§ Lords amendment: No. 8, in page 7, line 18, leave out subsection (2).
§ 9 pm
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Sir George Young)
I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.
I hope that the debate will be short and uncontroversial, as the Government have responded to arguments put forward on the subject.
The amendment deletes subsection (2). When drafting the Bill it seemed to the Government that there would be little point in reviewing the arrangements for authorities which were shortly to be abolished and that it would be sensible to avoid abortive work being undertaken by the Local Government Boundary Commission. This is why subsection (2) was included in the Bill introduced in the House.
We have, however, reflected on the matter in the light of debate in both Houses. One consideration in particular has weighed heavily with us. If abolition did not go ahead, it would be necessary to reinstate the 1985 elections as quickly as possible. However, if the Local Government Boundary Commission were to be stopped from continuing its present programme of reviews, an unsatisfactory situation could arise. The reviews could not be reactivated and completed in time for the reinstated elections to be held on the new electoral arrangements. I promised in Committee in this House to consider the matter further. We have done so, and we have concluded that it would indeed be right to allow the Local Government Boundary Commission to continue with its programme of reviews in the metropolitan areas.
§ Mr. Beith
To put it mildly, the amendment has an interesting history. It began with what we regard as the obnoxious provisions of the original Bill. The Government were placed in the position which they had often criticised in previous years when it was occupied by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan). They were standing in the way of the Boundary Commission and saying that it could not do its job. The Government thought that they could presume upon the passing of the abolition legislation, and in so doing they took yet another monstrously unconstitutional decision. However, in this case they have stepped back from that decision, and I readily welcome it. There are cogent reasons, to which the Minister referred, why that should happen.
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)
What the hon. Gentleman has just said is not accurate. The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan) did not prevent the Boundary Commission from doing its work, but gerrymandered the position in the House and organised his own side to vote against the Boundary Commission's recommendations.
§ Mr. Beith
The hon. Gentleman is right. I was pressing my argument more than serves the purpose of accuracy, to which the hon. Gentleman has helpfully contributed.
I was referring to why it would be wrong not to pass the amendment. Were the Boundary Commission to be 98 told to leave off London and the metropolitan counties, but the Government lost the abolition Bill, the essential building blocks for boundary change could not be assembled and brought into effect. We must remind ourselves again and again during these discussions that the House has not yet had the abolition Bill, or its detailed proposals, before it. Its decision on that matter must not be presumed upon any more than the views of the other place on the principles of this Bill. Perhaps at least on this amendment the Government have begun to realise how foolish it is to presume upon what views the legislative Chambers will take on major constitutional issues such as this.
The Boundary Commission will be in difficulty because it does not know, and we do not know, what will be the real shape of government in the metropolitan counties and Greater London. We are still relying on comments by Ministers in earlier papers that they produced. We are relying on the statement that they are said to be making tomorrow. There are many loose ends. It is not yet apparent to me and others whether the boundaries of the metropolitan counties and Greater London will continue to exist for a variety of other public purposes. We are wondering whether there will still be significant local government and governmental boundaries or whether they will simply pass out of existence.
I take a seemingly trivial example of where administrative confusion will be caused if the problem is not resolved. It is not yet apparent whether there will be a Lord Lieutenant of the counties that the Government are proposing to abolish. Will there be a Lord Lieutenant of Tyne and Wear or some of the other metropolitan counties once the abolition Bill is passed? All that relates closely to the issue of the boundaries. The neighbouring authorities are beginning to set their caps in the direction of the Boundary Commission, as they did in the old days of the local government boundary Commissions, as they contemplate whether the metropolitan counties will be subsumed in their areas. It is not clear to those involved, let alone the public, whether Tyne and Wear will become part of Northumberland and Durham for any purpose. Many areas of confusion relating to boundaries will arise. The one that will bear most upon the Boundary Commission is confusion about what the future shape of government will be. If the Government lost the abolition Bill, it could not be presumed that that was the end of the matter. They would have to draw up some alternative proposals.
What is most memorable about the amendment is the white handkerchief. It will go down in history as the day when the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young), drew from his pocket one of the grubbiest white handkerchiefs that I have seen for a long time and waved it in the direction of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), who was speaking at the time. That was to show that on this issue. if on nothing else, the Government had caved in. The Government were showing their willingness to think again about the proposal to take away the Boundary Commission's duties in respect of Greater London. But more than the Government's white handkerchief was waved at that point, because it was also the signal for the Labour party to decide that the Bill was not as bad as it thought, and perhaps we could all go home. That is all past history, but it adds a certain poignancy to the amendment, which the Liberal party welcomes.
§ Mr. Straw
As I said at about 3.43 am on 22 May:This is the first occasion on this Bill and the associated Rates Bill that the Government have accepted the force of the arguments advanced on a substantial issue."—[Official Report, 22 May 1984; Vol. 60, c. 992.]Substantial arguments were advanced on this issue, in notable speeches from my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) and from the Liberal Chief Whip, the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). Whether my speeches on that occasion were notable is for others to judge.
We are glad that, because of the force of the arguments and other circumstances, the Government have decided to
5 ". — (1) Except with the consent of the Secretary of State neither the Greater London Council nor a metropolitan county council shall on or after 1st April 1985 incur any expenditure under section 137 of the principal Act (power to incur expenditure for purposes not otherwise authorised). 10 (2) The expenditure to which subsection (1) applies includes ((expenditure after the date mentioned in that subsection in respect of contractual liabilities entered into before that date but not earlier than 26th June 1984. 15 (3) The Secretary of State shall not give his consent under this section in respect of any expenditure unless he is satisfied that it is expedient for the council in question to incur it and, as respe6ts expenditure under subsection (1) of the said section 137, that the expenditure is in the interests of the council's area or any part of it or of all or some of its inhabitants. 20 (4) Any consent under this section may be given either in respect of particular expenditure or in respect of expenditure of any class or description and either unconditionally or subject to conditions. (5) Expenditure incurred in contravention of this section shall be treated as contrary to law for the purposes of section 19 of the Local Government Finance Act 1982 (powers of court in respect of unlawful expenditure by local authorities) but, save as aforesaid, 25 this section shall not invalidate any payment, contract or other transaction."
§ Read a Second time.
§ Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)
I beg to move, as an amendment to the Lords amendment, amendment (a) in line 20, at end insert—'(4A) The consent of the Secretary of State under this section shall not be required to the incurring of expenditure where the recipient person or body is, for all or part of any one financial year, in receipt concurrently of funding from monies voted by Parliament including Urban Programme, the grant-in-aid to the Manpower Services Commission or funds administered by the Department of Industry, or in receipt concurrently of funding from the European Social Fund or Regional Fund, or in receipt concurrently of funds provided by any registered charity.'
§ Mr. Speaker
With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments to the proposed Lords amendment:
(e) in line 6, at end insert—'(1A) Consent should not be unreasonably withheld, and shall in any event be extended to the incurring of expenditure where the recipient person or body is for all or part of any one financial year in receipt concurrently of funding from monies voted by Parliament including Urban Programme, the grant-in-aid to the Manpower Services Commission, or funds administered by the Department of Industry, or in receipt concurrently of funding from the European Social Fund or Regional Fund or in receipt concurrently of funds provided by any registered charity.'.(g) in line 16, at end insert—'(3A) The Secretary of State shall publish his specific reasons for referring his consent in respect of any expenditure from which his consent is withheld.'.(b) in line 20, at end, insert— 100 accept the strength of our case and the Boundaries Commission is to continue its work. This is one of the few Lords amendments which we shall not oppose.
§ Question put and agreed to.