HL Deb 19 July 1989 vol 510 cc858-99

8.6 p.m.

House again in Committee on Clause 1.

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 11:

Page 2, line 40, at end insert— ("(5A) No requirements prescribed under subsection (5) above shall be taken to apply to participation in or support for any campaign or activities not organised by a political party, notwithstanding that the matter to which any such campaign or activities may relate may be politically controversial.").

The noble Lord said: The Minister has previously alluded correctly to the fact that we are engaged in discussing a series of amendments dealing with aspects of the search for truth about those activities and individuals who will be caught by the Government's decision in respect of the Bill. We are trying to coin from the Government something that will satisfy us that it is right and proper to be punitive. We are talking about officers who involve themselves in: participation in or support for any campaign or activities not organised by a political party".

On an earlier amendment, I alluded briefly to some of the activities involved. We want the Government to say that they share our view that the activities I intend to list to the Committee are not henious when they are being performed by a local government officer of some seniority and standing. They include the involvement in resident groups concerned with local traffic schemes and planning issues, which may turn political. I do not believe that anyone can object to them. Someone might join the trust to save the Rose Theatre. The activity could well be topical. A local government officer could take part. One can immediately see that, because decisions by the Secretary of State and the local authority will be involved, the local government officer may well be assumed to be poking his nose in where he should not.

One of the distasteful aspects of the Bill is the intimidation, the threat, "You'd better do what you are told. You'd better stop doing what you'd like to do, because we don't think it is right". An example is joining one of the groups currently petitioning Parliament in relation to the Channel Tunnel legislation. I can well imagine some local government officer in Kent who feels passionately about the line of the tunnel, or even the fact that there is a tunnel. We want the Government to tell us that these activities are not of the kind that will be caught by the Bill.

Expressing a view—whether pro-or anti—about some of the issues contained in legislation before Parliament is another aspect. For instance, as concerns tenant groups in relation to the Housing Act 1988, a local government officer could very well live in an area where he is employed by an authority, yet he is a council tenant. He wishes to exercise his rights as a resident on a council estate. We do not think that that should be involved.

There are animal welfare groups currently pressing for the implementation of dog registration. I can see the puzzlement on the Minister's face, akin to suggesting that it would be ridiculous for someone who is a local government officer, and who participates in the agitation for or against dog registration, possibly to be held to be involved in political activity. Yet the outcome of the dog registration issue will not be resolved by politicians in Parliament.

What about involvement in the pro-or anti-abortion campaigns? Although we in Parliament—I think honourably—have striven to make this an issue of conscience and not a political issue, nevertheless many people, of whom I am not one, who are for or against the issue believe that it ranks very high. Therefore an officer ought to be entitled to take part in the arguments passionately, without suffering any hurt.

What about an officer who decides to become a member of the Campaign for Real Ale, against the background of the recent controversy over the sale of monopoly holdings in public houses? Some people would argue that a person might be a member of a campaign such as the Campaign for Real Ale and want to take a prominent part in it. If he takes up a stance for or against the Secretary of State's decision in respect of forcing large monopoly landlords to unload their holdings, that person has, in effect, taken part in some political activity. That is ludicrous, but it is possible.

What about people who are members of a local authority officers' team who decide to become involved in the issue for or against Sunday trading? They are passionately connected with the church and are devoutly and devotedly involved in its activities. Their church might take up a certain stance which could be contrary to the views of the local council. I hope that the Minister shares our view that activities of this kind, which involve campaigning ought to be outwith any net which the Government are likely to cast.

I believe that these are sensible and reasonable questions. I hope the Minister can assure me that, whatever emerges in respect of codes of practice, guidance, conduct or any other proposal on what is or is not included, the kinds of activities I have listed may be enjoyed by an officer in the course of his duty as a local government officer, without infringing his right to be employed. I beg to move.

8.15 p.m.

Lord Hesketh

First, perhaps I may assure the noble Lord, Lord Graham, that I never take lightly any matter which involves dogs, having suffered at the jaws of a dog in a previous role a year ago. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Graham, that my facial grimace had nothing to do with irrelevance, it had more to do with —

Lord Graham of Edmonton


Lord Hesketh

Remembrance. The noble Lord is entirely correct. This amendment, like Amendments Nos. 8 and 9, would exempt anything done in a whole area of activity from the political restrictions, even if it were directly aimed at an obviously party-political purpose. This one would exempt anything done in the course of a campaign or activities which are not organised by a political party.

My comments on the previous amendments are very relevant here: we cannot simply take a whole area of activity and say "No matter what the officer does, if it is part of a campaign not organised by a political party, it doesn't matter". I ask noble Lords to consider this not very fanciful case. In a particular town the route of a proposed by-pass is a current political topic. There is a campaign against one of those proposed routes. If that campaign starts canvassing for the candidates of one particular party on the grounds that that party shares their views, and if a local government officer who supports the campaign joins in that canvassing, is that not just as difficult as if he were canvassing because he supported the party in question more generally? In my view, it is. All the objections that come into play about officers who are supposed to be impartial going around soliciting votes for a particular party seem to apply with equal force.

I therefore come back to my refrain on this group of amendments: it does not matter in what context something is done. If what is done is a public political activity of a kind that the clauses would control, then it is reasonable that it should be controlled. If it does not have the characteristics of that public political activity, then the clauses will not apply to it and there will be no problem.

That brings me to where the noble Lord, Lord Graham, listed the example of an officer joining a broad spectrum of schemes which ranged —if I may précis it slightly —from the Rose Theatre to the Channel Tunnel, to tenants' groups on housing legislation, to animal welfare groups and dog legislation, as well as to the Campaign for Real Ale. On all these the answer is that they will be permitted as long as they do not become a matter of promoting or opposing a specific political party. The whole emphasis is on what is party political; not what is political itself. It is a party political activity which is unacceptable; it is not the activity itself. I wish to make that very clear. That is why we resist the amendment.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

The Minister has been enormously helpful. He gave the illustration of an officer joining an organisation which was campaigning on an issue. If a political party also decided to join that organisation, ipso facto the officer would be involved in an organisation that was using assistance from a political party as part of its muscle. It could be held that, with guilt by association, he was involved in a political activity.

I was going to take issue with the Minister, but I am happy to rest on the premise of his last few words. They suggest that in this context it is the officer's involvement in party political activity. Activity in any of the organisations on the list here is not party political activity. It could very well be political activity and we should all understand that in the non-party sense that is the organisation of people, the use of people, in the sense of demonstrating their will.

When we read what the Minister has said, we shall find that he has been helpful in defining the tiny little area about which we are worried. I shall read his remarks and perhaps come back later if need be. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 12:

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 professional organisation, whether or not such activities relate to any matter of political controversy.").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move this amendment standing in the name of my noble friend Lord McIntosh. Again, this is part of the list on which we seek to clarify what the Government have in mind. We wish to exclude from the list of potential activities that can be held to be political such activities as working, on behalf of any professional organisation, whether or not such activities relate to any matter of political controversy". I move the amendment in the context of the Minister's recent redefining of party political activity. That is what we are talking about. The kind of activity which I have in mind here cannot remotely be called party political activity. I am talking about professional organisations which often form important consultees in the early stages of framing legislation as well as consulting other organisations. Furthermore, such organisations are often involved in lobbying or briefing MPs and Peers as regards legislation or in commenting directly or indirectly to civil servants on the practical implications of primary and secondary legislation.

The kind of membership I am talking about here applies, for instance, to a council officer of whatever rank who escapes all other bars. However, we want to ensure that he is not caught by the political activities bar. Such a council officer may, for example, be a member of the Society for Education Officers, the Institute of Waste Management, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, CIPFA, the Institute of Traffic Engineers, the Town and Country Planning Association or the Royal Institute of British Architects. All of those memberships are exclusively professional. Yet, at some stage, in acting as a member of those organisations, a local government officer could very well be drawn into taking up a stance or advocating a reaction against an action by a government, either national or local. I merely want the Minister to say, as he said so helpfully with regard to voluntary organisations which undertake campaigns, that membership of a professional body of this kind would not be caught by the legislation. I beg to move.

Lord Hesketh

I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Graham, will not be surprised that my answer to this amendment is very similar to the one I gave to the previous amendment. Once again, with fear of repetition, I must remind the Committee of what I have already pointed out. It is not the context in which something is done but what is done that we regard as relevant for deciding whether the restrictions under these clauses should apply. I readily agree that it is difficult to think that anything done for or on behalf of a reputable professional association would be likely to be relevant to these prohibitions. But it is not beyond the bounds of possibility.

I suggest that the basic policy should be as in other fields. If the activity is directed to affecting public support for a political party, then it is objectionable if undertaken by the holder of a politically sensitive post under a local authority. If the activity for or on behalf of a professional association is not of that kind, then it would not be affected in the least by the proposals within these three clauses.

We must look at the context of what is done. We believe the amendment does not do that. I resist it for the same reasons as I resisted the previous amendment, but I remind the noble Lord, Lord Graham, of what I then pointed out. We are not talking about political activity but party political activity.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

Again the Minister has been helpful. He says that it is all right if what is done is not party political. However, in taking a stand on an issue by advocating against the policies of a government, whether it be local or national, the person concerned is not taking a political stance or arguing that the Conservatives are bad or that a Labour council is bad, but that the policy that is being carried out is bad. In other words, he is making no valued judgment on whether the people of his community are well or ill-served by a Labour council as compared to a Conservative council; he is arguing that the people of the area are disadvantaged by the policies that are being carried out. When issues are not directed against politicians, but against the decisions and activities of politicians, is that in order?

Lord Hesketh

I can only repeat what I said in connection with the previous amendment.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

In which case, I shall save the time of the Minister. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 13 to 15 not moved.]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 16:

Page 3, line 13, at end insert — ("(8A) Subsection (1) above shall have effect after the making of an order by the Secretary of State in accordance with section 164(2A) below.").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 16, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 180, 181 and 189. The purpose of all these amendments is the same. They seek to ensure that the Secretary of State seeks an affirmative resolution in Parliament before making orders under this part of the Bill.

It is relatively rare for us to seek an affirmative resolution. We constantly seek that regulations be laid-before Parliament but usually by the negative resolution procedure. However, on this occasion we are dealing with a fundamental change in employment law. The Secretary of State is being empowered by this part of the Bill to impose an absolute disqualification on people holding politically restricted posts. It empowers him to change the terms of appointment or conditions of employment of every person holding a politically restricted post. This is in effect almost retrospective because it applies even if they hold the post before the Bill becomes law; in other words, their existing terms and conditions of employment are to be changed by regulation made by the Secretary of State.

We take the view that terms and conditions of employment set down in employment contracts are a significant part of the civil liberties and the protections which are due to ordinary citizens and employees in this country and that they should not be changed by regulation made by the Secretary of State and imposed both on the employee and the employer.

It is argued sometimes that affirmative resolution procedures are more appropriate when we are dealing with financial considerations. However, there is a precedent in this Bill for an affirmative resolution procedure where there are no financial considerations. Clause 30 of the Bill which is concerned with the national code of local government conduct, is subject to an affirmative resolution procedure, although there are no financial implications and although the national code of local government conduct already exists. However, the revision of the code is to be submitted to Parliament. I am not underestimating the importance of Clause 30, but I am saying that if the affirmative resolution procedure is appropriate for that clause, how much more appropriate it is for this part of Clause 1 where, as I say, there has been a fundamental change in the employment law which affects the civil rights of ordinary citizens in the part that they can play in politics. I hope the Committee will agree that this is one of those occasions, perhaps relatively rare, when parliamentary time should be devoted to the consideration of the regulations which the Secretary of State proposed to make. I beg to move.

The Earl of Arran

The effect of these amendments would be to make the introduction of the ban on twin-tracking conditional upon a draft order having been approved by an affirmative resolution by both Houses of Parliament, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has said. The prohibition concerning twin-tracking in Clause 1(1) is stated clearly on the face of the Bill. These amendments seek to delay the introduction of Clause 1(1) and (5) and bring them back for consideration by both Houses at a later date. Now is the occasion for the Chamber to discuss the issues concerned.

It does not seem sensible to the Government to legislate in this way: to adopt a measure and then put off its implementation until a further vote. I am reminded of the prayer in his youth of that notable doctor of the church, St. Augustine who said, O God make me virtuous, but not yet. Unlike St. Augustine, the Government wish to opt for virtue now. For those reasons I ask the Committee not to accept the amendment.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

That was a peculiarly specious argument, quite apart from the fact that St. Augustine of Hippo said: Make me chaste, but not yet.

The point about the affirmative resolution procedure is that the regulations would be before this Chamber in order for it to make a decision. We have no regulations before the Committee. We do not even have draft regulations. We are not in any position effectively to argue about the content of the regulations. I find it extraordinary that the noble Earl can stand up and say that we can hold a proper debate here without having seen draft regulations and without knowing what is in the Government's mind. We have to rely on scraps which fall from the lips of Government Ministers. We are not treated with the respect that this Chamber and this Committee deserve. We are not given a proper opportunity to learn what is in the government's mind.

This is clearly not a matter for a Division at this time of night, but it is something to which we shall have to refer at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 17 to 19 not moved.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

8.30 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 20: After Clause 1, insert the following new clause:

("Remuneration of councilors

. (1) Section 1 above shall have effect subject to the provisions of this section.

(2) The Secretary of State shall issue regulations for the purposes of establishing a comprehensive scheme for the remuneration of councillors, having regard to consultations with the local authority associations and any other body representative of elected councillors.

(3) The Scheme referred to in subsection (2) above shall be established for the following purposes —

  1. (a) to maintain and improve the opportunities available to citizens to serve the local community as an elected councillor;
  2. (b) to avoid undue financial hardship to persons elected as councillors; and
  3. (c) to reflect the importance to the community of the provision of local services.
(4) Any scheme made under subsection (2) above shall include provision for the annual adjustment of remuneration levels in line with the Retail Prices Index and for such periodic review of remuneration by such independent person or persons as the Secretary of State may determine. (5) The power to make regulations conferred by this section shall be exercisable by statutory instrument which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament. (6) Except in respect of any person falling within any description in sections 2(1) (a) to (e) above, no person shall be regarded as holding a politically restricted post before a date specified by the Secretary of State, and no such date shall be specified which is less than one year after the coming into force of this section.").

The noble Lord said: This may appear to be a complicated amendment in the sense that it proposes the insertion after Clause 1 of a new clause, which is of necessity somewhat complicated. However, there is a very important gap in the Bill which makes necessary further elucidation of the Government's intentions. Of necessity this must be only a probing amendment. I do not suggest that it represents the final word which can be reached on the remuneration of councillors. I am perfectly aware that the local authority associations are at the moment involved in negotiations with the department about the remuneration of councillors. The purpose of the amendment and the reason for putting it down now, is to draw out the Government's intentions more clearly than they at present appear and to state the views which I think I can safely say are those of all the local authority associations, whether under Labour or Conservative control.

The background to the amendment involves a certain amount of statistics about the money required for the remuneration of councillors. The Widdicombe Report of 1986 was based on research which indicated that the total expenditure on councillors' remuneration would be of the order of £27 million. There are two ways of calculating the resulting amount to date. The actual take-up, taking account of inflation, would be £33 million; the potential take-up if all councillors who performed duties actually made claims for those duties would be of the order of £37 million. In relation to the total amount of local authority expenditure we are clearly not talking about a very large sum.

The Widdicombe Committee survey looked in some detail at the number of hours which councillors spend on their duties. It is clear that although there has been an increase since 1964 there has not been a significant increase since 1976, I remind the Committee that, despite all the controls placed on local authorities by government, the responsibilities placed on local authorities to act as agents for central government are nevertheless increasing very rapidly at the same time. Indeed, they have increased further this week with the community care obligations which are being placed on local authorities. So the average figure of 74 hours a month spent on council business is not extraordinary. The amounts claimed are not extraordinary in relation to that amount of work.

The amounts claimed by councillors, even in large authorities and with substantial levels of special responsibility, are minute in comparison with the payments to part-time members of government-appointed quangos, such as, for example, the regional water authorities. An individual might receive £7,000 to £10,000 a year for working one day or one and half days a week as an ordinary member of a regional water authority, whereas a person working full time as a committee chairman in a major council would almost certainly receive less than that for a full year's work.

I do not want to go in detail into the components of councillors' remuneration. I think that everyone is aware of the balance between loss of earnings and attendance allowances. The Government propose that there should be only a flat rate and a special responsibility allowance. That might be fair for committee chairmen or those with special responsibility in large authorities, but it is certainly unfair on the considerable number of local councillors who put in an enormous amount of time doing what might be thought to be humdrum jobs. They serve on local licensing panels or on the kind of committee which requires them to visit the establishments of the social services. It is not glamorous or political work but it is required of local authorities by government. We think that there ought to be some continuing attendance allowance.

We recognise that in a very small number of authorities there has been abuse of the attendance allowances. We recognise that it is necessary to have proper control of what are and are not approved duties. Perhaps the approved duties ought to be redefined. We should not object if there were to be a maximum attendance allowance for any one councillor so that a councillor could not pile up attendances many times a day and many days a year. Subject to those precautions, we believe that there ought to be some form of continued attendance allowance, separate from the special responsibility allowances and regularly updated.

I remind the Committee that, when the allowances were first established in 1972 at £10, they were set at a level which would now be of the order of £40, instead of which the amount is more like £16. They certainly have not risen in line with inflation. We think that there ought to be some provision for automatic uprating, as there is for allowances for secretarial expenditure, etc., for Members of your Lordships' House. What is fair for us ought to be fair for councillors in local authorities, who in most cases do a great deal more work for their country and work that is probably of a greater value than most of what we do.

Lord Hesketh

The amendment would require and enable the Secretary of State to set up a new system of remuneration for councillors by regulation, subject to three main criteria. These are that it maintains and improves the opportunities for people to become councillors; that it prevents undue financial hardship for councillors; and finally that it reflects the importance to the community of the provision of local services. The levels would be required to be uprated each year in line with inflation.

I am glad to be able to agree with the noble Lord on one point —that a new system of councillors' remuneration is needed. I am also able to agree with the noble Lord on two of the criteria he would set for the new system. Indeed they are set out in paragraph 3.5 of the White Paper responding to the Widdicombe Report, which sets out the basic principles that should underlie any system of remuneration. It concludes that: the purpose of paying allowances to councillors is principally to ensure that they do not suffer financial hardship, and to ensure that a wide range of different types of person is able to stand for membership". I am not clear about the meaning of the noble Lord's third criterion for the new system —namely, that it should reflect the importance to the community of the provision of local services.

Does he mean that the more the community values its local government services, the more councillors should be paid —a sort of performance bonus scheme? It is an intriguing idea, but not, I feel, a practical one, nor one I think the noble Lord's "community" would endorse.

The amendment also has another interesting feature. It would make the provisions of Clause 1, restricting political activity by council officers, conditional upon setting up this new system of remuneration. The aim seems to be to ensure that councillors who are currently able to finance their full-time activities as a member of one authority from the ratepayers of another continue to be so funded by their own authority. This is the sort of abuse we are trying to prevent.

The amendment also seems to imply that the levels of remuneration under the new scheme should be significantly higher than under the present system. The Government take a different view on the basis of two important criteria which the noble Lord has omitted to include in his amendment; namely, that council membership is based on the principle of voluntary service to the community and that councillors should not expect to be financially better off as a result of carrying out their duties.

As noble Lords will be aware, the Government have already proposed an alternative system of remuneration for councillors based on a flat rate allowance which the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, drew to the Committee's attention. My right honourable friend the Minister for Local Government has met leaders of the local authority associations twice to consider the general principles of such a scheme.

A working group of officials has been investigating the level of allowances received and working out illustrative schemes for a flat rate allowance and an enhanced special responsibility allowance. It has taken some time for local authority associations to come forward with concrete proposals, probably because there seems to be a considerable variety of views not only between the associations but also within them. We all agree that it is a sensitive subject about which many councillors feel strongly.

I had hoped that as result of these discussions we would have been able to bring forward appropriate amendments for your Lordships to consider in Committee, but my right honourable friend the Minister for Local Government was anxious to give the local authority associations an opportunity to make alternative proposals which would be acceptable to at least a majority of them and which would meet the basic principles which we have outlined.

On Monday this week we received from the main English and Welsh local authority associations —the AMA, and ADC and the ACC —the outline of a joint proposal based on a basic flat rate allowance combined with a substantial element of attendance allowance. The associations' letter suggested that the potential for abuse which is inherent in any attendance-based allowance could be limited by restricting the range of approved duties or by placing a limit on the total payable by each council and/or to each councillor. In the Government's view, this represents a constructive approach and, subject to further consideration of details, we believe that it could form the basis of a scheme that would deal with the problems of a pure attendance allowance scheme which led the Widdicombe Committee to propose the flat rate alternative.

I should also mention that the Government have not yet received the views of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities representing local authorities in Scotland but have received further elaboration of the scheme suggested by the main English and Welsh associations from the Association of District Councils.

These are important and helpful developments. The Government need to look at them carefully and to discuss the details further with the local authority associations, perhaps initially at official level. We hope it will be possible that the outcome of that further consideration and any further discussions is that the Government will be able to bring forward proposals to reform the present system in a way that is broadly acceptable to local government in Great Britain, although it would be foolish to pretend that on such a sensitive subject there could ever be 100 per cent. unanimity I should also say a word about the level of allowances. The White Paper gives the Government's view that the total available under any new scheme should not represent an overall increase on what is presently being paid. The local authority associations have just completed a new survey of the expenditure involved in councillors' allowances and have concluded that it is running at a level of £33 million per annum with a potential expenditure of £37 million if non-claiming councillors claimed on a similar basis to the majority who do claim. There is no question of increasing the overall amount available for distribution in any new scheme to the figure of £75 million, which represents what the Widdicombe Committee recommended, updated to current prices. However, the Government will examine carefully the results of the survey that is being carried out and will respond to the views put forward by the local authority associations as soon as is practicable.

I hope that that goes some way towards answering a number of the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, in his amendment which he described as essentially a probing amendment at this stage.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Monkswell

I rise to question why we need even think about restricting local councillors' allowances, which is effectively what we are talking about in the Bill.

I have worked out some rough figures. I should tell the Committee that I have recently been elected a local councillor and I am trying to sort out how to claim my allowances. It seems to me that, if I were to work an eight hour day on local authority business, I could claim just under £20 per day. I am talking in terms of an attendance allowance rather than claims for out-of-pocket expenses. If one compares that figure with the allowances available to Members of this House—I admit that it is difficult to make an exact comparison because of the element of expenses included in our allowance—the rough equivalent figure is £40. If one compares that figure with the figure that a Member of the other place may claim on the basis of a day's labour, one is probably talking in excess of £100. So local councillors who are engaged in the business of overseeing enormous sums of expenditure of a political nature are being remunerated, roughly speaking, in the proportion of less than half of our remuneration or less than a quarter or a fifth of the remuneration of Members of the other place.

I wonder whether discussion on the subject is warranted in view of the minimal amount of money that we pay as a nation for the maintenance of our democratic institutions and procedures. I must object to the emphasis that the Government place on this. If the Government care to challenge my figures, I shall be happy to listen to them, but I do not think that they can do so in a realistic way.

Perhaps I have a vested interest in raising this point, although I try to think not. I believe that we are asked to consider in far too much depth a restrictive element in the mechanisms of democracy that operate in our country. It is just another example of the denial of our democracy. The Government seem to be nibbling away at that democracy year after year and it does no credit to this House, our parliamentary institutions or this country.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am grateful for the intervention of my noble friend Lord Monkswell who is a serving councillor. If my noble friend Lord Irving of Dartford were here, he would no doubt echo what my noble friend said. I know that the Minister's mother is a serving councillor and I have no doubt that he is well informed about members' allowances.

However, the Minister's reply was only partly encouraging. It is good to know that the Government's immediate response to the local authority associations' letter is that their approach is constructive. It is far less encouraging to know that, although it is constructive in terms of the structure of the allowances, the Government are already determined that there is no chance of updating the Widdicombe recommendations and producing the £75 million which would then be required.

Thus, although the basis of the approach of the local authority associations—a completely non-party approach—is accepted by the Government, it is clear that there will not be enough money to meet what I am sure they would consider to be necessary, and certainly what Widdicombe considered to be necessary, to do what my noble friend Lord Monkswell rightly describes as proper justice for hard working councillors.

We shall have to await negotiations between the local authority associations and the Government. If we have any confirmation of either good news or bad news, we can return to the matter at Report stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 [Politically restricted posts]:

[Amendments Nos. 21 to 26 not moved.]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 27: Page 3, line 26, leave out ("subsection (2) below or with").

The noble Lord said: With Amendment No. 27, by a judicious piece of filleting we have solved any problem about interlocking amendments. With this amendment we come to the heart of the issue with which we started to deal earlier today when talking about the basis of the restriction.

In addition to Amendment No. 27 I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 28, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34 and 35. Amendments Nos. 27 and 28 are perhaps the most wide-ranging in the group. They would remove the salary bar altogether. Amendment No. 29, and Amendment No. 30 which carries the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Newport, have a similar effect. I have no doubt that the noble Lord will wish to speak to those amendments in due course. Amendments Nos. 33 and 35 tabled in my name and the name of the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, arise from a suggestion from Hampshire County Council, of which the noble Earl is a distinguished member and to which he has already referred in debate today. The proposal is that instead of taking a figure of £13,500, which is not linked to any point on the local authority scale, there should be a level approximating to spine point 44 on the APTEC scale, which, as I understand it, is of the order of £18,000. That is the advice we have from Hampshire County Council.

Amendments Nos. 32 and 34 in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, would have a very similar effect linked to the Civil Service grades and to the grade of Principal in the Civil Service rather than to a local authority grading. On reflection, of the two I prefer the Hampshire proposal to my own amendments. Therefore, when we come to that point, if the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, agrees, I shall not be moving my amendments.

I have dealt with all the amendments apart from those in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Ross and Lord Winstanley. Behind all the amendments lies a series of essential issues. I referred earlier to the difficulty in which local authorities and the local government service would find themselves if there were restrictions linked to a salary level. There are technical difficulties. It would be difficult to know what to do about the proportion on part-time posts. There would be problems dealing with overtime, bonus payments and London weighting. All those issues would cause enormous practical difficulties when imposing a scale of £13,500 or such higher figure as the Secretary of State may determine.

There are also human resource development difficulties, if I may put it that way. People who reach a certain level as a result of moving up on increments on an existing scale without changing their jobs would suddenly find themselves with the political restrictions biting. That would be through no decision of their own but simply because that is the way in which local authority pay structures work. Even worse off, I think, would be those who are politically active in various ways and who very often, indeed in most cases, are doing jobs which do not involve any other connection with the public, the press or policy-making than did the job that they were doing before but whose next natural step on the career ladder would be to go for a promotion which would bring them over the limit. That seems wildly unreasonable.

It is very damaging to the career structure in local authorities and to the ability of such people to seek the advancement they deserve. For those reasons we do not think that the £13,500 rule is in any way acceptable. In Amendments Nos. 27 and 28 we should prefer to remove it altogether. If the Government were to indicate support for Amendments Nos. 33 and 35 in particular, to which the name of the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, has been added, I think that we should be content with that. However, I hope that we can make some significant progress. This matter has been aired previously but it needs resolution now. It is for the Government to make significant concessions if the Committee is to be satisfied. I beg to move.

Lord Ross of Newport

Amendments Nos. 30 and 31 standing in my name and the name of the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, basically were linked with the earlier amendment, Amendment No. 21. Therefore I do not propose to speak to them and will not be pursuing them at the appropriate time because Amendment No. 21 was withdrawn earlier. I should like to speak in favour of Amendments Nos. 33 and 35 which seem to make some progress on what is quite obviously the totally unworkable and arbitrary figure of £13,500. The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, and the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, have indicated those we are excluding if that figure is written into the Bill. There was some argument about the matter in Widdicombe and the Government seem to have changed their mind along the way. I am sure that they ought to change their mind again.

We have always had very close relations with Hampshire. We have always felt that Hampshire was one of the counties that got it right. I think that it has got it right on this occasion. I hope that the Government will look very hard at these amendments and give the Committee some favourable response tonight. The situation is absolutely daft; it cannot work as at present proposed. There have already been comments from both sides of the Chamber on that issue.

I recall from my time in the other place the annual ritual of debating Members' salaries. It arose year after year. It was always very embarrassing: eventually, however, salaries were tied to a Civil Service scale. It may be argued that they are now too high. Personally, I do not think so, and I am not getting the benefit. Nor do other colleagues in this Chamber who were formerly in the other place. I am quite envious of what we achieved for those who followed us. It must be right that we do not have to discuss that situation. These matters ought to be fixed before and not after elections. Now every member of the general public knows exactly the salaries that are paid to Members of Parliament.

In the same way let us make absolutely sure that there is a scale about which we do not have to argue and debate time and again or put down Motions to get the minimum raised if the Government do not tie it to the cost of living index. And we do not yet know whether they will even do that. I therefore very much support Amendments Nos. 33 and 35 and hope that the Government will take them on board.

The Earl of Carnarvon

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, referred to Hampshire County Council. It is really an association of county councils which is recommending this point on the principal officer scale. I believe that it would be a much simpler handling of the issue if it were dealt with in that way. I strongly recommend the Government to consider putting it on to a point of the salary scale and although 44 may be the wrong point it should be in that range.

I hope that the Government will give serious consideration to the amendment. It would save many people many problems on what is a very sensitive subject. I support Amendments Nos. 33 and 35.


Baroness Blatch

I have some sympathy with the point at issue —the naming of a sum of money of £13,500. It will not take many years before that sum will cover very large numbers of people whom we would not want to include in the category of restricted posts. Therefore I support the principle of not having a sum of money named in the Bill. I believe that spine point 44 on the national scale is too high. In the past few weeks, I have only just left local government. I take issue a little with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, in that I think one receives advice from a number of people who may be at point 44 and above. One also receives information and advice from people below 44 on the active scale. Therefore there is a debate concerning where the level should be.

I believe it will be better to tie this proposal into a level on the scale so that the same people are taken along into the future, as opposed to having constantly to update a sum of money. I have some sympathy with this, but I hope that the amendment will be withdrawn so that the local authority associations and the Government can think again about substituting another scheme for the £13,500.

Lord Hesketh

Amendment No. 27 would end the inclusion in the list of politically restricted posts of those who were listed by the authority as meeting the criteria in subsection (3). Amendment No. 28 then removes consequentially the duty to prepare a list of the posts which meet the criteria in subsection (3). Amendment No. 30 is consequential upon Amendment No. 31, which would retain the duty to prepare a list but remove the descriptions of posts to be included in it. In effect, it would leave the descriptions to be specified in regulations.

I should like to try to persuade your Lordships that it is not sensible to omit any of the posts which are covered by the lists maintained by the local authority. I should like to take the Committee through the criteria to be applied.

First, there are those who regularly advise members. This is perhaps the simplest case. If an officer is regularly advising members, how can he simultaneously be an active politician, local or elsewhere, and preserve a claim to be regarded as an impartial adviser: Many people have asserted that they know paragons of virtue who manage to act schizophrenically and keep both capacities completely separate. I believe that there will always be doubts about their success, and in any event I do not think that we should legislate for the few who can achieve such miracles, but for the many more ordinary mortals who are not likely to be able to persuade us all that they can.

Secondly, there are those who regularly deal with the media on behalf of the authority. It is obviously important that those who speak for the authority in such a high profile way should be seen to be politically impartial. We could not accept a situation where such an officer was publicly identified with one political party or a known point of view on politically controversial matters.

Thirdly, there are those who regularly deal with the public in circumstances which might lead them to believe that the officer is in a position to influence the decisions of the authority. Again, it is important that such an officer should not be identified with a particular political view.

The tradition of the impartial local government officer is one which took us a long time to establish. It has given us excellent local government. It is fundamental to our system. We should take steps to retain it. That is what the clause does, and that is what these amendments would undermine.

Amendments No. 32 suggests replacing the salary level of £13,500, above which posts are subject to the restrictions on public political activity, with the salary level of a Civil Service principal or an equivalent or higher grade. Since the salary of Civil Service principals is a little higher than £13,500, this would reduce the number of posts covered by the provisions. Amendment No. 34 would make an equivalent amendment in relation to part-time posts. Amendment No. 33 would replace the salary level of £13,500 with a reference to spine point 44 on the national scale for administrative professional, technical, executive and clerical staff, for an equivalent or higher grade. This is a point two-thirds of the way up the principal officer grade in local government. Spine point 44, as has already been pointed out to the Committee, is presently £18,078. This amendment would also reduce the number of posts covered by the provisions. Amendment No. 35 would make an equivalent amendment in relation to part-time posts.

Amendments Nos. 32 and 34 seem to misunderstand the parallel that they seek to draw with the Civil Service. The band of posts which is covered by the full restrictions on public political activity in the Civil Service runs much lower than principal, as the Widdicombe Committee recognised.

The grade of principal officer in local government is not the same as that of principal in the Civil Service. It was the grade of principal officer in local government that the Widdicombe Committee chose as the basis for their recommendation that all staff at or above that level should be subject to political restrictions. We have thought it right to adopt as the cut-off point that proposed by the independent Widdicombe Committee.

This evening I have listened with interest to the arguments that have been deployed, particularly by the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon. At this hour of the night I cannot make a commitment, but I am happy to take away his two amendments to consider them again if he feels fit to withdraw them. I hope that that may, in part, satisfy noble Earl's quest for improving the Bill.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I have listened very carefully to the Minister's reply. What he has said to the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, is not totally hopeless, but he has not really addressed the fundamental difficulty on which I was concentrating when I moved the amendment. He has not addressed the issues raised by the two linked amendments, Amendments No. 27 and 28. The fundamental point is that the Government are seeking two different but overlapping criteria for imposing restrictions on local government officials. One is a series of criteria about the nature of the work and the other, which operates in addition to the criteria about the nature of the work, is based on salary.

That is fundamentally inconsistent and fundamentally unacceptable. It is Amendments Nos. 27 and 28 which recognise the unacceptability of the salary bar. It was not proposed by Widdicombe, which talked in terms of grading. It is not a feature of the Civil Service code of practice, which also works on the basis of grading. All the evils which I see in the sum of £13,500 would apply even if the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, were pacified by being told that the £13,500 were to be up-graded in line with inflation or with pay awards, as I am sure she would be told if she asked that question.

I do not believe that, in the very modest move he has made towards the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, and the Association of County Councils, the Minister has effectively addressed the issue. On Amendment No. 27 I feel that I must seek the opinion of the Committee.

The Earl of Caithness

Before the noble Lord seeks the opinion of the Committee, I ask him to consider the fact that my noble friend has offered to reconsider. I have listened to the arguments and I, too, should like to reconsider all the amendments. I hope that, in view of the fact that we have reconsidered many things in the past, and that we have now offered to reconsider the matter, the noble Lord does not wish to seek the opinion of the Committee at this hour.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

The offer of reconsideration was strictly limited to two amendments which propose a change to a different salary level. I have heard nothing from either Minister to indicate the fact that the Government recognise the fundamental unacceptability of having both the criteria in terms of job and salary.

If the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, will stand at the Dispatch Box and tell me that the Government recognise the justice of the case for limiting these restrictions to the type of job rather than to the salary, then I might reconsider my position.

The Earl of Caithness

I cannot give the noble Lord that assurance. However, I can assure him that I should like to look again at the whole matter, including his Amendments Nos. 27 and 28, in the light of the circumstances and in view of the arguments which Members have put before us.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

The Minister must do so in the light of the opinion of the Committee on the fundamental issue.

9.9 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 27) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 77; Not-Contents, 43.

Addington, L. Blackstone, B.
Airedale, L. Blease, L.
Ardwick, L. Boston of Faversham, L.
Briginshaw, L. Molloy, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Monkswell, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Mulley, L.
Murray of Epping Forest, L.
Carter, L. Ogmore, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Peston, L.
David, B. Phillips, B.
Davies of Penrhys, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. [Teller.] Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]
Donoughue, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Rea, L.
Ennals, L. Rochester, L.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Ross of Newport, L.
Falkender, B. Russell, E.
Gallacher, L. Scanlon, L.
Galpern, L. Seear, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Sefton of Garston, L.
Hampton, L. Serota, B.
Hatch of Lusby, L. Shackleton, L.
Hirshfield, L. Stallard, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Stedman, B.
Hughes, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Irvine of Lairg, L. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Irving of Dartford, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Jay, L. Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Jeger, B. Tordoff, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Turner of Camden, B.
John-Mackie, L. Underhill, L.
Kilbracken, L. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Kirkhill, L. White, B.
Longford, E. Williams of Elvel, L.
Lovell-Davis, L. Willis, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. Wilson of Rievaulx, L.
McNair, L. Winstanley, L.
Mason of Barnsley, L. Young of Dartington, L.
Milner of Leeds, L.
Ampthill, L. Hives, L.
Arran, E. Hooper, B.
Blatch, B. Joseph, L.
Borthwick, L. Kenilworth, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Kimball, L.
Brookeborough, V. Long, V.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Butterworth, L. Milverton, L.
Caithness, E. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Carnarvon, E. Napier and Ettrick, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Renton, L.
Craigavon, V. Rochdale, V.
Craigmyle, L. Sanderson of Bowden, L.
Davidson, V. [Teller.] Skelmersdale, L.
Dundee, E. Strathclyde, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Trafford, L.
Ferrers, E. Trefgarne, L.
Fortescue, E. Trumpington, B.
Gridley, L. Ullswater, V.
Henley, L. [Teller.] Young of Graffham, L.
Hesketh, L.

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

9.17 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 28: Page 3, line 30, leave out subsection (2).

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 29 to 34 not moved.]

Clause 2 [Politically restricted posts]:

[Amendment Nos. 35 to 38 not moved.]

Lord Dean of Beswick moved Amendment No. 39: Page 4, line[...] leave out paragraph (a).

The noble Lord said: The purpose of this amendment[...] remove the provision whereby an officer of any[...]de giving any type of advice to his authority, its committees or sub-committees falls to be designated as holding a restricted post. The provisions of Clause 2(3) are drafted in such broad terms as to be both unhelpful and unworkable. Local authorities will want to act within the law but the provisions of this part of the Bill will not assist them to do so.

Elsewhere, the Government have rejected amendments which would have restricted this clause to those giving policy, as opposed to technical, advice. Another amendment would have restricted the application of Clause 2(3)(a) to the officer mainly responsible for such advice. Neither of the amendments was accepted and the Government were not particularly enlightening as to how this clause should be applied.

The Government White Paper refers to advising members rather than giving advice on a regular basis to the authority, any committee or sub-committee of the authority, or to any joint committee on which the authority is represented. Widdicombe also referred to advising councillors but the Bill takes a broad brush approach in suggesting that officers giving advice at any level on a regular basis would be caught. Again, the Bill has tried to blur the distinction which Widdicombe sought to make whereby political restrictions applied only to those senior local government officers part of whose job it is to advise councillors and to adjudicate on matters of propriety.

While not accepting the point at which Widdicombe strikes this balance, the underlying principle is more sound than the principle on which this clause is based. There are sufficient constraints elsewhere in Part I to render this restriction superfluous. If the Bill is allowed to stand unamended, junior officers will be reluctant to gain experience of committee procedure by, for example, giving an update on progress on a particular construction project. Councillors will lose contact with officers dealing with matters on a day to day basis.

Widdicombe suggested a, simple rule with no exemptions but applying to fewer staff",

than in the Civil Service. The Government have effectively adopted Widdicombe's bar, which had been dropped from the White Paper, including the proposal to designate sensitive posts, which was the White Paper's alternative. There is also a ban on political special assistants and the ban is extended beyond the local town hall. This amendment goes a small way towards rectifying the balance and preserving the rights of junior members of staff who would otherwise be effected. I beg to move.

Lord Hesketh

This amendment would leave out the first of the criteria against which councils and the adjudicator are to judge whether a post is politically sensitive. This criterion is whether the holder of the post regularly advises councillors. We find it quite extraordinary to propose excluding this category.

There seems to us no doubt whatever that officers who are regularly advising members are those with conflicts between their duties as an impartial officer and as an active political figure. They are most likely to be seen by the public and to be in potential conflict. I do not believe that any person with experience of local government will have any real difficulty in applying the criterion.

I repeat that those who regularly advise councillors seem to us to provide one of the clearest cases for applying the political restrictions. That is why we do not believe that this amendment is justified.

Lord Dean of Beswick

I am sorry that the Minister was not more convincing in his reasons for rejecting this amendment. I believe that the case has been made out and the Minister has not answered the points that were made. I believe that, on the basis of the case that has been made for the exclusion of the persons concerned, the amendment was worthy of consideration. However, in view of what the Minister has said and bearing in mind the way in which some of the other amendments are interlocked, I have no doubt that we shall come back to the matter at a later stage. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Dean of Beswick moved Amendment No. 40: Page 4, line 8, after ("broadcasters") insert ("where the postholder concerned carries management responsibility for the presentation or dissemination of the views of the authority, and gives advice on such matters on a regular basis to the authority themselves, to any committee of sub-committee of the authority or to any joint committee on which the authority are represented.").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of this amendment is to qualify the very wide inclusion of press officers and those working with journalists or broadcasters within the scope of political restriction by virtue of Clause 2(3)(b). The clause states that any person, acting on behalf of the authority on a regular basis for communicating with journalists or broadcasters", will be a person included within the politically restricted category without appeal. That is a very wide provision which Ministers have implicitly accepted would cover the most junior press officers, whose duties involved the sending of press releases to journalists or dealing with routine press inquiries. In another place Ministers sought to make a virtue of this wide coverage by arguing that this provision would protect junior press officers from any hint of partiality in dealing with elected politicians.

The inclusion of press officers formed no part of the Widdicombe recommendations. Widdicombe recommended that senior officers (defined as those above the level of PO1) should be subject to political restriction. The inclusion of press officers arose at the stage of the White Paper, and was put forward as part of the Government's explicit rejection of the scope of the Widdicombe proposals. I refer to paragraphs 5.2a to 5.22 of the proposals.

Here it was argued that defining the relevant group as principal officers went too wide. Therefore the Government proposed to move for a blanket ban only in relation to more senior posts. They proposed to elect for a selective ban in relation to certain categories of officer below the most senior level, including press officers. What has now happened is that both categories of restriction have appeared in the Bill; namely, restriction by salary or grade and restriction of particular types of post such as press officer.

The first thing that Ministers should do in this debate is to explain why both the blanket and selective approaches are included within the same set of proposals. It almost appears that in their approach the Government want the best of two worlds. The second point that Ministers should be asked to explain is why this provision is so apparently wide and to what activities the Government expect it to relate. The wording is extremely wide. In his or her daily work, no officer does other than act on behalf of the authority. The Bill does not define "regular basis", although it may be assumed to mean something that is a standard and recurrent feature of a person's or officer's job. The word "communicating" is also undefined in the Bill and can clearly cover routine dissemination of information—for example, faxing press releases or even ringing round to arrange press conferences on behalf of the authority.

Confronted with wording of this breadth, a local authority might easily and properly conclude that even the clerical staff in its press section should be covered. Furthermore, junior staff involved in events organised by local authorities which involve the press —for example, entertainment events, mayoral functions, the work of committees and sub-committees or social events —may easily be the people who deal on a routine basis with local journalists to notify them of the events and make this information available to the public. The wording is presumably not intended to cover the very junior committee clerk who mails agenda to local newspapers on a week by week basis. Yet there is nothing in the wording which actually states that such a person might not be covered.

Thirdly, the Minister should state why this provision is included when no equivalent provision is contained within the Civil Service code of practice, of which the Committee has heard so much this evening from the Government. The code includes a sophisticated set of definitions of what are called "sensitive posts"—for example, those which are normally banned from engaging in national or local political activity—although there is an appeal in all such cases. There is no ban on staff dealing with journalists and broadcasters. They are not mentioned in the code of practice.

The nearest equivalent provision is the inclusion within "sensitive posts" of staff who regularly speak for the Government or a department in dealing with outside bodies which may appear to these organisations to have influence in the application of government policy affecting them. This is clearly a far tighter definition than that contained in the Bill. It is not geared directly to press and public relations, but seeks to locate the degree of responsibility exercised by the official concerned. This is clearly a more responsible approach than a blanket ban whose scope is left undefined.

The disparity between the Civil Service code of practice and the provisions of Clause 2(3) is thrown into sharp relief by figures. These figures, first published in the Observer on 26th February 1989, show that in the financial year 1988–89 government spending on advertising was estimated to amount to about £100 million. This includes spending on the Enterprise Initiative and 1992, Open for Business, both substantial government publicity campaigns. The way local authorities have been treated and are to be treated in the publicity they disseminate to, and on behalf of, their ratepayers is in stark contrast to the enormous sums of money which the water authorities appear to be spending on promoting the privatisation scheme; money which belongs, as they are public bodies, to the water users and not to the providers. As it suited the Government's politics and schemes, they have allowed it to continue.

Whatever view is taken of the political content of such campaigns, or of the role of officials involved in promoting them, the fact remains that officials involved in substantial national publicity may escape restriction, whereas the most junior local authority press officer, or committee clerk, may well be placed in the politically restricted categories. That is treatment which we consider to be grossly unfair. It simply does not make sense and it directly contradicts statements previously made by Ministers.

For example, Mr. Gummer, speaking in another place on 14th February on Second Reading (at col. 245 of Hansard), described the regulations as imposing, a rather lighter regime on local government officers than there is on civil servants".

Could anything be more of a mis-statement of what will really happen than what the Minister said on that occasion? In the same debate the Secretary of State, Mr. Ridley, who I understand is very near the point where he will depart from that office, said at col. 167 that, we are mirroring, as far as possible, the very rules that apply for the Civil Service". The facts, of course, completely belie those particular statements: no such thing is happening in this particular Bill.

The disparity is further underlined by the Government's own legislation in the Local Government Acts of 1986 and 1988. Those measures, as Members of the Committee are aware, have substantially curtailed local government's publicity powers. Section 3 of the 1986 Act limits those powers to the provision of local government information on local government functions and services, as opposed to matters relating to local government, or local government matters affecting the particular area, under the original Section 142 of the Local Government Act 1972.

Having narrowed local government's powers in that way, Section 2 of the 1986 Act provides that even this publicity must not, appear to be designed to affect the support for a political party". Section 27 of the 1988 Act then tightened the test of prohibition even more. The Government have already, by their own account, legislated to prevent party political publicity. No such constraints exist in relation to central government publicity. Yet it is local authority officers, potentially at a very much more junior level than their Civil Service counterparts, who will be subject to political restrictions and their basic freedoms in this particular case denied them.

The amendment seeks to tie a restriction to those press and publicity officers who carry "management responsibility" for the presentation or dissemination of the views of the authority. An officer who is restricted should advise members on a regular basis on such matters. The formulation for the giving of advice on this particular basis is adopted from paragraph (a) of the same subsection. The purport is to propose that senior press officers or other officials who are responsible for devising and presenting a particular aspect of policy or of the council's activities should be those to be brought within the ambit of political restriction.

While speaking to this particular amendment, I have attempted to indicate where I think some of the unfairnesses lie and the very large numbers of junior staff who could well be caught up under the provisions of this Bill, and, as I said, denied what really is a basic freedom to which we submit they are entitled in the name of justice. I beg to move.

Lord Hesketh

The amendment seeks to restrict the number of officers who will fall into the politically restricted category by virtue of the criterion which includes those who speak to the media for the authority. It would restrict the criterion to those who carry management responsibility for such communication and give advice on representation matters.

The second limb of this restriction would reduce the criterion to a sub-category of the criterion about those who regularly advise the authority. It would therefore make the paragraph pointless. Leaving aside that defect, however, I would suggest to the Committee that it is wrong to restrict the criterion in that way.

As drafted, the criterion refers to those who communciate regularly on behalf of the authority to the media. Such officers prepare press releases and speak on behalf of the authority to the media and the press. They are like other local authority staff appointed to serve the council as a whole. It is important that when they are making their public utterances on behalf of the authority they should be, and be seen to be, politically impartial. It is important that councillors, the public and the press should have confidence that the views they are receiving are the views of the council that the officer represents and not his personal political views.

We all know how easy it is, even when reading a prepared text, to give some added emphasis, without adding anything so formal as a gloss. We think that all those who actually do the communicating should be regarded as holding sensitive posts. That does not mean the typist who types, or faxes, as the noble Lord, Lord Dean, said, a press release, or a machine operator who produces a glossy hand out. The crucial words are, on behalf of the authority for communicating". The person concerned must therefore be in a position to represent the authority's views, and must be doing it on behalf of the authority. That is not a blanket ban. It is a specific ban. That is why we will resist the amendment.

Lord Dean of Beswick

I naturally expected the Government to resist the amendment, but the way in which it was resisted and the reasons given indicate clearly that there are two sets of rules. The Minister will have to leave the brief which he has been given by his civil servants, on instructions from Ministers in another place, and tell us the reasons, because there is no comparison between the way local authority officers and civil servants are being dealt with.

Highly paid civil servants make press releases, inspired releases and leakages, even from No. 10, when it suits them. No one places a restriction on them. I wonder what much of the argument is about, having spent a considerable amount of time in local government. One of our senior officers happened to be a Conservative councillor with a local authority outside Manchester. We never had any difficulty. We never tried to bulldoze him or put the thumbscrews on him. He knew where he stood and he carried out his job.

There are contradictory cases. There was a man who managed a direct works department in the "red republic" of South Yorkshire. He was a strong supporter of the Conservative Party. I must admit there were not many of them as it was South Yorkshire. Nevertheless, he was allowed to carry on so long as it did not impede his judgment and his job. He was seen to help his political party at elections occasionally.

The premise contained in this part of the Bill is taking us down a dangerous road. I received a similar answer to that given earlier to my noble friend Lord McIntosh. I do not intend to delay the Committee, but I should like to see what the Minister has said. I have no doubt that this is one of the points that we shall wish to raise at a later stage. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 41 not moved.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Ampthill)

I should remind the Committee that if Amendment No. 42 is agreed to, I shall not be able to call Amendment No. 43.

9.45 p.m.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 42: Page 5, line 4, leave out paragraphs (a) and (b) and insert ("any post as teacher or lecturer, excluding Headteachers, Deputy Headteachers, Principals and Vice Principals, of a school, college or other educational institution or establishment which in England and Wales is maintained or assisted by a local education authority or, in Scotland, is under the management of or is assisted by an education authority").

The noble Baroness said: It is a personal view of mine that I should have been much more radical and bold with my amendment, in that I believe it is inappropriate and not right for any teachers to become involved in local politics. From my contact with local parents, which is considerable, I believe that view is shared by many. Involvement in local politics or party politics is incompatible with the professional job of a teacher.

Many of the arguments that were deployed earlier today by my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding on previous amendments, referring to the professionalism of local government officers, apply also to my amendment. I believe that it protects the professionalism of teachers. After all, they have a great influence on our young children. They are in the front line of moulding young people. Therefore the highest degree of objectivity and impartiality is important when dealing with them.

The National Association of Head Teachers has written to me. That is the only letter I have received objecting to the amendment, as set against the hundreds of approaches which I have had in support of it. That association has asked for a list of abuses, but that is not the point. I shall not catalogue abuses, because I do not think this is about professionals abusing their position.

While it is legal for teachers, head teachers and deputy head teachers to become involved in politics, I believe that while it is not an abuse of their position they create a perception of themselves which is damaging to their professionalism.

I shall give two examples of perfectly legitimate situations where I believe the perception of the people concerned was damaging to their professionalism. These are real examples, but for obvious reasons I shall not name the people. The first example is that a deputy head was a leading member of a political group on a neighbouring authority which took up about half of her teaching time. The other half was, of course, spent as a deputy head in the authority. Half of her time was spent being overtly political. It was not unnatural that the parents had a perception of that deputy head teacher and about her ability to be objective. I am not accusing her of not being objective in her role as deputy head at that school, but I believe that she put her own reputation at risk.

The second example is of a head teacher who was in the habit of writing to the press. He wrote a highly political letter to the press inviting people to think in a particular political way, signing himself as the headmaster of a particular school rather than Joe Bloggs of 55, Acacia Avenue. Therefore he brought his own professional status into the political arena. Again, I believe that that affects people's perception of that person carrying out his duties as a head teacher.

As was said earlier about local government officers, when people enter the police, the armed forces, the Civil Service and—one hopes in the future—local government and teaching, choices are made. I believe that in the choice of the vocation of teaching, the requirement for professionalism, objectivity and impartiality discounts travelling into the world of party politics. Choices need to be made and I should like to think that people entering teaching will make a choice to pursue an apolitical career.

My amendment is on the side of teachers. A large number of people who have approached me have been teachers and work alongside colleagues who are very active in the political field. I believe that they would be pleased to see the amendment succeed in this Committee. It goes a long way to enhance the professional status of teachers which has been damaged in recent years. I would be the first to say that I wish to do anything possible that I believe will enhance the professional status of a teacher. It is in that vein that I beg to move the amendment.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

Will the noble Baroness help me immediately? The purport of her amendment is to move within the area of proscription two categories of people who are currently excluded—heads and deputy heads. However, other teachers are not touched. I see the noble Baroness nods her head.

Baroness Blatch

I think I confused the noble Lord in saying what my personal preference would be. My personal preference would be to include all teachers in the provision. However, I have deliberately restricted the provision because I think it would disenfranchise a very large number of people in the country as a whole, and I am not sure that it would succeed in obtaining the support of the Committee. I also believe that one needs to start with the two posts that set the tone for an institution; that is the head teacher and the deputy head teacher.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that explanation. I believe that her case is outrageous. She has made a vicious, underhand attack on a group of public servants who do not deserve the apparent good will of the noble Baroness.

The noble Baroness stated at one point that she was on the side of teachers. She has certainly fooled me. I should like very much to examine the evidence on which the noble Baroness says that her case is based. I understood her to say that hundreds of people had written to her in support of the amendment, and that only one person had written to her to oppose it. I am intrigued to know how those people knew about the amendment. Apparently, thousands of people were told of the amendment and 101 people wrote to the noble Baroness. Of those 101 people who wrote, 100 said, "Three cheers for the amendment" and only one said "Boo". I am absolutely intrigued by that process. Quite frankly, that process is very farfetched.

The noble Baroness talked in terms of protecting the professional integrity of heads and deputy heads. Other than the noble Baroness, no one has challenged the professional integrity of heads and deputy heads. The noble Baroness has put up an Aunt Sally and has proceeded in a disgraceful way to challenge the Professional integrity of a lot of people.

The noble Baroness is quite right. She knows of many individuals in posts of responsibility in the teaching profession who hold political views. She gave us two illustrations to support her case. I hope she will tell us which one of those two illustrations referred to a member of the Conservative Party. The noble Baroness gave us two illustrations, and, if she is fair, she will have used one illustration from a member of one political party and one from another. We cannot believe that she has been able to find only two illustrations, both of which concerned members of the Labour Party or of active left-wing parties.

The noble Baroness gave us her preference when she said she would much have preferred to apply the provision to the whole of the teaching profession and not just to heads and deputy heads. However, she felt she may be going a little too far in that. I hope the Minister will defend his Bill. The noble Baroness is seeking to amend paragraphs (a) and (b) of Clause 2(8). I very much hope that in this instance the Minister will not see fit to extend the scope of the proscription which has been laid upon what I consider to be very important individuals.

The noble Baroness says that she wants to see apolitical teachers. There is nothing to stop someone who teaches apolitically from holding political views. I find it absolutely astounding that the noble Baroness, and many of her friends, somehow or other believe that it is impossible for someone who holds political views not to be able to hold firmly to a code of conduct or ethics which states that what he says should be either wholly non-political or should be balanced politically.

My wife was a teacher and I have been a teacher of sorts in various institutions. I know hundreds of people who are involved in teaching, many of whom are of my political persuasion; but I can assure the noble Baroness that there are many who are not. All of them are fine teachers. Perhaps the experience of the noble Baroness in Cambridgeshire is wholly and singularly applicable to her view. But that has not been my experience.

I believe that the Government have been wise to exclude the post of head teacher or principal of a school and any other post of teacher or lecturer from the proscription in respect of holding politically restricted posts. I believe that the noble Baroness, for a reason which I cannot divine, has sought to besmirch the name of hundreds of thousands of teachers who do a first class job, and do it not only to the best of their professional ability but also, I believe, to the satisfaction of the overwhelming number of parents and ratepayers. They are not fools. They know that teachers have political views.

I read in the papers from time to time of individuals or groups of individuals in schools who are criticised for having allowed their politics to overcome their professional integrity. However, those cases are very few and far between. We certainly do not want the kind of amendment that the noble Baroness has moved this evening, which I believe will be bitterly resented by the teaching profession and fair-minded people everywhere.

Baroness Seear

I should also like very strongly to oppose the amendment. I speak as an ex-lecturer who fought I forget how many elections while still working as a lecturer. I was not, it is true, a principal or vice-principal, but I take it that the principle is much the same.

Surely people want teachers to be people who have all-round interests and who take an active interest in the community in which they live and therefore, inevitably, have political views. The idea that teachers should go through their lives without holding or expressing political views is absurd. When they express their political views they are open to challenge, and they should be challenged by people who think that there is bias.

I can also say from my own experience that the few people who abused their position politically did not do so openly as political activists. They were not political activists but managed nonetheless to use their position on occasion to impart doctrine which I should have thought the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, would find a great deal more objectionable than the views expressed by people who took an active and open part in political affairs. I very much hope that the amendment will not be accepted.

Lord Hesketh

It is always a pleasure to find the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, defending a Government Bill and helping it to emerge from this Chamber unchanged.

The amendment would have the effect of making head teachers and deputy head teachers, principals and vice-principals of colleges, subject to political restriction while still excluding other teachers and lecturers.

That is an aspect of the Bill which the Government have considered very carefully. The Widdicombe Report considered the possible exclusion of teachers and came down against it, largely on the grounds that so many of them served as councillors that such an exclusion would be a major restriction of democracy. The research associated with the Widdicombe Report showed that 16 per cent. of councillors were local government employees and of those 58 per cent. were school or further education teachers. The consultations which the Government undertook on Widdicombe's recommendations showed an almost universal welcome for not disqualifying teachers. In the light of those consultations the Government's White Paper of July 1988 concurred with Widdicombe's view.

The essence of the matter is that teachers, including head teachers, are doing a quite different sort of job from those local government officials who are concerned with providing political advice to councillors as the essence of their job. Indeed, the effect of recent legislation in the education field is to increase the distance between heads and other teachers on the one hand, and their governing bodies and local authority committees on the other. Heads and other teachers cannot be given jobs for improper twin-tracking purposes; they have to run the schools concerned. Nor will the head of any one school, in relation to his or her governing body, be able to exercise decisive influence over the local education authority's resourcing of schools or policies on staffing matters.

For those reasons the Government do not accept that there is a case for the political restriction either of all the teachers and lecturers or of the heads, principals and their deputies, as envisaged in the amendment. Perhaps I should say to my noble friend Lady Blatch that I do not accept that the purpose of the amendment is to besmirch the reputation of teachers. I understand, although I do not agree with, the reasons for the amendment. Therefore we shall resist it.

10 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

I thank my noble friend for that reply. His reference to the amendment being a restriction of democracy is no greater or lesser a case than that of the local government officers whom we have been discussing for most of today. Perhaps I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, that I have spoken publicly about the amendment for a long time, including at the local government conference of the Conservative Party in March when the press, including both television and newspapers, were present. I said then that I intended to do something about the matter when the Bill came before the House. Whenever I have been invited to speak in various parts of the country, I have also mentioned my concern about it.

Many people are concerned about politicking in classrooms and schools. I could have gone much further than my amendment goes, but I have not done so. The amendment was not an attack on the integrity of teachers, although I do not know whether I have convinced the noble Lord, Lord Graham, of that. I greatly admire teachers and the job that they must do. I was in two first-class schools yesterday—St. Peter's in Huntingdon in my area; and a small junior school, Brampton Junior School. They are excellent schools doing a marvellous job. The amendment casts no aspersions whatever on the integrity and professionalism of the people working in those and many other schools that I know. I believe that it would go a long way towards protecting them. The illustrations that I gave were just two examples because the NAHT asked for examples. It called them examples of abuse; I called them legal examples, but they are examples which, I believe, create a distortion.

I am grateful for the 1988 Act which for the first time allowed me as a school governor to ask such questions when appointing staff, as my LEA had not allowed it. It is now possible to ask a prospective member of staff, particularly a head teacher, whether he or she intends to become involved in local party politics. It is important for a governing body to know the kind of person whom they are appointing to a school. I am grateful for the freedom that the Act allows.

I have not only received letters on the subject, but have been questioned in person and telephoned. People have approached me at meetings. Some of those who have approached me have been teachers, but most have been parents. The only letter that I have received opposing the amendment was from the NAHT.

I understand from my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour, who is not in the Chamber, that my amendment is technically incorrect regarding Scotland. I understand that in Scotland there is a different terminology for the people who work in Scottish schools. For that reason, I shall withdraw my amendment. That will at least allow us the summer months to think about it and will enable those people with a good case for opposing it to put forward their case. I accept some of the points made by my noble friend—

Lord Graham of Edmonton

Before the noble Baroness sits down, I must say that I am grateful to have the opportunity to accept her assurance that her motives were entirely pure. Although I had the impression that she was attacking the integrity of teachers, I am pleased to hear that that was not part of her argument. I completely accept what she says.

Baroness Blatch

I am grateful to the noble Lord for his generous comments. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 43: Page 5, line 9, leave out ("as a teacher or lecturer").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of the amendment is to seek clarification which may be helpful to the Committee. Under subsection (8)(b), those posts which escape the ban are: any other post as a teacher or lecturer in any such school, college, institution or establishment". The burden of my amendment is to leave out the phrase, as a teacher or lecturer", so that the subsection would read: any other post in any such school, college, institution or establishment". There are others whom I think ought to be excluded, for instance school secretaries, media resource officers, school and college librarians, caretakers, technical staff and technicians. In our view all those people should be equally entitled to exemption. Therefore I ask the Minister: why are only the teachers and lecturers involved?

I have made my point. I hope that the noble Earl will see it and either accept the amendment or say something helpful about it. I beg to move.

The Earl of Arran

This amendment would extend the exemption of teachers and lecturers from possibly being in the politically restricted category to all those employed in schools and colleges. This again would be to introduce an irrational element into the definition of a politically restricted group.

The Bill's proposals exempt teachers and lecturers because they are doing a job which is different in kind from those of other local authority staff. Provision is already made in the education Acts to cover questions about their using their position to promote particular political views. However, this amendment would extend that exemption to anyone else working in a school or college.

We admit that it is unlikely that those other than teachers are in politically sensitive jobs. However, there may be such cases as a bursar or administrator who regularly advises the local education committee on some matter. We do not think it is right to make the place where an officer happens to work decisive on whether he or she could be in the politically restricted class. An administrator working in a school would be exempt under this amendment whereas someone doing exactly the same job elsewhere would not be exempt.

That seems to us to introduce an element of irrationality into the definition of a politically restricted group; by that we mean the chance that the decisions about the local organisation of the service would determine whether or not someone was liable to be included in the restricted group. We think that the tests should be the kind of work that the officer is doing; not where he or she happens to work. We think that a definition that relies simply on the place of work, like one which relies solely on the level of pay, could well be criticised.

In the light of those comments I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Graham, will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

The Minister has taken the Committee through the inconsistencies and what, in my view, are the stupidities of the application of the Bill. There are some individuals who work in a school, namely, the teachers and others who are doing important jobs. They are not only teaching; they are also having face to face discussions with parents and in many other ways doing important work. And they are able to carry on their political activity should they so wish—which we applaud. But a caretaker is not able to do so. Nor are those who work in the schools meals service.

I know how important the school caretaker is. I have heard it said that the caretaker is even more important than the head teacher. He has so much to do with whether the school is available and the conditions in which it operates. Surely it is ludicrous to include individuals who are very careful and play their full part in the ethos of the school. The Minister used the phrase, "it is in the nature of the job". The nature of a caretaker's job means that he is in a politically sensitive group. But a headmistress or a headmaster is not in a politically sensitive group. My case is not that they should both be included but that they should both be excluded from that group. To put it frankly but politely, it is an anomaly and a nonsense of which I am sure those outside this Chamber will remind the Minister more than once. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.

[Amendment No. 44 not moved.]

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 45: After Clause 2, insert the following new clause:

("Scope of political restrictions.

—(1) Regulations made under section 1(5) may prescribe requirements in relation to the following and no other matter—

  1. (a) candidature for public elected office (other than to a parish or community council);
  2. (b) holding office in a political party;
  3. (c) speaking and writing in public (other than in an official capacity) in a way that might be regarded as engaging in party political debate; and
  4. (d) canvassing at elections.

(2) In particular, no regulation made under section 1(5) shall prescribe any requirement in relation to—

  1. (a) forms of political campaigning and activity other than canvassing or speaking or writing in public; or
  2. (b) speaking or writing in an official capacity.").

The noble Lord said: The amendment deals with the scope of political restrictions. The purpose of the new clause is to insert into the Bill the scope of activities which will fall within those which may be regarded as politically restricted. The list is modelled directly on the recommendations of the Widdicombe inquiry which the Government say they intend to enshrine in the regulations. However, no details have been forthcoming concerning the regulations, let alone any draft regulations.

My noble friend Lord McIntosh, more than once this evening, has bitterly referred to that aspect of the Bill. The new clause is an attempt to deal with two important issues. First, it prevents the restrictions on political campaigning and activities from extending further than canvassing, writing or speaking in public. Secondly, it attempts to preserve the rights of officers to write or speak in public in an official capacity, notwithstanding that the issue concerned may be controversial.

The list of activities in the new clause which will be subject to restrictions is modelled directly on the recommendations of Widdicombe in paragraph 6.217 of the report. The Government have already said in their White Paper at 5.24 that they wish to give effect to the recommendations.

It will be recalled that the politically restricted grades of civil servants, which broadly speaking are higher executive officers and upwards, are disbarred from national political activity defined in the code. Staff in the intermediate group may participate in such activities with the permission of their departments. It will be seen that the Civil Service code operates a more sophisticated and flexible system by avoiding a simple blanket ban applicable to a wide range of grades, including junior staff.

The evening is late. This is a genuine attempt to assist the Government in including in the Bill matters which we genuinely believe will be helpful in the interpretation of these issues. When we are talking about holding office in a political party, we must remember that by analogy to local politics it might be thought that the area of greatest concern would be the holding of office within a political party, which relates directly to its public campaigning in the local area. Thus the constituency press officer might be thought to have a public profile. But it is more difficult to see how a branch treasurer, a constituency social secretary or the premises officer for a political party are likely to be individuals of whom the public will be remotely aware.

There are a number of other illustrations which, if the night had been younger, I should have been pleased to tell the Committee about. But I am sure the Minister and his advisers have their brief ready and I look forward to hearing it. I beg to move.

Lord Hesketh

This new clause would limit the scope of the regulations defining the political restrictions which are to form part of the conditions of employment of officers in the politically restricted group to certain aspects. These aspects are exactly for what the Government intend to use the power. I am happy to give an undertaking that we shall not be proposing any use of the regulation-making power outside the four corners of these items.

By the time that we reach Report stage we shall have put to the local authority associations our firm proposals for the use of these powers. Everyone will be able to see that this is what we intend. If any noble Lords have any doubt about what is proposed, we can return to the question at that stage. I hope that with that undertaking the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

I am grateful to hear that we shall be confined to the subheads, as the Minister said—the four corners, as I understand the illustration to mean. I understand also that we shall be in possession of a lot more flesh on the bones by the time we reach the Report stage in the overspill period. I am happy to wait until then to see it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10.15 p.m.

Clause 3 [Exemptions from political restriction]:

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 46: Page 5, line 19, leave out ("person") and insert ("panel").

The noble Lord said: I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 48, 54, 58, 60, 63 and 65 to 71. The burden of all those amendments deals with the appeals procedure. The purpose is to make the procedure for determining appeals by local authority staff more analagous to the procedures of the Civil Service.

In pleading support for his case, more than once the Minister rested his case on the good evidence that exists for the various procedures, including appeals, with the Civil Service. Throughout the Bill, the Government have taken the line that the provisions proposed for local government employees are far less onerous than those imposed on civil servants. During the Second Reading in another place, the Secretary of State said that the Government were mirroring as far as possible the very rules which apply to the Civil Service. The Minister described the Bill as imposing a lighter regime on local government officers than exists on civil servants.

The Government chose not to raise those arguments during the Lords Second Reading. Nonetheless, it is important to challenge those misconceptions. A key example of the difference between the way in which civil servants are treated and that to be accorded to local government officers is the procedure for appealing against political restriction.

The Civil Service appeals board comprises a chairman or deputy, one person drawn from a panel nominated by the official side and one person drawn from a trade union panel. In addition, the Civil Service code of practice specifies the procedure and time-table for appeals.

This amendment, and those grouped with it, seek to ensure that local government officers can similarly appeal to a panel. It also proposes a more practical system whereby the burden of thousands of appeals will not fall on two sole individuals; one for England and Wales and one for Scotland.

That is the burden of the amendments. They mirror precisely the arrangements which apply to the Civil Service when the issue of political restriction cannot be resolved at a departmental level. No matter how competent, one single adjudicator can embody only so much experience. That person will be undertaking a completely new role. This amendment proposes a sensible alternative which I commend to the Committee. I beg to move.

Lord Hesketh

The effect of these amendments is to substitute a panel of persons for the person appointed under Clause 3(1) to consider applications for exemption from political restriction. The panel is to consist of three members—an independent person who shall be the chairman, a representative of local authorities, and a person representative of trade unions with members affected or potentially affected by the political restrictions proposed under Clause 1(5).

Our purpose in the Bill is to set out certain clearly defined categories of senior local government staff who should be prevented from taking part in public political activity. One of these categories included in Clause 2(1)(g) is different from the others, because it is defined according to officers' salary level rather than the nature of their duties. Because of that we believe it is right that a further mechanism should be provided, enabling the independent person to be able to grant exemptions for persons in that group.

It would be the Secretary of State's intention to appoint someone with suitable experience as the independent person. The issues which the independent person would have to consider are, we believe, fairly clear-cut and we feel that it is unnecessary to establish a full-scale panel as suggested.

One of the main advantages an independent person would bring, as compared to a panel, is that he would be truly independent and not a representative of interest groups. We do not think it appropriate that trade union representatives should sit in judgment on this question. We are talking of the implementation of a clear set of criteria determined by Parliament. It is for that reason that we feel that the answer proposed in the Bill is the most satisfactory solution, and we resist the noble Lord's amendment.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

Why is it that the Minister picks and chooses between Civil Service practice, which he tells us is good, sound and pure; and yet when we say that what is good enough for the Civil Service should be good enough for local government, he says that we should forget about that? He says that what the Government propose is better. If that is so, why does he put up with an inferior system for the Civil Service? What is different?

The Minister says that it would be wrong to introduce an element of selective pleading and bargaining. However, what happens in the Civil Service arrangement? That exists now. The basic question which the Minister must ask is: is Widdicombe fair? I do not believe that it is. If the Minister wants to convince people outside the Committee that he is serious, then he must explain why the practice and procedures which apply for appeals in political matters in the Civil Service should not apply to local government.

Lord Hesketh

We come back to an argument which we have covered several times today. The noble Lord, Lord Graham, likes to insinuate that the Government's position is that these proposals are in every way similar to those of the Civil Service. Quite clearly, this is a matter of horses for courses, and we are talking about two different situations.

We have tried to mirror the fine example to be found in the Civil Service. However, there will always be occasions, as I pointed out this afternoon, where it will be different because the Civil Service is a single employer. The situation is quite different when one is talking of local authorities. Therefore, there will always be areas of difference, and that is the Government's position. I explained that before and I am happy to do so again.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 47: Page 5, line 20, after ("made") insert ("on appeal").

The noble Lord said: With Amendment No. 47, I should also like to speak to Amendments Nos. 49, 52, 53 and 64. Before doing so, I should observe to both the Minister and my noble friend Lord Graham that the debate on the last series of amendments was conducted on the basis that there will be an appeals procedure. If one looks at subsection (2)(a) of Clause 3, one sees that the basis for the appeals procedure is where: a local authority have specified or are proposing to specify any post under the authority in a list maintained under subsection (2) of section (2) above".

There is now no subsection (2) of Section 2 above as the Committee in its wisdom has removed that from the Bill. Therefore, the question seriously arises as to whether the appeals procedure has any meaning.

The remaining qualifications in Clause 3(2) are additional and not alternative. Before taking up too much time of the Committee on appeals procedure, I should like to seek the Minister's opinion, as a result of the passage of Amendment No. 28, as to whether the appeals procedure set out in Clause 3 has any meaning at all.

On the supposition that the appeals procedure has meaning without Clause 2(2), then the amendments to which I am referring are relevant and have some significance. At paragraph 5.22, the White Paper stated that the restricted posts were to be: nominated locally on the basis of statutory criteria".

That implies that there is an element of local decision-making although the Secretary of State has overriding power. If that is to be the case, surely local authorities should have to establish, as our major amendment states, a procedure for initial applications so that they can notify the staff affected of those applications and curtail what would otherwise be a protracted and unnecessary national procedure. I beg to move.

Lord Hesketh

I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, that I am skating on thin ice but I believe that he is correct in saying that it is otiose, in which case we would have to look at the position before Report stage. I believe that is the case.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

The Minister is right. It is obvious that the acceptance of Amendment No. 28 has made necessary a large number of consequential amendments, not only to Clause 3 but to later parts of the Bill. I accept that it is my responsibility, having moved the amendment, to attempt to put the Bill right before it comes before the House on Report. In the meantime, it would be better if I withdrew this amendment, did not move other amendments, and opposed the Question, That Clause 3 stand part of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 48 not moved.]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 49: Page 5, line 21, at end insert ("after the failure of any initial application for such exception to the local authority concerned").

The noble Lord said: It may assist the Minister if I speak long enough for him to seek advice on this matter. My understanding is that the important part of Clause 3 is subsection (2)(a), which is a fundamental criterion for the appointment of, a person for the purposes of this section to consider applications made … for exemption from political restriction".

The reference to Clause 2(2) is an essential part of subsection (2) and the rest of Clause 3 depends on that reference to Clause 2(2) which no longer exists. If my analysis is correct, Clause 3 is either impossible or so badly drafted that it needs to be taken back and reconsidered. Therefore I beg to move Amendment No. 49 in order to give the Minister an opportunity to reflect on that point.

Lord Hesketh

It is my understanding that two points should be made. First, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is correct in his summation of the situation concerning Clause 3. However, I am also advised that I should draw the Committee's attention to the fact that when the noble Lord moved his original amendment which has so affected Clause 3 he did so without informing the Committee of the consequential effect of it. I should put that on record. However, we accept his suggestion for the moment.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am grateful for that. I accept the rebuke that it would have been better if, in moving Amendment No. 28, I had indicated that there were further consequential amendments. This is a failing that has happened when the Government have introduced amendments at a later stage consequential on amendments introduced at an earlier stage. There is nothing remarkable or unusual about it. I do not feel guilty that I failed to do what I should have done. However, it is an omission for which I apologise to the Committee. In the circumstances, I give notice that I shall not move any of the amendments standing in my name; namely, Amendments Nos. 50 to 71 inclusive. We can therefore proceed to the Motion that Clause 3 stand part of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 50 to 71 not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 3 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I wish to oppose the Motion that Clause 3 shall stand part of the Bill for the reasons already explained.

Clause 3 negatived.

The Earl of Arran

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

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

House resumed.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do adjourn during pleasure until 11.30 p.m.

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

[The Sitting was suspended from 10.32 to 11.30 p.m.]

Viscount Long

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 12 midnight.

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

[The Sitting was suspended from 11.30 to 12 midnight.]

Viscount Long

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 12.30 a.m.

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

[The Sitting was suspended from 12 midnight to 12.30 a.m.]

Viscount Long

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 1 a.m.

Moved, That the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 1 a.m.—(Viscount Long.)

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, before the Question is put, I wonder whether the noble Viscount the acting Whip on the Government Front Bench can indicate on how many more occasions he thinks we may have to go through this procedure. The House will be interested to know whether he has any idea how long it may be or how many more times we may have to adjourn.

Viscount Long

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for reminding me of what is going on tonight. The proceedings in another place will shortly be coming to a conclusion. Therefore, by about 2 a.m. if not before, we shall probably be able to conclude.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, if the noble Viscount says that we shall not finish these proceedings until 2 a.m., would it not be wise to adjourn for a longer period?

The Deputy Speaker (Viscount Davidson)

My Lords, the Question is that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 1 a.m. As many as are of that opinion will say, Content?

Noble Lords


The Deputy Speaker

To the contrary, Not-Content?

Lord Hacking


The Deputy Speaker

I think the Contents have it. Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 12.30 to 1 a.m.]

1.7 a.m.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, I—

Noble Lords


Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, I think it is quite in order to raise the question of the Business of the House before the noble Viscount, Lord Long, moves the Motion. I understand that he wishes to make a Business Statement, which I am sure noble Lords will be interested to hear.

Tomorrow we are to consider Commons reasons on the Social Security Bill. It will be an interesting debate.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, the noble Lord the Opposition Chief Whip will, I am sure, wish to continue speaking in a moment, and we should like to continue listening to him. However, I think that the noble Lord ought perhaps to speak to a Motion. Therefore, if my noble friend Lord Long moves a Motion for an adjournment, we can then give way to the noble Lord and he can continue speaking. That is the correct procedure and the noble Lord will then be speaking to a Motion.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, I should hate to quarrel with the Leader of the House at this early hour on Thursday morning but it is my understanding that, if the noble Viscount the duty Government Whip moves a Motion for an adjournment, it will not be possible to receive the Message. The House will then have to resume to receive the Message. If the Message arrives from the Commons before the Motion to adjourn the House is actually moved, we can receive the Message. Once the Motion has been put to the House, we cannot receive the Message at that time. Therefore I was in a sense anticipating the Business Statement which I understood the duty Whip was about to make concerning the progress as he saw it of the matter which we are about to have under consideration. If I am wrong, no doubt the Leader of the House will correct me.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I know that I am going over the same ground, but if my noble friend Lord Long moves the Motion for the adjournment, that Motion can then be spoken to. We shall not conclude until the noble Lord has satisfied himself that he has said what he wishes to say and has received a reasonable answer. It is just a question of having a Motion before the House. Unless a Motion is moved, neither the noble Lord nor any other noble Lord ought to be speaking.

Viscount Long

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 1.20 a.m.

Moved, That the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 1.20 a.m.—(Viscount Long.)

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, I understand that it is possible for this Motion to be withdrawn at a later stage. The noble Viscount may wish to withdraw the Motion if a certain event, which we all anticipate, takes place. It has been confirmed to me through the usual channels that the Motion can be withdrawn so that we may receive the Message which we shall debate during tomorrow's Sitting of Parliament, in some thirteen and a half hours' time. This will no doubt be an interesting debate. My noble friend Lady Jeger has left me a message to say that she has been listening to the debate in another place.

Following that debate tomorrow we shall return to the Committee stage of the Local Government and Housing Bill. We had interesting debates on the Bill today. Indeed there was a government defeat earlier in the evening, though I had not intended to mention that fact. I hope that it does not cause undue embarrassment in any quarters, but it was quite an important amendment. Having considered that Bill tomorrow, we shall then move on to the Third Reading of the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Bill. That Motion is to be moved by the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, from the Northern Ireland Office. A number of interesting matters will arise during consideration of the Bill. It is intended that those proceedings will start at about 8.30 p.m. I have no doubt that a number of Northern Ireland Peers will wish to speak. Certain contentious issues will be raised and I see that arrangements have been made for the House to sit late. However, tomorrow being Thursday, the House will not be able to sit after 11 p.m. I see that arrangements have been made for dinner to be available, which is most suitable when the House is sitting late.

On Friday, 21st July, we shall have the Second Reading and remaining stages of the Continental Shelf Bill. I wonder whether I may be speaking slightly faster than may be necessary. We passed a Motion earlier this week to enable all stages of a Bill to be taken at a single Sitting. The Continental Shelf Bill comes into that category. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, will speak for the Government and that my noble friend Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos will deal with it for the Opposition. Twenty minutes are to be allowed, which is probably about right. The Second Reading of the Self-Governing Schools Etc. (Scotland) Bill will also be taken. That will be a rather more contentious matter. It is to be handled for the Government by the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson of Bowden, and the noble Earl, Lord Dundee. My noble friends Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove and Lord Macaulay of Bragar will handle it for the Official Opposition and the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, will speak for the Social and Liberal Democrats.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, perhaps I may congratulate the noble Lord on having got the name of my party right for once. Many people try to find other ways of describing us. He is indeed quite right that my noble friend Lord Mackie of Benshie will be dealing with this most important proposition from these Benches and I am sure that he is at this present moment busily at work in deepest Angus poring over the pages of the Bill. I am quite certain that we can all look forward to a most excellent debate when it takes place. However, I have to say that many of us regret that Scottish business on important matters of this kind has to be taken on a Friday. The Scottish Members of this House like to get back to their northern fastness and I know that there is some irritation when the Government are forced by pressures of time to bring forward business of this kind on a Friday.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, that is very helpful indeed. I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, for advising me about these matters. It is of course true, too, that the Licensing Amendment (Scotland) Bill Committee stage will also be taken on that day. Surprisingly, that has caused some degree of contention and I understand that a number of amendments have been put down. The Committee will no doubt give due consideration to those amendments and, indeed, I understand that some interesting propositions are to be put forward concerning methods of dealing with the problem of teenage drinkers in Scotland.

Those proceedings will last for some two hours, which will, I hope, take us to approximately 3.30 p.m., when we shall reach the Unstarred Question in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. I see that this matter is to be handled by the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for the Government and by my noble friend Lord Peston for the Opposition. This Question concerns the redeployment of two history teachers who were formerly employed at Lewes Priory Comprehensive School. This again looks like being an interesting debate and I can assure noble Lords that I shall be in attendance at that time.

I see that we are then to wind up with the issue of Royal Assent—something which it is most interesting to deal with on a Friday afternoon.

Finally, I should like to thank the noble Viscount, Lord Long, for having moved the Motion and to suggest that he may perhaps now wish to withdraw it.

Viscount Long

My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.