HC Deb 11 April 1984 vol 58 cc402-84

Order for Second reading read.

4.39 pm
Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My point of order is about how the Bill, which the House is being asked to approve, should be treated by the House. It is being asked to give agreement in principle to a Bill that raises fundamental issues affecting 18 million people, about one third of the total population of this country.

The Bill asks Parliament to change existing constitutional arrangements and to approve those changes before Parliament has even been told, let alone agreed upon, what arrangements will replace the democratically elected institutions—the councils concerned. As with the Rates Bill, many hon. Members on both sides of the House feel that the Bill should be discussed here on the Floor of the House, so that every hon. Member may have an opportunity to participate in the debates and represent the views of the many millions of people affected.

I gave notice of my intention to raise this matter now, Mr. Deputy Speaker, at the outset so that the Government could have an opportunity to make their position clear and we could then proceed to debate the Second Reading. I also make it clear that if the Government do not agree that the Bill should be taken on the Floor of the House, my right hon. and hon. Friends and I will ask the House to divide on that issue at the conclusion of the debate. I ask the Leader of the House to make the Government's position clear.

4.41 pm
The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons(Mr. John Biffen)

It may be for the convenience of the House if I respond at this stage. I note the representations of the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) about the handling of the Committee and remaining stages of the Bill. Obviously, I cannot endorse all his arguments—and I do not share his view concerning the constitutional character of the Bill. Nonetheless, this is clearly an extremely important measure and the hon. Gentleman is right to remind us that the House should be able to discuss it in an orderly and reasonable way. Taking the balance between the need for adequate debate and the requirement for progress on the Bill, I am threfore prepared to agree that, after Second Reading, the Bill should be committed to a Committee of the whole House. Arrangements for further consideration can best, perhaps, be discussed through the usual channels.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Paul Dean)

Before I call the Secretary of State, the House will wish to know that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

4.42 pm
The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Patrick Jenkin)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This is a paving Bill, in the sense that it does no more than pave the way towards the main substantive Bill to abolish the GLC and the metropolitan counties. That Bill will come before the House in the next Session and it is then, and not today, that we shall face decisions on the main principle of abolition.

Today's Bill is necessary because we need to make advance provision for a number of matters which, if the House accepts the principle of abolition in the later Bill, must be in place before the main Bill could be expected to become law. As a paving Bill, however, it does not preempt next Session's Bill, and later in my speech I shall spell out precisely how this is secured.

Before I do so, however, I must begin by dispelling a myth—the myth that the proposal to abolish the GLC and the metropolitan county councils was dreamed up by the Government a few weeks before the 1983 general election. To listen to some of the howls of outrage from the Opposition Benches, or from some authorities, one would think that, until our manifesto commitment emerged, no one had ever had the audacity to question the existence of these authorities.

The fact is—I say so as a member of the Government that set them up—that the metropolitan county councils have, from their inception, been deeply resented by most of the district councils in their areas. A resolution of the Sheffield city council, passed on 7 October 1975, said: This Council expresses the very strong view that the present Metropolitan District Councils are fully capable of administering their areas to the benefit of the inhabitants in a more efficient, economic and viable manner than at present. Its words; our sentiments. Sheffield did not, speak alone. The 1975 resolution was supported by all the metropolitan districts in the west midlands, by all the metropolitan districts in Tyne and Wear and by a number of metropolitan districts in Greater Manchester and elsewhere.

Newcastle upon Tyne went further. The then leader wrote to the then Prime Minister in the following terms: Newcastle upon Tyne's Policy and Resources Committee have now considered this Sheffield resolution and find themselves to be totally in sympathy with it. My Council believe that the Local Government Act 1974 has created a considerable amount of duplication in Metropolitan areas; greatly increased costs of administrating Local Government services, and in many areas seriously reduced the effectiveness of those services, and I would urge you to give careful consideration to the Sheffield resolution. The metropolitan boroughs of Sefton and the Wirral took the same view, and as recently as 1982 so did the Liverpool city concil—led at the time, be it noted on the Liberal Benches, by Sir Trevor Jones. I am sure that the whole House will wish him a speedy recovery from his injuries.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)


Mr. Jenkin

I shall not give way.

Those resolutions place firmly on record the views that those bodies then held, and which I suspect many of them still hold today. A number of Labour Members also hold the same views. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), as recently as last September, wrote in a west midlands newspaper: I do not intend to lift one legislative finger to stop the return of single-tier local government to Birmingham—I want Birmingham government returned to Birmingham. That was the view of all the City Councillors and it was clearly the view of all West Midland MPs before the election.

Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

What is the relevance of hon. Members' views on single-tier, two-tier, or quango local government to a Bill that bans elections? Just to put it on the record, had the right hon. Gentleman seen the same newspaper last week, he would have seen that I asked how it was that a Government with a massive parliamentary majority would not trust the people, but were bringing in legislation to ban elections. All democrats must oppose this legislation, which is irrelevant to the main question.

Mr. Jenkin

I am not surprised that the hon. Gentleman has changed the subject.

Mr. Rooker

That shows how weak the Government's argument is.

Mr. Jenkin

I shall come to his point later.

Even more remarkable than my other examples was the phenomenon of the dog that did not bark in the night. At the general election last year, the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman)—I am glad to see him in his place—was the shadow environment spokesman. As far as I can ascertain—I shall give way to him if he wishes to contradict me—there is not one single sentence in any press release that he issued during the election campaign in which he so much as referred to the Conservative manifesto commitment, which included the promise to abolish the Greater Manchester council. Was this perhaps because he had drafted the relevant paragraph in "Labour's Programme 1982", in which was written: The main difficulties of the present system are clear enough. There is an irrational split of functions between the two tiers compunded by a confusing overlap of responsibilities. I agree with that.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

I was not involved in drafting that paragraph, but I was involved in drafting the Labour party manifesto, which contained no provision for abolishing local authorities. I advise the right hon. Gentleman to consult the Secretary of State for Employment, with whom I had a debate on these matters on television. In that, I made our party's attitude clear. If the Conservative party had gone before the country and said that it would abolish elections for an electorate of 40 million people and asked Parliament to replace the elected authorities by stooge authorities, whose political control would be changed by an Act of Parliament, it would have been a central issue in that election.

Mr. Jenkin

The right hon. Gentleman has also changed the subject. More recently, on 11 February 1983, he had this to say to his party's local government conference: We shall, therefore, legislate to create unitary district authorities which will be responsible for all of the functions in their area that they can sensibly undertake … we shall set up no more inquiries. We shall legislate. We have heard much of this story that somehow the idea of abolishing the GLC and metropolitan counties was dreamed up just before the election, but it is not true. That is the case with the metropolitan counties.

Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

My right hon. Friend has made great play of the metropolitan counties now being deeply resented. Is he not aware that in 1972 three of us who were then leaders of the city of Birmingham came to see the then Secretary of State for the Environment, now the Secretary of State for Energy, and told him that they were deeply resented, that the proposal was a disaster, and that it would cause only tears? We are now being told that there is a great virtue in our getting rid of what we should not have created in the first place.

Mr. Jenkin

My hon. Friend may not have heard me earlier. At the outset I acknowledged fully that I was a member of the Administration that set up these councils. My hon. Friend is entitled to say, "We told you so."

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)


Mr. Jenkin

I am making one simple point: this main, simple proposition has been pressed upon successive Governments ever since then, and this Government have decided to act.

I was asked a moment ago about the GLC. Yes, there was wide support for the GLC when it was brought into existence. I supported it myself and I am on record as having said so. One has to ask: what has happened since then? [Interruption.] I hope Opposition Members will listen carefully, because these are serious arguments. The right hon. Member for Gorton said that this was a most important debate, raising important principles, and I hope that he and his hon. Friends will listen to the arguments.

Many of the original functions of the GLC are now performed by other bodies. Sewerage and sewage disposal have gone to the Thames Water Authority. Ambulances have gone to the National Health Service. Most of the GLC's housing responsibilities have gone to the boroughs. So has much of its planning role. On Monday, this House sent to another place the Bill to establish London Regional Transport and last Thursday both sides of the House gave a warm welcome to the decision to establish a directly elected Inner London education authority.

Mr. Banks


Mr. Jenkin

One has to ask: what is left? Even before the recent moves, many people in London were questioning whether the GLC really needed to exist. Many of the London boroughs have passed resolutions calling for the end of the GLC and the transfer of its remaining functions to the boroughs.

Nor has this view been confined to Conservatives. There was a debate in county hall on the Marshall inquiry in 1979 when one Labour speaker had this to say: I feel in a sense a degree of regret that Marshall did not push on and say 'abolish the GLC' because I think it would have been a major saving and would have released massive resources which could have been put into far more productive use".

Mr. Banks

Who said that?

Mr. Jenkin

The hon. Gentleman knows precisely who said it; it was Mr. Livingstone.

Mr. Banks


Mr. Jenkin

I am not giving way. I ask how Mr. Livingstone can now justify spending million of London ratepayers' money in opposing what he himself advocated.

The proposal to abolish the GLC and the metropolitan county councils has a respectable, all-party parentage. Some of the parents may choose today to disown their offspring but the birth certificates are there for all to examine.

Mr. Banks

Including the Secretary of State.

Mr. Jenkin

The Bill next Session will propose that most of the functions at present exercised by the GLC and the metropolitan county councils should become the direct responsibility of borough and district councils. We see a need for statutory joint boards in the metropolitan counties for just three services—police, fire and public transport—and in London for just one joint board for the fire service.

Arguments on the merits of abolition must await next Sessions's Bill. Although the main thrust of the Government's policy is clear, as I have just confirmed, there is much detail to be settled. I understand the point that is made in the amendment that is to be called later—indeed, the same point is made in the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym)—that we should not pass this Bill until all that detail is before the House. I can give my right hon. Friend and the House the firm assurance that the Government will not make the commencement order for part II of the Bill until the detail is available. Indeed, as I have already assured the House, and I gladly repeat the undertaking again, the commencement order will not be made unless and until the House has agreed the Second Reading of tie main abolition Bill. I stress this because this is a paving Bill and we are not prejudicing decisions on the main abolition Bill.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)

While some of us are generally supportive of my right hon. Friend's main thrust to get rid of the GLC and the metropolitan counties, and while my right hon. Friend has acknowledged that a principle is involved in that he has given a promise not to introduce the order in relation to the GLC and the metropolitan counties until the Second Reading of the main Bill has been agreed, I do not understand why this legislation could not have waited until after the Second Reading of that Bill. Why could this legislation not have been presented after that instead of before?

Mr. Jenkin

I understand the point. If my hon. Friend will bear with me, I shall come to that, because I know that hon. Members in all parts of the House have been asking that question. Before I deal with that, there are matters arising out of the consultations which it would be right for me to say something about today. I shall refer to a number of items, in no particular order.

The first concerns historic buildings in London. The GLC's historic buildings division is unique. Our consultations have left us in no doubt that its role and its concentration of expertise should be maintained. I can now tell the House that the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission has assured me that if the GLC is abolished it will be prepared to take on the historic buildings division, subject to agreement on finance and other issues.

The second issue involves grants to voluntary bodies, including ethnic minority groups. The White Paper recognised that there would be concern about funding after abolition. It promised that we would consult, and this we have done. In general it will be for the borough and district councils to consider the needs of voluntary bodies in their areas. However, we accept that their efforts, especially in London but not exclusively, may need to be supplemented by other measures. We are considering a number of such measures. I can today announce that it is our intention to include in the main Bill provision for a statutory basis for collective funding by all the London boroughs or, as the case may be, in each metropolitan area by all the districts. This should ensure that bodies serving the interests of a wider area can continue to look for funding on a wider basis—[HON. MEMBERS: "Another quango."] With respect, it is not another quango; it will be a statutory scheme.

The scheme will enable individual authorities to put forward for agreement proposals for funding particular bodies. If a majority of the authorities in the area concerned agrees, the costs of funding will be shared across the whole of that area. I must make it clear that our proposals are not intended to be a guarantee that all grants now paid to these bodies will continue, because we recognise the concern—felt, I suspect, on both sides of the House and certainly widely in local government—about some of the grants that are currently being made, particularly in London. However, we accept the need to preserve worthwhile voluntary endeavour—for example, in housing and to meet the needs of ethnic minorities and of the disabled.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Many of his hon. Friends feel that in a way this Bill does not go far enough. We have been inundated with expensive glossies from some of these metropolitan organisations and from people who have already got their trotters in the trough and who are all hoping to benefit. They are seeking through publicity, such as the appalling example in today's newspapers, to fight the Government with ratepayers' funds. The Bill contains details on information. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that the Bill will prevent similar assaults on the Government's policy with ratepayers' funds?

Mr. Jenkin

I think that many ratepayers—I know this from correspondence that I have received—deeply resent the fact that so much of their money is being spent on political propaganda. As for the advertisement with the picture of Mr. Livingstone, to which reference has just been made, let the country remember that he usurped the leadership of the Labour majority on the GLC. [Interruption.] He did that within 24 hours. Nobody elected him to be the leader of the GLC. [Interruption.]

I want to make a third point—[Interruption.] I want now to make a third point about support for the arts, museums and galleries.

Dr. Cunningham

The right hon. Gentleman accused Ken Livingstone of usurping the leadership of the GLC. He was elected by the members of the controlling group. What is the difference between that and the Prime Minister displacing the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath)?

Mr. Jenkin

The Labour party went before the electorate of London—[Interruption.] The Labour party went before the electorate of London under the leadership of Mr.—now Lord—McIntosh, and he was out within 24 hours.

With regard to support for the arts, museums and galleries, our White Paper proposed that the boroughs and districts should in general take over the role of the GLC and the MCCs, but we recognised that there would need to be some increase in central funding. Detailed proposals for that were set out in a consultative document.

My noble Friend the Minister for the Arts has had discussions with arts bodies, with local authorities and with many members of this House and of another place. We have listened carefully to the many points that have been put to us. It remains our view that, after abolition, the boroughs and districts should make a significant contribution in this field. I know that many of them recognise the value to their areas, and to their local economies, of a lively arts environment. But the concentration within the metropolitan areas of arts institutions of a wider significance calls for special measures, going beyond those announced in the consultative document.

Therefore, we propose to make additional central funding available. That will be done through the usual channels for performing arts funding—in particular the Arts Council. We do not intend to pursue the proposals for attaching certain museums and galleries in the metropolitan counties to national institutions. Central funding for those will be made available in other ways. My noble Friend the Minister for the Arts will be making a more detailed statement about those proposals later today.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South)


Mr. Jenkin

With regard to sport and recreation the same considerations——

Mr. Buchan

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Jenkin


Mr. Buchan

The right hon. Gentleman has made an important statement about the arts.

Mr. Jenkin

My noble Friend——

Mr. Buchan

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We have had a Select Committee established in this House particularly to examine and to take evidence on the matters to which the right hon. Gentleman has just referred. It has been concerned with what is to happen to the organisation, control and administration of the arts. It is due to report on Friday——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It seems very clear to me that the hon. Gentleman is making a perfectly valid point but it is not a point of order on which I can rule. The more interruptions we have, the fewer hon. Members will be able to participate in this very important debate.

Mr. Buchan

With respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I have not yet reached what lies behind my point of order. The precise point is that a Select Committee, established by this House, is due to report to it, and its recommendations have been ignored. A decision has been made pre-empting its recommendations. Is not that an insult to the House of Commons, to you, and to——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. As the hon. Gentleman knows, that is a matter for debate and is not a point of order on which I can help him.

Mr. Jenkin

With regard to sport and recreation, in principle the same considerations apply as are relevant to the arts. In general, it will be for the boroughs and districts to take over the responsibilities of the GLC and MCCs. But, as the White Paper recognised, some special arrangements will be needed. Therefore, we shall be introducing proposals for a limited extension of central funding towards some sports facilities events and schemes of wider than local interest.

It is also proposed that the Sports Council's additional funding should enable it to assume full responsibility for the Crystal Palace national sports centre.

Mr. Banks


Mr. Jenkin

Finally, there are two matters relating to the residual housing responsibilities of the GLC. We fully accept the need for statutory arrangements which will provide for a London-wide mobility scheme. We shall also ensure that the seaside and country homes continue to be available for London's elderly people. We shall be discussing appropriate arrangements with the authorities directly concerned. Several of those proposals will involve a modest increase——

Mr. Banks

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The House is supposed to be discussing the Local Government (Interim Provisions) Bill, which abolishes the elections. The Secretary of State is making a speech, directed at his own Back Benchers, which refers——

Mr. Deputy Speaker


Mr. Banks

The Secretary of State is out of order.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I know the Bill is of great interest to both sides of the House, but it is very unfair for hon. Members to rise on points of order which are not points of order on which I can rule. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be allowed to get on with his speech.

Mr. Jenkin

I think that I am entitled to point out that the official Opposition's amendment complains that they are being asked to approve the Bill without the detailed arrangements being known, and I should have thought it would be helpful—[Interruption.] I am coming to the elections in a moment. I should have thought it would be helpful to both sides of the House to have the announcement of the decisions. [Interruption.]

Before I come to the Bill, may I make one more point? [Interruption.] A number of the proposals will involve a modest increase in central funding——

Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)

We are meant to be discussing the Bill, so the Secretary of State has admitted that he is out of order.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I will decide what is out of order.

Mr. Jenkin

A number of the proposals will involve a modest increase in central funding. Appropriate adjustments will need to be made in respect of local government finance. The expenditure consequences of our decisions will, of course, be contained within the Government's planning totals.

I now turn to the provisions of the Bill before the House. Clause 1 firmly writes into the legislation the safeguard that the provisions suspending the 1985 elections will come into operation only when the commencement order has been made. I repeat the undertaking that I have already given the House. That order will not be made unless and until this House has given a Second Reading to the main abolition Bill next Session. This House remains in firm control.

Clause 1 also firmly writes into the legislation the mechanisms for repealing the interim provisions and restoring the present position should the main Bill at any stage fail to pass into law. So, if the House rejects the main Bill on Second Reading, no commencement order will be made and the 1985 elections will take place in the ordinary way. If the main Bill fails at a later stage, an order will be made to restore the elections at the earliest sensible date.

Clauses 2 to 5 deal with the elections themselves. There were three courses open to us. The first would have been, contrary to all the precedents, to have allowed the elections to take place in the ordinary way. [Interruption.] Perhaps the House will allow me to explain. That really would have been absurd. [Interruption.] By definition, the House would have given the main abolition Bill a Second Reading, and by April 1985 it might well be on its way to another place. How could voters sensibly be asked to vote for councillors for the GLC and the metropolitan counties in these circumstances?

There are those who would have wished to turn the elections into a referendum on the Bill.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way, on a point about the referendum?

Mr. Jenkin

No, I will not.

Mr. Nellist

The right hon. Gentleman gives way to Conservative Members.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It is fairly clear to me that the Secretary of State is not giving way.

Mr. Jenkin

Would the electorate see it in that light? Would that be a proper purpose of local elections? Rightly or wrongly, the House refused to allow my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence a referendum on a supplementary rate.

Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

That was a different matter.

Mr. Jenkin

I am making the point that, if the argument of some people had been accepted the referendum would have been presented as a referendum on the substance of the issue.

I do not see how we could responsibly consider letting the 1985 elections proceed in such circumstances. We have been widely supported on the matter in the responsible press. The leading article in the Financial Times today makes the sensible point—as did The Times on Saturday—that, in accordance with precedent, elections are cancelled when there is any restructuring. [Interruption.] There has been much misunderstanding on that point. If the House will do me the courtesy of listening, I will explain the real choice that we faced and why we made the decision that we did.

The real choice was not whether or not to suspend the elections. Most sensible commentators recognised that, given the circumstances, cancellation was right and proper, and in accordance with precedent. The real choice is whether, having cancelled the elections, we should let existing councils run on for another year or let the interim councils be nominated by the successor authorities.

Our decision was based on the following considerations. The main function of the interim council, which will have only 11 months to run, will be to arrange for the winding down of the upper tier councils and the transfer of their functions to the local tier authorities. Some of the upper tier councils have refused to allow their officers even to talk to officials in Whitehall. To allow those councils to run on would have been a recipe for chaos and confusion. I find it difficult to believe that many of my hon. Friends would have thought it right to leave matters in existing hands for another year. In these circumstances, it seems clear that the sensible and practical course is to let the successor authorities nominate the members to run the upper tier councils for the last 11 months of their existence.

Dr. Keith Hampson (Leeds, North-West)

Would my right hon. Friend not agree that the answer to the question, "Why not let the councils run on?" is that many people in this country, and particularly the people of London, have no guarantee about the responsibility of those councils, if given an extra year. We should remember that the GLC is proposing to buy the Brixton recreation centre from Lambeth for £10 million, on the assumption that the centre will automatically be handed back to the borough, which will thus enjoy a £10 million bonanza at the expense of the London ratepayers.

Mr. Jenkin

My hon. Friend reinforces my point. What we are proposing is, I believe, fair and democratic. [Interruption.]

Mr. Rob Hayward (Kingswood)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am trying to listen to the Secretary of State. The constant heckling and commenting, particularly from the Opposition Front Bench, is making the Secretary of State inaudible.

Mr. Jenkin

The GLC and the metropolitan councils were elected in 1981 for a period of four years. It is of course right that they should serve out their full term of office, and that they will do. They will have served the term for which they were elected.

There has been much humbug about the suspension amounting to a denial of democracy. There is nothing sacrosanct about having two layers of metropolitan government when one will do. The London boroughs and the metropolitan districts are themselves powerful democratic bodies. They are closer to the people. They already administer most of the services. In many areas, they were the only tier of local government before 1974. Did the electors of Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield or Leeds feel deprived because they had only one tier of local government to vote for? It is said by some that the Government have a mandate for abolition but not for cancelling the elections. But to say that is to approve the end while refusing the means.

The question of precedent is very important. Whenever local government is reorganised, provision has to be made for handling elections in the interim. Our action is entirely in accordance with precedent in previous reorganisation—with one exception, to which I shall refer. In the London Government Act 1963 and the Local Government Act 1972, all elections to the authorities which were to be abolished were cancelled, other than pending by-elections. The position is the same in this case. That is precisely what is proposed in the Bill.

Mr. Tony Banks

The elections were postponed.

Mr. Jenkin

There is one difference. In the previous reorganisation, the successful authorities—by definition—were not in existence when the elections were cancelled. The then Government therefore had no alternative to allowing the term of office of serving councillors to be extended until the new authorities came into being. This time, instead of creating new authorities, we intend to abolish existing ones.

However, we have the advantage that the successor authorities—the London boroughs and the metropolitan districts—are already there. They are powerful democratic bodies in their own right. They will inherit the services. In these circumstances, there seems to be every practical argument for allowing them to nominate the upper tier councils for the remaining 11 months. They can begin straight away to prepare for a smooth transition.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Jenkin

I wish first to make one further point.

It is argued that this could mean a change in political control. In the metropolitan counties, there will be no change. Labour-controlled districts might well have a majority on the transitional councils. That will depend on what happens between now and then. In London, it seems probable that control will change. Whereas in the 1981 GLC election Labour won a small majority, after the 1982 London borough elections—the later elections—the majority of the London boroughs were Conservative controlled. If one accepts the practical point that for the 11-month transitional period the successor councils should be in charge, the change of control in London necessarily follows. [Interruption.] If we accept the practical solution, there is no way in which we could seek to change that. I suggest that there was an even bigger majority in an even more recent election—that of Members of Parliament in London. We are taking the sensible solution.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Will not the Secretary of State accept that he is grossly misleading the House in pretending that this action is in line with precedent? The precedent was that there were other authorities which had been elected to take over the responsibilities. The handover was delayed so that the responsibilities could be given to the people who were elected to do the job. No one has been elected to do the job which the Secretary of State proposes to hand over.

Mr. Jenkin

Let me make it quite clear that this action is perfectly in accordance with precedent. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It is perfectly in accordance with precedent that, during a restructuring of local government, outstanding elections, apart from pending by-elections, should be cancelled in the interim period. That is what we are proposing. What is new here—I have made this point clear and am trying to conceal nothing from the House—is that on both previous occasions there were no existing councils to run the authorities in the interim period. This time, because we are abolishing an upper tier and devolving powers to a lower tier, the lower tier authorities already exist. That is why, unlike previous reorganisations, we have a choice. That is good, as we have a choice about whether to cancel the elections and let the existing authorities run on, with all the possibilities of hassle and obstruction, or whether—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman has wilfully refused to take the point. The point is not whether there is a choice about cancelling the elections. All the precedents show that the choice lies in what is done after cancelling the elections.

We have a choice whether to let the councils run on or to let the successor bodies nominate. In the light of the obstruction that we have so far faced and officials not being allowed to talk, I believe that we are right to let the successor authorities run the upper tier authorities for the remaining 11 months. That is what we have provided for in the Bill—we can debate it in Committee—and I believe that the Government are making exactly the right decision. There is a great deal of humbug about the cancellations of the elections.

Mr. Robert Litherland (Manchester, Central)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Jenkin


Clause 6 sets up a staff commission. Many staff who are employed by the upper tier authorities are quite understandably worried about the arrangements for their future employment.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)

What about giving way to the real Opposition?

Mr. Jenkin

I had hoped that the Opposition wanted to hear about the staff. We want to keep uncertainty to the minimum, and a staff commission, which has been widely welcomed by staff interests, is the right way forward. There were such commissions for the 1965 and 1974 reorganisations. They were successful and I intend to ensure that this commission matches its predecessors. I should like the commission to be established as quickly as possible and I therefore intend, following the usual convention, to set it up as an advisory committee as soon as possible after Second Reading. It will be formally constituted as a statutory body when the Bill becomes law.

Clause 7 provides for access to information. During the transitional period it is vital that successor authorities have access to the information that they need to prepare for their new responsibilities. Some authorities have been refusing to co-operate. I am given the impression that the GLC and the metropolitan counties think that if they keep information about their services secret abolition will somehow go away. If the House accepts the Bill, I strongly hope that wiser counsels will prevail. Nevertheless, it is right that, in clause 7, we take powers to require authorities and their staff to make the necessary information available. One consequence of the boycott of discussions has been that we have not yet had such information as we need to make a reasonably accurate assessment of the costs and savings. [Laughter.] I know that, as the Opposition have shown, that matter causes some concern.

The Government remain convinced that abolition will save money. There are bound to be savings from the elimination of the unnecessary bureaucracy of the upper tier. It will be up to the districts and boroughs to ensure that they secure for ratepayers the maximum advantage of that.

I attach much more importance to the estimates of savings by the relevant boroughs and districts than I do to those by firms of accountants, however eminent, that have been hired by the metropolitan counties, because it is the boroughs and districts which will run the services in question. They are the people who can really judge what is likely to happen. Those who have done their sums can see significant savings.

Mr. Tony Banks


Mr. Litherland


Mr. Jenkin

I shall not give way again.

I shall refer to three studies. In Greater Manchester, the chief executives and treasurers of four district councils estimated annual savings from abolition of 11.5 million, simply from reducing overlap and duplication. That is more than the total savings which the Coopers and Lybrand study showed for the six metropolitan counties. In the west midlands, a similar study has shown, item by item, that abolition——

Mr. Nellist

That study has been withdrawn by the district councils.

Mr. Jenkin

—will produce manpower savings of £8.5 million. In Greater London, four boroughs have estimated that the abolition of the GLC in 1983–84 would have saved more than £200 million, taking into account some changes in policy. Of course, those figures are not complete. With the refusal of certain local authorities to consult, it has not been possible for anyone to make a firm estimate of savings. To achieve that, we need the information that clause 7 will make it possible for us to get. The financial and explanatory memorandum to the main abolition Bill will contain our best estimates of the costs and savings of abolition. We shall keep Parliament fully informed as more accurate figures are obtained.

Clause 9 contains two safeguards—it gives successor authorities the right to object to the audited accounts of the upper tier authorities for 1983–84 through to 1985–86 and it requires the outgoing councils to consult the boroughs and districts before determining their 1985–86 expenditure and rates.

The Government's decision to abolish the upper tier councils was reached after the most careful consideration——

Mr. Litherland


Mr. Jenkin

—in the light of the repeated and insistent remarks by many of the lower tier councils. The proposal in our election manifesto was endorsed by the electorate. The main Bill will come before Parliament in our next Session. This paving Bill has been drafted carefully so as not in any way to pre-empt Parliament's decision on the main principle of abolition. However, it signals our firm determination to take decision-making closer to local people and to secure cheaper, simpler and more accountable local government in our major cities. I commend it to the House.

5.27 pm
Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Local Government (Interim Provisions) Bill in the absence of Parliament having approved any alternative arrangements for the administration of services currently the responsibility of the Metropolitan County Councils and the Greater London Council. If there was any uncertainty about the need to move such an amendment, it has just been removed by a hopelessly unconvincing speech from the Secretary of State. There has never been an assault on local government, local freedom and local democracy such as that presently being mounted by this Conservative Government. There has never before been a Secretary of State who has so contemptuously treated elected councillors of all political parties and the electors.

There has never in any democratic country been a Bill like this Bill—a Bill that is a device to sidestep the ballot box; a Bill that perpetrates a cynical political gerrymander on 13 million electors; a Bill that, through the abuse of central power, seeks to change political control in London and some of the major conurbations of England—greater Manchester, Merseyside, the west midlands, west and south Yorkshire, Tyne and Wear. It seeks to do this by the abolition of elections and by the appointment of non-elected bodies.

Through this Bill the local government of the capital city of Britain will undergo a political change by Act of Parliament, better described as an Act of absolute political chicanery. And political control in two other metropolitan county councils could be changed as a result of this measure.

As the House knows, the Bill is not about the immediate abolition of the metropolitan counties and the GLC; it is about the quite stupefying morass of anti-democratic arrangements to be made and the powers to be taken by the Secretary of State before Parliament has made any decision about the future of seven democratically elected councils which govern, at local level, communities that encompass 18 million people—one-third of the people of this country.

Dr. Hampson


Dr. Cunningham

I am not giving way at the moment.

The Bill raises two fundamental constitutional issues. Parliament is being asked to agree to abolish elections and to agree to interim powers of nomination by boroughs and districts—powers that will allow the Secretary of State to bring about political change and a change in political control in council chambers. In spite of what the right hon. Gentleman said——

Dr. Hampson


Dr. Cunningham

I am not giving way.

Dr. Hampson


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It seems clear that the hon. Gentleman is not giving way.

Dr. Cunningham

There is no precedent in this or any other democracy for such a measure. It is much more reminiscent of the activities of General Pinochet or General Jaruzelski than of any elected British Government. In addition, the House is asked to approve this Bill without any knowledge of what is proposed by way of democratic control over such vital services as the police, the fire service, transport, waste disposal and consumer services. The future funding of the arts, about which the right hon. Gentleman said something, is uncertain, as is the future funding of sport and recreation and of voluntary bodies. I noted in his comments that, while he said that more funding would be available, he gave no guarantees about the level of that funding in his attempt to buy off opposition, and he gave no commitment that such expenditure as the boroughs might incur would be exempt from the penalties that he imposes upon their spending.

Nothing could be more damagingly undermining than that kind of approach to the funding of so many activities in the metropolitan areas and our capital city. The rights of 13 million voters are to be abruptly removed by this tawdry little trick, and this is a measure of the increasingly authoritarian nature of the present Government.

This Bill is about the abolition of elections; that is the real issue.

I shall highlight one further aspect of the constitutional chicanery in the Bill. Clause 2(5) talks about the balance of political parties. The Bill will not maintain the present balance, as is clear from an examination of schedule 1. The present elected GLC is made up of 48 Labour members, 41 Conservative, 1 Liberal and 2 SDP. At best, the new board will be: Labour 34, Conservative 48, Liberal 2. At worst, the present elected Labour strength could be almost halved by the Bill. That is a measure of the chicanery of the right hon. Gentleman's proposal.

What we can see nakedly exposed is not just an attack on local government, but a political attack on Labour local councils. The Bill is aimed at ending Labour local government in the cities and the conurbations of England. Coming so quickly after the Bill to control local council expenditure and deny local democracy, which itself mainly threatens elected Labour councils, this Bill exposes the real nature of the Government's intentions to prevent, by elimination or control, Labour councils from defending the people and their services from this Government's disastrous economic failures.

No previous British Government have legislated for local councils in such a biased, one-sided, party-political manner. This is the second time in just 20 years that a Tory Government have sought to gerrymander the political administration of the capital city. On the last occasion, in the 1960s, the Labour party was very uneasy about the proposals, but we accepted them, and we won power through the ballot box—but not this new breed of Conservatives, and not the Prime Minister.

I am bound to ask what really is going on in the Cabinet at the moment. Does anyone any longer care about good local government, a partnership with Whitehall, local freedom and democracy?

According to even more leaks in The Guardian, the Prime Minister herself had reservations about this Bill, and so, too, did the Leader of the House. The Secretary of State, after months of seeing his innermost thoughts in print, must reflect darkly on the trustworthiness of his colleagues. Or perhaps he should reflect on what Mark Twain once said: I can keep secrets—but the friends that I tell them to cannot. The House does not need leaks to learn of the brutal naked expediency of this Government. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who brings to debates about democracy all the Victorian sophistication of Bill Sykes, blurted it all out in his own inimitable way in a speech recently. On 14 March, speaking in Caxton Hall, he confessed the truth, in a speech otherwise replete with diatribe, fabrication and spite. He said: The GLC is typical of this new, modern, divisive version of socialism. It must be defeated. So we shall abolish the GLC. There we have it—simplistic authoritarian frankness, typical of the right hon. Gentleman, about a dishonest and squalid political act. Not for this Government, apparently, the ballot box. Do not let the people of London decide. Do not let the people in the conurbations of England make any decision. Do not risk an election. Do not let the democratic process get in the way.

What we in the Opposition despise most about this increasingly authoritarian, even reactionary, Government is the deliberate, planned manner in which they continue to strip away the rights of ordinary people and their ability to defend themselves. First, take away their jobs—remove their economic freedoms. Next, take away or undermine their trade unions—remove their industrial freedoms. Finally, take away or emasculate their Labour councils—remove their political freedoms. That is what the Government are doing over and over again.

If this is to be the way to govern Britain, if this is the view of the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit)—who so often reflects the thinking of the Prime Minister—and if that view is accepted, apparently the Government will be entitled to remove by legislation even democratically-elected opposition. The hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) made that clear in his intervention. He asked for a guarantee that all opposition to the Government would be eliminated.

Mr. Marlow

The hon. Gentleman, like other hon. Members, will be aware that there have been masses of expensive literature and poster campaigns throughout London. Ratepayers' money has been poured all over the streets of London. That is wasted money. Ratepayers' money is being used to combat the duly elected Government. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that it was a manifesto commitment of the Government to do away with these local authorities. Moreover, Ken Livingstone himself said in 1979 that the GLC should be done away with so that the money could be used for better purposes.

Dr. Cunningham

Presumably, it would suit the hon. Gentleman if the Bill were renamed the "Local Government (Permanent Provisions) Bill".

If the approach of Government in the future is to be that matters of this kind can be changed simply by Act of Parliament, people had better look out. If that is the name of the game, the Tory shires had better start building their earthworks now.

Mr. Derek Conway (Shrewsbury and Atcham)


Dr. Cunningham

The council of the Stock Exchange had better start planning its exile, too. The days of all the Tory placemen in public sector jobs are also numbered. The next Labour Government will have to review the finance, structure and functions of all local authorities if the Bill becomes law. High among our priorities will be the role of the shire counties. We shall recreate a partnership with local government to play a vital role in the rebuilding of Britain. We shall proceed on the basis of the widest possible consultation and discussion. We shall recreate an elected authority for the people of London if the GLC is abolished.

Mr. Conway

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Cunningham

No, I shall not give way.

The origins of the Bill, like those of the Rates Bill, lie in the desperate search for a smokescreen to hide the Prime Minister from the wrath of millions of people who now realise that she has ratted on her promise to abolish rates. It emanates from a cynical election gimmick, unsupported by any review, investigation or inquiry. Nor did the Conservative manifesto dare to spell out the nature of this measure. There are no precedents for the Bill and it is a deception to argue otherwise. Earlier reorganisations abolished or postponed elections, as the Secretary of State said, but they were replaced by other elections and other councils. Councils were replaced by other elected authorities, but the Bill does no such thing.

In trying to obscure that crucial and fundamental point, the Secretary of State resembles no one so much as the emperor in the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. He is blissfully unaware of his nakedness. Perhaps that is why he said that he wanted to conceal nothing from the House. He is just the messenger boy of the Treasury and No. 10. He is the hapless recipient of two of the worst antidemocratic Bills that the House can recall, and apparently he is determined to make the worst of a very bad brief.

At Question Time last Wednesday, the Secretary of State said: The precedents are perfectly clear. If the hon. Gentleman refers to schedule 3(6) to the London Government Act 1963 and to schedule 3(12) to the Local Government Act 1972 he will find precedents that are very close indeed to what we are putting before the House."—[Official Report, 4 April 1984; Vol. 57, c. 947.] I will spell out in detail exactly what happened on those occasions.

First, there was never any paving Bill. The Bills on those occasions contained the new structures and details of the new elections and ensured absolute continuity of elected democratic control as one authority succeeded another. The elections due for the old authorities in May 1973 were set aside and the term of sitting councillors was extended until March 1974. I recall that well as I was a councillor at the time. New authorities were elected on 12 April 1973 in the counties, on 10 May 1973 in the metropolitan districts and on 7 June 1973 in the non-metropolitan districts. People were democratically elected at the same time to take over the new bodies. How can the Secretary of State say that his proposals are the same as that process when they are not remotely similar?

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

The hon. Gentleman has made the crucial point. On both those occasions the elections that were due were cancelled.

Dr. Cunningham


Mr. Jenkin

With respect, the hon. Gentleman has just said that. He quoted the two schedules. This is the heart of the argument. New authorities were being created. [HON. MEMBERS: "Elected authorities."] Of course. New authorities were created for both the upper tier and the lower tier. In this case, we are abolishing an authority but the lower tier authorities are already there. That is the difference.

Dr. Cunningham

There are none so deaf as those who will not hear. The right hon. Gentleman suggests that seconding elected councillors to roles that they have not been and will not be elected to carry out is the same as holding new elections, as in 1973. If he is honest, he will know very well that it is not the same at all.

The White Paper made no case for such a fundamental change in local government structure and functions. Indeed, less than 8 per cent. of that document was addressed to the case for change. The White Paper has not even been debated by the House and the case for the Bill has not been made in the country. The Bill is not just a constitutional outrage. It is a bureaucratic nightmare, as can easily be shown. Far from streamlining local government and providing cheaper, more efficient administration, it is most likely to have the opposite effect.

Over a period of three years from 1984–85 to 1986–87, services currently provided by the metropolitan counties and the GLC will be administered by no fewer than three different types of authority. In the current fiscal year, the status quo will obtain in terms of control. In 1985–86, control will be switched to interim boards composed of about 300 councillors nominated by districts instead of the present 601 elected councillors. From 1986–87 until 1989 the proposed joint boards will come into being with budgets and manpower controlled from Whitehall. From 1989, these boards will be subject to the provisions of the Rates Bill, if that legislation is still in operation. Is that a way to streamline the cities and to ensure continuity of decision taking, more effective investment or better accountability? On the contrary, it is a recipe for shambles.

The Bill paves the way not to any streamlining but to a massive increase in non-elected tax-raising quangos. Many of those taking over will have no experience of running the services involved, and not one of them will have been elected to deal with such matters. They will oversee budgets determined by other people and are more likely to be concerned about their own electoral hopes in 1986 than about the rump duties that they will be asked to take over.

The Bill further threatens continuity and stability by providing for nominated members to be recalled and replaced by their own councils at any time. Even those delegated will not be guaranteed any continuity in office. That is the theory of delegate control. Those appointees, entirely new to their duties and the functions and service involved, will be supported, if that is the word, by staff with little, if any, morale left, suffering shortages because of unfilled vacancies, and charged with the duty of working for their own redundancies. What price effective administration, forward planning and good decision taking in this mare's nest? Vital public service could well be undermined by this planned dislocation. Does any hon. Member believe that such proposals can increase accountability and save money? They are almost tailor-made to bring uncertainty and confusion, duplication and delay, but at extra cost to the ratepayer.

There is worse still in the Bill, because it gives the Secretary of State even greater dictatorial powers. He can direct staff and authorities to carry out his instruction—more decisions imposed from Whitehall. What if individuals refuse to serve on behalf of the districts that are supposed to be represented? This dictatorial monstrosity of a Bill will allow the Minister on his own account simply to take a decision to reduce the quorum required for decision taking. The absolute power and absolute answer emerges: one-party authorities will exist to take decisions in those circumstances. What sanctions will be applied to the officials or councils who, in their own best judgment, decide not to accept ministerial directions? Will it be a writ of mandamus, will it be dismissal, will it be an action for contempt or will people be sent to prison? If the Conservative party is really pleased or proud to bring local government in Britain to this deplorable position, then there is no hope left for it.

Speaking at the Conservative party conference in October 1983, the Secretary of State said: I am a Tory, and I have been brought up as a Tory, and I believe that the burden of proof is upon the man who advocates change, and if he does not satisfy that burden of proof then change should not be made. I agree, although his hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) expressed some difference of view, and some doubts, not about the burden of proof, but about the political claims that were made in that statement, when he wrote of the right hon. Gentleman in the Daily Telegraph: Regardless of the destination, he is a man for whom there has always been a ticket on the train. How has the Secretary of State gone about proving his case for the Bill, or the fundamental changes in local government that it envisages? There is only one answer to that. He has gone about it badly, if not ineptly. The Conservative party campaign document claimed that savings of £120 million would result. The right hon. Gentleman told the House today that the reason that he could not give figures was that the councils would not cooperate. If that is so, why did he put that figure in the Conservative party campaign document, and why did he reiterate that claim in a document given to the Government Whip's Office during the passage of the Rates Bill through the House? If he has no figures from the councils, how can he have made that claim in the first place? He has consistently refused to substantiate it, or to publish any basis for his calculations. He has had many opportunities, and has refused to do so.

As recently as this week the British -chambers of commerce and industry expressed their disquiet by pressing the Secretary of State in a letter to substantiate his claims about significant financial savings and rates reductions. He has again failed to do so. Surely the House of Commons and the 18 million people involved are entitled to an answer. They are entitled to know. Ever since the autumn, the Secretary of State has sidled away from this claim, because in his heart he knows that he cannot substantiate it. It is a falsehood, a fabrication, and he knows it.

Similarly, the right hon. Gentleman has consistently refused to publish the evidence submitted to him during the consultation period. Why? Because his proposals have been overwhelmingly condemned, not only as antidemocratic, but as unworkable. The disgraceful and shameful summary analysis, so belatedly produced by the Secretary of State on Monday of this week, shows massive opposition to the Government's case. I suspect that he has gone on accepting submissions long after the closing date of 31 January, in a forlorn attempt to whip up support for his proposals—another sleight of hand. The list of those condemning the proposals runs into thousands—councils, professional organisations, academics, chambers of commerce. Even the CBI has reservations, as does the National Union of Ratepayers Associations. The Secretary of State has failed his own eminently fair and sensible test. How he must bitterly regret those words at the Tory party conference in Blackpool last October.

As on the Rates Bill, the right hon. Gentleman is standing on his head. It was he who wrote in 1977 to the Marshall inquiry on Greater London, and said: I therefore believe we have got progressively to return to the concept that the GLC is a strategic authority. A council with a strategic role for London was what the right hon. Gentleman believed in then. He was right. What has changed? He underlined his convictions by specifically asking that Sir Frank Marshall give weight to these views included in which were that GLC planning should extend to a positive socio-economic role. Those were the right hon. Gentleman's words.

I was advised a few days ago to read the speech that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Education and Science made in 1962 about the GLC. I have done so, but it was barely necessary to go that far back to seek support from the right hon. Gentleman. A few days ago, in a debate on education, the Secretary of State for Education and Science spoke in favour of increased public expenditure, quite contrary not only to the expressed view of the Secretary of State for the Environment, but to the Government's policy as a whole. Last Thursday, this latter day monetarist slipped out of his skin of ticket tout for education vouchers, and became a born again democrat. Education in London, he decided, must be controlled by a democratically elected authority.

Even that change, however, is to be brought about by three different forms of control for the inner London education authority in three years. But does not this decision point out the stupidity of the case that the right hon. Gentleman is trying to make? If the argument holds good for education, why not for other services too? The chairman of the Tory party—that giant among politicians—says that the people of London want an elected authority for ILEA. He said in a speech on 5 April: This is the listening Government. Why do they not listen to the whole issue? The people of London have made it abundantly clear not only that they want a directly elected ILEA, but that they want the GLC. Right across London, they have made that clear. In Greenwich, even in Finchley, there is massive support for the GLC. In Greenwich, 76 per cent. of respondents believe so. In Finchley, 71 per cent. agree. In both areas, even a majority of Conservative voters agree that they want to retain the GLC. I hope that the chairman of the Tory party is still listening.

The debate is about the Bill and, inevitably, about the councils that are affected, although I agree with the Secretary of State that a major debate about their role must follow in due course.

No case has been made for the Bill. It is not necessary, even if the Government want to abolish these local authorities. There has been barely any attempt at the task of justifying the need for it. Not surprisingly, the Secretary of State ducked the issue again today, but he cannot escape the description of the gravedigger of local democracy and freedom. He has regularly come to the House to bury local democracy rather than to praise it. Nor has any case been made for the abolition of the councils on the basis of their performance. Stripped of the diatribe and rhetoric, the Government have made two charges against the councils. They have accused them of excessive expenditure and of making grants to organisations of which the Government disapprove.

Most of the GLC's increase in spending has gone on additional subsidy to London Transport, which has been immensely popular with the people of London. This year the travelcard has been so popular that LT will make £40 million profit from the scheme. Are Tory Members asking for that to be withdrawn?

For the record, less than 0.5 per cent. of the GLC's expenditure is allocated to minorities. In a recent snide report, Aims of Industry, one of the Secretary of State's few supporters, made claims about 51 organisations that it described as "odd". It said that they were receiving a total of £796,000 from the GLC. I should just mention that the council's total budget is £876 million. Those grants are the equivalent of 0.04 per cent. of a 1p rate. That puts them in perspective.

Dr. Hampson

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Cunningham

In a moment.

The fact that many such groups are dependent on the GLC for all or some of their funding does not diminish their value to a plural society and nor should it mean that they vanish with their source of funds.

The boroughs are under heavy pressure to reduce spending, not to incur more, and they will not wish—and they may not be permitted by the Government—to take responsibility for groups with a remit outside their own boundaries.

The Government may, as they have already hinted, make special funding arrangements for non-statutory groups of high political sensitivity, such as black self-help organisations or other ethnic community bodies. But that would be to miss a point that such bodies have made strongly in expressing their support for the GLC's continued existence. The GLC has launched a comprehensive programme for tackling racial disadvantage across London, and that is welcome. There is a strategic approach to problems that cut across borough boundaries.

Cardinal Basil Hume and the Bishop of Southwark have made clear their views in a letter to the Secretary of State: We believe that the onus is upon those who wish to abolish present institutions to give reassurances that the weak will not be further disadvantaged. If such guarantees cannot be forthcoming, then we would advocate that Londoners should still be able to elect directly representatives who can take an overall view of the problems and burdens of our great city.

Dr. Hampson

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way at last. He spoke earlier about perspective. He bandies around the 18 million people affected, but seems to forget that there is a lower tier of democracy.

The GLC is responsible for only one sixth of the funds spent on services for the people of London. Local democracy is at the borough level. We have seen abuse of that one sixth by the GLC and if we give it another year we will see a transfer of assets to Labour boroughs—feathernesting Labour administrations—and an abuse of GLC powers.

Dr. Cunningham

I do not agree with any of that and I have a straightforward answer to the hon. Gentleman: let us ask the people of London to decide. Let them determine the matter through the ballot box. Who is "frit" now?

The metropolitan counties' increase in spending is about 13 per cent. in real terms, and much of that is attributable to expenditure on fire and police services, following pay settlements promised by the Government. Those councils, too, are involved in the funding of important projects, not only for minorities, but strategically across the metropolitan areas. The metropolitan counties account for only 9.3 per of what the Government describe as overspend. The shires account for 19.4 per cent., but they are left out of the Bill.

As Coopers and Lybrand have so clearly demonstrated, the Government's proposals are unlikely to save money and are likely to cost money. People will pay higher rates, especially in the London boroughs, and will have less accountability. Significantly, the Government have produced no response to the Coopers and Lybrand report.

The Prime Minister and the Government have embarked on a malevolent attack on local democracy and freedom. The Bill is the latest manifestation of their repression of local government. The Government are saying, "If you elect Labour district councils, we will control their budgets. Where you elect Labour metropolitan counties and a Labour GLC, we will abolish them." Contrast that with the Prime Minister's comment on the Tory victory at the GLC elections on 7 May 1977, when she said: This is our greatest prize. Now the right hon. Lady says to the people of England, in the boroughs, cities and districts, "We deny you the right to elect Labour councils with the power to defend your community and your services." In 1974 and 1979, she said, "To get your votes we will abolish your rates." Now she says, "To get your rates we will abolish your votes."

We reject not only the Bill, but the duplicity of the measure. We reaffirm our commitment to restore local freedom, local choice and local determination to the people of this country. I ask the House to support the amendment and reject the Bill.

6.8 pm

Mr. Edward Heath (Old Bexley and Sidcup)

This is a paving Bill, and I shall devote most of my speech to it. However, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State devoted considerable time' to the reform of local government, the Bill for which is due to follow in the autumn. Therefore, before I come to my comments on the paving Bill, which will be, first, on questions of principle and, secondly, on the detail, I wish to refer to the Bill that is to come.

I was born a Man of Kent. I became a Kentish Man by adoption, but for the 34 years that I have been in the House I have represented a constituency which, for more than 20 years, has been part of the GLC, and I have spent all my working life in London.

I have been proud of London as the capital of this kingdom. Historically, it is one of the three great capitals of the world, and it is great in many other ways. In the arts, music, drama, painting, sculpture, galleries and museums, it is undoubtedly the greatest capital that the world has ever seen. It is that which we wish to keep, and for that it is essential that the overall administration of London should be in directly elected hands, as it has been for so long.

There is no joy for any Minister who starts on the task of reforming local government in any form. All my right hon. Friend's predecessors will assure him of that. I am not in the least impressed by the odd quotations that my right hon. Friend gave us of lower tier organisations that had criticised those above them. That has always happened in local government. After all, there are many in both tiers of Government who regard the House as an unnecessary and tiresome interference in their activities. There are many who believe that they could do the whole job of government very much better than Parliament, but we should not take any notice of them either. I am not in the least impressed by that.

Many of the problems that we face result from the fact that the normal procedure for dealing with local government reform has not been followed. It is customary that there should be a Royal Commission and that its report should then be thoroughly canvassed and discussed in both Houses and with all the local authorities concerned as well as with all the other interests. On this occasion that has not happened. Whatever my right hon. Friend may say about councils having sent resolutions to Ministers during the past two or three years, it does not show that a thorough plan was worked out beforehand for the reform of local government, quite apart from the fact that there has not been an official inquiry.

We are seeing all the results of that. Today my right hon. Friend announced a whole series of items that are connected with the forthcoming Bill. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has shown great flexibility and wisdom in changing his mind about ILEA. That is to be greatly commended and, indeed, he has been widely commended on that.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

A moment ago my right hon. Friend was saying that we should have followed the pattern of earlier Governments in having an inquiry and then following that. The difficulty was that the Government in which I was honoured to serve under his Prime Ministership did not do that. We had the Maud report, and then we did something quite different. Since then, I think that many of us have regretted it.

Mr. Heath

The Maud report was organised under the Labour Government. There was then discussion by the Secretary of State, who is now the Secretary of State for Energy, with all the interests in this country. The Government were entitled to change parts of that report and to decide, as a result of all the discussions, what they were going to do. That is what happened.

There was no public inquiry or commission of any kind before those steps were taken. It is quite obvious to all of us that they were taken hastily and without thought, and that is what is causing all the problems for my right hon. Friend today.

As I think my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) pointed out, under the 1972 Act provision was made for a 10-year review of local government as it was created outside London under that Act. The proper thing to do would have been to follow that procedure. We would then not have all the differences that exist between the two sides of the House and between the local government organisations and the Government as to what the real facts are. Even at this stage they are in dispute.

That is what is lacking from proper discussion in the House or elsewhere. Our job is not to exchange accusations across the Floor of the House about what somebody said at some time or other, but to look after the welfare of all those who will be affected by the legislation. I believe that on this side of the House our responsibility is to look after the good name of the Tory party.

I shall vote against the Bill, and so will other Conservative Members, and I shall tell the Secretary of State quite frankly why. It is a bad Bill and it is paving the way for a worse Bill. It is bad because it is the negation of democracy. There is no point in talking as though indirectly elected organisations are democratically elected. They are not. In the world we have seen progress from indirect to direct representation. The Bill, therefore, is a retrograde step. For 111 years the American Senate was indirectly elected, but it then progressed and changed to direct elections. For 25 years the European Parliament was indirectly appointed by Parliaments, but it is now directly elected. That, therefore, is the proper procedure.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

That was a retrograde step.

Mr. Heath

I know that my hon. Friend does not understand democracy. I do not expect him to.

Mr. Marlow

And that from the great authoritarian.

Mr. Heath

It is a bad Bill because it is an unnecessary Bill. There is another course open to the Government, which I shall discuss later. It is a bad Bill because it is an unprecedented Bill in this area. I must appeal to my right hon. Friend not to go on saying that it follows precedent and that the crucial issue is cancelling elections. The crucial issue is what happens after the elections are cancelled—[Interruption.] I hope my right hon. Friend will not go on saying that he is following precedent, because he is not. There is no precedent for cancelling an election and moving over to indirect government in this country. There is no precedent of any kind for such action.

I hope my right hon. Friend will accept that what he proposes is unprecedented. He is cancelling elections and thereby imposing a form of government on local government as an interim arrangement. In the cases that he cited in 1963 and 1972, elections were cancelled but the existing councillors continued until the change over. That, surely, is the right way to deal with this problem.

The legislation is administratively bad because those who are appointed to the interim government will for the most part have no experience of government at the level of the GLC or the metropolitan councils. They will have no experience whatever. Furthermore, the responsibilities that are in the GLC, in the hands of people from all parties, and in the hands of those who know what government is about, will be passed over to nominated temporary members and then passed on, if the Bill is enacted, to the new system. All that is to happen within three years. Can that be administratively sound? I ask my hon. Friend to look to the good name of the Conservative Government for administration.

Worst of all—and my right hon. Friend did not seem to realise this—is the imposition by parliamentary diktat of a change of responsible party in London government. There cannot be any justification for that. It immediately lays the Conservative party open to the charge of the greatest gerrymandering in the last 150 years of British history. That is what we, as a party, are being exposed to.

As I said to my right hon. Friend over the rate-capping Bill, what would we be saying from the Opposition Front Bench if the Labour party had put forward any such proposals to change the party in power just by a diktat of this House? Does my right hon. Friend not recall what we said about the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan), who, when he was Home Secretary, gerrymandered the Boundary Commission's recommendations? He was bound to put them before the House. He did so, and he Whipped his party against them. Therefore, no changes were made before the election. My right hon. Friend should go back and read what we said as a party then about Government's gerrymandering of electoral arrangements. Yet here the Government are imposing a change of party on the GLC by parliamentary diktat.

The other thing about which I find it difficult to persuade my right hon. Friend is that a vast number of Conservatives in London and in the country care about what is happening, and care deeply about it. It is no use just saying that there was a mandate. My right hon. Friend will say that when the Bill comes along. Those who travelled the country from Aberdeen to Plymouth. as I did, know that this was not one of the election issues and that it was not this that defeated the Labour party.

In my constituency I have always made it quite clear that I would not agree to the abolition of the GLC until I knew what would be put in its place. Nobody has yet told me that. There was no mandate for this sort of paving Bill, and my right hon. Friend must accept that.

The other course open to the Government—I shall not say "to follow precedent"—was to fight the next elections and let the new council carry on. The course that my right hon. Friend has followed has left Conservative Members open to the accusation that we are unprepared to fight the election and are funking an election of this type. That is the charge to which we are now open. My right hon. Friend said that it would be a referendum on London's government. He must understand that an election is not a referendum. An election is for candidates, and if candidates like to make the future of London government the issue they are entitled to do so. Both sides can do that. If my right hon. Friend can persuade all our candidates standing for London seats to fight on the basis of an indirectly elected London administration, that is well and good. He knows full well that the great majority of Conservative GLC councillors want an elected London administration.

Mr. Marlow

They would, would they not?

Mr. Heath

Do we not want an elected House of Commons?

Mr. Marlow

I am surprised that my right hon. Friend does not understand the difference.

Mr. Heath

Why should they not want an elected London government? That charge can now be held against us.

This matter is made more valid in people's minds because the way in which the Government have handled this issue has achieved the inconceivable. They have mobilised the great majority of public opinion in London behind Mr. Kenneth Livingstone. Who, two years ago, would have thought that was possible? That is an achievement hitherto unknown in the annals of local government history.

A second option available to my right hon. Friend was to cancel the elections and let the existing council carry on, and I believe that that is the right course.

My right hon. Friend said that this measure would not be implemented before the Second Reading of the main Bill. That is not good enough, for a number of reasons. It assumes that this is a one-House Parliament. There is such a thing as another place. What happens if the other place rejects the Bill on Second Reading? By then the whole system will have been destroyed and a new one put in its place. If the Bill is wiped out in the other pace on Second Reading, the old system will, supposedly, be restored. Is that sound administration? Of course it is not.

My right hon. Friend gives us his word, but he may find himself in a different position. He might even join some of us. What will the next Secretary of State say? He may say, "I am not bound by my predecessor's words." Nothing in the Bill says that he will be bound by those words.

Under the provisions of clause 1(2) the Secretary of State may repeal parts II to IV. If the Bill fails to get through we shall then have the same administrative chaos. But there is no obligation on him to repeal those parts, and no date by which he must repeal them. If the Government chose, they could allow the temporary system to carry on without any date of conclusion. It cannot be right to give a Government that power, but that is the position on parts II to IV.

Under clause 1(3) the Secretary of State can change the Local Government Act 1972 and the Representation of the People Act 1983 in ways affecting not only the GLC and metropolitan councils but any local government organisation throughout the country. He can do so just by an order. Why does the Secretary of State claim to have those powers? They are surely unjustifiable.

For the first time, apart from Scottish law, there is reference to the balance of parties. How will that be settled? There are no guidelines. If there were guidelines, what would be the control over the borough authorities? Hammersmith and Fulham provides an example. That borough council comprises 28 Conservatives, 28 Labour and two SDP members. Under this legislation, it will have two appointed councillors——

Mr. Simon Hughes

It will have two Liberals. That is the big difference.

Mr. Heath

That does not affect my argument. The authority will have the right to nominate two people. Who will they be?

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Nobody knows.

Mr. Heath

I shall use the neutral term "the alliance". The alliance could choose to go into coalition with the Conservatives, on condition that the alliance got one of the nominated seats and the Conservative the other. What happens to the 28 Labour members who remain unrepresented? The alliance might choose to go into coalition with the Labour party. [Interruption.] If the Labour party rejects that approach, the position will be much easier for our coalition and we shall get both members. Obviously, that is not a balance of parties.

Some metropolitan councils will be in a hung position with nominated people. Those authorities will not have a majority to run the organisation in the interim period.

It is interesting that the City of London, which contributes three seventeenths of the rate, will have no nomination to the interim authority. If that was intended to please the business men, who claim that they do not have a vote, it appears to be a somewhat inadequate method of doing so.

Any indirectly appointed representative can be sacked. That means that the majority on the borough council who do not like what an indirectly appointed opponent has said—the Government are trying to achieve a balance of parties—can sack that opponent without giving any reason. Another representative can be told to toe the line. Is that desirable or democratic? That is a consequence of the Bill which we are being asked to approve.

Under clause 8 the operations of the Local Government Boundary Commission for England are suspended. If the main Bill gets through, there is no doubt in many experts' minds that there must then be a revision of the boundaries to make some of the boroughs viable under the new system. If that is to happen, the Boundary Commission should be preparing for the revision, but it is explicitly prohibited from doing that by the Bill. Why is that necessary?

I have mentioned those factors as bad points in the Bill. If my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is in a flexible and generous mood like my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science, all these matters can be dealt with in Committee. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for saying that this legislation should be debated on the Floor of the House. He is right. That will not alter the main issues of principle, with which I dealt at the beginning of my speech. The legislation is replacing an elected body with an imposed indirectly elected body. That is completely unacceptable. What is more, this is being done before Parliament, including the other place, has decided what will replace the present system.

The path on which the Government have embarked is very dangerous. It does not follow the normal and proper procedure. Undoubtedly reforms need to be brought about both in the GLC and in the metropolitan counties. That is why provision was made for a survey. If one is to have those measures, one wants to bring them about with the greatest possible agreement. That means patience, examination and consensus about local goverment. The present path is extremely dangerous for local government, for the Conservative party and for the Government because of the chaotic management that will result. It is extremely dangerous for our country to have local government treated in that way, and that is why I shall vote against the Bill.

6.29 pm
Mr. Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central)

It would be remiss of me not to start by congratulating the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) on his speech. It will enhance the esteem that is felt for the House in the country and it was a contribution that all Opposition Members thoroughly enjoyed, not just for the wit but for the way in which he considered the details and principles of the legislation. My only fear in following him is that I am left with little to say because I suspect that he has put our arguments strongly.

At one stage during the right hon. Gentleman's speech I felt that the Government might have been rueing their decision last night to closure the Finance Bill. I should think that it would have been in their interest to avoid this business, the Secretary of State's contribution and the right hon. Gentleman's speech. I look forward, as I am sure do many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, to the speech of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary when he answers the points of the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup. I am sure that that is a treat to which the whole House is looking forward.

The Bill is about abolishing elections for 13 million people and taking away from the people who live in the metropolitan districts the right to run their own services and decide the priorities for those services. It comes at a time when the Government have increasingly centralised power, shortly after the Rates Bill and the principles of rate-capping have been accepted by the House and promulgated by the Government, and when the public are increasingly worried by the Government's authoritarian nature.

I listened with interest to the Secretary of State's speech because I was waiting for him to advance the arguments that justify the paving Bill. The only justification came from the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow). He let out the truth. The real reason why he will be in the Lobby tonight is that he wants to abolish those local authorities that have had the audacity to vote for Labour policies and control.

Mr. Marlow


Mr. Fatchett

All one can say about the hon. Gentleman is that his frankness, which is useful to us on this occasion, is clearly in inverse proportion to his knowledge of local government.

The only reason for the Bill is that it is an attack upon those people who have voted Labour and supported Socialist policies. It has no other justification.

Let us consider the argument advanced by the Secretary of State. We have had from him on occasions the suggestion that if we abolish the metropolitan county councils ratepayers' money will be saved. That argument comes from the Government's failure to carry through their 1979 election promise to abolish the rates. We are told that the abolition of the metropolitan counties will save money. If that is the case, why has not the Secretary of State given us a precise figure for those savings? Why is he reluctant to set up an independent, impartial public inquiry to study the cost and the implications of the abolition. The answer is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) said, that if he does the arguments may not be as strong as the prejudice on the Conservative Benches. He dare not take the risk of an impartial inquiry into his proposals.

As the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup asked, which other Secretary of State, who has sought to reform local government, has not been prepared to put his proposals before an independent inquiry? The Secretary of State has run away every time we have issued that invitation.

The Secretary of State has shifted his ground. The new argument is not about cost; it is about functions. He suggests that the metropolitan counties have too few functions. In a parliamentary answer on 24 February that was the sole justification given for the abolition of the metropolitan counties. Is it not an insult to the people of the metropolitan areas to say that the functions are, by definition and implication, unimportant? Is the Secretary of State saying that the police, transport, highways and the fire service are unimportant? If he is advancing that argument, it is a dangerous path to tread. He seems to forget that the tier of local government that has the fewest responsibilities and functions is that made up of the non-metropolitan district councils.

Will he return to the House at some stage and say, "I propose to abolish the non-metropolitan district councils as well"? Perhaps he is not abolishing them, not because they have too few or too many functions, but because the majority are Conservative controlled. He has not advanced an argument on functions, costs, or on the support for the proposals, because the consultation process—that is, on the main principle, not on the paving Bill—shows that there is massive and widespread opposition to the Government's proposals.

The five metropolitan districts in west Yorkshire—not all Labour controlled—oppose the principle and the paving Bill. Many voluntary organisations such as the citizens advice bureaux, many arts, entertainment and recreation organisations, and commerce and industry oppose the legislation.

Dr. Hampson

Not in Leeds.

Mr. Fatchett

Where is the Secretary of State's support?

The hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson) has been up and clown in this debate like a jack-in-the-box. One can suggest only that he is trying to rehabilitate himself towards a job in Government. He made a seated intervention on this occasion, but he will notice from its contribution that the Leeds chamber of commerce is saying that it is completely unhappy with the arrangements that will replace the metropolitan councils. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will mention that if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sure, from his willingness to contribute earlier, that he is anxious to participate in the debate.

There is no support and argument about functions and cost. We can find one reason only for the decision—political prejudice and dogma. There is no other. The Government have been unable to advance arguments to substantiate any other reason.

I should like to mention the new arrangements. I shall not follow the excellent example set by the right hon. Gentleman and go through them in detail. He made a number of substantial points. First, the Government will be asking inexperienced, unelected district councillors to run services that cost £1.6 billion per year. Those people were not elected to serve on county councils. Conservative Members who have experience of local government may be aware that people often choose and say, "I want to serve at this level of local authority because at this level I can take an interest in housing, social services, planning or whatever the issue may be." Many councillors have gone forward to serve on the West Yorkshire county council because they are interested in transport, the police or the functions and issues discussed and covered by the county council. Under the so-called interim arrangements, the Government are asking people, who were not initially elected to serve on the county council, to take over the responsibilities of county councillors.

Mr. Nellist

Does my hon. Friend agree that, in addition to the points that he has made, those district councillors who are asked to take on the additional responsibilities of the metropolitan county councillors will be hard pressed to deal with the local issues that they were elected to deal with, and the county and regional responsibilities imposed by the Secretary of State? Those additional responsibilities will put extra stresses and strains upon them.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Order. Interventions should be brief, as many hon. Members are waiting to speak.

Mr. Fatchett

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) for what he says. He is right to stress that those elected as district councillors will already have a very full agenda and a heavy burden. They will be asked to take on responsibilities in which they may not have an interest.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Fatchett

I shall give way with pleasure in a moment.

To whom will district councillors be accountable? I have been a district councillor and have administered local services, so I know that councillors are responsible to their electorates. People can ring up their councillors or knock on their doors to ask them to take up their problems. If I were a West Yorkshire district councillor in the metropolitan area and was elected to a joint board I would be responsible not to that electorate but, according to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary in an answer given earlier this year, to the district council on which I served.

As the Secretary of State said earlier, representation on the joint board by members of district councils will be divided on a proportional basis. Perhaps that is a way of introducing proportional representation. The Secretary of State may be looking for support from the alliance, having failed to gain substantial support from his own party. Given the alliance's current vogue for voting with the Conservatives, he may be right to do so.

The procedures ask for proportional representation. In that process some council members may come from the minority group and others from the majority. Let us suppose that the majority group disagrees with the position taken by a member of the minority group. What will happen then, regardless of the labels of political parties? To whom is that minority representative accountable—the council or his political group? If the majority group removes him from office he can be replaced only by a member of his minority group, as I understand the proposed legislation. Presumably, the new councillor will follow the same policies, so where is the accountability?

The legislation takes away democratic rights and creates a set of quangos. Local councillors will not be responsible to an electorate in any sense and will not be able at any stage to justify their position. Perhaps the Parliamentary Under-Secretary will reply to that point on winding up.

Councillors will be able to introduce, for example, a precept and a transport policy that gains no support from the public, but they will not need to seek re-election on this policy. They will return for election as district councillors and will in that case be elected on issues relating to housing and social services, not those covered by the joint board. The paving Bill proposals take away accountability and democracy.

Although the Secretary of State calls this an interim set of proposals, a paving Bill before the abolition of the metropolitan county councils, it is regarded as nothing of the sort by those living within the metropolitan areas. The Bill deprives them once and for all of their right to vote to control their transport services, highway provisions and police and fire services. We have lost our vote. We have lost the right to determine our policies. For us, it is a final not an interim provision.

We have heard many Conservative Members say in another context, "Let us have a ballot". I finish by asking the Secretary of State why we cannot have a ballot in the metropolitan counties. The reason is that he is frightened of the electorate and is running away from his proposals.

6.46 pm
Mr. Francis Pym (Cambridgeshire, South-East)

The abolition of the metropolitan counties and the GLC is a Government commitment, and in tabling the amendment in my name and that of my right hon. and hon. Friends I do not seek in any way to challenge that commitment. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wishes to carry it out. What I do challenge is the method chosen to carry it out. The Bill is part of that method.

There is no doubt in my mind that the general election gave the Government the authority they need to abolish those councils, but, as yet, the House does not know how it is to be done, what will replace them or what the new arrangements will be. The Government are now addressing these questions and will in due course inform the House of their decisions, but it is clear that they have not yet been taken.

My first criticism, therefore, is that the Government have not given adequate thought to the new arrangements before commiting themselves to the abolition of the existing arrangements. They had not thought the proposal far enough through beforehand. That is particularly unwise and unfortunate in local authority reorganisation, as the House knows from experience. Changes of this kind are inevitably highly controversial. Many different views are held and it is important—I should say only prudent—to obtain the maximum possible degree of public consent for what is eventually proposed.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) said, reform in 1963 and 1972 was preceded by a careful and objective exploration of the possibilities available. There was much evidence on hand for anyone who was interested to study the subject. The House gave its attention to the issue before the Government of the day proposed reform, but that has not happened in this case. We have not yet had any explanation of why the arguments advanced in 1963 for a strategic overview by the GLC are no longer valid.

The Government's claim for making substantial savings by abolishing the metropolitan counties is being challenged by the chambers of commerce and, notably, by the analysis of Coopers and Lybrand. The Secretary of State has confessed today that he does not know the effect on costs, and there has been no debate in the House on the while question of the reform, yet today we are being asked to abolish the 1985 elections.

We should bear in mind the experience of the abolition of the rates, or rather their non-abolition. Abolition was a firm enough commitment until it was found that all of the alternatives were worse. It is not entirely clear why the Government are so confident that something similar will not happen again. There is still an absence of a clear alternative to these councils that can be shown to be much better. In those circumstances there is bound to be uncertainty, which does not make for good administration at local or national level, and which could have been avoided by working things out beforehand.

The Government have asserted that the metropolitan counties and the GLC are "wasteful and unnecessary", so their first obligation must surely be to produce an alternative that is demonstrably cheaper and more effective. That alternative is not yet available. Last autumn the White Paper was published, and we know that hundreds, even thousands, of submissions have been received. The Government are analysing and assessing them. We were given a few indications this afternoon of what may be decided, but it will be some time before the results are known.

That leads to my second criticism, which is that the Bill anticipates decisions that have not yet been reached. It jumps the gun. My first criticism was that the whole subject had not been thought through in advance, and my second is that action is being taken in the wrong order. A Bill to abolish the 1985 elections ought not to come in before the substantive new plans for the future have been produced. The substantive decisions must be taken first, and then the consequential decisions about elections and other matters, which would fall into the natural and proper place.

The Bill has been described by the Secretary of State as a paving Bill, but I find that a misdescription. The Bill does not pave the way to anywhere, but just abolishes the elections and substitutes an abacus of appointed members. On the main question of what will replace it all, there is for the time being a void.

This is a thoroughly unsatisfactory way to proceed. It may be too extreme to call it unparliamentary or undemocratic, but that is arguable. In my view—I can speak only for myself—it goes against the spirit of parliamentary practice. That is my third criticism. The Bill blandly assumes that Parliament will agree to whatever new proposals the Government bring forward. Perhaps it will, but the presumption is hardly treating the House with the respect to which it is accustomed. That is especially important with a large majority.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

I say to my right hon. Friend, with the greatest respect, that he is being a little unfair in not taking into account the clear assurance that I gave to the House that in no circumstances would the commencement order under part II be made before the House had approved the Second Reading of the main abolition Bill. That is not treating the House with contempt, but making it clear that the House must approve the main principles before there is any question of moving into that part of the paving Bill.

Mr. Pym

I was going to mention that. I am afraid that I do not agree with my right hon. Friend on that point. I was speaking about the make-up of the House. The unusually large majority which the Government enjoy—if that is the right word—requires much consideration and sympathy to be given to other points of view. For me, that is the wise and responsible way to use a landslide.

There is one aspect of the Bill that makes matters even worse, and it has already been mentioned. The evidence—my right hon. Friend admitted it—is that one consequence will be that the GLC and some of the metropolitan counties now controlled by Labour will be replaced by an appointed body with a Conservative majority. That will be an imposed change of political control. When my right hon. Friend described the Bill as fair and democratic, I thought that he was stretching the point considerably. If it is true that that change of political control will take place, surely it cannot be right. Surely no one will think it right. The people will not be asked; they will be told. As other of my right hon. and hon. Friends have said, inside and outside the House, imagine what we would be saying if the role were reversed and we were sitting on the Opposition Front Bench.

The enforced change—the imposed change—of party political control in these circumstances will cause the Government and the Conservative party no end of trouble. It is not worth it. The price is too high. Those are just some of the reasons why the Bill is becoming so unpopular with the public. Of course opinion polls must be treated with caution, but they show that a proportion approaching 3:1 is against the abolition of the GLC, but, as I have said, the Government have the authority to make that change. The polls also show that about three Londoners or more are opposed to cancelling the 1985 elections for every one who is in favour. That is a change for which no indication was given before last autumn.

Right hon. and hon. Members will have seen the letters in The Times yesterday from the leaders of the six metropolitan counties, who are all against the Bill. My right hon. Friend quoted some of their predecessors who did not like the arrangements in the mid-1970s. The present leaders are against the Bill. The Conservative members of the GLC are divided over it. Many are strongly opposed. Their opposition is not decisive, but obviously it is important.

Against that background, I realise that the Bill is convenient for the Government and that they have persuaded themselves that it is the best way to proceed, but I hope that at the very least they will defer it. It is not necessary to bring it in now. The elections involved are more than a year away. Last week the House decided to alter the European constituency boundaries, and that was within two months of the European elections. The election that we are talking about is 13 months away, so there is time. The Bill could be withdrawn. The matters with which it deals could either be incorporated in the substantive legislation or come forward afterwards. As my right hon. Friend said, and repeated just now, he has given an undertaking that it will not be implemented before the Second Reading of the main Bill. However, in my view, it is inappropriate to bring it forward at all in the absence of a fully worked out alternative scheme. I speak only for myself. That is my view.

I think that the Bill is a precedent, and a thoroughly bad one. I do not think that previously there has been a cancellation of elections in the sense that is contained in the Bill. I do not accept, as my right hon. Friend sought to suggest, that it is only a difference in scale from the precedents created before. In my view, it is a difference in kind. It smacks of "the Government know best" and of being so confident that everyone will admire the wisdom of the reform after the event that they see no need to win consent beforehand. The wisdom of the reform is already hotly debated, and the process of dealing with these interim provisions out of phase is likely to increase the controversy. I believe that what is proposed is not the Conservative way of doing things. If the Bill is passed, I am afraid that my opinion is that the Government and the Conservative party will rue the day.

6.57 pm
Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich)

It is noticeable already that this is not so much a debate as one-way traffic. Apart from the beleagured Secretary of State, all the contributions so far have been against the measure. Like other hon. Members who have spoken, I want to base my objection both on the principles on which the Bill rests and on its practical implications.

The most serious objection that I have in principle is one to which every speaker has drawn attention—the fact that the legislation will undoubtedly change the political control of the nation's largest authority, the Greater London council, without a single vote having been cast. I cannot believe that that can be right or justified. If the Bill had no other major faults, that would still be enough to condemn it.

Ministers frequently argue that they have a mandate for the measure. What they usually mean is that tucked away in the election manifesto is a commitment to the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan counties. There was no clear reference to the proposal to do away with the elections.

Dr. David Clark (South Shields)

No reference at all.

Mr. Simon Hughes

That is right.

Mr. Cartwright


An interesting comment on the principle of the political mandate in elections was made by Lord Denning when he was Master of the Rolls in the famous GLC v. Bromley case on the "Fares Fair" scheme. Referring to the principle of the political mandate, Lord Denning said: It seems to me that no party can or should claim a mandate and commitment for any one item in a long manifesto. When the party gets into power it should consider any promise or proposal afresh, on its merits, without any feeling of being obliged to honour it or being committed to it. That was directed against the GLC, but I suggest that it could be just as easily directed against the Government and their manifesto.

Precedents to the measure have been bandied about. I recall taking part in a debate in February 1976 on the London councillors order. It implemented the proposal of both Conservative and Labour Governments that the period of office of GLC members and London borough councillors should be extended to four years. I recall Conservative Members' reaction in the debate. They were passionately opposed to the period of office of those councillors being extended by a further year and the delay of the elections that resulted from the decision. They denounced it as a Machiavellian plot to rob the electorate of the chance to pass judgment on Labour GLC councillors. The hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg), speaking from the Conservative Opposition Front Bench, said in the debate: We say that Londoners should be given the chance to say what they want this year, not next year. Give Londoners the chance this year to rid themselves of the Socialist encumbrances which get worse week by week at County Hall. I make no secret of my support for such a move. I am not scared of the people's verdict—unlike the Labour Party … I hope that the Minister …will invite the House to vote the Order down and let Londoners decide at the polls this May what sort of administration they want to govern in their name".—[Official Report, 4 February 1976; Vol. 904, c. 1349–52.] If that was Conservative reaction to the delaying of the election by 12 months, how much more strongly should they react against doing away with elections altogether?

As to the transitional councils, I support those hon. Members on both sides of the House who have drawn attention to the practical problems that flow from what is proposed in the legislation. The whole business is riddled with major drawbacks. There is no machinery for ensuring that appointments are made by borough and district councils. It is possible that Labour councils will refuse to co-operate in this operation and will refuse to nominate people to serve on the transitional councils. Although the Bill gives the Secretary of State the power to reduce the quorum, if the transitional councils operate with only Conservative party membership that will undermine their credibility and substantially increase the work load of the members. Leaving aside the politics of the issue, it is possible that we shall find great difficulty in encouraging people to volunteer for such a job—it is not the most attractive job in local government—for an 11-month period. It will involve a great deal of hard work.

I endorse what the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) said about the references in clause 2(5) reflecting the political balance of the nominated authorities. There is no guidance on how that should be operated, and it is a potential can of worms in a number of authorities, particularly in London. I am also concerned about the power in clause 3 to enable nominating bodies to recall appointees. No guidance is laid down about the circumstances in which they can recall a person, and there is no protection for the individual against arbitrary use of that power. It simply enables the majority parties to treat their representatives on the transitional councils purely as nominees.

There is also the issue whether experienced members of borough and district councils are prepared, able and willing to serve on the transitional councils. There is some doubt about the kind of members of district or London borough councils who would be willing to spend 11 months as statutory undertakers and to take part in the burial arrangements of the Greater London council. It is not likely that we shall get borough council leaders, deputy leaders or chairmen of committees of standing and experience to volunteer for such jobs. It is worth remembering that in London all borough councillors will be up for re-election in May 1986, and their concentration is more likely to be directed towards getting themselves re-elected.

It is probable that the kind of people who will be serving on the shadow, passing-out-of-existence GLC will be people with no experience of its functions, who know little or nothing about its administration, and who may not even know their way around the County hall building. It would by rather like putting the crew of the Woolwich ferry in charge of the QE2. It is a recipe for chaos on a massive scale.

There is, then, the problem whether the job can be done in 11 months. I have talked to people whose judgment I respect, who work in the administration of County hall and who raise considerable doubts about whether the job can be done in 11 months. If it cannot be done in that time scale, what happens then? Do we have a whole new crew of borough and district nominees taking over after the 1986 local elections?

I also endorse what the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup said about the curious omission of the City of London from this body. At the moment it is democratically represented on the GLC because it joins with the parliamentary constituency of the City of London and Westminster, South to elect a GLC member. However, on the basis of schedule 1, there is no representation of the City of London. That is odd. I can remember, during the passage of the Rates Bill, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary waxing lyrical about the 700 years of continuous local government in the City of London, and it is strange that that tradition is not to be continued through representation on a transitional council. I do not shed tears for the City of London but the omission is typical of the way in which this legislation has been drafted.

Clause 7 lays a duty on the staff of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils to provide information that is needed by the Secretary of State to facilitate the abolition of the employing body. In other words, they are required to co-operate in the possible extinction of their jobs. That is an extremely onerous duty to lay on any employee. There are no signs of what sanctions will be provided if employees do not co-operate. The Secretary of State or the Parliamentary Under-Secretary have a duty to explain to the House just how such a proposition can work in real life.

This is a shabby measure, which has the whiff of Tammany hall gerrymandering about it. It is wrong in principle and unworkable in practice. It does not deserve a Second Reading, and my right hon. and hon. Friends and I will oppose it in the Lobby tonight.

7.5 pm

Mrs. Angela Rumbold (Mitcham and Morden)

It is with some trepidation that I rise in this unitedly hostile audience to say that I welcome the Bill and unreservedly reject the amendment. I do so as a Londoner—a resident of London for 20 years—as an ex-London borough councillor, a deputy leader and a chairman of a policy resources committee serving under the Greater London council and as a current London constituency Member of Parliament.

I fought the 1983 general election on a platform of wishing to abolish the Greater London council and the other metropolitan county councils, and even in my by-election of 1982, it was an issue. On both occasions, I have not disguised my preference for clearly defined sectors of government. Central Government have major responsibilities and Members of Parliament are elected to preside over these matters. Equally, local government has a separate role of decision-making on matters that are much more appropriate for residents to decide upon than central Government.

I have always been sceptical about the so-called strategic approach, of interspersed layers of Government. Only very rarely can individuals make strategic decisions, and almost never on a regular basis. The general invariably returns to the particular.

However, today the argument is not about the merits or demerits of abolition. It is about the propriety of legislation to pave the way for abolition. Here, practical matters must be considered. It is all very well to say that nothing should be done until the legislation for abolition is brought before the House, but that denies the reality that abolition will involve a great deal of administrative handover and, I hope, a number of decisions that tasks now undertaken by these county councils are unnecessary. This matter cannot be solved by the waving of a wand, and is one that any responsible Government must perceive as in need of time—time to make arrangements, not least of all for present employees, as well as for devolution of powers to the boroughs and any other bodies that are thought appropriate to carry out such business as is evident for continuation, following abolition.

As I see it, this paving Bill does just that. The argument that such a task could be undertaken by extending the time of the present administration is unrealistic, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson) said. It would be so whatever the political colour of the present incumbents. Many of the Conservatives in these councils are, or would be, just as antipathetic to the Government's proposals as the Labour party.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Will the hon. Lady explain why unrealism is more important than constitutional principle? In any event, what is unreal about extending for one year the life of an elected body?

Mrs. Rumbold

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to develop my argument, I shall come to that point.

The idea that the election in 1985 could go ahead is equally unrealistic. Who will stand for election for one year with the clear remit that they are to dismantle a large, unwieldy organisation? It simply ignores human nature, especially when upon election the members magically lose any connection they had with other mortals and become all too god-like. The Government have sought to find a way of giving an overtone of democracy to the interim arrangements by seeking membership from the boroughs for the body that will oversee the abolition arrangements.

To be consistent, I must admit that I would have been happier had the decision been to appoint a simple commission to do the job. The people concerned would have had a clear task; they would have accepted it on known terms of reference and would have brought more simplicity to what will inevitably be a complicated issue.

Two events recently will greatly assist in the preparation of plans to abolish the GLC. One i s the presentation of the London Regional Transport Bill which will remove responsibility in London at least for transport management from the strategic grasp of the Greater London council. The other is the decision to have a directly elected education board for the inner London boroughs. The latter announcement should be seen for what it is. Far from signalling a weakening in the re solve to reduce layers of government, it has accepted the fact which many of us who have held responsibility for education in our local government days have known for years—that education authorities require separate members whose sole commitment is to that area of local government because it is so mammoth.

Most local authorities, both counties and boroughs, will say that the membership of the education committee invariably comprises people whose sole interest in local government is education. They may serve on other committees as part of the package, but the meaning lies in the work they do as members of the education committee, its sub-committees and the governing bodies of local schools and colleges. It is an enormous commitment of time and energy, and few councillors who take it seriously—and most do—will give much else to council work.

It is, therefore, a misapprehension to believe that the inner London boroughs which will elect people to serve on the education board for inner London will in any way reflect the present Inner London education authority or the present Greater London council. It is much more likely that it will reflect the interests of parents, teachers and those with a genuine interest in children and their welfare.

To illustrate the imposition that this layer of government puts on the individual, I should like to quote the figures relating to the additional cost to householders in the borough of Merton, of which my constituency is a part. It is an education authority, being an outer London borough, and the figures take account of the apportioned domestic rate relief. In the year 1981–82 the cost of education to the householder averaged £15. In 1982–83 it increased to £30, a 96 per cent. increase. In 1983–84 it increased to £35, an increase of 128 per cent. on the figure for 1981–82. Curiously, with abolition hanging over the authority, in 1984–85 the use of balances reduced the figure to £33; there was a simple decision by the elected body, the GLC, to raid the balance and cynically to bring down the cost to Londoners. Nevertheless, over the past three years the average ratepayer in my borough has had to pay an extra £36, and for what?

I am convinced that this Bill is the first step towards achieving the desirable objective of removing a body which provides a lot of glamour for the members … to be whisked round in nice cars, to have a large officer corps, to support them and do all the necessary things to make them feel important and to provide all the substitutes for those who have not managed to get elected to Parliament". Those are not my words but the words of Mr. Kenneth Livingstone.

7.14 pm
Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

I declare an interest as the first speaker who is serving on a metropolitan county council, that for the West Midlands. On the Labour Benches and outside the Chamber in the Labour movement we need no lessons on democracy from a Tory Cabinet or from a Tory Secretary of State. Only 24 hours ago, Cabinet Ministers were lambasting miners and the National Union of Mineworkers about whether or not the union intended to hold a ballot so that 20 per cent. of its membership may decide whether 80 per cent. should have the right to defend jobs and pits. Now we have the hypocrisy of a member of a Tory Cabinet trying to tell working people that the Government will abolish a ballot for 18 million people next year. That is a gigantic U-turn. They have the brass neck or, as was said last night, the brass face to try to carry that off.

We do not need lessons in democracy from a Tory party that does not elect its leader. It has been said that the present Tory leader emerged like a butterfly from a chrysalis; such is the way democracy works in the Tory party. I leave it to hon. Members to decide whether that is an appropriate description. Nor do we need lessons in democracy from a Tory party that does not elect its chairman but which gives that individual £5,000 per year extra for being appointed to the post. As I say, 24 hours separates the Cabinet's U-turn and its hypocrisy on the ballot which it deems necessary for the Labour movement and its wish to abolish democratic elections next year for 18 million people in the metropolitan counties.

The Bill could best be described as squalid, as a measure based on fraud. It is a preparation for the abolition not of the councils in the areas that have been referred to but of the councillors, and particularly of Labour councillors. All the functions that the metropolitan councils and the GLC fulfil will still have to be maintained. As many as 96 per cent. of the employees of the authorities work in services such as police, fire, waste disposal, consumer services, highways and so on. Those functions will still have to be carried out. The democratic ability to control them will be passed from the hands of directly elected Labour councillors to quangos and possibly, through privatisation, to the private sector.

We shall have a repetition of the direct appointments, either by the Cabinet or by the Department of the Environment, that we have seen in water boards, with retired military people and retired this, that and the other being brought in over the heads of working people. Then we shall have the spectacle that we had a couple of days ago, of Tory Members complaining about water rates and the service in different water authorities. They complain that working people in the areas they represent are unable to challenge whether the services are being properly run because they cannot elect the people who are now controlling them. The Bill will replace democratically elected councillors with similar control from the top.

Mr. Tracey

I think there is a slight error of fact in what the hon. Member has been saying. Surely the members of whatever small number of joint boards is set up will be democratically elected local government councillors. They will be members of local authorities. There is no suggestion that councillors will be replaced by bowler-hatted colonels or whatever the hon. Member talks about.

Mr. Nellist

The Bill paves the way for the direct appointment of district councils to control some of the services. It is also a paving measure for the abolition of the metropolitan councils. Since no one knows—because it is not down on paper—how the new bodies are to be run, we can only assume, from statements from the Tory leadership, that the abolition of the metropolitan councils will include the setting up of joint boards and the direct appointment of people to run some of the services.

The debate is about the abolition of the metropolitan councils before we know how the functions of the councils are to be replaced in the next two years. Therefore, no one in this House can say with certainty that there will not be a repetition of what happened with the water boards, with the direct appointment of people by the Department of the Environment. Tory Members may shake their heads but we have only to consider the family practitioner committees and other bodies set up by the DHSS. They are examples of Whitehall taking control of appointments nationally and locally to look after various services. There is more than enough precedent for my point.

Liverpool and other authorities have been mentioned. This paving Bill gives the Government a dry run in how to deal with other areas of local government where councillors have refused to have their authorities run down by Tory and Liberal coalitions, or to accept the legacy of despair and derelict housing with which Liverpool and other areas are faced. Those authorities refuse to make the cuts required of them by a Tory Government. The Bill sets a precedent for the abolition of elections in Liverpool and other areas, so that the Tory Cabinet can decide how those areas are to be run. I warn the Minister and the Secretary of State—he is not now present—that working people will not allow the Government to travel indefinitely along that road.

On 29 March, thousands of workers in Liverpool, London and elsewhere demonstrated against the manner in which the Tory Government wish to abolish the democratic control of the metropolitan councils. There were similar large demonstrations in Birmingham and Manchester. In my own authority area I have had discussions with transport workers, clerical officers and others working for the authority. Those discussions made it clear to me that people locally—and now on a national scale—will not indefinitely accept a Tory Government trampling on the rights of working people.

Democracy is not an abstract issue; it is a class issue. The class that the Opposition represent in this Chamber have fought for 150 years to extend democracy. They fought in the 19th century so that the right to vote could be extended to working people as a whole rather than be confined to landowners. In the early 20th century, there were struggles for women to be given the vote. In the second half of the 20th century there were struggles to get the voting age reduced to 18.

Working people have fought for the extension of democracy so that they can have greater control over how wealth is created and distributed in our society—so that we can lift the poor, the sick, the infirm, the elderly and the youth out of the morass of Tory policy and give them a decent life. That is why we fight for democracy.

It is instructive that occasionally there are debates within the Tory party. Those debates are not so much about principle; they are about timing—when it is appropriate to use the mailed fist or the velvet glove. This evening we have had speeches from right hon. Members opposing the measure. We shall welcome in the Opposition Lobby anyone who opposes the measure. But it is worth remembering that a dozen or so years ago those same people were trying to restrict freedoms within the trade union movement, and were responsible for the imprisonment in Pentonville of the dockers' shop stewards. We saw the reactions of working people to those events.

Democracy, I repeat, is a class issue. The ruling class, and their representatives in the Tory Cabinet, are in favour of democracy when they think that it can influence the closing of pits, or when they think that people such as Woodrow Wyatt can help to influence decisions on postal ballots and trade union elections. We are the only consistent defenders of democracy—[Interruption.] The working class and their representatives are the only consistent defenders of democracy.

The Government are no doubt confident that they can push the Bill through by using the carrot of office or the stick of the denial of office. But even if the Government can persuade Conservative Members to vote for the measure tonight, it will not be forgotten in the country that only the Labour party, in the longer term, will defend and extend the rights of working people, whether it is a question of electoral franchise or of having a say in how the wealth created by working people is to be distributed.

Whenever we oppose the rights of the wealthy and the privileged in our society, the Tories seek to ride roughshod over working people and their rights. The Tories tried to cripple the trade unions through the Employment Act 1982. Now they are trying to abolish the GLC and the metropolitan councils, which have attempted to co-operate with working people in ending the ravages of employment, low pay and poor housing.

I represent an area which in 10 years has become one of the poorest in the whole of the United Kingdom. A third of the people in the county and region that I represent are on or below the official poverty line. Half the 250,000 people there who are on the dole have been unemployed for over one year.

When the West Midlands county council attempts, through the sponsorship of a low pay unit, to identify social problems or to pursue economic development policies to tackle some of the worst areas of deprivation, the Secretary of State and the Cabinet seek to abolish it.

The debate is about democracy but it is also about the rights of working people to economic democracy, to a job, to a house, to a proper education and a decent health service. The Government may manage to get the necessary number of their supporters through the Lobby tonight to vote for the ending of local democracy, but they will find that the working people will resist not only this measure but any similar Tory measures in the future.

7.27 pm
Mr. David Howell (Guildford)

Despite the youth of the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist), his speech sounded like the faded Marxism of a very old man. I do not think that the world he described really exists, except in his mind, and I do not think that his views add anything to the debate or enable us to tackle the serious problems raised by the Bill.

I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House agreed, at the beginning of our proceedings this afternoon, to take the Committee stage of the Bill on the Floor of the House. He did not concede that it was a constitutional matter, but I believe that it is, just as I believe that the Rates Bill is a constitutional matter. Those are issues that we should treat with the greatest care and tackle only with the most careful consideration, because they involve the customs and patterns of our constitution. I believe that the Government's stand so far on those matters suffers from what is called—in the current jargon—poor presentation, but I do not think that the Government's position is half as weak as my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), in a devastating speech, sought to make it appear.

I find no difficulty in the concept, which lies at the end of the pattern of legislation on which we have now embarked, of handing down additional powers to the great borough and metropolitan districts—and, in the case of London in particular, to enormous boroughs of hundreds of thousands of people, many of them with ancient lineage, great importance and influence—and bringing those powers nearer to the people.

It is nonsense for the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East to speak of 18 million people being disfranchised. Is he dismissing the whole business of local government as conducted by the great boroughs of London? It is quite wrong to talk in such terms. As one who wishes to see a greater diffusion of power rather than a concentration of power, I am not troubled by a further delegation of powers and duties to the borough councils in the Greater London area, and I see no particular difficulty in requiring interim arrangements to be established while that new pattern of delegation comes about, or having reserve powers which will come into operation in May 1985 if the House decides on a new pattern to replace the existing GLC.

The powers are reserve powers. The word "paving" is an unhappy choice. The powers will enable us, if we decide to replace the GLC with another elected body, or to have a two tier pattern of the Whitehall Departments and the boroughs, to cancel the election and have interim arrangements for the succeeding 11 months. My right hon. Friends have waxed eloquent and indignant about this matter. It is true that it is a constitutional matter, but the Government of the day are entitled to make such a constitutional move, to bring forward arguments and to propose reform. Why should there not be constitutional change from time to time, as long as it is openly recognised for what it is?

The real question behind the Bill is one that you have allowed to be discussed, Mr. Deputy Speaker——

Mr. Buchan

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howell

The real question is whether the path along which the Bill helps us—until the next Bill—is the right one. That is a constitutional issue.

In many ways, the legislation of which this Bill is the first part takes us in the opposite direction to the Rates Bill which is now in another place. The aim is apparently—we do not have all the details before us—to strengthen the London boroughs. I shall speak in particular about the metropolis of London. The Tory party has been trying to strengthen the London boroughs for a hundred years. It has not always had the support of the Socialists, and in the 1880s it was not supported by the progressives. In that sense, this move is a return to the past.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup spoke of the Bill as a retrograde step. In one sense, that is true. The Bill marks a return to the aims of those who argued, from the earliest days of London government reform in the 19th century, that the boroughs were the most important democratic force in London government and that some scepticism should be employed in reviewing the work, the efforts and the ambitions of the larger umbrella organisation, the original London county council.

Mr. Ron Lewis (Carlisle)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howell

So, in one sense, the Bill is a return to the past. In another, it is a move to the future. There can be no doubt that the whole pattern of urban life and devolution has taken us on from the high tide of metropolitan government and the metropolitan idea. I suspect that in future there will be increasing pressures to move away from the massive umbrella organisations for metropolitan government and towards a type of government that more closely corresponds to the true nature of the conurbation of London, which is a cluster of cities rather than a single city.

Mr. Buchan

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howell

The aims of the reserve powers and of the powers in the forthcoming Bill will be in line with the future needs of local government. [Interruption.]

There remains a key question for the future. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) will permit me to ask it. Even when the London boroughs have been strengthened, will there still be a strategic role to be performed, of a kind that did not exist at the time of the inception of the LCC one hundred years ago?

We shall hear much more about the Marshall report when we discuss the Bill in the autumn. Lord Marshall came to the conclusion that there was indeed a strategic role of some kind. However, he had some difficulty in defining strategy and in defining that role. He mentioned in general terms the need for supervision over the planning activities of the boroughs. He dealt with roads and traffic, and talked about the need for a strategic concept in deciding the investment priorities in the future road and public transport patterns in London. I believe that my right hon. Friends will have to think much more carefully than they appear to have done so far about how to handle the strategic role.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

My right hon. Friend states that the Government will have to think carefully about the strategic role. Many of us would agree with him. Does not that show how unwise it is—to put it mildly—to anticipate the will of Parliament by passing this Bill, which will in effect cancel the elections, anticipating the fact that next year both Houses of Parliament will agree to abolish the Greater London council without any clear idea of what will replace it?

Mr. Howell

My hon. Friend—whom I greatly respect on these matters—is wrong about anticipating the will of Parliament. The will of Parliament will be expressed when the Bill to abolish the GLC has its Second Reading. If the will of Parliament is that the GLC should not be reformed, replaced or abolished as suggested in that Bill, the present Bill will fall. There will be no anticipation in any sense that should worry my hon. Friend.

What we will have to decide, when we discuss the Bill with which these reserve powers are connected, is how the proposed London planning commission could be organised and whether there should be, for instance, an authority under the Secretaries of State for Transport and the Environment for dealing with traffic. The London regional transport organisation will deal with the operators of public transport—the buses and the underground. Personally, I wish that it also embraced the south-east region of British Rail, but that is a separate issue. It is wrong to suppose that that legislation will solve the problem of traffic, traffic administration and road investment priorities in the metropolis. There is a great need for a vast improvement in traffic organisation, road investment and integration between road investment and other forms of rapid transit in London. That will require an intense strategic thrust and insight. I do not believe that anyone has a clear idea of how the Government think that that should be provided under the arrangements mentioned sketchily in the White Paper.

We should recognise that the changes are constitutional, but I see no great difficulty in trying to make such changes which lead to a greater diffusion and delegation of powers to massive local authorities which should be treated with respect and strengthened. That reinforces my doubts about the general powers in the Rates Bill, which I hope will be considerably amended in another place.

The Government will need to clarify greatly their proposals for handling traffic and road investment priorities in the capital. It is not good enough to say that the boroughs will be the traffic authorities because, big as they are—they represent perhaps 400,000 people and cover large areas—they are not big enough to handle the vast problems of mobility in the great cluster of cities that make up and will continue to make up London.

Finally I make one plea. My right hon. and hon. Friends should have a care in using too freely the argument about the supremacy of Parliament in matters of local government reform and in moving on to a more delegated or more centralised system, whichever comes out in the future. There should be more sensitivity when talking about the right and supremacy of the House in making changes in what is alleged to be a unitary system of government. The truth remains that the esteem and subtle glory of this place rests on the fact that Parliament presides over independent and separate institutions and has not tried to use its supremacy to put them down. We should always remember that in our handling of local government reform.

I believe that if a system which gives more powers to the boroughs and metropolitan districts can be devised and it can be combined with a thrust, especially in London, for the reorganisation and modernisation of traffic and roads, which have stagnated for years under the GLC, we shall have real progress, in democratic terms and in terms of good government. Surely that is the aim.

7.41 pm
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

I was not altogether sure whether the right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) was speaking for or against the Bill, but perhaps he is rather like the man who sat on the fence waiting for the iron to enter his soul. Listening to some of the speeches from Conservative Members I have had the feeling that I am intruding on private grief. Nevertheless, I should like to add my voice to the criticism of the Bill.

The Secretary of State and his somewhat benighted Under-Secretary of State, who has unfortunately left us for the moment, must now be feeling rather like two coconuts in a shy at a fair. This is not the first time that that pair of hon. Members have been castigated by both sides of the House. I should have thought that, by now, they would have started to learn the error of their ways.

I shall confine myself to the issue as it affects the Greater London council, a body of which I have been proud to be a member for the past 14 years. It is interesting to see two previous leaders of the GLC, from completely different parties, sitting up in the Strangers Gallery. It is also interesting how the Bill has united both Tory and Labour opponents in the House and in county hall.

The Secretary of State has been quoting precedent for the Bill and using the examples of the 1963 and 1972 local government reorganisations. Those reorganisations cannot possibly be compared with the Bill. An excellent Library briefing says quite clearly. These interim arrangements are unique in modern local government organisation in that full elections are to be cancelled to local authorities which are to continue alone for a period beyond the date of these elections. In 1963 and 1972, elected bodies took over the powers of the earlier organisations. It is wrong for right hon. and hon. Members to suggest that powers are going to the boroughs. They are going not to the boroughs but to joint boards. Indeed, far from going directly to the boroughs, they are going to indirectly elected joint boards, which are a device that was rejected in London as early as 1855. Never before has the House been asked to approve the abolition of an election for a body that will remain in existence in name and in terms of powers after that election has been abolished.

Right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have pointed out that there is another disturbing consequence. If this dangerous and undemocratic Bill becomes law, on 6 May 1985, the Labour administration in county hall which was duly elected by Londoners at the ballot box in 1981 will be replaced at a stroke by a Tory-controlled regime appointed by the boroughs. An election will have been abolished and the political control of the GLC will have been changed without a vote having been cast by Londoners.

I know that there are some fair-minded Conservative Members—even among Environment Ministers. I ask all fair-minded Conservative Members to think for one moment what their reactions would have been had a Labour Government made such a proposal. If a Labour Government had abolished elections in the shire counties and handed over administrative power and political control to a series of joint boards and quangos, what language would Conservative Members have used to describe it? What language would have been used by the Tory newspapers to describe such a measure?

Mr. Simon Hughes


Mr. Banks

Is it therefore any wonder that a leading Tory GLC member, Mr. George Tremlett, wrote today in the Morning' Star of all places—the Bill has created some strange bedfellows—as follows: The proposals are so outrageous and so contrary to all the Conservative traditions of government that they must call into question Mrs. Thatcher's capacity to form a balanced judgment on important issues of public policy". In yesterday's copy of The Times, 11 leading Tory members of the GLC signed a letter of protest. The Bill is opposed by the overwhelming majority of Tories in county hall. It has divided the Tory party in London right down the middle and has clearly divided the Tory party in the House. I am naturally no great mourner of news about Tory party division, but it demonstrates a growing and deep disquiet within the ranks of the Conservative party at the shoot-from-the-hip style of the Prime Minister. It is the style that leads to speaking first and thinking afterwards.

The Bill cannot be considered in isolation from the proposal to abolish the GLC. That latter proposal was to be found in the Conservative manifesto and therefore, I suppose, has some respectability. Ministers constantly remind us that it was in the manifesto, but the abolition of elections was not in the manifesto, nor was Jt in the Gracious Speech. It was not an issue at the general election.

Mr. Tracey

The hon. Gentleman has listed various members of the Conservative party in the House and in local government who apparently oppose the Government's policies, but many Conservative Members would be extremely interested to hear his explanation, as he is such a close soulmate of Mr. Ken Livingstone, of what he said in March 1979. Mr. Livingstone said: 'Abolish the GLC' because I think it would be a major saving and would have released massive resources which could have been put into far more productive use. It would be useful for the hon. Gentleman to explain why Mr. Livingstone has changed his stance.

Mr. Banks

I will indeed. I can also quote the present Secretary of State for the Environment, who, speaking at the same time, said: I therefore believe that we have got progressively to return to the concept that the GLC is a strategic authority. Let me explain to the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey). Ken Livingstone was wrong in 1979 and he is right now. The Secretary of State was right in 1979 and he is wrong now.

We are being asked to abolish an election. If the Government are determined to abolish the GLC, let them bring forward the substantive legislation first and let the House and the country judge it on its merits. We are being asked to approve the abolition of GLC elections without knowing the Government proposals for the successor bodies. That is a quite unprecedented move, I believe. It is no good the Secretary of State saying that the abolition of the elections will not be triggered, until the Second Reading in the House of Commons. As right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House know, there is another stage in the legislative process, and it involves another place.

I believe that, in the absence of those substantive proposals, the elections due in 1985 should take place. Why will the Government not allow them to take place? There is one reason, and one only: the Government know that the Tory party in London would be annihilated at the ballot box in 1985 were those elections to take place. The opinion poll that MORI did in the Finchley constituency of the Prime Minister showed clearly that a majority of Conservative voters even in her own constituency are opposed to the measure that her Government are putting forward.

Mr. Litherland

On this point of opinion polls, I should like to inform my hon. Friend that the Manchester Evening News opinion poll came out strongly in favour of no abolition of the Greater Manchester council, and that the Bishop of Manchester has now called for an inquiry into alternatives. Does he not think it unfair that the metropolitan counties have to suffer because a Prime Minister takes a paranoic view of Ken Livingstone and thinks that he is immortal?

Mr. Banks

My hon. Friend has conveyed the extent of the opposition to the proposals which we are being asked to consider today. I said that I was confining my remarks to London, but I am very mindful how much opposition there is to these proposals in the country as a whole.

If the Greater London council is so unpopular with Londoners, if the daily propaganda in Tory rags like The Sun, the Daily Express and the Daily Mail is correct and represents the truth, all the Government have to do is put it to the test and let Londoners decide. But the Government dare not let Londoners decide. The Government are frightened because, in the final analysis, the Prime Minister, like all bullies, is a coward.

For my part, I would rather see the GLC controlled by the Conservative party than see those elections abolished—and so, I suspect, would the great majority of my party. If the elections were held in May 1985 and the Tory party won on an abolition ticket, then—as the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) said—it would immeasurably strengthen the Government's case. It would put the Government's case beyond question, beyond peradventure, and would totally destroy the opposition being mounted by the Labour GLC and the Labour party in the House. If the Government are so convinced of the merits of their case for abolition, they should let the 1985 elections take place and let Londoners decide, because it is their right to vote that is now being taken from them.

I said that it was impossible to separate this Bill from the abolition of the GLC. It was interesting to hear the Secretary of State talking about the way this proposal came forward. As I understand it, it was written by the right hon. Lady the Prime Minister into the Conservative party manifesto, and when it appeared it appalled her more thinking Cabinet colleagues. Most of them, of course, are now outside the Cabinet and are still appalled by what is being put forward. I believe that the right hon. Lady is leading her party towards the darkness of authoritarianism, which will inevitably lead to a backlash outside the House.

The right hon. Lady, we know, hates any opposition within or outside her party; the evidence of her hatred of such opposition is all around her on the Government Benches today and in all the speeches that we have heard.

I find it most distasteful and rather alarming that measures of this sort can originate in the mind of one individual who then does not even bother to come into the House to listen to some of the arguments. I do not expect the right hon. Lady to be in any way convinced by my arguments, but I would have very much liked her to sit there and listen to some of the arguments by her right hon. and hon. Friends.

Mr. Martin Stevens (Fulham)

The Prime Minister does not need anybody to defend her, but it is distasteful—to use the hon. Gentleman's words—to hear this travesty of her character and attitudes presented to the House. Those of us who have the pleasure of working with her know that the picture that the hon. Gentleman has painted is a farrago of nonsense. An attempt to present her as an autocratic dictator does no credit to the House and is of no service to the country.

Mr. Banks

When she reads the contribution from the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stevens) tomorrow, the right hon. Lady might prefer him, because I think that she will soon be looking around for a new Secretary of State for the Environment. That might have been the hon. Gentleman's early bid for that position. It will not be a happy one if this is the sort of legislation that continues to come before the House.

The Secretary of State and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary might dress up abolition of the GLC in other language that is perhaps more acceptable to the House—the sort of pseudo-economic and pseudo-administrative terminology that will give some respectability to this measure. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) said, the truth was spoken by the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit)—the Norman Hunter of British constitutional theory. I think it is well worth while giving that particular quotation in full—I put it down as early-day motion 598, which perhaps hon. Gentlemen would now like to sign. The right hon. Member for Chingford said: the Labour Party is the Party of division. In its present form it represents a threat to the democratic values and institutions on which our parliamentary system is based. The Greater London Council is typical of this new, modern, divisive version of socialism. It must be defeated. So we shall abolish the Greater London Council. Where are the economic arguments, the administrative arguments, the arguments that this particular piece of paving legislation is going to lead to greater efficiency of local government? The reasons for the abolition of the GLC and for this paving Bill are avowedly party political reasons of the most crude and blatant nature. The House should perhaps be grateful to the right hon. Member for Chingford for spelling it out in the sort of language that even a journalist of The Sun can understand. I should like to know whether the Secretary of State or the Parliamentary Under-Secretary agree with what their right hon. Friend said. That would be an interesting point for them to make in winding up.

I would remind the House that the GLC was set up following an intensive three-year study by a Royal Commission and that weighty evidence was considered at that time. In its conclusions, the Herbert commission—the name by which the Royal Commission was known—devolved all possible powers from the GLC to the boroughs. When the Secretary of State or Ministers say that what is being done is giving powers back to the boroughs in London, it shows their total lack of knowledge of local government structure in London.

The Marshall inquiry, which the hon. Member for Surbiton mentioned in connection with a comment made by Ken Livingstone, took evidence in 1977 and duly reported.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

Would the hon. Gentleman just remind the House of the powers which have been transferred to the London boroughs since the GLC was formed and since the Herbert commission reported? I am sure that, as someone who served on the GLC, he will be well aware of the important responsibilities which have been transferred.

Mr. Banks

Indeed I can remember them and I could, if time allowed, spell them all out in detail. I would just suggest to the hon. Member that in all those cases those powers were taken away from the GLC by Conservative Governments. Indeed, the Government are just taking another power away from the GLC—the control of London Transport. That is being done not to bring about a more efficient transport system in London, but to pave the way for abolition. The salami tactic of slicing off more and more pieces ultimately means that the body from which the slices have been taken no longer has any strategic function, but we have not reached that stage with the GLC.

When the present Secretary of State gave evidence to the Marshall inquiry in 1977, he made it clear that the GLC should "look after strategy". When asked for his view about extension of the GLC's boundary to the M25 he agreed that that would be logical—there was no sense in preserving boundary lines solely for historical reasons". When asked about social services co-ordination, he said that it would make dealing with matters like the maltreatment of children easier to deal with if both education and social services came under the same authority". He sought to add more and more powers to the GLC.

What has changed the right hon. Gentleman's mind since 1977? Has another Royal Commission investigated local government structure in London without our knowing about it, or has a mere change in political control at county hall brought in a form of Labour control that he and the Prime Minister dislike, as the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry made so clear?

The Bill would take the structure of London back to the indirectly elected Metropolitan Board of Works, which was abolished in 1890 when the London county council was set up. We knew that the Prime Minister had a great love for Victorian values. It seems that the same applies to Victorian local government structures, as she wishes to take us back to 1855.

The Bill is unprecedented in the history of the House, and it must be stopped. However persuasive and entertaining the arguments marshalled by Conservative Members—it does us good to hear them—the rest: will turn up at 10 o'clock to troop through the Lobby with the Government. If the Prime Minister wished to add an eighth day to the week she could undoubtedly persuade Conservative Members to vote for it, such is her party's majority. It is a perfect example of elective dictatorship in action.

There is, however, another aspect of this institution—the other place. If the House of Lords wishes to maintain its position as the long-stop against this House passing undemocratic measures, that is where this measure must be stopped. If there is any justification for the existence of the other House—it is certainly ironic that I should be defending it here—and if it wishes to win a few friends on this side, albeit on a temporary basis, it should carry out the function for which it exists and stop this House acting undemocratically. If this House passes the Bill it will certainly be acting undemocratically.

In my first speech in the House in June last year I said that the GLC should not be treated like a south bank equivalent of the Belgrano, to be sunk to satisfy the Prime Minister's power lust. The GLC campaign against abolition of the elections is winning massive support from people of all party affiliations and of none. Before May 1985, the GLC will humiliate the Government. We shall teach the Prime Minister a lesson that she richly deserves—a lesson which is long overdue and from which she will never recover politically.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. As a large number of Members wish to take part in the debate and there is not a lot of time left, I hope that hon. Members will have regard for the interests of their colleagues.

8.4 pm

Sir Ian Gilmour (Chesham and Amersham)

There is a certain mystery about the Bill and about this issue. When proposals for the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan counties were put forward a year ago, it was widely believed that those authorities constituted a wasteful and unnecessary tier of local government and there was wide support for the proposals. The mystery is that the more the case has been advanced, the less good it has seemed to be. I accept the statement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that, contrary to widespread belief, the proposals were not dreamed up just before the general election but had been widely thought about before.

That being so, it is surprising that the proposals were not thought out better or, apparently, at all. Even if they were dreamed up some time before the election, they seem not to have been scrutinised at that stage. That is why they do not bear scrutiny now. The more the proposals come out in dribs and drabs, the less convincing is the structure—if that is the right word—proposed by the Government, and it is made still less convincing by the interim arrangements before us today. Whatever may be said, removing an elected majority of one party and substituting a nominated majority of another is constitutionally unacceptable and makes the argument seem even weaker than it did before.

I disagree with the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym) that because the main proposal was in the manifesto the Government are committed to it. The hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) referred to Lord Denning. I appeal to the even higher authority of the Lord Chancellor, who said that doctrines of mandate and manifesto were to his mind wholly unconstitutional". He said: It is, of course, right and proper that, when parties go to the country, they should explain, in broad language, what they consider the situation requires in terms of general policy, and what measures they would propose to carry out if entrusted with a majority in Parliament. But in practice, while before the election the manifesto is written rather in the style of an advertisement for patent medicine, after the election, it is treated as a pronouncement from Sinai, with every jot and tittle of that unread, and often unreadable, document reverenced as Holy Writ. The actual situation with which a new government is confronted is often vastly different from what it was imagined to be in opposition, and the measures proposed in the manifesto often include the impossible, the irrelevant, and the inappropriate. It is not for me to judge into which category these proposals fall, but they certainly do not come into the category of measures that should necessarily be pursued. It is plain to me, as it is to the Lord Chancellor, that the doctrine of the mandate is purely fictional, because most people do not read the manifestos and the vast majority cast their votes on general rather than particular issues. Therefore, merely because something is in the manifesto does not mean that the Government feel that they have to carry it out when a little further inquiry shows that the proposal is undesirable.

The whole trouble with the Government's general approach to local government—and with both their local government measures so far—is that it is based on far too little thought and far too little fact. Conservatives above all people should be chary of attacking institutions before they have found something to put in their place. To put it mildly, "Streamlining the Cities" is not an improvement on the present system. It would be far better to start again. The structure of local government is important, but finance is even more important and both need to be looked at properly. If we continue as we are, I am certain that we shall run into considerable difficulties, that the Government will run into considerable difficulties, and, even more important, that our institutions will be damaged. What we need, therefore, is a high level inquiry. It need not take long, because it could be composed of full-time members and, after all, a great deal of work on the matter was done in the 1970s. I think that an acceptable solution could be found fairly quickly, and I am sure that that is the rational way to proceed.

If my right hon. Friend sticks to his present course, he will win the vote tonight, but he will lose the argument, he will lose the opportunity to reform local government, and I think that he will lose a great deal of credit. Therefore, I beg him to change his course.

8.10 pm
Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)

I am honoured to take part in the debate as the only Member of the House who is a member of Merseyside county council. So proud am I of Merseyside county council that I have decided to wear my Merseyside county council tie. It has been interesting to observe that some very strange people are proud of Merseyside county council. When the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Thornton) returns to the Chamber, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment will see that he is wearing the Merseyside county council tie—a rather strange choice on this occasion.

I am proud of Merseyside county council because, when I was chairman of its economic development committee for some two and a half years, we generated 7,000 permanent jobs on Merseyside, which is 7,000 more than have been created by the Government since they came to power in 1979. In all, 40,000 jobs have been lost on Merseyside as a result of the Government's economic policies. One notes in the approach of the Government not only their lack of proper consultation, but their lack of open government in revealing the evidence that has been produced. The Secretary of State for the Environment, when occupying another post some 10 years ago, told the British nation that it must learn to brush its teeth in the dark. Now he is telling the House that it must learn to legislate in the dark without seeing the full evidence produced which could, and should, be provided in the Library of the House.

We are asked to expect colleagues on the district councils to take over functions of the metropolitan counties in a crucial year when change is taking place. They are not likely to pay much regard to matters concerning the metropolitan counties during their brief tenure of office as county councillors. We have been told by the Secretary of State that elections on 7 May 1985 would be inadvisable, and that the councillors then elected would be in office for less than a year, so there is little point, he said, in going ahead with the elections. However, we know that there was an argument in the Cabinet. One of its many leaks told us that the Cabinet group, known euphemistically as MISC 95, had an argument about whether there should be a principle of extending the lives of the existing county councillors or of substitution. It opted for substitution, because its hatred and its intolerance of political opposition knows no bounds. Instead, when the so-called reform takes place, joint boards will be created from the membership of the district councils.

The district councils will still be subject to triannual elections. There will be an election every year for one third of the councils. No doubt they will be using clause 3 year in and year out to find replacements. This will mean continuous disruption to the work of the county councillors, which will add to the fragmentation of the services. We should be returning, if we are to continue with the legislation, to the situation that existed between 1972 and 1974 when the existing councillors elected in 1972 were allowed to continue in office until 1974.

Mr. Martin Stevens

The hon. Gentleman states that the Government's intention to run the GLC and the metropolitan councils through the borough and district councils is due to their hatred of opposition. If the members of the borough councils are nominated in proportion to the political balance on those councils, as provided for in the Bill, there will still be a Labour-dominated adminstration.

Mr. Wareing

My information is to the contrary. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that there is no doubt about what will happen with the Merseyside county council. If the situation in 1984–85 follows the lines of what currently obtains, we shall find ourselves in the position of having 24 Labour members, 17 Conservative members and eight Liberal/SDP members. It must be borne in mind that in Merseyside we are being asked not only to add to the work of the present district councillors, but that 49 of those district councillors should take on the jobs presently carried out by 99 councillors. Who will represent each of the 99 wards in the county of Merseyside currently represented by the elected county councillors? The Secretary of State knows well the difficulties in which we find ourselves in the city of Liverpool. He knows that much of this has been due to the hung council that existed between 1973 and 1983. Now he proposes to impose upon Wirral, St. Helens, Sefton and Knowsley districts the same pattern of government that Liverpool suffered in that period of 10 years, and which created the problems that now face the local authority.

I warn Conservative councillors in the district of Sefton that there is every likelihood, if the legislation goes through, that boundary changes will have to take place to provide economic viability for the new district councils that will have more functions to perform. The Government—and I should like the Secretary of State to tell me if I am wrong on this—will be considering the boundaries between Sefton and Knowsley. Political control by the Tory party in the Sefton district, which includes Crosby, will not be maintained as a result of this legislation. To argue that there will be substantial savings in local government staff on Merseyside is ludicrous when one considers that the functions of Merseyside county council will be divided between three or four joint boards, seven areas of inter-district co-operation, and seven joint committees. Eight of the functions will be performed in each of the five districts. There will probably be 10 bodies concerned with the arts, one national prosecuting service involved with one of the functions and two shire counties—Lancashire and Cheshire—involved with smallhold-ings. How on earth will all that result in staff savings?

If it is argued that those who will administer the services—generally district councillors—will have been directly elected, I remind hon. Members that 75 per cent. of expenditure of the county council is on police, fire services, passenger transport and waste disposal. Those functions will be handed over to the joint boards on which there will be no overall political control.

Ratepayers will be faced with a multitude of rate demands because of the bureaucracy that the Government are creating as they move not towards greater local accountability, as the Secretary of State would have us believe, but towards more Whitehall dictatorship.

The Secretary of State said last week that the savings involved ought to be substantial. But he cannot say how much will be saved, and we should remember that he is the same Secretary of State who said that the reorganisation of the NHS would cost £5 million when it actually cost £54 million.

We cannot get away from the reasons for abolition. We cannot deal only with the abolition of elections. The Secretary of State told the Knowsley Conservative association that the Bill was necessary because the expenditure of the Merseyside county council had more than doubled, from £110 million to £251 million, between 1978 and 1984.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)

Bearing in mind the high unemployment in my hon. Friend's constituency and in my own, did the Secretary of State mention how many jobs would be lost with the abolition of the county council?

Mr. Wareing

No. The Secretary of State made no such comment, but we know that under the hung city council 4,000 jobs were lost, and I can imagine a similar situation occurring as a result of the Bill.

The increased expenditure of the county council between 1978 and 1984 included a 174 per cent. increase in the bill for police pay and a 128 per cent. increase in the bill for firemen's pay. Those were nationally agreed increases.

There has been an increase of 111 per cent. in expenditure on passenger transport on Merseyside, but the income of the authority has increased by only 41 per cent. because of Government cuts in the transport supplementary grant. If the Tory party's Merseyside manifesto of 1981 had been put into operation, fares would have increased by 78 per cent. and there would have been further cuts in services.

Merseyside is being asked to sweep aside the electoral victory of the Labour party in 1981, which was confirmed by the victories of Labour parliamentary candidates last year, and to take on the Tory party manifesto of cuts in services, more redundancies and attacks on the living standards of working people.

The Secretary of State ignores the fact that this year's increase in expenditure includes £500,000 towards the international garden festival. The county council will be penalised to the tune of £1.5 million for co-operating with the Government in that venture.

The people of Merseyside know that if the Bill goes through, and is followed by abolition, they can say goodbye to their bus services, the ferry service on the river Mersey and the county council's policy of providing unemployment centres and finance for the unemployed to get together to form worker co-operatives.

We are proud of the assistance that the county council gives to the arts on Merseyside. If the Bill goes through, the arts will suffer. Do not expect the Liverpool city council to spend a penny to help the Royal Liverpool philharmonic orchestra. The city council is already under attack from the Government and it will not be able to provide funds for the museums and art galleries that are part of our heritage. The people of Merseyside know that in fighting the Bill we are fighting for essential services.

The Secretary of State wrote in the Liverpool Daily Post on 24 January: I believe beyond any doubt that the vast majority of people want abolition of the Merseyside county council". Let him put it to the test; publish the evidence and allow elections to be held.

Mr. Cormack

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you kindly remind the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) that he has been speaking for nearly 20 minutes and that many other hon. Members wish to take part in the debate?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is not a point of order, but I have appealed for brevity and I hope that the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) will bear that in mind.

Mr. Wareing

I appreciate the difficulties of the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack), but I have waited some time to make my speech.

There is overwhelming support for the maintenance of the present top tier of local government, not only in Manchester, as my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Litherland) pointed out, and in London, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) explained, but in Merseyside. A poll conducted by the Liverpool polytechnic found that 70.3 per cent. of those questioned favoured the retention of the Merseyside county council, 80 per cent. were against increasing the powers of central Government, and 86.8 per cent. favoured the county council's cheap fares policy.

Mr. Parry

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Tory members of the Merseyside county council oppose abolition, as does the Merseyside chamber of commerce?

Mr. Wareing

The leaders of the three parties on the county council have said that, although there may be differences of strategy, they all favour retention of the county council. There is no doubt about that.

When the Secretary of State addressed the Tory party conference last October, he told delegates to listen to the voice of industry. The voice of industry on Merseyside has been expressed by the Merseyside chamber of commerce. It has quite clearly said that the county council should be retained because of the work that it has done in promoting business and economic activity on Merseyside and the work that it has done for the arts. That is what the voice of industry says on Merseyside. I hope that the Secretary of State will listen to that voice. Incidentally, the president of the Merseyside chamber of commerce is none other than the Earl of Derby, who hosted the Secretary of State when he visited Knowsley old hall last weekend.

A few weeks ago, the people of Merseyside made their views quite clear when, at the end of a football match at Wembley, the crowd in unison cried, "Merseyside, Merseyside." It is not only a geographical expression but a political entity. It must be retained as a democratic political entity, and we must not allow this Bill to pave the way for an increase in totalitarianism in this country. The consequences for this country of the rate-capping Bill and the abolition of democratic authorities are dire indeed. We are travelling along a very slippery slope. I only hope that there is a sufficient number of Conservative Members and Conservatives in the other place to ensure that this country is saved from the Thatcher dictatorship.

8.31 pm
Dr. Keith Hampson (Leeds, North-West)

I shall try to be brief, despite the fact that I have been provoked by the remarks that have been made.

In his opening speech my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that there would be a statement about a major part of this issue. Some of us, particularly those of us from the metropolitan authorities, know that the arts, an important part of our local culture, are very worried about where their funds will come from. All that my right hon. Friend could say was that a statement would be made, somewhere else, about the provision being made for the arts. That does a disservice to hon. Members on both sides of the House, particularly as last Thursday I asked for a statement to be made in the House on that very matter.

I shall briefly outline my position. I think that many of my right hon. and hon. Friends will agree that ideally we should debate the paving provisions and the right to hold elections to the GLC and the metropolitan counties after we have decided what to do about those authorities. That is the ideal position. However, I am a realist, and I should have thought that we were all realistic about this sort of thing, as it often happens. There is not a great conspiracy. All Governments face the same problems. The abolition Bill is a very detailed, complicated, lengthy proposal and it has taken much longer to draft than anyone, with the best of intentions, expected. Therefore, it will be late. We are debating this Bill now because it concerns next year's elections. If it was part of the Bill that has been delayed, it would probably not have received Royal Assent in time for those elections. It is as simple as that. That is the reality, and there are no great consequences.

The central question is what to do with a council that is in existence and whose next elections are to be abolished. Hon. Members have discussed all sorts of issues, but that is the central one. I find myself in a difficult position, because there are certain precedents for saying that the existing people should be kept in train. However, I do not believe that the precedents are all that good in this instance. I have great respect for my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath).

Mr. Cormack

Does my hon. Friend think that this Bill would be before us if the Conservative party had been in control of those authorities?

Dr. Hampson

Yes. I had not intended to deal with that, because in a sense it relates to a position that I held in the Government. Supposedly, one is not meant to talk about such matters. However, I assure my hon. Friend that when the Conservative party came to power in 1979 and I had the privilege of serving in the Department of the Environment, within weeks one of the issues raised was the proposed abolition of the metropolitan authorities. The majority of those authorities were then Conservative controlled. I am quite open about the fact that I live in a metropolitan authority which most people regard as the best, sanest and most responsible of all metropolitan authorities, but I am still—just as I was then—committed to their abolition.

I believe that we got things wrong before in creating them and that brings me back to my point about my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup. We got them dead wrong. Frankly, it takes some nerve for him to say that the proper procedure would have been to have a Royal Commission. In that case, it took three years. It took his Government two years to come to decisions about it, and they ignored all the central recommendations of that Royal Commission. Moreover, they saddled us with these hybrid creations—metropolitan counties—which have no real intellectual or local government justification. At the time, they were a compromise. As has been said, they have no historical roots. More importantly, the Royal Commission denied that there was any value in them. It proposed that my city, Leeds, and other cities should be authorities in themselves. There was the notion of the city region. The Government of the day, however, went totally against the Royal Commission.

We ended up with authorities which were powerful, bureaucratic and expensive, but which did not have any effective responsibility. We did not give the metropolitan councils real powers that mattered. We did not, for example, give them powers over education. Their only effective power was over transport, and therefore they saw no need to juxtapose the costs of one major service against those of another. They set about trying to create roles for themselves, just as the GLC has done.

The hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) tried to convey the impression that we were somehow denying local democracy and about 18 million people were being frustrated by the Bill, but it is a farce to suppose that the metropolitan counties and the GLC constitute local democracy. There is a form of local democracy that is much closer to the people. Most of those in my area do not have any affinity with the metropolitan council. They hardly know their metropolitan councillors. However, they are close to the district councils and to the councillors of the city of Leeds, because most of the services that matter to them are district services. Most of the money is district money. Only just over 20 per cent. is spent by the county council. That great monolith, the GLC, with all its bureaucracy, provides only one sixth of the money that is spent on services that affect the people of London.

Mr. Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington)

Does my hon. Friend agree that before the GLC spent £2 million on its public relations exercise very few Londoners knew what it stood for or what it did, and that even fewer were interested in voting at the GLC elections? It is only the £2 million of public money—soon to be £3 million—that the GLC has spent that has brought the issue to light. Such expenditure has led to this sort of Bill.

Dr. Hampson

I entirely agree. However, I apologise to the House for having been sidetracked. I had promised not to speak for too long.

I am amazed that Labour Members spoke not one word about the creation of the staff commission, which is essential to the proposed system. We are debating this dilemma now rather than later because of our beliefs. Opposition Members may snigger at that, but the Government are considering the staff involved and the provisions for them. It is worth putting on the record that we are worried about this matter. There is a problem of timing, and it is important to take that into account during this debate. No Labour Member mentioned the staff side of the issue.

The cities used to be one-tier authorities. It is crazy to think that there is something absolute about the two-tier system that presently exists. Local government has always evolved within circumscriptions. In that sense, we are in the mainstream of tradition.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup made the point that normally we move from indirectly elected representatives to directly elected representatives. That is not the tradition in local government. Most local governments throughout the world are not as independent as those in this country.

Mr. Litherland

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Hampson

I shall not give way. I do not wish to speak for too long.

Given that we are debating this subject now, how do we deal with the elections, and the successor bodies? There is a precedent for cancelling elections, but the position we presently face does not necessarily have a good precedent. In 1974 the successor bodies were directly elected, and Opposition Members harp on that point. Many people in the former bodies expected to be included in the successor organisations. In the interim, during the extra year that they were granted when the elections were cancelled, those people acted with a certain sense of responsibility. With respect, that is not the case now. We are faced with giving an extra year's life to people on the metropolitan councils and the GLC who have no sense of responsibility, no future and no power base left to them. Moreover, during the past four years, their track record has been very irresponsible.

Mr. Litherland


Dr. Hampson

I shall not give way. I am coining to the end of my speech. I promised to be brief. Many other hon. Members wish to speak.

Mr. Litherland

There is more than the GLC involved.

Dr. Hampson

I am talking about the metropolitan counties. Their actions have demonstrated that they are profligate. The evidence is available in the campaigns on a number of different issues in which each metropolitan council has participated. If one assumes that those councils will not inherit anything, how much more irresponsible will they be in the limited future?

Earlier today I cited the Brixton recreation centre. We can see on a grand scale what will happen if the GLC is given an extra year's grace. The GLC is buying that centre from the borough of Lambeth for £10 million. When the GLC is abolished, that centre will automatically revert to the borough of Lambeth. That borough is gratuitously being given £10 million. If such transfers of assets are happening now, what the devil will we be faced with in giving a year of grace to the metropolitan councils? We faced with irresponsibility, and we have faced that aspect before.

The year 1974 provides us with one parallel. In l974, parts of metropolitan districts, such as mine, which did not want to go into metropolitan districts after the reorganisation, ensured that they got rid of all their assets. They built swimming pools, bridle paths, parks and the rest so that those assets would not be transferred. Opposition Members are kidding themselves and the country generally if they believe that, in the year's grace granted, the metropolitan counties and the Labour authorities like the GLC will do other than spend that time transferring assets to Labour pocket boroughs and district councils.

It is about time that we got rid of the metropolitan counties and the GLC. I dislike the timing of this measure in the House, but the principle is clear. If we are to take this action, we should not give the metropolitan counties and the GLC a year's grace. In four years, who will remember the GLC, the metropolitan counties of South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire or even Ken Livingstone?

8.44 pm
Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)

A fundaniental and deep-rooted wrong will be committed if there is a majority in favour of this Bill. Elections will be abandoned for councils whose future has not yet been determined by Parliament. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State might reply that consultations have taken place and that the results justify the Government acting in advance of the abolition of the metropolitan counties. I do not believe that that statement, under any circumstances, justifies the Government's activity this evening.

Several groups have discussed the Bill. The Guardian has clearly said that there has been a major split among senior Cabinet Ministers about whether the Bill should be brought before Parliament. Tonight, we shall see a large vote by ex-Cabinet Ministers, ex-Prime Ministers and senior Tory Back Benchers who have made it clear, well in advance of this debate, that under no circumstances do they want the Government's business to succeed. Writing in The Times today, the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) said: To treat local authorities as simply the providers of services on terms laid down by the Secretary of State is to undermine one of the essential elements of our national life. Hitherto directly elected local government has been regarded as one of the twin pillars of our Constitution. What are the councils' opinions? Through a series of superb advertisements, on billboards and in the national press, the GLC and the six metropolitan counties are making absolutely clear their opposition to the Government's measure. A number of the leaders of the opposition on the metropolitan counties and the GLC are not happy about the possibility of a majority voting in favour of the Bill. Alan Greengross, the GLC Tory leader, is quoted in The Standard today. The article states: his party is passionately against scrapping the elections". The Tory leader and his colleagues on the Tyne and Wear metropolitan county council, which is part of the area I represent, supported the resolution carried by that council showing that the council holds a view similar to that of Mr. Greengross.

What about the people who have written to the Secretary of State about the abolition of the metropolitan counties and the GLC? The right hon. Gentleman has admitted, at long last, that the vast majority of the representations he receives are against abolition. It is not necessary to prove that. As surely as day follows night, those against abolition are against the paving Bill. The GLC has done an analysis of the responses known to it. It has found that 721 people are against the proposals in the White Paper and a paltry 10 are for them.

We can judge the views of the people living in the affected areas by the results of a series of opinion polls. Hon. Members have made great play about the 2:1 majority in the Prime Minister's constituency against abolition and against the Bill. The MORI poll showed that there is a 3:1 majority against abolition and therefore against the paving Bill.

The results will have been replicated and even bettered in the metropolitan counties, especially in Tyne and Wear. People are genuinely worried about the Government's attack on civil liberties and the democratic processes. People have experienced the results of trade union legislation and the generalised attack on local authorities and democracy through rate capping. The people have seen paramilitary activity against miners' picketing. Last night in the House hon. Members were, for the first time in 60 years, prevented from discussing the Finance Bill and matters affecting their constituents. Today we are witnessing a further attack on our democratic processes and rights with the Government's attempt to scrap another set of elections for councils that exist and will continue to exist after 1985.

I urge the Government to consider the fact that they are travelling down a dangerous road. They are setting a precedent that I, my colleagues and many Conservative Members see as a grave threat to principles that have been fought for and won over several centuries. The Government did not obtain a mandate from their discussions with the several and divers organisations that have been consulted.

It is safe to conclude that we are discussing a one-person Bill. The remainder of the Cabinet, the small-minded Ministers and thoughtless little men, are following their mistress in case their red boxes and chauffeur-driven Austin Princesses are taken from them. I suggest that they consider tonight the bigger sacrifice made by many of our forefathers to create the democratic system that Conservative Members are busy dismantling. To support that point, I shall quote from an article written by George Tremlett, OBE, a leading Tory councillor in the Morning Star. [Laughter.] It does not matter in which paper the article is published. George Tremlett wrote: During her first premiership, Mrs. Thatcher became obsessed with Ken Livingstone; she regarded him as a danger to the state. It was she who committed the Conservative Party to the abolition of the GLC by personally writing that commitment into the general election manifesto. The Secretary of State, speaking at the Tory party conference in 1983—this quotation has been read many times this evening—said: I am a Tory, and I have been brought up as a Tory, and I believe that the burden of proof is upon the man who advocates change, and if he does not satisfy that burden of proof then the change should not be made. Nothing that the Secretary of State has said tonight has satisfied me that he has proved his case. The demolition job carried out on the Bill by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) showed that the Secretary of State had no case to be massacred.

At the elections for the metropolitan counties people were asked to return members for four years to carry out tasks and fulfil certain objectives as outlined in the party manifesto. It was expected that those councillors would present themselves again in 1985 when they would be answerable for their activities over that four-year period. The people would exercise their fundamental right to take from those with whom they were dissatisfied that which they had previously given.

The people have done that on many occasions since the formation of the metropolitan counties and the GLC. The ruling groups have regularly changed on those authorities. Greater Manchester, Merseyside, West Yorkshire and the West Midlands—four of the six metropolitan counties—have experienced a change of controlling party in the three elections since 1973. In 1977, the council in my constituency succeeded in obtaining only a narrow majority. Why, therefore, is the Secretary of State frightened of elections? He cannot argue that, by some freak force of circumstances, it is impossible to change the parties controlling councils. The abolition of elections is denying the people the right to judge the legislators. Instead, there will be quangos. Is it not interesting that the party committed to abolishing quangos is setting out to create many more? That point is emphasised by a group of nine members of the GLC who said that: This will result in the replacement of a directly elected Labour council by a nominated Conservative council. We find this unacceptable. Much as we presently abhor the policies of the present administration at County Hall, we believe that judgement should be passed by the electorate and not by the Government. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) is quoted as saying recently: I do not call councils with nominated people an elected Local Government. I call it an extension of patronage. The freedom of the people to make their own judgment in the seven council areas is being taken away by the Government.

Councillor Michael Campbell, leader of Tyne and Wear, and his colleagues on the other metropolitan counties recently said in a letter: We as leaders of the six metropolitan county councils which provide services to 11.2 million people do not claim that the present system of local government and finance is perfect. Indeed we would welcome a full and independent inquiry into these issues as a matter of urgency, as would most of the 3,000 organisations and individuals who have formally criticised the Government's proposals. They are not dogmatically defending the councils. They are not afraid of change, no matter how deep and fundamental. They ask for a full inquiry and report that can be studied, and consultations, before there are any changes.

Why are the Government afraid of such activity? Why are they acting with such haste? By attacking our fundamental democratic rights the Government are going down a dangerous road, and many of the people whom I represent are frightened of where it will end. Tonight is the opportunity for Conservative Members to say, "Enough is enough."

8.55 pm
Mr. Patrick Ground (Feltham and Heston)

Few people who have lived in London for the past 20 years or in the metropolitan counties for the past 10 years can be under the illusion that we have a system of local government that is other than extremely imperfect, extravagant, capable of improvement, and capable of greater economy and responsiveness. That must be particularly the case for those who have served on one of those authorities. I believe that they seldom get over the initial surprise that they feel at the unreasonable and extraordinary amounts of money spent often on comparatively simple functions. Those who pay the rates in those areas view with incredulity the amounts of money spent.

In all those areas, there are people who remember the performance of the smaller councils that served the smaller areas that existed before the present authorities. I have yet to meet one of those people who remember the smaller authorities who does not think that they and the county councils that went with them were a better form of administration, and a more economical and responsive structure than the London boroughs and district councils that succeeded them.

I believe that there could be considerable agreement, across the parties, that the GLC and the metropolitan counties are too big, too cumbersome, too unwieldy and seriously under-responsive to public opinion and the wishes of the elected councillors of whatever party.

I profoundly believe that if we are committing ourselves to dismembering the present far from perfect system of local government in London and the six metropolitan counties, Parliament is entitled to be satisfied that the system which is to replace it is better than the present system.

I would go further and say that it is the duty of Parliament to be satisfied that a new system will be better than the existing one. Reorganisation will greatly disrupt the lives of the 120,000 people who work full time for the GLC and the metropolitan county councils. In addition, the financial cost to the Government and the millions of people who would be affected by the reorganisation puts the onus upon the Government to show that they have devised a better system. They are a long way from doing so.

The Government have put no proposals on the new structure before the House. The White Paper "Streamlining the Cities", which has been referred to, said that the Government's tentative proposals are simpler than the present structure. When I consider the joint boards and structure plans and the number of subjects that can be resolved only through co-operation between authorities, it seems that the proposed structure will be more complex.

The present structure provides the authority to resolve matters on which no agreement is possible between boroughs. The proposed system merely offers co-operation between the boroughs, which may not always be forthcoming.

Near the heart of the Government's proposals is the wish for economy in public expenditure. The Government's experience of administration shows that savings are more likely to be made gradually against the background of a stable structure than after a major reorganisation during which functions are transferred to different authorities. Experience shows that such reorganisations generally lead to increased expenditure.

There is no reason to believe that the Government's proposals will lead to savings in public expenditure. The Bill will cost many millions of pounds to implement. We are told that there will be scope for economies in future but, as functions will not be abolished—merely fragmented—there is no evidence that the scope for saving will be greater under the new structure than under the present structure. It is said that it is necessary to curb the extravagance of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils, but if Parliament provides the Government with power to cap the rates of extravagant authorities it will be sufficient for the Government to rate-cap an extravagant authority and unnecessary to abolish it.

The Government should not close their mind to the possibility that some local authority functions are better and more efficiently organised on a basis wider than that of a single borough such as an elected, London-wide authority. Parliament has chosen to organise some functions on such a basis under an elected authority in London since at least 1855. If the Government have discovered a principle of administration that suggests that the experience of 130 years is wholly misguided they should come to the House and explain their discovery. Many Conservative councillors in both county and borough and district councils believe that some services are more efficiently and effectively organised on a wider basis than that of a single borough.

Mr. Martin Stevens

My hon. Friend says that in his opinion there will be no saving of money. Does he accept that there is substantial duplication in many areas between the boroughs and districts, and the administrative counties?

Mr. Ground

The White Paper does not point to reduplication or elimination of functions. Indeed, the opposite would be true, because structure plans would need to be drawn up for each London borough. That is nonsense in planning terms.

I share the worries of my hon. Friends at the burden that is being placed upon district councillors and London borough councillors. Many of them, especially the able ones, are overworked in the areas that they represent. I doubt whether this additional burden should be placed upon them. There is no evidence that the track record of joint boards is any better than that of the present elected authorities.

For all those reasons, I propose to oppose the Bill. I hope that many hon. Members will do so to show the concern that the House feels for the principle that it must be satisfied that anything that comes before it in the reorganisation of local government is an improvement on the existing structure.

9.5 pm

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)

Excuses have been given for the introduction by the Government of this interim Bill, but they have not convinced me that there is any substantive reason why the legislation should be passed.

The hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson), who unfortunately has left the Chamber, said that he believed that the West Yorkshire county council should be abolished, but that had nothing to do with what is happening there. It had something to do with the recreation ground in Brixton on which the GLC is spending money.

In the debate there have been nothing but political references to the GLC and its abolition. Opposition Members have made allegations about the politics behind the interim Bill to abolish the county councils. It is correct to say that they are under attack because they are Labour authorities. The House is skating on thin ice when it introduces such legislation proposed by the political party in power.

Little or nothing has been said about how unpopular the Bill is, as well as the main Bill that will be introduced, to the people who work and live in the areas covered by the six metropolitan counties. I am a ratepayer in the area covered by the South Yorkshire county council. It is supported by ratepayers throughout south Yorkshire. There is little criticism of where it spends its money. I do not know how anyone can say that legislation should be introduced to stop elections in south Yorkshire and to stop miners like my constituents having ballots in south Yorkshire next year. Such things have been said in the House in the past fortnight. People who say them should think about what they are saying.

South Yorkshire county council has a good policy on buses and getting rid of waste. It has popular support in many areas. I want my authority to be supported and kept. I think that the vast majority of people in south Yorkshire want it to be supported and kept. It is a disgrace that we are introducing a Bill to replace that authority by an unelected quango which will be answerable to no one in a ballot and which will operate on a budget prepared by people in Whitehall who know little or nothing about what is needed in my constituency and other constituencies covered by that county council.

I ask all hon. Members who are democrats to vote in favour of the amendment and against the Bill.

9.8 pm

Mr. Piers Merchant (Newcastle upon Tyne, Central)

I have been entertained by the political acrobatics ably displayed by many both inside and outside the House on the subject of metropolitan counties. It almost seems that one cannot be a credible politician without having experienced at least one major change of view, and hopefully two. In view of the experiences of many, which I have heard and heard again, I regard it as prudent to be cautious. Therefore, I think that it is wise, commendable and practically inevitable for the Government to approach the issue with caution.

Taking the matter of the metropolitan counties as a whole, I do not have a closed mind. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has shown himself to be flexible, too, over the methods of reorganisation. The fact that he first published the White Paper entitled "Streamlining the Cities" is a testimony to that fact. It incorporated proposals and general intentions, but not final decisions. My right hon. Friend need not have been so generous. I need refer only to the Rates Bill as an example of the swift execution of a manifesto commitment. The abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan counties was an equally firm and well-publicised manifesto commitment. Like many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I carried the commitment in the electoral literature on which we were elected. None the less, the Government have rightly held it to be correct to seek the views of others on this issue.

The Bill is part of those stages, but I have some reservations about its apparent effect. While it would clearly be pointless to hold elections on the certainty that abolition would follow in a matter of months, it is dangerous to alter elections on the basis of future planned abolition. The presence of elections in 1985 seems to point more to speeding up the main Bill. Thus speeded up, the Bill would render elections superfluous, as councils would go.

The Government have rightly rejected that temptation for the benefit of wider discussion and consultation on the main proposals. Closer study of the Bill reveals that it does not do what I feared, and many still fear—it does not simply abolish elections. Therefore, my initial fears are allayed. The Bill only gives my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State the right to lay an order, which has to be approved by resolution of each House to be put into effect. We are not abolishing elections with the Bill—that is a future resolution. I am completely satisfied, because my right hon. Friend has given a clear assurance to the House that the order will be laid only after the House has given the main Bill a Second Reading. It is for those reasons that I support the Bill.

As time is running short I shall not devote attention to the clauses that I have mentioned—the information supplying clauses of the Bill that are equally important. I invite right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House to cast their eyes over these important clauses on the provision of information, which are also part of the necessary progress of this important legislation.

9.11 pm
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

From what we have heard from the Secretary of State, elected members are to be replaced, simply with the safeguard of an order later to come before the House—a fig leaf covering the Government's embarrassment—which will impose the possible future government for the six metropolitan areas and Greater London. That is a disgraceful proposal. The Secretary of State should be unwilling to bring the measure heic. It should embarrass not only him but his colleagues, as many Tory right hon. and hon. Members have pointed out. In the time available to me, I can say no more than that the Liberal party believes in local and regional government. We have believed in it for years. We have not changed our views about the GLC, as both the Labour and Tory parties have in the past few years.

The Secretary of State's argument that there is a precedent in law and constitution for this Bill is a sham, and is shallow, wrong, misleading and unprincipled. New authorities have been elected in the past to replace old ones. Here, unelected people are to form successor authorities for a year. They will be temporary guardians, trying to run large authorities on behalf of the electors. We do not even know whether the Government will then introduce a decent or workable Bill to abolish the GLC and the metropolitan counties.

People with no experience will come to these temporary authorities for a year. They will be in the hands of the Department of the Environment, which is what the Secretary of State clearly wants. He wants to keep control. He will perpetrate a system in which authorities with budgets of £2 million or £3 million will have a directly-elected council, but the GLC and ILEA, with combined GREAs of over £1,000 million, and the other authorities, with budgets of over £100 million, will not have elected representatives to take their decisions.

Power corrupts. Clearly this Government believe that absolute power is much more fun. They are playing with politics. Not until we have a written constitution and a bill of rights shall we be protected from such unconstitutional actions.

This year the Prime Minister proposes to suspend local government elections. Next year will she suspend the power of judges to give judgments while she revises the criminal law? The year after will she suspend the right of succession of the Prince of Wales to the throne so that she may consider whether a female should take over? By 1988 will she consider suspending elections to this House? It is the Prime Minister who should be suspended and her Government should go down with her.

9.14 pm
Dr. David Clark (South Shields)

We have had a very serious debate which has been one of the best attended that I can remember on a Bill. It is appropriate that that should be the case. This is one of the most serious debates that we have ever had and it has been interesting to note the repeated misgivings of Conservative Members. I hope none of them suffers from standing by his principles. Most of them have been trying to explain that their opposition to the Bill is an attempt to defend an important principle, which I shall discuss shortly.

In the last Parliament, many of us found many of the actions of the Government distasteful and unpalatable, but in this Parliament we are beginning to find the whole tone and tenor of the Government's actions unwelcome. As the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said before he reached his peroration, there are dangerous tendencies prevalent in the mood of the Conservative party of today. For the first time for decades the whole ethos of toleration that has typified the British way of life is being turned on its head.

Some of us regard the Bill as merely part of the unhappy catalogue of which the modern Conservative party cannot be proud. I was talking the other day to a gentleman who had returned from Brazil; he had come from a military dictatorship and he was catching up on the back editions of magazines. He said that he thought he had moved not from a military dictatorship to a democracy, but almost the other way round. He had read of the Government bribing people at GCHQ to leave their union and about their interference with the freedom of movement of people who were trying to picket. There have been the worrying developments in regard to the picket lines at Barking hospital. We have had the rate-capping legislation which will destroy and restrict the power of local democracy, and now we have this measure. It is an unhappy catalogue.

The purpose of the Bill is to abolish elections. In his speech the Secretary of State made various announcements about the main Bill, but wt., are not discussing it tonight, as the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) has reminded the House. We are discussing a Bill concerned with elections and the arrangements to replace elected representatives by nominated people. It is ironic and sad to note that while we as a country and our Government are preaching to other countries in Latin America and in eastern Europe that they should hold more elections and grant more civil liberties, our Government are moving in a completely opposite direction. Such hypocrisy does not stand any Government in good stead.

Usually when we are discussing local government legislation we are faced with massive tomes running into many clauses, but not this time. Today we have a puny little Bill whose significance far belies its content of a mere 11 clauses. It is a cancerous little Bill that contains anti-democratic tendencies that would have warmed the heart of the likes of General Galtieri. The Bill is unique not only in that sense, but because it is an enabling Bill or, as the Secretary of State calls it, a paving Bill for the abolition of the metropolitan counties and the GLC. But it contains a most dangerous and sinister concept, which I find very objectionable, as I hope all hon. Members do: it presumes the will of a future parliamentary decision.

We are faced with a Bill the first clause of which permits a Secretary of State to implement on repeal the ensuing clauses of the Bill—an action which will be taken by the Secretary of State if this House passes on Second Reading a yet unseen Bill. In a brave speech, the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Ground) described it as unknown territory, and many people of all shades of opinion would agree with that description.

I am concerned at the Secretary of State's statement that he will deal with the question only following the Second Reading in this House, but the long title of the Bill says that its purpose is to Make provision for the composition of the Greater London Council and metropolitan county councils pending a decision by Parliament on their continued existence". Are we talking about Parliament or about the elected dictatorship of the pay vote of the Conservative party in this House? I suspect that the Secretary of State is advancing his argument because he knows that he will run into real trouble in the other House.

Mr. Cormack

Will the hon. Gentleman accept that the House of Lords is a most valuable bulwark of freedom? Will he accept that it would be very rash for any Government of a different persuasion to move in the direction of the abolition of that magnificent place?

Dr. Clark

I wanted to advance a rather different reason why the Government might be against it, and the hon. Gentleman might find it rather amusing.

On Second Reading of the London Government Bill in 1966, leading for the Opposition, Mr. Quintin Hogg, who now occupies an eminent position in the other place, laid down some interesting guidelines concerning the removal of votes—something which did not take place. He said: If we are to do a thing like that if we are to take away from electors the right to vote for a new council … we must point to three main arguments. The first is necessity; the second is consultation between the parties; and the third is that it is done in the interests of the electors".—[Official Report, 15 November 1966; Vol. 736, c. 350.] I do not think that anyone in this House, including the Secretary of State, could argue that any of the three conditions then laid down have been adhered to in this Bill. If they had been, the Opposition might have been more considerate towards the Bill. I suspect that that is why the Secretary of State talks about the Second Reading stage and not, as the long title does, of a decision of Parliament.

Mr. Tracey

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Clark

I would rather not, because I want to give the Minister due time to reply to me.

The Bill is a rather ham-fisted way to reorganise local government. But before I leave that point I want to deal with one other important aspect of the Bill. Local government, as we all recognise, has two functions. The first is to be representative. The second is to provide services efficiently and effectively for the people concerned. Neither of those two functions has been covered adequately by the Bill.

Traditionally, the Conservative party has prided itself on being the party of business acumen and of sound money—a reputation that is becoming somewhat tarnished. In justifying the Bill, the Secretary of State describes it as bringing an end to a wasteful bureaucracy. He is rather coy on the figures when suggesting the saving. He talks of about £120 million. Independent analysts have considered the matter. The top management consultants Coopers and Lybrand have considered the likely cost of the reorganisation, and estimate an optimum net cost—an added cost to the ratepayers in the constituencies of hon. Members on both sides of the House—of between £36 million and £61 million a year. Today, there has been a notification from the chamber of commerce that it is no longer prepared to back the Government over this Bill until there is some evidence and guidance from the Government about the cost.

The truth of the matter is that the Government have not worked out the cost. They dare not do so, because they know from experience that all reorganisations are very costly. There will be a cost in terms of efficiency as well as of finance. I admit frankly that in 1972 I had grave misgivings about the establishment of the metropolitan counties. However, I watched those authorities develop. In their initial period, I though that my worst fears had been realised. They seemed to have no sense of direction or purpose, and they seemed to be trying to create work. However, as the Member for a constituency in one of the metropolitan counties I watched that authority gradually establishing a role and forming a meaningful partnership with its constituent metropolitan boroughs. I believe that few voters now doubt the usefulness of the metropolitan counties.

I will not quote the evidence of the polls, because I do not want to rub it in.

Mr. Derek Conway (Shrewsbury and Atcham)


Dr. Clark

I have made it clear that I will not give way, and the hon. Gentleman does not represent a constituency in one of the metropolitan counties.

Tyne and Wear county council has played a magnificent role in economic development. It has assisted firms to survive. It has brought new industry into the area. Our metropolitan transport system is the envy of the world and in itself more than justifies the existence of Tyne and Wear county council. The Government intend to scrap all that.

Mr. Robert C. Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, East)

My hon. Friend has not mentioned the wonderful way in which Tyne and Wear county council has tackled land reclamation, beautifying the area out of all recognition.

Dr. Clark

My hon. Friend is quite right. The northeast is now the most beautiful part of the United Kingdom. The Government intend to scrap all that.

Many hon. Members may feel that there is a case for reform, but even if there is such a case many people are worried about transferring authority into the hands of quangos—or qualgos, as some of them are now called. I remember the Prime Minister and the Conservative party ranting and raving in the 1970s about abolishing quangos. The present Government must have created more quangos than any previous Government, and this is yet another antidemocratic move.

Cannot the Secretary of State appreciate that such an upheaval cannot lead to good local government? In the next four or five years, there will be four types of local government for the metropolitan areas. This year, there are the metropolitan county councils. Next year, there will be representatives nominated by the district councils. From 1986 to 1989, there will be joint boards with budgets controlled by the Secretary of State. In 1989 the joint boards will be subject to rate capping. That will not be good for the morale of the staff or for efficiency. It is bad news for local government.

The other issue concerns the representative role of local government. If my constituents have problems arising out of county council matters, they go to their county councillors as they have surgeries. There is direct representation through which people can channel their complaints. Can the Minister advise my constituents to whom they will have to go when the interim boards are introduced and when the quangos are introduced if they want to push their democratic rights? Those are key points to which we expect answers.

If we try to distil all our thoughts about the Bill into one concept, our main objection is that it is undemocratic. In spite of what I can only describe as the Secretary of State's wriggling at Question Time recently, when he was trying to justify the abolition of elections, he could not and cannot point to any precedents of elections being abolished and local authority functions being handed over to nominees. That is unprecedented, even in wartime. It is unbelievable that the Government should need to come to us to ask for such a power now.

If the Secretary of State wanted to abolish the metropolitan counties, he should have done things properly and had an appointed day, as has been the case in the past. I can sympathise with the Secretary of State's claim that it would have been wasteful to hold elections. I fully realise that, but the natural thing to do in those circumstances is to let local authorities continue in existence for another year. I found it amusing that the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold) suggested going a stage further than the Secretary of State. I am not sure whether she said that she would have appointed commissioners or commissars. If the Opposition had done that, I know what Conservative Members would have said, and quite rightly so.

We ultimately come down to asking why all the rush? Why do we have this Bill before us now? Why have the Government acted as they have? I am afraid that the answer is obvious. The Government have failed to persuade the electors in the metropolitan counties to change their allegiance, mostly from the Labour party. They have decided that, having failed to win the argument, they will close the ballot box. That is dangerous, pure and simple political vindictiveness of the lowest and worst type.

The speech of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on 14 March was an honest statement, which made painful reading. It is worth repeating at greater length than did my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham). In that speech, the message came out in all its glory. He said: The Labour Party is the Party of division. In its present form it represents a threat to the democratic values"— I ask the House, who is threatening democratic values now?— —"and institutions on which our Parliamentary system is based. The GLC is typical of this new, modern, divisive version of Socialism. It must be defeated. So we shall abolish the GLC". Really, I never thought that I would hear a Secretary of State say such things. I find that more sad than anything else. We live in a democracy and take democracy for granted. I do not want to appear to be lecturing the House, but democracy is fragile. It can be crushed by the jackboot as we saw in pre-war Italy and in Germany and in post-war Hungary and Czechoslovakia. We all joined in protesting against those developments. Democracy can also be destroyed in a less dramatic way. It can be destroyed surreptitiously by a little cut here and a little cut there. The Bill takes us just a little further down the road away from democracy. It is a dangerous precedent and I earnestly plead with Conservative Members to join us to defeat the Bill.

9.35 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. William Waldegrave)

With this Bill the Government continue steadily to fulfil the commitments which they explicitly and clearly gave at the last general election with regard to local government. 'The objective is to clear away some of the least effective of all the bits of the 1960s "big is beautiful" reorganisation mania—namely, the metropolitan counties and the GLC. Practically no one—including most of those responsible for inventing them—who has studied the history of local government since the war regards these very brief additions to England's local government scene as other than failures.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell)—[Interruption.] I shall follow the example set by the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark). My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford and my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson) are quite right. The boroughs and the districts are older and stronger. It is just possible that there may be some in this House who will not take my word for that judgment. There may even be one or two of my right hon. and hon. Friends who will not take my word for it. My right hon. Friend reminded us of the resolutions passed by Newcastle, Sheffield, the West Midlands district, the Tyne and Wear district, districts in Greater Manchester, Liverpool, Sefton and all the others. And of course the same goes, and has gone for years, for many of the boroughs in London and for the present leaders of the GLC.

We have had Mr. Livingstone perhaps too much in this debate, but it is worth recalling his words once again: Clearly people would be better served if local government was provided by borough councils in the metropolitan areas Quite so. Perhaps Boase Massini Pollit and Univas, the GLC's advertising agency, could design one of its Kim. II Sung advertisements with those words on it. Personality cults have selective memories.

But the warnings that what had been done in the 1963 and 1972 Acts would fail go far further back than that and enjoy the support of people who might be expected to carry even more weight with the House than Kim II Livingstone. The evidence to the Herbert commission from the local authorities, and from the London Labour party, led by Herbert Morrison, was strongly, even passionately, in favour of the then status quo. In its role of defender of whatever bureaucracy happens to exist, the Labour party makes the same argument now, but of course in exactly the opposite direction.

Somewhat more consistent—and this goes back to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford said—were and are the great majority of Conservatives in London who argued then to Mr. Herbert Morrison, and argue now, for the transfer of functions to the boroughs. And now they have a national Government who have at last accepted that they have been right all along. That is exactly the case that my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford made.

As long ago as July 1974 the then deputy editor of the Evening Standard, Mr. Simon Jenkins—who is still by far the best writer on London local government matters—warned that the GLC was a pseudo-regional authority with only a handful of London-wide services and a gargantuan committee system which could hardly have been better designed to stultify constructive and imaginative government. I put it to my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Ground) that the committee structure of the GLC has to be set alongside the alleged complexity of what we propose.

The same writer argued that, inevitably, central Government took the real strategic decisions leaving GLC councillors trundling round hamfistedly meddling in detailed local issues which ought never to concern them. He urged abolition and found support from the then leader of Labour-controlled Camden, now the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), who said that the situation then was one of "stalemate". The article ended with a prescient paragraph which reminds one that, much to the irritation of Ministers of the day, outside commentators are sometimes entitled to say "I told you so.

Mr. Jenkins wrote: Perhaps the biggest irony is that the present two-tier system of regional/local government is precisely the one which Parliament has just imposed on the other big cities of England. All we can say to them is 'Beware, it doesn't work'. He was right. It did not work. That is why, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold) said, we are removing it.

The House may like to know that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras has stuck to his view, and I pay tribute to him for that. He said in 1979 that the GLC had rightly been described as the slowest bureaucracy this side of the Kremlin and the sooner it was abolished the better. I am not sure on which side of the Kremlin the GLC now stands, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman still stands by his view.

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

Does the Minister accept that virtually everyone in London who has ever considered the local government of London has at one time or another said in a fit of pique that we should get rid of the GLC, but that most, on mature consideration, have decided that it is better to keep it?

Mr. Waldegrave

I take the hon. Gentleman's views more seriously than that.

Mr. Geoffrey Rippon (Hexham)

Does my hon. Friend accept that we are not considering the substance of the Government's proposals because we do not know what they are? We are concerned that a Conservative Government propose to replace a directly elected authority, controlled by a Socialist majority, with an indirectly nominated authority with, happily, a Conservative majority. Would the Bill have been introduced if there had been a Conservative majority on the GLC?

Mr. Waldegrave

Of course it would. I imagine that if a Labour Government had been elected in 1979 or 1983 they, too, would have got on with implementing their policy. What would Boase, Massini, Roland Freeman, old Uncle Wilf Weekes and the rest have said then? Would Labour-controlled councils still have spent millions of pounds opposing a policy to cut off the top tier of local government, which was then Labour policy and, despite the confusion, probably remains Labour policy?

In any case, it would have made no difference. Even if all the advertising agencies had said what they were told to say, the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman)—he seems to have slipped away—had told the authorities in advance that he would pay no attention. He said that they would set up no more inquiries, but would legislate so that these reforms would be enforced during the lifetime of the next Parliament. Where would all the arguments about voting have been then? When all the counties and upper tiers had gone, would Boase, Massini still have been saying that every person in the country had lost the vote? Of course not. It is a bogus argument and always has been.

As there was quite a lot of support for single-tier local government, some—though not all—parts of the alliance favoured it, and the alliance manifesto promised the eventual abolition of the metropolitan counties and the GLC. Lest that be taken as meaning anything and thus possibly offend someone, it was to be done in stages against the background of our proposals for the development of regional government. I have taken a little time to pursue some of the fish in this particular barrel because the weight of vested interest, special pleading and party political games has disguised the facts.

Mr. Terry Lewis (Worsley)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is the Minister trying to obfuscate the proceedings by deliberately gabbling like a St. James's park goose?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that the House would be better advised to listen to the Minister. Then we may be able to hear what he is saying.

Mr. Waldegrave

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker.

I have taken a little time to pursue some of the fish in this particular barrel because vested interests have disguised the real arguments. I put it to my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) that there is a real consensus about the failure of the arrangements for local government in the metropolitan areas and in London. Some, of course, disagree, but I hope that even now the high ideals of the founding fathers may, against all the odds, be achieved. I respect them and understand their sadness that this part of their legacy has turned out to be the establishment not of the new Jerusalem but of several new towers of Babel.

Mr. Cormack

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Waldegrave

I have very little time.

I ask my right hon. Friends to accept that, in all humility and respect, their successors have concluded that what was then done would have been better left undone and now can be put right. The Bill is the first stage of that process. It does no more and no less than is necessary at this stage to carry our manifesto policy through.

Mr. Cormack

As the Bill is about anticipating the will of Parliament, will my hon. Friend make it plain why he equates a Second Reading of another Bill with a decision of Parliament? Are we to wait until the House of Lords as well as the House of Commons have passed the next Bill, about which we know so little, before this one is activated, or are we merely to have a Second Reading?

Mr. Waldegrave

The Conservative party provides not only a Government better than any Labour Government, but also a better Opposition. My hon. Friend, with his customary sense of good timing, came in at the moment in my speech when I intended to turn to his arguments. Some of my hon. Friends who do not necessarily oppose abolition—and I am not sure what the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) are on that matter—are worried about the provisions in the Bill for the transitional councils, and about the timing. I come now to those arguments.

There were three choices before us. We could have continued with the 1985 elections, as if nothing was happening. We would then have had the whole business of a London-wide election to elect councillors for 11 months. There is no precedent for such a course in any previous reorganisation. The hon. Member for South Shields, in a significant intervention which ran contrary to the points made by hon. Members on the Opposition Back Benches, accepted that and said that it was perfectly valid to do away with the elections. He argued for something else. He argued for the second choice—the extension of the 11-month period of the councils.

The third choice was to set up transitional councils drawn from successor authorities. My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden mentioned a fourth course: that the elections should be abolished and my right hon. Friend should run the councils during the transitional year through commissioners. However, I doubt whether that would be much more popular with my hon. Friends, or with the House, than what we propose.

What are the arguments for and against extension and replacement by lower tier councillors? They have been well put today. To me the decisive argument is that, unlike what has happened in past reorganisations, the successor authorities already exist. Elected people are already there who are to be the recipients of the services. The job in the transitional year will be to prepare for the devolution of services. Surely it makes more sense to call in lower tier councillors to do that than to appoint the present upper tier councillors for another year, for appointed they would be. That is my answer to the hon. Member for South Shields. They would not have been elected, and they would have no mandate. They would be appointed by my right hon. Friend for an extra year for which they had not been elected. They would have no mandate. To do that would be wrong. I have to say to my hon. Friends that it would be extremely foolish[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Willie W. Hamilton (Fife, Central)

We cannot hear.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The House will be able to hear the Minister if it makes less noise.

Mr. Waldegrave

Not only would it be wrong to appoint these people for an extra year, but in my view it would also be foolish. We have many brave and hon. Members who say openly that they will do what they can to frustrate the will of Parliament if Parliament passes the main Bill. It would therefore be foolish to appoint them for a longer period.

If we accept that by far the most sensible course is to ask the successor councils to run the transitional period, the only argument that remains is about the timing. My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden referred to the timing of the Bill and to the exact composition of the councils. On timing, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State should surely have stilled some of the concern—he stilled the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Merchant)—by his assurance that no order would be made for the suspension of elections until after the Second Reading of the main Bill.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South will accept that I, of all people, know that there is another place in Parliament. I hope that he will not accuse me of disregarding the traditions of that place. If the main Bill fell at that stage, my right hon. Friend would have the powers in this Bill to reinstate the elections. Clause 1(2) and (3) enable him to do that, and that is what he would do. I do not think that my hon. Friend need be too worried about that.

If the main Bill fell at Second Reading in this House, let alone falling subsequently, the elections would be reinstated, and I do not think that it should lead to the problems that were properly investigated and discussed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup.

My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry), in an intervention at the beginning of the debate, asked whether we could have a separate Bill, introduced after the main Bill, so that they ran alongside each other. I see no difference of principle between having a shorter, separate Bill—passed earlier than the main Bill—and the activation of this Bill after Second Reading of the main Bill.

We could not sensibly put a provision for elections in the main Bill, because there is a chance that that Bill might not be passed until after the elections, which would be absurd.

Dr. David Clark

How can the Minister square his statement that the Bill will not be triggered until after the Second Reading of the main Bill in this House with the long title of this Bill which says that it is to make provision for the composition … pending a decision by Parliament"?

Mr. Waldegrave

I have made the position entirely clear. The powers are in this Bill. If Parliament does not pass the main Bill, the elections can be reinstated. It is absolutely clear. The hon. Gentleman may not have read the Bill with the necessary care and attention.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury has been persuaded by my comments. I do not think that there is any matter of principle between us.

The make-up of the transitional councils flows logically and inexorably from the decision to ask the lower-tier councils—the successor authorities—to oversee the 11-month transition. The transitional authorities will obviously reflect the political balance in the lower-tier authorities. That will be the inevitable result of basing the transitional council on the successor democratic councils rather than on a process of appointment by the Secretary of State.

Mr. Shersby

Is my hon. Friend confident that the London borough councils will be able to find enough councillors to serve on the nominated authorities? Those people will have to spend time in London during the day throughout those 11 months.

Mr. Waldegrave

My hon. Friend makes a serious point. We have discussed the matter with representatives of the boroughs and I am satisfied that for the 11-month period, during which there will be no need to set a rate or work out a budget, that will be possible.

I say again to my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup that the vigour and force of his eloquence led one almost to believe that the transitional councils would be in existence for a prolonged period or that they would become an established part of our local government scene. We are talking about only 11 months, and I hope that that fact moderates his views.

Dr. Cunningham

How can the Minister say that what is to happen in the GLC area is logical? Does he believe that his right hon. and hon. Friends would accept it if a Labour Government imposed a Labour administration in Sussex, Surrey or a Tory-controlled city?

Mr. Waldegrave

If a Labour Government were to carry out their pledge to abolish the counties—about which we have heard rather a lot—and if the successor districts in a particular area were more Labour-controlled than the previous council—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] If Labour Members stopped bellowing like demented sheep, they might hear the answer. If the Labour party abolished the county councils and the succeeding districts had a different balance of political power, they would have a different balance of political power. The hon. Gentleman is a brilliant political analyst.

There is one thing that is unprecedented about the Bill.[Interruption.] I refer to the fact that every previous local government reorganisation has piled new levels and tiers of government one on top of the other. This is the first Government to be committed to removing some of the superstructure of government from our people.

Mr. Barron


Mr. Waldegrave

If there is one thing—[Interruption.]—that this——

Mr. Speaker

Order. There are about four minutes to go, and the Minister should be given a fair hearing.

Mr. Waldegrave

The one thing that this Government believe is that they found a country which was over-governed and that had far too heavy a weight of government on it. The Bill is intended to relieve that weight. I hope we have been able to show that much of the concern expressed today about the Bill, and some of the anxieties expressed by particular groups about abolition, are not well founded. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already mentioned proposals to meet points raised by those anxious to protect some of the good things—and of course there have been good things—done by the metropolitan councils.

Land reclamation has been mentioned, and I pay tribute to some of that work. Good work has also been done on the arts, historic buildings, sport and on the housing mobility scheme in London. We will look after those things—[Interruption.] In some other areas, such as the quantification of savings to ratepayers, the Bill will enable us and the successor authorities to turn our present estimates into harder figures by ensuring that the necessary information is made available. The hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym) pointed out that those figures are obviously needed, and they certainly are. We have broad estimates and with the information powers in the Bill we shall be able to put flesh on those bones.

In other areas, such as the suspension of elections and the make-up of the transitional councils, I hope that I have shown that the argument in the House today more or less exactly mirrors the discussions that we have had amongst ourselves. I hope that we have shown why we believe that there is an entirely respectable and legitimate case for deciding in the end as we did. Having listened—although there has not been much sign of that—I hope that Opposition Members will come to the same conclusion.

Mr. Allen McKay (Penistone)

What will happen to those who are now employed by the county councils and are members of the district councils? Will they automatically be disfranchised rather than employing themselves?

Mr. Waldegrave

I think that the hon. Gentleman plays on a weak wicket there. First, he should advise his hon. Friends and his colleagues in the metropolitan councils to allow the Government to talk to the employees—[Interruption.]—as that is in the interests of the staff. If hon. Members had the interest of the staff at heart, they would encourage them to talk to us sensibly about their future so that we can put matters on a clear footing.

Mr. Nellist


Mr. Waldegrave

I shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman made a long and I must say rather boring speech, and I think that we have had enough of him today.

The policy is perfectly sensible and reasonable. The policy of moving towards single tier administration in the metropolitan counties and in London is supported, behind their hands, by many on the Labour side and in local government, as well as by the great majority of those involved in Conservative local government. It ends a long period of reports, arguments and uncertainty, during which confidence in the arrangements made in 1963 and 1972 has steadily ebbed away. Indeed, they never had much support in the first place. The legislation fulfils a manifesto commitment which many in the Conservative party fought long and hard to obtain. Many Conservative Back Benchers have a great commitment to this policy, having fought in the metropolitan counties and in London for many years to obtain a commitment to the simplification of the structure of big city government. Labour Members should not treat that too trivially. The Bill is the first step towards fulfilling that real commitment, and I urge the House to support it.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 208, Noes 300.

Division No. 245] [10 pm
Abse, Leo Bruce, Malcolm
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Buchan, Norman
Alton, David Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)
Anderson, Donald Campbell, Ian
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Campbell-Savours, Dale
Ashdown, Paddy Canavan, Dennis
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)
Ashton, Joe Carter-Jones, Lewis
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham) Cartwright, John
Baldry, Anthony Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Clarke, Thomas
Barron, Kevin Clay, Robert
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Cohen, Harry
Beith, A. J. Coleman, Donald
Bell, Stuart Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.
Benn, Tony Conway, Derek
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) Cook, Frank (Stockton North)
Benyon, William Corbett, Robin
Bermingham, Gerald Corbyn, Jeremy
Bidwell, Sydney Cormack, Patrick
Blair, Anthony Craigen, J. M.
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Crowther, Stan
Boyes, Roland Cunningham, Dr John
Bray, Dr Jeremy Dalyell, Tam
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E) Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)
Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N) Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith) Deakins, Eric
Dewar, Donald Meacher, Michael
Dixon, Donald Meadowcroft, Michael
Dobson, Frank Meyer, Sir Anthony
Dormand, Jack Michie, William
Douglas, Dick Mikardo, Ian
Dubs, Alfred Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Duffy, A. E. P. Miscampbell, Norman
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Eastham, Ken Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Edwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE) Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Evans, John (St. Helens N) Nellist, David
Fatchett, Derek Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Faulds, Andrew O'Brien, William
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) O'Neill, Martin
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Flannery, Martin Parry, Robert
Forrester, John Patchett, Terry
Foster, Derek Pavitt, Laurie
Foulkes, George Pendry, Tom
Fraser, J. (Norwood) Penhaligon, David
Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald Pike, Peter
George, Bruce Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Prescott, John
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Godman, Dr Norman Radice, Giles
Golding, John Randall, Stuart
Gould, Bryan Redmond, M.
Ground, Patrick Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Richardson, Ms Jo
Harman, Ms Harriet Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith Robertson, George
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Haynes, Frank Rooker, J. W.
Hayward, Robert Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)
Heath, Rt Hon Edward Rowlands, Ted
Heffer, Eric S. Ryman, John
Hicks, Robert Sedgemore, Brian
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Sheerman, Barry
Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall) Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
Home Robertson, John Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath) Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Hoyle, Douglas Short, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)
Hughes, Dr. Mark (Durham) Silkin, Rt Hon J.
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Skinner, Dennis
Hughes, Roy (Newport East) Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S) Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Snape, Peter
Janner, Hon Greville Soley, Clive
Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Hillh'd) Spearing, Nigel
John, Brynmor Steel, Rt Hon David
Johnston, Russell Steen, Anthony
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Stott, Roger
Kennedy, Charles Strang, Gavin
Kilroy-Silk, Robert Straw, Jack
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil Tapsell, Peter
Kirkwood, Archibald Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Knox, David Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Lead bitter, Ted Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Leighton, Ronald Tinn, James
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Torney, Tom
Lewis, Terence (Worsley) Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Litherland, Robert Wainwright, R.
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Wareing, Robert
McCartney, Hugh Weetch, Ken
McDonald, Dr Oonagh Welsh, Michael
McGuire, Michael White, James
McKay, Allen (Penistone) Wigley, Dafydd
Mackenzie, Rt Hon Gregor Williams, Rt Hon A.
Maclennan, Robert Winnick, David
McNamara, Kevin Woodall, Alec
Marek, Dr John Wrigglesworth, Ian
Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Martin, Michael Tellers for the Ayes:
Maxton, John Mr. James Hamilton and Mr. Lawrence Cunliffe.
Maynard, Miss Joan
Adley, Robert Fox, Marcus
Aitken, Jonathan Franks, Cecil
Alexander, Richard Freeman, Roger
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Gale, Roger
Amess, David Galley, Roy
Ancram, Michael Gardiner, George (Reigate)
Arnold, Tom Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)
Ash by, David Garel-Jones, Tristan
Aspinwall, Jack Glyn, Dr Alan
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H. Goodhart, Sir Philip
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Goodlad, Alastair
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Gorst, John
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y) Gow, Ian
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Gower, Sir Raymond
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Greenway, Harry
Batiste, Spencer Gregory, Conal
Beggs, Roy Griffiths, E. (B'y St Edm'ds)
Bellingham, Henry Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)
Bendall, Vivian Grist, Ian
Berry, Sir Anthony Grylls, Michael
Best, Keith Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Hampson, Dr Keith
Body, Richard Hanley, Jeremy
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Hannam, John
Bottomley, Peter Harris, David
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n) Harvey, Robert
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Haselhurst, Alan
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael
Braine, Sir Bernard Hawkins, C. (High Peak)
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Hawksley, Warren
Brinton, Tim Hayes, J.
Brooke, Hon Peter Hayhoe, Barney
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Heathcoat-Amory, David
Browne, John Henderson, Barry
Bruinvels, Peter Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Bryan, Sir Paul Hickmet, Richard
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A. Hill, James
Budgen, Nick Hind, Kenneth
Bulmer, Esmond Hirst, Michael
Burt, Alistair Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Butler, Hon Adam. Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)
Butterfill, John Holt, Richard
Carlisle, John (N Luton) Hooson, Tom
Carttiss, Michael Hordern, Peter
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Howard, Michael
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)
Chapman, Sydney Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)
Chope, Christopher Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Churchill, W. S. Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n) Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Hubbard-Miles, Peter
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Hunt, David (Wirral)
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Cockeram, Eric Hunter, Andrew
Colvin, Michael Irving, Charles
Coombs, Simon Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick
Cope, John Johnson-Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Couchman, James Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Crouch, David Jones, Robert (W Herts)
Currie, Mrs Edwina Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
Dicks, Terry Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
Dorrell, Stephen Kershaw, Sir Anthony
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Key, Robert
Dunn, Robert King, Rt Hon Tom
Durant, Tony Knight, Gregory (Derby N)
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke) Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston)
Emery, Sir Peter Knowles, Michael
Evennett, David Lang, Ian
Eyre, Sir Reginald Latham, Michael
Fairbairn, Nicholas Lee, John (Pendle)
Fallon, Michael Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Farr, John Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Favell, Anthony Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Lightbown, David
Fletcher, Alexander Lilley, Peter
Fookes, Miss Janet Lloyd, Ian (Havant)
Forman, Nigel Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Lord, Michael
Luce, Richard Rowe, Andrew
Lyell, Nicholas Rumbold, Mrs Angela
McCrindle, Robert Ryder, Richard
McCurley, Mrs Anna Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
McCusker, Harold St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.
MacGregor, John Sayeed, Jonathan
MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire) Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute) Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Maclean, David John Shelton, William (Streatham)
McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Madel, David Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Maginnis, Ken Shersby, Michael
Major, John Silvester, Fred
Malins, Humfrey Sims, Roger
Malone, Gerald Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Maples, John Soames, Hon Nicholas
Marland, Paul Speller, Tony
Marlow, Antony Spencer, Derek
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Mates, Michael Squire, Robin
Maude, Hon Francis Stanbrook, Ivor
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Stanley, John
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Stern, Michael
Mayhew, Sir Patrick Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Mellor, David Stevens, Martin (Fulham)
Merchant, Piers Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Miller, Hal (B'grove) Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Mills, Iain (Meriden) Stewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire)
Mitchell, David (NW Hants) Stokes, John
Moate, Roger Sumberg, David
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Taylor, Rt Hon John David
Monro, Sir Hector Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Montgomery, Fergus Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Moore, John Temple-Morris, Peter
Morrison, Hon P. (Chester) Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.
Moynihan, Hon C. Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Mudd, David Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Neale, Gerrard Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Neubert, Michael Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)
Newton, Tony Thornton, Malcolm
Nicholls, Patrick Thurnham, Peter
Nicholson, J. Townend, John (Bridlington)
Normanton, Tom Tracey, Richard
Norris, Steven Trippier, David
Onslow, Cranley Twinn, Dr Ian
Ottaway, Richard van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Page, John (Harrow W) Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Page, Richard (Herts SW) Viggers, Peter
Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil Waddington, David
Patten, Christopher (Bath) Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Patten, John (Oxford) Waldegrave, Hon William
Pattie, Geoffrey Walden, George
Pawsey, James Walker, Bill (T'side N)
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)
Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian Waller, Gary
Pollock, Alexander Ward, John
Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down) Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Powell, William (Corby) Watson, John
Powley, John Watts, John
Price, Sir David Wheeler, John
Proctor, K. Harvey Whitfield, John
Raffan, Keith Whitney, Raymond
Raison, Rt Hon Timothy Wiggin, Jerry
Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover) Wolfson, Mark
Renton, Tim Wood, Timothy
Rhodes James, Robert Woodcock, Michael
Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas Yeo, Tim
Rifkind, Malcolm Young, Sir George (Acton)
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy) Younger, Rt Hon George
Robinson, Mark (N'port W)
Roe, Mrs Marion Tellers for the Noes:
Ross, Wm. (Londonderry) Mr. Carol Mather and Mr. Robert Boscawen.
Rost, Peter

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order. No. 41 (Amendment on Second or Third Reading):

The House divided: Ayes 301, Noes 208.

Division No. 246] [10.13 pm
Adley, Robert Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Aitken, Jonathan Fox, Marcus
Alexander, Richard Franks, Cecil
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Freeman, Roger
Amess, David Gale, Roger
Ancram, Michael Galley, Roy
Arnold, Tom Gardiner, George (Reigate)
Ashby, David Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)
Aspinwall, Jack Garel-Jones, Tristan
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H. Glyn, Dr Alan
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Goodhart, Sir Philip
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Goodlad, Alastair
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y) Gorst, John
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Gow, Ian
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Gower, Sir Raymond
Batiste, Spencer Greenway, Harry
Beggs, Roy Gregory, Conal
Bellingham, Henry Griffiths, E. (B'y St Edm'ds)
Bendall, Vivian Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)
Berry, Sir Anthony Grist, Ian
Best, Keith Grylls, Michael
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Body, Richard Hampson, Dr Keith
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Hanley, Jeremy
Bottomley, Peter Hannam, John
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n) Harris, David
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Harvey, Robert
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Haselhurst, Alan
Braine, Sir Bernard Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Hawkins, C. (High Peak)
Brinton, Tim Hawksley, Warren
Brooke, Hon Peter Hayes, J.
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Hayhoe, Barney
Browne, John Heathcoat-Amory, David
Bruinvels, Peter Henderson, Barry
Bryan, Sir Paul Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A. Hickmet, Richard
Budgen, Nick Hill, James
Bulmer, Esmond Hind, Kenneth
Burt, Alistair Hirst, Michael
Butler, Hon Adam Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Butterfill, John Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)
Carlisle, John (N Luton) Holt, Richard
Carttiss, Michael Hooson, Tom
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Hordern, Peter
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Howard, Michael
Chapman, Sydney Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)
Chope, Christopher Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)
Churchill, W. S. Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n) Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Hubbard-Miles, Peter
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Hunt, David (Wirral)
Cockeram, Eric Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Colvin, Michael Hunter, Andrew
Coombs, Simon Irving, Charles
Cope, John Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick
Couchman, James Johnson-Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Crouch, David Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Currie, Mrs Edwina Jones, Robert (W Herts)
Dicks, Terry Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
Dorrell, Stephen Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Kershaw, Sir Anthony
Dunn, Robert Key, Robert
Durant, Tony King, Rt Hon Tom
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke) Knight, Gregory (Derby N)
Emery, Sir Peter Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston)
Evennett, David Knowles, Michael
Eyre, Sir Reginald Lang, Ian
Fairbairn, Nicholas Latham, Michael
Fallon, Michael Lee, John (Pendle)
Farr, John Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Favell, Anthony Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)
Fletcher, Alexander Lightbown, David
Fookes, Miss Janet Lilley, Peter
Forman, Nigel Lloyd, Ian (Havant)
Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham) Rowe, Andrew
Lord, Michael Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Luce, Richard Ryder, Richard
Lyell, Nicholas Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
McCrindle, Robert St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.
McCurley, Mrs Anna Sayeed, Jonathan
McCusker, Harold Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
MacGregor, John Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire) Shelton, William (Streatham)
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Maclean, David John Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st) Shersby, Michael
Madel, David Silvester, Fred
Maginnis, Ken Sims, Roger
Major, John Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Malins, Humfrey Soames, Hon Nicholas
Malone, Gerald Speller, Tony
Maples, John Spencer, Derek
Marland, Paul Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Marlow, Antony Squire, Robin
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Stanbrook, Ivor
Mates, Michael Stanley, John
Maude, Hon Francis Stern, Michael
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Stevens, Martin (Fulham)
Mayhew, Sir Patrick Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Mellor, David Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Merchant, Piers Stewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire)
Miller, Hal (B'grove) Stokes, John
Mills, Iain (Meriden) Sumberg, David
Mitchell, David (NW Hants) Taylor, Rt Hon John David
Moate, Roger Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Monro, Sir Hector Temple-Morris, Peter
Montgomery, Fergus Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.
Moore, John Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Morrison, Hon P. (Chester) Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Moynihan, Hon C. Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Mudd, David Thorne, Stan (Preston)
Neale, Gerrard Thornton, Malcolm
Neubert, Michael Thurnham, Peter
Newton, Tony Townend, John (Bridlington)
Nicholls, Patrick Tracey, Richard
Nicholson, J. Trippier, David
Normanton, Tom Twinn, Dr Ian
Norris, Steven van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Onslow, Cranley Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Ottaway, Richard Viggers, Peter
Page, John (Harrow W) Waddington, David
Page, Richard (Herts SW) Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil Waldegrave, Hon William
Patten, Christopher (Bath) Walden, George
Patten, John (Oxford) Walker, Bill (T'side N)
Pattie, Geoffrey Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)
Pawsey, James Waller, Gary
Peacock. Mrs Elizabeth Ward, John
Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Pollock, Alexander Watson, John
Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down) Watts, John
Powell, William (Corby) Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Powley, John Wheeler, John
Price, Sir David Whitfield, John
Proctor, K. Harvey Whitney, Raymond
Raffan, Keith Wiggin, Jerry
Raison, Rt Hon Timothy Wolfson, Mark
Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover) Wood, Timothy
Renton, Tim Woodcock, Michael
Rhodes James, Robert Yeo, Tim
Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas Young, Sir George (Acton)
Rifkind, Malcolm Younger, Rt Hon George
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Robinson, Mark (N'port W) Tellers for the Ayes:
Roe, Mrs Marion Mr. Carol Mather and Mr. Robert Boscawen.
Ross, Wm. (Londonderry)
Rost, Peter
Abse, Leo Anderson, Donald
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Archer, Rt Hon Peter
Alton, David Ashdown, Paddy
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)
Ashton, Joe Harman, Ms Harriet
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham) Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Baldry, Anthony Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Barron, Kevin Haynes, Frank
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Hayward, Robert
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Heath, Rt Hon Edward
Beith, A. J. Heffer, Eric S.
Bell, Stuart Hicks, Robert
Benn, Tony Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)
Benyon, William Home Robertson, John
Bermingham, Gerald Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
Bidwell, Sydney Hoyle, Douglas
Blair, Anthony Hughes, Dr. Mark (Durham)
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Boyes, Roland Hughes, Roy (Newport East)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E) Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) Janner, Hon Greville
Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N) Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Hillh'd)
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith) John, Brynmor
Bruce, Malcolm Johnston, Russell
Buchan, Norman Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) Kennedy, Charles
Campbell, Ian Kilroy-Silk, Robert
Campbell-Savours, Dale Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Canavan, Dennis Kirkwood, Archibald
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y) Knox, David
Carter-Jones, Lewis Lead bitter, Ted
Cartwright, John Leighton, Ronald
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Clarke, Thomas Lewis, Terence (Worsley)
Clay, Robert Litherland, Robert
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.) Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Cohen, Harry Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Coleman, Donald McCartney, Hugh
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Conway, Derek McGuire, Michael
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston) McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Corbett, Robin Mackenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Corbyn, Jeremy Maclennan, Robert
Cormack, Patrick McNamara, Kevin
Craigen, J, M. Marek, Dr John
Crowther, Stan Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Martin, Michael
Cunningham, Dr John Maxton, John
Dalyell, Tam Maynard, Miss Joan
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli) Meacher, Michael
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly) Meadowcroft, Michael
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l) Meyer, Sir Anthony
Deakins, Eric Michie, William
Dewar, Donald Mikardo, Ian
Dobson, Frank Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Dormand, Jack Miscampbell, Norman
Douglas, Dick Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Dubs, Alfred Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Duffy, A. E. P. Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. Nellist, David
Eastham, Ken Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Edwards, Bob (Wh'mpt'n SE) O'Brien, William
Evans, John (St. Helens N) O'Neill, Martin
Fatchett, Derek Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Faulds, Andrew Parry, Robert
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Patchett, Terry
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn) Pavitt, Laurie
Flannery, Martin Pendry, Tom
Forrester, John Penhaligon, David
Foster, Derek Pike, Peter
Foulkes, George Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Fraser, J. (Norwood) Prescott, John
Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald Pym, Rt Hon Francis
George, Bruce Radice, Giles
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Randall, Stuart
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian Rathbone, Tim
Godman, Dr Norman Redmond, M.
Golding, John Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)
Gould, Bryan Richardson, Ms Jo
Ground, Patrick Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N) Steel, Rt Hon David
Robertson, George Stott, Roger
Robinson, G. (Coventry NW) Strang, Gavin
Rooker, J. W. Straw, Jack
Ross, Ernest (Dundee W) Tapsell, Peter
Rowlands, Ted Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Ryman, John Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Sedgemore, Brian Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Sheerman, Barry Tinn, James
Sheldon, Rt Hon R. Torney, Tom
Shore, Rt Hon Peter Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood) Wainwright, R.
Short, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE) Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Silkin, Rt Hon J. Wareing, Robert
Skinner, Dennis Weetch, Ken
Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury) Welsh, Michael
Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E) White, James
Snape, Peter Wigley, Dafydd
Soley, Clive Williams, Rt Hon A.
Spearing, Nigel Winnick, David
Woodall, Alec Tellers for the Noes:
Wrigglesworth, Ian Mr. James Hamilton and Mr. Don Dixon.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Sainsbury.]

Committee tomorrow.