem. We have made it clear that Section 142 may be used by local authorities to publish in their area information about what is being done under Section 137 spending. Where local authorities wish to produce publicity incidental to their economic development activities under Section 137, however, they will often need to publish material outside their area to promote these activities rather than simply publicising information. Your Lordships, I think, will all have seen material of this sort. Amendment No. 9, therefore, allows local authorities in England and Wales to continue to promote their economic development as they now may do under Section 137.

Some noble Lords may have noticed that we are not making parallel provision to allow Scottish local authorities to publish incidental economic development publicity under Section 83. This is not because we do not wish Scottish local authorities to be able to produce such publicity. On the contrary the amendment, as already worded, ensures consistency of treatment for local authorities north and south of the Border. This is because Section 7 of the Local Government and Planning (Scotland) Act 1982 provides all Scottish local authorities with specific powers to engage in industrial promotion activities, and stipulates that only the powers in that section may be used for the purposes of industrial promotion.

The section also confers ancillary powers on regional and islands councils in relation to industrial promotion and specifies the circumstances in which district councils may engage in, or contribute to, such activity. No such specific powers are currently available to the English local authorities. That is why we need the amendment for them and not for the Scots.

Specific provisions relating to the promotion of economic development are therefore unnecessary in Scotland, and the wide definition of industrial promotion in Section 7 of the 1982 Act means that in practice Scottish authorities already enjoy powers equivalent to those with which the new English provision is concerned. I should add that Amendment 7 is merely a paving amendment for the more substantive amendments. These amendments provide a package of sensible changes. I apologise for taking so long to explain them. I beg to move.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, we on this side certainly appreciate the intention of the Government and the Minister in trying to clarify some uncertainties as to the impact, one upon the other, of the use by a council of powers under Sections 137 and 142. Once we have got over the hurdle of the great gap and difference in the philosophy behind the Bill, in responding to these amendments what we ask the Minister is whether he fully understands what they will mean in practice in a number of areas.

We have been given some illustrations. My remarks on this amendment will largely be to provide the Minister and his advisers with what we have been told, and to ask them to respond to those outside who have expressed genuine concerns. We fear that the costs for proper publicity incurred under Section 142 on the promotions of the activities under Section 137, wholly within the totality of a 2p rate, will bring inordinate pressure upon what a council wishes to do under the Section 137 provisions.

We are primarily using as an illustration—and in fact the Minister was also able to use this—the job creation aspect. I listened to every word he said in addition to my own notes, and he referred to the two areas—that is, inside the authority's area and outside the authority's area—where publicity was likely to be incurred.

We already have a lot of concern, however worthy the intentions of the Government and the Minister are, that authorities shall not be disadvantaged by the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan counties, and that many of the good things previously undertaken by the GLC and the metropolitan counties ought reasonably and prudently to be taken on board by the receiving or residual councils.

We have a situation where the existing 2p rate, which is in the gift of the in situ councils, is already stretched enormously. The Minister will be aware that the majority of schemes carried on by the boroughs in using their 2p rate relate to economic development and employment assistance. In fact, 70 per cent. of the money spent by the GLC under Section 137 was spent on generating economic development and employment assistance. I am told that in the other metropolitan counties the figure stretched between 64 per cent. and 90 per cent. That is what they spent.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I missed what that was a percentage of and it is important to the noble Lord's argument.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, it is the expenditure of the 2p rate. The Minister is seeking fairly to provide a mechanism for boroughs, for instance in London, to carry on that kind of job creation work once the GLC has gone, but still within the 2p rate. What do they do at the moment within the 2p rate and what scope have they? No matter how much is given or how complicated are the formulae which are being grappled with in town halls, we still come back to the central point.

Let me give the House some of the examples of the problems that we have. I am told that at least nine London boroughs—Greenwich, Hackney, Haringey, Hammersmith and Fulham, Islington, Lambeth, Lewisham, Southwark and Wandsworth—anticipate hitting their Section 137 limits next year without taking on any former GLC schemes. These are the GLC schemes, which most fair minded people would acknowledge—though they have shown up as being the cause of great controversy—that they would want to see carried on. For example, let us take Greenwich, which was also badly hit by the new block grant mechanism. The 1985–86 limit of £894,000 was fully spent. If Greenwich spent fully its 2p rate on schemes which it considered to be worthy, yet a proportion of the previous expenditure by the GLC was taken on board equitably—and some of the schemes that the GLC funded might have been in Greenwich—then there would be a problem. The 1986–87 limit is already reduced to £787,000 with commitments of at least £861,000 before any account is taken of the ex-GLC schemes. Greenwich tells me that the present problem threatens employment for council staff, employment in, and the existence of, groups in the voluntary sector and the council's programme of assistance in co-operation with local commerce and industry.

In Southwark, 60 per cent. of the Section 137 spending is on economic development and training, 35 per cent. on advice and training and 5 per cent. on welfare and other services. In 1985–86 the 2p limit is already 79 per cent. committed. Ex-GLC commitments, including Southwark's contribution to the Greater London Enterprise Board, will push spending well over the limit. Outside London there are similar examples. We are not arguing against the principle. I am trying to put the reality to the Minister. If the publicity which is looked upon as proper, legal and lawful in accordance with this and other legislation is carried out, then boroughs are placed in an impossible position. I do not have a solution. I ask the Minister to make some comments at the appropriate time on this dilemma.

In the West Midlands the county council Section 137 expenditure is greater than the total of the districts' 1986–87 limits. We have already been told that 75 per cent. or 80 per cent. of the West Midlands expenditure was on job creation, economic development and employment assistance. If that kind of work is to be picked up by somebody, even if the boroughs in the West Midlands spent nothing and simply perpetuated the West Midlands work—took it on fully—it would exhaust the combination on their 2p rate precept. In Newcastle I am told that the 1986–87 estimates already indicate an over-commitment of Section 137, even without the consequences of abolition.

I have other examples but I do not believe they would strengthen my case. For accounting purposes authorities will be required to include expenditure on publicity for Section 137 schemes under both the separate publicity account and the Section 137 account. Why should one function of authorities be singled out for special treatment in this way?

I have another point to make to the Minister to which I hope he will be able to respond. All three local authority associations tell me that the amendment which the Minister has tabled is not to their liking. They are talking about it being rejected. I am not talking in terms of moving an objection, but the councils say, first, that the amendment is wholly unexpected and, secondly, that it has been done without consultation. We are well aware of the galloping timescale. There is a deadline and there has been a very short period between Committee stage and Report. The Minister is responding to events that took place at Committee stage. I can understand his great difficulty. The unexpectedness comes from the Minister's desire between Committee stage and Report stage to produce these amendments. I can understand the difficulty of consulting fully, but it needs to be put on the record that all three local authority associations are saying that the amendments are unexpected and have been put forward without consultation.

8.15 p.m.

I believe that the Minister must say something more, not for the purposes of the amendments, which we well understand, but on the impact of the amendments especially on the ability of authorities, which will have responsibilities, to carry forward the good work from the former metropolitan authorities and to do so within the constraints, not least the constraints of rate capping and so on. I shall not enter into the arguments on rate capping, but those are further burdens placed on hard pressed authorities which already have a horrendous total of real responsibilities in the employment creation field especially and in other areas as well.

I ask the Minister when he can at an appropriate time in the debate to give us the benefit of his observations.

Lord Denning

My Lords, I hope that these amendments will be accepted. It is important that the law on this point should be clarified because the Widdicombe Report shows how uncertain and ambiguous it is. Section 142, which we considered on previous amendments, I hope is all right on the information and publicity matters. But Section 137 has given rise to much controversy. The Widdicombe Report thought it should not apply to publicity or authorised publicity, but it recognised that some local authorities thought that it did and, on the advice of leading counsel, the money was being expended. In those circumstances the Widdicombe Report thought the matter must be clarified. An important passage in that report at page 63 states: In our view it is in principle an important and valuable power for local authorities, though in our Main Report we shall have to consider its precise scope. It should be freed from involvement with publicity, by amendment to make it clear that a local authority cannot use it to incur expenditure on advertising of any nature whatsoever". The paragraph continues to make suggestions about amendment.

In these amendments the Government are not waiting for the main report. They are dealing with the problem at once and seeing to what extent Section 137, with its limited funds, can be used by the local authority. There are pages and pages of existing powers and it is important, as the report says, to define how far it can be used for publicity. There are two amendments: one appears in the amendment about the various ancillary matters that may be dealt with. The other is in the clause which states: by way of assistance to a public body or voluntary organisation where the publicity is incidental to the main purpose for which the assistance is given". So the amendment defines the exact extent to which money can be used on publicity by the local authority; and that is a very desirable thing to do, to clear up the ambiguities and uncertainty which existed before.

It does two important things. One is: For the purpose of promoting the economic development of the authority's area, where the publicity is incidental to other activities". The other (which is in the clause as it stands at the moment) is: by way of assistance to a public body or voluntary organisation where the publicity is incidental to the main purpose for which the assistance is given". There you have a clear definition, as I see it, in the amendment, of the way in which the funds under Section 137 can be used by way of publicity. It is very important for the law to be clarified in this way, and being cleared up by this amendment, I hope that your Lordships will support it.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, for saying much that I had intended to say, and for saying it quite typically in half the compass and with twice the clarity that I could hope to achieve. Therefore, I need scarcely advert to the reasons for this amendment further than I have done already.

I think that I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, who made an interesting speech on the subject of the Section 137 expenditure limits, that he illustrated his theme from the expected impact of the Local Government Act 1985 on boroughs and districts in areas of metropolitan authorities that will be abolished by that Act on the 1st of next month. In fact, he did so to the extent that I had to remind myself that the Bill is about publicity expenditure and, given that the 2p limit of the combined boroughs of Greater London is something like £40 million, I doubt if the impact of the cost of this sort of promotion, which relates only to expenditure on publicity, will be very great. Having said that, I think that it is perhaps in season to say a brief word about Section 137 spending and its quantum, because it is within the bounds of the Bill, I suppose, to the extent that I can respond to the noble Lord.

He asked about the Government's current thinking on the present limit, which is the product of a 2p rate. We recognise that the local authorities' powers under the section have been used to fund a wide range of schemes and initiatives in the voluntary sector, but there are difficult issues of principle involved in considering the long-term future of local authorities' discretion in spending powers. As noble Lords are aware, the Widdicombe inquiry has been asked to consider, within their general terms of reference, the need to clarify the limits and conditions governing discretionary spending by local authorities. We think it is important to be able to consider that committee's recommendations before making changes in the present basis of local authorities' Section 137 powers.

In other words, the clarification that the noble and learned Lord referred to was overdue, and I am glad to put it in the Bill. But the noble Lord is actually asking about whether the ceiling is high enough, in effect.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I am grateful. What I am concerned about is, for instance, even the marginal cost of publicity. We are talking about the appropriateness of expenditure on publicity under Section 142. It is quite properly related to the principle of the Section 137 expenditure. What I am saying to the Minister is that, without taking on the extra responsibility of taking the devolved responsibilities from the metropolitan authorities, even the marginal cost of the publicity which might be needed, we are told, could very well be too much.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I think I have taken the point, and I think I was right in what I said before I gave way. The noble Lord is concerned about the height of the ceiling. He is saying that so much is being shoved in through the door that the ceiling ought to go up.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords—

Lord Elton

My Lords, I must remind the House that we are now at Report stage and that we must not indulge in exchanges as in the Committee style. Therefore, we think that we must be able to consider the committee's recommendations before making changes in the basis of the ceiling.

The broad arguments for an immediate increase in the limit for the metropolitan districts and the London boroughs have been put to us on a number of occasions, notably during the passage of the London Government Act 1985, as the noble Lord will remember. This is an issue which we shall certainly wish to address in considering the long-term position on local authorities' discretionary spending in the light of the Widdicombe findings.

Against that background, we remain of the view that we could not countenance any substantial amendment to the present rate-product limits in advance of the Widdicombe Committee's report next year without the clearest evidence that otherwise worthwhile projects, particularly where there are existing commitments, would be adversely affected. I should say, however, to the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, that my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, the Member for Mitcham and Morden, recently met representatives of the AMA to discuss a number of issues relating to Section 137 programmes next year. The Government are now giving urgent consideration to the information which they provided and to that from individual local authorities about specific difficulties which they foresee in 1986–87 in containing planned and permitted expenditure within their present Section 137 limits. Of course, we shall also take on board what the noble Lord has said in the course of this debate. I hope that with that explanation your Lordships will be satisfied to take this amendment into the Bill.

Baroness David

My Lords, am I right in thinking that the Government are justifying Amendment No. 10 on the grounds of present publicity for economic developments carried out under Section 137; so that restricting such publicity to the 2p account under Section 142 in the future will only replicate the existing situation?

Lord Elton

Yes, my Lords, I think that is very nearly what I am saying. I am not sure that the noble Baroness got the two sections the right way round. What we are saying is that Section 137 expenditure is a function for the purposes of Section 142. As I understand it, it properly forms part of the Section 127 expenditure total; but that was unclear and, in the light of Widdicombe and also of the case which I quoted a moment ago, we have now clarified it.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Deputy Speaker (Earl Cathcart)

My Lords, in calling Amendment No. 8, I should advise your Lordships that if Amendment No. 8 is agreed to I cannot call Amendment No. 9.

Lord Hayter moved Amendment No. 8: Page 3, line 10, leave out from ("may") to end of line 14 and insert ("not itself incur expenditure under subsection (1) above on publicity, but it may incur expenditure to enable a public body or voluntary organisation to promote their own aims and objectives provided such publicity is not otherwise prohibited.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we seem in this amendment to be straying on to arguments which were put forward on both sides in relation to the last amendment. But, once again, I am trying to get back to the recommendations of the Widdicombe Report, where Widdicombe was recognising that local authorities sometimes use their Section 137 powers to fund voluntary organisations. Often this is because the voluntary organisations are involved in new work which is not yet covered by statute.

Widdicombe recognised that if the local authorities were prohibited from using Section 137 for their own publicity, this prohibition naturally would have to exclude voluntary organsations' publicity. Otherwise, a number of important projects would also be prohibited. He therefore recommended—and I am quoting: the exclusion of publicity from Section 137 (Section 83 in Scotland) should be so framed as not to prevent bodies funded under that section from issuing publicity to promote their own aims and objectives provided they are not acting as proxies for local authorities in unauthorised publicity. This amendment, which is in my name and in those of others, is designed to incorporate that in the Bill.

As I understand it, local authorities are allowed to use Section 137 to give grants for publicity, but only if the publicity is incidental to the main purpose for which the grant was given. So far as I can tell, this means that if a local authority is given a large grant, only part of which is for the purposes of publicity, that is all right; but if a local authority is given a small grant for publicity only—for example, £1,000 for printing some leaflets—that is not all right. In fact it is prohibited.

8.30 p.m.

One may be wondering where the logic lies, but in many cases the one thing a voluntary organisation actually needs is a grant which is for the direct cost of publicity. The other aspect of a campaign can often be carried out by volunteers or through donations, but the one cost which is sometimes beyond the means of voluntary effort is the cost of the publicity itself. Yet this is the one thing that a local authority seems to be prohibited from funding under Section 137.

I now commend Widdicombe's original wording to the House. The amendment makes the position quite clear. There is no danger of Section 137 being used as a loophole for political propaganda, since the last part of the amendment makes it quite clear that the prohibition on political publicity still applies. Therefore, voluntary organisations cannot be used as "front" organisations for political purposes. This amendment simply makes it clear that whereas local authorities' own publicity cannot be funded under Section 137(1), publicity of voluntary organisations relating to their own aims and objectives can be. I beg to move.

Lord Denning

My Lords, may I suggest that accepting this amendment would cause a great deal of confusion? The amendment we have just agreed to, No. 6, will cover all the grounds on which the local authorities can spend money on publicity. Once we have done that and got the various amendments in, it seems to me impossible to reconcile this fresh amendment in addition to those we have already passed. It would introduce a good deal of confusion and therefore I hope that it will not be pressed.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, I rise briefly because I put my name to this amendment. The reason was that I thought it should be absolutely clear to the public body or voluntary organisation that they can promote their own aims and objectives. This is misunderstood, I think, among a number of voluntary organisations and some of them are thinking that this cannot be done. I should also just say that publicity, whether it is by means of the local radio, the press or pamphlets, is a social-work help to the members of the community to know what in fact voluntary organisations are able to provide for them.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, I am a little puzzled that voluntary organisations should think that they cannot publicise anything, because really all they are being prevented from publicising is what is in Clause 2, and many of the things they want to talk about have no relation to politics at all. I am advised that the difference between Amendment No. 8 and the existing wording of the Bill is that clever people who want to exploit the situation and defeat Clause 2 could do it much more readily under Amendment No. 8 than they could under the Bill as it stands. Therefore, from the point of view of the Bill's main object, with which we are all agreed, it would be better if we did not go ahead with this amendment, No. 8.

Baroness David

My Lords, I am constantly surprised by the attitude that some noble Lords opposite take about the attitudes of voluntary organisations and indeed of many ordinary people. They seem to be seeing Reds under the beds everywhere. This seems to me to be really a very straightforward amendment which is not going to create any trouble or harm. As the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, said, this really should be supported. I am really amazed at some of the things I have heard today, and I think I will stop there.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, at this late hour, especially, I do not want to become at all emotive but really in a sense I am amazed that the noble Baroness, for whom I have so great a regard, as she knows, should feel displeased in this way; because on an objective analysis—which is the only form of analysis which is worth anything at all—I totally agree with the way my noble friend Lord Mottistone has just put the position. There is nothing more to be said. You can turn this subject into an emotive one, but that will never get it right.

There is behind this a common desire, a common will, on all sides of this House to put an end to the abuse of ratepayers' money being used for party political purposes. All we are discussing—and it must be an objective and not an emotive discussion—is the best and most efficacious way of doing it. This amendment, I am afraid—although certainly it could never be the intention of the noble Baroness opposite—opens the stable door for the horse.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, before the noble Lord rises to reply, is it the case, as the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, has suggested, that a voluntary organisation whose aims and objectives are to campaign for a certain purpose and which receives, let us say, as the noble Lord, Lord Hayter, gave in his instance, £1,000 for the printing of material, would or would not be banned from so doing? That is what we want to know.

Lord Elton

My Lords, my capacity for amazement was exhausted very soon after I became a Minister, but even had it not been I would not have been amazed, I think, by anything I have heard from behind me this evening. However, the noble Baroness has said enough to show that I must start by trying to explain where the logic of the Bill lies, as the noble Lord, Lord Hayter, put it, and why we consider there are sufficient other powers for the funding of voluntary organisations for legitimate publicity activities, and why the effect of his attractively simple amendment would in fact he to allow authorities who wish to to give grants to a wide range of very questionable organisations for publicity activities which had nothing to do with local government.

First, I think I should again remind your Lordships of the very important fact of which the noble Lord himself reminded us just before dinner. That is that under present law Section 137(3) of the 1972 Act gives local authorities general powers to incur expenditure on the funds of any charitable body in furtherance of its work in the United Kingdom. That is the first answer to the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock. It also gives them general powers to incur expenditure on the funds of any body which provides any public service in the United Kingdom otherwise than for the purposes of gain. That is the second leg of the answer to the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock.

Nothing we are doing in Clause 3 of this Bill would place any restriction on the use which local authorities make of these powers to fund such bodies for publicity. Under Section 137(3) local authorities would continue to be able to give such organisations both general and, if they wished, specific grants for publicity purposes. The publicity would not need to be "incidental" to their main purposes.

Charities and voluntary organisations which provide a public service in the United Kingdom would continue to be able to use local authority funds to carry out publicity campaigns on any topic, subject only to the existing wider law and their own existing constitutions. With the single exception of the prohibition of party political publicity, the whole of this field would remain as open to them in future as it is today. So that is the answer to the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock.

Going on from that, I would say that this is a wide power. It covers a whole host of registered charities, including the Citizens' Advice Bureaux, MIND, and very many local organisations—I mentioned both those two specifically in anticipation of the presence of certain noble Lords who are interested in them, but I do not think they are present—including community relations councils. It also covers all bodies that provide a public service in the United Kingdom.

I am advised that that definition covers all organisations providing a service which is available to the public at large otherwise than for the purpose of gain. A great many organisations which have been under a misapprehension about the Bill's effects will I hope read what I have said and be reassured.

My Lords, you may say that if Section 137(3) is so broad, why not complete the job and give local authorities free rein to fund voluntary organisations for publicity, as the noble Lord, Lord Hayter, proposes. What voluntary organisation does Section 137(3) exclude? Put simply, the answer is that it excludes organisations which are not registered charities and which do not provide a public service other than for the purpose of gas.

As my noble friends will be quick to remind me, that includes some rather odd bodies. We must remember that the definition of voluntary organisation given in the Bill is very wide. The definition is: a body which is not a public body but whose activities are carried on otherwise than for profit". That definition goes far wider than the definition of charities and wider even than the definition in Section 137(3) that I quoted a moment ago. It embraces not only local CND groups but a whole range of sometimes very curious single-issue campaign groups of which your Lordships will be aware.

The funding of such organisations at public expense needs to be treated with some care, particularly the funding of publicity by such organisations. Publicity, as Widdicombe has said—unlike, for instance, lobbying—raises issues in its own right about the proper use of public funds. We agreed with the committee that in that very sensitive area, there is therefore a need for caution in the framing of the local authority's powers. We agree that they should not be open-ended in the potential subject matter which they cover.

Although I have more material, I believe that I have replied to the specific points that the noble Lord, Lord Hayter, raised. As that is the function of my speech, I hope that I have persuaded him not to press his amendment.

Lord Hayter

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Minister. As he recommended in his few words, the voluntary organisations should read and see what he said. He thinks that they will be satisfied, and I have a suspicion that I agree with him. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Elton moved Amendment No. 9: Page 3, line 11, after ("only") insert ("—

  1. (a) for the purpose of promoting the economic development of the authority's area, where the publicity is incidental to other activities undertaken or to be undertaken by the authority for that purpose, or
  2. (b)").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Elton moved Amendment No. 10: Page 3, line 14, at end insert ("but the following provisions of this section apply to expenditure incurred by a local authority under section 142 below on information as to the services provided by them under this section, or otherwise relating to their functions under this section, as they apply to expenditure incurred under this section.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Denning moved Amendment No. 11: Page 3, line 14, at end insert ("and any such public body or voluntary association shall use its resources on publicity only when it is incidental to the main purpose for which the assistance is given.").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, this is really an amendment supplemental to those which have already been made. May I recall, as my noble friend Lord Elton said, that under Section 137, as it stands, a local authority may incur expenditure on any of the following funds:

  1. "(a) the funds of any charitable body in furtherance of its work in the United Kindom; or
  2. (b) the funds of any body which provides any public service in the United Kingdom otherwise than for the purpose of gain".
Section 137 already contains a wide power. The new clause provides that a local authority may incur expenditure only by way of assistance to a public body or organisation where the publicity is incidental to the main purpose for which the assistance is given.

I understand that to mean that if one of the voluntary bodies is arranging as its main function to have a conference in a hall, there can be publicity because that is incidental to the organisation's main purpose, and therefore the money can properly be used for laying on that conference.

The point I make is that although the local authority can provide money for that type of publicity, I want to make sure that when it is provided for that purpose the organisation is bound to use it for that purpose. That was obviously the clause's intention. The object of my amendment is to make sure not only that the money is given for that purpose but that it is used by the voluntary organisation for that purpose. The measure is supplemental to the one which has already been agreed. I hope that your Lordships will accept the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, for putting forward this amendment, and for taking such care in setting out the reasons for this proposal. This issues that he raises are, I find, difficult ones.

First, we are concerned to ensure that when bodies are in receipt of public funds they use those funds properly. We are on common ground on that. That is why we have made it the responsibility of the local authority to police its own grant-giving. The local authority is in general responsible for ensuring proper systems of accountability and for monitoring the way that bodies receiving local authority assistance spend their grant.

Secondly, we are concerned to maintain the freedoms of the voluntary sector. I am sure we are on common ground there. We are concerned with the proper use of local authority funds. We do not wish to set damaging restraints on the use which voluntary organisations make of their own funds.

The proposal which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, has made is obviously a considered one. He seeks to strengthen the system of accountability for grant-giving, in the particular case of organisations in receipt of grant-aid for incidental publicity under Section 137(1) powers. It also would place a duty on organisations receiving such assistance to confine themselves to publicity incidential to the main purpose for which the local authority has given assistance. I see that the noble and learned Lord agrees that I have that right.

What worries me is that in doing this the amendment conflicts with our second concern. It would not only restrict a voluntary organisation in the use it made of assistance; it would stop it from using any of its own resources to fund publicity which was not incidental to its main purpose for which the local authority had given assistance. It would prevent a voluntary organisation from using either local authority money or its own money obtained from other sources. That goes beyond our concerns with ratepayers' money, and it might also I think impose unfair restrictions upon voluntary organisations' use of their private funds. It might be incidental to other purposes of theirs which are not their main purpose but which might be perfectly proper.

The restrictions that would impose would, in some cases, be quite arbitrary. If, for example, a local authority gave a grant to an organisation for the disabled, for a specific research project and publication of a research report, that organisation would then he prevented from using its other resources for more general publicity.

If those are, as I believe them to be, the side effects of the noble and learned Lord's amendment, on reflection, he may feel he is being less than fair to meritorious organisations and perhaps he may not feel it right to press the amendment at this stage.

Lord Denning

My Lords, I realise that I have put the amendment a little wide. My original draft was that the local authorities should give the funds, and the voluntary body: shall use such assistance on publicity only". I did not want a voluntary body to be able to switch funds from one purpose to another and get around the law like that. I therefore included "its resources". I gather from my noble friend the Minister that had I kept to my original draft it might have been acceptable. I was a little nervous. I should perhaps have let the local authority do its own monitoring by inquiring of the body what it is doing with the money. That might do just as well as placing on it the obligation that I have mentioned. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Airedale moved Amendment No. 12: Page 3, line 16, leave out ("refers to") and insert ("means").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, subsection (2D) consists of two definitions—I think I can safely say that—the test of a definition being that you can use either set of words and produce the same meaning. The second definition uses the word "means", which is the word that you usually find in an interpretation clause indicating a definition. But the first definition uses not "means" but "refers to".

It is important that when Parliament means the same thing, Parliament should use the same words, because otherwise you set lawyers straining to find a difference where none exists, arguing: "Parliament must here mean two different things, because otherwise Parliament would have used the same words". Accordingly, in order to avoid any confusion, I beg to move this amendment, which replaces "refers to" with "means" in the first of the two definitions.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I have been waiting for this moment with ill-concealed impatience for the whole of today. I am very happy to say that I agree with every word the noble Lord has said and I advise your Lordships to accept this amendment. I should add that, for consistency, it will be necessary to reflect the change in one of our amendments to Clause 3(2) and I should tell your Lordships that now, because I shall have to do that at Third Reading.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Elton moved Amendment No. 13: Page 3, line 21, at end insert ("and in section 83 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 (which makes corresponding provision for Scotland), after subsection (2B) insert— (2C) A local authority may incur expenditure under subsection (1) above on publicity only by way of assistance to a public body or voluntary organisation where the publicity is incidental to the main purpose for which the assistance is given; but the following provisions of this section apply to expenditure incurred by a local authority under section 88 below on information as to the services provided by them under this section, or otherwise relating to their functions under this section, as they apply to expenditure incurred under this section. (2D) In subsection (2C) above— publicity" refers to any communication, in whatever form addressed to the public at large or to a section of the public; and voluntary organisation" means a body which is not a public body but whose activities are carried on otherwise than for profit.".").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 7. My Lords, I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 4 [Codes of recommended practice as regards publicity]:

Lord Airedale moved Amendment No. 14:

Page 2, line 28, leave out first ("Different").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I cannot believe that the interests of good draftsmanship can require that the word "different" should have to occur five times in three lines of print. I have set about trying to see which of the words "different" could be discarded, and it occurs to me that the first word "different" could be discarded without making any difference to the meaning. I trust that the Minister will not be taking a different view. I beg to move.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I hope that your Lordships will not feel there is any element of favouritism in my treatment of the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, and that he will not feel that he has any prescriptive right to the support of government. But again I have to say that he is engaged in work with which I sympathise and agree, and I hope your Lordships will accept the amendment.

Baroness David

My Lords, of course we are all delighted to accept the amendment, but we were reminded on an earlier occasion today that the drafting of this Bill has been extremely careless.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I do not think I can accept that on behalf of the draftsman. It seems to me that the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, has done a service in clarifying and simplifying the English of the Bill and that is always welcome. But the drafting of a Bill goes very much deeper than that and I can vouch for the assiduity, the wisdom and, indeed, the hard work of the draftsman in those depths of language which we all find so difficult to follow. But that in no way diminishes my gratitude or enthusiasm for the noble Lord's amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 5 [Separate accounts of expenditure on publicity]:

Lord Elton moved Amendment No. 15:

Page 4, line 26, at end insert— (" (5) The Secretary of State may by order provide that subsection (1) does not apply to publicity or expenditure of a prescribed description. (6) Before making an order the Secretary of State shall consult such associations of local authorities as appear to him to be concerned and any local authority with whom consultation appears to him to be desirable. (7) An order shall be made by statutory instrument which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment follows on from an amendment proposed in Committee by my noble friend Lord Elliott of Morpeth. I recall that it was welcomed by the noble Baroness, Lady David, because she said it would give a great deal of help to local authorities in carrying out their duties under the Bill when it becomes an Act.

The effect of the amendment would be to give the Secretary of State the power to provide by order that certain categories of expenditure on publicity should not be included in separate publicity accounts. Your Lordships will be aware that we consider that the publicity account needs to be wide-ranging. We agree with the view taken by the Widdicombe Committee, who said that, authorities were not sufficiently conscious of their overall level of publicity expenditure". The committee reported that at present, Few—if any—local authorities keep a separate centralised record of all expenditure on public information, advertising and consultation activities. Much expenditure of this kind is incurred by individual service committees and is not aggregated on a routine basis for the authority as a whole. Many of the larger authorities have staff and a budget specifically allocated to the public relations function. But even where this is the case, the public relations budget is likely to account for only a part of the authority's information and advertising. The present situation is clearly unsatisfactory and we are proposing a broad publicity account to remedy it.

But, while the account needs to be broad-ranging, it does not need to be all-inclusive. My noble friend Lord Elliott of Morpeth expressed it admirably when he said that, whereas we want an all-inclusive definition of publicity for the purposes of party political prohibition, surely it is unreasonable to be exhaustive in trailing a boat through local authorities' expenditure looking for items of expenditure on publicity which are minute."—[Official Report, 24/2/86; col. 895.]

The Government do not wish local authorities to have to engage in unnecessary effort and expense in order to include the more marginal elements of publicity or expenditure in the account that have no clear relevance in terms of public accountability. We would, of course, want to have detailed discussions with local authority interests before we formulated our descriptions of the items to be excluded. The amendment reflects this in subsection (6).

This is a matter on which local expertise may be very important indeed. But, as my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale explained in Committee, we have in mind cases where the inclusion of some items of expenditure in the account would involve disproportionate expense; cases where the amounts involved are very small and/or accounting systems are very devolved. The sort of examples we have in mind at present, prior to consultation, are expenditure on letters to parents or circular letters about holiday arrangements for a waste collection service. These, we think, may well be de minimis.

There is one final point which your Lordships may want to note. The amendment proposes that the exclusions to the account will be made by order of the Secretary of State. The proposed subsection (7) would provide that the order should be subject to parliamentary procedure. It would be made by statutory instrument, subject to the negative resolution procedure in both Houses, and there will be an opportunity therefore for your Lordships to hold me up to my undertaking that we will consult. We decided that this was the most appropriate way and more appropriate than a direction in this case, as my noble friend Lord Elliott proposed in his amendment. However, it will still allow for flexibility, which is essential in this field as we gather experience. I commend the amendment to your Lordships and I beg to move.

Baroness David

My Lords, I am, of course, very glad to see this amendment because I supported the noble Lord, Lord Elliott, when he moved Amendment No. 20, as it was in Committee. Unfortunately, he is not here. At col. 896 of the Official Report of 24th February, I gave a long list of matters which I thought should be considered in the definition of "publicity", which is, any communication, in whatever form, addressed to the public at large or to a section of the public". I hope that the Minister has looked at these and that they will be covered by the new subsection in Clause 5. I should be glad of a little reassurance on that point, but of course we welcome the amendment.

Lord Elton

My Lords, by your Lordships' leave, I have col. 896 in front of me as I speak. I shall ensure that the suggestions the noble Baroness makes in that column and in the contiguous columns are taken on board in the process of our consideration of how to draft the order.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 6 [Interpretation and application of Part II]:

9 p.m.

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 16: Page 5, line 3, at end insert ("other than a communication comprising only factual information about employees and other agents of the local authority and the facilities made available by them.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am not quite sure how necessary this amendment is but no doubt the Minister will tell me very quickly. I am not quite sure whether the amendment which has just been passed will cover all the things that I want to have covered here.

The Minister gave the assurance that the Government accepted that there is a case for excluding marginal expenditure from the requirements of Clause 5, and an amendment to the one we have just passed has been tabled. The Minister also said that other examples of material that should be properly excluded may emerge from discussions and consultations with local government, but this relates only to separate accounting. Even so there is still widespread concern in education circles over whether communication in relation to educational activities will be restricted by the Bill. This seems a particularly apt time to raise this point as the Government have recently published the Education Bill which had its Second Reading earlier this week.

Clause 24 of the Education Bill proposes that governing bodies should produce annual reports. During the Second Reading debate the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, said that it is, a general principle of accountability that I should like to see provision made for the wider dissemination of information about schools, especially their budgets and curricula, to any parents or members of the public who wish to receive it".—[Official Report, 10/3/86; col. 448.] In her reply the noble Baroness, Lady Young, pointed out that Clause 24 of the Bill had this wider dissemination of information as its objective. Surely the communication of a whole range of uncontroversial publicity within the education world has wide support. Yet the governors' report as proposed by Clause 24 of the Education Bill would be subject to all the strictures of this Act as I see it at the moment, including separate accounting, unless it is excluded from that provision by the Government amendment to Clause 5.

Clause 6(3) states: 'Publicity', 'publish' and 'publication' refer to any communication, in whatever form, addressed to the public at large or to a section of the public". Other communications which would also be affected by this clause, if not amended, include college prospectuses, booklets on school admissions, letters from head teachers, invitations to school open evenings, as well as notices outside schools and colleges giving information such as opening times and the names of the head teachers and principals—also the information required by Section 12 of the Education Act 1980 relating to proposals to make significant change in the character of a county school or indeed the closure of a school.

Appreciating that the definition of "publicity" has been widely drawn, this amendment seeks clarification from the Government whether uncontroversial publicity, particularly in the education world, was ever meant to be restricted by this Bill. The Council of Local Education Authorities is extremely anxious about this point, and so I should like some reassurance from the Minister.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I share the surprise of the noble Baroness when she finds herself moving this amendment because, like her, I felt that we had probably addressed the concerns which she has now voiced. Perhaps I may very briefly say that we have provided in Amendment No. 15 to Clause 5 that: The Secretary of State may by order provide that the Clause 5(1) requirement to account separately for publicity does not apply to publicity or expenditure of a prescribed description". Thus it is possible to identify exemptions by categories of publicity such as circular letters to parents from teachers, as I mentioned, or from boards of governors as the noble Baroness mentioned; or by categories of expenditure such as the staff or other administrative costs involved in producing an item of material. We have also provided for consultation with the local authority associations and any local authority with whom consultation appears to the Secretary of State to be desirable about how we are to define the exemption.

The proposals for a separate account will not come into effect until a day is appointed by order. We have no firm date in mind. As I have already said, we shall want to discuss with the associations the precise parameters of the account before bringing Clause 5 into effect, and the date cannot therefore realistically be before the financial year 1987–88. I hope that the noble Baroness will accept that we will consult fully and that this does indeed give us time so to do. We shall be able to look at all the categories about which she says there is concern and we shall, if the people who have spoken to her are the people I believe them to be, actually be talking to them or their representatives in the process.

Baroness David

My Lords, it is very nice to have assurance doubly sure. I am grateful to the Minister for that. I shall of course read what he has said and pass it on to the people who are anxious; but I hope that everything is now going to be well. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Elton moved Amendment No. 17:

Page 5, line 14, at end insert— ("(5) Nothing in this Part shall be construed as applying to anything done by a local authority in the discharge of their duties under Part VA of the Local Government Act 1972 or Part IIIA of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 (duty to afford public access to meetings and certain documents).").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, both my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale and I undertook at Committee stage that we would introduce an amendment of this kind. It is intended to make clear that the publicity provisions in Part II of the Bill do not conflict with local authorities' duties under the Local Government (Access to Information) Act 1985. The amendment does this by an addition to Clause 6. In effect it is a declaratory provision that nothing in Part II of the Bill, shall be construed as applying to anything done by a local authority in the discharge of their duties under Part VA of the Local Government Act 1972 or Part IIIA of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973", as amended by the Local Government (Access to Information) Act 1985. If your Lordships can follow that verbatim you have done very well, but it reads quite nicely in Hansard and I think you will see its effect. In layman's terms that material made available under that Act should not be construed as "publicity" for the purposes of this Bill.

Broadly, the Local Government (Access to Information) Act requires local authorities to give public access to council and committee meetings and make related papers available for inspection. As I explained in Committee, we would draw a firm distinction between, on the one hand, publicity as defined in the Local Government Bill—that is a communication, addressed to the public at large or to a section of the public", and, on the other, papers primarily for use by the local authority or the council which members of the public and press who are interested can inspect. The fact that those papers are open to the public to inspect does not mean that they are addressed to the public or to a section of the public. The present amendment is in fact a declaration of that distinction, and is provided for the avoidance of doubt. For that reason, I commend it to your Lordships. I beg to move.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, the noble Lord makes a reasonable case of the removal of doubt. However, we are here looking at current practices against the background that some practices and purposes are objected to, including publicity that can be seen, if not wholly then substantially, to have a political purpose.

As the noble Lord has pointed out, under the 1985 Act there has been further clarification. The access to information Act specified a number of ways in which that Act and the Government encouraged local authorities to be more open. I may use the phrase, rather loosely, more open government—although, as an ex-local government man, I am very conscious of the fact that there are times when one is inhibited by a range of pressures from being as open as some people might want.

The 1985 Act talked in terms of all meetings of a local authority to which it applied being put on a common footing by providing for public access to council meetings and to meetings of committees. It provides for access to agendas, reports, and minutes of meetings, which should be open for public inspection.

The Minister will be aware that some authorities already go far beyond that. They do not do so for any political purpose. We are talking in terms of the desire of councils—and I do not even say of some councils because I believe it is a growing trend—to make their deliberations and considerations of business as open as possible. They are happy not only to make agendas and copies of papers accessible for inspection but also, in a number of instances, as in Leeds, to go beyond the requirements of the Act in making documents available.

I am the president of the Association of London Authorities, and I am very proud to be so. That organisation has just produced a charter for open government. It seeks, in the way in which it is entitled to do so as a major and responsible association, to encourage a movement in which agendas and open reports will be supplied on a regular basis to individuals and to groups upon payment of a reasonable fee. In other words, one may not only go to the town hall to find out what is going on but if one hears about a document and would like a copy, then one will be provided. The association is advocating also that community groups should wherever possible receive copies of papers in the same way that the members of the committees receive them.

I was about to say that I was delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, in his place. I intended to make a reference to another aspect of publicity. The noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, knows the Newcastle-upon-Tyne scene very well and I was about to tell the House that I have an association, which I declare, with the National Federation of Market Traders. I use this as an illustration. There are many groups of people who are vitally affected, in terms of their livelihoods, by the decisions and determinations of local authorities. Outwith what one might call close negotiations with council officers and any group, I am talking about the democracy; that is, papers for committees and so on.

I intended to refer in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans—who was certainly in his place until a minute ago—to the fact that there is a great controversy going on between market traders in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and the council relating to a major publicity event later this year on the Newcastle quayside. Great interests are involved.

I can certainly see that groups such as market traders, chambers of commerce, and others, may very well benefit from having maximum access to information. I want to ask the Minister—I hope not too tortuously—whether he sees any objection to an authority being even more open and accessible than the degree to which he has already explained they will be under this Bill in relation to the 1985 Act.

I very much hope that the Minister will recognise that anything which is seen as an inhibition on the ability of council officers to feed their populace more effectively with information is to be frowned upon. I have here a document from The Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, which is a body highly respected in this House and in other places. The letter is sent by the Association of District Secretaries, the Society of Directors of Administration in Scotland, the Society of County Secretaries and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives. That letter states that legal advisers, will be faced with the dilemma of advising their councils on a day to day basis on the information and publicity they plan to issue before ever a case which might be challengeable gets to the courts.

9.15 p.m.

I want the Minister to understand that already there has grown up while this Bill has been going through the House a great reluctance on the part of council officers for fear that they would be accused of giving information which could be either miscontrued or deliberately misused for political purposes. Rather than put their councils into difficulty they are being more cautious, even if it is simple commercial information to market traders and shopkeepers. They are inhibiting themselves from making this information available.

Therefore, as far as we are concerned the amendment is sensible and right, and is in pursuance of the reflections by the Minister and his advisers between Committee and Report stages. However, I very much hope he will say something helpful about not inhibiting those councils who intend, not for political purposes but for democratic purposes, to make their proceedings more widely known, easily and quickly, at a proper charge. I am not referring to costs on the ratepayers but to a proper charge for the provision of the information that is needed.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, we on these Benches should like to thank the noble Lord for this amendment, which I think comes in response to amendments along the same lines moved by my noble friend Lord Winstanley during the Committee stage, under Clause 2, and a similar amendment which I moved under Clause 6.

There is only one question that I wish to ask the noble Lord. The amendment we moved under Clause 6 during the Committee stage read as follows: Nothing in this Act shall prevent the publication of material, or any other action, by a local authority in exercise of its functions under the Local Government (Access to Information) Act 1985."—[Official Report, 24/2/86; col. 908.] I see that the wording in the noble Lord's amendment appears to be slightly more restrictive than that. It refers to, the discharge of their duties under", in effect, the Local Government (Access to Information) Act. That appears, therefore, to be rather more tightly drafted than what we had proposed. It would appear also only to exempt material made available in satisfying the minimum requirements of that Act but not practices which that Act would encourage, which I think was the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, about positive progress in the direction of freedom of information which that Act was encouraging.

For example, the access of information Act requires councils to make council and committee papers available to the press on application. Therefore, if a journalist applies for a paper and is given it by the council, the council is safe. If, however, the council welcomes press scrutiny and promotes maximum freedom of information it might want to send those documents to all the newspapers in the area. If it did that, would it be open to prosecution? Could there not be a situation in which a committee report is sent to rival newspapers, one of which has asked for it and the other has not? In that case, will the council be liable to prosecution in the one case but not in the other?

I do not want to cavil at this amendment because, I repeat, we welcome it; but it raises that question of interpretation and whether I am right in thinking that what the noble Lord is giving us is perhaps slightly less than we were asking for.

Lord Elton

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, asks whether local authorities can sell their order papers and minutes, and the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, asks whether they can give them away. The purpose of the amendment is exactly what it was stated to be when it was asked for. It does what noble Lords opposite asks that it should; that is, to make it clear beyond peradventure that Part II of the Act shall have no effect upon, anything done by a local authority in the discharge of their duties under Part VA of the Local Government Act 1972 or Part IIIA of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973.". Those provisions comprise the duties of local authorities to afford public access to meetings and to certain documents. If an authority goes beyond its duty under those parts of those Acts, I say, subject to advice, that then it is certainly not protected by those parts of those Acts or therefore by this amendment.

Local authorities will become culpable only if the documents which they put out are in fact improper in some sense of Part II of the Act. Part II of the Act is not aimed at the minutes and agendas of council meetings, so it would take some exertion on the part of a council to make them offensive to the Act. I suppose it would be possible for council members to make very special speeches which took the form of a publicity broadsheet and they could have them printed in a particular form which made them suitable for sticking up on public walls; but then I think your Lordships would agree that they would not be doing anything that they were required to do under Part VA of the Local Government Act or Part IIIA of the Local Government (Scotland) Act. They would be doing something which your Lordships intended that they should not do, which is displaying part of a public campaign. They could still do that if it were not political and if it fell within the code.

I see that the noble Lord wants to interrupt me. In that case I shall be able to read a note which has been handed to me.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I rise so that the noble Lord may better read the note which has just come from the Box.

The interesting point that the noble Lord makes is that the agenda or the minutes must not contain something which can be seen to contravene the proscriptions in Clause 2. I am told that in Islington and Hackney they make available and send out the verbatim reports of council meetings, and that the verbatim reports will very often contain remarks of a politically offensive nature; that is, remarks by which some people would be offended by virtue of their content. In fact, I am simply asking the Minister whether, in the proper fulfilment of their democratic wish to make known to bodies such as tenants' associations, and so on, what has happended in the council meeting, the members of the council would be caught or stopped from reporting the council meeting proceedings if the content of the minutes was seen to be somehow or other a form of political propaganda and not merely the democratic dissemination of information.

Lord Elton

My Lords, the noble Lord asked a very specific question and I have already given a very specific answer as to the purpose of this amendment and what it does. I have to stand on that answer because that is what the purpose of the amendment is and it is what the amendment does. The noble Lord now asks what the rest of the Bill would do about a particular action by the council. That would depend entirely on the case, would it not? If it fell within the definition of the amendment, there would be no case to answer because the definition says that no part of the Act shall apply to it. If it went beyond the definition of the amendment, then that protection would be withdrawn.

I cannot in fact answer a hypothetical question about the legal status of the minutes of proceedings of a particular borough council on a particular matter because that could only be decided by the courts; but I can well see that the proceedings would have to be of a very particular sort (if we can use that word again after our earlier debates about the word "particular"), and I should have thought that the report would have to be distributed in a very particular way in order to make it subject to action under the Bill. But I cannot say without knowing the facts. What I can say is that where the documents exist and are used, as is required under the Acts that I have quoted, this part of the Bill does not apply to them. That is what we were asked to do, that is what the amendment does, and I now ask your Lordships to agree to it going into the Bill.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 7 [Transfer requires mortgagor's consent]:

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 18: Page 5, line 17, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I do not know how your Lordships relax, whether listening to my noble friend or not. But I have never been able to see well and I have never been able to run, and so I do not play sports, but I take very long baths from time to time. In my bath I not only wash but read. Last week I had run out of my normal literature and turned to this Bill. As I was idly flicking the pages, I came across this sentence: A local authority may not dispose of their interest as mortgagee of land without the prior written consent of the mortgagor". When I discovered what that meant I learnt that in fact it was wrong. What the Bill intended to say was that a local authority must not dispose of its interest.

As a result of discussions with my advisers, I discovered that the word "must" was not usual in statute and, therefore, the word "shall" would be appropriate. This is the result of my damp cogitations. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 19:

Page 5, line 22, leave out subsection (2).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, with this I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 20 to 23 en bloc.

I hope that the House will appreciate that this is a good and effective piece of consumer affairs legislation. This set of amendments is designed to protect borrowers whose mortgages are transferred either after they have withdrawn their consent or where the consent has ceased to have effect; for example, because it was given more than six months before the disposal was actually made.

It would cause a great deal of uncertainty if disposals made in good faith were subsequently declared void because someone had inadvertently overlooked a withdrawal or an expired consent. In the art of conveyancing it is essential that documents of title (which include, in these circumstances, the consent) can be taken at face value. The Bill contains, therefore, a procedure which enables a local authority to certify that consent has been given and has not been withdrawn. This implies a duty on the authority to satisfy itself, before certifying, that this is in fact the case. Nonetheless, mistakes can occur, and if by chance something has gone wrong the certificate will validate the disposal.

As my noble friend Lord Elton told your Lordships' Committee, we want to ensure as far as possible that borrowers who find their mortgages transferred in this way will have the right to require the matter to be put right. The amendments achieve this. If the House requires me to do so, I can go into great detail on this complicated situation, but I doubt whether that would be your Lordships' pleasure. Assuming that, I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 20: Page 5, line 27, at end insert ("and if consent is withdrawn or ceases to have effect the authority shall return to the mortgagor any document in their possession by which he gave his consent.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 21:

Page 5, line 28, leave out subsection (4) and insert— ("(4) A disposal made without the consent required by this section is void, subject to subsection (4A). (4A) If consent has been given and the local authority certify in the instrument effecting the disposal that it has not been withdrawn or ceased to have effect, the disposal is valid notwithstanding that consent has in fact been withdrawn or ceased to have effect. (4B) In such a case any person interested in the equity of redemption may, within six months of the disposal, by notice in writing served on the local authority, require the authority, the transferee and any person claiming under the transferee to undo the disposal, on such terms as may be agreed between them or determined by the court, and execute any documents and take any other steps necessary to vest back in the local authority the interest disposed of by them to the transferee.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 22: Page 5, line 36, leave out ("and").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 23:

Page 5, line 38, at end insert— ("(c) require a local authority making a disposal to secure that notice of the fact that the disposal has been made is given to the mortgagor, and (d) prescribe the form of that notice and the period within which it must be given.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Elton moved Amendment No. 24:

Before Clause 10, insert the following new clause:

("Retirement and re-election not to affect membership of joint authority

.—(1) In section 32 of the Local Government Act 1985, after subsection (1) (appointment to joint authority to terminate if person appointed ceases to be a member of constituent council) insert— (1A) For the purposes of this section a person shall not be treated as ceasing to be a member of a constituent council where he retires by virtue of—

  1. (a) section 7(3) of the Local Government Act 1972 (retirement of metropolitan district councillors), or
  2. 777
  3. (b) paragraph 6(3) of Schedule 2 to that Act (retirement of London borough councillors),
and is re-elected to membership of the council not later than the day of his retirement.".

(2) In section 31 of that Act (replacement of members of joint authority), at the end add— (3) Where a constituent council exercises its powers under this section to replace a person who has continued to be a member of a joint authority by virtue of section 32(1A) below and notice is given not later than seven days after the council's annual meeting next following his retirement and re-election, his appointment shall terminate and the new appointment shall take effect upon the notice being given."; and in subsection (2)(b) after "subject to" insert "subsection (3) below and to".

(3) In Schedule 12 to the Local Government Act 1972 for paragraph 6A (annual meeting of new authorities) substitute— 6A.—(1) Paragraph 1 above applies to a joint authority as it applies to a principal council, except that the annual meeting of the authority shall be held on such day between 1st March and 30th June (both inclusive) as the authority may fix. (2) Paragraph 1 above applies to the Inner London Education Authority as it applies to the council of a London borough.".").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, as I explained at Committee stage on 24th February, under existing statute, owing to a technical defect in the Local Government Act 1985 and the way it works with the Local Government Act 1972, it could happen that in a local election year there could be a period of about a month during which the London fire and civil defence authority and other joint authorities, though not, I should add, ILEA, were without elected members. The legal position is the same in the metropolitan counties, but the difficulty is less because only a third of the district councillors retire in any one year. The Government have therefore consulted the relevant local authority associations on what needs to be done about this. This new clause is the result of that consultation.

9.30 p.m.

Subsection (1) of the new clause provides that membership of a joint authority established under Part IV of the 1985 Act should not cease if the cessation results from his retirement by virtue of local elections, provided he is re-elected at those elections. This is analogous to the provision made for local authority committees in Section 102(5) of the 1972 Act. So re-elected councillors would remain on the joint authorities.

This, however, produces a consequential problem. Under Section 31(2) of the 1985 Act members recalled by their constituent council can normally only be replaced after one month's notice. This would delay the effect of the new council recalling, if it so wished, the appointees whose tenure had been extended by the new clause.

Subsection (2) of the new clause resolves this difficulty by disapplying the requirement of one month's notice in such cases, and allowing the new council to make the new appointment with immediate effect, as if they were filling vacancies rather than replacing the member. However, it would be unreasonable for this susceptibility to accelerated recall to persist throughout the appointee's term, so this expedited procedure is only to be available in a case where the constituent council give notice of the change not later than the end of the seventh day following the day of their own annual meeting for that year.

Subsection (3) of the new clause is necessary because there would remain a possibility that new appointments will not be made in time for the joint authorities' annual meeting. Paragraph 1 of Schedule 12 to the 1972 Act provides for the constituent councils to have their annual meetings, in a year of ordinary elections, on the eighth day after the date of retirement of councillors or on any day within 21 days from that date. In a year such as 1986, when the elections are held as late as 8th May, this could mean no annual meeting being held until 2nd June. Yet the joint authorities are required by the same paragraph, as applied by paragraph 35 of Schedule 14 to the 1985 Act, to hold their annual meetings by the end of May. Subsection 3 therefore makes an amendment to the 1972 Act having the effect of requiring the joint authorities to hold their annual meetings before the end of June. The reference to ILEA in the subsection merely maintains the existing provision.

The new clause necessitates an amendment to the Long Title of the Bill to take into account these adjustments. I should also add that the new clause will not apply to the Common Council of the City of London because the council retires annually in December.

I have gone into some detail because it is a matter which I regretfully bring late to the House. However, I think I have given enough to show the way in which it is drafted, and I beg to move.

Baroness David

My Lords, I cannot resist a comment. The Minister said that he has to bring this forward now because of a technical defect in the 1985 Act. It just goes to show that that Act was brought forward in a very great hurry and had not been carefully enough considered, and there have been a lot of tidying-up operations ever since. We hope that this will perhaps be the last of them. This again forces a change in the Long Title of the Bill. However, naturally we shall not have any objection to the amendment, but I could not resist that comment.

Lord Elton

My Lords, with the leave of your Lordships, I cannot resist saying that in the small hours of this morning I reflected on the hour at which the noble Baroness had tabled some of her amendments. The drafting was perhaps a little less good than it should have been, but we are all friends here and I shall not reproach her. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Orr-Ewing moved Amendment No. 25:

Before Clause 10, insert the following new clause:

("Contracts of local authorities.

. In section 135 of the Local Government Act 1972 after subsection (4) insert— (5) Any provisions in standing orders under subection (3) above shall be unlawful if it prohibits or could cause or permit the prohibition of the employment of a person or imposes restrictions or could cause or permit the imposition of restrictions on the employment of a person on any grounds which are not related to competitiveness or to competence to execute the work or of supplying goods or materials provided that it shall not be unlawful to make such reasonable provision as is necessary for the purpose of complying with any enactment for the time being in force.".").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is an interim Bill, as we have been reminded once or twice, which deals with the Widdicombe interim report. During the debates the Government have told us on a number of occasions, when we have sought to draw attention to some grave omissions, that they will be dealt with when the full report becomes available, and the follow-up legislation.

However, I am always worried when those assurances are given because sometimes governments run out of time, or they run out of steam or they run out of the will to carry on. Therefore, I always urge governments to grab the opportunities to set matters right or at least to reduce abuses when they have the chance. There have been one or two growing and glaring abuses which have been very costly to the ratepayers and to the taxpayers. The amendment seeks to draw attention to, and one hopes stop, some of those abuses.

As has been pointed out by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, however good the Act, it will not be very effective unless people are able to take action quickly, effectively and relatively cheaply so that they do not become bankrupt in the process or if the law turns against them.

I want to draw attention to what has been happening in the civil contracting area. In the early part of last year the construction industry was given a specific and unconditional undertaking by the Government that legislation to deal with abuses would be introduced in the current Session of Parliament. A number of firms continued to tender for major defence contracts in the secure belief that the Government would be as good as their word. They now find that certain Left-wing local authorities are changing, varying and abusing the tender lists and inquiring whether certain firms, which have in all honour won contracts, have affiliations either with South Africa or have undertaken nuclear work. I do not know whether that includes nuclear power stations, but it certainly includes cruise missile sites. Sometimes—and this has happened as regards Manchester and Tameside—tendering firms are being asked if they have ever contributed to political funds during the past five years. It is retrospective: if they have done any of those things in the past five years then they are not allowed to tender even though their tenders may be the cheapest, the best and save the ratepayers' money.

Birmingham City say that anyone attached to South Africa may not tender. Leicester City say that anyone who has nuclear contacts may not tender. Stoke City say that anyone who has South African contacts may not tender. Cambridge City say that anyone with South African contacts may not tender. Tyne and Wear have the same stipulation as regards South Africa as do Derbyshire County Council. Peterborough Council have stipulations as regards nuclear contacts, particularly the Molesworth site which is not too far away. The London Borough of Southwark say that if a firm has done any work on nuclear sites, it may not tender.

I am sorry that the Government's original intention to put the matter right seems to have faded and perhaps they can explain to us why. They may even argue that one case has been brought and won. The case was the Leicester Rugby Football Club against the city council over the council's attempt to discriminate against the club because one or two members of that club had, of their own volition, played rugby football in South Africa and so they were not allowed to use the grounds. The case was won. However, that does not mean that Leicester City Council have stopped doing it. They have continued to do exactly what they were doing previously. So although they have been found guilty in the courts, if we do not have any teeth to our legislation and we do not have effective sanctions, the abuses will go on. I am afraid that I cannot accept the situation because it has not cured the ill.

If contractors were to seek to deal with cases of abuse under the existing law through the highly uncertain, long and expensive procedure of judicial review, each case would have to be dealt with on its individual merits. One council may well be faced not only with one case but with a whole series of cases. The position needs to be set right. There seems little doubt that if the councils concerned were taken to law, they would take the matter right up to the House of Lords in each case and in the process the firms affected would be subjected to highly damaging and further discrimination. Even then, given the very understandable reluctance of the courts to interfere with the discretion of an elected local council, there is serious doubt as to whether they would win.

Therefore, I ask my noble friend to say that we have an opportunity in this Bill to set the matter right and to honour the promises which the Government made, presumably in good faith, to the civil contracting industry. If they do not take action, if they do not express views, then I fear that this process, this practice, this malpractice, will spread to the detriment of the councils, and particularly of course to the detriment of the ratepayers who foot the bill. I beg to move.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, this is a particularly nasty new clause. I certainly hope that the Minister will have no truck with it.

Lord Orr-Ewing


Lord Graham of Edmonton

I will explain why, at length.

Lord Broxbourne

My Lords, not at length, just clearly.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

And clearly. Clearly at length. The purpose of this amendment is to remove from councils the powers they have for what is called contract compliance. Contract compliance is comparatively new in this country but not new in many other countries. It is the right, the power, the ability, and the need of people paying for goods and services—and that is not only to supply them, but to be in business and make a profit out of supplying them—to have some say and indication in the kind of practices which the suppliers of their goods are carrying on. That is perfectly honourable and defendable. Although I was not aware of the individual roll of honour of local authorities which have taken—

Lord Orr-Ewing


Lord Graham of Edmonton

Roll of honour. Those authorities, in their interpretation of their role of serving their local people, have decided, whatever their views—and the two issues were of South Africa and disarmament and the nuclear issue—not merely to use words but to take some action within their gift. I say they are perfectly entitled to do that.

Let us examine what this amendment seeks to do. The amendment would affect not merely issues affecting the civil contracting business. I may be wrong, but by and large this was the narrow field of business to which the noble Lord referred. He said that abuses had come to light, and that the Government had let the noble Lord down in that they had not carried out their promises. The main complaint of the noble Lord was that he had been let down by his Government.

Rather than wait for the Government to take action, I understand, he has, quite fairly—although, having looked at the Long Title, I am not certain whether a new clause of this kind is within the scope of the Bill, but no doubt the Minister and his advisers will indicate this—sought to have the matter debated, and that is perfectly proper.

Many councils have in their standing orders—and that is what we are talking about—a requirement for contractors to honour nationally negotiated wages and conditions. There are requirements on such matters as training; the number of apprentices; health and safety; and action on sexual and racial discrimination. This amendment would rule out such practices except where there were legal requirements—an example would be the 3 per cent. quota for employment of disabled people under the Disabled Persons Employment Acts 1944 and 1958.

I stand to be corrected, but that would be the effect of the amendment, whatever the purpose. Surely we are not going to say to a council seeking to spend the ratepayers' money and to manage the affairs of the town to the best of their ability—but they are also politicians, because that is why they are in control and their politics have prevailed—that it would be unlawful, when compiling a list of acceptable people to tender, to lay down those things. I say that that would be completely wrong. The alternative is for an authority to spend the ratepayers' money without knowledge, knowing that some practices may be carried on by suppliers of services which they believe are anathema but which they allow to continue. It is possible that the noble Lord and anyone else who wishes to speak may intensely dislike the carryings on by a council and its putting money where its mouth is.

9.45 p.m.

I have been given a brief which is full of the examples of discrimination that exist particularly against women and ethnic minorities. This discrimination occurs not only in small firms, but particularly in large firms. I do not speak about the civil engineering or contracting industries. If an authority wants to redress what it considers to be an imbalance in employment I see no harm in that.

I have an example here of an inner city district of Bristol, St. Paul's, where Unigate, a large organisation, had two black workers out of 111. One has to believe that that is accidental. But it is not accidental. There is a need to correct the imbalance. If an authority decides to leave it to someone's good sense or any such means to correct the imbalance, with respect that will not do. An authority that is moved to discriminate positively in telling employers that what they do is entirely up to them must say that as a council it will not give ratepayers' money, if there is an alternative, to a firm which operates in that way.

The noble Lord is closer than I am to the CBI.

Lord Orr-Ewing

No, my Lords.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, he may be very far away, but I am a bit further away than very far away. I believe the House will accept that he is closer to the CBI than I am because of his past very creditable record in industry. This is what its director general has said: I believe that it is in the country's interests for everyone to develop their full potential in employment, irrespective of their sex, race, colour or creed. Employers have an important role to play in this by taking positive steps to ensure equality of opportunity at work. To do otherwise would not only be unfair to the individuals concerned, but also socially and economically short-sighted. For this reason the CBI has decided to issue to its members and to the general public a formal statement of its own commitments to the principle of equal opportunities in employment". This House is well aware of this matter because of our debates. Part of the Scarman Report—the noble and learned Lord has always been helpful to us—said: discrimination—by employers and at the workplace—is a factor of considerable importance, and one for which the sustained efforts of the local authority, the Careers Service and the Manpower Services Commission to place young black people in work cannot easily compensate. All the evidence I have received, both on the subject of racial disadvantage and more generally, suggests that racialism and discrimination against black people—often hidden, sometimes unconscious—remain a major source of social tension and conflict … Changes in legislation are not, however, I suggest, the principal requirement if discrimination is to be rooted out". I could go on but I shall not. The illustrations that the noble Lord gave in support of his amendment certainly do not commend themselves to me. I cannot understand how the noble Lord can make out a case for a public authority, in spending public money, deciding that it wishes to do so with caveats and restrictions on who shall be the beneficiary and recipient of ratepayers' money. These are democratically elected councillors. They are regularly subject, unlike many of the boards of directors in the companies from which they are purchasing, to change and defeat, and to challenge in many other ways. I certainly hope that the Minister will have no truck at all with this amendment.

Lord Broxbourne

My Lords, I certainly had not intended at this hour of the night to inflict any observations on your Lordships, particularly in view of the fact that the case for the new clause has been so clearly and eloquently made by my noble friend, but I am provoked to do so by the speech of the noble Lord from the Front Bench opposite to which we have just listened, and, in particular, by his reference to what he calls "contract compliance". This is not a term of art in the building and civil engineering industries. It is a very recent importation with no very well established pedigree.

If I may say so to your Lordships, I speak with perhaps some little background of experience in these matters. I practised for many years in building contract cases and in civil engineering contract cases, appearing for builders, civil engineering contractors, building owners, local authorities and private and public parties. I am also, and have been for many years, the author of Annotations on the Standard Forms of Building Contract. It is just going into a new edition, and the publishers have decided to re-name this work, Walker-Smith on the Standard Forms of Building Contract. But I could not resist pulling their legs to this extent, that they waited until I changed my name before they changed the name of the publication.

But against that background of experience I feel impelled to tell your Lordships that contract compliance, in the sense adverted to by the noble Lord opposite, is a heresy in regard to our normal practices in building and civil engineering contracts. Of course, there are conditions which are germane to the actual execution of the contract works. Of course, fair-wages clauses and such like take a place, a natural and proper place, in the standard forms of building and civil engineering contracts. But my noble friend's new clause is not directed to that at all. It is to matters being taken into account extraneous to the operation of the works—political matters which should not figure in these contract cases. I hope therefore that my noble friend the Minister will reject the heresies of the noble Lord opposite, who, if he cannot adopt the ipsissima verba of my noble friend's new clause, will at any rate take to heart the words of wisdom with which my noble friend has instructed your Lordships.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I recognise that strong feelings have been aroused by abuse of the contractual process by a few local authorities who seek to discriminate against contractors on purely political grounds. I dare say that if the political grounds were different from those which the noble Lord opposite has said were so acceptable, he would find them less acceptable than he does. I am glad to say that the vast majority of authorities wish to have nothing to do with such provocative posturing.

I must make it absolutely clear that we share my noble friend's concern at the introduction of noncommercial considerations into the contractual process. However, we have informal but distinguished legal advice that the existing law is adequate to deal with the more blatant examples of political discrimination such as the banning of contractors connected with the cruise nuclear programme or those who have South African connections.

Local authorities must act reasonably in the discharge of their functions and they risk a successful challenge in the courts if they abuse their powers. I recognise that companies and their trade organisation face a difficult problem in deciding whether or not to challenge such abuses in the courts.

My noble friend will recognise that there are problems in drafting legislation, to which the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, referred, in the only passage of his speech with which I could feel a certain amount of sympathy. The difficulty of drafting legislation to prohibit political discrimination without, on the one hand, restricting the imposition of desirable though not strictly commercial conditions concerning, for instance, equal opportunities and health and safety matters or, on the other, seeming to invite the courts to say that anything not actually restricted in such legislation, is by implication permissible.

This is not therefore a matter that we can expect to get right simply by introducing a brief provision on the Report stage in the revising Chamber. I am sure my noble friend is well aware of that and that it was his intention in putting down the amendment with, I think, the support of the Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors, to probe the Government's policy on this issue. He will recognise that the amendment as drafted would in fact have no direct effect on the mischief that it is intended to prohibit. It is most unlikely that an authority's standing orders would make provisions for excluding contractors on ideological grounds, and grounds which might be those favoured by the noble Lord opposite or they might be absolutely reprehensible to him.

Exclusion takes place when the local authority draws up a list of contractors and the standing orders do not apply at the stage when the list of contractors is drawn up. But I assure my noble friend and your Lordships that we by no means under-estimate the seriousness of the problem. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has therefore invited the Building Employers' Confederation and the Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors to liaise with my department with a view to establishing how best to proceed. If appropriate provisions can be drafted, and it can be shown that the benefits from further legislation outweigh the risks I have described, we will give every consideration to legislating at the earliest opportunity. In the meantime, I still hope that a company will challenge this blatant abuse of the contractual process in the courts and thereby uphold the well-established principle that in this area, as in all others, local authorities must act reasonably and in accordance with the fiduciary duty owed to their ratepayers. In the light of what I have said, I hope that my noble friend will agree to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, I should like perhaps to disabuse my noble friend opposite because I think he may be mistaking me for Hamish Orr-Ewing, who is a remote cousin of mine and much more closely connected with the CBI than I am. I think I have been only once through their portals in my 37 years of parliamentary life. So I think that the noble Lord has got the wrong On-Ewing; but it does not matter because he bears the right name!

I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Broxbourne for his contribution. His masterly knowledge proves that you have to be very careful speaking in this House, even at this late hour, because you may get a very knowledgeable chap sitting opposite to you and that brings sense to the discussion.

I am grateful to my noble friend for having assured us that he will initiate some discussions, because this is a growing practice and, as he quite rightly says, it is both serious and highly undesirable. I am not now referring to normal standards about injury, colour and women—all those are absolutely right. I accept those as part of the contract, as my noble friend said, but I do not accept a political connection in that a firm with an honourably-accepted and competitive tender for work which may be laying down roads in some RAF base should be henceforth excluded even though their tenders may be the lowest and their work most efficient. I would wish my noble friend rapid success in bringing the parties together to try to establish a code of conduct; and on those conditions I beg leave to withdrawn this amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

In the Title:

Lord Elton moved Amendment No. 26: Line 6, leave out from ("amend") to ("the") in line 7 and insert ("the law as to the effect of retirement and re-election of, and").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment is consequential on Amendment No. 24. I should like to take this opportunity to satisfy a convention which I believe to exist, though I am not certain, and to say that the special status of the Common Council of the City of London will necessitate a minor amendment to Clause 6 on Third Reading. Even if there is no convention, I have now satisfied it. My Lords, I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, in moving that the House do now adjourn I am sure that my noble friends would like me to express the Government's gratitude for your Lordships' speedy consideration of the Bill and the good humour with which the proceedings have been conducted.