HL Deb 30 November 1988 vol 502 cc376-98

8.15 p.m.

Earl Russell rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what action they propose to take as a result of the crisis in the London borough of Brent.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, your Lordships may perhaps feel that moving from prisons to Brent is moving out of the frying pan into the fire. Nevertheless, I believe it is possible that the topics are not entirely unconnected. Any connection between crime and deprivation is very far from being a linear matter. It is not simple. Nevertheless, some connection possibly exists and money saved in local government might end up in the future as money spent on prisons.

I must express my regret to the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, in putting yet a further burden upon him at the end of the positively Stakhanovite output of legislation for which he was responsible in the Session that we have just completed. Nevertheless, I am very glad that he is answering the debate tonight. The noble Earl has made me think when I did not want to more times than anyone else on the Government Front Bench and I hope tonight that I just may be able to return the compliment.

I must also answer the question: why was this debate not conducted in another place? In many ways it might have been much better conducted there. I understand that it is entirely out of order for me to discuss the conduct of individual Members of another place. I confine myself to saying that they did not raise the matter. As they did not, and as it raises a number of issues of general importance, I took the chance to do it here.

First, I should draw attention to how deep the cuts in Brent are—£17 million, attempted well into the financial year and therefore biting the more seriously. One of the local hospital doctors at the Central Middlesex Hospital has complained of the knock-on effect of this saving. It may not surprise your Lordships to learn that he is in geriatric medicine. He complains that he cannot discharge patients from hospital because the social services back-up no longer exists. That is a particularly clear case, but there are many others.

They have closed the only Braille unit in Brent. They nearly closed Crawford Home, which is a place for parents of children with special needs which allows someone to look after a child for a little while while parents have a break—very necessary for a great many people's sanity. That was saved after a long battle. Students at the Royal College of Music could have their grants cut off in mid course. More seriously, children at risk are unsupervised. The council has been forced to dismiss 233 teachers, a considerable number in one borough.

When a catastrophe—I choose that word advisedly—of this magnitude happens I believe that it is incumbent on all parties to do something a little more than sling mud, and to stop and think about why it has happened and what we can do to ensure that it does not happen again. Obviously the primary responsibility for that rests with the council. Obviously competence is not the prime characteristic of this council. I fear that it may disappoint some noble Lords a little to note that it is not the business of this House to conduct a discussion which ought more properly to be addressed to the electors of Brent. Therefore I shall not spend a great length of time dwelling upon the incompetence of the council.

I shall make one or two points merely to save the noble Earl the trouble of making them for me. There are examples of what one would classify as loony-Left behaviour: for example, libraries insisting on taking the Gay News instead of the Spectator. Before your Lordships misinterpret me, I should say that if it were the Gay News as well as the Spectator I should make no complaint provided that the purchase was within the budget. I believe that the council's recent decision to spend £31,000 a year on a salary for a new director of public relations is a classic case of putting the cart before the horse.

The major inefficiency is the scandalous management of its housing revenue account, including in the past week such triumphs as paying large sums in housing benefit to landlords for tenants who had recently been evicted and rehoused by Brent council unbeknown to Brent council.

The issue of refuse, which the noble Earl and I have already discussed, is one on which I regret to tell him there has been no significant improvement. There has been a slight improvement in that we are almost back to the state of incompetence in which we were before.

The closure of all public lavatories in the London borough of Brent is causing considerable offence to both the eyes and the noses of a good many local residents. I shall be extremely grateful if the noble Earl can tell me whether there is any statutory obligation of which the council is in breach in that respect. I have not found one but I should be surprised if there were not such an obligation.

There is also a considerable problem of trade union relations in the borough. I say that as a trade unionist who has spent a considerable part of this afternoon attending a union meeting. But when I find that in Brent the office responsible for dispensing student grants has decided that it is not willing to see anybody with any case, however urgent, before the afternoon I wonder whether unions are entirely concerned with helping to get the job done. There is a considerable problem in that area.

Those matters are, in the end, for the electors of Brent. I have mentioned them in order to indicate my awareness and to prevent the Minister from having to do so for me.

I should like the Minister to consider carefully and quietly whether in this matter there is any contributory negligence on the part of the Government. I should not necessarily insist that it would be a major part of the problem but if there is any it should be avoided for the future.

Clearly it is no coincidence that apart from Liverpool, the first council to reach this position is an incompetent council. I also wonder whether it is a coincidence that the first council to reach this position is an inner London council. Government limits on local authority spending are most precise and rigorous, and therefore I also wonder whether the Government have always given Brent the degree of predictability in budget which is necessary to stick so carefully within such exact limits.

I should like to cite an example of a case where the London borough of Brent has carried out a thoroughly good job—and there are not very many. It is the clearance after the great storm. It believed that it was likely to receive £750,000 under the Bellwin scheme. Noble Lords may be aware that dissatisfaction with the operation of the scheme is by no means confined to the London borough of Brent. As a result of a long series of technical reasons—with which I shall not bore your Lordships—it did not receive a penny.

It believed that it had arranged a deal for leasing hotels for placing the homeless. As a result of a government announcement whch came into effect at midnight the same night it lost £3.5 million which it had confidently and, I believe, reasonably budgeted that it would receive.

In the recently completed Rate Support Grant Bill it lost £8.8 million as a result of a retroactive decision for delay in submitting its accounts. Of course it should have submitted its accounts and it is absolutely typical of it not to have done so. I wonder whether the operation of that penalty makes the situation better. I also wonder whether the discharge of statutory obligations in local authorities in inner London is now entirely compatible with staying within their spending limits.

On one occasion I wrote an indignant letter to the local newspaper complaining about Brent's standards in disposing of rubbish and comparing them with the much higher standards achieved across the road in Camden. The next article that I read in the "Ham and High" said that Camden council had been censured by the district auditor for spending too many pence per mile on cleaning its streets. That really did give me to wonder.

That is not the only case. The problem of homelessness in inner London is one which your Lordships have previously discussed and one on which I know the noble Earl is conducting a review. The problem affects Camden as well as Brent. There are 21,000 homeless families in London—the noble Earl will correct me if I am wrong—of which 833 are in Brent. In that connection there is an open-ended legal obligation under which Brent must pay not only for the economic policies of Mrs. Thatcher but also for those of Mr. Haughey, over which it has no control.

There are many more such examples. The obligation to provide an adequate library service sits uneasily with the rapidly rising cost of books combined with government spending limits. However, the more important question is: where do we go from here?

On the last occasion the House discussed the subject the noble Earl said that we go to the 1990 election. That is fair enough. However, the question arises—and I hope that the noble Earl will consult his friends on Brent council about it—can any council, however frugal, having the present position of Brent's debts, combine discharge of its statutory obligations with keeping its legal spending limits? Among other items there are lease-back payments for an arrangement reached by the present council which will amount to £3.2 million in the present year and will rise. Inside the borough there is a general collapse of the habit of obedience. Whether an abrupt change of regime and policy will improve the situation in the near future I beg leave to doubt.

If we are to correct such matters it is important that we bring forward candidates for councils in considerable numbers and thereby have a choice. I can speak only for myself but I have considered the possibility that I might be asked to become a candidate for the council. It is not enough for me to say that I have two jobs and that I do not want three. If I were free I would not do it. The relevant point is not only whether it actually is the case that one cannot manage within the spending limits but whether I believe that that is the case—which I do. Believing that, I would find it rather harsh to let my name go forward and choose between being surcharged for overspending or censured for breach of my statutory obligations.

For example, I should like to ask the noble Earl to consult his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education about whether it will ever be possible to deliver the national curriculum in the London borough of Brent. At best I would feel, if I were a councillor within present local authority spending limits, that I was being asked to slog my guts out to implement Conservative policy. I can think of a good many better reasons to slog my guts out.

I believe the noble Earl will tell us that the residents of Brent should be held accountable for their decisions; in other words, he will tell us that the borough should be punished because a minority of us voted Labour. Forty six per cent. voted Labour at the last election. So he might achieve all the effects he seeks by accountability through the very much simpler method of PR.

That doctrine of accountability creates problems. I accept that financial improvidence cannot be unduly encouraged. But why punish the children, particularly primary school children, many of whom were not born when these spending decisions were taken? I know of the text that the sins of the fathers shall be visited on the children. But does the Prime Minister have to play God with quite such relentless determination?

Why punish newcomers to the borough? They did not vote to put the present council in office. They did not even belong to the minority which voted to do so. Following a debate on prisons, I am entitled to say that even within the limits of accountability one should consider the possibility of remission for good conduct. There is improvement. I would not yet say that I can tell the noble Earl of good conduct. However, if in the future, possibly within a revised combination of parties, there were an administration which the noble Earl could recognise as financially responsible, I ask him to consider some sort of negotiation over the burden of back debt facing Brent which would allow a responsible administration to rule responsibly and would allow my next door neighbour to say, as he does, "This was once a respectable borough".

8.37 p.m.

Lord Bethell

My Lords, we must all he extremely grateful to the noble Earl for introducing this debate. He, probably more than any of us, knows the problems that prevail in the London borough of Brent; he lives there. My noble friend Lady Cox lives there, but unfortunately she is unable to be here this evening. Many, however, will be unaware of the enormity of the problem and of the fact that in a mere 15-minute drive from this great Palace of Westminster and this salubrious City of Westminster on a trafficless evening it is possible to arrive at a veritable island of poverty and despair. It is a place divided against itself by the profligacy and extravagance of a few people who were elected to run the borough of Brent but who have failed dismally in their duty to do so.

It has become a sort of mini-Berlin where the North Circular Road divides the more and less prosperous and those whose ancestors were born in England, many of them in the borough, and those whose ancestors came to the borough mostly from the new Commonwealth or Ireland. Of course, the place is also divided on political lines in a most acute and polarised fashion. There are those who believe in free enterprise, mainly living north of the North Circular Road, and those who believe in socialism, including in particular those who believe in its most extreme tenets.

Very sadly for those who live there, like the noble Earl and others, Brent has become something of a music hall joke. It is referred to in the Evening Standard and the local press as the people's socialist republic or as Britain's barmiest borough. It is treated as something of a sad and wretched "Brigadoon". Little do people realise how close it is to the centre of our great capital city. However, it is no joke to those who live in the borough.

Many facts about the borough have been ably adumbrated by the noble Earl. However, I believe that it would be appropriate to mention a few others. One remembers how the terrible tragedy occurred in Brent of Jasmine Beckford and the disgraceful persecution of Maureen McGoldrick. Brent is a place where, of the majority ruling group of 41 councillors, 13 have jobs with other local authorities—jobs indeed for the boys and girls. Many others are in arrears of payments of their rates or council rent.

These days in Brent most council meetings are a travesty of democracy. Anyone who attends a meeting will find that there is intimidation of' the grossest and most deplorable type. At the last meeting on 9th November the police took 90 minutes to clear the gallery, blows having been struck and blood spilled on the floor. Physical assault and obscene verbal abuse are the rule rather than the exception at council meetings in Brent.

The whole edifice is kept going by the most imaginative of creative accounting; in particular the old device of the lease-back with the town hall, schools, libraries and homes sold or mortgaged and an enormous bill of interest having to be paid by the wretched ratepayer.

There are two problems above all. I shall call them schools and dustbins and refer to them later. First, I should like to mention a few other items which have been brought to my attention as the person who has the honour—and it is an honour—to represent the borough of Brent in its entirety in the European Parliament. Although it is not my duty to represent those local matters in Europe, nevertheless in my personal capacity in your Lordships' House I feel impelled to mention them this evening.

One has only to walk or drive round the borough these days to see what a parlous state things have come to. One finds a large number of street lights turned off at night and probably a similar number turned on during the day. If one telephones the town hall there is no answer. Because of redundancies or firings it became necessary recently to employ a new director of education. A front runner was a person whose main qualification was that he was a teacher of limbo dancing. Classes are given on the rates on the writing of graffiti. Also on the rates, a playwright was employed for £3,500 on a contract of six months.

Community relations are an extremely important part of Brent community care and should be handled with the greatest delicacy. Under this administration there has been a ham-handed and clumsy policy. There has been a tendency to move racial groups into separate categories, to provide privileges for some and to put others down the scale. In its way that creates a form of apartheid which is extremely damaging to relations between the different ethnic groups with the risk, unless one is very careful, of friction. In that respect I have in mind public expenditure of £4,000 on a party given by the borough for an employee who had the good fortune—perhaps it is appropriate that I should mention this in your Lordships' House—to inherit a chieftainship in an African country.

The majority of people who live in Brent are also disturbed by the borough's policy of adoption or fostering of children by homosexuals and, as mentioned by the noble Earl, the encouragement of homosexuals to enter the teaching profession.

Earl Russell

My Lords, I beg the noble Lord's pardon but I do not think I said that.

Lord Bethell

My Lords, I apologise to the noble Earl. I think he mentioned Gay News in which there are many advertisements placed by the London Borough of Brent as there are in many of the ethnic newspapers, but not in the Murdoch press; not in The Times or The Sunday Times.

The noble Earl referred to libraries. These have become a great problem for people who used to consult them. The hours are being reduced more and more tightly, with many libraries being closed or about to be closed. The central library at Willesden Green is housed in Portakabins and is under threat. All that councillor Mick Woods can say is that libraries are not important because they are used only by the middle classes. I should like my noble friend Lord Caithness to say whether he believes that it would be appropriate at this stage, under Section 10 of the Public Libraries and Museums Act, to give power to the Secretary of State to take action regarding libraries in the borough of Brent.

More important to residents of Brent as a whole are the schools. A few years ago there was a campaign to recruit teachers to Brent. There had been an outflux of teachers because of allegations concerning the quality of teaching and exam performances. Great efforts were put into the recruitment of teachers. I am advised that each teacher recruited cost the ratepayer £30,000 in advertising and promotion. No sooner had most of those teachers been recruited than very many were let go at enormous cost to the ratepayers. I believe the noble Earl said the figure was 233. Out they went, many fired before they had even taken up their appointments.

The result is that there are now hardly any supply teachers in the borough. Teachers being more prone to colds and minor illnesses than most of us, in many schools classes have to be amalgamated and turned into little more than child-minding sessions. Of course, it goes without saying that there is no money available for such luxuries as mending the roofs, with the result that the water is dripping into many Brent schools.

It is of deep concern to many of us that refuse disposal and the whole health of the borough is now in jeopardy because of the reduction in the staff dealing with refuse disposal and the considerable delays which are now imposed on those who wish to dispose of the contents of their dustbins or plastic bags full of refuse. One hears various estimates as to the average time it takes to get one's dustbin emptied. It has been suggested to me that for political reasons dustbins in the south of the borough are emptied more frequently than those in the north. It was fortunate for those who live in Preston to have their dustbins emptied on 16th October—the day before a local by-election!

One wonders how long that situation will be allowed to continue. Anyone who drives through Brent will be appalled at the mountains of plastic bags stacked up throughout the streets. Pictures have been published of bags piled up outside the town hall. Is this situation to continue until the summer? Perhaps the hazard to health is not so serious during the winter months, but will this be allowed to continue during May, June and July?

I do not believe that such a problem at Brent can easily be solved by the Government waving a magic wand, but we may get to the point where the public health of the residents of Brent. and beyond, is jeopardised, with rodents, pests and other hazards to health being let loose arising from the abundance of refuse in the streets and parks. Therefore, I hope that my noble friend will be able to tell the House whether be believes that it would be appropriate to take default action at this stage under the Control of Pollution Act or, if he does not think that stage has yet been reached, when it might be appropriate to invoke that Act to ensure that the health of the people in that part of London is not put at risk.

At this point I should mention that, while money does not seem to be available in the municipal exchequer for schools or for refuse disposal, there is money for the police committee, for the nuclear-free zone committee, for the women's committee and to promote homosexuality as a lifestyle equal to that of the married state. Therefore, I wonder whether the majority party in Brent has its priorities right. Has it considered whether these priorities on the spending of the municipality's money are in the interests of the people who voted the party into office in 1986?

I should like to pay special tribute to the staff of Brent council who have had a very difficult run. They have been tossed about like corks on a stormy sea of political in-fighting and racial tension. Many of the staff have been allowed to go after years, often decades, of faithful service to the borough, working well beyond their statutory hours. They have been fired because of these cuts, so-called, in recent months and unceremoniously had their services dispensed with. Those who remain are frequently accused of bias, both political and racial, and it is hardly surprising that the borough of Brent has such difficulty in obtaining good recruits and people to work for it in the council, as teachers, or in the care centres and the rest of the public services. I think it is extremely understandable, regrettable though it is, that recruits are not coming forward to work in this borough. Of course, it is the people who live in Brent who suffer the most.

The situation suits only one category of person —those who default on their payments of rents and rates. It suits the many people who have decided that there is no need for them to pay their rent and rates. They are having a free ride at the expense of the rest of the borough. That applies to many of those who have purchased keys to council flats in Brent through advertisements in local post-offices or in airline shops in Lagos.

They have been able to move into flat's and take up residence for the payment of a few hundred pounds because the borough appears to have taken no proper record of its council tenants and is unable to say from one day to the next whether the right person is living in a council flat, let alone whether that person has paid his rent or rates.

As to those who have suggested that the Government ought to move in and provide a great sum of money for the relief of Brent's sufferings, before the fairy godmother is invited to descend, wave her wand and bestow great largesse, surely the answer is first to collect the arrears in rent and rates. Brent might then be in a position to try to balance its budget. I have to advise my noble friend that it would be inappropriate at present for the Government to provide large sums of central government money to bail out this council for its extravagances just as it would be inappropriate for us to bail out a country like Poland, which the Prime Minister recently visited, for its extravagances and the mistakes of its political system.

I fully realise the sadness that this will impose upon those who live in Brent. I hope that my noble friend will be able to indicate some ways in which it can be mitigated on this side of the 1990 elections. I have the question of the health hazard at the front of my mind in particular.

In passing, I should mention that we have been able to obtain for Brent in the current year just over £250,000 through European Community funding out of the European social fund. I wish it could be more. This part of London, the north west, is considered to be a prosperous area in the community. It is one of the richer parts of the community. However, Brent in itself is an island of poverty so it is difficult for it to qualify for the kind of European Community aid that I should like it to get. I wish that I could do better.

I can only hope that wiser counsels will prevail in 1990. In the meantime I hope that my noble friend will indicate that he is able to give some help. In two years' time I pray that an administration and a majority group will appear that will embark on the long road towards reform and a proper balancing of the books, and will have the strength of Hercules in order to cleanse the Augean stables of the terrible mess created by the London Borough of Brent.

8.53 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Russsell, and the noble Lord, Lord Bethel!, have cloaked what they have said in a veneer of friendship for the people of Brent and have wrung their hands. I think that I have listened to the greatest demonstration of hypocrisy, of bile, of venom and of spite that I have heard in this House or in the other place for many a long day. In respect of their protestations that they are really friends of the people of Brent, I assure the noble Earl and the noble Lord that, with friends like them, Brent and the people of Brent do not need enemies.

Earl Russell

My Lords, I have been told that my professions of friendship for my next-door neighbours are a veneer. I ask the noble Lord to withdraw that.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, all that I have to go on is what the noble Earl said earlier. If he cares to withdraw what he said, of course I shall withdraw my impression of what he said. In the meantime, the record will speak for itself.

What we have heard from the noble Earl and from the noble Lord is a catalogue of problems on which they can speak with greater authority than I can because they live in the London Borough of Brent and I do not. My noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey and I can speak from a different perspective. We both happen to have been leaders of London local authorities in our time. Having been involved at the sharp end in attempting to manage local government, we are perhaps able to see things differently from the noble Earl and the noble Lord.

Lord Bethell

My Lords, what the noble Lord said just then is fair comment. I urge him to follow the advice of the noble Earl a moment ago and to withdraw what he said about a veneer of sympathy and about hypocrisy. Bearing in mind that the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, may disagree with the noble Earl and myself, I do not think that he should accuse us of speaking with insincerity. That is not correct.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, on the basis that I have been requested twice to withdraw a charge of hypocrisy which has caused so much offence to the noble Earl and the noble Lord, of course I withdraw that unreservedly.

That makes it all the more sad because what the noble Earl and the noble Lord are demonstrating is that they genuinely believe that there are no political overtones in what they have said, that they are not motivated by any political advantage in future and that they are doing this solely for the purpose of trying to help the people of Brent.

The first words of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, led me to wonder why on earth we are having the debate. He said that the debate should have taken place in another place. The noble Earl and the noble Lord have decided to use this opportunity, as they are entitled to. I welcome the opportunity that they are giving me to rebut some of the—as I consider them to be—scurrilous charges that they have made against the present leadership in the London Borough of Brent. I speak as president of the Association of London Authorities. I speak also as a resident of greater London for more than 35 years and at one time proud leader of the London Borough of Enfield. I could give a catalogue of matters that caused the people of Enfield great anguish by virtue of the actions of the present council—different, but I could find groups of people who are incensed. I could go to Westminster, a Tory-led council, and find a lot of people who are angry about the disgraceful way in which the council has dealt with the issue of cemeteries. I could go to the London Borough of Merton, Conservative controlled, where only six months ago the idea of flogging off the town hall and other council properties was being considered to raise money as part of creative accounting. There is no borough in London that would not earn the title of "crisis".

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, and the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, have decided to highlight the crisis in the London Borough of Brent. There is a crisis in every London borough caused partly by virtue of what the noble Earl and the noble Lord have said—particularly the noble Earl, Lord Russell—about the actions of the Government. It is conveniently forgotten that they represent the two parties which between them controlled the activities of the London Borough of Brent until 1986. As the progenitors of the policies, how did those parties decide to face the electorate in 1986? They proceeded over a period of time to run down and run out the accumulated balances of the borough. They spent £39 million in election year and earlier years to keep down the rates. It does not need a genius to work out why they decided to do that in the pre-election year. Let us have the whole record. Let us have the basis on which the incoming Labour council faced enormous problems.

I cannot speak on the effect and consequences with as much authority as the noble Earl and the noble Lord. I am not here to defend what they would say are outrageous matters of management. However, I say this. The incoming council was faced with no reserves and a steady depletion over the years in the amount of money that was anticipated. The noble Earl referred earlier to the assumptions that were made about money for the homeless. In 1979 the basis on which the Government made money available to local authorities was changed dramatically. In 1978–79 the proportion of grant-aided local expenditure was 65 per cent. In 1988–89 it is down to 38 per cent. That is the enormity of the impact on the London Borough of Brent of the actions of the two parties represented in this House by the noble Lords. One party was ejected from office and the Government decided that this was the way to cut expenditure.

There have been problems. No mention was made by either of the two noble Lords of the efforts made by the Labour controlled council to take advice and guidance. They will know, although they did not mention it, that the council has sought the advice of the treasurers of Newcastle and Sheffield, two large metropolitan areas. I say with all candour that the present leadership of Brent council well-recognises that it is in trouble and has real problems, some of which were inherited and some of which have perhaps been created by their own endeavours to remedy the situation.

What did the treasurers report? This is a matter of public knowledge. First, they said that the leadership of the council has grasped the nettle in regard to the problems. They said that the council has made tremendous progress in all areas of budgeting and budgetary control during the past year. No reference was made to that. The report also acknowledged that the council had little choice but to make reductions in the budget for the current year and has confirmed that the council has no hidden reserves. The report commended the action taken so far in terms of improved financial control and justified the leadership's proposals for planning for future years on a structured basis. The report clearly showed that the administration from 1983 to 1986—the administration of the parties of the two noble Lords—are in large measure responsible for the council's current financial problems.

My noble friend Lord McIntosh will expand on a number of these matters. We have heard what I can only describe as a grossly unfair Sun-type treatment of some of the problems. On a previous occasion I spoke in the House to defend local councils from a catalogue of newspaper stories such as Baa Baa Black Sheep. They were given currency but they were lies. I said then that they were lies. They were printed in the knowledge that they were not true and they were given currency. The noble Lord has sought tonight to give even more currency to such stories. I doubt very much whether there is a base to any such remarks. He will have an opportunity outside the House to give chapter and verse to the local people and also to the local press where I am certain he will be warmly welcomed.

Lord Bethell

My Lords, I hesitate to ask the noble Lord again, but I should like him to confirm that what he is alleging is that I am mistaken. He is not alleging, I trust, that I am being deliberately deceitful or misleading.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

Of course not, my Lords. I am saying that the noble Lord is retailing stories which appear in the press and which I allege have no or little foundation. It is easy to pick a phrase and then to categorise and to damn an activity of the council on that basis. When last I had an opportunity to investigate these matters, they were proven to be completely untrue. They could not be traced back to a person. They could not be traced back to an incident. They simply disappeared. I can see a shadow looming on my right.

Earl Russell

My Lords, I can confirm as an eye witness everything the noble Lord said about the rubbish save only the proposition that the council favours the south of the borough where I live. It does not.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I repeat that the actual problems are more in the knowledge of the noble Earl himself. I understand the point about the rubbish. I also take fully on board the points that were made about problems with the trade unions and workers. The reality has to be faced. There has been a traumatic revolution in relationships between the council and the workers over the past period. There have been problems. They are being tackled and are in the process of being resolved. However, I do not think that either of the noble Lords has served the interests of the London Borough of Brent. I very much resent the slur which they have cast upon the integrity of the present council in its desire to get rid of what was left to it by the parties of the two noble Lords.

9.6 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, for introducing this debate. I confess that when he put down his Unstarred Question a week or so ago I was not particularly grateful. I read the press as well. I read the kind of anguished protest which was the substance of the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and I read the kind of tabloid vituperation which was the substance of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bethell. I must confess that I was tempted to think that there was something in this. I made it my business to find out the true facts about the financial position of the council.

I am disappointed that neither noble Lord felt it appropriate to go into this matter or to look beyond the surface of what is happening in Brent. Therefore they did not really challenge the Government in the way that I thought they would. The Government and the Minister who is to reply to the debate face a challenge. Will the Government continue to allow the kind of abuse we have had of the London Borough of Brent? What will they do about it? If we are to hear at the end of the day, as I suspect we shall, that it is not appropriate for the Government to take direct action to put in commissioners, then I think that the Government should—as I said earlier in response to a Starred Question on a similar matter— put up, or shut up. We should not hear the kind of abuse that is going around about the London Borough of Brent, unless those responsible are prepared to do something about it.

Unlike my noble friend, I do not accuse noble Lords of a veneer of sympathy. I am sure that what they said was, in one case out of personal knowledge and, in another case, in a representational capacity—although a rather remote one. However, I do accuse them of a veneer of understanding. I do not think that they have even attempted to get to the essence of what the matter is all about. The issue of what is happening in the London Borough of Brent goes much further than Brent; it covers the whole range of problems of our inner cities and the whole range of problems of government policies towards local government throughout the country.

I am sorry to say that I have 15 points to put to your Lordships, but I shall try to put them as quickly as I possibly can. However, unless I put those points, I do not think that the record will be put straight about the Government and the London Borough of Brent.

The first point concerns rate support grant. Rate support grant was 65 per cent. of Brent's expenditure in 1979 and in 1988 it is 38 per cent. That is the context in which we are talking about the financing of the London Borough of Brent. Further, as my noble friend Lord Graham said, up until May 1986 we had a Conservative-controlled council in the London Borough of Brent, maintained by Liberal support. We must look at the record of that council in order to understand the financial crisis in which the Labour council, when it won the election in 1986, found itself.

Point two: as my noble friend said, balances of £39 million were exhausted by the time the Conservative/ Liberal administration left office.

Point three: in 1985 it was already recognised that the staffing and recruitment in the finance department—which is responsible for many of the things which I am sure the noble Earl will be saying in response—was seriously defective. There were these real problems with the finance department, under the Conservative/Liberal administration, which account for many of the confused messages which have come out of the borough.

Point four: the Conservative/Liberal administration budgeted in its election budget— the Conservative election budget for 1986–87—for a rate support grant and GLC grant of £45 million. In the event, the actual rate support grant and GLC grant was £38 million. That was not because, as under 1988 legislation, the Government made up their mind later; it was because the Conservative/Liberal council got it wrong—and almost certainly chose to get it wrong in order to deceive the electorate about the true financial situation of the borough.

Point five: just before the 1986 election the Conservative/Liberal administration budgeted for interest on its balances of £1.5 million. In fact, because those balances had been used up, there was a £1.8 million interest payment on overdraft. That is more than a £3 million turnaround, which could have been identified if the Conservative/Liberal administration had been in any way financially responsible.

I turn now to the Labour council which was elected in 1986. We hear about extravagance. In point of fact, the overspending on the 1986–87 budget was the grotesque figure of 1.6 per cent. That is not what you would read in the public press, not what you would hear from the noble Lords opposite, from Members of another place, or councillors of the Conservative Party. It was 1.6 per cent. Virtually all of that overspending was caused by the additional needs for homelessness—which are a statutory obligation on London boroughs and which happened all over London—and by the fact that the Conservative/Liberal administration had run down the number of teachers to such a level that they were in danger of being accused of failing to meet their legal responsibilities in the provision of education.

Point seven: despite what your Lordships might gather from noble Lords who have spoken so far, the London Borough of Brent was not rate-capped in 1988. It was not considered that the expenditure of the London Borough of Brent was so excessive that the penalties of rate-capping should be imposed.

Point eight: noble Lords who know more about the detail of the borough than I do—I worked there for many years, but I do not live there—gave examples of excessive expenditure. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, was especially fond of this one. If I remind him that the total expenditure of the borough on race relations was £200,000, and that that expenditure was agreed by all parties on the council, perhaps that will put the matter into some perspective.

We are in danger of getting back to the sort of accusations which appeared in the tabloid press about blackboards not being able to be called blackboards. That is the kind of level to which I fear we nearly sank in this House and it is not worthy of us.

Point nine: this is another example of expenditure which caused a great deal of notoriety in the press and which confused me until I understood it. It was what Brent council calls the development programme for racial equality in the schools. Teachers with particular experience of racial problems were appointed to the schools. That was denounced as being a wicked Left-wing perversion. I read that the whole project is financed by the Home Office, and the accusation rather faded away.

Lord Bethell

My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord. In the noble Lord's comprehensive defence of Brent council's race relations policy does he include the appointment of Mr. Kuba Assegai as a governor of a Brent school?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am unaware of Mr. Kuba Assegai. I shall not be drawn into that type of accusation. I am not issuing a blanket defence of Brent council's current policies, and I never claimed to do so. I am sorry that any noble Lord should believe it necessary to engage in blanket attacks on any council's policies.

Earl Russell

My Lords, I am sorry to contribute again, but I believe that Mr. Kuba Assegai is no longer a governor of a Brent school.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords. I am grateful for that intelligence and I am sure that the House will also be grateful.

Point 10: both noble Lords made considerable reference to the refuse and street cleaning problems. I agree that if one drives through Brent, as I have recently, one sees far too much refuse on the streets. As I understand it, there are far too many complaints about the inadequacy of home refuse collections.

The London Borough of Brent is one of the last councils to have broken away from the industrial relations policies with regard to street sweeping and refuse collection which were acceptable in the 1960s but are no longer acceptable in the 1980s. Collusion in failing to deal with that problem has been part of the policies of Labour, Conservative and Liberal-controlled administrations over the past 10 years or more. It is only the Labour-controlled council which has now grasped that nettle and has insisted that the Brent refuse and street sweeping departments should move themselves to a greater level of efficiency; has had an industrial dispute which went on for many months but which has now been settled; and is now proceeding to put its house in order.

The Tory/Liberal administration did not do that. It was necessary for it to be done and the borough's physical appearance is because the Labour-controlled council has not been as irresponsible as its Conservative and Liberal-controlled predecessors.

Point 11: I turn now to much more serious matters to which the noble Earl and the noble Lord should have referred; that is, the Government's policies in 1988. In April this year the housing benefit review took place. As a result of that review, Brent lost £4 million in housing benefit. I believe your Lordships will agree that is a not insubstantial amount.

Point 12: as a result of the Rate Support Grant Bill, to which, because it was a money Bill, your Lordships had to agree without a Division, and because it was the Labour-controlled Brent council which had been imposing cuts and living within its means, the Government cut £8.8 million from the finances of the London Borough of Brent.

I expect to hear protestations from the Minister about the late submission by the London Borough of Brent. I have read what Mr. Gummer said in another place. I only hope that the Minister will be able to convince the House that that is something unique to the wicked Left-wing borough. The debate that took place in another place and the debate which took place here in which my noble friend Lord Callaghan took part showed that it was Conservative-controlled authorities such as West Somerset and authorities without any overall political control, such as Cardiff, that were also deceived by the Government into thinking that they had more time to submit their accounts than they did and therefore fell foul of the Rate Support Grant Act which pulled down the curtain retrospectively at midnight on 6th July.

It is easy enough to pick out the London Borough of Brent, but let us be fair. Let us also pick out the boroughs which were trying to save money and grant by reducing their expenditure and failed to anticipate a retrospective deadline in the Rate Support Grant Act. It is not good enough to blame the London Borough of Brent alone.

Point 13: in another place Mr. Gummer referred to the benefit the borough would gain from the £9.4 million of what he called supplementary reports. It would be interesting to know what was meant by supplementary reports. I suspect that it was a slip of the tongue. His implication was that somehow the Government were giving the London Borough of Brent £9.4 million which it did not expect and which would benefit its finances. The fact of the matter is that that £9.4 million had already been budgeted for. It was in the accounts of the council and was not in any way the windfall that the Minister in another place claimed.

Point 14: Mr. Gummer also said that the expenditure of the borough was 11.5 per cent. above the needs assessment. A needs assessment is an arbitrary figure and a range of 10 to 15 per cent. above or below the needs assessment is not uncommon in local government. When we think of the problems of the people of the London Borough of Brent—and to be fair they were eloquently urged both by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and the noble Lord, Lord Bethell—we can see that a difference in judgment about the needs of the borough of approximately 11.5 per cent. is not too surprising. I suggest to your Lordships that the judgment of the council of the London Borough of Brent is rather better than the judgment of Marsham Street.

Finally we come to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Graham. That is the independent review conducted by Mr. Newman, the city treasurer of Sheffield and Mr. Wilcox, the city treasurer of Newcastle. They said, as my noble friend remarked, that the borough council was acting on the best financial information available to it and that it had grasped the nettle of financial responsibility. That has been enormously painful. Examples have been given of cuts in the services which no one, certainly not the councillors responsible for implementing them, can possibly be happy about.

However, in view of what I have said about the responsibility first of the Conservative and Liberal administration and secondly of the Conservative Government, can anybody say that the London Borough of Brent is the only body to be attacked in this way in your Lordships' House? I suggest that in his reply the Minister will have to do a good deal better than Ministers have done in another place, if he is to convince your Lordships that there is the kind of party political advantage which is sought from this debate in the subject matter and the facts which have been exposed.

9.21 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, I do not think that there is any party political advantage to he sought. I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, for raising this very important matter. I am afraid I tend to disagree with what the noble Lords, Lord Graham of Edmonton and Lord McIntosh of Haringey, have just said. I think much of the comment from all round the House and the tone of my speech are more in concern and sorrow rather than in anger or political point scoring.

First, let us be clear about one thing. In so far as there is a crisis in Brent, there can be no doubt on whose shoulders responsibility lies. It is not the Government who have consistently and wilfully mismanaged the affairs of Brent Borough Council over the past two and a half years. It is the council itself. Let me make it clear that it is the council that must take action to resolve the problems now faced by the people of Brent.

It is to the council that Parliament has given the duty of providing a wide range of important local services, and it is the council which must ensure that it is able to undertake those statutory duties. The council also has a wider obligation to the ratepayers of the borough to use their money wisely, economically and efficiently, and to account to them properly for its stewardship of that money. What can the councillors of Brent say to those householders who, despite paying a borough rate of nearly 249 pence in the pound this year (the second highest for an outer London borough and 38 per cent. above the average), did not have their dustbins emptied for six weeks or so this autumn? Or to those parents with children in Brent schools who have been uncertain whether there would still be teachers there to take the classes by the end of term? Or top students who do not know whether they will be able to complete the courses they have begun?

I know that your Lordships will not misunderstand the point I am making. I am not criticising Brent for taking steps to cut its costs, to reduce its workforce, to organise its services more efficiently. These are themselves right and proper things to do. What I take issue with is the nature and timing of those actions. The present administration in Brent has had two and a half years, since it took office in May 1986, to bring about necessary changes in an orderly fashion. But for far too long councillors took refuge in a series of disreputable special financing deals rather than face up to reality and bring their budget properly under control. It was only when they could not ignore the need for change any longer that they began to take action. That action was the more drastic because it was so long delayed. It has left both the workforce and the public confused and antagonised.

What I am saying, therefore, is that the problems in Brent are problems not of money but of management. I must say that it is quite wrong to speak, as is so often the case, of government spending limits on Brent. There are no such limits. As the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, pointed out, Brent was not selected for rate limitation this year or next. The only limits on the rates it can raise to finance its services are the limits of what its long suffering ratepayers will put up with.

I must say to the noble Lords, Lord Graham of Edmonton and Lord McIntosh of Haringey, that Brent cannot claim to be disadvantaged by the grant system. Of course there are difficult and intractable social problems in parts of the borough, and these put their own pressures on the local authority's expenditure. But these pressures are fully recognised by the Government and taken into account not only through the urban programme but also in the block grant system. Brent's assessed need to spend (or GRE) is £684 per head, the third highest in outer London, after only Newham and Haringey. It is nearly half as much again as neighbouring Barnet's. And on our latest calculations Brent, despite its high spending, stands to receive some £74 million in block grant, 38 per cent. of its total expenditure compared with an average for England of 33 per cent.

For next year the picture is no less favourable. Under the proposed rate support grant settlement, on which we are now consulting, Brent would receive some £86 million in block grant, nearly £19 million more than this year, after allowing for the changed treatment of polytechnics. Its GRE would increase by nearly £18 million, or 10.7 per cent. compared with an average for England of 9.8 per cent. Moreover, we are offering the borough £375,000 in specific grant towards the cost of implementing the community charge.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, claimed that the Government had cut £8 million from Brent because of the July statement. I think it is opportune that I should give a factual account of what happened. First I must correct something that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, said. Only two authorities failed to submit their RERs of 1989, that is their return of expenditure and rates, by 7th July. Those two authorities were Brent and Haringey.

The Rate Support Grant Act provides in general for the block grant for 1987 to 1988 to be calculated using revised estimates of total expenditure which should have been submitted to my department by 31st March 1988. We did not receive this form by the due date, and on 12th May Brent was reminded by telephone. Brent gave some information by telephone, and later promised to send the overdue form by the Whitsun weekend. No form was received. On 7th June, having been telephoned again, Brent said it hoped to send it by 17th June. After a number of further telephone calls, the council gave us some more figures orally for another year, but no form was forthcoming for 1987 to 1988.

On 21st June we wrote asking for the missing form to be returned as soon as possible. The form was finally received on 9th September, five months late and five months into the financial year to which it principally related.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating the chronology which his right honourable friend Mr. Gummer gave in another place. I was aware of that. But does not the Minister recognise that the Rate Support Grant Act not only covered the current expenditure, but also past expenditure? The furious indignation that occurred in many local authorities throughout the country at the retrospective legislation which was put through this House earlier on this month came not only from Labour authorities, but also from Conservative authorities and those without any political control. So to restrict the accusation to Brent and Haringey, and to restrict it only to one year, is not telling the whole story.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I was giving a perfectly factual account relating to the RER for the year 1987 to 1988. Under the rules in that Act we used information submitted by Brent earlier. It is clear to me that Brent was given every opportunity to reply and that its failure to do so before close down is its responsibility.

I understand the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. He made his concerns clear when the Bill was discussed by your Lordships, but as my noble friend Lord Hesketh explained at that time it was right that we introduced an orderly close down at an appropriate time.

We do not believe that the unfortunate situation in Brent has any repercussions for local government as a whole. It does not lead us to think that we have in some way got it wrong, either in aggregate levels of funding or in the share of total resources that Brent is now receiving. It does, however, confirm to us that the pressures for accountability that the community charge will bring can do nothing but good in bringing home to councillors their responsibilities and encouraging them to improve their management of their authorities.

Brent cannot then claim to be uniquely hard up. The question is much more one of how it manages the resources it has. One thing is clear: the people of Brent do not see much value for money in the council's expenditure. That may have something to do with the fact that Brent employs 47.7 staff per thousand of population—nearly 13 per cent. above the average for outer London boroughs.

Let me turn at this point to some of the more specific issues which have been raised. I shall deal first with the point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Russell concerning homelessness and the question of whether Brent is adequately resourced to carry out its duties in that area. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, also touched on that issue. The alleviation of homelessness is one of the most important housing functions funded by local authorities from the rate fund, and I must assure the House that the Government share the concern about the rising cost and numbers of households in temporary accommodation. I remind your Lordships that we have, since last December, allocated £74 million of additional resources to those authorities with the most acute homelessness pressures. Brent Borough Council has received over £3 million in additional allocations for 1988–89 and 1989–90.

I say to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that the Government regard the use of bed and breakfast accommodation for homeless families as a last resort. It was never intended that councils should be able to dress up the letting of hotel rooms as leases and so qualify for Exchequer subsidy.

Nevertheless, I agree with my noble friend Lord Bethell that the answer does not lie in simply throwing money at the problem. In any event, it is difficult to justify local authorities' claims for more funds when last year rent arrears of almost £200 million were outstanding and over 100,000 council dwellings are now standing empty. Brent informs us that its rent arrears stand at nearly £17 million. If that figure is to be believed it represents nearly 96 per cent. of the annual rent roll. Sadly, the authority appears moreover to have virtually lost control of who occupies its housing. Unauthorised sub-letting appears to be rife in places. Improved management is the key to bringing those problems under control, and the council should take urgent and positive action to tackle them.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, will the noble Earl give way? I am grateful to him for doing so. Will he agree that there is probably not a borough in the whole of England in which some council properties are not occupied by people who are not those whom the council understands to be the tenants? For example, when the issue became current it was acknowledged by the housing officials in the London Borough of Enfield that it was more than likely that that problem existed in the borough. The problem also exists in the London boroughs of Barnet and Croydon and elsewhere. Will the Minister recognise that it is not a Brent problem but one of housing shortage throughout the country?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the point on which I would disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, is that there is a housing shortage problem throughout the country. That is not the case. There are areas of housing shortage. In some areas the problem is quite significant. Overall there probably are enough houses, but as the noble Lord is fully aware the trouble is that we have a lot of houses in the wrong places serving the wrong people. That is why there are shortages in certain areas.

I seek to bring out one point. It relates to other London boroughs also. I know that action is being taken and indeed that is something I seek to encourage. I also suggest that the London borough should tackle the backlog of repairs to bring its empty stock into use, thus releasing additional dwellings for the homeless.

We are of course considering these matters as part of the review on homelessness legislation. But I would remind your Lordships that in the Autumn Statement substantial extra resources, totalling £441 million, were announced for next year. Action now must lie with the local authorities themselves.

Lord Pitt of Hampstead

My Lords, I should like to ask the Minister just one question. He has given the House a nice, global figure by which the grants to local authorities are increased. There are certain local authorities obviously having difficulties. Is it not possible—I put it no higher—that the distribution of those grants is defective? Is the Minister not prepared to accept that?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, that of course the annual distribution of the grant is carefully assessed every year. There is the needs assessment and there are opportunities for representations to be made when it comes to allocating the resources that are made available.

In helping the council to tackle the problems on its worst estates, the Government have approved over £3.8 million expenditure on estate action projects in 1986–87 and 1987–88. Over £1 million has been, or is likely to be, approved for the current year, and an application for £1.6 million for 1989–90 has been received and is being considered. This is additional expenditure over and above that provided in the council's housing investment programme allocation and it will qualify for housing subsidy to the extent that the costs are admissible. The projects include concierges for blocks on the South Kilburn, Stonebridge and Chalkhill estates and other measures to improve tenants' security and to introduce local management. We regard action of this sort to be most important if conditions on such problem estates are to be improved. Such initiatives can count on a ready response from the Government, subject, as always, to competing claims for finite resources.

I turn to the question of storm damage raised by the noble Earl, Lord Russell. He suggested that Brent had not received any government assistance with the costs of clearing up to which it was entitled. I have to say to the noble Earl that this again illustrates some of the present weaknesses in Brent's handling of its affairs.

The primary responsibility for dealing with emergencies lies with local authorities, but we recognise that in exceptional cases it is appropriate for the Government to offer financial assistance when the burden on local ratepayers would otherwise be excessive. On 21st October we announced accordingly a scheme of special financial assistance in respect of emergency works arising from the storm and completed before 1st March 1988.

Ninety-one authorities, including 12 London boroughs, have submitted claims under this scheme. The total amount of grant due on these claims is about £23 million, of which about £21 million has been paid out. The London boroughs which have claimed stand to receive some £3.8 million. Brent, however, although it has corresponded with us about the time limit on the eligibility of works, has so far submitted no claim. I cannot say how much it might stand to receive were it to do so. We will certainly consider any application it submits. Let me stress that the deadline for the submission of final audited claims is 31st December; so time is now quite tight. It is for the council to decide whether or not it wishes to claim.

Brent is one of the 13 boroughs in London, and 57 in England, which benefit from additional financial support through the urban programme. This year, the citizens of Brent are benefiting from an additional £3.75 million of economic, environmental and social schemes aimed at reducing inner city deprivation. Government grant is available to meet 75 per cent. of the cost. However, the council is failing to secure the full benefit for the Brent ratepayer, again because of its inefficiency.

In normal circumstances, my department makes advances during the year, against which audited claims must be made by the borough. Brent has submitted no such claims since 1984 and audited claims for £6.6 million of advances are outstanding. In these circumstances, my department had no choice but to discontinue making advances in 1987–88. As a result, the ratepayers of Brent have had to bear the full burden of a further £6.5 million of expenditure. Three-quarters of the burden could be avoided if only Brent were to put its house in order and submit the necessary claims.

Finally, on the question of refuse collection and street cleaning, I can say this to my noble friend Lord Bethell. I too have been disturbed to hear recently that these services are still seriously disrupted in some parts of the borough. I can assure the House that if, after seeking independent advice on the public health aspects of this problem, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State were satisfied both that there was a health hazard and that the council have explored all possible means of satisfying the problem, he would take action under Section 97 of the Control of Pollution Act 1974. We are of course keeping the situation under very careful review.

The situation that I have described is one of a local authority with an admittedly difficult job to do, but with adequate resources to do the job, that has run itself into considerable problems simply by its failure, first, to act promptly and thereafter by its failure to act sensibly. It is clear that these difficulties cannot be solved by throwing more money at them because they arise from the style of management—or lack of it—exercised by the council. It is less easy to see what the root causes of this management weakness are. I believe however that they have much to do with a lack of seriousness—an approach on the part of councillors which places political game-playing before the serious business of running the complicated undertaking that is a modern local authority.

This approach probably has much to do also with the breakdown in trust and partnership between councillors and officers that sometimes appears to have taken place in Brent over the past several months. But I should like to pay tribute here to the very many sensible people who are coping with the situation in Brent, both ordinary citizens and officers of the council, struggling to get on with their jobs in the most difficult circumstances.

It is to the council, then, that we must look first and foremost to put its house in order. Its weaknesses are of the kind that only it itself can remedy. However, let me give this assurance. We in government will offer what advice and guidance we can; but simply to try to buy a solution with taxpayers' money would not address the central problem at all. Of course we view what has been happening in Brent in recent months with grave concern; and of course we shall, if necessary, take appropriate action at once if a threat to public health or safety arises which demands such intervention. But I sincerely hope that it will not come to that, and that the councillors of Brent will respond to the serious obligations that have been placed upon them.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, in view of the respect that I have for him personally, I hope he will accept from me that I do not hold him personally responsible for the appalling complacency of the answer that he has felt it necessary to give.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I hope that I gave the House no hint of any complacency whatsoever. I tried to put a factual account in .a serious and considered manner before your Lordships.

House adjourned at seventeen minutes before ten o'clock.