HL Deb 15 February 1988 vol 493 cc438-68

4.52 p.m.

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed on Clause 2.

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 4: Page 3, line 5, at end insert— ("( ) The powers of the Secretary of State in relation to Schedule I under subsections (3) and (9) below, and sections 6(3) and 15(6), shall be exercised having regard to the planning responsibilities of defined authorities in relation to civil defence and peacetime emergency planning.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment covers the important topic of civil defence and emergency planning. Its purpose is to obtain a government reaction to what is seen as an apparent difficulty facing authorities seeking to implement their plans and responsibilities for emergency planning and civil defence.

The noble Lord will certainly know that in many cases these plans have to be drawn up to a timetable which overlaps with that for compulsory tendering. I am certain that he will seek, and may very well be successful, to allay some of the fears expressed to us and I am sure to him through the more formal channels. However, I am told that the provision will lead to a number of practical difficulties in plan-making and identifying staff and resources for designation for emergency purposes.

The Minister can serve good purposes both inside and outside the House if he is able to give a detailed statement of the way in which the Government, who in this instance besides the DoE include the Home Office, expect local authorities to adapt their preparations for peacetime emergencies to a situation where a varying proportion of staff and resources in any given service area may for a period no longer be maintained in-house.

I should like to make my case by asking the Minister a number of questions. Will staff working for a private contractor in an area subject to designation under a local authority plan be subject to designation in the same way as the local authority staff? The Minister, certainly from his previous manifestation where he was responsible for prisons, will know very well that sometimes problems are caused in the prison service by what we both understand are auxiliary staff; in other words, not wholly full-time trained personnel but nevertheless people who can do jobs that are otherwise done by full-time staff.

People outside this House are concerned to hear from the Minister on this point. In relation to civil defence and in an emergency an authority has a very tight grip on the rest of its staff. It can literally dispose of and disperse its staff all round its area. To that extent the staff represent a pool which in an emergency can be directed. I live in Enfield and in that area there could be a flood disaster in the Lea Valley or an emergency on the M.25, at the Enfield Small Arms Factory or at Stansted Airport. As one of the biggest employers in the area the local authority could immediately say to everyone concerned, "We as your employer want you to do this, that and the other". If a service is privatised, to what extent in an emergency would the local authority be able to get the staff of a private company, which is doing a proper job and not falling down on it, to respond? If there is no such authority, or a disinclination or inability to respond, the community will be the weaker in such an emergency.

What arrangements do the Government envisage for negotiation between the contractor and local authority to provide for such designations? In other words, is this to be a case of the private contractor saying, "If I am your private contractor to provide cleaning or cooking and you want to pull all of my people off the service in an emergency, what kind of arrangement—that is, financial arrangement—can we enter into to make sure that I do not lose and that you do not lose either?".

Do the Government agree that if contract terms are to be subject to negotiation over the designation of the resources of the contractor and his workforce, that will tend to lead to an increase in the tender price? That spells out what I have just explained. If the contractor says that the contract is above and beyond simply providing meals, cutting the grass or collecting refuse. is that a factor to be taken into account?

We know that the ministerial colleagues of the noble Lord have already addressed shire county and fire and civil defence authorities and that they are working to a Home Office framework of deadlines for the production of civil defence plans known as the Planned Programme of Implementation. In the statement it sent out the Home office used the phrase, Authorities have to be prepared to address hard practical questions". The timetable for compulsory tendering begins in April 1989 and runs to October 1991. However, the civil defence plans have to be completed in the period April 1988 to October 1989. I give the House the benefit of an example in one emergency planning area of the interaction of the activities specified in the Bill. The plans show that all but one of the 12 plans inside the area involve at least two of the service areas identified in the Bill and six of the plans involve all six of those service areas.

I refer to the metropolitan districts in South Yorkshire. The South Yorkshire fire and civil defence authority has responsibility for emergency planning for the metropolitan county as a whole. The districts comprising the authority's area will have to contract out the six services affected by the Bill at different times over the two-and-a-half years of implementation.

I give a practical example. In October 1988 the emergency planning authority will be expected to finalise its plans for emergency feeding, including the distribution, conservation and control of food. The plans can be expected to rely heavily on the school catering service. To some degree civic catering will be provided by the metropolitan districts in the area. From various dates beginning in October 1989 the four districts in the area will begin compulsory tendering in relation to school catering, starting with Doncaster and Rotherham. Tendering for other catering begins, also with Doncaster and Rotherham, from April 1990. Barnsley will put school catering out to tender on that date followed by Sheffield in October 1990.

I am told that the practical effect will be that within a year of submitting its emergency feeding plan South Yorkshire will find that the plan requires revision for half of the county and that it will be totally out of date within two years. Those outside the House who know better than I may be told by the Minister that he knows better than they and that what they believe is wrong. On the other hand, if they are right they are anxious to be told by the Minister how they are to keep to their duty under the Home Office civil authority plan, preparation and implementation schedule. If at the same time, they are caught by a timetable under the compulsory tendering process, how are they to reconcile their responsibilities? I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say. I beg to move.

5 p.m.

Lord Ross of Newport

My Lords, I shall speak very briefly. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, who played quite a part in civil defence work in the other place. It would be a pity, if, after all the effort of the noble Lord and others—including, I must say, myself—the compliance of local authorities (which is quite hard to get in some cases) in the whole area of emergency planning and civil defence was to be put in some disarray by the procedures under the Bill. I await the reply of the Minister with some interest. I am sure he will agree that having achieved what we have on civil defence and emergency planning, it is important to keep the goodwill of local authorities in this respect.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, perhaps I may be allowed to ask a question before the Minister replies. Is there any reason at all why, for example, the statutory requirements upon an authority should not be built into a catering contract? It should be a requirement of putting contracts out to tender. I would welcome the reply of the Minister. In passing, I cannot resist saying how much I welcome the response of Sheffield and other local authorities mentioned by the noble Lord which are now taking such an interest in emergency planning. It is something of a turn-up for the books.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, it is a turn-up for the books for the noble Baroness but not for those who know of Sheffield and others. They have deep concern for their responsibilities in responding to emergencies in peacetime. If the Minister takes on board the comments of the noble Baroness about the need to build into the cost structure of the tendering document, that will solve some of the questions that have been asked. However, that poses the question that the cost of the tender will be inevitably higher than otherwise.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, said in moving his amendment, its purpose is to ensure that in exercising a number of the order and regulation-making powers under the Bill my right honourable friend takes account of authorities' civil defence and emergency planning responsibilities.

As I said in the debate on the previous amendment, in implementing Part I of the Bill, my right honourable friend will take into account all local authorities' service responsibilities including civil defence and emergency planning. There is no need to add a specific provision to require him to do so or to add a reference to any particular responsibility such as civil defence. Incidentally, the department has received no formal representations about civil defence planning in peacetime and emergency interactions.

It must be clear to your Lordships by now that the Government do not accept that the only way in which authorities can ensure that they are able to respond to emergencies is to retain a sizeable in-house workforce. Those authorities which have contracted out services like house maintenance have found no difficulty in requiring contractors to provide emergency cover. The noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, mentioned some hypothetical situations at Enfield. I believe it may help the House if we look at a natural example. I refer to the storms of last autumn. There was a magnificent response to the effects of the storms which the Government acknowledged at the time. Many of the workers who put in long hours in gruelling circumstances were local authority employees. The response from the staff of contractors was just as good.

Wandsworth is an obvious case as it has contracted out more services than any other authority. On the day of the storm, Wandsworth was able to call on the services of several contractors who turned out at very short notice despite there being no prior agreement. I understand that their work was highly satisfactory. It seems to me that the argument about emergencies is based upon a misconception. The people who empty dustbins or clean streets will not disappear if their work is contracted out. For elucidation I should say that they are the people who might be called upon in an emergency to help tackle a crisis. The resources available in the public sector to deal with emergencies may decline; but that means that the resources available in the private sector increase.

Clearly, any plans that local authorities have drawn up will need to be considered in the light of changes such as the contracting-out process. We have no objection to authorities including conditions in their specifications of contract which mean that whoever wins the competition has to provide whatever emergency cover is needed provided that the DLOs and the contractor bid on the same basis and that the competition is fair.

I believe it is a myth that the private sector cannot or will not respond to emergencies. It is the private sector which directly owns and operates many services such as gas and telephones where rapid response to emergencies is called for. Most people call out a private sector plumber when their pipes burst and no one argues that the AA or RAC are unable to respond rapidly to emergencies. I am in no doubt that if the effect of the Bill is a major increase in the proportion of work that authorities contract out, that will simply lead to an increase in the contractor's capacity and willingness to respond to emergencies.

I hope I have satisfied some of the worries of the noble Lord, Lord Graham. He asked a number of questions, and perhaps I may write to him on the detail of those.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his promise to write if in fact any points were not covered. I am satisfied that a perusal of the record will be sufficient. He has answered a number of the points I made. I understand that the department assumes or expects that any tender document will have built into it the responsibility of that authority for civil defence.

There is no myth on this side that private contractors would be less responsible per se in a real emergency. The point I was making is that because of the cohesiveness of the workforce of a council and because of the fact that there is a unity of command through the chief executive, the town clerk, or the housing manager they are better. The last thing I wish to do is to cast aspersions on a range of people, who are employees of nationalised industries in the main, private plumbers and others who, in a real emergency will drop everything in order to respond.

The Minister has been very fair. What he has said should go a long way to allay some of the fears that have been expressed. People outside the House will read what the noble Lord has said. I hope that they will write more formally to the Minister if they have real worries about these matters. Those outside the House should take note that the noble Earl has drawn my attention to the fact that no formal representations of any kind have been raised. It says a great deal for confidence in myself; I do not know what it says about confidence in the Minister. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 5: Page 3. line 8, at end insert ("except in respect of sport and leisure activities.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we return to an amendment moved at the previous stage concerning what is almost a constitutional point. I recall my noble friend Lord McIntosh raising the matter at Second Reading. In addition to our concern at the impact of competitive tendering for the service of recreation and leisure, we are also concerned about proposals which, if not sharp practice and not by design, could lead to curtailment of proper discussion.

To use Clause 2(3) of the Bill to add sports and leisure management to the list of activities, and to use Clause 15(1) to do it by an affirmative order of both Houses, would be, in my experience (which is not as extensive as that of many noble Lords sitting in the Chamber at the present time) a poorer democratic means of achieving the Goverment's purpose. If the Government intend to add these services to the Bill, they should do so. By delaying the matter in this way they will not only prolong the agony of those who are affected but they will deny this House and the other place the opportunity to deal with it properly.

The Minister knows that if we proceed in the way that he and his colleagues intend to do there will be less debate on the issue. I am not talking about the timescale. I am talking about the proper procedure by which we ought to be able to raise these matters. I want the Minister to deal with what I think is a crucial point. Why do the Government prefer the procedure which they are adopting to the one which we in this House and in another place have put forward?

In our view the extension to this service of compulsory tendering is fraught with a number of other blemishes. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, who is assiduous in these matters, asked at a previous sitting why we were so concerned about the difference. The Minister knows the difference. As we understand it, responsibility for the level of prices, the hours of opening and the range of what, for shorthand purposes, I shall call the concessionary groups, will be taken away from the authority and will be placed in the hands of the private contractor. The private contractor who is given properly and legally the remit to provide the services will be able to decide the opening times to suit the profitability of his service and the groups to whom concessionary facilities will be given. If they happen to be what one might call less popular services or sports—I give as an example judo or perhaps an up and coming sport—an authority may say, "Let's have a go; let's provide it; let's see what goes on", whereas a private contractor will be more likely to restrict the range of services in that way.

Not only the Oppostion but the friends of the Government in authorities are deeply concerned. One of the best briefs against what the Government are going to do comes from the Association of District Councils. It is deeply concerned not about competitive tendering but about the compulsory nature of it. The association has pointed out that many authorities put out to competitive tender the provision of services. It points out that authorities that want to do this are already doing it. I want the Minister to say why in regard to these particular services the Government want to do it in this way.

The Minister must answer another point. As he well knows, once a service goes away from an authority it is not likely to go back unless there have been major disasters. In the provision of recreation and sport one of the great elements is the capital cost. If one looks at the provision in 1990–91 of a swimming pool, a large complex or an outdoor arena one is talking in terms of massive sums of money. It is my advice that the private contractor route is less likely to come up with the capital to ensure that sports, leisure and recreation are provided.

When I made some inquiries I was told that some services which do not appear on the face of it to come within the ambit of leisure and recreation departments are run by those departments. Municipal markets are managed within recreational committees. The Minister will be aware that there is no monolithic framework governing how councils organise their different departments. Can the Minister address himself to the problems that will be presented to local authorities which have a mix or a mesh of services? If the Minister says that in the fullness of time activities such as municipal markets could find themselves up for competitive tender, people outside will be interested to hear that. I want the Minister to tell us that when he talks about sport and recreational management he is saying not that the department will be up for grabs but that the activity will be up for grabs.

If that is the position the council will have a problem because it will have to shift what is left of that department to another department or it will be left to administer that smaller department which may not be an economical or a practical proposition.

I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say on this important aspect of leisure and recreation. I must tell him that the opposition of the ADC is to compulsory competitive tendering. Many authorities have put services out to tender but they also have a great many arrangements with voluntary bodies. I refer to Sports Council activities and so on. The Minister may tell me that there is nothing to stop those bodies, which at the moment help the local authority to keep going, doing the same with private contractors. I am not so certain. I am not dogmatic but I am not so certain that voluntary bodies will be just as willing to keep the rates down and to keep the community going if the manager of the service is not the council or the ratepayer but is a private company. The amendment needs a good answer or we may be in some difficulty. I beg to move.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, this is an odd amendment. I fully understand that noble Lords opposite do not like the compulsory putting out to tender of activities at present undertaken by a local authority. One fully understands that doctrinally they do not like it. But what is difficult to understand is why sport and leisure should be singled out as activities which could not through the process of affirmative resolution and so on be included in the category of defined activities. A much better case was made out on the previous amendment where we dealt with serious responsibilities such as a local authority's responsibility for civil defence.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, as I understand it, an affirmative order is not capable of amendment. The earlier six provisions which are part of the Bill, are capable of amendment. Therefore to that extent there is a narrowing of the opportunity to change the intention.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, that is a point of procedure with which, I can assure noble Lords, I have been familiar for many years. I do not think that that is an answer because the decision would be a simple one, not giving rise to amendment. Either an order is presented to take these activities and make them into "defined activities", with all the consequences with respect to putting out to tender, or it is not. Therefore, it would be a straight issue as to whether this House and another place thought fit to approve the order. As I see it, there could be no useful purpose served by fussing about with amendments. It still seems most peculiar that these two activities—sports and leisure—should be picked out specially to be made into a category which cannot be turned into defined activity, while for the purposes of discussing the amendment all the other activities of a local authority can be.

The only argument that I thought I detected—it took some detection—in the noble Lord's speech for specifying those activities for exclusion was that an independent contractor might not be so amenable to public demand in respect of opening hours and such facilities. I know that he has studied the Bill, and he will know perfectly well that if something is put out to tender by a local authority there is a contract. It is obvious that any contract drawn up by any sensible local authority with any outside contractor would specify the facilities, the hours and so forth which were to be maintained as part of the sports and leisure activities. It would indeed be very odd to contract out those activities and not to lay down in such a contract what facilities were to be provided and the hours during which they were to be provided, which as your Lordships know well are a major part of the activity.

Once again it seems peculiar to pick out those two activities. I have no idea—I do not know whether the Minister has—whether the Government are likely to want to do that at some stage. I should have thought that they might well wish to do so. It is a fact that sport and leisure activities are catered for in the private sector on a large scale in this country and with a high degree of efficiency. Many major companies provide magnificent facilities of one sort or another and collaborate particularly with the tourist industry in so providing. They have far larger resources and on the whole far greater experience in providing such facilities than almost any local authority would claim to have. Therefore it might be sensible in particular cases to make those into a defined activity.

However, we need not jump that particular fence until we reach it. If we do come to it, we shall have the pleasure of hearing the speech on the affirmative order by the noble Lord opposite. That is always a prospect to which your Lordships look forward with peculiar pleasure. But, apart from that, it may be sensible to make those activities defined activities. The Government are right not to take all those activities from local authorities at this stage and make them into defined activities. We probably need to have experience as to how this change in arrangements works. But if as I confidently believe it works well, the Government may well wish to extend such activities. if they extend them, I should have thought that sport and leisure were natural candidates. I hope therefore that your Lordships will reject the amendment.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, I support the amendment so ably moved by my noble friend. I come from Birmingham, which is the home of the Chamberlain family. Joseph Chamberlain was, I suppose, the innovator, the pioneer, of municipalisation. We even have a street called Corporation Street, where he bought the entire freehold.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, he is turning in his grave now.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, yes of course he is, because the Tories took control of the council just as the 99-year leases were up. They were all sold to multiples—Lewis's, C & A Modes and so forth—instead of to the ratepayers' benefit. It was, as everyone knows, due to Joseph Chamberlain, the innovator of municipalisation, that gas, electricity and water came to Birmingham. Nevertheless, times change. I am worried, because when we talk about sport and leisure activities we should remember that they are not all in the big complexes that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, mentioned.

In Birmingham there are some large schools which in the main are called "community schools". Large gymnasia, large playing fields and swimming baths were put in and it was felt that it was not right that such facilities should be used only during school hours. Therefore we introduced dual purpose. The schools are open in the evenings for all the people who want to use them, under proper supervision. They are also used during the school holidays; in other words, they are cost-effective. I suppose if we were looking at it objectively we should say that they were paying their way. I am sure that no member of the Government could criticise a local authority for using its services in that way—having to provide them for school children and then making use of them for the general public.

There are other forms of leisure activities of which I am well aware. In Birmingham we have very good community centres which cater for many different activities. For example, various clubs meet, such as Women's Institutes, co-operative women's guilds, old-age pensioners. They also have leisure facilities. Judo is practised in many of the community centres and many of them have chess clubs. There is also old-time dancing, which again is what one calls a leisure activity. I suppose one could also call judo a sport. The community centres have their own local people running them and receive grants from the local authority. Can the Minister say whether all those facilities would disappear in the future if such activities were taken out of the control of the local authority?

I speak only on matters about which I know and in particular those relating to Birmingham. We have three municipal golf courses on the periphery of the city. They enable people to play golf in the same way as other people who belong to clubs but who would not be able to join clubs because all the golf clubs—and I understand there are some very large ones in the city—have very long waiting lists for membership. However, it is not only getting membership; there are the membership fees. Are we going to deprive those people who can now play golf on municipal courses of doing so in the future?

Those are the three points I should like to raise because they concern an area I know very well where literally thousands of citizens have been able to benefit from these activities.

5.30 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, we are discussing this amendment, it seems, as if sport and lesiure were going to be included in the list, and as if the noble Lord, Lord Graham, were moving an amendment to say that they should not be able to be included in the list. However, my understanding from earlier stages of the Bill is that the whole subject of whether this area of local authority activity should be included in the list is at the moment out for consultation with local authorities and others interested.

I now have the document with a green cover, indicating that it is consultative. I have looked to see exactly what it says and it is a comfort to me, in view of the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, to see that paragraph 6 says that it is not intended to apply to sports facilities which form an integral part of educational establishments and which are provided principally for the use of pupils and students of those establishments. My understanding is that we are not discussing sport and leisure facilities in educational establishments. I am very glad that this consultation is going on because, with the greatest respect to my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, it is a slightly different subject from the other areas of activity which are included in the Bill, although it is no less susceptible to competition and the advantages of the Bill in a different way.

The questions which are being asked in this consultative paper show the kinds of matters which local authorities need to be asked about and with which the Government need to familiarise themselves before they determine whether they want to recommend that this area of activity should be included in the list. It is absolutely right that there are different arrangements in different parts of the country and in different local authorities for how sporting provision is made. In Scotland, it is somewhat different because we have the concept of community education which includes or overlaps very much with sporting facilities and leisure facilities. Yet those are educational establishments. My understanding is that in Scotland it has been clarified that where it is an educational establishment this Bill will not apply. I think that is an important point.

The Minister may not be equipped to answer the question in relation to Scotland, but I expect he is in a more general way equipped to answer in relation to cases like Birmingham where habits are rather the same. I do not know whether the Minister will give us news of the result of the consultation or whether it is still going on, but I am very glad that it is happening. I think there are various issues which need to be clarified.

Nevertheless, I can see no reason whatever why there should not be some scope within the kinds of sports centres and leisure centres, swimming pools, golf courses, bowling greens, putting greens and so on which are listed in the consultative paper. It will therefore be very interesting to see how this can be worked out. I do not think that at this point it would be at all a good idea to accept an amendment which precludes the possibility of the advantage of tendering being applied to sport and leisure.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I think the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, has given part of the answer to the noble Lord. Lord Boyd-Carpenter. Why did the Government or the department—which is really the Government—consider that these two items, sport and leisure, should be sent out for consultation? They obviously had in mind that these were two possibilities to come under compulsory tendering.

My noble friend Lady Fisher referred to three golf courses in Birmingham. I happen to play on what used to be the GLC courses at Hainault Forest which are now under the control of Redbridge council. There is a five-day season ticket for pensioners which I cannot use because I am here, and therefore I have to have an expensive seven-day ticket which I can use only on Sunday mornings. We require assurances that those kinds of things will not be dealt with in the Bill, because the facilities given to pensioners in the Hainault Forest courses are possibly the best anywhere in the country. We can see the dangers which might occur if they were sent out for management. The next-door borough to mine, Waltham Forest, has established one of the best athletics stadiums in the London area. Essex ladies have made regular use of that course. Essex Ladies Athletics Club has been selected twice running as the best team in Britain to represent the country in international club events.

How are we going to handle that, if it is to be dealt with on a commercial basis? Surely we want to encourage the maximum number of athletes to participate in any sport. If the suggestion is that all we are going to send out is a contract for grass-growing, we must think again on that point. I happen to know someone nearby who is very knowledgeable on horticulture. If people are merely going to cut the grass, all right, but it is very doubtful whether any local authority would wish to send all its horticultural development out to private enterprise. I do not think private enterprise would be at all interested in it.

Again, coming back to the position of Hainault Forest, there is a combination of three leisure activities: first, the two golf courses; secondly, a big recreation area; and thirdly, a wild forest. What are we going to do about tendering for those? I dare say the golf will help to pay for the wild forest, but I do not know.

The difficulty in this is so immense that either people who wanted to use good sporting facilities cheaply, such as pensioners, could find themselves in difficulties or we could find a diminution in the number of people who would take part in sporting activities. I know that it will be argued that there are professional, full-time sports centres. I agree, but we also have civic centres and quite a number of special recreational centres. These are the ones which we want to ensure will be devoted to use by ordinary people at prices which they can afford. To put these under management would be difficult.

I think that if the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, looked at the matter very carefully he would recognise that apart from certain small aspects of management of leisure centres, the general management—the hours, the opening times, the admission charges—is something we would want to leave solely for the local authorities to determine.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour for raising a point which seems to have been overlooked. It is that my right honourable friends the Secretaries of State for the Environment, for Scotland and for Wales issued a consultation paper on this matter on 28th September 1987 on proposals which dealt with the applying of the competitive tendering provisions of the Bill to the management of local authority sport and leisure facilities. A decision on whether or not to proceed with the proposals should properly await the outcome of their detailed consideration of the 352 responses which we received. I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Graham, that that cannot in any way be called a curtailment of the discussion or consultation. It would be wrong to circumvent this process, which would be the effect of the noble Lord's amendment.

I acknowledge, as the noble Lord, Lord Graham, pointed out previously, that the House can only accept or reject an order. Noble Lords cannot seek to amend an order in the way they can seek to amend provisions on the face of a Bill. I am afraid, however, that the volume and nature of the comments which we have received make it impossible to reach a considered decision, which is what I am sure all the consultees would wish before the Bill receives Royal Assent. But we have discussed the principle of what we are doing at some considerable length, both at the Committee stage and at this stage. It is good for the ratepayer and the taxpayer that the principles still remain intact. I should emphasise, however, that if it is decided to proceed with the proposals Clause 2(4) would now require my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to undertake appropriate further consultation before the necessary affirmative resolution order could be made. There does not seem to be a major reason, unless it is revealed in consultations, why work cannot be contracted out provided that it is subject to fair competition.

We are looking at many of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Graham. That is one of the reasons why we have not yet been able to reach a decision. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, raised a point on golf courses. In the consultation paper we raised questions about the extent to which authorities should be able to ensure access to facilities for special groups. We have recognised that authorities wish to enable people from all sectors of society to participate in their facilities.

My noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour was absolutely right to point out to the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, that in the consultation paper school sports facilities should be exempted from compulsory competition.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, perhaps the Minister will correct me if I am wrong but I thought that the consultation paper referred to Scotland and Wales.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, unusually for the noble Baroness she is incorrect. There was a consultation document for England and I know that Birmingham received it.

The noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, raised the question of municipal markets. I must admit that I had not considered exploring the possibility of contracting out municipal markets. But given the noble Lord's suggestion I must hurry down the corridor to my right honourable friend and discuss it with him. However, the noble Lord is correct in that the mix and the mesh of activities change within local authorities from time to time. Authorities can make structural changes and those employees who once worked for a local authority often find themselves working beneficially for contractors if that work is contracted out.

I apologise that we are unable to let your Lordships know the result of our considerations on the responses but as there have been 352 we cannot give the answers today. We shall give that information as soon as it is available and I would hazard a guess that that would be in about the late spring. But I reiterate that Clause 2(4) will then bite and that further consultations will be necessary.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for the care that he has taken in trying to allay the fears of many outside the House. The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, seemed to feel that it was possible for a local authority to build into any contract tendering procedure the specific groups in the community it wished either to benefit or to protect. But I am sure that he will not mind if I draw to his attention the crucial part of the document for consultation that went out to local authorities. In that document there are two options. The first is that: Local authorities should retain their present discretionary powers under Sections 91 and 92 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 and Section 16(1) of the Local Government and Planning (Scotland) Act 1982 and therefore remain in control of policy decisions on charges to users [etc.] Under these powers such decisions may of course be delegated to private sector management if local authorities prefer to do so". Then there is the second option: The present discretionary powers should be amended to target more specifically on those members of the community who may not be able to pay the full market rate to use sport and leisure facilities but who clearly should retain the opportunity to make use of such facilities, for example the unemployed, the elderly and school groups. This would give the private sector managers the freedom to decide their own policies on pricing, admittance and opening hours for most users of facilities but would allow local authorities if they so wished to control those policies in respect of certain disadvantaged groups". The point that I wished to make was that the policy in respect of such matters as charges, opening hours and the freedom to bring in new groups under the second option would remain with the private contractor. This matter has been put out to consultation and it would be nice to think that had most of the 352 responses preferred the first option somebody in the ministry would have agreed that they had won by a majority. But I do not think that that would happen. I believe that the ministry has a certain view on these matters and that regardless of what local authorities say it will choose the second option.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, where in those two options or variants on them to which the noble Lord refers is there any inhibition on a local authority which wishes to put these services out to contract specifying in the contract to be signed by the other party that specific provision shall be made for particular categories of people, for particular opening hours or for particular sports? If one puts a service out to contract it is a matter of what one negotiates into the contract.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, that is a very fair question. I should like to know the answer to that and so would those outside the House. Will local authorities be free to include in a contract precisely what they want it to supply and to lay down the groups affected and opening hours? The Minister may not be able to give me the answer to that question tonight but I should be grateful if he would ensure that a direct answer is given. If it is possible for authorities to specify any exclusions they wish, that drives a coach and horses through the intention of the Bill. I should be very happy if that effect was achieved but I do not think it will be.

To be fair to the Minister and his colleagues, the consultation document specifies three particular groups: the unemployed, the elderly and school groups. Those groups are stated as an example. They may only be an example and others may be affected also. But if there were no limit on the groups affected, my argument against the Government is that it is quite clear that they are intending to introduce this facility as number seven of the six services. Even though consultation has taken place I am concerned about the people outside. I am equally concerned about our ability to represent the people outside. Those people have satisfied me that the intention here is bad and detrimental to the interests not just of ratepayers and of users of facilities but of the whole community. I intend to press this amendment to a Division.

5.48 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 5) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 67; Not-Contents, 131.

Airedale, L. Hughes, L.
Alport, L. Jeger, B.
Ardwick, L. John-Mackie, L.
Barnett, L. Kilbracken, L.
Blackstone, B. Kirkhill, L.
Blease, L. Kissin, L.
Bonham-Carter, L. Listowel, E.
Briginshaw, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Lockwood, B.
Callaghan of Cardiff, L. Lovell-Davis, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. McCarthy, L.
Carter, L. Mason of Barnsley, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Molloy, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Mulley, L.
David, B. Nicol, B. [Teller.]
Davies of Penrhys, L. Northfield, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Paget of Northampton, L.
Donoughue, L. Phillips, B.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Ezra, L. Rea, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Seear, B.
Foot, L. Shackleton, L.
Gallacher, L. Shepherd, L.
Galpern, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
[Teller.] Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Gregson, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Grimond, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Hatch of Lusby, L. Underhill, L.
Heycock, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Hirshfield, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Willis, L.
Abinger, L. Hood, V.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Hooper, B.
Allerton, L. Hylton-Foster, B.
Ampthill, L. Johnston of Rockport, L.
Arran, E. Joseph, L.
Atholl, D. Kimball, L.
Auckland, L. Lane-Fox, B.
Barber, L. Lindsey and Abingdon, E.
Beaverbrook, L. Long, V.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Beloff, L. Lyell, L.
Belstead, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Bessborough, E. MacLehose of Beoch, L.
Birdwood, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Blatch, B. Malmesbury, E.
Blyth, L. Margadale, L.
Boardman, L. Marley, L.
Borthwick, L. Marshall of Leeds, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Masham of Ilton, B.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Maude of Stratford-upon-
Bruce-Gardyne, L. Avon, L.
Butterworth, L. Merrivale, L.
Caccia, L. Mersey, V.
Caithness, E. Milverton, L.
Cameron of Lochbroom, L. Morris, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Mottistone, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Mountgarret, V.
Carlisle of Bucklow, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Munster, E.
Carnock, L. Nelson, E.
Carr of Hadley, L. Newall, L.
Chelmer, L. Norrie, L.
Colville of Culross, V. Orkney, E.
Cork and Orrery, E. Oxfuird, V.
Cottesloe, L. Pender, L.
Craigavon, V. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Craigmyle, L. Platt of Writtle, B.
Crickhowell, L. Plummer of St Marylebone, L.
Croft, L. Prior, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Rankeillour, L.
Dacre of Glanton, L. Reay, L.
Davidson, V. [Teller.] Renton, L.
Deedes, L. Rodney, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Romney, E.
Derwent, L. St. John of Fawsley, L.
Dilhorne, V. Sanderson of Bowden, L.
Dundee, E. Sandford, L.
Elles, B. Shannon, E.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Sherfield, L.
Faithfull, B. Skelmersdale, L.
Ferrers, E. Somers, L.
Fortescue E. Stockton, E.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Strange, B.
Gainford, L. Strathspey, L.
Glenarthur, L. Sudeley, L.
Gray of Contin, L. Swansea, L.
Greenway, L. Swinton, E.
Gridley, L. Teynham, L.
Haddington, E. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Hailsham of Saint Tranmire, L.
Marylebone, L. Trefgarne, L.
Halsbury, E. Tryon, L.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Ward of Witley, V.
Havers, L. Westbury, L.
Hesketh, L. Windlesham, L.
Hives, L. Wolfson, L.
Holderness, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

5.57 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 6: Page 3, line 8, at end insert ("provided that the date in the order shall be not less than 18 months from the date of commencement of consultation under subsection (3) below")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the amendment seeks to ensure that no new services are added to the list of defined activities until 18 months after the date of commencment of consultation. The Minister has kindly given the House an up-date on the consultation process in regard to recreational and leisure services. However, the more we look at the raft of activities which must be undertaken inside local authorities in order to comply not only with what the Ministry expects of them but also with what authorities, in fairness to those who are going to tender, must do, the more we must blanch at the amount of work that will land on their shoulders. Local authorities are literally down to the bare bones on a great many matters, not least the matter of staff. For the last eight years the Government have been involved in a manpower-watch exercise designed to make sure that the number of staff is cut as far as It possibly can be.

The Bill as presently drafted allows the Secretary of State to add other services. The list which I have been given includes the possibility of markets. However, perhaps I may say to the Minister that I am not in favour of that and it is only included with other possibilities. My list includes printing, computing and architectural services. The Minister knows that a number of pamphlets and documents have been written concerning the range of services which might be looked at. I do not think that there is anything fresh or new about the possibilities.

The amendment does not seek to inhibit the Ministry from proposing that some new service should be added. It is saying that there ought to be sufficient time for authorities to look at each proposal and all aspects of it. Local authorities face a complex organisational challenge to meet the demands of compulsory competitive tendering. I am told that already resources have had to be diverted from central services to cope with that process. All councils have taken steps to set up what might be called a tendering unit to make sure that they do not fall foul of the guidelines which have been laid down by the Ministry and also that things are done properly from their own point of view.

We believe that no new service should be added until 18 months after the consultation period has started. For the next period, 1989–90 and into 1991, authorities will be engaged in assessing the impact of competitive tendering on the original activities. We think that it would be wiser for the Government to monitor the operations covered by Part I of the Bill before embarking on further services.

In the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to the Bill the Government state: Part I of the Bill may initially lead to a small increase in defined authorities' revenue expenditure, in the cost of preparing specifications and other tender documents.".

I am told that that is far from the truth. Local authorities are having to spend money on preparing specifications which they should be spending on services to their ratepaying public. Will central government refund that expenditure? In this House we are all familiar with the glib phrases in the financial memorandum which is attached to a Bill: they cannot be proved at the time but turn out in the event to be wildly inaccurate. For instance, the Association of Metropolitan Authorities found that operating the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 added an extra 7 per cent. to the price of contracts for local authorities. The extra 7 per cent. was spent on additional staff, supervision, etc. Furthermore, the Department of Transport recently found that tendering for highway maintenance resulted in local authorities needing to take on 1,100 additional staff to cope with the problems of supervision, new accounting procedures, etc. The Government simply have not realised the cost to local authorities of operating that legislation.

With six services already open to competitive tendering, local authorities already face substantial upheaval. In the interests of good service, standards and the avoidance of unnecessary dislocation, the introduction of tendering in any other area should not take place until the first round is at least substantially under way—not less than 18 months from the date of commencement of consultation. The Minister and his advisers are sympathetic to what we are saying but are not prepared to say that a breathing space should be written in. We are asking that it should be written in as a period of 18 months.

I think that the Minister can help those outside the House by saying that he understands the problems that the legislation will create. Although he is not expected to give a commitment, if 18 months is not acceptable, then something less than 18 months would be helpful —a period of 12 months or between 12 and 18 months is envisaged as a likely period before which consultation would take place and after which the obligation to implement would be carried out. The Minister will be well aware that with the best will in the world there will be teething troubles. Everything does not always run smoothly. One can provide illustrations—and some will probably be paraded during the debate—of authorities which are Conservative controlled but which have nightmares in respect of the consequences of the tendering procedure. They have been unfortunate—I use that word kindly—in those to whom tenders have been awarded.

We are talking of the necessity of pacing the legislation. I say to the Minister as frankly as I can that, if he is able to have six services digested in the period outlined (beginning March—April 1989 and running through to 1991) then he ought to make sure that they are all functioning well; not just in one or two—or 21 or 22—authorities but, as is the intention, in all 400 local government administrative areas.

The Bill represents a major shift not only for the chief executive and the professionals but in the orientation of the councillors. If we believe in democracy then we believe that the elected councillors have to grapple with the problems and some of those worries. From my experience of councillors I believe that they will not flinch from their responsibilities. The purpose of this amendment is to ask the Minister to take on board the fact that one is dealing with councillors who are lay people, and in many instances with professionals who in many areas will be coming to the nexus of management of the affairs of their community in a completely new way.

There will be very few authorities that have not dabbled in some form of competitive tendering, certainly in relation to housing, and in other areas. This is a whole new ball game. Therefore I hope that the Minister, if he is not prepared to accept the amendment (and I cannot anticipate what he will say) will understand the problems that have caused this amendment to be framed. If so, I shall be very grateful. I beg to move.

6 p.m.

Lord Ross of Newport

My Lords, I should like to speak very briefly in support of this amendment. I wonder whether the Minister appreciates the situation now pertaining in quite a large number of authorities round the country. Frankly, they are punch-drunk with the new requirements that are being placed upon them. There are many more to come with rating legislation, education changes and so on.

I read in the newspapers recently of the big turnover of staff in the city of Westminster; and in Medina Borough Council, which is no longer controlled by Liberals but by the government party, 27 senior staff have left since May. Indeed, the number may be higher because that was the figure given to me in late August. Staff are leaving local government—senior staff at that. Therefore the problems become more and more complicated. When I was in local government, the council always tried to carry out government requirements and legislation, whether Labour or Conservative. At that time the council was Independent-controlled, and more recently was Liberal-controlled. We tried to follow government requirements because that is right in local government, which should follow the instructions of the government of the day.

The situation in local government is becoming critical. I do not believe that many people see local government now as a career. I think that many senior officials are free-wheeling and looking forward to the day of retirement. The situation is getting worse. This is a most sensible amendment and I beg the Government to take it on board.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the Government accept that we must allow sufficient time for consultations before we bring forward orders to add new activities to the list in Clause 2. Indeed, since consultation is provided for by statute, my right honourable friend would be open to challenge if he did not do so. However, this amendment seems to mean that we would have to allow at least 18 months for consultations. We believe that to be excessive. I should have thought that allowing three months for comments would be perfectly adequate in most cases, and it should not take the Government many months to consider those comments, reach a decision and bring forward an order.

However, I wonder whether the amendment is based on a misunderstanding of the way activities will be added. Once we have considered the responses to consultations, an order must be made to include new areas of activity in the legislation but authorities will not then have to expose any activity to competition straight away. As with the initial list of activities, regulations will have to be made under Clause 6(3) to phase in competition for any additional activities in a way with which both local authorities and private contractors can cope. Clearly those regulations will have to allow time for authorities to draw up specifications, advertise for tenders, and so on.

We have proposed that authorities will have some 12 months from Royal Assent before they have to expose their activities to competition. If we add more services, we should envisage allowing roughly the same sort of time for those new services. That 12 months would run from the date that the order was approved.

I hope that with that explanation the noble Lord will see that the timescale is not quite as tight as he may have envisaged.

He mentioned the difficulties for local authorities in implementing the provisions of the Bill. Yes, I think that there will be some difficulties for some local authorities, but the Bill has been before Parliament for some considerable time. No local authority should be caught napping by these provisions. If local authorities have been awake to what has been going on, there should be no difficulties at all for them.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, first of all, I thank the Minister. In order to be clear about it, did the Minister say that in effect, from day one, now, until the successful tenderer operates there will be a 12-month timescale'? Can the Minister help me with that?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, will the noble Lord repeat that question, please?

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, we are asking for 18 months from the first day of consultation. I made the point, however, that I would understand if the Minister, because of his political imperatives, felt that that was a delaying tactic. I said that those outside would want longer. He was careful in the remarks he made, and therefore one must read them very carefully to get their full meaning. Am I right in thinking he said that without the amendment there would be 12 months available for consultation until implementation? That is my understanding and I want to be clear that it is right.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I said that there would be more than 12 months. I said that instead of the 18 months allowed for comments by the noble Lord, we thought three months would be about right. But there would then be a period during which my department would look at the matter and consider comments made during the consultation period before reaching a decision and bringing forward an order.

I said also that the 12 months would run from the date that the order was approved. So if one adds together the consultation and decision-making process and then the order going through both Houses, there will be a further 12-month period, roughly speaking, before implementation. That gives local authorities considerable time. I hope that that clarifies matters for the noble Lord.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, as I understand it, the Minister is saying that once it is decided to add a new service, which is a decision to which no one will be privy except the Minister and his colleagues before it is announced, there will be a three-month consultation period on the document that sets out the arguments. For example, there was a document issued last November on sport and leisure with a consultation closing date at the end of January.

The Minister says there will be additional procedures, so that in effect there will be a period in excess of 12 months from the first moment of consultation until implementation of the service. It may even be as long as 18 months; he did not say that but he certainly said it would take in excess of 12 months. In that case, we are getting somewhere. I am trying to represent the views of those outside who are at the sharp end and who wish us to make these points. I take the Minister's point.

Privatisation of every conceivable service is on the cards—we know that nothing is sacred—and in the fullness of time the Government are likely to add to the list. We know that the Minister's colleague, Mr. Christopher Chope, said he could see every possibility of an additional tranche of six being added to the original six before 1991. We know that the Minister and his friends are working towards further additions and so nothing should come as a complete surprise.

It is all very well having a political agenda and a political timetable but the Minister must have due regard to the impact on the people who are at the sharp end. Never mind the ratepayers and the consumers; I am thinking in terms of the councillors and the council officers. The noble Lord, Lord Ross of Newport, with his experience, may blanch at this. I know there are noble Lords opposite who do not blanch as much as we do at the likely impact, but nevertheless they are aware of it. It would be very sad if an order to achieve a political imperative also caused further doom and despair in local authorities, not at the privatisation itself but at the sheer weight of work and worry that it will put on to the shoulders of councillors and council officers.

The Minister knows that if he wants to do something and if he has a parliamentary majority (and we know all about those) he will get his way, but at what cost? Those outside the House will read what he has said, and if there is still dissatisfaction there remains a further stage in this House at which we can raise the matter again. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 7 not moved.]

6.15 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 8: Page 3, line 19, at end insert ("or if it is work carried out by the employee who is responsible for security of the building, at a primary school or village school.").

The noble Lord said: We cantered over this course at an earlier stage of the Bill. Our advisers in this matter are the Association of County Councils, whereas on the earlier occasion we had the advice of the Association of District Councils. Together with the Association of London Authorities, all local authority associations hold a unanimous view about the blemishes in the Bill.

The Association of County Councils asks us to bring to the attention of the Minister the impact on security of a primary or village school building. The ACC is concerned that the Bill's compulsory tendering provisions will have severe and detrimental consequences for the role and supply of caretakers in small schools. The Minister undertook to consider the points we made at Committee stage on 26th January. We are, bluntly, seeking an exemption from Schedule 1 in respect of the cleaning function in primary schools where the caretaker is the only member of staff employed on caretaking and cleaning duties.

The problem is simply put. The Bill as currently drafted will catch the work of caretakers in most primary schools although caretaking is not itself a defined activity. That is because caretaker-cleaners in small village schools by and large spend more hours cleaning than caretaking, although caretaking is the most important part of the job. Because they quantitatively spend more hours cleaning, their work is not exempt from the compulsory tender provisions.

In our debate on 26th January, the noble Earl said he thought many caretakers spent only a small amount of time cleaning, in which case they would be exempt. He seemed to suggest that the problem would affect only a small number of primary schools. I am told that is not the case in, for example, rural areas. In Warwickshire a caretaker-cleaner in a primary school will typically spend five hours caretaking and 12½ hours cleaning, making 17½ hours in total; or five hours caretaking and six hours cleaning, making 11 hours in total.

In Norfolk three-quarters of rural village schools have a caretaker-cleaner who spends around 50 per cent. of his time cleaning and 50 per cent. caretaking. Kent says that 234 of its primary schools will have their caretaker-cleaners caught by competitive tendering. In Devon only one of its 448 primary schools has a caretaker spending more than 50 per cent. of his time on caretaking—so all but one of that county's primary schools will have a caretaker-cleaner caught by competitive tendering. In 151 schools the caretaker is the sole employee on the site involved in caretaking and cleaning duties.

A great deal more can be said. The Society of Education Officers, which is the professional body for education officers, says: It is essential that in small primary schools the roles of caretaker and cleaner are combined in one individual. In a small school the regular presence of the cleaner in charge to deal with emergencies, accidents and other more routine day-to-day functions is critical. If cleaning is removed, the position and role of that individual would certainly be significantly diminished and service to pupils and parents badly damaged. There is therefore a particularly strong case to exempt small schools from the defined cleaning activities—a fact of life already acknowledged in authorities already operating private school cleaning contracts". In this amendment we should like an exemption from the cleaning provisions for all caretakers in primary schools. If this is not possible we want an exemption for primary schools where the caretaker-cleaner is the only person performing cleaning and caretaking duties.

We are arguing a principle but we are looking at what the principle in practice means in counties such as Devon, Warwickshire, Kent and Norfolk. These authorities are saying that it is an aggravation to an authority that is already hard pressed if the Minister will not yield, make a special exemption, or do something to help them. We have not trawled. We have not said, "Give us some ammunition or sticks with which to beat the Government." They have put forward this argument of their own volition. I hope that they have drawn to the Minister's attention in a more formal way that which they have drawn to our attention. It is all very well for us to stand here and raise these points but, if the Minister replies that no one has told him about it, we are less able to argue well. The Minister and his colleagues may have considered the issue before the Bill was drafted. But every now and again those at the sharp end of the provisions of a Bill may, because they are close to it, draw some matter to the attention of the House.

I raise these issues in a benign sense. In no way am I angry. I can understand that the Minister and his colleagues may not have foreseen the effect of the clause. The issue is very small in the context of what the Bill seeks to achieve. However, it becomes very large when local authorities are trying to make sure that the educational service is functioning properly, securely and comfortably. I beg to move the amendment.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, I do not know what my noble friend is thinking on this matter. However, the problem is the same in Scotland as in the various counties to which the noble Lord, Lord Graham, has referred. I do not think that this amendment will suffice, because the wording does not make sense. It refers to "at a primary school or village school". In the Scottish context village schools are nearly always primary schools. I do not know whether the amendment refers to all primary schools which have someone who is responsible for the security of the building, or all schools in villages, whether secondary or primary schools. I draw attention to that fact. However, I shall listen with great interest to what my noble friend says, because this is a matter that has also been raised in Scotland.

Lord Foot

My Lords, perhaps I may add a few sentences to what has already been said. One of the advantages of following the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, in any debate is that he has usually said everything there is to be said before one rises to one's feet. However, I intervene very briefly. The Minister will remember that in Committee the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, quoted some figures which had been provided to him by the Surrey County Council. They were the number of primary schools in Surrey which were likely to be affected by this part of the clause. In no less than 339 out of a total of 379 primary schools there was a caretaker-cleaner, the major part of whose duties was cleaning and not caretaking. Therefore, those were all employees whose jobs would have to be contracted out under the Bill.

I was impressed by those figures because I thought that, if they were general throughout the country, in particular in the rural areas, the impact of this clause would indeed be enormous. I therefore took the opportunity to refer the matter back to my native county of Devon. I was then given the figures that the noble Lord, Lord Graham, has already quoted. In Devon, there is only one caretaker out of all the county's 448 primary schools whose duties as caretaker take up more time than his duties as a cleaner. That is a dramatic illustration of the extent of this problem. I have no doubt whatever that those figures must be reproduced throughout the kingdom, in particular throughout the rural areas.

I therefore hope that the Minister will be able to give some comfort to us today. He was good enough to indicate in Committee that he would look at the point again. He will have noticed that—subject to the criticism of the terms of the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, about which I do not wish to say anything because I do not know what the technicalities are—this amendment is in stricter and more limited terms than the amendment proposed on the last occasion. It is limited to primary schools, assuming that "village school" is omitted. I hope that we may receive some comfort when the Minister replies.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I wish to speak briefly to this amendment because I was responsible for raising this matter at the earlier stages of the Bill. The original amendment referred to schools as a whole. As the noble Lord, Lord Foot, said, this amendment narrows it down to primary schools. In the earlier proceedings on this Bill in your Lordships' House I was talking of primary schools when I referred to the fact that the caretaker was an indentifiable figure within those establishments whom children came to recognise as part of the establishment where they were beginning their education. They were very often on friendly terms with their caretaker. I have taken the trouble to read what the Minister said on that occasion. Although very often the issues that divide us are not profound, I have to disagree quite forcefully with what he said then and with the reasons he gave for the Government wishing to pursue the course that they are pursuing.

To illustrate what I mean, I shall, with your Lordships' leave, briefly quote what the Minister said: The Government's view is that in those cases there is no reason why the whole of the employee's work—including security and any other responsibilities—should not be subject to competition and should not be awarded to a contractor if a contractor puts in the lowest competent bid. Contractors already carry out the vast majority of security work generally in this country, apart from police work itself, and so there is no reason to believe that they could not cope perfectly well with these kinds of jobs. Much of the Ministry of Defence security work is contracted out, as is that of my department. And it is working satisfactorily."—[0fficial Report, 26/1/88; col. 554.] One cannot seriously compare a primary school with a Ministry of Defence establishment. I do not think that there is any relevance between the two.

The point we are trying to make once again is the personal and human approach of caretakers in the primary schools they serve. What would be the situation? I have spoken of my experience of primary schools in Leeds. We were lucky enough to have a programme of new primary schools in the part of Leeds I had the privilege for quite a while to represent. Unfortunately, because of the cost exercise at the time—local authorities are always faced with the fact that they can never do ideally what they want —those primary schools were built without caretakers' houses; so the caretakers were not on site. The vandalism was very profound and serious damage was being done. Leeds, in its wisdom—I believe one could transfer the argument to many other authorities—decided that it would find the money by hook or by crook to build caretakers' houses in the curtilage of those primary schools. It was significant that once the caretakers moved in, the vandalism decreased and almost disappeared apart from the odd window being broken by someone throwing a stone. Previously, the vandalism had been so severe that sometimes the school could not function the following day due to the appalling mess that was made. That kind of thing disappeared.

Is the Minister saying that a local authority would be better served by Securicor or one of the other private security firms, entailing people going round in a car now and again? Children are some of the best readers of where the police are and where they will be when they want to get up to mischief. They do not wait for panda cars to visit the estate; they wait until they have gone. Only a caretaker's house on the site will provide the optimum protection.

It is nonsense for local education authorities providing a caretaker on site to be told that the caretaker will be supplanted by private security forces, just for the sake of proving or forcing through ideology. That is not the best way to proceed. In some respects we are trying to amend the Bill. We are asking for a small concession. I hope the Minister can give us some assurance, if he responds, that will not be a reply based on that he sadly gave the last time we discussed this subject.

6.30 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, some of us on this side are sympathetic towards the amendment. But the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, is making it rather difficult for us to remain sympathetic. There was a pretty wild interpretation of what is envisaged by the clause that it is wished to amend. I do not believe there is any suggestion—I certainly should not support it—of Securicor making a kind of panda car trip round the schools. That is certainly not what the noble Lord read from Hansard pertaining to what the Minister said at a previous stage.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I am sorry to come back. I was actually reading verbatim—not giving my views—what the Minister had said. He referrerd to the security of primary schools being privatised. If that means anything other than security forces being employed to guard primary schools, I do not know what it means. It may mean something different in Cambridge, but that is what it means to me and to everybody else, as the Minister said it.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, it still says nothing about people making security trips round primary schools when the children are not there. What the Minister, I believe, was saying when he replied on the previous occasion is that technically there is no reason why the job of a caretaker, who also does cleaning, in precisely that form should not be managed by somebody else. It is a matter of who employs that person to do precisely that job properly prescribed. What is absolutely essential is that the management and accountability line between the person who is responsible for security and responsible for cleaning the school should go to the head of that school. That is very important.

I have sympathy with the idea of the caretaker-cleaner in very small schools, but I agreed with my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour when she referred to the technicality of the description of schools. Technically, there is no such thing as a village school. There are schools in villages, but not village schools, if one is defining the category of schools. If it is a question of rural and small schools, we should be talking about junior/infant/primary schools which would cover that age range wherever the school was situated—on the fringe of a city, in a town or in a village. There should also be some reference to the size of the school. Where a caretaker is doing cleaning work as well, clearly we are talking about small schools.

Lord Ross of Newport

My Lords, the Bill is supposed to be saving ratepayers' money, although it will do so not quite so much in some places as in others. Here, however, we have an obvious case where it would be a nonsense to put cleaning out to tender and yet still keep the caretaker. In many cases, the caretaker is in residence and has been appointed to that job. I agree with the noble Baroness that we are considering a village school with a maximum of 100 pupils. I do not think we ought to write that in. It is the one job where an appointment has been made of a caretaker-cleaner and it would be daft.

I am faced with this in my own office. I am being forced by the company that employs me to go out to contract cleaning. We employ a local lady. I know that it will cost at least £10 a week more to go out to contract cleaning. I believe it is absolutely daft, but I cannot change the company's mind. I am being forced to carry it out. Surely the Government should not go down that path. They should accept that there are vast numbers of village schools—there are 30 or 40 on the Isle of Wight—where the kind of person who does this sort of job is part of the community. If they are not living on the spot they live next door and know the school intimately inside out. It would be absolutely maniacal to change. I beg the Government to accept the amendment or to produce something similar.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, since we last debated this point I have looked carefully at what was said on that occasion and taken into account further representations on the subject. But having done so, I find that I still cannot see why, where an employee's work consists mostly of a defined activity, he or she should be less subject to pressure for greater efficiency than where an employee's work consists entirely of a defined activity. That is the effect of the Bill as drafted. If the greater part of an employee's work consists of activities which are not made subject to competition—defined activities, to use the Bill's jargon—then all his or her work is exempt from competition. Thus, caretakers who do some cleaning, firemen who cook their own meals, park-keepers who do some ground maintenance, are all exempt.

But if the greater part of the employee's job consists of work falling within defined activities, that work must be subject to competition. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, took part in the debate; it was the noble Lord who said in Committee that authorities have two choices. They can either expose all their employees' work to competition or they can restructure the work in such a way that only the defined activity work has to be exposed to competition.

I believe this principle applies equally to caretakers at primary schools and village schools whose jobs consist mostly of cleaning but include important security work, as elsewhere. I would not claim that it would make sense to split up such caretakers' jobs and expose part of them to competition. But the security aspects of caretaking work at a primary and village school are capable of being specified along with the cleaning work, so there is no reason why such work should not be competed for, nor why private contractors should not carry it out perfectly successfully if they win.

There is, however, one aspect of this case with which I have some sympathy. In many cases school caretakers are required as part of their job to live in tied accommodation. If their work is exposed to competition they face a potential loss of both job and home. In many cases of course contractors are keen to take on existing employees, and so this is not really a threat even if the work is contracted out.

Nevertheless, I have concluded that the strength of feeling and weight of argument in this case cannot be ignored. We therefore propose to exempt from competition work carried out by people who are required as a condition of their employment to live in particular accommodation. This will be achieved by use of the order-making power in Clause 2(9).

We will go further. This exemption will apply not just to primary schools and village schools but to all cases where this type of employment condition arises; for example, resident caretakers on housing estates. Of course I shall look at the points that some of my noble friends raised with regard to the precise wording and definition of village schools.

I believe this concession that I have offered to the House will go a long way to helping with the issue that this amendment seeks to address. I refer to the extract from the Surrey County Council letter that the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, read out in Committee, the points that he raised about his experience at Leeds and indeed the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Foot, with regard to Devon. I commend it to the House.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, to say that I am surprised would be an overstatement. The weight of evidence that the noble Earl heard at the last meeting was very powerful. The supporting evidence which we have quoted here underlines the case. First let me say on behalf of my colleagues and many outside the House that we are very grateful indeed for what quite clearly is a concession, the size of which will vary according to the authority and the individuals.

The Minister will appreciate the relief felt by any individual in a tied property who had become worried because of the uncertainty that existed until two minutes ago. Those outside the House still need to study with care the impact of the statement on the examples that we gave during this debate. Where there are nonsensical and inexplicable situations with regard to safety and security, I hope that the Minister even at this stage will look at them again. He has obviously been impressed by the quality of the evidence and the advocacy at a previous stage. I hope that he and his colleagues can reflect upon what has been said on this amendment. I repeat that we are grateful for the concession, which I am sure will be seen outside as a significant achievement for the case that we have been allowed to present.

We shall consider what the noble Earl has said as it impacts upon the other circumstances that we have outlined. We will consult those that advise us outside, not least the Association of County Councils. We may come back at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 9 not moved.]

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 10: Page 3, line 33, at end insert ("and shall adjust annually any de minimis expenditure threshold established by order under this subsection for the purposes of Part I, having regard to the estimated rate of inflation for the period of that financial year.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it would be beneficial to the House if we were to take Amendment No. 13 at the same time.

Amendment No. 10 has been mentioned by a number of noble Lords in the course of moving other amendments. The matter was even mentioned at Second Reading. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, spoke about this very point. The de minimis expenditure threshold established should be tied in some way to the rate of inflation for the period of the financial year. This seems to be common sense. I should be surprised if the Minister was not willing at least to look at this and consider the possibility of inserting a provision to allow that to happen.

I now come to Amendment No. 13. The effect of Clause 2(9) as it stands would be to allow the Secretary of State to exempt certain activities from the category of a defined activity as set out in Clause 2(2) and Schedule 1. The Government have proposed that certain authorities should be exempt from competition for a defined activity if the amount they spend as a direct charge for that activity, including all relevant overhead costs, is less than £100,000 a year. This was in the Scottish Office consultation paper, Competition in the Provision of Local Authority Services, of November 1987. The Minister will be familiar with it. The Government propose therefore that an authority should be exempt in any year if its estimated gross expenditure in carrying out the activity in the previous year is less than £100,000.

It is important to note that we are not talking about the size of the authority; we are talking specifically about the cost. The Government's intention is not to exempt an authority because it is small but because the actual function that it would be undertaking would cost less than the figure which the White Paper gave as £100,000. Small authorities are in general just as capable of benefiting from competition as large authorities. Here again I refer to the White Paper I mentioned earlier.

It therefore appears to be the case that the Government can envisage certain situations where an exemption would be appropriate but the size of authority would not be the main reason but would be incidental. The consultation paper of September 1987 stated that where the level of activity is very small, the question is whether it is appropriate to impose the full statutory account and reporting requirements.

The Bill in general and with particular reference to Clause 2(9) is in effect a skeleton which after passing into statute remains to be fleshed out by way of secondary legislation and ministerial order. Delegated legislation, while allowing for flexibility in response to complicated issues, prevents full public scrutiny, in that what would have been subject to the full parliamentary process becomes subject to government proposals and assurances. However well intentioned such proposals and assurances are and however successfully consultation is carried through, it cannot have, nor is it designed to have, the public scrutiny of primary legislation. Any proposed de minimis exemption should therefore be set forth in the Bill itself, thereby ending doubt and uncertainty for many local authorities. If this amendment were incorporated in the Bill, I would hope that the Minister would realise the importance of incorporating Amendment 10 also. I hope that he will give this matter his full consideration.

I have had replies from a large number of local authorities stating that the figure of £100,000 is too low to start with. The District Audit Service believes that that is the case and that it will have the effect of including many comparatively small blocks of work. This will maximise the effort which has to be put into arranging the competition both for local authorities and contractors.

We sometimes forget that it may seem a very low figure for contractors also. They need to be considered too. With a relatively low figure, a large contractor may not think it is worth becoming involved. It will be involved for only a small gain. The district auditors suggest, as a means of overcoming the problem, a substantially higher threshold—perhaps £250,000, although the amendment proposes £200,000—to be used the first time round. By the time the cycle was completed, there would be general understanding and agreement about the technology needed so that it would be practical and constructive to lower the threshold for a second cycle. That would also accord with the likely growth in the capacity of contractors. We do not think—the district auditors support the view—that a starting level of £250,000 will slow down the rate at which competition will be effective.

The Minister will no doubt have received many replies from local authorities and will have seen the letter from the District Audit Service. He will realise that there is a great deal of worry—even accepting all the principles—in the purely practical sense that £100,000 is far too low a figure, at least in the first instance, to set the de minimis target. I hope that the Minister will give some consideration to the two amendments. I beg to move.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, these amendments indicate a feeling that the £100,000 gross expenditure level proposed in my department's consultation paper has already been decided upon and that, now it has supposedly been set, it will remain at the same level for years to come, irrespective of inflation or of experience of the Bill's operation.

This assumption is manifestly not the case. Firstly, the proposed level is still only a proposal. The Government have yet to take a final decision. In making that decision, account will be taken of the many variant views expressed in the responses to consultation. Not surprisingly, many local authorities wish the level to be set higher. Other respondents, including some local authorities, agree with our proposal; some wish the level to be lowered and others wish the idea of a de minimis level to be discarded completely. Likewise the nature of the threshold: whether it should be expressed in terms of gross expenditure, net expenditure or manpower levels has been the subject of a wide variety of responses. These will all be considered carefully before a de minimis level is finally decided upon. It is too early to make any such decisions at this stage because the last local authority association comment only reached us on 11 th February. I should say, however, that I do not think that an exemption based on net expenditure would make sense. What matters is the overall level of in-house activity, not the extent to which the cost of that activity is met by income from charges. If the activity can be carried out more efficiently as a result of competition, ratepayers should get the benefits.

We said in the consultation paper that once set, the level would be kept under review. One factor in any such review would obviously be the extent of inflation since the level was set, but it would be erroneous to think that inflation is the only factor that would need to be taken into account. For example, it may become obvious that the level originally set was too high or too low or other factors may come to light once authorities have actually had experience of competition. I would not wish any future review to be tied to inflation alone.

The de minimis level will, of course, be set out in regulations which will be laid as soon as possible after Royal Assent so that authorities know where they stand quickly. We see no case for de minimis levels to vary between authorities and therefore no need for the kind of appeal mechanism that is built into Amendment No. 13. Each authority has already had the opportunity of expressing views on the appropriate level in the consultation exercise that we have carried out. That is what the Government are considering at the moment and the noble Lord's amendments would prejudge our consideration of the matter.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that statement. It is perhaps the best statement we have had to date about the way in which the Government intend to operate the de minimis level. I do not believe there was any suggestion in Amendment No. 13— although perhaps I have not read my amendment very carefully—that there would be different figures for different areas unless perhaps there is a long stop for the Highland areas. The Association of Highland District Councils is quite concerned about the fact that those areas are in a special category.

The Minister will be aware that services provided by district councils in the Highlands in many cases cover extremely large geographical areas. He will be familiar with the fact that in some instances the area relative to the population is extremely large. The view of the Highland district councils association is that this itself will involve the preparation of proportionately longer and more detailed tender specifications and pro rata substantially greater costs than a tender specification for a well defined urban area. Similarly, it feels that the costs of preparation for setting up competition machinery will be pro rata greater for smaller authorities and arguably higher than the savings from contracts of a value of only —100,000.

We will give great attention to what the Minister said. I hope, however, he will look again at the question of smaller authorities where the cost of preparation will be disproportionate to any saving. I hope too, he will consider the view of the district auditors who believe it would be a good thing to start with a much higher figure until the machinery is smoothed out and running properly. At that stage, once the experience had been obtained such areas as Badenoch and Strathspey district councils and the Association of Highland District Councils, would be brought in. This is not a question of principle. It is a straight question of local authorities being concerned about the mechanism and machinery of carrying out the job. I believe there is much to be said for the very experienced district auditors' view and I hope the Minister will look into it. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, we have nearly reached seven o'clock. I beg to move that consideration on Report be now adjourned until 8 p.m.

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