HL Deb 28 November 1991 vol 532 cc1410-6

3.38 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That it be an Instruction to the Committee of the Whole House to whom the Local Government Bill has been committed that they consider the Bill in the following order—

Lord McIntosh of Haringey rose to move, as an amendment to the Motion,

Line 4, leave out ("Clauses 1 to 11, Schedule I") and insert ("Clauses 1 to 7")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Motion before the House is a procedural Motion and I shall attempt to confine my remarks to procedural remarks. I shall certainly not indulge in comment on the content of Clauses 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 and Schedule 1 which my amendments remove from the immediate consideration of the Committee.

The matter is one of great importance to the reputation and responsibilities of this House as a revising Chamber. Noble Lords may recall from previous debates that when the Bill was published at the beginning of this month, on the same day a consultation paper was issued by the Department of the Environment on compulsory competitive tendering entitled Competing for Quality. That is the subject matter of those four clauses and the schedule. The date for receipt of replies to the consultation process is 31st January 1992. It will be obvious to your Lordships that consideration of the Bill in this House will be complete before 31st January 1992. For that reason alone it would be unsatisfactory to have a consultation process simultaneously with consideration of the Bill in this House. Furthermore, it would be unsatisfactory if the House did not have available to it the responses to the consultation document, if that document is taken seriously.

But the situation is worse than that. It is clear that in this Bill we come closer to the doctrine of legislation by this Government—that the Secretary of State shall do as he likes—than we have ever come before. The poor old Department of the Environment is a little out of step. Other departments appear to have realised that the Government will lose office within the next nine months and have gone out of their way to make Bills as precise as possible in order to tie the hands of the Labour Government which will take their place. However, the Department of the Environment has not yet woken up to that reality. The clauses which this House is being asked to consider in Committee and in later stages are full of references to the powers of the Secretary of State but without indication of what the Secretary of State will do with those powers.

It is entirely unsatisfactory for this House to be asked to consider those clauses under those circumstances. We as Members of a revising Chamber cannot possibly do our job properly. My amendment does not go against the decision that the Bill shall be considered in Committee. However, it will delay that consideration until the Government have reported to the House the results of the consultation. That would be in accordance with the traditions of this House. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, I support the amendment. Consultation is now taking place but consultation is always difficult. The essence is that those who are consulted must have confidence that what they say will be taken seriously. The reputation of this House and of the working of the Government is before us today.

On Second Reading I asked the Minister what the Government's response would be if there were a negative answer to the consultation. I hope that she can explain what will happen if the consultees say no to the consultation. Indeed, it would be better if she conceded that we should wait to hear the response. There is a risk that the consultation exercise will be regarded as cynical.

A White Paper was published simultaneously with the consultation paper. I am sure that all noble Lords will wish to look at the issue in the context of the Citizen's Charter. With regard to local authorities, it asks for higher standards, better value for money and so forth. It also states that people should be given more choice. However, is there a real choice if those who have the opportunity to respond to consultation feel restrained by legislation which is already in place? On my reading of the Bill the legislation will apply to all council services involving the application of any technical or financial expertise. Everyone working in a local authority up to and including a chief executive must fall within that provision. It is most serious and wide-ranging. Unless the amendment is agreed to the citizens whom we ask to comment during consultation might rightly say, "You tell us that you hear us, but are you really listening?".

3.45 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I hope that your Lordships will not accept the amendment. The House has a most important Bill in front of it and deliberately to cut out discussion in Committee of important parts will lead inevitably to great confusion. If it is the view of some noble Lords opposite that certain clauses will require further elucidation in the light of consultation no doubt they will make that point when we deal with those clauses. However, to amputate from the Committee stage any discussion of those clauses will produce considerable disorder in the management of the affairs of this House. I hope that your Lordships will reject the amendments.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I do not claim credit for the detail of the wording of the amendment. It does not amputate the discussion in Committee. The House has already taken the decision to refer the Bill to a Committee of the Whole House. The amendment is worded carefully to ensure that the staging of the Committee is such that the results of the consultation will be available before the relevant clause is considered. Nothing is amputated.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, the noble Lord says that nothing is amputated but that is exactly what the amendment does. It breaks up the normal order of discussion. It is no good the noble Lord saying that the effect is to delay discussion until whatever he wants has taken place. The amendment amputates the Bill and I am sorry if he cannot understand that simple English word.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, the discussion will not be delayed until whatever the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, wants has taken place. The Government have decided what must take place, and that is the consultation process. If the Government are serious about consultation they should not put on the statute book primary legislation which overturns that consultation before it has taken place.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, relevant to that is a further point. It is some time since I read the consultation paper Competing for Quality. In the meantime, I have read Clause 8 of the Bill and I am sorry that it is necessary to refer briefly to it. Clause 8 empowers the Secretary of State to draw up affirmative orders in order to take particular action. It is that action which is dependent on the consultation paper and not the primary legislation.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, it is precisely because the Government are serious about consultation that I shall invite the House to reject the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. I listened to his comments in support of his amendment that the consideration of the Local Government Bill by a Committee of your Lordships' House should exclude, for the time being, consideration of Clauses 8 to 11 and Schedule 1. The noble Lord gave notice of his intentions during the debate on Second Reading.

Your Lordships will appreciate that this is an unusual situation and not one that has precedents in this House or in another place. Your Lordships' House has a reputation for careful consideration of legislation brought before it by the Government of the day, and deals with its responsibilities thoroughly and in detail. Noble Lords opposite have at their disposal a wide range of methods of focusing attention on individual provisions. I have no doubt that they will use those to the full as this Bill proceeds through Committee.

It is precisely in Committee that it would be appropriate for them to raise the sort of detailed question which the noble Lord's amendment addresses. They will do so against the background of the principles for the extension of compulsory tendering set out in the Citizen's Charter White Paper, and of the consultation paper Competing for Quality—Competition in the Provision of Local Services referred to by my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale. It sets out our intentions in detail and we have invited comments on it. It is important to note that in addition any secondary legislation which will flow from this part of the Bill will be subject to the usual scrutiny of both Houses. In particular, regulations consequential on Clause 8—which I believe most offends the noble Lord—would be subject to affirmative resolution.

The opportunity that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and other noble Lords will have to put forward amendments to the Bill applies to Clauses 8 to 11 and Schedule 1 just as it does to the other provisions of the Bill. It is open to all noble Lords to table amendments removing from the Bill the clauses to which the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, takes exception and to table amendments which will have the effect of delaying their implementation or which will have the effect of restricting the scope of the provisions. Your Lordships will then be able to consider in detail those amendments and the clauses to which they refer. I see no justification for denying your Lordships the opportunity to put forward and consider such amendments.

I suggest that the proposal is rather inconsistent. Another consultation document has been issued on another part of the Bill; that is, guidance to the Local Government Commission. The noble Lord has chosen to be selective and that rather suggests that this is less a matter of principle and more a delaying tactic on the Bill.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asks what will happen if the results of the consultation indicate that our proposals are not liked or should be modified. That is the reason for the consultation document: it will influence the content of the regulations which come before your Lordships' House. Your Lordships will then be given a full opportunity to discuss the regulations and to approve or not to approve them.

I ask the House not to break with convention but to give way to the normal rigorous method of scrutinising legislation. I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment. I invite the House to accept the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, replies, I make the point that the Government are hiding once again behind the pretence that affirmative resolutions and prayers against negative instruments can be dealt with by your Lordships. We all know that they can and are debated. However, there is a convention that we do not divide on those. I say from these Benches that if the Government persist in hiding behind that kind of secondary legislation, there will come a time when we shall insist on dividing the House on those statutory instruments.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, there is also a convention that we do not remove from Bills large numbers of clauses and set them aside for discussion on another day. If the House does not like what is in regulations, then it must have its say. That is why regulations come before the House especially in the form of affirmative resolutions.

It would be quite wrong and quite precipitate of this Government, in advance of consulting the people, to take a view of what people may think and put that into the regulations at this stage. I implore the House to reject the amendment and to agree to the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am surprised that the Minister should plead in support of the double fault which the Government have now committed by issuing this week a consultation paper on guidance to the Local Government Commission. That is fairly indefensible, but at least Part II expresses the Government's views about what the Local Government Commission should do. The draft guidance notes for consultation merely fill out the detail of that.

Clauses 8 to 11 and Schedule 1 are entirely different from that. Anybody reading objectively those clauses and that schedule cannot for a moment work out what is the Government's intention because the Government have not made up their minds. For that reason, it is unsatisfactory that we should seek to amend measures which have not been adequately discussed and not clearly set out.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, has the noble Lord totally ignored the plethora of detail set out in the two documents—the Citizen's Charter White Paper and the document on local competitive services?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the Minister is digging herself deeper into a hole. The Government are asking us to sign a blank cheque on the face of the Bill. There are documents which are not statutory documents, both in the form of the Citizen's Charter and the consultation document. The content of those documents is not reflected on the face of the Bill. The Government ask us to agree to those clauses in the Bill. I put it to your Lordships that it would be entirely improper for us to do that and I seek the opinion of the House on this matter.

3.55 p.m.

On Question, Whether the amendment shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 108; Not-Contents, 138.

Division No. 1
Addington, L. John-Mackie, L.
Ailesbury, M. Judd, L.
Airedale, L. Kagan, L.
Ardwick, L. Kennet, L.
Aylestone, L. Kilbracken, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Kirkwood, L.
Birk, B. Kissin, L.
Bonham-Carter, L. Leatherland, L.
Bottomley, L. Listowel, E.
Broadbridge, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Bruce of Donington, L. Lockwood, B.
Callaghan of Cardiff, L. Longford, E.
Campbell of Eskan, L. Lovell-Davis, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Macaulay of Bragar, L.
Carter, L. McCarthy, L.
Chester, Bp. Mclntosh of Haringey, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Cudlipp, L. McNair, L.
David, B. Mallalieu, B.
Dean of Beswick, L. Mason of Barnsley, L.
Desai, L. Mayhew, L.
Diamond, L. Milner of Leeds, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Mishcon, L.
Donoughue, L. Molloy, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Ennals, L. Mulley, L.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Perry of Walton, L.
Ezra, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Falkender, B. Porritt, L.
Falkland, V. Prys-Davies, L.
Fitt, L. Richard, L.
Gallacher, L. Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Galpern, L. Rochester, L.
Gladwyn, L. Russell, E.
Graham of Edmonton, L.[Teller.] Sainsbury, L.
Scanlon, L.
Greene of Harrow Weald, L. Seear, B.
Gregson, L. Serota, B.
Grimond, L. Shackleton, L.
Hampton, L. Shaughnessy, L.
Hamwee, B. Stallard, L.
Hanworth, V. Stedman, B.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Hilton of Eggardon, B. Strabolgi, L.
Hirshfield, L. Tordoff, L. [Teller.]
Hollick, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Hollis of Heigham, B. Underhill, L.
Holme of Cheltenham, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. White, B.
Hughes, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Hunt, L. Willis, L.
Jay, L. Wilson of Rievaulx, L.
Jeger, B. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Jenkins of Hillhead, L. Young of Dartington, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L.
Aldington, L. Boardman, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Borthwick, L.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Boyd-Carpenter, L.
Annan, L. Brabazon of Tara, L.
Arran, E. Brougham and Vaux, L.
Astor, V. Butterworth, L.
Astor of Hever, L. Caldecote, V.
Auckland, L. Campbell of Alloway, L.
Balfour, E. Carnegy of Lour, B.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Carnock, L.
Beloff, L. Cavendish of Furness, L
Belstead, L. Clanwilliam, E.
Bessborough, E. Clitheroe, L.
Blatch, B. Cockfield, L.
Colnbrook, L. Middleton, L.
Constantine of Stanmore, L. Milverton, L.
Cottesloe, L. Morris, L.
Cross, V. Mottistone, L.
Darcy (de Knayth), B. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Davidson, V. [Teller.] Moyne, L.
De Freyne, L. Munster, E.
Denton of Wakefield, B. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Downshire, M. Napier and Ettrick, L.
Effingham, E. Nelson, E.
Elles, B. Norfolk, D.
Elliot of Harwood, B. O'Cathain, B.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Onslow, E.
Erroll of Hale, L. Oppenheim-Barnes, B.
Faithfull. B. Orkney, E.
Ferrers, E. Orr-Ewing, L.
Flather, B. Oxfuird, V.
Fortescue, E. Park of Monmouth, B.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Pender, L.
Gainsborough, E. Prior, L.
Gisborough, L. Pym, L.
Gray of Contin, L. Quinton, L.
Gridley, L. Rankeillour, L.
Grimthorpe, L. Rees, L.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Renton, L.
Renwick, L.
Harvington, L. Rodney, L.
Haslam, L. St. John of Bletso, L.
Henley, L. Saint Oswald, L.
Hesketh, L. [Teller.] Sandford, L.
Hives, L. Sandys, L.
Holderness, L. Savile, L.
Hooper, B. Selsdon, L.
Howe, E. Shannon, E.
Hylton-Foster, B. Sharples, B.
Jenkin of Roding, L. Sherfield, L.
Killearn, L. Shrewsbury, E.
Kinnaird, L. Simon of Glaisdale, L.
Kitchener, E. Skelmersdale, L.
Knollys, V. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Laing of Dunphail, L. Stockton, E.
Lauderdale, E. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Lawrence, L.
Liverpool, E. Strathmore and Kinghorne, E
Lloyd of Hampstead, L. Swinfen, L.
Lloyd-George of Dwyfor, E. Taylor of Hadfield, L.
Long, V. Tenby, V.
Lytton, E. Terrington, L.
McAlpine of West Green, L. Teviot, L.
Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Mackay of Clashfem, L. Trumpington, B.
Macleod of Borve, B. Ullswater, V.
Marlesford, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Masham of llton, B. Vivian, L.
Merrivale, L. Waddington, L.
Mersey, V. Wharton, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

On Question, Motion agreed to.