HL Deb 19 July 1989 vol 510 cc792-842

3.45 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Hesketh)

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee. —(Lord Hesketh.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 [Disqualification and political restriction of certain officers and staff]:

Baroness Stedman moved Amendment No. 1: Page 2, line 11, leave out subsection (2)

The noble Baroness said: This is the first of a long list of amendments dealing with the proposed restriction of political activity by council officers. We believe that this is a case of the Government taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Many of us see the whole Bill as an abuse by central government of local government and those who work in it.

Parts I and II are particularly obnoxious. My amendment seeks to deal with Clause 1(2). At the same time, with the permission of the Committee, we shall be discussing Amendment No. 6 in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, which deals with the same point from a slightly different angle.

As the clause stands, it would disqualify anyone from standing as a Member of Parliament at Westminster or as a Member of the European Parliament if he or she holds a politically restricted post. The amendment would delete that subsection and would mean that, while chief executives, chief officers and their deputies could not stand for election to another local authority, they would be able to stand for election to the Westminster Parliament or to the European Parliament.

We support the restricting of the local political activities of those officers; but there is no good reason to prevent their involvement in national politics. We should distinguish between the local level, where there may be a conflict of interests, and the national level, where the categories (a) to (e) as defined in Clause 2(1) can stand as a Member of the Westminster Parliament or of the European Parliament.

There may be cases where that right is abused; but should all chief officers and their deputies be politically restricted in that way merely because of the misdemeanours of the odd one or two? Surely we should be establishing machinery to deal with the few cases of abuse rather than assuming the guilt of hundreds of public servants.

The specific example that I would put is that of David Brough, whom I met recently, who is head of committee services in the London Borough of Hillingdon. He has been a parliamentary candidate in two parliamentary elections. He would, if the Bill is passed as it stands, be prevented from standing as a parliamentary candidate by virtue of the fact that he is a deputy officer and earns over £13,500 a year. People such as David Brough accept the need to prevent twin-tracking. What they cannot accept is that they should be prevented from participating in any kind of political activity. Hundreds of local government officers are affected by this or may be affected by it in the future. There is Michael Gray, who at the moment is a planner in South Tyneside. He is the leader of the Conservative group in Sunderland. I should have thought that the Government would have wanted to preserve any support they have in the North East and would do all that they could to encourage Michael Gray if he wanted to stand for Westminster or the European Parliament. If the Bill goes through, he will be one of those who is affected.

It is iniquitous that those people should be singled out for such treatment when people who do comparative jobs in the outside world, and who may be carrying out services for the local authority if those services are privatised, will be able to stand for Parliament while those who are doing the jobs in the local authorities will not. That is manifestly unfair and should not be allowed to go through. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I must congratulate the noble Baroness not only on her fine sense of time and space in slipping in the amendment at the beginning of the Committee stage of the Bill, but on the forthright way in which the amendment has been drafted and on the forthright way in which she has addressed it.

As will be very clear, the amendment goes a good deal further than our Amendment No. 6 which is being taken at the same time. If I say a word about the latter amendment first, perhaps that will clarify the debate for the benefit of the Committee.

Amendment No. 6 does not seek to restore the right of membership of the House of Commons or the European Parliament to local government officers in politically restricted posts. Indeed, we rather assume that most local government officers who found themselves Members of the House of Commons or the European Parliament would resign from their posts, because they could hardly do both these paid jobs at the same time.

The reason for Amendment No. 6 is that it seems to us quite wrong to make it impossible for local government officers in politically restricted posts to announce themselves as candidates for the House of Commons or the European Parliament. After all, inevitably a majority of those who announce themselves as candidates will not be elected. The ability to stand as candidates, both in the national legislature and in the European Parliament, is an important part of the First Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Perhaps I may remind the Committee of the terms of that convention. Protocol 1, Article 3, provides that standing for election to the national legislative body is in principle a right for everyone. So the removal by Clause 1 of the Bill of the right of those in politically related posts to stand for Parliament would have to be justified as a lawful restriction upon this right.

If it were to be justified as a lawful restriction upon the right, the Government would have to show that there is significant evidence of abuse of such a right which would be dealt with by the proposed restriction. In other words, they would have to show that the restriction was not arbitrary, because otherwise the European Court would be unlikely, I should have thought, to uphold a law of that kind. It would be much more likely to hold that such a provision was in conflict with the First Protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Court would almost certainly find that, if a restriction did not arise out of a serious and legitimate problem in practice, and did not actually, as drafted, address the problem and that problem alone, the restriction would be arbitrary. In those circumstances, the Government would have great difficulty in upholding their proposed legislation in the European Court if they were challenged.

It is the view of learned counsel who have been advising the National Council for Civil Liberties on the matter that it is strongly arguable that the removal of the right of holders of politically related posts to stand for election to local councils, as opposed to the national legislative body, is an unlawful limitation on their freedom of expression. That is going a good deal further than these amendments go and it is a matter to which we shall turn in dealing with later amendments.

The point which I must emphasise to the Committee as strongly as I can is that the Bill may have been introduced, or this part of the Bill may have been introduced by the Government and by some noble Lords speaking at Second Reading as a remedy for the abuses which we re identified of twin-tracking. However, the effect of many of these proposals, particularly those to restrict rights to stand for and hold office in the national legislature, is to go very much further than the twin-tracking abuse which it is claimed they are to remedy.

In learned counsel's opinion, and in our opinion, there is a serious risk that the proposals are an infringement of the civil liberties of many thousands of people in this country. The noble Baroness said hundreds, but it would be many thousands of citizens of this country. It is a restriction which ought not to take place and which is not justified by the facts.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I oppose the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has just talked about a serious and restrictive policy in practice. That is exactly what we are talking about. How can a person be a public servant and work for an authority, if at the same time he is a Member of Parliament or of any body which requires him to be away from his job for great periods of time? I think the noble Lord said —and I agree with him —that what would happen in practice is likely to be that a person could not do it and therefore, so far as the European Court's requirements are concerned, in practice it would not be a contravention of any article.

How can one be impartial in giving advice and doing one's job if one is a known political activist, practising in a way which comes within the terms of the amendment? I just do not see how it can be done. If it is to be done, if one can say, "Yes, there are examples of such people", it is sad that that should be so. It is quite contrary to all that I have ever found to be acceptable in local government officers during the many years when I was in the service. It was not done then and was not heard of.

We cannot say that this is the kind of problem to which the noble Baroness refers in her amendment. In practical terms, one cannot do both jobs together properly. If one did, as I see it, it would be wrong and therefore I certainly oppose the amendment.

Lord Ross of Newport

I believe that the person concerned in Hillingdon was quite a senior officer in the GLC. I can see the former leader of that authority nodding. Certainly in the other place there are a number of instances of former civil servants who have been elected to Parliament and who had much to contribute in the House.

I think I am right in saying that the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, is purely to make sure that that is allowed to continue. I do not think for one minute that an officer elected to the House of Commons or the European Parliament could possibly retain his job for very long, although an attempt was made in the case of that particular person. Surely it would be in the person's terms of employment that, if he were successful in such an application, he would have to resign. However, I do not think we should put a total ban on his right to stand. That cannot be right.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

Surely one must look at the matter from the point of view of the working of a local authority. If one is an elected member of a local authority, one relies on the permanent officials —particularly the senior permanent officials with whom the amendment is concerned —to give absolutely impartial political advice.

What is the position, if one is a Labour elected councillor, on a politically controversial issue coming before the council? If advice was given to such a councillor by an official who happened to be the local Conservative candidate, both the councillor and the official for that matter would be in an impossible position. Surely one must accept that the way in which local government —and indeed central government—works is that there are elected persons who are expected to be, and generally are, though not always, members of political parties. Then there are the senior officials who are supposed to give absolutely impartial advice to the elected members. I agree that there is probably no question of anyone being a sitting Member of Parliament and a local authority official, because he would not have time. At any rate, one could rely on the party Whips to see that such a person did not do both jobs for very long.

However, we are concerned here with the chap who is a candidate, going about putting the political view of the party for which he is standing and seeking votes. At the same time, that man or woman is supposed to give impartial advice to the elected members of the authority. It is an impossible situation and I am worried that even the vivid fantasies in which the Liberal Party is apt to indulge include expecting that kind of thing to happen.

The Earl of Onslow

It seem to me that Macaulay got it right in the middle of the 19th century. He produced the idea of incorruptible civil servants who are trained to do a job on platonic ideals. Funnily enough, he copied that idea from the Chinese. However, to underlie the point made by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, let us assume for the sake of argument that the GLC is still in existence, and that the head of the civil service of the GLC is standing as a Conservative Member for Lambeth or, let us say, Putney and is going round making vicious attacks from a party political point of view on the lamented —not the late lamented —Ken Livingstone for his running of the GLC. That strikes me as being something that we should not put up with.

We should surely have a platonic ideal of the Civil Service with civil servants who are neutral and who can make decisions according to facts and not according to rhetoric. Rhetoric and emotion enter into politics, but facts and logic should control politicians. We cannot have it both ways. We should have a Civil Service composed of, and local authority civil servants who are men of integrity and balance, but we cannot have it both ways. Therefore, I strongly hope that we defeat this amendment.

4 p.m.

Lord Jay

Both the two Members of the Committee who have just spoken referred to central government and the central Civil Service, which of course this Bill does not affect, as well as to the local civil service. Perhaps in his reply the Minister could explain the relation between the limitations and restrictions which exist in the national Civil Service and those which a local civil servant will have to fulfil if this provision becomes law; that is to say, if this amendment is not passed. This Bill applies only to local civil servants. Will there be similar increased restrictions introduced for the national Civil Service and, if not, why in this particular respect should we discriminate only against local civil servants?

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

This is a difficult matter. My noble friend, with respect, slightly confused civil servants with local government officers. I think we all realise that local government officers are not civil servants. At this point we are talking about local government servants. On the face of it, if one is talking about someone deciding that he will stand for Parliament and having a three-week election campaign and not getting in and not having to resign in order to do that, that may be acceptable. But of course that is not what happens with parliamentary candidates. That is the problem. They are prospective parliamentary candidates for quite a long time. So, in the case of local government, one would have to live with the fact that it is not abnormal for someone to be a prospective parliamentary candidate for two years. One would have someone who was warming up a constituency as a parliamentary candidate while also being a chief officer in a local authority. He may possibly have opposing points of view to the other members of the local authority. Even if that were not the case, he would mix up the point of view he was expressing as a parliamentary candidate with that he was expressing to his political masters in the council.

In view of that, I see the point of what the Government are doing. I am bound to say that it is a new idea to me. I always thought that twin-tracking was about candidates standing for election to local authorities and not for Parliament, as I believe the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said. However, I agree with my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter that over a period of time a prospective parliamentary candidate cannot give impartial advice in a way that would satisfy the council or would satisfy the electorate of the council, however much a man of integrity he may be. Therefore, I think that the Bill as it stands is correct.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

This debate is getting off the rails very early on. Many of the contributions are not about the amendments which are before the Committee. I find that very unfortunate. Amendment No. 6 in particular is about candidatures. It accepts that it is not possible to be a senior officer of a local authority and to be a Member of Parliament or a Member of the European Parliament. I think that that is common ground between us. However, there are cases where people can be and should be allowed to stand as prospective candidates without losing their job as the result. All the examples I know reflect on the Conservative Party rather than on the Labour Party.

Reference has been made to the GLC. The head of the office of the Conservative Leader of the GLC, Sir Horace Cutler, was not only the leader of Hillingdon Council but was also a parliamentary candidate for one of the seats in Hillingdon. He was elected and remained a local government officer. The honourable Member for Chorley was head of a housing department in the GLC. After he had been elected, he not only refused to resign, but he demanded a very large golden handshake as the price for being forced out of office. The honourable Member for Buckingham was a member of the Diplomatic Service right up until the time of his election to Parliament. All those people are Conservatives, and the first two were members of a Conservative-controlled council. If there are abuses, they are certainly not abuses by the radical Left wing in this country.

I suggest that we would do well to get back to the thrust of Amendment No. 6, which is that it should not be a restriction of people's civil rights to stand for a national legislature if they are senior officers in a local authority. We shall go into the definition of senior officers later. I have just realised that I used the word "abuse" in relation to three Members of another place. I did not mean to use that term, and if I used it I certainly withdraw it.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

I should say to the noble Lord that I was not trying to make a party political point. I was thinking about all councils of any political colour and all candidates of any political colour.

Lord Hesketh

These two amendments would mean that local authority officers in the politically restricted group would be able, no matter how senior their position, to be Members of Parliament or of the European Parliament, and even more importantly could be adopted as candidates for those positions. I say "more importantly" because it is likely that anyone elected to these posts, as my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter pointed out, would resign as a local authority officer, as it would be difficult, though not impossible, to combine the two activities.

We have made it clear that declaring oneself as a candidate for public elected office was one of the forms of public political activity with which the restrictions would be concerned. The only exception was for parish, town and community councils. The Opposition's own amendments, and the proposed new clause in Amendment No. 20, recognise the reasonableness of including such activities, for they include candidature for public elected office as one of the permitted categories of restriction.

That is only common sense. To declare oneself a candidate for elected office in a principal council—that is, county council, district or borough council —Parliament or the European Parliament, is to subject oneself inescapably to a string of activities declaring to the world what one's political views are and trying to persuade others to share them. Why, then, this proposal to allow local authority officers to announce their candidatures as either Members of Parliament or Members of the European Parliament? The main argument is that there can be no overlap between the candidature as an MP or MEP and work for a local authority. We do not think that this is the case: it is impossible to take part in political debate on the nation or on an international plane without getting involved in consideration of policies which are bound to have repercussions on the work of any principal local authority. Think of questions about the role of the public sector, for instance. The lack of conflict cannot stand as a possible justification for allowing these candidatures.

Such a lack of conflict simply does not exist. If the Committee considers the range of matters on which we regularly express views, both in this House and in another place, it will see that many are intimately bound up in the work of local authorities, as is the case in this Bill which we have started on its course in Committee today. They include the role of the public sector, public housing policy, roads policy, education policy and the care of the elderly and the handicapped.

Our objection to public political activity by senior local government officers is that it is neither plausible nor possible for them to function at the same time as both impartial advisers and executives of their authorities and committed, vociferous politicians pressing a particular point of view.

If Members of the Committee consider that objection together with what I have said about the inevitability of Members of Parliament expressing views on matters affecting local authorities, they will see the clear, logical reason why subsection (2) is in the Bill and ought to remain there, and why it is not acceptable to allow local government officers in politically sensitive jobs to offer themselves as candidates for Parliament.

The noble Lord, Lord Jay, queried the relationship between these proposals and the rules which apply to the Civil Service. We have modelled the proposals as closely as possible on those for the national Civil Service, but differences and quirks exist between local government and central government. As a result there will not be a perfect mirror image.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, argued that the prohibition on standing for, and being elected to, Parliament breaches the provision in the European Convention on Human Rights which guarantees freedom of expression in elections to the legislature. The European Commission of Human Rights, the guardian of the convention, has repeatedly recognised that that right is subject to limitations which are not arbitrary and do not interfere with the expression of the people's opinion. We believe that our proposals serve an important end and meet that test. That is why we urge the Committee to resist the amendment.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Perhaps I may add one more word. The Minister has failed to address or to understand Amendment No. 6. I remind the Committee that Amendment No. 6 provides that candidature for the House of Commons or the Parliament of the European Community shall be a possible exception in regulations laid down by the Secretary of State. In other words, the Secretary of State has the power, even if the amendment is carried, to make such provision for very senior and politically sensitive posts —and we shall be debating the matter in detail in a moment—if there is any conflict.

In his reply the Minister used the phrase —which I think he will come to regret—that such a lack of conflict simply does not exist. One cannot make statements of that kind. The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, gave two examples —one Conservative and one Labour, and she could also have given a further example of one Democrat—of candidates for the House of Commons who are local government officers holding politically restricted posts in whose case there has been no conflict whatever. She supported that case, of which much greater detail can be provided if the Committee wishes.

It is simply not possible for the Government to state, in a double negative statement of that kind, that such a lack of conflict does not exist. The European Court will require evidence of such conflict if it is to be persuaded that the restriction is not arbitrary. The point that has to be made is that the Government have made no attempt whatever to back up their statements about conflict.

4.15 p.m.

The Earl of Onslow

I should like to come back to the point that was raised earlier. The impartial Civil Service was introduced in the middle of the 19th century to get rid of jobbery, hocus-pocus, bribery and corruption by both Tory and Whig candidates. The ideal was introduced by Macaulay, who invented the impartial Civil Service. The fact that people can produce examples of either Conservative or Labour Members of Parliament who have been local authority officers does not in any way remove the temptation and the possibility of corruption. I use the term corruption in its 19th century sense. One cannot have people subject to outside discipline. Michael Heseltine ceased to be a member of the Welsh Guards half-way through his National Service because he wanted to be a Member of Parliament. He was told that he could not serve in the Army and be a Member of Parliament, or even stand for election to Parliament. That was his choice, and I believe a perfectly reasonable one.

I suggest that one cannot have anything other than a platonic Civil Service. The Government's position enhances that view of a platonic Civil Service. I hope that the Committee will go along with that view and that my noble friend will resist the amendment strongly.

Baroness Lockwood

Are we not in danger of creating a great many anomalies with the proposal put forward by the Government? As my noble friend has said, there are provisions in the Bill for a list of very sensitive posts to be agreed by the Secretary of State. However, we are concerned with the professionalism of people who are employed in local government. People in other professions also often find themselves in very sensitive situations, giving advice and guidance to clients, but the Bill selects just one group and withdraws some of their civic rights. As a result a number of anomalies could be created.

We shall be discussing later what is a senior local government officer. For example, it may be that we would say that a health visitor was a senior local government officer, on the basis of salary, but we would say that a nursing sister in a hospital was not a local government officer. She would therefore be in a different position. One of those two people would be eligible to stand as a candidate and one would not. A lawyer employed by a local authority would not be in a position to accept candidature, but a lawyer who operated outside local government, and gave very sensitive advice on controversial issues, would be able to stand as a candidate.

In the past we have always relied on individuals applying professionalism to the post which they occupied and for which they were paid and divorcing that from their public and political activities. I believe that that same principle can be applied to local government officers, just as it can be applied to others. If the government proposition goes through many anomalies will be created and many people, comparing like with like, will be placed in a very disadvantageous position.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

I hope that my noble friend will stand firm and not be seduced by the arguments which have been addressed to the amendments. I say that as the former Secretary of State who appointed the Widdicombe Committee to deal with what was becoming a growing scandal in local government. Since the deliberations of the Committee, successive government proposals have taken the main proposition that one cannot be a senior officer of an authority and an elected councillor, and that principle is now to be applied where it needs to be applied, across the board.

The principle is quite clear. As the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, said, it is the professionalism of the public servant. I adopt her words: if one starts with the main proposition that one is trying to safeguard that professionalism and to prevent it being corrupted—and I use that word in the same sense as another noble Lord—by involvement on the political side, it seems to me that everything else falls into place. Of course it is a constraint on the freedom to engage in political activities on the part of those who have chosen to make their career in the public service and who have achieved a level of importance and influence which would be in conflict with their involving themselves in politics. But that is their choice. It is perfectly clear. The history of Parliament and of local authorities is full of cases of people having crossed the line. They have decided to abandon a career on the profesional side of local government in order to stand as a local councillor. I had such a person in my constituency.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

Perhaps the noble Lord —

Lord Jenkin of Roding

I should be grateful if the noble Lord would allow me to develop the argument. It is perfectly clear. However, to argue, as the noble Baroness has done, that lawyers in the private sector and members of other professions are not subject to the same constraints is wholly to ignore the facts.

If one has to deal with a local authority as a resident of that area, because, for example, one tries to buy one's council house from that authority, and one finds that the chief housing officer or his assistant are well known local councillors from a neighbouring authority or are standing as parliamentary candidates and openly condemn the sale of council houses, how will one ever be satisfied that one will get a fair deal?

In the case of the lawyer, the individual can go elsewhere. He is not obliged to be advised by a lawyer who is standing for Parliament or is a well known political figure. However, if the lawyer is employed by the local authority and one has to deal with that local authority, one has no choice. It is therefore right that a lawyer employed by a local authority should be subject to the constraints in the Bill.

Again I adopt the phrase of the noble Baroness; it is a case of safeguarding the professionalism of public servants in local authorities. If one adheres to that principle, all the special pleading for one particular man, job or candidature is seen to be just what it is—special pleading for particular cases or categories of case. It inevitably encroaches upon the clear boundary that should exist between paid professional public servants and those, like many of us in this Chamber, who chose to make their careers in the world of politics. The two cannot be combined under our system. As my noble friend pointed out, that has been the case for many years in the central Civil Service. The Widdicombe Committee and the pamphlet that preceded it, entitled The New Corruption, set out to translate those principles in the same way for local government. They were long overdue and I very much welcome them.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord whose logical contributions to our debates I regularly admire. However, he was not addressing the specific amendment before the Committee; namely, the right of a senior local government officer to stand for Parliament or the European Parliament. He was opening the general debate as to whether a senior official in a local authority could stand for a local authority. That is not the issue before the Committee at the moment. The only question before us is the right of a senior local government officer to stand for Parliament as is his normal civic right and duty, if he feels so disposed. It is that right which the Bill seeks to withdraw and which the amendment seeks to protect.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

If the noble Lord was intervening as I was about to sit down, I should say that his argument falls firmly, if one adheres to the principle of safeguarding the professionalism and independence of senior local government officers. Once he has crossed the Rubicon and publicly declared his political allegiance, his position as an impartial adviser to a local authority is bound to be prejudiced.

I therefore totally support my noble friend in resisting both the amendments, however beguiling and attractive the apparent logic of the arguments that have been adduced in their support. If we are to cut this cancer out of local government —and it has been a cancer of considerable and offensive proportions in certain parts of the country —we must deal with it properly. I believe that the Bill does that.

Lord Monson

Before the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, sits down for the second time, perhaps I may put one point to him. The individual who seeks to buy his council house is far more likely to run into difficulties in practice if the local government officer with whom he has to deal is secretly, rather than openly, opposed to the sale of council houses.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

Of course, one cannot stop a local government officer having his own opinions. Councillors are well able to take account of that. But they are private opinions and he is not standing up elsewhere, making speeches and writing articles in a sense contrary to those of the authority that he advises. That is the difficulty.

Perhaps I may make one other point to the Committee. When we in the Department of the Environment began to tackle the problem five years ago, the group that was most enthusiastic to see us deal with it included some of the leading members of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives. They had had to live alongside individuals in their authorities who occupied politically sensitive posts and who had engaged in and were openly engaging in politics. They found it deeply offensive. Some of the messages that reached me and my department at that time from senior members of SOLACE convinced us that we were right to press ahead. I do not see the distinction between standing for a local authority and declaring one's political allegiance by active political involvement in any other way. It is not permitted to senior civil servants and should not be permitted to senior local government servants.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, persists in resting his argument on the integrity and professionalism of civil servants, both local and national. I believe that he has sought to cast a slur which is offensive to the overwhelming majority of those men and women who are proud to call themselves professionals in the service of both local and national government. There may be individuals who do not act as the noble Lord would wish, but on the basis of his evidence and our evidence that this is not wholly a one-party issue, illustrations can be seen of maladministration by political parties everywhere. Yet, when one listens to the case put by Members opposite, it is always a Labour, Left-wing inspired issue. However, if we are to assume that it is not —I withdraw any inference that I drew from the imputations made by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin —we must have names and instances.

On Monday of this week a number of noble Lords were invited to listen to NALGO officers of all parties and all levels of responsibility. At the end of each hearing, I asked broadly the same question: "Has the issue ever been raised by your fellow officers, councillors, citizens or any other groups who know that you are a politician active in one area, but give professional advice in another?" All of them —of all political parties and more than one from any one party—said, "Never, ever".

So what are we being invited to do today? Some people may detest the behaviour of certain individuals, but at the end of the day we are seeking to lift the slur on the professional integrity, not merely of individuals but of the professions. As one who has served for many years in local government and as a professional in some of the fields that have been attacked, I very much resent the imputations.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

My Lords, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, is still intervening in my speech, and I must bring it to a conclusion. The noble Lord mentioned speaking before I sat down for the second time. However, let me say that if his noble friend Lord McIntosh, had not mentioned the honourable Member for Chorley, it had been my intention to do so because that was clearly a totally unacceptable case. I accept that not by any manner of means has this been all on one side, although I believe that the real mischief was happening in some of the local London boroughs and it was that which provoked the whole subject. However, in so far as the noble Lord, Lord Graham, said that there had been a slur cast on local government professionals as a whole, with the greatest respect to him, I must say that that is absolute rubbish. Nothing that I said or every have said could leave anyone to believe that I do not have the highest regard for the many dedicated senior people in local government with whom I have come into contact.

As we are dealing with this amendment, I must say that I do not think it makes any difference whether it is a parliamentary candidature, a European candidature or a candidature for a local authority which is in question. What is wrong (and it is tackled by this Bill) is when a senior public servant in a local authority crosses the Rubicon and is still, while doing that job, actively conducting a political campaign as a candidate. That creates an impossible and undesirable position. It is right that this House should legislate in the way that Clause 1 provides. This amendment would water down that legislation and I hope that it will be resisted.

Lord Trafford

My Lords, I should like to intervene, on two grounds. One is that I do not like this amendment. I believe that, on practical grounds if no other —I accept entirely the theoretical grounds put forward by my noble friend —many Members of this House must at one time or another have been either a political candidate for the other place of have assisted in canvassing for friends who were standing in one interest or another for the other place. Noble Lords must recognise how very difficult it is to avoid in anything that one says as a result of one's own political activity, or in promoting that of one's colleagues or friends involving the local authority in the area in which one is active, or indeed perhaps local authorities generally. That is extremely difficult.

As a candidate who nursed constituencies —I think "nursed" is the word which I think my noble friend was seeking —I know that it is inevitable that one will meet the officers of the local authority and local councillors as well as many other people. It becomes impossible to carry out that function satisfactorily if one is in any way involved in the activities of a senior local government officer.

It seems to me that the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, reinforces the argument that I am putting forward. She used the example of a solicitor who was employed by the local authority compared with a solicitor who was consulted by the local authority. They are indeed two quite different animals. The person who is consulted is covered by the professional codes which operate for lawyers and for others —the noble Baroness mentioned medical and nursing personnel and so forth —whereas the person who is employed directly is not only a professional in his own field but is also a senior employee of a specific authority.

Undoubtedly there is a place for politics. There is a place for all kinds of opinions and the expression of those opinions. With this amendment one is not moving into the realm of the thought police, which was the tenor of the intervention in the speech of my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding. It seems to me on both practical and theoretical grounds —with no slur whatsoever cast on any local government professionals, whatever party they may adhere to—that it makes no difference. It would be just as difficult whichever party they happened to belong to, including the party of the noble Lords opposite.

On both theoretical and practical grounds this appears to me a reasonable suggestion. Everyone knows that there is a place for politics. Those of us who choose, of our own volition, to enter that field know whether or not our actions and our professional activity are consistent with it in terms of both our life situations and our jobs. I do not believe that this provision places a very great restriction at all on a civil liberty. To a very large extent the arguments framed against it are, if I may use the expression, considerably overblown.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I rise to oppose the amendment. I hope that my noble friends on the Front Bench will remain firm. I do not oppose the amendment because I envisage that any local government officer who wishes to get into the business of politics will always be of a Liberal or Labour persuasion. This matter cuts across party lines. I have no doubt it is possible that there are as many Conservatives as members from other parties who will be offended by our words this evening.

During my time in local government I found that the most effective local government officer was the one whose policies I found it impossible to detect. Apolitical officers were, I found, always the most effective. There were a number of reasons for that. I regard a good relationship between members and officers as essential to the healthy provision of good local services for people. I discovered that, if an officer was of the same political persuasion as myself, there was always a temptation to compromise that officer in the business that one was conducting. On the other hand, if an officer is overtly not of the same political persuasion as oneself, it is always difficult to perceive the advice that he gives as objective. That is natural. It is natural on the part of the public when they know that someone is overtly political one way or the other. It is very important for the good working of local authorities for its officers to be seen to be objective and to be seen to be apolitical.

I want also to reinforce the point made by my noble friend Lady Carnegie. It is seldom that someone simply announces three weeks before an election that he will stand for Parliament; that he will take paid or unpaid leave with the permission of the authority, run for Parliament, either win or lose the seat and then resign to enter Parliament or return to his work. More likely there will be a year, or in some cases even longer, maybe two years, during which the individual will have been overtly canvassing opinion, trying to persuade people and actively moving around the country or the constituency, or, what is even worse, being overtly active in politics in the constituency in which the local authority happens to be.

Therefore, the idea that one can stand right back and be totally objective and apolitical when giving advice is like asking someone to be superhuman. Being seen to be objective is very important. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, spoke about someone who wished to buy his home and said that if this amendment were passed it would be better to be overtly political than possibly secretly political. Perhaps I may just say that someone who is overtly political and overtly opposed to the policies of the government of the day creates an air of intimidation. Not all members of the public can walk into a local government office and apply to buy their homes when week after week they are reading letters in the press, are being canvassed or have literature pushed through their doors to the effect that that particular department is run by someone who is overtly opposed to the policy of the right to buy. Therefore the air of intimidation is very damaging.

Policemen, the armed forces and civil servants make their choice. People who move into those careers make choices. They know that by entering that line of work they are not choosing a political career. I think it is time that we depoliticised local government as far as possible. I believe that that would be welcomed by the majority of competent local government officers. My noble friend Lord Jenkin spoke about the way in which apolitical professional local government officers would welcome a return not only to being professionals but to being seen to be professionals. I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench will reject this amendment.

Baroness Stedman

My Lords, I have listened to the debate with great interest. I served for 29 years as a member of the local authority. Indeed I was a local government officer before that and a secretary of NALGO at that time. I also had four years in government as a junior minister. I yield to none in my admiration for the impartiality and professionalism of those who served me both in local and in national government. I resent the implication made by some noble Lords opposite that local government officers are somewhat less careful about their impartiality and advice than are civil servants.

I also speak from personal experience as one who has worked with a senior local government officer as a parliamentary candidate. For some 13 years in my constituency we had a senior local government officer as our candidate. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, is not here, because he would probably support what I am saying. At no time did we have any problems. That candidate gave up all his weekends and all his holidays, took no time off from his employment and, so far as I know, there was never any question that there was a difficulty about him being a parliamentary candidate. There was no difficulty about him working in the constituency. He resigned as a local government officer when he became a Member of Parliament and he did that job as well as he had done his local government work.

The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said that these candidates can make their choice and can leave local government if they want to enter politics. Yes, I suppose they can. What I am afraid cif is that many of our senior local government officers, if the Bill goes through unamended, will feel that they have to take that choice and we shall lose them to local government and not necessarily gain them to national or European politics. They may not have a seat which they can win. I would rather see them staying in local government.

I also remind the Committee that most of these senior local government officers are also members of their professional institutes or associations, which lay down pretty strict codes of conduct as to how their members should behave as treasurers, surveyors, engineers or what have you. The professional associations would have something to say about it if members became too politically involved while they were doing their jobs.

I am sorry that the Minister was not as helpful as he might have been when he replied. I was rather expecting the usual reply, that the amendment was badly drafted or that it was not in the right place. But neither of those suggestions arose, either about Amendment No. 1 or about Amendment No. 6. On reflection I believe that Amendment No. 6 is perhaps the better one and at this stage, with the leave of the Committee, I beg to withdraw Amendment No. 1 and hope that when we reach Amendment No. 6 on the Marshalled List the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, will decide what he wants to do about that.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 2: Page 2, line 35, leave out subsection (5).

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I should also like to speak to Amendments Nos. 4, 14, 22, 24, 25 and 38. With these amendments we come to the point which so many noble Lords opposite thought they were speaking about when we dealt with the last amendment. In other words, we are dealing now with issues of twin tracking and service on local authorities by local government officers.

I make it clear from the outset that these amendments represent not only one compromise but two compromise positions, because we are anxious to see how far we can persuade the Government by the force of sweet reason that their proposals for dealing with twin tracking go very much further than Widdicombe or their own White Paper intended or that common sense might dictate.

Amendments Nos. 2, 14, 22, 25 and 38 would keep the restriction on twin tracking, but would restrict that to chief officers, deputy chief officers, the newly defined head of the paid service, as it is defined in the Bill, and the newly defined monitoring officer: in other words, those officers who are in a truly senior position responsible for giving advice to members of the council on behalf of their departments, and whose objectivity we entirely agree ought to be maintained by political restriction.

Before I go on to setting out the argument in more detail, I wish to refer to Amendment No. 4 which is a weaker alternative to the amendments to which I have just referred. It would restrict twin tracking to the head of paid service, the monitoring officer and chief officers and deputies and it would abolish other restrictions than local authority membership only for more junior staff, rather than abolishing all restrictions for them. If the Government are antagonistic to Amendment No. 2 and its following amendments, perhaps they might look more kindly upon Amendment no. 4.

The problem with the Bill as it has reached us is that it does not reflect what Widdicombe suggested, because it introduces a completely new concept of a salary bar at £13,500 which was not contained anywhere in the Widdicombe Report. It does not reflect what the White Paper says because it introduces this new salary bar. It reflects the definitions of politically sensitive posts which Widdicombe used and which were defined more closely in the White Paper—definitions of "political activity" as holding office in a political party, speaking or writing on behalf of the political party or canvassing for it —but it leaves to regulation far too much definition of what is meant by "political activity".

As we have already seen that the Secretary of State is prepared in drafting a Bill to be much more draconian in his definitions both of "political activity" and "politically restricted posts" than had originally been planned, one must raise the possibility that, subsequent to the Bill receiving Royal Assent, the Secretary of State will introduce in regulations more onerous restrictions than have so far been announced.

All this is compounded by the fact that there have been no draft regulations made available to Parliament. If we had had draft regulations —as, to be fair, we had for some aspects of the Water Bill, even though I complained about the inadequacy of that information —we could have debated them. If there were matters which we thought objectionable we could have sought to have them taken out by amendments to statute, but in the absence of draft regulations we are forced to rely on the tit-bits of information that drop from the lips of Secretaries of State and Ministers for local government, principally in Committee in another place.

That is not very satisfactory and it does not provide an assurance to us that the regulations will not be too onerous. There are so many issues left undetermined in the Bill as drafted. They are issues fundamentally of civil liberties. They are not issues about twin tracking. Almost all the very few examples which have been given of abuse by twin tracking —I think back to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, at Second Reading —were of chief officers and deputies and people in particularly responsible positions and twin tracking would still be banned under our amendments. So the noble Lord's objectives would be achieved under our amendments. The difficulty is that so many other posts —we shall be spelling this out in more detail in later amendments —which cannot by any stretch of the imagination be thought to be politically sensitive, will be covered by the regulations to be laid under the Bill.

The fundamental question arises as to how many there are. If we take what Widdicombe said in 1986, his calculation was that there were approximately 70,000 local government officers of the rank of principal officer and above. If we take the 7 per cent. pay settlement which has been offered to local government officers to take effect from 1st July —it has not been accepted by NALGO yet, but if it were to be accepted —that figure of 70,000 would rise to 114,000 local government officers who would be caught by the political restriction definition.

In addition, no fewer than 8,600 members of the fire service —fire fighters, no less —would be caught by the political restriction because they earn more than £13,500 a year. Whatever one may think about the abuses to which the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, referred —I do not differ from him in condemnation of some of those abuses —I do not think he was speaking about 8,600 members of the fire service and I do not think he was really talking about 114,000 local government officers. I am sure he would agree that the definition in the Bill has gone much too wide.

It is not just the definition of who is covered by this which raises problems. There is the whole question, totally ignored by the Bill and Ministers, of how the regulations are to be implemented. Is it a requirement that all local government officers engaged in political activity at the time of Royal Assent shall resign or immediately be required to give up their political activity? If they appeal under the procedure laid down in the Bill, will they be allowed to retain their posts or maintain their political activity while the appeal is being heard? If they receive a salary increase subsequent to the passing of the Bill, will they immediately be caught by its provisions and be excluded from political activity, or must they refuse the salary increase whether or not promotion is involved? Increases in salary are actually awarded.

What will be the effect on the morale of those in local authority service? Is a bar on the salary of £13,500 the best way to encourage good morale and good spirit in the service? One may be doing the same job as a school teacher, a sub-station officer in the fire service or an assistant quantity surveyor and suddenly the social conscience which has driven one into political activity will no longer be permissible, because one is receiving above a certain salary. That is a nonsense as the examples which have been given make clear.

How will the restriction be enforced? We understand from Ministers that the prescription will extend to a ban on canvassing and putting up posters. Who will go around looking at posters in the windows? Who will keep a record of canvassers for political parties? We are moving far too rapidly into a state where the regulation of the Secretary of State will set up a "thought" police, as someone has described it. We shall be spying on loyal, honourable members of local government service because they have reached a salary of more than £13,500. We shall be looking at what they do outside their working hours and deciding whether that is in breach of the regulations laid down by the Secretary of State.

One of the people who saw us on Monday raised a point which had never occurred to me and which was not raised in Committee in another place. He pointed out that if, under recent legislation, his service was privatised the political restrictions would be removed. However, if the privatisation contract failed —and there have been such cases where the local authority have had to take back the service —the political restrictions would be reimposed. What kind of a recipe is that for a professional local government service? The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, used the word over again.

I argue that the provisions, which extend to well over 100,000 members of local government service, are a direct challenge to the professionalism of that service. They make it virtually impossible to ensure that local government officers have the incentive to advance their careers without giving up their civil rights. I argue that the Government have it badly wrong, particularly the extent to which they have departed from Widdicombe and their White Paper.

Let us put on one side the examples used by the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, and others. Whatever has been said in the past, let us agree that twin tracking by chief officers and senior officers is wrong. Let us make that common ground. But let us not then go from an undoubted abuse to a draconian measure affecting more than 100,000 people and doing severe damage to the professionalism of the local government service. I beg to move.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Cullen of Ashbourne)

If the amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment Nos. 3 to 7 inclusive.

Lord Rippon of Hexham

I entirely support the general policy of the Government ir, implementing the Widdicombe Report. However, I have a great deal of sympathy for the concern expressed about the nature of this and other provisions in the Bill. I believe that the provision goes too far in allowing the Secretary of State to make regulations to: incorporate such requirements for restricting his political activities as may be prescribed". I make the general criticism that I have previously made about legislation which has come before Parliament. This is another bulky Bill which to a large extent is skeletal. It lays down general principles but does not provide any indication of what may eventually appear in the large number of regulations which can be made under it. There are more than 30 provisions allowing the Secretary of State to make regulations or orders or to lay down codes of conduct. In nearly every case they are subject simply to negative resolution. I do not believe that that is good enough and, as far as it lies within our power, we must put a stop to the practice of drafting such legislation. There are so many provisions which allow the Secretary of State to make regulations which might, in the wrong hands, contain provisions which nearly all Members would wholly deplore.

As a member of the legal profession I must declare an interest; otherwise, I should put up a case for privatising the drafting of legislation. An enormous burden now falls upon approximately 45 parliamentary draftsmen who are paid an average salary of £30,000 a year. We are manifestly wrong in believing that that is the way in which we can put legislation on the statute book. Over the past 10 years, 50 Bills have been passed affecting local government. Some barely survive a parliamentary Session, much less a Parliament. It is not a sensible way in which to legislate. While I wholly approve of the Government's attempts, I believe that in many cases we are not going about it in the right way.

Baroness Stedman

I support this group of amendments. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has explained the difference that a modest salary increase can make to the number of people who will be affected. He spoke of the absurdity of the involvement of 8,500 fire service employees. Many people who receive London weighting will earn that amount. Technically, it is not their basic salary but they are drawing that amount or more, including London weighting and various locally agreed salary incentives.

What will happen when someone is decreed to be above the limit and proscribed from doing what he wishes? If that person appeals, what will happen during the course of the appeal? Can he continue or must he suspend operations until the appeal is heard? What timescale do the Government have in mind for appeals to be dealt with? Have they any idea how many appeals are likely to arise as a result of this part of the Bill?

The Government are laying down trouble for themselves. The arbitrary bar will prevent those who wish to work in their community and serve their local authority from applying for jobs if their salary will rise above that low level. For example, jobs which have recently been advertised include a housing officer in Harrow from £13,311 to £13,566. That puts the job within the scope of the regulation. The same applies to a planning assistant in St. Helens and an assistant minerals officer in North Yorkshire. Such people with special skills to offer, who wish to work in local government, may sit back and ask, "Ought I to be applying for the job if I also wish to put something back into the community?".

The Government have not thought the matter through. They have not thought about where the arbitrary figure of £13,500 will leave them and the damage that it will cause to local government and its services.

5 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

When the noble Lord replies to this amendment, perhaps he can tell us exactly who is included above this salary bar, what the implications are of it and why it is fixed at that point. Also, perhaps he can say what will happen when there are salary increases each year in the salary round. I wonder whether this way of defining people to whom the Bill applies is the best one. I mentioned that point on Second Reading and I suggested that there might be another way of defining the position on the scale above which the Bill will apply. Perhaps the Minister can help us on those matters. It will then be rather easier for us to know where we are and what we should be doing.

Lord Bellwin

Perhaps I may make another observation to answer the point made by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. I certainly did not have firemen in mind when I gave illustrations and examples. Usually firemen do not give advice to the public on matters other than fire, on which I am sure they are well qualified.

As I said before, I listened sadly to the whole debate. I am sorry that it has to take place, and I am sorry that there has to be legislation at all. I listened to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman. I pay tribute to former fellow practitioners who certainly know the business. They also know, as I do, that this sort of debate would have been unheard of in their time. The whole subject was unheard of because it was a matter of great pride to local government officers that they retained their own political views and no one knew of them.

I took the point made by my noble friend Lady Blatch. She said, "In all the years that I was in local government and working at first hand with the officers, I did not know and did not want to know what were their politics. I was concerned that they should do a good job; and that, and only that, mattered to me".

Having said that, I believe that there are some 3 million employees in local government service so that if the figure was 100,000 or so, that represents about 3 per cent. Therefore, at present it will not apply to 97 per cent. I believe that those figures are right and I am open to correction.

This is all a matter of confidence and a matter of standing and reputation of local government. As I say, it is so sad that we should have seen the deterioration which we have seen. That has brought about the need for legislation in the first place. I take the point referred to by my noble friend when he spoke with his great experience about regulations. That problem has arisen in the many Bills which I have introduced into the House. Sometimes one wonders whether there is not a better way of achieving that other than by regulation.

Coming back to the basic point, this is a shame but I do not believe that £13,500 is so sacrosanct. I do not think it will have anything like the adverse effect which the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, spoke about when she said people would say "Well, there is a choice. Because of that do I go in or stay out?" Most local government officers —and I also pay tribute to them —are proud of what they do and are proud of their impartiality. That is a matter of pride for them. When we have seen the adverts for those like-minded to the party in power, they have cringed more than any of us, that that has been the case. They have deplored that. My noble friend Lord Jenkin referred to the representations made by SOLACE and others. That was and is a fact. Therefore, I regret that this is as it is. I fear that it is necessary. I do not support the amendment, although I pay tribute to some of the observations made by the noble Lord. Basically, there is a problem here which will have to be tackled. It is being tackled and I support the way in which the Government are doing that.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

My noble friend Lord Bellwin said many of the things which I might have said. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is normally very thorough in his preparation for these debates and I would not necessarily challenge the figures that he has given; but we are talking about 2.5 or 3 per cent. of the total employment by local authorities.

I should like to make one point touching on something the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, said. It must not be assumed that the only way in which a local government official, who has achieved a position of influence and importance in his profession, can put something back into the community is by engaging in politics. It seems to me that if you are the kind of person who feels that it is through the political machinery that you wish to influence the life of the community in which you live, then you do not choose to go into the public service in the first instance. If you want to put something back into the community, there are a myriad of voluntary bodies of all kinds. There is an enormous range which is expanding all the time. I know many local government officials at different levels who play an enormously important role in bringing their expertise into that kind of community work. They do that without in the slightest way tainting, or even appearing to taint, the advice which they give to the authority which they serve or the function which they perform.

In politics we are inclined to believe that the only effective way to take part in community life is by standing for election and serving on a local authority parliament. Far more people achieve that through the voluntary sector. Therefore, when we consider exactly where the boundaries should be drawn, that is a perfectly legitimate question to be asked. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is right when he says this goes wider than Widdicombe. However, we should bear in mind that we are talking about people who have chosen a career in the public service, where they are likely to serve political authorities of all political persuasions and perhaps, in some cases, successively in quite short periods. Once they have reached a position at a certain level, even if that appears to us comparatively junior, it makes it difficult for them and those they serve if they are overtly pursuing a political career at the same time. There are other ways—and in some cases better ways—of serving the community, and that should be an avenue which is open to them.

Lord Kirkhill

I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, should reflect upon the fact that many local government officers—professional in every sense of that word—choose to serve in the public service as a matter of conscience and social persuasion. By doing so, they usually enjoy—if that is the correct word—a lower salary than they would otherwise have obtained had they been engaged in the private sector. To further deny them the opportunity of political persuasion by being a representative in another local authority is entirely draconian.

The Earl of Carnarvon

The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, said that she had served for 29 years in local government. I am not far behind her. We seem to have strayed over the major part of the Bill before we have reached Clause 6, so perhaps I may add a few words.

I realise what the Government are trying to do and that there have been notable abuses of the present unrestricted position in certain parts of the country. However, I do not believe that that is a sound argument for imposing wholesale prohibition on very large numbers of people by the imposition of a financial limit. I accept that certain staff, because of the nature of their work, should be restricted from standing for election to local authorities. However, I believe that the clause is much too widely drawn. The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, referred to senior staff who should be giving impartial advice, and with that I quite agree. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, several times referred to employees of local authorities who have important posts and posts of influence. In Hampshire, for example, a cut-off level of £13,500 would result in 1,000 members of staff of the county council being restricted. Teachers are exempt for very good reason —they do not influence policy. The same applies to other categories of staff. Firemen have already been mentioned. There are also trading standards officers, estate officers, recreational wardens, home help organisers, and many others.

There are 47 county councils in. England and Wales and therefore there may be in excess of 30,000 county council employees who would be affected. No doubt later this evening we shall be debating an amendment that I have tabled. However, I believe that the figure of £13,500, as written in the Bill, is far too low.

Baroness Stedman

The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, referred to the fact that these people do not have to be on local authorities in order to put something back into the community. I agree that there are many voluntary organisations in which people can help and which are glad to have people help them. Again, however, that raises a question in the minds of some local government officers as to whether they are doing political work for those voluntary organisations.

The noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, referred to a meeting. We had one young lady who told us that she was on a parent-teacher association and occasionally had to cross swords with the education authority. Is she to be told that she cannot be a member of the parent-teacher association because that is political? We had a disabled councillor with us who did a lot of voluntary work on access for the disabled. He is an ex-Lord Mayor of his city. Occasionally he had to take the local authority or the county council to task. Is he to be told that that sort of work is political, and that he cannot continue with his voluntary work because it brings him into opposition with his local authority? Another example is a lady involved with the campaign for Scottish devolution. Perhaps that is a little more political than some of the others, but it is not an official body as such. It is a group of people in Scotland who are campaigning for more independence for themselves. Is that thought to be in conflict with the work she is doing as a planning officer in her authority? Is a person in Essex who is helping with the campaign to clean up beaches considered to be in a political organisation? These people do not know where they stand or what is to be classed as political.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

I should like at this point to say a word or two in regard to Scotland. In Scotland we have two tiers of local government —regional and district —and our community councils have no statutory functions. England is quite different with county, district and parish community councils and many joint boards all with statutory functions.

I have received a letter from the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, who is very concerned about these matters. He had a meeting with three East Lothian district council officials and they told him that they fully approved that any officer, first, holding the position of chief officer or deputy, secondly, having powers of delegation from a committee, or, thirdly, falling within Clause 2(3), should be in the politically restricted area. However, they felt that the PO grade in England and Wales of £13,500 was far too low a figure to apply to Scotland. It would include all professional posts such as architects, environmental health officers, planners, surveyors, senior librarians and social and community workers. Do the Government really wish to include all those professional officers within Clause 2(2)(a)?

Lord Rippon of Hexham

We have gone a little beyond the omission of subsection (5); but in so far as we have gone on to talk about the salary limit, then I share the views expressed by the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, and others, that £13,500 appears to be far too low, especially if one takes into account such factors as overtime and the special position of people in the fire service who are not involved in giving advice on policy. I should like to add also, in the light of discussions we have had, my hope that my noble friend the Minister will at least agree that we should see the draft regulations which are proposed before we go much further.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Hesketh

These amendments would delete all the controls over public political activities other than the ban on membership of Parliament, the European Parliament and principal councils, and would limit that ban to chief executives, chief officers, their deputies and the monitoring officers. This represents the furthest that the Opposition are prepared to go in recognising that there is a problem in senior local government staff simultaneously undertaking their job as impartial servants of their local authorities and acting as partisan political activists.

To explain why this is not acceptable to the Government, I need to demonstrate two things. First, it is important to control more than simply membership of an elected body. Secondly, this case applies to more than chief executives, chief officers and their deputies. On the first point, I have to ask the committee to consider each of the four categories of political activity that we have proposed should be regulated in addition to membership of principal councils and Parliament.

The first of these is offering oneself as a candidate for those bodies. For the reason explained on Amendment No. 1, we think that the arguments against membership apply as much to offering oneself as a candidate. Secondly, there is holding office in a political party. Again, this seems to be something that clearly is incompatible with holding sensitive posts in a local authority's service. How would a Conservative or Labour chairman of a local authority committee feel if he knows that the committee clerk advising him is chairman of the local branch of the SDLP or the Green Party? How will a Liberal or Labour councillor feel in getting advice from an assistant treasurer of the authority who in his spare time is treasurer of the local Conservative Party? We think that such relationships undermine the proper functioning of local government and should be controlled.

The third category is canvassing for candidates for principal councils or Parliament or for a political party. Again, this seems clearly incompatible with the sort of impartiality demanded of those holding sensitive posts. Consider the case of a housing allocation officer who in his spare time goes round his local housing estate canvassing for his local party's candidates. How are tenants, or would-be tenants, going to react? Or consider the councillor who finds that the assistant chief officer advising his committee was going round his ward canvassing for policies totally different to those on which the councillor was elected.

The final category is speaking or writing in public on a matter of party political controversy. We shall be consulting local government about the precise definition of this, but we think that the definition will concentrate on activities which appear to be designed to promote the cause of a political party, as opposed to contributing to a debate on a controversial matter. This we think is bound to be seen as undermining the impartiality of the officer concerned in exactly the same way as the other activities. If the assistant housing manager mounts an attack on the policies he is responsible for administering, how is anyone going to be confident about the professional impartiality of his advice? There is no difference if he is advocating the policies of his council in a way that is designed to win support for the controlling group on the council. Both undermine his position.

On the second point, whether to confine the restrictions to a limited number of very senior staff, the argument turns on the definitions of the politically sensitive posts that the Government have proposed. We are proposing essentially that in addition to the chief executives, chief officers and their deputies the restrictions should apply to three other groups of officers.

The first are the assistants to political groups. The arguments there are very different from the others, and we shall return to them on another amendment. However, I may briefly say that this is because we do not think that these posts should be subsidies to local political parties. Secondly, there are the officers to whom have been delegated a function of the authority. Here the case seems to be clear. If an officer is, on his own, to be given the task of making the authority's decision for it, then the public and the councillors are entitled to assurances that he will not seem to be using that power to further his own political ends. If he is simultaneously an active politician, that will be difficult to accept.

Finally, there are the officers who hold sensitive posts as defined in Clause 2(3); those who regularly advise councillors, those who regularly speak for the council to the media, and those who regularly deal with the public in circumstances where the public would think that they could influence the authority's decision. In the interests of proper administration, we want to ensure that there can be no suspicion that those officers are carrying out those functions with an axe to grind.

We cannot, of course, claim that the provisions of the Bill will stop this. What it will do, however, as in the Civil Service, is remove obvious grounds for suspicion that this is happening. Human nature being what it is, people are unlikely to believe that those who are running both tracks will always and in every case scrupulously separate their personalities between the impartial official and the active politician.

We therefore think that it is necessary to bring into the politically-restricted group not only the most senior officers, but also those who are in sufficiently sensitive posts to give rise to concerns that they could be subjected to conflict between their paid work and their political activity. That is what the Bill does, and we think that it does it in a reasonable and effective way.

Many Members of the Committee, including my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour, drew to our attention the level of £ 13,500. That level was selected on the basis that that is the recommended minimum for the grade of principal officer. Proceeding from that point, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, suggested that the figure had risen from 70,000 to 114,000 people particularly if the 7 per cent. pay award, that is a matter of dispute at the moment, is accepted.

In another place, my right honourable friend the Minister for Local Government said that if the 7 per cent. increase comes into effect the figure of £13,500 will be increased. My noble friend Lady Carnegy asked whether or not it would be possible to redefine the limit other than by cash. There is no obligation on any local authority to adopt any particular salary structure or system of salaries. Therefore the only common denominator between all authorities is cash. That is why we have had to use it as the only way of describing posts that is bound to apply to all local authorities.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, asked: who will enforce the restrictions? After his many arguments concerning the complications involved, I return to the point I made earlier to the noble Lord, Lord Jay; namely, that these proposals very clearly reflect those that already exist for the Civil Service at the present time and do not cause any problems. The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, asked what will happen if someone's salary is increased over the threshold. The power in Clause 2(2) to exempt the duty to list posts could be used to make appropriate transitional arrangements in the case that she brought forward.

My noble friend Lord Rippon once again criticised the regulation-making power as a general feature of the legislature. Every Minister who has to deal with the large numbers of regulations must have sympathy with the noble Lord's comments. But regulations give a flexibility to respond to changes in practice which primary legislation cannot give. We thought that, on balance, it was right in Clause 1(5) to opt for flexibility. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, asked about the situation regarding consultation. We intend to consult local government in detail on the regulations to implement Clauses 1 to 3. We intend to consult both on the basic policy questions and on the text of the regulations. I hope that a consultation document on the policy will be sent to the local authority association in August. That is our firm intention.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, also asked: what happens when an appeal is in progress? That is clearly a matter to be decided after consultation. It would be possible to exempt staff while an appeal is pending, and to exempt only those where the local authority has given a certificate under Clause 3(2)(c). We shall decide in the light of the comments that we receive, on the basis of the consultations as they proceed with those who will be able to make a great contribution to those consultations.

It must be remembered that we have modelled these proposals as closely as possible on those that already exist for the Civil Service. I believe that the complications are not as great as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, suggests. I apologise if I have ventured somewhat away from the amendments themselves, but the debate itself travelled a little further than the amendments. For that reason I have taken some time. I hope the Committee will resist the amendments.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I do not have any doubt that the Minister was seeking to be helpful in his reply. Indeed there were helpful elements. It is helpful to know that the consultation document will go to the local authority associations in August. That means that, though the time for consideration of this part of the Bill in Committee will have passed, nevertheless there will be something that we can get our teeth into at Report stage. It is helpful to know that we have learned a little more about appeals. Unfortunately, in his reply the Minister is now using the consultation document as a way of saying that he cannot give firm answers to the questions raised by Members of the Committee on all sides of the Chamber.

As the noble Lord, Lord Rippon, said, it would have been preferable if the draft regulations had been available for consideration while we are in Committee, when we can give them the most detailed consideration. Though he was trying to be helpful the Minister was not convincing. He left us in the position that the Secretary of State has the power by regulation to impose such restrictions as he thinks fit. In his reply the Minister gave virtually no further idea of what those restrictions will be. There is certainly no further evidence that those restrictions are necessary on such local authority staff as he thinks fit.

The definition of a politically sensitive post is still unclear. In any case, it has been overtaken by the salary bar that was criticised by Members of the Committee on all sides and to which the Minister offered no defence. We are left with Clause 1(5), and our consequential amendments, which give the Secretary of State virtually the power to do what he likes. If one could write Shakespeare into legislation it would be from King Lear. The Secretary of State, will do such things,— What they are, yet I know not; but they shall be The terrors of the earth". That is not a satisfactory situation to find ourselves in. The Minister has not answered the very grave concerns expressed on all sides of the Chamber about the extent of these restrictions and the deprivation of civil liberties implied by them. It is appropriate that I ask the opinion of the Committee on this matter.

5.27 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 2) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 84; Not-Contents, 112.

Addington, L. Irving of Dartford, L.
Allen of Abbeydale, L. Jay, L.
Alport, L. Jeger, B.
Amherst, E. Jenkins of Hillhead, L.
Ampthill, L. Kagan, L.
Aylestone, L. Kinloss, Ly.
Blease, L. Kirkhill, L.
Bonham-Carter, L. Listowel, E.
Bottomley, L. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.
Bradford, Bp. Lockwood, B.
Broadbridge, L. Longford, E.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. McNair, L.
Burton of Coventry, B. Mais, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Milner of Leeds, L.
Monson, L.
Carter, L. Mountevans, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Ogmore, L.
David, B. Peston, L.
Davies of Penrhys, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Rea, L.
Ennals, L. Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Ewart-Biggs, B. [Teller.] Rochester, L.
Ezra, L. Ross of Newport, L.
Falkender, B. Sainsbury, L.
Falkland, V. Scanlon, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Seear, B.
Foot, L. Seebohm, L.
Gallacher, L. Shackleton, L.
Galpern, L. Stedman, B.
Gladwyn, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.] Strabolgi, L.
Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Grimond, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Hampton, L. Underhill, L.
Hanworth, V. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Walston, L.
Hatch of Lusby, L. Whaddon, L.
Hayter, L. White, B.
Henderson of Brompton, L. Willis, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Winstanley, L.
Irvine of Lairg, L. Young of Dartington, L.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Brabazon of Tara, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Brookeborough, V.
Arran, E. Brougham and Vaux, L.
Auckland, L. Butterworth, L.
Bauer, L. Caithness, E.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Caldecote, V.
Bellwin, L. Campbell of Alloway, L.
Beloff, L. Campbell of Croy, L.
Belstead, L. Carnegy of Lour, B.
Bessborough, E. Chelmer, L.
Birdwood, L. Coleraine, L.
Blatch, B. Constantine of Stanmore, L.
Blyth, L. Cork and Orrery, E.
Borthwick, L. Cox, B.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Craigmyle, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Merrivale, L.
Davidson, V. [Teller.] Mersey, V.
Dilhorne, V. Middleton, L.
Dundee, E. Milverton, L.
Eden of Winton, L. Morris, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Faithfull, B. Nelson, E
Ferrers, E. Nelson of Stafford, L.
Fortescue, E. Onslow, E.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Orkney, E.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Oxfuird, V.
Gray of Contin, L. Pender, L.
Greenway, L. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Gridley, L. Platt of Writtle, B.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Prior, L.
Pym, L.
Hardinge of Penshurst, L. Rankeillour, L.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Rochdale, V.
Harrowby, E. Rugby, L.
Henley, L. Sanderson of Bowden, L.
Hesketh, L. Shannon, E.
Hives, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Holderness, L. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Home of the Hirsel, L. Stockton, E.
Hood, V. Strange, B.
Hooper, B. Strathcarron, L.
Jenkin of Roding, L. Strathclyde, L.
Johnston of Rockport, L. Strathspey, L.
Kaberry of Adel, L. Sudeley, L.
Keyes, L. Swinfen, L.
Killearn, L. Teviot, L.
Kimball, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Lauderdale, E. Thurlow, L.
Layton, L. Trafford, L.
Long, V. [Teller.] Trefgarne, L.
Lucas of Chilworth, L. Trumpington, B.
Lytton, E. Ullswater, V.
Manton, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Margadale, L. Wyatt of Weeford, L.
Marley, L. Young of Graffham, L.
Marshall of Leeds, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

5.35 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 3: Page 2, line 35, leave out from first ("of") to ("every") and insert ("a Code of Conduct applicable to").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 13. This amendment seeks to make clear the Government's intention in respect of matters governing and defining political activities. This is one of the benign aspects of this part of the Bill.

We believe that the Minister is anxious to get this matter right. We all know what a code of practice is. It is a body of opinion and guidance which is looked upon as helpful. We ask that this code of practice shall not be left to others, but shall ultimately be the creature of the Secretary of State. We ask that it should be prepared and issued only after consultation with the appropriate bodies. The amendment preserves the principle of consultation and taking advice.

We believe that the lead in the issue should be taken by the Secretary of State. We do not look upon this as a delaying tactic or as something designed to buy time. There is a fair measure of agreement that, if the Government go down this route, those who are to be caught or affected by the provision should have some guidelines. In advance of taking the wrong route or putting themselves in jeopardy, they need to have the best possible advice.

We have tabled the amendment in that spirit. We shall listen carefully to what the Minister has to say about the amendment and about his intentions in the matter. I beg to move.

Lord Hesketh

It will be helpful to consider together Amendments Nos. 3 and 13. They deal with the suggestion of a code of practice as an alternative to the Bill's proposals. The effect of Amendment No. 3 is to replace, with a proposal for a code of conduct to be issued by the Secretary of State, the Bill's proposal that the terms of employment of officers holding politically restricted posts should incorporate restrictions on public political activity. Amendment No. 13 would require consultation with a variety of representative associations about the code of conduct.

The crucial part of these proposals is therefore the replacement of the Government's proposals for binding rules on the restrictions to apply to public political activity by those holding sensitive posts in local government with something rather more imprecise.

The Government believe that it is essential that there are clear rules which should apply across the whole field of local government on what officers are free to pursue their political avocations and which officers should, like civil servants, be expected to preserve political neutrality as professional advisers and spokesmen, and from what actions they should abstain in order to preserve that neutrality.

Such clear rules can now be provided only by legislation. Until not many years ago, there was such a code of practice. It was not written down, but everyone knew what was expected of them and behaved accordingly. If any noble Lord doubts this, I suggest that he consult the standard authors of 20 years ago: Sir Kenneth Wheare on Government by Committee or the Royal Institute of Public Administration study of The Town Clerk in English Local Government. The general understanding was that local government officers were not publicly active in politics.

Contrast that with the position now. Not merely have we seen a chief executive of a district council who is a councillor in a neighbouring district, we have seen a chief executive of a district council who was chairman of the local Labour Party. We read that 10 per cent. or 20 per cent. of the members of this London borough or that London borough council hold posts in other authorities which we would regard as politically sensitive.

We have therefore tried a code of conduct —a code of conduct of the best possible kind, one established by the common consent of those involved. It has, however, sadly broken down. When such codes break down then having them written down by local authority associations will not, we believe, revive them. Regretfully, we can only have recourse to legislation.

The amendments do not say whether the code would be binding on the officers concerned in any more than conscience. As I said, we have seen what has happened to the traditional standards of conduct in this field. There is no reason to think that a code written by local authority associations or issued by the Secretary of State with the approval of Parliament would have any different effect.

Local authorities would be free to take it into account or not. How far the code was followed in any authority would therefore depend on the discretion of the current councillors. If a council changed political control—a not unheard of event—the new councillors might find that their predecessors had given the staff terms of appointment which left them free to pursue parallel political careers, even though the new councillors might disapprove of such arrangements.

Further, the amendment would link the effects of the code of conduct to chief executives, chief officers and their deputies. We think that the problem of incompatibility goes much wider than this. What is at issue is the problem of people being both impartial advisers and active politicians: this is not confined to the select group of chief executives, chief officers and their deputies.

The usual phrase is to warn Members of the Committee not to be led astray by siren suggestions. I do not think, however, that I can realistically suggest that these suggestions have the degree of attractiveness that even superannuated sirens would have. Effectively these amendments are a proposal to defer indefinitely any reinforcement of the traditional convention.

The Government believe that the provisions in Clause 1 are essential if we are to maintain the tradition of the impartiality of local government officers, It is for those reasons that we shall oppose these amendments.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

As always I am grateful to the Minister who has taken great care to be clear in what he says. He may well be right, in the light of events, in his view that one needs 20, 30 or 40 years after an understood ethos has been accepted and has been broken, or is breaking down, to reflect upon whether one can do it better in the future. The noble Lord rests his case upon the change of a council which may well have been operating its interpretation of a code of practice in one way and then, when the opposition comes into power, decides to interpret the code of practice in another way. The same, of course, applies with a change of government.

The Government's attitude to these matters may be offensive. I believe that it is offensive to the majority of those who are practitioners in local government. I do not dispute their entitlement to believe that they are acting in the interests of the majority of the electorate of the country. I am not saying that they are right; but they are entitled to believe that they are acting in that way. All I am saying to the Minister is that if there were a change of government, then of course that government would be entitled to change the law.

The Government rest their case upon these matters being enshrined, as we say, "on the face of the Bill". We should have thought that the Government who are pretty confident, if not arrogant, about their ability to interpret what is right in most areas, could well have said, "We believe that we know what is right in this area" without needing the full panoply and majesty of the law to support them.

In the light of the Government's clear intention to legislate, we seek the maximum goodwill and co-operation of the people concerned. We believe that a code of practice —we are certainly not saying at this stage what it should contain or exclude —would be a better way of dealing with the situation. However, we recognise the realities. We shall consider what the Minister has said: we may well return to the matter at a later stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 4 not moved.]

[Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 not moved.]

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 7: Page 2, line 40, at end insert ("in accordance with section (voluntary Code of Practice) below").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 44. What is proposed here is to insert a code of practice into the Bill and also to introduce a new clause. We seek to promote the preparation and acceptance of a voluntary code of practice, setting out the extent of acceptable political activity at the rank of principal officer and above. What is suggested is also designed to probe the Government's intentions on the type of political activity to be restricted.

Reference was made in earlier debates to what the Widdicombe Committee understood to be politically sensitive and restrictive activities. There was also reference to what other individuals do. I should remind the Committee that the Widdicombe Report suggested that political restrictions be approached through agreed amendment to local authorities' terms and conditions of service. This, the report suggested, was the best approach as political activity is not a concept readily amendable to legislation and is not the subject of legislation in the Civil Service context. It was felt that flexibility was required in local government, as it is in central government, to deal with particular cases. The report proposed joint approaches involving the Local Authority Conditions of Service Advisory Board with legislation introduced only as a last resort.

The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, mentioned many interesting activities which local government officers believe could well be held by either the Government or by local authorities to be matters meriting political restriction. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, tried to help the Committee. He said that there were often ways in which an individual could exercise his desire to serve the community: not by being a councillor in some other area, but by being involved in voluntary activities.

We come to the point of who will decide whether the level of politicisation in the voluntary organisation is such that it will demand the attention of those who will lay down the diktat that that is the point at which it should stop. We can all give illustrations of benign organisations which are non-political in intention, but which nevertheless from time to time are moved to take up political stances. There may be a community activity which is all-party or non-party, in which the individual is heavily involved. It may be the question of a road going through a sensitive area or the building of a supermarket.

Local government officers who are not politically active may become active in a residents' association or in the "Save our Town Hall" or "Save our Playing Field" campaign. They are exercising their rights to be involved in voluntary organisations, but they may suddenly find that they are involved politically. It is not a party-political activity, but, nevertheless, they may come up against the party-political machine. They oppose the council. They oppose the councillors. They seek support from other councillors. Before they know it, they could be involved.

The difficulty that the Government face is that the goal post will be shifted when £13,500 becomes worth less by the mere advance of salary scales or inflation. One can pursue activities which at one moment are non-party political, but which may be held to be politically highly successful when the group scores a success against the council.

Local authorities currently address a variety of key issues through agreed custom and practice. The Minister will be well aware of the areas that that procedure covers: interest in contracts, acceptance of hospitality, outside activities, including membership of societies, dealing with confidential information and recruitment procedures. The purple book and the buff book set out national terms and conditions of service for white-collar and manual workers respectively. They embody national agreements which can be varied locally.

The Government have been high-handed by assuming that negotiated agreement is not possible. It has been possible previously. The amendment seeks clarification from the Government as to what they intend when they produce their list of politically acceptable activities. In the second amendment we seek to impose a duty on LACSAB and the local authority associations to prepare and publish a code as soon as practicable. I know that the Minister will want to be helpful. I should be grateful if he could comment on the amendments. I beg to move.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

Nobody has denied that it will be difficult to define precisely the proscribed area of political activity. There is a nearly seamless robe. The noble Lord, Lord Graham, made some fair points about where the line is drawn. He also has a point when he says that it may be easier to have a code of practice which would express the matter in general terms, rather than to have specific rules which lay down clearly whether one is on this side of the line or the other. That is inherent in any legislation of this kind.

On the previous amendment, my noble friend effectively demolished the argument that some kind of voluntary code would be the way to do it. As we all recognise, the vast majority, especially of senior local government officials, well understand the canons and conventions, but, until the whole subject was brought into the open with the pamphlet The New Corruption and the subsequent appointment of the Widdicombe Committee and the evidence given to it, felt powerless to do anything. There seemed to be no guidelines, no signposts, as to how they could make representations to councillors or, in some cases, their own staff.

What is now necessary, and what the Bill and the regulations will achieve, is to point to the nature of the activities which must be regarded as out-of-bounds for senior officials. In practice, if someone becomes involved in a voluntary campaign in the way described by the noble Lord, Lord Graham, and begins to come into the public domain where embarrassment may be caused to his political chiefs (the councillors), to the council, if he is on the staff, or to members of the public who have to deal with him, that is the point at which the chief executive, or his own senior officer, has him in and says, "Look, I think you have to consider your position. I think that you are sailing dangerously near the line. Here are the rules which are set out clearly. You are a valuable local government officer. You want to consider your position and watch what you are doing. My advice to you is, not to cease to have anything to do with the campaign—I would not dream of asking you to do that—but not to adopt such a high profile. You should not be part of the deputation" or whatever it may be.

Without having some clear rules, which the Bill and the regulations will set out, the senior man will find it much more difficult to tender advice to and guide the member of staff. That is the way it will work in practice in the great majority of cases. I do not deny that there will always be some instances where people will feel so strongly, or so politically committed, that they will try to find a way round the rules and say, "I got myself through the regulations". There may be the odd case, but the general pattern of what it is wanted to achieve will have been laid down. There will therefore be ways to bring public pressure to bear to ensure that the system works.

I do not want to repeat what I said earlier, but it is clear that without this provision unacceptable practices were becoming almost common. They were not limited to one political party. When there was controversy between the Government and Labour-controlled local authorities, it looked as though one were criticising the Labour-controlled authorities. People came to me and said, "Go easy on this, because you will find some of your political friends will be in difficulties". I said that that actually made it easier for me to appoint the Widdicombe Committee. It was an argument that I used when I was persuading some people to collaborate.

I met all the local authority associations. We discussed the membership of the committee. The Committee will recognise that we included people of all parties and of none. The argument was that the activity was not confined to one political party. It was becoming dangerously accepted within local government as a whole. As a result, all the local authority associations and all the political parties worked closely to ensure that the Widdicombe Committee was able to reach a conclusion.

Therefore, without wanting to anticipate my noble friend's response, I think the point that is made is that we need to have clear statutory guidelines. Let us by all means examine exactly what they should be. But if those guidelines exist, then it should be possible for senior management and local authorities—and it may well be trade union leaders who are equally unhappy, sometimes, about the political involvement of the people of influence in the local authority —to point to something and say, "Look, you are going over the line. You must consider your position". Of course there will be the odd exception, but that would be a very much better state of affairs than at present.

6 p.m.

Lord Hayter

I should have thought that the noble Lord who has just spoken could have gone further and said, "I therefore propose to vote for the amendment". What does the amendment say about the code of practice? It says that authorities shall prepare and publish a voluntary Code of Practice for local authorities covering the scope of acceptable political activity by officers at the rank of principal officer and above.

That is precisely what the noble Lord wants and what the code of practice will do. It is far better to do that, than to leave it to the Secretary of State who will change from one political party to another and dictate exactly what he wants. I should have thought that the noble Lord would support the code of practice.

Lord Hesketh

A code of conduct is not something that we believe could usefully be added to the provisions. What we believe we need are clear rules. Those are what Clause 1 will give us and those are what the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, was referring to. A further code of conduct might, however, be useful if it came from the wishes of local government officers themselves. However, I have to say that to date there has been no initiative to produce one. Perhaps the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Graham, will provide a spur to those officers to produce one.

With the next Amendment No. 8, we shall come to voluntary bodies which the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, mentioned. I shall not anticipate that debate, except to say that there is a distinction between participating in a voluntary body and using that body as a platform in order to promote a political party.

With regard to the position of local government officers and their involvement in political activity which is not party political, as I have said we shall consult local government about the definitions of the activities to be restricted. The sorts of areas which we shall need to cover will be exactly those described by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton.

However, even after that has been defined, at the end of the day there will be a requirement for common sense. Beyond that, I feel that it would not be to the benefit of the Committee for me to repeat the arguments concerning our position on a voluntary code, with which I dealt on the previous amendment. I say no more than this. It is for the reason that I gave earlier, that we believe our job is to provide those clear rules at the start, that we resist the amendment to provide a voluntary code.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

The Minister has been helpful in his reply. I do not think that there is a great deal of difference between the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, and noble Lords on this side. He said more than once that what we needed were clear statutory guidelines. I asked for a clear voluntary code of practice. However that may be, as far as possible we want there to be no dubiety about codifying those activities which are acceptable and those which are not. We argue that this should be conceived and brought together not merely by the Secretary of State but by other people.

Interestingly, the Minister said that he and his colleagues had issued an invitation to the local government unions concerned to produce a cock-shy at what they felt was acceptable. Perhaps the Minister can tell the Committee whether, if and when that was done, tomorrow or next week, it would be accepted. I understand that the reason why local government representatives have not produced such a thing up to now is that they have not been encouraged positively to do so. But if they did, would it be given serious consideration? If I have got that wrong, then of course I apologise to the Minister and his advisers.

However, if the Minister is telling us that, at the end of the day, there will be clear guidelines on what is understood to be "political activity" and what is not, and on the kind of political activities that are tolerable and those which are intolerable in the context of the Bill, then we shall have gone a very long way.

To the best of my knowledge, we have clumsy phrases like "holding office in a political party, speaking or writing publicly on matters of party political controversy" and "canvassing at elections". These are pretty big chunks, but they leave an enormous area of other activities, particularly in an open, voluntary, democratic society. We are not arguing that there is no need in 1990 to have a better understanding, particularly in the light of the last 10 years and the whole changing atmosphere in the relationship between local and central government.

I do not intend to press the amendments, but we shall consider what the Minister has said. Before I sit down, perhaps he will reply as regards his invitation to the local government unions. If his invitation to the local government unions bears fruit and they produce what they believe is a sensible list of activities, will it be treated sympathetically? Can the Minister answer the question?

Lord Hesketh

I must make clear what I said. I said that if a code were forthcoming, it might —I repeat the words to the noble Lord, Lord Graham —be useful. In the light of those circumstances, if it were useful it could well make a useful supplement to the regulations themselves.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

I am sure that those outside the Committee will be able to read what the Minister has said, as helpfully and usefully as we in the Chamber have heard it. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 8: Page 2, line 40, at end insert— ("(5A) No requirements prescribed in regulations under subsection (5) above shall be taken to apply to activities undertaken for or on behalf of any voluntary organisation, whether or not such activities relate to any matter of political controversy.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment is very appropriate, because it takes up the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding. Earlier he suggested that there were other outlets for the social conscience of senior local government officers than working for a political party. We agree with that. We think it is true of a number of amendments which we have put down on this subsection of Clause 1. We agree that work for voluntary organisations ought not to be caught by the regulations to be imposed by the Secretary of State. We think that that should apply, even if on occasion —as happens —the work of the voluntary organisations coincides with the objectives of a political party.

After all, it is hardly possible for a voluntary organisation to conduct its activities entirely on the premise that nothing it says will ever be taken up by a political party and used in a political argument. That would be to impose absurd restrictions on the work of voluntary organisations. In practice, many charitably registered voluntary organisations, forbidden by their charitable status from undertaking political activity, still have occasion to campaign, and still find themselves on occasion in agreement with political parties of one persuasion or another.

I could give a very large number of examples, many of which I have been closely involved with on the Water Bill. Many of them are frequently in contact with Members of this House and another place about prospective legislation. They are, for instance: the National Council for Civil Liberties; the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child; Friends of the Earth; Greenpeace; the Keep Sunday Special Campaign and the opposite of that —the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, is not present —SOS, whatever that stands for; the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children; the League Against Cruel Sports; the Council for the Protection of Rural England. They have been very active on what might be thought to be political issues in connection with the Water Bill.

The Ramblers' Association is also very active. The RSPCA seeks to put down amendments to Part IX of this Bill. The London Voluntary Service Council is also active. I could go on indefinitely. However, all of these are voluntary organisations. They are restricted by their charitable status from undertaking party political activity; but they have, on occasion, to undertake political activity to exert pressure on a government or a council in power, whether it be Labour or Conservative. In this amendment we seek an assurance that such activity will not be included in the regulations laid by the Secretary of State in Clause 1(5) of the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

It is always tempting, when the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is so urbane, to agree with him in the interests of harmony, sweetness and light. However, on this occasion, I have to say that this amendment is quite unacceptable. I say that from the standpoint of one who, when I was Secretary of State, spoke to the National Council of Voluntary Organisations on precisely this subject. I believe I made that speech in 1984. It concerned the right of voluntary bodies to take part in political debate, provided they did not breach their charitable status—one is talking primarily here about charities—so as to forfeit the tax relief to which they are entitled as charities. That is of course a matter for the Charity Commissioners and for the Inland Revenue.

However, I was concerned to state the policy of the Government at that time, which was that we did not expect active, concerned voluntary bodies to be political neuters. That speech is on the record and can be examined. I believe that speech was well received by its audience. Nicholas Hinton (who was then the general secretary of the National Council of Voluntary Organisations) expressed concern that there appeared to be growing opposition to that policy. He took the opportunity in a newsletter of drawing the attention of all the member organisations to that point. That is the point from which I start. Therefore, quite clearly the great mass of political activity in which a local government officer may become involved should in no way fall foul of the provisions of this Bill.

However, I was also the Secretary of State for the Environment who had more public money laid out against him than, I suspect, any previous or subsequent Minister. Mr. Livingstone, whom the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, will remember with mixed feelings, once boasted that he reckoned that something like £35 million was spent on the campaign in defence of the GLC. That is in an order of magnitude greater than the sums that were spent by any political party in the preceding general election. The majority of that money was not spent on advertising in the national press and on other advertisements and on the hoardings with which we all became so familiar—that mischief has now been dealt with elsewhere, because the rules which apply to government have always been very strict on that—but went to a wide range of so-called voluntary bodies which were perfectly clearly, and had always intended to be campaigning bodies, irrespective of whether they were charities.

I do not know what the sum involved was. If one were to exercise a guess, I would say that probably somewhere between £5 and £10 million was spent by the GLC on advertising per se, and the balance was spent on using the powers under local government legislation to pay sums to voluntary bodies. Some of those bodies were of course perfectly respectable; but I shall not weary the Committee by reminding it of some of the bodies that most emphatically were not.

The idea that one should have a blanket exemption from the provisions of this Bill for any local government officer, however senior, provided he is carrying out activities under the guise of a voluntary body, whether or not that is subvented by his local authority, so that he can engage in activities which would clearly be regarded as political, seems unacceptable to me. I honestly do not think that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, can have thought this matter through.

The problem is one of definition. I do not think many of us would have too much difficulty in, as it were, recognising which side of the line a body falls on. It is the old problem of trying to define an elephant. Most of us would recognise one if we saw one, but it gets a little difficult if we try to write down a definition of what an elephant is. However, I think one can see the principle here perfectly clearly. As I said earlier, I sought to enunciate to the National Council of Voluntary Organisations that government policy does not mean voluntary bodies have to be political neuters as they can of course take part in political activities. But at the other extreme one has campaigning organisations which clearly should be caught by the provisions of the Bill. I can see that in drawing up regulations in this form, the Government will need to steer a careful line because they do not wish to inhibit political representations by voluntary bodies. There may well be useful contributions to be made to voluntary bodies by local government officials. However, somewhere the line has to be drawn, and it certainly in this amendment is not drawn in the right place.

The amendment would leave a glaring gap in what we all recognise should be the principle by which this part of the Bill is governed. Having seen the matter as it were from both sides in government, I urge the Committee to resist this amendment if it is put to a Division. I hope that my noble friend will add the weight of his arguments explaining why we could not accept this kind of blanket exemption.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Winstanley

Perhaps it might be appropriate if, from where I sit in the Chamber, I endeavour to draw the careful line to which the noble Lord referred, and draw it betwixt the noble Lords, Lord Jenkin of Roding and Lord McIntosh of Haringey, on this issue. It seems to me that there is a conflict here which cannot possibly be resolved in a form of words such as an amendment.

As the noble Lord rightly said, there are voluntary bodies and voluntary bodies. Many voluntary bodies start off entirely as voluntary bodies aimed at providing a service, but they rapidly turn into campaigning bodies. I can mention the example of Shelter which came into being as a voluntary body designed and set up in order to provide living accommodation for homeless people. It then, fairly rapidly and inevitably, evolved into a campaigning body designed to conduct campaigns against local housing authorities in order to ensure that housing provision was made.

No one, not even the noble Lord himself, can draw up a list of voluntary bodies and say that some are voluntary bodies which provide a service and others are campaigning bodies. One cannot do that because voluntary bodies constantly shift from one side of the line to the other. Why should they not shift from one side of the line to the other? There are two bodies which exist to provide service and help for one parent families. One is the National Council for One Parent Families which in the main is a campaigning body, and rightly so. It carries out excellent campaigns. The other is Gingerbread, of which I happen to have the honour of being president. That body exists primarily to provide services for one parent families. Those are two different bodies which may each stray on one side or other of the imaginary line which the noble Lord has drawn. I do not think that any Minister or any government can start making lists. An impossible situation would be created if the department or any Minister in this Government or any other were to say that a list of voluntary bodies existed to which it would be quite illegal for a senior local government officer to belong. That would be impossible, and I do not think anyone is suggesting that should happen.

However, to say that membership of any voluntary body whatsoever should be allowed may again cause difficulties. What really matters is how a senior local government officer conducts himself in relation to his membership or otherwise of a particular body. That is what we are concerned with. I do not think anyone in this Chamber, wherever he sits, would defend a senior local government officer playing an active political role in the course of his membership of a voluntary body. That would be improper behaviour and, I believe, ought to be dealt with in this Bill or in some other way. However, I do not believe that it can be provided for wholly by the noble Lord's amendment. Nor can it be provided for by ignoring the matter as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, seemed to suggest. Perhaps he could tell the Committee what we should do. Surely, the noble Lord agrees that it would be an outrageous limitation on the liberties of senior local government officers if they were not permitted to join the CPRE or the Ramblers' Association, for example. That would be intolerable. What does the noble Lord suggest should be done instead in order to control the activities of senior local government officers who happen to be members of voluntary bodies of one kind or another?

Lord Jenkin of Roding

The Committee wishes to make progress with the legislation, but I have been asked a question and I shall reply to the noble Lord. It seems to me that the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, has asked precisely the right question: what activities of a local government officer should be singled out as being on one side of the line? Certainly it is not the nature of the charity. Nor is it the degree to which the charity is itself a campaigning body.

The CPRE has been mentioned. That is a very effective campaigning body. One could not possibly say that it would be wrong for a local government officer to have anything to do with it. However, he should not front it. The CPRE may be involved, for example, in the issue of whether houses should be built on the fringes of towns and whether a new town like that at Hook should be built. The noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, has left, but I think that he would agree that it would be quite wrong for a senior member of the planning department of a local authority in Hampshire to be involved in such a campaign, even if waged by a voluntary body.

It is the activity of the officer which must be the test. I am sure that it is not beyond the wit of the parliamentary draftsman when drawing up the regulations to use a form of words which would make the position clear. As I said earlier, the council or senior executive could then say to an individual, "Watch it, you are getting too near the line". The vast majority of individuals would have a clear sense of duty to the obligations of their office and the authority they serve and would draw back. That is what has been lacking hitherto and what this Bill is intended to provide.

Lord Hayter

I find myself in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin. However, I should point out that if the amendment is turned down, we are back to the Bill, which is what we should be discussing, and the words: incorporate such requirements for restricting his political activities as may be prescribed for the purposes of this subsection by regulations made by the Secretary of State". That is what the argument seems to centre around. The noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, suggests that if the Secretary of State is to make regulations we should know about them and see whether we agree. If we do not agree at least we shall know what the limits are. Does the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, agree with me that at the moment it is the Secretary of State who will bring out those regulations?

Lord Jenkin of Roding

I had assumed that that was what we were talking about. We discussed earlier whether there should be a voluntary code of practice or whether there should be a code of practice in addition. An invitation is now being made to local authority bodies to consider whether a code of practice would help. I would assume that this was a matter for the regulations under the Clause 1(5) procedure.

I think we are all agreed that it is not the nature of the voluntary body but the activities of the officers to which the question should be addressed.

Lord Ross of Newport

One further point occurs to me. If we are not careful we shall stop any local government officer of any standing from helping any charitable or voluntary body. Those officers will make the excuse that this Act of Parliament places them in some difficulty and therefore they cannot help. County treasurers or their deputies may help local causes. Chief officers or their deputies may give legal advice freely and willingly. Bank managers often become treasurers of local bodies. If we are to say that there will be problems in defining exactly what is political activity and what is not the situation will be clouded.

Many local government officers who help worthwhile causes throughout the country will take the easy way out and say, "Sorry, I cannot help". That is a tragedy. It has to be considered if the regulations are to make any sense.

Lord Hesketh

The amendment has two features. The first is very praiseworthy: to make it clear that the Government's proposals will not debar local authority staff—even if they are in the politically restricted grades—from worthwhile public activity in many different fields in which some form of public controversy is likely, if not bound, to arise. Voluntary bodies are active in many different fields, and the Government have no intention of trying to restrict the ability of local authority staff to play their role in their local community in any way, as long as what they do does not undermine their impartiality in discharging the duties of their job. In this the position is exactly parallel to that in the politically restricted grades in the Civil Service.

With that we can all sympathise. We cannot sympathise however, with the other feature of this amendment; which ignores the purpose of the proposals in Clauses 1 to 3. The reason why we think that the restrictions on public political activity are essential is that we do not think that someone can simultaneously represent himself as both an impartial expert adviser and a committed active politician. The problems created by trying to fulfil both roles simultaneously are not affected by the stage on which one chooses to play the politician.

That is the flaw that undermines the amendment. It assumes that because the platform is worthy anything done from it must be acceptable. It ignores the fact that many different actions can happen on the same platform. If someone is trying to promote a political party, doing so from the platform of a voluntary body may be very effective: but it does not alter the fact that it is the promotion of a political party.

I must therefore advise the Committee that we think that this amendment is fatally flawed, as indeed are the amendments that follow. We do not think that we can define that which is to be restricted by looking simply at the context; we must look at the intention—at its purpose.

We have said that there are four sets of public political activities that we think should be covered by restrictions. Some of those we think have a very clear, immediate political content: being a candidate for election as a councillor or Member of Parliament; being the officer of a political party; canvassing in favour of a candidate for elective office or for a political party. We do not see how any of those can be other than political. Clearly those are not the sort of activities at which these amendments are aimed. The other category is not, I admit, as clear cut. It is speaking or writing in public on a matter of current political controversy in such a way as to appear to take part in party political debate.

The Committee will remember that over recent years we have spent a significant amount of time debating the correct definition of the types of party political publicity that local authorities should not issue. We consider that there is a legitimate read-across from what local authorities may do to what officers of local authorities in sensitive posts may do publicly. The definition of what constitutes contributing to party political debate must therefore, we think, concentrate on the question of what appears to be designed to affect public support for a political party.

When we consult local government on the form of the regulations under Clause 1(5), we shall probably want to draw on that experience in trying to draw the distinction between the legitimate rights of local authority officers to continue to participate in public activities of many kinds and the public political activities that we see as objectionable.

The Committee will no doubt recall the 1986 and 1988 Local Government Acts. There were the Jeremiahs who claimed that our proposals in that field would be the end of effective campaigning by local authorities and voluntary bodies that they supported. I have seen no signs of that now that we have had experience of the legislation. I do not believe that a similar approach in this field will produce the ill-effects which some have predicted.

I can reassure the Committee that our proposals will not restrict the general activities of local government officers in voluntary organisations. The only restraint that they will place upon them will be speaking or writing publicly in a way that appears to contribute to public party political debate. That is all. It is for those reasons that we reject the amendment.

6.30 p.m.

Baroness Phillips

Before my noble friend replies, I must say that I find this argument comes very ill from a Government who appear to have changed the rules that I recall were in operation when I was a Minister. We were told that we were never supposed to refer to ourselves as Labour Ministers. We were Members of Her Majesty's Government and we spoke, as I have always understood it, rather as a mayor speaks; in other words, totally non-politically. We were certainly not allowed to go on any programmes—the Minister an check this point—once we were Members of the Government. In other words, we were paid officers in exactly the same way as some of the people whom we are discussing are paid officers.

However, Members of this Government go on "Any Questions" and "Question Time". Ministers are on every kind of programme. They speak as Conservatives; they do not speak as Government Ministers. So far as I can see, it is exactly the same argument. They are certainly not impartial. They definitely speak on behalf of the party they represent, but they are members of the Government. As I understand it, they are not supposed to do that; but everyone accepts it. However, when it comes to local government, for some reason we must have a different set of priorities. I find the argument confusing and, if I dare say so, slightly hypocritical.

Baroness Blatch

I must take issue with the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips. We find ourselves in agreement on so many things, but not on this issue. There is a distinction between being a member of a party and a member of Government, and being a member of the Civil Service serving that Government.

The functions of both parties are very different. A government Minister is engaged in determining policy and strategy. The role of the officer is to implement that strategy. Therefore, when a Minister speaks publicly, he is often defending proposed policy, as my noble friend on the Front Bench is doing today. When the policy is enshrined in an Act, he defends that Act publicly. There is therefore a distinction between the roles of a politician in government and of a servant of that Government engaged in implementing policy.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

In his reply, the Minister referred to the earlier Local Government Act which laid down the controls on party political activity by local authorities. He sought to draw an analogy between that and local government officers. As I believe he was not involved at the time, I should perhaps remind him that that Act went against the recommendations in the interim Widdicombe Report in one significant respect to which the noble Lord referred; namely, Widdicombe did not think —and we did not think—that the intention of the local authority was the proper test. We have always believed that it should be the effect of the local authority's activity rather than the intention of the local authority's activity because intentions are peculiarly difficult to define objectively and accurately.

The Government are now making exactly the same mistake with respect to local government officers' involvement in voluntary organisations. To assert, as the Minister did in his reply, that the intention of the local government officer in participating in the activities of Shelter, the Council for the Protection of Rural England or the Ramblers' Association is the true test and that party political activity on the platform of those organisations should be excluded seems to us wholly wrong. The minimum that the Minister should have stated in reply was that certain organisations, which, because of their charitable status, are excluded from party political activity—we have all been given examples of those—should be excluded from the provisions in the regulations.

The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, is always an interesting former member of the Thatcher Cabinet. As he is carried away in the flood of Thatcherism, he leans out rather more than other people do towards the shores of sanity. On this occasion I certainly thought that he leaned out a little towards the shore of sanity. He reminded us of an admirable speech that he made to the National Council for Voluntary Organisations when he was Secretary of State, but I do not think that in that speech he ever indicated support for the view that is now being put from his Front Bench; namely, that it is a question of the intention of the individual in supporting a voluntary organisation, not the platform used. He was defending the right of voluntary organisations to take up political issues when those issues were inevitably part of the campaigning objectives. That is a right which, as he rightly said, should be preserved. I gladly give way to the Minister.

Lord Hesketh

There are just two small points that I wish to make. I referred to "activity" rather than "intention". In fairness, it is rather hard to expect the Government to respond by referring to a registered charity which is not even mentioned in the amendment and expect them to take a position on it.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

In due course, we might have to return to the concept of a registered charity. In the long run, that might be the protection that we shall be forced to seek, but it would be very much a fall-back position. Voluntary organisations, more widely defined, have a valid role even if their activities are campaigning and those activities are occasionally in line with the objectives of one or more political parties.

We do not think that the Government have adequately made the case against the amendment. I regret very much that they have taken a line which bodes ill for the regulations that the Secretary of State will impose. In the circumstances, it is best that I take the view of the Committee.

6.37 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 8) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 64; Not-Contents, 90.

Addington, L. Kilmarnock, L.
Airedale, L. Kirkhill, L.
Amherst, E. Listowel, E.
Aylestone, L. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.
Blackstone, B. Longford, E.
Blease, L. Lovell-Davis, L.
Bottomley, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. McNair, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Mais, L.
Milner of Leeds, L.
Carter, L. [Teller.] Ogmore, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. O'Neill of the Main, L.
David, B. Phillips, B.
Davies of Penrhys, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]
Dean of Beswick, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Raglan, L.
Ennals, L. Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Rochester, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Ross of Newport, L.
Foot, L. Scanlon, L.
Gallacher, L. Seear, B.
Gladwyn, L. Serota, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Stedman, B.
Hampton, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Hanworth, V. Tordoff, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Hatch of Lusby, L. Underhill, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Jay, L. Walston, L.
Jeger, B. Whaddon, L.
Jenkins of Hillhead, L. Willis, L.
Kilbracken, L. Winstanley, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Colwyn, L.
Arran, E. Cork and Orrery, E.
Ashbourne, L. Craigavon, V.
Bauer, L. Craigmyle, L.
Belstead, L. Crathorne, L.
Blatch, B. Davidson, V. [Teller.]
Borthwick, L. Dundee, E.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Eden of Winton, L.
Brookeborough, V. Elliot of Harwood, B.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Elliott of Morpeth, L.
Bruce-Gardyne, L. Ferrers, E.
Butterworth, L. Fortescue, E.
Caithness, E. Gray of Contin, L.
Carnarvon, E. Gridley, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Hardinge of Penshurst, L.
Clitheroe, L. Henley, L.
Coleraine, L. Hesketh, L.
Colville of Culross, V. Hives, L.
Holderness, L. Oxfuird, V.
Home of the Hirsel, L. Pender, L.
Hooper, B. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Prior, L.
Jenkin of Roding, L. Reay, L.
Johnston of Rockport, L. Rippon of Hexham, L.
Joseph, L. Rochdale, V.
Keyes, L. Saint Albans, D.
Killearn, L. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly
Kinloss, Ly. Sanderson of Bowden, L.
Kinnoull, E. Seebohm, L.
Lauderdale, E. Skelmersdale, L.
Layton, L. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Lindsey and Abingdon, E. Stockton, E.
Long, V. [Teller.] Strange, B.
Lothian, M. Strathclyde, L.
Lucas of Chilworth, L. Sudeley, L.
Lytton, E. Swinfen, L.
Margadale, L. Teynham, L.
Marley, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Marshall of Leeds, L. Thurlow, L.
Merrivale, L. Trafford, L.
Mersey, V. Trefgarne, L.
Milverton, L. Trumpington, B.
Morris, L. Tryon, L.
Mowbray and Stourton, L. Ullswater, V.
Orkney, E. Young of Graffham, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

6.44 p.m.

[Amendment No. 9 not moved.]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 10:

Page 2, line 40, at end insert — ("(5A) The Secretary of State shall, in framing any regulations under subsection (5) above, have regard to the contents of any Code of Practice covering matters relevant to political activities by civil servants.").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, it may be for the convenience of the Committee, if the noble Lord, Lord Ross, agrees, if I also speak to Amendment No. 21, which has a very similar effect.

The purpose of these amendments, and Amendment No. 10 in particular, is to challenge the Government to confirm—and confirm effectively—statements which have been made twice this evening by the Minister to the effect that the Government are following very closely the Civil Service pattern in seeking to impose these restrictions on sensitive posts. I am bound to say that that is not the way in which it appears to us. We think that the Civil Service code of practice which has been worked out over a considerable period of time with the collaboration of both the management of the Civil Service and the trade unions of the Civil Service is very different in significant ways from what is proposed in this Bill.

On 14th February the Secretary of State said (it is recorded in Hansard at col. 165) that: Civil servants do not take part in political activity".

A little later he added (at col. 167) that: we are mirroring as far as possible, the very rules that apply for the Civil Service".

It is simply not true to say that civil servants do not take part in political activity. Many civil servants take part in political activity fully in accord with the Civil Service code of practice. Let me expand briefly on the ways in which we believe that the Civil Service code of practice is different from the Government's proposals and the ways in which we think it is better.

First, when it comes to the cut-off point between politically sensitive posts and those which are not politically sensitive, instead of having a simple salary bar, as is proposed in the Bill, the Civil Service has a sliding scale which is applied by grade rather than by level of salary.

Secondly, the Civil Service code of practice provides the possibility of blanket exemptions for whole departments of the Civil Service. They can be excluded from the restrictions on political activity if it is felt that the entire department is so removed from the mainstream of politics (and after all many Civil Service departments are so removed) that it would be onerous and unnecessary to include them in the codes of practice.

There are many local authority departments which fall into exactly that category. Ministers keep talking about the advice given to local authority members by senior civil servants—and by the way, the Minister cannot know much about local government if he thinks that committee clerks give advice to members because it is not committee clerks but the chief officers who give advice to members—but whole chunks of local government service are completely non-political. They do not have connections with members. They may well have connections with the public as, civil servants do. They are caught both because they have links with members of the public and because a number of them are over the £13,500 limit. So the blanket exemption for particular Civil Service departments would be a very great improvement on the proposed restrictions under this Bill.

The third way in which the Civil Service code of practice is different is in relation to appeals, with which no doubt we shall be dealing far too late this evening. The principle of the Civil Service code of practice is that the appeals procedure is open to all whereas the appeals procedure—inadequate as it is even in terms of drafting—is only available (and is also inadequate here in that sense) for those appealing about the salary levels rather than about the sensitivity of the particular post.

Indeed, the Civil Service code of practice, in addition to having appeals open to all, has a tripartite system of appeal whereby the management and the trade unions are involved in the appeal and if the head of department is not satisfied with the judgment of the appeal tribunal, the matter can be resolved by the Minister.

None of those protections which exist for civil servants is proposed for local government staff. Indeed, the Civil Service proviso that if a post is deemed to be politically restrictive there can be an offer of an alternative post is also missing from the Government's proposals. However, the most fundamental difference is that the Civil Service recognises different levels of political sensitivity and therefore sets three different levels of restriction, whereas, although the Bill's proposals are extremely crude, they are also complicated. They provide only "in" or "out" and the same draconian level of restriction either applies in toto, if an officer is "in", or does not apply if the officer is "out".

The Minister's claim that the Government are following closely the Civil Service model is very wide of the mark. The basis of the Civil Service code is that the public should have confidence that civil servants' personal views do not cut across the discharge of their duties. If that were what is proposed here, then we could argue sensibly about the details of the way the restrictions would apply. The plain fact is that the Bill proposes severe restrictions on very large numbers of ordinary local government officers whose posts are such that political activity could in no way cut across the discharge of their duties. I hope that the Minister will not make the claim again, which has been made by himself and his colleagues, that the Bill follows closely the Civil Service code of practice. I beg to move.

Lord Jay

I should like to reinforce briefly the points made by my noble friend Lord McIntosh. In answer to my question earlier today about the relationship between these proposals and the situation in the national Civil Service, the Minister appeared to say that all the Bill is doing is applying to local government rules which are already in force in the national Civil Service. I should be extremely surprised to find it true that in the national Civil Service every officer earning over £13,500 a year was placed on a restricted list of this kind. Can the Minister therefore tell us what is the situation in the national Civil Service and whether there is any limit as low as £13,500?

Lord Ross of Newport

I shall be brief because the amendment covers the whole scene. As the Minister will know, the amendment in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Winstanley applies to Clause 2 and not Clause 1; otherwise, they are effectively the same. All we are asking the Minister to do is to have due regard to the Civil Service regulations. When he replied to the last debate he mentioned that. I hope that he will accept the amendment; if not in this form, certainly in some other guise.

Baroness Stedman

Can the Minister tell us whether the codes of practice applying to civil servants here apply also to civil servants in Europe? If we are going into a single market in 1992, there will be freedom to move around from one country to another. Will the Government take any note of what happens to civil servants in other countries and in the European Commission?

Lord Hesketh

The effect of Amendment No. 10 is to require the Secretary of State, in framing the regulations under Clause 1(5), to have regard to the contents of any code of practice covering matters relevant to political activities by civil servants.

Amendment No. 21 would remove the definitions of politically restricted posts from the Bill and leave them to be defined in regulations. In drawing up any regulations, the Secretary of State would be required to have due regard to the Civil Service regulations.

It may be helpful if I briefly remind noble Lords of the rules limiting the political activity of officers in the Civil Service. Civil servants are either "politically free", "intermediate" or "politically restricted" according to grade. Staff in the first group are free to engage in any political activity. Those in the second may apply for permission to take part in national or local political activity, apart from adoption as a parliamentary candidate.

Those in the third group are debarred from national political activities, but may apply for permission to take part in local political activities. At that point I should correct the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and inform him that my right honourable friend was referring to the third group when referring to civil servants not engaging in political activity.

The staff rules which apply to individual civil servants are derived from provisions of the Civil Service pay and conditions of service code. The paragraphs in question are Nos. 9923 to 9957 and departments, such as my own, will have incorporated those provisions from the code into the departmental staff rules.

The reason for resisting the amendment is that there are significant differences between the situation of the civil servant in the "politically restricted" or the "intermediate" group from that of a local government officer within the scope of the restrictions of the Bill. It would be wrong to require the Secretary of State to have regard to guidance which is not appropriate to local government. Each case needs to be dealt with in relation to the particular working environment. The regulations we have in mind will address restrictions of local government officers in politically sensitive posts.

To illustrate my point that you cannot directly transplant into the conditions of service of senior local government officers the conditions of service of civil servants, I will give two examples where the Civil Service model needs amendment to suit local government conditions.

The first is that the distinction between political restrictions at national and local level, which is made in the Civil Service, is not appropriate in local government as there can be no question of activities prohibited at national level being permitted at the local level. Secondly, the restriction on writing or speaking in public on matters of political controversy, which applies in the Civil Service, needs relaxation in relation to local government where chief officers, as part of their job, commonly express local government views on such matters.

The Committee will appreciate that while we have looked to the Civil Service code as a precedent, it would be wrong to place a legal requirement to have regard to it in the way suggested by the amendments. The final comment I make concerns Amendment No. 21. We believe that the definitions of politically restricted posts should remain in the Bill. It is not necessary for them to be dealt with by regulations.

Finally, I have said twice this afternoon, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, reminded me, that there is a close—to use that awful phrase, but I cannot think of a better one—twin-tracking on the basis of the proposals that we have alongside those of the Civil Service. There are many reasons why we cannot have them in parallel the whole time. A simple example is that in the Civil Service we have but one employer, whereas in local authorities we have a profusion. We shall never be able to copy it in its entirety; otherwise we should have done so. That is why we resist the amendments.

Lord Dean of Beswick

Why does the Minister persistently keep referring to the Civil Service as an example of what ought to be done? He must be aware of the frequent reports that have foundation, that the present Government have been indulging in the practice for some years of promoting Civil Service officers out of turn, based solely in some cases on their total sympathy with the Government's policy. Why does the Minister keep persisting? Is he telling us that the Civil Service is now holier than thou, when it is not?

Lord Hesketh

I am completely unaware in my experience in Government of the last suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick. We are discussing the Civil Service because that is the object of the amendment that we are discussing.

Lord Dean of Beswick

All through the debates on these amendments so far, the Minister has kept on referring to the fact that the Government are trying to base this on the Civil Service practice. If the Minister is not aware that the charge that I have made can be sustained, and that it has been made on more than one occasion by responsible people —the charge being that there have been promotions within the Civil Service based mainly on the sympathy of those officers with Government policy—all I can say is that he has not been in politics long enough.

Lord Hesketh

I hope that I shall not take up too much of the Committee's time. I am well aware of the suggestion. I refute it most strongly.

7 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

It would be dignifying the Minister's reply to my amendment to say that it was disappointing. It was almost wholly irrelevant. He repeated the claim that there is an affinity between the proposals for the local government service and those for the Civil Service code of practice. Yet he did not answer one single detailed and major point of difference that I made. He did not answer the point that the Civil Service makes a distinction by grade rather than by an arbitrary salary level.

He did not answer the point about blanket exemptions for non-political departments. He did not answer any of the points about the appeals procedure; its availability to all staff, its nature, the involvement of trade unions and management and the ultimate appeal to the Minister if necessary. Above all, although he referred to the matter, he did not indicate any understanding that the black or white proposals putting government officers either inside or outside the restrictions are inferior to the graded system in the Civil Service.

I do not claim for one moment that the rules for the local government service should be exactly the same as those for the Civil Service. Of course there are differences, some of which the Minister pointed out. In some cases, the proposals for the local government service could be more liberal than those for the Civil Service. However, that is not what the amendment states. It states only that: The Secretary of State shall, in framing any regulations … have regard to the contents of any Code of Practice covering matters relevant to political activities by civil servants". Where there are inevitable differences the Secretary of State could, under the amendment, make and recognise differences in his regulations. He ought to be dealing with the important ways that I have pointed out in which the proposed regulations are inferior to the Civil Service code of practice but to which no reference has been made.

However, it is clear that we shall not deal with those specific issues by seeking to obtain a better comparison with the Civil Service. We must pursue the matter by means of individual amendments regarding the level of exemption, the appeals procedure and so forth. On the basis that we shall return to the substantive issues, I beg to leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Arran

Members of the Committee may find this a suitable moment at which to break for dinner. I suggest that we return to the Committee stage of the Bill at 8 p.m. I beg to move that the House do now resume.

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

House resumed.