HC Deb 11 February 1985 vol 73 cc75-119

13. In this Order— allotted day" means any day (other than a Friday) on which the Bill is put down as first Government Order of the Day provided that a Motion for allotting time to the proceedings on the Bill to be taken on that day either has been agreed on a previous day or is set down for consideration on that day; the Bill" means the Local Government Bill; Resolution of the Business Sub-Committee" means a Resolution of the Business Sub-Committee as agreed to by the Standing Committee; Resolution of the Business Committee" means a Resolution of the Business Committee as agreed to by the House.

As the whole House is only too well aware, this motion sets out a timetable for the Bill designed to abolish the Greater London and metropolitan county councils. This is a major piece of legislation. The Government have been committed to it since before the general election in June 1983. The case for the Bill will be dealt with in greater detail by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government at the conclusion of the debate, but let me say at once that I believe that case to be formidable and to have been fully made out during the prolonged debate which has taken place on the issue, both in Parliament and outside.

The Bill had its origins in the White Paper "Streamlining the Cities" which was published in October 1983 together with a series of consultation papers. These documents gave rise to a lengthy period of consultation and discussion. In addition, there were long and probing debates in Parliament during the last Session on the Bill which became the Local Government (Interim Provisions) Act 1984. I do not believe, therefore, that anyone can claim that the policy that lies behind the Bill has not been thoroughly examined.

The Bill is substantial. It has to make arrangements for the transfer of functions to the successor authorities, including police, fire, passenger transport and the newly constituted Inner London education authority. The Bill has to deal also with the implications for staff and to settle the financial arrangements. It is therefore right that a substantial amount of parliamentary time should be provided for it to be debated, and the Government have recognised this.

In addition to two full days on Second Reading, clause 1 was committed to a Committee of the whole House. The remainder has now been under discussion in Standing Committee for over 100 hours.

In referring to the proceedings in Standing Committee I recognise that the Opposition have demonstrated their developing expertise in these matters. I congratulate them on the fact that they have not on this occasion chosen to rely solely on the tactics immortalised by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding). There has been no repeat of the marathon filibusters which were such a lamentable feature of the Telecommunications Bill in the last two Sessions of Parliament. None the less, progress has been slow.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

To backup the right hon. Gentleman's point, will he recognise that one of the longest speeches made in Standing Committee — 72 minutes — was made by the Minister of State, Department of Transport? If the guillotine motion is implemented, hon. Members will have less than 40 minutes to discuss each remaining clause. It is a matter not of filibustering but of the Government trying to curtail debate.

Mr. Biffen

That statistic shows the generosity of my hon. Friend the Minister in giving way to the many interruptions that marked her speech.

In its first sitting the Committee discussed the three lines that make up clause 2 for two and a half hours, despite the fact that no amendments to that clause had been selected. Thirty eight hours were then devoted to clauses 3 and 4 and schedule 1. At that rate of progress the Bill would have spent well over 400 hours in Committee—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] The Opposition's cheers indicate that that was their aspiration.

After more than 100 hours, there are more than 80 clauses and nine schedules still to be debated.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

The right hon. Gentleman seems to be surprised that the Opposition should say, "Hear, hear" to the idea of the Bill being discussed for more than 400 hours. He will recall that the London Government Act 1963 at least had the benefit of three years of a Royal Commission to consider all the proposals for reorganisation. If we had had a similar amount of time to consider these proposals for reorganisation, the right hon. Gentleman would not now be moving the guillotine motion.

Mr. Biffen

I am happy that the hon. Gentleman referred to a measure which, in its day, was also guillotined.

Furthermore, the debate has to be concluded to enable the other place to carry out its own measured consideration of these major local government reforms. It is therefore clear that the imposition of a timetable is required to secure proper consideration of the very important provisions still outstanding. That timetable is realistically drawn and will not be unreasonable. The motion will allow the Committee a further 16 sessions if the Business Sub-Committee decides to continue morning and afternoon sittings. Sensibly allocated, that will allow all the significant issues to be discussed. In addition, two full days—one lasting until midnight—will be provided on the Floor of the House for Report and Third Reading.

Mr. Tony Banks

We will all turn into pumpkins.

Mr. Biffen

That fate overtakes a great many Opposition Members as they run out of reasoned arguments and resort to a level of contribution that is barely above a reading of the London telephone directory.

I think it appropriate that at this point I should say a few words on the subject of timetabling in general.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)

Before my right hon. Friend goes on to discuss timetabling in general, will he state whether he is aware that, under the timetable he is setting out—ending in Committee on 7 March—hon. Members will be allowed a maximum of 40 minutes per item to discuss the 56 clauses and schedules left? Is that a reasonable amount of time in which to consider such a complicated measure?

Mr. Biffen

I believe that it is a reasonable amount in the light of my hon. Friend's known quality to present his arguments succinctly and persuasively.

Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)

All the metropolitan counties and the GLC will be affected. The electorate in those areas expect the person representing them to contribute in Committee to a debate on the major issues. If we have only 40 minutes for each clause, it will not be possible for Opposition Members, let alone Government Members, to speak for more than two minutes on major issues such as the police. I would be able to contribute for only two minutes to the debate on the consequences for the police force in the whole of Merseyside.

Mr. Biffen

That is just an argument for debate sharing. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman, who has a reputation for putting his arguments with accuracy and effect, will put his case even more accurately and effectively if it is allied with the quality of brevity.

As the House knows, the Select Committee on Procedure is now engaged on an inquiry into public Bill procedure, and timetabling figures in that inquiry. My own evidence to the Committee is a matter of public record and I do not wish to rehearse the arguments now. At business questions last week I was made aware by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) of the continuing desire in some parts of the House for automatic timetabling. I still believe that adequate and balanced debate on matters of great interest can generally be better secured by negotiation and agreement than by the imposition of a prejudged timetable from the outset. Agreement is, unfortunately, not always possible. My reluctance to abandon the system of negotiation and agreement is, I hope, a testimony to my personal instinct for unfettered debate.

Sir Kenneth Lewis (Stamford and Spalding)

Does my right hon. Friend know how many times after discussions with the Opposition there has been agreement to have reasonable discussions on a Bill without having to timetable it? Secondly, has he sought such an arrangement over this Bill, and if so what was the answer?

Mr. Biffen

On my hon. Friend's first point, without notice I cannot give him a statistical answer, but most Bills go through the House with an overt or tacit agreement as to their broad time schedule. His second point can more appropriately be dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government.

I make those comments notwithstanding the scepticism of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), contained in an article in The Times last Monday. In that article, and again at business questions last week, he alleged that the statistics demonstrate this Treasury Bench to be the most enthusiastic guillotiners since Robespierre.

Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

I did not say that.

Mr. Biffen

The implication was even more dreadful. As we are all aware, an innocent reliance on global statistics can mislead. The House may benefit from a rather more detached, if not desiccated, analysis of recent history.

The Labour party was in power for five years and two months from February 1974. During that period it introduced a timetable on 12 occasions. This Government took office in May 1979, and five years and nine months have elapsed. This is the 16th guillotine motion that we have introduced. One must also bear in mind, however, the fact that two of those timetables were introduced on the same Telecommunications Bill because of the fortuitous circumstances of the 1983 general election. In addition, on one occasion in 1982 I had the irksome task of introducing a guillotine against some of the Government's supporters. The incident left me with the clearest impression that it was no ordinary guillotine occasion. I do not include it in the tally. Thus, a true reading of the score would be 12 to the Labour Government, 14 to the Conservative Government —[Interruption.] I have not finished. This is just the beginning of this in-depth analysis.

We must also consider the fact that the Labour Government were effectively in a minority in the House from March 1977 onwards. Thereafter, the Government could only guillotine by courtesy of the Liberal party. Thus, it is fairer to say that an autonomous Labour Government introduced nine guillotines in three years and this Treasury Bench, on a comparable basis, 14 guillotines in five years nine months. I believe, therefore, that a dispassionate analysis of the fact—

Mr. Harry Cowans (Tyne Bridge)

While the Leader of the House is reading out those statistics, will he tell the House how many of those guillotines were of a constitutional nature, as on this Bill, and how many of them the Government recognised as a constitutional issue by allowing two days to discuss clause 1 on the Floor of the House? If he were to allow two days for the rest of the clauses, that would make sense.

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman belongs to a party which during its last term of office forced through guillotines to support devolution—the Wales Bill, the Scotland Bill and a Bill for the establishment of a British contingent to a directly elected European Assembly. The Government need no instruction from him about the constitutional proprieties in these matters.

A dispassionate analysis of the facts does not support the argument of the hon. Member for Blackburn. If there is any lesson to be learnt, it is that over a period of many years Governments of different persuasions have found the use of the timetable motion to be occasionally necessary to ensure the passage of their legislation. The timetable is as necessary to a legislative programme as sewerage is to civilisation.

Mr. Straw

We have all been entertained by the speech of the Leader of the House, especially his dispassionate analysis of the the facts, which reflect his Treasury background. He will not deny that a dispassionate analysis of the facts in the Clerks' evidence to the Select Committee on Procedure clearly showed that in five years the Government guillotined more Bills in Standing Committee than previous Governments guillotined in 20 years.

Mr. Biffen

Yes, but they were the same basic raw statistics in respect of this Government and the previous Labour Government. [Interruption.] They are raw statistics, as I believe I have demonstrated to the general satisfaction of the House. On a more refined consideration, it is clear that there is no preponderance of a disposition for the guillotine on one side of the House rather than on the other.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that if sewerage is important for civilisation it should not be taxed? On the subject of a guillotine motion, following his arguments a few moments ago, does he agree that on both sides of the House guillotines have been used where constitutional arguments and perhaps constitutional propriety have been at stake, and that therefore that is a just criticism of the Bill which he now wishes to guillotine?

Mr. Biffen

I do not believe that the character of the Local Government Bill is any more a constitutional measure than the three propositions of the Labour Governments which I read out a few moments ago. Any attempt to divert argument in that direction would merely lead one to a cul-de-sac.

I do not wish to delay the House further. The Local Government Bill is an important part of the Government's programme. Its passage is awaited by millions of ratepayers and by all those in local government whose decisions will reflect the Bill's contents. This motion will facilitate that passage and do so in a way that allows sensible debate of the issues. I commend the motion to the House.

7.16 pm
Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)

I have taken part, as has the Leader of the House, in a number of guillotine debates during this Parliament, but I cannot recall one where so great a folly and so much damage will ensue from foreclosing and limiting debate as in the case before us today.

I found the right hon. Gentleman's speech to be completely unconvincing, and not merely in the content and the raw or refined statistics that he put before us which sought to justify or ensure his reputation as a liberal in the matter of guillotines. It was generally delivered in what can only be described as blazing insincerity.

The Government's reasons for stifling debate are all too clear. When the Second Reading of the Local Government Bill came to an end on 4 December, the Opposition's reasoned amendment was defeated and the Government's proposition for the Second Reading was carried by majorities of about 135. It has been remarkable how the Government's majorities have faded since that initial event.

When clause 1, which contains the principle of the Bill—the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils — was taken on the Floor of the House on Wednesday 12 December, the Government's majority on the Opposition's amendment not to proceed until the House had received a report by a Royal Commission on those proposals was only 51 votes. The next amendment by the Opposition which asked for a prior report by the parliamentary committee of inquiry was defeated by only 44 votes, and on the third amendment calling for an independent inquiry into the cost implications for local services the Government had a majority of only 45. In the last vote of that day, an amendment calling for the replacement of the GLC by another directly elected authority was defeated by a mere 23 votes.

The strongest argument against the Bill, though not the only powerful argument against it, was put by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath).

The Minister for Local Government (Mr. Kenneth Baker)

The right hon. Gentleman says that majorities fell during the discussion of clause 1 in two days' consideration on the Floor of the House. That clause abolishes the GLC and the six metropolitan counties, but the right hon. Gentleman did not say what majority we had in the Division on clause 1 stand part. How many over 100 was our majority?

Mr. Shore

It was about 100, but there was a super three-line Whip to recover from the humiliation of the 23 majority that reflected the sentiments of Conservative Members at the end of the previous debate.

The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup said: The Bill contains proposals for a major constitutional change and it comes without precedent because no public inquiry has been carried out as the basis for it. What is more, the case against the GLC and the metropolitan counties remains unproven. No substantial evidence has been produced for abolishing the GLC or the metropolitan counties. That is the heart of the matter.

The Bill is, indeed, a constitutional measure. It marks a major shift in the distribution of powers between central and local government. It greatly diminishes the power of local government and local democracy. Indeed, how could it be otherwise when elected local authorities in the metropolitan counties and London, providing services for 18 million people, are to be abolished from 31 March 1986 and no new elected authorities are to be put in their place?

The Secretary of State has disingenuously argued that the overwhelming majority of services taken away from the metropolitan authorities and the GLC will be exercised in future by the lower tier elected authorities in those areas. But he arrives at that conclusion only by listing the trivial with the major functions of the local authorities. Surely what really matters is that services involving 82 per cent. of the spending of metropolitan areas will be removed from directly elected bodies to statutory boards and quangos and that only 18 per cent. will go to the district councils. That conclusion was reached by PA Management Consultants, which carried out a major study of what the Government have proposed.

We have no written constitution, but it has been the practice of successive Governments for a century or more to extend the scope of local democracy. The Bill, along with measures that have preceded it, including the Rates Act, which enables the Secretary of State to determine the rates levied by local authorities, the Local Government (Interim Provisions) Act, which abolishes for London and the metropolitan counties the elections that were to have been held on 2 May this year, and the earlier powers that enable the Secretary of State to impose an elaborate system of targets on local authorities, have halted and reversed the long-established trend towards greater local democracy.

Indeed, more powers are now exercised at the centre, by the Secretary of State and, through him, by nominated boards and bodies, than were at any time in the past 100 years. As the right hon. Member for Bexley and Sidcup stressed, all that has been done without an independent inquiry. Not only has there not been an independent inquiry, but there has been no serious thinking in Government Departments about the implications of the policy that they are pursuing and the future arrangements for the services that are affected.

How the Government landed in this miserable state was revealed by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup when he told us — and his words matter enormously: The last sad part of the saga is being justified on the ground that the proposals were set out in the Conservative party's manifesto. They were put in nine days after the election was called against the wishes of the party policy committee. They were inserted without the general agreement of those who had been London Conservative Members." —[Official Report, 4 December 1984; Vol. 69, c. 190–1.]

Dr. Keith Hampson (Leeds, North-West)

When we had an independent inquiry—the Redcliffe-Maud inquiry —my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) not only rejected its recommendations, but produced the present hopeless arrangements. In addition, the Labour Government did not accept the Redcliffe-Maud recommendations. They produced different proposals. The met counties had education, and that was not proposed by Redcliffe-Maud.

Mr. Shore

The hon. Gentleman's memory has let him down. There was a minority and a majority report in the Redcliffe-Maud inquiry. The Labour Government had no difficulty in going for the large unitary authorities which were then proposed. Following the 1970 election, a botched-up scheme was put forward, but at least it had some relevance to a recent independent inquiry.

The difficulties facing the Government were predictable. Local government structures and services form a complex jigsaw. By removing the GLC and the six metropolitan county councils, the Government have removed seven major pieces from the board, without any thought-out strategy for redesigning the remaining structure or filling in the gaping holes. That was bound to lead to chaos, improvisation and muddle—and we have had all three.

It is the plain duty of the House and its Standing Committee fully to explore the ramifications of this ill-prepared measure. I reject—though I hardly need to do so, because the Leader of the House has conceded our claim—any suggestion that there has been filibustering in the 100 hours of Committee consideration that the Bill has so far received. Indeed, the longest speech — 72 minutes—was made by a Minister.

Sir Kenneth Lewis

If the right hon. Gentleman looks at the progress made on the Bill in Committee, he will see that, at that rate of progress, there was no chance of the measure coming back to the House in time to become law in this Session. If the Opposition really wanted a full discussion on this important subject—I accept that they do not want the Bill—would it not have been helpful and wise if they had volunteered a timetable for the Bill?

Mr. Shore

No proposals were made by the Government for handling the Bill by agreement. The Government simply reached whatever bench mark of progress they had in mind and came forward with the guillotine motion.

During that period, the Committee has considered the complex questions of town and country planning, development plans, listed buildings, national parks, highways and road traffic functions, waste regulation and waste disposal, land drainage and flood prevention, the administration of justice—including magistrates courts and the coroners service — valuation panels and the probation service.

No one in his senses would argue that those are small or trivial matters. They are of vital concern to people in communities throughout the metropolitan areas and our capital city. The new arrangements for the reallocation of those services, mainly to the London boroughs and the metropolitan district councils, needed the most careful scrutiny.

What is really appalling is the vast areas of the Bill that have not even been reached. Not a word has been spoken yet in Committee on the future of our largest education authority, the Inner London education authority, nor has there been any opportunity to discuss such major matters as the fire service, the police and passenger transport, all of which are to be transferred to non-elected joint authorities. Yet, in the case of the metropolitan counties, those services account for no less than 67 per cent. of their current expenditure. Those joint authorities will at least be comprised of members appointed by the borough or district councils in their areas. However, that will not be the case in part V of the Bill, which transfers such major facilities as the historic house museums in London to the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission. Collections of national importance belonging to the metropolitan county councils will be transferred to new trustee bodies. The South Bank arts complex is to pass to the Arts Council.

Those are all transfers to non-elected bodies, but even that will not do the job. Part VII of the Bill provides for the establishment in each area of the body to be known as the residuary body, consisting of members appointed by the Secretary of State to deal with all those difficult and inconvenient matters for which no other body can he made responsible. To add insult to injury, all those new authorities—the joint authorities, the non-elected bodies and the appointed residuary bodies—will be empowered to issue a precept and will, from day one and at least the following three years, be rate capped by the Secretary of State. Along with the named authorities, they are to be brought within part I of the Rates Act 1984 at the moment of their existence.

Those are very complex arrangements, and it is intolerable that there should no longer be the opportunity seriously to debate, amend and discuss them in what is now left of the Committee stage. Of course, the Leader of the House says that the timetable motion allows for further debate. It does. But since the Bill has to be reported to the House on or before 7 March, that will leave time for no more than seven further Committee sittings. So far the Committee has debated 16 clauses of the Local Government Bill, clauses that are linked with no fewer than eight schedules running to 62 pages of text. That is what the Committee has done already. In the seven remaining Committee sittings that we are now allowed under the guillotine, a further 81 clauses fall to be considered together with another eight schedules comprising 52 additional pages of text. Of one thing we can be certain: much the larger part of this most controversial and ill-thought-out Bill will go to the other place undiscussed and unamended.

While the Government have persistently refused to subject their proposals to any sort of independent scrutiny, the authorities affected have called in consultants of repute. The report published by PA Management Consultants, after an intensive study of the new structures proposed, concludes with these words: the multiplicity of compulsory and voluntary joint working between Metropolitan District Councils is an unsound basis for an effective lasting structure". The report goes on to say: overall we have been unable to find a single service where the quality of service to the local elector is likely to be improved as a result of the change in structure. In many cases we believe there will be a marked decline in quality".

The only justification that the Government have attempted to advance during the discussions of their proposals is that there will be some cost savings. In the explanatory and financial memorandum to the Bill they say: The government's current estimate … is that, subject to decisions yet to be taken by successor authorities, a saving of the order of £100 million annually will be achievable by removing a tier of government and eliminating duplication of functions.". No evidence has been presented by the Government to justify that claim. Against it, the councils themselves have commissioned Coopers and Lybrand to give its own independent estimate. In its second report, it concluded as follows: the proposed changes cannot be expected to lead to savings in themselves … savings therefore can only be sought as a result of policy changes about the levels of services and hence expenditure in an area. One can get savings only if one cuts the services. That is nothing to do with changing the structure of local government. On the very claim that the Government make of a £100 million saving by abolition of the GLC and the six metropolitan counties, Coopers and Lybrand concludes not only that the Government's claims cannot be supported but that likely additional annual costs at least in the six areas of the metropolitan counties will be up to £69 million per year.

The plain truth is that the Bill is part, perhaps the crowning achievement, of the Government's campaign against local democracy, the hard-hit inner cities and conurbation areas of the country, and areas where their political opponents, the Labour party, are in local control.

Mr. Nellist

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Shore

I shall not give way to my hon. Friend as I must conclude.

Not content with fining and penalising local councils that maintain their services, not content even with taking powers to limit their ability to raise and set their own rates, the Government have now reached the ultimate stage of abolishing the offenders altogether. That reflects all too clearly the authoritarian temperament of the Government, particularly of the Prime Minister. The new arrangements are not only an affront to democracy, but are illogical, cumbersome and unworkable. The guillotine at this stage of the Bill that gives legislative authority to the proposals adds insult to injury, and we shall oppose it in the Lobby tonight.

7.36 pm
Mr. Martin Stevens (Fulham)

Those of us who have the pleasure and delight of serving on the Standing Committee on the Bill that we are discussing will have heard the remarks by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House with the greatest possible pleasure, first, because of the felicity and charm that graced their utterance, but no less because his speech spelt out for us not the end of debate on the Bill, but the beginning. As we know, the Select Committee on Procedure is now examining this matter. Many of us feel that there would be benefit in Standing Committees always working to time from day one. First and, in my submission, not least, that would give the Government's supporters on the Committee a fair chance to participate in the debate. Second, and perhaps more important, it would tie down the Committee to debating the realities that are at stake and to forgetting, or at least passing over with relative speed, the emotional frivolities that we have been forced to hear throughout the past eight weeks.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

If we thought that the guillotine would assist Conservative Members to take part in the debate, my hon. Friends and I on the Committee would welcome that because so far we have heard almost nothing in justification of the measures on which Conservative Members regularly vote. The hon. Gentleman said that timetabling the Committee would allow adequate participation in debates. Does he include Ministers in that? Once the guillotine is passed, does he expect real answers from Ministers, rather than the casual reading of briefs which we have had so far?

Mr. Stevens

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not expect me to answer for my ministerial colleagues. It is up to them what they say and do. I have no doubt that they will continue to give a good account of themselves.

When I said that there had been a certain amount of emotional frivolity, I go along with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, in that on this occasion I do not accuse the Opposition of filibustering. They have, however, concentrated their whole line of argument on a series of propositions which are false. For example, they have told us ad nauseam that no Government since Boadicea have ever denied people the democratic right to vote for an outgoing local authority. Yet that is exactly what the Labour party did in London in 1964 and in the rest of the country in 1975 when forms of local administration were being phased out.

I do not say that this action was our first choice, but the House knows the reasons for it and there is ample precedent for it in the history of Labour Governments. If the Opposition keep repeating what everyone knows to be rubbish, I think that I am entitled to describe that as emotional frivolity.

Mr. Tony Banks

As the hon. Gentleman well knows, far from repeating emotional rubbish, the Opposition have cited reams of evidence submitted to all members of the Committee from learned bodies, royal institutions and impartial sources to the effect that the Government have got it completely wrong. Meanwhile, the Government have been unable to produce even one substantial piece of evidence to support their proposals. Finally, why have 10 Conservative Members sat in the Committee and said absolutely nothing throughout the proceedings?

Mr. Stevens

It is always a pleasure to hear interventions from the hon. Gentleman. The reams of evidence from more or less interested outside bodies to which he refers do not relate to the point that I was making, from which he was careful to divert attention. As for the allegation that 10 Government supporters have not yet spoken, the timetable motion will give them the opportunity to break forth into compelling words. I look forward not just to hearing them but to joining them in weeks to come.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

I am not here to defend either Tory or Labour Governments, but the hon. Gentleman is wrong about a Labour Government having set a precedent, as both the GLC and the metropolitan counties were set up by Tory legislation. Moreover, neither occasion was a precedent for what the Government are now doing, because on both occasions the life of an elected authority was continued pending the replacement of higher-tier authorities. In this case, however, the life of an authority is continued for one year by the abolition of elections, but no interim authority is to come into existence. In this case the authority is to be dissolved. There is no precedent for that from any Government.

Mr. Stevens

The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting technicality and in so doing draws attention to another Opposition argument — the wilful assertion that less government means less democracy. I should have thought that the fewer tiers of government the people of this country have to find their way through, the greater the presumption should be that there will be more rather than less democracy.

Mr. Tony Banks

Why not scrap the whole lot then?

Mr. Stevens

Surely no one would argue that the abolition of the area health authorities has undermined the conduct of the National Health Service.

Mr. Tony Banks

They should never have been set up in the first place.

Mr. Stevens

My party set up the GLC and no one could be sadder than I at what has happened to it. I played a small part in that, as Chris Chataway and I put to the Royal Commission the evidence that came closest to its final proposition. That being so, I should have liked the GLC to operate successfully as a strategic authority. From the first GLC election in 1965, however, the GLC triggered off its reserve powers on a daily basis, and instead of being the strategic authority that it was set up to be it became a very slow and expensive duplicating authority, duplicating the functions of the boroughs which both parties had agreed should be, and now will be, the primary instruments of local government.

Dr. Hampson

I understand that the Liberal party favours abolishing the metropolitan counties and not replacing them. It apparently wants an even more distant tier in the shape of some colossal regional government system.

Mr. Stevens

That is a helpful intervention and I see some nods from across the way.

Mr. Simon Hughes

At least we are consistent.

Mr. Stevens

It is interesting that the right hon. Gentleman who leads the Opposition in Committee — I am sorry, the hon. Gentleman who leads the Opposition in Committee—

Mr. Tony Banks

It is only a matter of time.

Mr. Stevens

I am sure that that is so. The hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) has made it clear that an incoming Labour Government would not replace the six metropolitan counties, but he has not yet said whether an incoming Labour Government would reinstate the GLC. At Labour party local government conferences up to and including 1981 the speeches made by Labour Members now passionately committed to the opposite view show that there is a twist of hypocrisy in the outrage and condemnation to which they now subject us.

One very unpleasant feature of the Standing Committee on the Bill is the presence round the clock in the Public Gallery of a group of agents, presumably paid for by the ratepayers—some have assessed the number as being as high as 26, although it is difficult to identify them accurately—

Mr. Tony Banks

The hon. Gentleman can do better than that. As he well knows, GLC officers have been present, but at no time have there been more than four paid officers present. They are there to advise not just the Opposition but Conservative Members. I have made it clear to the Committee that if Government supporters need information — from the paucity of their arguments it is clear that they do — they are welcome to consult those officers. The hon. Gentleman should not continue to mislead the House. He should take it from me as a GLC councillor that there have never been more than four paid officers present.

Mr. Stevens

May we also take it from the hon. Gentleman, as a member of the GLC, that at least some of the people who, day and night, accompany the Committee in the Public Gallery are not concealing their identity by means of false names or code names? Can he repeat—

Mr. Allan Roberts

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Stevens

I shall give way to the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) after giving way to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks).

Mr. Banks

It does not take much persuasion to make me rise to answer the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stevens) or any other Government Member. Yes, there have never been more than four paid officials there. From time to time there have been a number of elected members who have a close interest in the matter and a more detailed knowledge of what the Government are trying to do.

Mr. Stevens

That was not the answer that I had hoped for. I had thought that my question was precise, but clearly it has been avoided.

Mr. Allan Roberts

There have been visits from officers and elected members of Merseyside county council. Not many officers have been present, but one or two elected members have come here under their own steam, paying their own expenses. The chief officer responsible for the waste disposal services took unpaid leave in order to attend the Committee.

Mr. Stevens

The idea of ladies and gentlemen from Merseyside county council undertaking such work gratis in their own time is an inspiring vision. The House is grateful to the hon. Gentleman for telling us about it.

Mr. John Powley (Norwich, South)

The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) was careful to say that at any one time no more than four GLC officers were present in the Committee. He did not say that only four had ever been present. Is it not possible that, through the long hours, relays of four different people at different times have been involved in the argument?

Mr. Stevens

That is what is called playing the numbers game. I do no more than thank my hon. Friend for his kind intervention.

Mr. Cowans

I am following the hon. Gentleman's arguments closely, which is more than I have had a chance to do in Committee. He should remember, first, that there is a bevy of talent in the Committee sitting by the Chairman, all of it presumably paid for by the taxpayer. Secondly, if the hon. Gentleman's argument is so substantial and his case so good, why should he worry even if there are 30,000 people in the Public Gallery?

Mr. Stevens

I would not go so far as to say that I am worried. My modest comment—I have referred to only what is on the Committee's record — has attracted so many excited interventions from the Opposition Benches that it has consumed more time than I had in mind.

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)

It was offensive.

Mr. Stevens

I do not know that it was offensive. It is a fact.

Mr. Soley

I can tell the hon. Gentleman why his comments were offensive. He has launched an attack upon people who have a proper interest in servicing that Committee in the same way as it is done by the civil servants, whom the hon. Gentleman has not attacked. He knows that they cannot answer back. He even says that they appear under false names. That is offensive to many people who work hard and properly.

Mr. Stevens

The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) has uttered a clear denial of my point. Hon. Members will no doubt take account of his intervention when judging the veracity of what I said.

The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) referred to a remark that he said had come from the lips of my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), whose seat in the Chamber I have momentarily usurped. My right hon. Friend is alleged to have said that the question of abolition was introduced into the Conservative party manifesto without any considerable discussion with Greater London Conservative Members.

Since 1979 I have continuously been the secretary of the Greater London group of Conservative Members — [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]. The position is indeed not without honour. My right hon. Friend is a member of that group but has never attended a meeting.

Mr. Tony Banks

The right hon. Gentleman is no fool.

Mr. Stevens

Tempting nets are laid before our feet in these debates. I shall resist the temptation to dance on that trampoline.

Mr. Banks

What an awesome thought.

Mr. Stevens

In the two years leading up to the 1983 general election it sometimes seemed that there was not a weekly meeting of the Greater London Conservative Members at which the issue of the GLC and its abolition was not discussed ad nauseam. By the time of the election there was no doubt at all — pace my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) — that the overwhelming majority of Conservative Greater London Members — who then as now exceeded in number the Labour Members for Greater London — were in favour of abolition. On a number of occasions we sought interviews with the leader of the party, including my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, to make them aware of our views.

That may well be the only topic on which I speak with greater authority than my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup. Since I can outspeak him on that one point, this may be a suitable moment for me to resume my seat.

Mr. Banks

The right hon. Gentleman's seat.

Mr. Stevens

My right hon. Friend's seat. Before I do so, I must assure my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House of my full support.

7.57 pm
Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich)

I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stevens) on a speech today that was longer than the total sum of his utterances in Committee. I shall not take up all the points made by the hon. Gentleman. I was fascinated by his fantasies of sinister GLC officers, giving false names and no doubt sporting false beards, controlling the affairs of the Committee.

I was impressed by the use of creative accounting—as it is now called—by the Leader of the House in order to prove that the Government's record on guillotining is no worse than that of their Labour predecessors. However, though entertaining, the argument was not persuasive.

I still believe that there is a powerful case for timetabling Bills from the start. However, whether Bills are timetabled by agreement or whether, as in this case, a guillotine is imposed, there should be adequate time for proper debate. The Leader of the House was not persuasive on that point in relation to this Bill. It is a complex piece of legislation. Those who believed that removing one tier of metropolitan government would be an easy operation have learnt the hard way that it is far from easy. This is not just a Local Government Bill. For the seven largest conurbations in the country, it is also an education, transport, police and fire authorities Bill.

As the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) correctly reminded us, many important issues remain to be examined in Committee, and, on the basis of the timetable now before us, they will have to be rushed. Part III sets up a completely new body to oversee London's education. That will be a freestanding, one service authority. Modern local government has no experience of that sort of organisation—not since the days of the London School Board. This issue needs proper scrutiny, as does the method of electing the ILEA.

Part IV introduces the joint boards. That has aroused considerable controversy and detailed criticism.

Part V restructures the funding of voluntary organisations. Here again, there has been considerable criticism. Among the critics is the London Churches Group, which wrote to the Prime Minister on 9 November detailing its criticism of that part of the Government's proposals. That letter was signed by some distinguished churchmen, no less than the Bishop of London, the Bishop of Southwark, the Methodist Chairman of London, southeastern district, the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster and the Archbishop of Southwark. I should have thought that even this Government would have taken seriously a letter signed by so many distinguished churchmen. However, I do not believe that we shall have adequate time to debate that important part of the Bill.

Part VI contains all the complex arrangements for staff. The future allocation of staff as a result of the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan counties will be anything but straightforward. Staff will have to be slotted in to successor authorities, be they joint boards or borough or district councils. That will be a complex operation. The staff involved are entitled to see that this part of the Bill is examined in detail and is treated with the seriousness that it deserves.

Part VII sets up the residuary authority. Here again, there is more than one view. Some Conservative Members are clearly anxious to use the residuary body to take over many of the GLC's existing powers. They are surely entitled to have adequate time to develop their arguments, but that will not be available on the basis of the timetabling that is now proposed.

Mr. Dykes

As time goes on, is it not becoming clearer that the only way to get out of the dilemma that the Government have created for themselves is to allow this residuary body to take over those functions and to become an elected successor authority?

Mr. Cartwright

I do not believe that that is the ideal solution, but it is one solution. It is certainly more attractive than the one that the Government are putting forward. I am simply arguing that, given some measure of support for that idea among Conservative Members, that alone should have persuaded the Government to give ample time to enable it to be properly examined and discussed. I do not believe that that time will be available on the basis of the timetable before us.

Part VIII deals with the principles of rate levying and precepting, the complexities of reorganising grant-related expenditure assessments, and all the other myriad complexities of local government financing which will result from abolition. Therefore, major elements in the Bill will not be properly examined on the basis of the timetabling that has been proposed.

The Leader of the House was happy to remind us of the precedent established by the London Government Bill in 1963. That was timetabled almost from the very start. Clause 1 and schedule 1 were taken on the Floor of the House, but a timetable applied to the remainder. It was a similar timetable to the one now before us. About seven weeks were allowed for Committee stage and only two days for Report. Two arguments put forward by the Government in support of that timetable do not apply today. The late Iain Macleod argued that the Bill implemented the unanimous recommendation of a Royal Commission and that as a result the Government were entitled to timetable it. That does not apply to this Bill, which is the result of a manifesto commitment but no serious independent examination.

Secondly, in arguing the case for a timetable based on the London Government Bill, the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) said: We have the support of the bulk of our hon. Friends on every part of the Bill. We have the support of all our hon. Friends, except, I think, for one, on the principles of the Bill as a whole". —[Official Report, 29 January 1963; Vol. 670, c. 893–94.] It is clear that that argument cannot be used in relation to this legislation, in respect of which there are considerable doubts among many Conservative Members.

When we look at the 1972 legislation which reorganised local government outside Greater London and set up the metropolitan counties, we find a more generous allocation of time. Second Reading took place on 16 and 17 November 1971. There was a lengthy Committee stage; the Bill did not come back on Report until 13 April 1972; and it did not complete Report and Third Reading until 21 July 1972. Debate on the Floor of the House totalled 67 hours, covering seven days, including two all-night sittings. That is a much more generous allocation of time than the two days which have been allotted for this Local Government Bill.

I also endorse the view put forward by the Opposition, and I think accepted by Conservative Members, that the conduct of the Committee thus far produces no evidence of undue delay on the part of the Opposition. Those of us who have had experience of other local government measures have enjoyed the contributions of the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Cowans). So far we have been disappointed in Committee because the hon. Member has substantially restricted his contributions. That is a great loss to the Committee and to us all. Indeed, as other hon. Members have pointed out, the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge has been eclipsed by some of the speeches from the Government Front Bench. I do not criticise the fact that Ministers have made lengthy contributions. This legislation is complex, and Ministers are right to seek to explain it in detail. They are right to react to our criticisms, because the Bill requires that sort of examination.

So far there have been no concessions from the Government. No amendments have been accepted and no concessions have been even faintly suggested. This timetable is unappealing because, as well as getting no concessions, even the Opposition's argument will be cut short, despite the fact that, day after day and night after night, we have been able to refer to an overwhelming body of expert opinion which demonstrates that the Government's case is not supported by those who work in and are most intimately associated with the services concerned. We have not had from the Government any serious, persuasive evidence of expert opinion in support of what they are proposing.

This Bill will have a tremendous impact on many institutions and organisations in the metropolitan areas. It will also have a tremendous impact on millions of people in our seven greatest conurbations. Its effects will be felt for many years to come. It needs the most rigorous and careful scrutiny. It should not be railroaded through the House by sheer force of numbers. Therefore, my hon. Friends and I will vote against the timetable motion tonight.

8.8 pm

Mr. John Powley (Norwich, South)

I am one of the most junior Members of the House of Commons, although I am as proud to be an hon. Member as anybody else. I have always believed in the traditions of the House and its historial precedents. The speeches that opened this debate followed the traditions of the House and there are many precedents for them. I suspect that those speeches could relate to all of the other measures that have had a timetable motion, whether it be by Labour or Conservative Governments.

It may be presumptuous of a fairly new Member to suggest, with great respect and in all sincerity, that there must be a better way to conduct our business. I do not pretend to know what is going on in the Business Sub-Committee or in the higher echelons of Government, but a way should be found for the House to conduct its business without us going through a ritual for controversial measures, and most of them are controversial. We have a fairly heated debate on Second Reading, and the Bill is referred to a Standing Committee. The first 100 to 130 hours of the Committee are taken up by speeches from the Opposition Members in support of amendments, while the Government Benches rightly resist those amendments until the Government, duty bound to get legislation through, because that is what the Government are about, decide that a timetable motion must be sought. We come to the appointed day and there are ritual speeches in the House, and the Government, again rightly — I shall be supporting the motion—get the timetable motion. That is put into force and the Bill goes through Committee to the Report stage, Third Reading and then to the other place. That process could be applied to almost every controversial measure that has had to be guillotined. There must be a better way.

Mr. Dykes

My hon. Friend is saying things that will strike a chord in the hearts and minds of many hon. Members. Does he agree that there is another central problem of our parliamentary system? It is an increasing problem that causes increasing dismay and despair in the public. Governments can legislate too easily on the basis of a minority popular vote and get that legislation too easily through the House. There is not sufficient examination, and that problem will not be solved even by the latest proposals of the Procedure Committee.

Mr. Powley

I do not accept that this is a minority measure. I think that it has a great deal of widespread support, but I suspect that my hon. Friend and I are agreed that there must be a better way.

We have rightly found—again this is a bit of a ritual —that there is traditional obstruction to the Bill. That is what Oppositions are for. We recognise that, and if roles were reversed we would be doing the same. However, I suspect that never before have the Opposition taken their case to the lengths we have seen in respect of this measure. As my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stevens) said, we have witnessed the spectacle of GLC officials giving Opposition Members their briefs. I have not seen that before, although it may have happened.

Mr. Cartwright

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the first Standing Committee on which I sat, on the Petroleum Revenue Tax Bill, was dominated by Government spokesmen reading Treasury briefs and Opposition spokesmen reading oil company briefs? There is nothing wrong with briefs.

Mr. Powley

I shall not dispute that, nor that it has happened before, but whether it has happened to this extent, I cannot say.

Briefs have been prepared for the Opposition, and Opposition Members have used them with their traditional eloquence. Although I served on the Rates Bill Standing Committee, I have never experienced as much lobbying through my postbag as I have on this subject. There has been tremendous correspondence by those opposed to the measure. I suspect that those opposing the Bill have given a number of misleading facts and figures about the Bill. My correspondence shows that the public have the wrong end of the stick on a number of issues. Only this weekend, I received a hand-written letter from someone within the GLC area about the ILEA proposals. The correspondent was under the impression that education was being taken over solely by an appointed body of officials. We all know that that is not the case. I wonder where such misleading information arose.

I was interested to note that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) volunteered that any of his officials would be pleased to give Conservative Members any information that they desired. In one of the metropolitan countries, I was talking to an official of one of the councils. He told me — this is not secondhand information—that he had been prohibited from speaking to hon. Members about the abolition of the metropolitan councils.

Mr. Cowans

Which council?

Mr. Powley

I shall not give the name of the gentleman, nor the authority for which he worked, but he assured me that he had been prohibited from speaking to Members of Parliament. I found that sad, and I suspect that that action would not receive the support of Opposition Members.

It has been said that this policy was a last-minute addition to the Conservative party's manifesto. I do not know when it was written into the Conservative party manifesto because I was not privileged to have such information, but those of us who have been involved in local government for a considerable time — there are Opposition Members with a longer service than mine of 12 or 14 years — have been unhappy. I was unhappy with the GLC and metropolitan county councils arrangement when it was set up, and I became increasingly unhappy with it as the years went by. Finally, in the three or four years before the 1983 general election it became patently obvious that there were a number of abuses in local government, and that the GLC and metropolitan county councils should be abolished. Many of us were suggesting that well before the Conservative party manifesto was written in 1983, or whenever it was written. The Conservative party has had this policy for a long time.

I also support the motion because, the longer this issue drags on, undoubtedly the more waste there will be and the more irresponsible actions will be committed by the GLC and the metropolitan county councils. I can give an example of the irresponsible behaviour. It is clear that this is the Government's policy, and one would have thought that under such a premise there would not have been any recruitment of staff. I do not read The Guardian, but somebody showed it to me because he was appalled at what was happening. In the public appointments section of the issue of 30 January 1985—

Mr. Tony Banks

Tell us what is in The Sun.

Mr. Powley

I do not read The Sun either. I am only kidding the House that I can actually read. I was shown the public appointments section of The Guardian in which the GLC, in January 1985, knowing that it was the Government's policy to abolish it, was advertising for an officer for "The Women's Committee — A Voice for Women in London", for a "Grants Monitoring Adviser", for "Equalities Officers", and for a part-time research assistant in the "Police Committee Support Unit". If anyone is interested, that latter post carries a salary of £12,000 to £14,700 a year.

The GLC was also advertising for an officer for the "Ethnic Minorities Unit", for a "Race Relations Adviser", for an "Outreach and Liaison Worker for Youth", and for a "Joint Deputy Head of Grants Division". Those posts were advertised by the GLC at salaries of £13,000 and more a year, when we all know that in one way or another the GLC will be abolished—and good riddance to it.

The House of Lords may make some amendments to the Bill—I hope that there will be none—but we all know that at the end of the day the GLC will be abolished, as will the metropolitan counties. In those circumstances, no responsible organisation should be appointing officers at large salaries. The longer we leave it, the more abuses there will be. More staff will be appointed and more redundancy payments will be needed.

Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)

I am finding it difficult to follow the hon. Gentleman's argument. The logic of his argument is that there is no point in having debates in this House on any measures whatever because the Government will use their large majority to secure whatever they want. The logic of the hon. Gentleman's argument is that we should abolish not only the GLC and the metropolitan counties but this place, too.

Mr. Powley

That is not the logic of my argument. My argument is that there is no need at the present time for the authorities to make additional staff appointments. They already have more than sufficient staff to do their work. The local authorities are deliberately attempting to appoint as many staff as they possibly can in the time left at their disposal. That is irresponsible behaviour.

I suggest that the House should approve the motion, because the country cannot afford the GLC or the six metropolitan counties.

8.22 pm
Mr. Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central)

I should like to comment on some of the general arguments just made by the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Powley).

The hon. Gentleman put the worrying argument for all of us who believe in democracy and local government—it was brought up on many occasions by Conservative Members in the Standing Committee and it is the essence of Conservative party propaganda — that because Conservatives disagree with certain aspects of GLC and metropolitan counties' policy, and as those policies cannot be overturned through the ballot box, it is necessary to use the Conservative party's parliamentary majority to abolish a tier of local government. That is an argument which the hon. Gentleman has used—

Mr. Powley


Mr. Fatchett

The hon. Gentleman has used that argument in regard to policy but not in regard to the structure of local government.

It is very worrying that throughout the debates so far Conservative Members have been very keen to talk about policy — there are genuine disagreements about policy, and that is the essence of democracy—but they have not been prepared to talk about the structure of local government. The hon. Gentleman fell into that trap in his speech.

Mr. Powley

If I remember my words correctly, I said that I was unhappy with the GLC and the six metropolitan counties when they were first set up, and that I became increasingly concerned about their activities as the years went by. I am not arguing that the GLC and the six metropolitan counties should be abolished because of their present policies. I said that I had misgivings about them when they were originally set up. If the hon. Gentleman reads the Official Report tomorrow, he will see that that is what I said.

Mr. Fatchett

The evidence which the hon. Gentleman produced to support his assumption was in relation not to structure but to policy. I believe that the Official Report will show that I am correct in that respect.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that there must be a better way to process the legislation. That better way is not through the passing of a timetable motion or the use of the Government's large majority, but through a proper preparation for the legislation.

We strongly object to the timetable motion because the Government have not prepared the ground for a major change in local government structure. The Government are afraid of having any sort of independent inquiry such as a Royal Commission or a Select Committee. There should have been a report from a Royal Commission or a Select Committee so that we could study the arguments and conclusions. Instead of proceeding in that way, the Government rushed into legislation without getting the professional advice of local government officers or of professional bodies. They have proceeded without the support of the electorate in the areas covered by the GLC and the metropolitan counties. I suspect that if this legislation were put to a referendum in the GLC area it would be heavily defeated, and that the same would happen in the metropolitan counties. All the available evidence supports that contention.

I repeat that there should have been proper preparation before legislation was introduced. There should have been an independent inquiry, together with some test of opinion in the metropolitan counties and the GLC. The only conclusion that one can possibly draw is that the Government avoided those avenues of approach because they were afraid of independent opinion and afraid of the ballot box.

Mr. Powley


Mr. Fatchett

I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman, who made a lengthy speech.

If the Government were not afraid, we would not be discussing a timetable motion tonight. Only a small part of the Bill has been debated in Standing Committee. The Bill has in no way been subject to public scrutiny or to any sort of democratic accountability. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there should have been a better way. It should have been through proper preparation rather than by introducing a timetable motion at this early stage.

The proceedings of the Committee have been very important in exposing the threadbare nature of the Government's argument. The threadbare nature of their argument has been shown in three areas.

Mr. Boyes

Does my hon. Friend find it surprising that the Secretary of State for the Environment has taken no part whatever in the work of the Committee? Does he find it surprising that he has played no part in the debate this evening, not even staying to listen to the arguments? Does my hon. Friend think that it is because the right hon. Gentleman does not understand what the Bill is about that he does not support it, or is it that he has no satisfactory argument against the points that we have raised repeatedly in Committee?

Mr. Fatchett

I am not surprised that the Secretary of State has taken no part in this debate or in the proceedings in Committee. If I were responsible for the legislation, I would also do my best to avoid any debate on it. My hon. Friend shows yet again that he has great faith in human nature. His hope that the Secretary of State would want to be present and put his argument is sincere but, I suspect, sadly misplaced in this context.

The Committee has exposed the Government on three major points. I shall run through them briefly, because yet again they argue for more time, debate and investigation of the clauses in Committee.

The Government told us that they estimate that £50 million will be saved by abolishing the six metropolitan counties. A similar figure has been given for the GLC. When we have asked written parliamentary questions and raised this issue in Committee, the Minister has been unable to provide us with any detailed breakdown of that figure. If the Government have a figure, they have a responsibility to the House and to the ratepayers in the areas involved to tell us how they arrived at it. The Government cannot say that they have a figure of £50 million for the metropolitan counties and yet be unable to tell us the figure for West Yorkshire and the other five metropolitan counties. The only possible conclusion is that the Government do not have figures, and that they have pulled that figure of £50 million out of a hat in much the same way as they pulled the legislation out of a hat in the first place.

The same argument can be made about jobs. The Government say that there will be job losses. In Committee we have asked in which areas those jobs will be lost and what services will be involved, yet the Government have again given us no answers. We can only conclude once again that the Government do not have any hard evidence to support the assertions in the financial memorandum to the Bill. Therefore, on the grounds of cost and jobs alone, the Government's case is threadbare and falls apart.

Another worry was expressed in Committee which I think also concerned Conservative Members. On occasion, Conservative Members have made very telling and useful interventions, asking whether the Minister can guarantee that certain services will be maintained in West Yorkshire, the other metropolitan counties or perhaps even in the Greater London area. Of course, they do not obtain any such guarantees from the Minister, because he cannot give them. I suspect that the reason is that he is not prepared to say, at this stage, that rate support grant will be available for the services when they are devolved to joint boards or committees, to the London boroughs and to the metropolitan districts. The Government cannot show that we shall not lose in terms of quality of service as a result of the Bill. Indeed, the fact that the Minister cannot give his hon. Friends any assurances leads only to the conclusion that he exects to make savings, not from abolishing a tier of local government or from a structural change, but from reducing services and the quality of services available to ratepayers in those areas.

Dr. Hampson

Surely the hon. Gentleman is not saying that the cities and towns of West Yorkshire are incapable of operating without the West Yorkshire metropolitan county. Since he places such faith in grand commissions and inquiries, I should tell him that Redcliffe-Maud, which sat for six years, specifically said that West Yorkshire would be best served by five separate authorities and not by a metropolitan county. The hon. Gentleman knows full well that there is no logic in a small town such as Wakefield running its own education when cities such as Bristol, Leicester and Nottingham cannot do so.

Mr. Fatchett

If the hon. Gentleman had read the report of our debates in Committee he would have been interested in the comments of the hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Lawler). Bradford metropolitan district council is considering taking legal action on the rate support grant settlement which the Government have given it and against that background the hon. Gentleman asked for certain assurances. The Government could not give those assurances because they are not in a position to say that the necessary RSG will in future by devolved to the districts. Again, the only conclusion is that the Government can reach that figure for savings only by reducing the number and quality of services available to ratepayers and the public in the metropolitan areas.

We need more debate on the Bill in Committee, because it poses constitutional issues and is directly relevant to every one of the 13 million people living in the metropolitan counties. If we are not allowed to scrutinise and question the Bill in greater detail, the House will probably vote for a reduction in services and in the number of jobs in those areas without even being given the necessary information by the Government.

This is a threadbare Bill, and it is an insult to the House to push through such a Bill on a timetable motion, because we have not been provided with the necessary information, and the Committee has not been provided with it either. The Bill is also an insult to all those elected members in the metropolitan areas and the GLC and to all those who work for those councils. If the Government had a case to make they would have made it in Committee and in the House, and they would have published the available evidence. They have not done so and have gone to the last resort of any Government defeated in argument and used their majority to stifle debate and to push through a Bill which has nothing to do with local government but much to do with the Prime Minister's vanity and, as someone has said, with the 10 years in which the Conservative party has been hijacked from the Right. That is what the Bill is about, and it has nothing to do with local government.

8.35 pm
Mr. Timothy Wood (Stevenage)

During many hours in Committee we often heard the argument that the Bill does not have sufficient support, has not received careful examination, and so on. That argument is nonsense. The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) commented on the absence of an inquiry. During the past 20 years there have been a multitude of inquiries into local government. Consequently, we have had an opportunity to see the results of some of the experiments that have followed them. The results of those experiments demonstrate all too clearly that the metropolitan counties and the GLC lead to duplication and extravagance that can and should be avoided. In the light of that experience, the Bill was rightly introduced.

Mr. Nellist

If the hon. Gentleman thinks that the Bill is so worthy as to justify his presence here tonight, why did he not make such speeches in Committee? Why is it that 10 out of 19 Tory Back Benchers in Committee have not said a single word about the implications for jobs or for ratepayers' services and so on? Why has the hon. Gentleman been so silent for the past four or five weeks?

Mr. Wood

I have listened to the wealth of argument put forward by Conservative Members and to the paucity of argument by the Opposition. Frankly, I found that the Opposition's repetition did not go anywhere towards presenting a case. As my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Powley) has said, there is a need to examine the detail of the Bill, but the Committee has been going through an absurd ritual—

Mr. Tony Banks

It is called democracy.

Mr. Wood

If only democracy were being served by the Opposition's actions and if only we were examining the minutiae of the Bill and considering the arguments in order to see how best to make the Bill effective. That is not what we have been doing. On every clause the Opposition have been reiterating a series of particular contentions.

Mr. Dykes

Surely my right hon. Friend must be aware that several Conservative Members have repeatedly tabled very thoughtful amendments which are designed not only to improve the Bill but to provide for a successor structure. Those amendments will be tabled again at later stages in Committee and perhaps in the other place. The Bill is intrinsically far too controversial for people to accept because there has not been examination by any expert outside body beforehand. That was offered by the then Conservative leader of the GLC in 1976, but it was rejected at that stage by the party, which said that no such inquiry was necessary because the GLC was the jewel in the crown and it had been created in 1963 by the then Conservative Government.

Mr. Wood

Some of the more lucid arguments and constructive suggestions in Committee were put forward by my hon. Friends. I regret that the arguments have tended to be somewhat repetitious. They have concentrated on the belief that the residuary body should be elected, and points following from that, but our argument has been expressed with more lucidity than the Opposition's.

One of the Opposition's arguments is that big is beautiful. They say that the metropolitan counties and the GLC are better than boroughs and districts. An argument that has been repeated time and again is that districts and boroughs cannot and will not co-operate and that on the borders between the local authorities chaos will reign. It is said, for example, that roads and cycle tracks will not meet. Already throughout the country there are a multitude of boundaries between local authorities. Of course, some accommodation has to be and is made between the different authorities every day of the week.

Mr. Fatchett

With the exception of the metropolitan areas, under the Bill there will be two-tier local government in the shire counties and shire districts.

Mr. Wood

The hon. Gentleman is right. The shire counties have much smaller districts than the metropolitan and GLC areas. The districts in the shire counties do not cover education and various other aspects of local government which can adequately be covered by the metropolitan districts and London boroughs.

Dr. Hampson

The Redcliffe-Maud report specifically prefers a variation, only it says that the shire counties should be single-tier and the metropolitan counties two-tier.

Mr. Wood

That is right. There is no reason why different areas of the country should not be administered in modified ways.

A further argument that has been expressed repeatedly is that money available to the metropolitan counties and to the GLC will not be available to the lower tiers. We want less money to be spent, but for it to be spent more effectively when it is. I am sure that the lower tier authorities will be as able as the met counties and the GLC to provide necessary services.

I have been involved with a lower tier authority and I found it objectionable that only metropolitan authorities and the GLC are regarded as having the expertise to carry out a variety of tasks. The truth is that lower tier authorities can combine to gain the expertise when that is necessary.

The Opposition have used the same arguments again and again in discussions on one clause after another. If we do not constrain the debate, they will use the same arguments ad nauseam in future hours in Committee. We should resist that. We should also resist the hope expressed by the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) that we should sit for hour after hour in the Committee for the next few weeks. There is no need to sit in Committee night after night, week after week, to examine the Bill. The Bill can be examined well in the time proposed in the motion. We might then avoid some unnecessary repetition and get on with the task of preparing for more effective local government, administered by the districts and boroughs, instead of accepting the duplication and waste caused by the metropolitan counties and the GLC.

8.44 pm
Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)

I am pleased that the hon. Member for Stevenage (Mr. Wood) paid me the compliment of saying that I wanted to delve into detail on the Bill. I should be prepared to sit day and night, week after week to put the case for Tyne and Wear, the other met counties and the GLC. Our case is overwhelming.

An important emphasis has been made tonight which I have suspected for some time. I regret that the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Powley) is not here, because he provided the key to the Government's attitude towards local democracy, and, I believe, to democracy itself. He said that there was no point in appointing people to positions in the metropolitan counties or the GLC because, since the Government have a majority, the decision has already been made, despite the fact that the Committee is still sitting, and that the Bill has to return to the House and be considered in another place. The Government's assumption is that the Bill will be passed, and that it will be implemented. The democratic process will become meaningless because of the diktat of No. 10.

I am pleased that the hon. Member put on record what many of us have accused Government Members of in the past few months.

Mr. Wood

By giving the Bill a Second Reading the House accepted the principle of abolishing the GLC and the metropolitan counties. The Committee is considering the details of that Bill, not the principle. It is irresponsible to appoint further people to those bodies when their time, according to the principle agreed by the House, is limited.

Mr. Boyes

We dug a hole and the hon. Member for Stevenage (Mr. Wood) has fallen into it. The principle of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) is that if one is in a hole one should stop digging. Earlier today we dug a hole and several Government Members were chucked into it. The hon. Member for Stevenage is now burying himself in that hole.

My constituency is in the Tyne and Wear area. My constituents believe that the principle behind the Bill is a wicked act of political vindictiveness. Discussions in Committee have done nothing to allay my fears. It will be clear to the people whom I represent that Government Members do not want to hear the arguments. They do not want to know about the problems in the Tyne and Wear area. I warn the Minister that he will hear in Committee about the unemployment problems in the area.

The Government are acting in an underhand manner. They cancelled elections to a body which has not yet been abolished. That is without precedent. The Secretary of State has tried to disclaim our accusation that it is without precedent, but he has not been able to produce an example in local government of elections to a body being cancelled before Parliament has agreed to the abolition of that body. I believe that democracy is about people and people expressing their wishes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) referred to inquiries and opinion polls. An opinion poll about the abolition proposals conducted in the Prime Minister's constituency showed that the overwhelming majority were not in favour. It would be better to judge people's opinions through the ballot box, which is what the Opposition would have done.

Mr. Fatchett

Why did the Prime Minister not do that?

Mr. Boyes

The right hon. Lady does not believe in the ballot box. Indeed, there was an opportunity to hold an election this year, when the question of abolition would have been a major issue and the people could have made their decision. Surely such an election would have been a godsend to the Government—they would have had their answer through the ballot box.

I have always believed that those whom the people elect are accountable for their actions. If the electorate is not happy with what they do, it can replace them. If the people of Tyne and Wear had not been happy with the services being provided, undoubtedly they would have expressed that through the ballot box. But they did not have an opportunity to do so because the Government are not interested in the democratic process.

Not only have the Government cancelled the elections, they are now trying to cancel the discussions. We have dealt with only 17 clauses, but we are to be allowed only 40 minutes for each of the remaining clauses. That is not sufficient to deal with six metropolitan counties and the GLC and hear the arguments of the Opposition and the Government on issues of vital importance to those whom each and every one of us represent in this House. If that is not a negation of democracy. I do not know what is.

I am worried that we appear to be moving down the road towards dictatorship from No. 10—No. 10 decides and the Conservative troops, like little lackeys, do as they are told. When democracy is being threatened and destroyed, there is danger that this House will go down the same road.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

My hon. Friend has correctly referred to the sad retreat from democracy, where the Government are not prepared even to debate the issues. He said that there would be only 40 minutes discussion on each of the remaining clauses, which means 5 minutes discussion for each of the great county areas such as the Tyne and Wear and my area of Greater Manchester.

When the Under-Secretary spoke for an hour in Committee last Thursday, he mentioned Greater Manchester not once. That was despite repeated questions. If, during such lengthy and important debates, Ministers are not prepared to answer substantive questions, what chance is there to obtain answers when the debate is cut to 40 minutes?

Mr. Boyes

I agree with my hon. Friend, who made an important intervention. From a different viewpoint he has illustrated the way in which our questions have been treated in Committee—

Mr. Tony Lloyd


Mr. Boyes

I agree with my hon. Friend—indeed the word "contemptuous" would apply equally to this evening's debate. The Leader of the House made a flippant speech on a most serious issue. The hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stevens) made a long filibuster. Conservative Members accuse us of filibustering, but the House has had an opportunity tonight to decide which side of the House is taking the proposals seriously.

Conservative Members do not have the support of Conservatives in my area. When the Tyne and Wear county council debated the issue of elections, one clause in the resolution called on the Government to hold an immediate comprehensive and impartial inquiry before any re-organisation of local government takes place and this County Council pledges to abide by the findings of such an inquiry. That clause was passed by 59 votes to one—and the vote against was not from a Conservative member. That shows that the vast majority of Tyne and Wear Conservatives are worried for democracy.

The Financial Times on 28 October quotes the leader of the Conservative group on the Tyne and Wear county council as saying that the Tyne and Wear county council could be run on much more streamlined lines and confine itself to broad strategic functions. That is something that the hon. Member for Stevenage has not understood. He has sat in Committee hour after hour and has obviously not listened to a word that has been said. Not one Opposition Member has said that district and borough councillors are any less able than county councillors. We have never said that district and borough council officers are any less able than county officers. We have said that there are certain aspects of the county councils' strategic functions that are essential. Even the leader of the Tyne and Wear Conservative group has recognised that.

The Local Councils Association for Yorkshire and Cleveland has made its views clear in a letter. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) is not present. He is always telling us about the attitude in Cleveland. Mr. Ian Strong, the secretary of the association, said in the letter: This Association representing 430 member Parish and Town Councils in North, South and West Yorkshire and Cleveland is very much opposed to the present legislation to abolish the Metropolitan County Councils. In this it is strongly supported by the National Association of Local Councils who represent 8000 Parish and Town Councils. The Association feels that the legislation is ill-conceived and unlikely to achieve any of the objects declared by the Government. The evidence against the proposals is overwhelming.

I have said time and again in Committee that it is important that the Tyne and Wear authority is not demolished. One of the losses to Tyne and Wear will be section 137 and the twopenny rate. I have not received any answers to my questions on that point, but I ask Conservative Members to reflect on it. The £2 million involved for Tyne and Wear is used to protect jobs and to create further jobs in a region that consistently has the highest level of unemployment. Even if the grant is phased out over a period of time, will the Government allow the borough councils to raise an additional twopenny rate to enable Tyne and Wear to counter the massive levels of unemployment that it is facing?

Perhaps I may give some figures to illustrate my remarks. Anyone who reads the Committee debates will know that I have quoted many figures during the past few weeks. Since 1979, 85,000 jobs have been lost in the Tyne and Wear area, and there have been nearly 65,000 redundancies. More than 100,000 people are without work in the area, and the figure has doubled during the past five years. Unemployment at 20 per cent. is the third highest in mainland Britain. We believe that it is essential to have a strategic authority to help to counter the Government's monetarist policies, although it is extremely difficult to do so. We are running backwards, but at least we are trying to protect some jobs. We must have a strategic authority for economic development, job creation and the fight against unemployment.

Before I conclude, I wish to ask some questions that I hope will be answered tonight. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) and other hon. Members have talked about costs. I have asked Ministers several times, but have never received an answer, for their estimate of the cost savings or losses to be made from the abolition to Tyne and Wear metropolitan council. What will be the cost advantages? I am prepared to listen carefully to what Ministers say, but the only evidence that I have, from reports carried out by independent consultants, is that it will cost the ratepayers of Tyne and Wear money if the council is abolished. I am talking not only about direct costs, but about the tremendous social costs. I cannot understand how the Government arrived at a figure of £50 million. I should have thought that the way to discover the cost of abolition of the six metropolitan counties would be to discover the cost of abolition of each one and then to add them together. But the Minister has no figures that he can substantiate. It is about time that the Government instituted a proper independent inquiry.

What are the manpower implications of abolition? Will there be fewer or more people working? We have said all along that abolition will lead to massive unemployment. Is that true? Again, the Government have not determined what the manpower implications will be.

What will happen to the effectiveness of services? We believe that our councillors should be answerable to the electorate for the services that they provide, but we know that only 20 per cent. of the services provided by the metropolitan counties will be transferred to the boroughs. Therefore, 80 per cent. of services will be determined by the most centralised Government in western Europe—probably the most centralised in Western capitalism. The Government want less and less accountability whereas the Opposition—the true democrats—want more and more accountability.

May I emphasise my point with the independent voice of Peter Hall, the respected professor of geography at the university of Reading. He says: First, most of Europe is tending to move in the opposite direction to us: in the direction of greater autonomy and greater accountability for top-level metropolitan—regional authorities … There is overwhelming evidence that most of our neighbours have found it necessary to create metropolitan planning authorities for their capital city regions and for some other big urban areas … What they"— the Government— should not be discussing at all, unless our European neighbours have collectively taken leave of their senses, is the need for some form of co-ordinated metropolitan government for our great urban areas. The issue is not whether, but how. We want to argue the issue, and we are prepared to sit there day and night to do so. We want to argue the Bill line by line, but the Government, being barren of argument, want to curtail discussion by using this timetable motion.

9.3 pm

Dr. Keith Hampson (Leeds, North-West)

It is useful to follow the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) because the existence of Tyne and Wear metropolitan council makes nonsense of the argument on which the Opposition rest their case—the importance of having inquiries or commissions before this sort of thing is done. No inquiry or commission recommended the creation of something called the Tyne and Wear metropolitan council. Since the creation of the councils by a Conservative Government in the 1970s, I have believed strongly—I put forward my views on it when I was a parliamentary private secretary at the Department of the Environment — that we created bodies which did not have a valid range of functions or a valid use of resources.

I have obtained from the Library a background paper on local government inquiries. It states that there were reports on local government in the conurbations in 1947. The exercise was repeated in 1956 and a commission was set up in 1958 which reported in 1961. The Labour Government of Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, as he now is, set up the Redcliffe-Maud commission in 1966, which reported in 1972. That was followed by the Layfield inquiry. Unfortunately, the commissions and inquiries never agree. Indeed, they have not often agreed within themselves, and the Redcliffe-Maud commission was a notable example. Nor was there a consensus after it had reported. There is no unanimity merely because of an inquiry. The Government usually change a good proportion of the proposals that are contained in the reports.

Nobody could have crawled over the area of local government with greater thoroughness, in more depth or for a longer period than the Redcliffe-Maud commission. In the end, it proposed establishing only three metropolitan counties, with different functions from those of the present metropolitan counties. The commission proposed Greater Manchester, which for some strange reason it called SELNEC, Merseyside and Greater Birmingham. The Labour Government, including the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore), considered the proposals and, in effect, said, "No, we do not agree with this." To the three proposed metropolitan counties they added West Yorkshire and South Hampshire. They said that they wanted that level of authority to be the primary tier in local government and they wanted the metropolitan counties to have responsibility for education. The Redcliffe-Maud commission did not want that to happen.

Labour Members call for commissions of inquiry but they seem not to have read the Redcliffe-Maud report. It was not proposed in the Redcliffe-Maud report that responsibility for education should go to the metropolitan counties. However, the Labour Government in 1969–70 proposed that it should. The succeeding Tory Government changed the proposals once again and added South Yorkshire and, for some unknown reason, Tyne and Wear. They removed South Hampshire from the proposals and changed the powers of the metropolitan counties. They ended up without education and housing responsibilities. Indeed, they ended up with very little. Only a quarter of the resources which are spent to the benefit of the people, the customers, is spent by the metropolitan counties. That is to be contrasted with the shire counties' 80 per cent., and the GLC spends only one sixth. The metropolitan counties do not have a valid range of functions.

We have heard many arguments about whether it is more or less democratic to have joint boards composed of district councillors to run transport. Are joint boards more democratic than passenger transport executives? No one in my constituency thinks that the passenger transport executive is especially democratic. Equally, no one knows how to get at or control it. That probably applies also to the police authority. The substance in the argument for democracy is marginal.

Why should Wakefield, which is so far from Otley, decide which streets in Otley should have double yellow lines, which should have no yellow lines and which should have single yellow lines? Leeds could be responsible for most functions of that sort with joint boards of district councillors responsible for the other functions.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

The Greater Manchester area was called SELNEC because the initials represent South East Lancashire and North East Cheshire. It is a term that I do not like, but it is much better than "joint board". All historical precedent and all considered judgment led to the conclusion that there should be an authority covering the Greater Manchester area. Only the Government have failed to learn from the experience and reports of the early 1970s or from the debates that ensued. Reports do not provide definitive answers, but they engage the nation in debate, and it is to be hoped that that allows the Government of the day to legislate with some credibility. Unfortunately, the present Government have proved unable to do so.

Dr. Hampson

I think that the most recent exercise was a cock-up. Should a town such as Wakefield, or a small part of Greater Manchester such as Tameside, have authority for education, when education is not in the control of Bristol, Leicester or Nottingham, for example?

The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney as Secretary of State proposed "organic change." He recognised that certain things were not right. He did not embark on a great debate or set up a commission of inquiry before he submitted his proposals. The system that should be in place is certainly not the one that we have now. Therefore, the case for abolition is overwhelming. I am not aware of the position taken by the Labour party in Tyne and Wear, but until the Government announced their proposals the Labour party in every other metropolitan county was against the continuation of the metropolitan counties. All the Labour-controlled metropolitan districts knew only too well of the irritation of dealing with the metropolitan counties and they did not believe that they should continue, just as Mr. Livingstone took the view that the GLC should not exist.

We are not having just a ritualistic dance. This sort of debate is a farce. The Committee stage of this type of legislation cannot continue in the way that it has during the time I have been a Member. We have all played this game. We have all run on through the night debating smaller and smaller points line after line. I spent 85 hours in Committee debating the Education Bill.

The House must change its procedures. I believe that the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) recommended in The Times that, from Second Reading onwards, all Bills should be timetabled. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is present. I hope that he will confirm that point. I would like other Opposition Members to agree that we cannot continue with this type of debate, using hackneyed arguments time and again. I should like the Opposition to agree that we shall change our way of running this business.

Mr. Straw


Dr. Hampson

I have finished.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I thought that the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson) was giving way.

Dr. Hampson

That was my last point, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

I understand that the Front Benchers wish the winding-up to start at 9.40 pm. A number of hon. Members want to take part in the debate. I hope that hon. Members will have consideration for the claims of others.

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

The Leader of the House treated hon. Members to a light-hearted trek through the timetabling motion. He suggested that a large number of people outside are waiting to throw their caps into the air when the GLC and metropolitan county councils are abolished. If the right hon. Gentleman peers out of the House and looks over to county hall on the other side of the river, he will see that valid statistic showing that 74 per cent. of Londoners are opposed to the GLC's abolition. Whatever the Government's support in the House, there is not the same support outside in the big, wide world.

The guillotine motion is symptomatic of the Government's approach to the issue of the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils. No one has said that the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) has misled the House in telling us that the abolition pledge was written into the 1983 Tory election manifesto personally by the Prime Minister and against the advice of the Conservative party policy committee. That pledge was certainly written in without the Prime Minister showing the courtesy of consulting the Conservative party GLC members. They were as surprised by that manifesto pledge as was the Conservative party policy committee.

The White Paper "Streamlining the Cities" attracted, as far as we know, more than 2,500 submissions, the overwhelming majority of which were totally opposed to the Government's proposals. Yet the Government have steadfastly refused to put those submissions in the Library. The Government have said, "If you want to find out what people have said, write to them to find out." How on earth can hon. Members do a proper job if they are denied access to the information sent in by a large number of organisations?

We have had the measures to abolish the GLC and metropolitan county council elections, and now we have the guillotine when only 16 of the 98 clauses have been debated. The Opposition have not filibustered in Committee. We make no apology for debating in some detail and at some length the intricate proposals raised in the Bill. We must be clear that the Bill was based on the Prime Minister's party political spite. It will now be bulldozed through the House using what can be described only as the "zombie" vote of Members of Parliament. Most Conservative Members cannot even be bothered to equate themselves with the arguments involved in the abolition. Most of them absent themselves from the Chamber, probably because they cannot take the sight of the Secretary of State being butchered more than he has already been in the short Session until now.

The Secretary of State has been staggering around like some sort of punch-drunk fighter. To bring some relief to the right hon. Gentleman, the Government have brought in the Minister for Local Government, who has scarcely done much better than the Secretary of State. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), who knows the Minister for Local Government quite well, tells me that the Minister has aged 10 years since he has been in charge of the Bill. I do not know whether that is true, but I believe that all the Environment Ministers who are now associated with the Bill are likely to find themselves politically dead—never mind aged about 10 years—as Conservative Members of Parliament realise the electoral consequences of the Government's actions and realise that they will lose council seats and, at the next general election, parliamentary seats. That does not worry me; it encourages me greatly to persuade the Government to carry on with their crazy, suicidal course. However, it worries right hon. and hon. Conservative Members, particularly the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), who at least has some foresight and can understand what is going on and what problems the Conservative party will face in future elections.

The Opposition have tried to point out the implications of the Government's proposals for London and the metropolitan areas. We have heard nothing about the savings that the Government hope will accrue, about the level of likely redundancies, or about the joint boards and quangos. We have not reached any of those clauses, and now we shall be prevented from giving those important matters the consideration that they deserve.

The Minister commented a little while ago that inquiries do not allay controversy. That comment was made in the context of Redcliffe-Maud and the Royal Commission, but the Minister must know that Royal Commissions and inquiries at least give some intellectual justification for the case that is being put by the Government. It does not mean that the Opposition will go away. Even if the proposal had been based upon the recommendations of a Royal Commission, there is no doubt that many Opposition Members would have opposed the Government. That is the Opposition's duty, but at least the Government's intellectual position would have been considerably stronger.

I am trying to throw the Minister a lifeline, because when the compromise comes, and it will, and he knows it, perhaps in another place, that is the type of argument that he should be using. If the Government's proposals were based upon the recommendations of a Royal Commission or an inquiry, there would be a degree of intellectual justification for them even though there would still be disagreement, but there is no intellectual justification for what the Government are putting forward.

It is no good Conservative Members "rubbishing" the great weight of information that has come to the Committee saying that the Government's proposals are wrong. How many authorities can the Government quote in defence of their proposals? How many independent bodies can the Government quote to say that they have it right? The only people on whom the Government have been so far able to rely have been a number of local authority Conservative leaders; and they would support the Government, would they not? No one from outside who has any standing, objectivity or impartiality has supported the Government. How can Conservative Members persist in arguing that the Government's case is proper, just and right in defiance of all opinion — electoral, professional and academic — coming from outside? It is nonsense. The Government know that. Ministers are in many ways prejudicing their political futures by supporting the Bill. It should be thrown out, as should this timetable motion.

9.17 pm
Dr. Ian Twinn (Edmonton)

The Committee has sat through over 100 hours of repetitious speeches. Most of the speeches that we have heard from Opposition members of the Committee have been Second Reading speeches. One or two of them this evening have been Queen's Speech speeches because they have become so general and have ranged so widely and so often off the point of the Bill.

On a number of occasions we have listened word for word to the same speech from different members of the Committee, and even from the same members. This evening the debate has been dropped even lower by the speech by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), who has reduced the debate to a political jibe without any substance. To be fair to him, he has been one of the members of the Committee whose argument has been more detailed. He has had plenty of people to help him write his speeches. There has been a galaxy of 27 of them. On occasions he has been effective in putting over his point of view, but alas not this evening.

Progress in Committee has been resisted by Opposition Members who have made speeches for the sake of making them or for the sake of the local press.

Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon)

What is the hon. Gentleman's speech about?

Dr. Twinn

My speech is about what I thought the debate was about — the progress of the Bill in Committee and whether we should have a timetable motion. It is not a speech in which I shall make cheap political jibes or go over the principle of the Bill, which was voted on at Second Reading.

The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) suggested that there should be a timetable for all Bills.

Mr. Straw

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He is more courteous than his hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson).

I believe in timetables for all Bills, but with the important proviso that the time taken should be under the control, not of the Government, but of a Committee appointed by the House and that there should be provision for the Standing Committee to seek more time if that became necessary.

Dr. Twinn

I read the hon. Gentleman's article, which has much to commend it. I go along with him. However, it would be a pity if, for the sake of being a purist in these matters, we allowed the Bill to drift on in the aimless way in which it has been progressing. We can make a start, albeit in a small way, with this timetable motion. It is not perfect, and it is controlled by the Government, but let us hope that in future timetables will be controlled by a Committee of the House and that we can have sensible debates on all Bills. I would welcome that.

It has been suggested that there has been no thought or discussion about the proposals in the Bill. That is an astounding statement. One expects Opposition Members to state that view as a political point, but the astounding aspect is that they appear to say it with a sincerity which I can hardly believe they feel.

There have been countless debates in the past 20 years about the nature of local government. Virtually every possible combination of authorities has been proposed and discussed over the years. The House and the country have had plenty of time to consider the best form of local government. When the commitment to abolish the GLC and the metropolitan counties appeared in our election manifesto, the electorate had the good sense to see that it was a good idea. It was certainly extremely popular in Edmonton.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

In all these many debates over the years, where were joint boards at the strategic level first suggested, outside the White Paper and the Bill?

Dr. Twinn

I shall not be tempted down that path, because other hon. Members wish to take part in the debate. Joint boards are expedients, but I believe that the rest of the proposals are worth those expedients. Politics are partly about compromise and pragmatism.

Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)

Is not one of the great advantages of joint boards the fact that every metropolitan district will be represented on those boards? At present there is no guarantee that each district will be represented on a county council committee.

Dr. Twinn

My hon. Friend is right. The Bill brings democracy down to a smaller geographical and electoral area and will be widely welcomed for that.

I am not surprised that the GLC is able to quote the figure that it got from somewhere of 74 per cent. of Londoners supporting the council. If I spent millions of pounds on advertising, I would expect that sort of support.

Otherwise, I would not spend the money. I am not surprised that there is some small support in the opinion polls. However, when the GLC and the metropolitan counties have gone, there will be widespread support for the new authorities and the old councils will not be missed.

In fact, in London we have had electoral tests of the popularity of the GLC's proposals. In my seat in Edmonton, we had a GLC by-election, when the turnout halved. The arguments were ravaged by the electorate, who did not turn up. It was a spurious and cynical move on behalf of the GLC to use taxpayers' money for a test of its own opinion, and I am only pleased that it failed.

I hope that hon. Members will support the timetable motion so that my constituents in Edmonton have a chance to be rid of the GLC and so that they can have elections and a local authority in Enfield which is at a closer level, where they will appreciate it and be able to influence it.

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

Today's debate has been characterised by being less lighthearted than many of the Committee sittings. We have also heard for the first time from some Tory Members who said nothing in Committee but who seem happy to come to the Chamber and say why its deliberations should be shortened.

The context of my arguments against the guillotine motion is narrow. In the explanatory and financial memorandum of the Bill, the Secretary of State says that the aim of the Bill is to save about £100 million by the abolition of the metropolitan counties and estimates a reduction in public service manpower in those areas by about 7,100. Setting aside the argument that the Bill will deny 18 million people the right to vote, that first point alone justifies continuing the debate, but not at the level that the Leader of the House proposes in his guillotine motion of 40 minutes per clause over the next three and a half weeks. Not only have the central claims on manpower and services not been proven by the Government, but on many occasions when I have put questions to Ministers about the so-called savings from manpower changes or changes in specific services, I have been told to wait until debates on later clauses in the Bill in the expectation that those debates would be of a similar character to those on the first 16 clauses, with 56 hours of debate.

The Bill proposes that responsibility for services be returned to the district councils, for example in the west midlands. Last year the Secretary of State said that most of the services would go back to the districts, but we now know that fewer than 20 per cent. will. We have yet to debate some of them fully in the Bill. One fact that has not yet come out of the debate, which of itself would justify extending the time for debate, is that the services that are presently provided by the West Midlands county council, according to the Secretary of State's grant-related expenditure assessment, are supposed to cost £270 million this year. However, the target for the county council is set at £254 million. Therefore, through abolition the right hon. Gentleman expects the same services to be carried out by district bodies, joint boards, residuary bodies, and so on, yet he has already cut the amount of money that will go towards those services by £16 million. How will we have answers to questions on whether it is the same service costing the ratepayer more or the same amount of money paid by the ratepayer for a substantially lower service unless we are allowed more than a paltry 40 minutes for each clause remaining in the Bill?

On many occasions in Committee we have asked what financial savings will be made on each service area. We have had no real answers from the Government. We have asked what manpower savings there will be in each service area, and we have had no real figures from the Government. In at least three service areas—I played a part in the debates on each one of them—the Secretary of State has acknowledged that there will be no savings. Those three areas are waste disposal, probation and archives. He has acknowledged that costs will rise in two service areas — coroners and trading standards. Each time he says such things he also reflects on the fact that we shall go into those matters in detail on later clauses. However, the fact remains that the six clauses designed to deal with the so-called savings from staff transfers are likely to occupy about 280 minutes if the motion is passed. Over 150,000 people work for the metropolitan county councils and the GLC. The Government will dispose of about 534 jobs a minute in the later debates in Committee. People's lives and jobs are worth more consideration than that.

There is not time to go into detail, so I shall give just a few brief examples. As reported at column 862, when I asked the Minister in Committee about the waste disposal arrangements he said that the answers would be given later in the debate. I asked about the cost involved for district councils in setting up several different waste disposal plants and I pointed out that splitting waste disposal among seven authorities in the west midlands would mean at least 9,000 extra pieces of paper relating to the transport of hazardous waste across district boundaries, but the Minister had not costed it and had no facts or figures to give. We need to go into those details.

We also asked how the Minister arrived at the figure of 7,100 lost jobs. Did he take the cuts planned for each service and aggregate them across the county councils or did he set targets for each council and then add them all together? Again, we received no answers. When I asked about planning, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State specifically said, as reported at column 293, that he would reply to my points later in the debate. On 22 January I asked about environment and land reclamation and the impact on jobs. I was told to come back to that when we reached part VI of the Bill. Ministers have constantly said that we shall come to these things later, but if the guillotine motion goes through there will be no time for the answers to be given.

Perhaps those Tory Members for whom one job is insufficient to tax their energies or support their lifestyles and who therefore need between two and 13 jobs can afford to be callous when discussing the jobs of thousands of metropolitan county council employees, but in my area one third of a million people are on the dole, there are 30 people chasing every vacancy and in one ward unemployment is more than 32 per cent. In those circumstances, there will be no jobs for the hundreds or thousands made redundant by the Bill. Yet the Government dismiss those people and their future at 40 minutes per clause. The Bill is not about saving money and improving services. It is about abolishing Labour councils because the Tories cannot defeat us at the ballot box. That needs to be exposed in full debate in Committee. The jobs of 7,100 workers deserve more than execution by the guillotine.

9.32 pm
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Cannock and Burntwood)

Every time the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) speaks in the Committee he makes the same speech about job losses, a speech which should he made in an unemployment debate, not in a debate about the future of local government.

The whole House agrees that this is an important measure. It was set out clearly in the Conservative manifesto. Indeed, the leader of the GLC, Mr. Ken Livingstone, at one stage supported the idea. The Bill is absolutely right. It will lead to less government and to more, not less, accountability because local people will be involved. I know from experience as a member of a London borough council that on planning matters one always has to wait for the GLC's comments, which turn out not to be worth listening to, so we proceed to deal with the matter locally.

The Bill will also lead ultimately to reduced expenditure. That is vital if we are to provide the assistance that we genuinely wish to give to industry. The Opposition say that jobs will be lost as a result of the Bill, but jobs have already been lost as a result of high rates caused by an unnecessary tier of government. So far the Committee has dealt with 16 clauses out of 98, during 19 sittings covering 1,200 columns of the Official Report. We have had to endure sitting until 5 o'clock in the morning. I know that Opposition Members feel strongly about the Bill. However, they know the procedures of the House. They know that they are responsible for making progress. During every debate on every specific clause, the whole team is wheeled out to repeat the same old arguments.

The hon. Member for Coventry, South-East says that there will be only 40 minutes to debate each clause. I have no sympathy for the hon. Gentleman. If the Opposition had speeded up consideration of the clauses, we could have been well on our way through the Bill. We could have considered the ILEA, the police and transport—major subjects that the Opposition have prevented us from debating.

I share the view of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) and my hon. Friends that we are going through a ritual. There is the indignation of the Opposition and the self-justification of the Government. I should like to quote from a speech by Robert Mellish, the former right hon. Member for Bermondsey — a source I would not normally quote. During the debate on the timetable motion on the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill, he said: Oppositions must be allowed to oppose, but Oppositions must be denied the complete freedom to do exactly what they want by filibustering, for example, in their attempts to stop Bills. Governments must have the right to govern and Oppositions must have the right to oppose. That is what democracy is all about. But when Oppositions have had their fun and games, the Government must be free to move in."—[Official Report, 20 July 1976; Vol. 915, c. 1554.]

I wholeheartedly endorse what Mr. Mellish said then, which was that each Bill should have a timetable motion at the start. I hope that the procedures of the House will soon be changed.

9.37 pm
Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)

I am horrified not just by the fact that the Government are guillotining the Bill but by the manner in which they are doing it. They could have brought in a guillotine—I would still have opposed it—that allowed more time for debate than 40 minutes a clause. Each clause that remains to be debated covers a major service. We shall have 40 minutes in which to debate the police. On Merseyside, the rate capping legislation will deprive the police service of £14.4 million. Proposals in the Bill do not help. There will be a police authority controlled by magistrates and nominees of the districts. There will be no directly elected representatives to account for the police service.

We were just beginning to convince Conservative Members in Committee that the Bill gives more power not to the districts, but to quangos, joint boards and ministerial reserve powers. However, the present debate proves that we have not yet convinced them. They keep repeating the myths. We need more time in which to convince them.

The arts have still to be debated. We need answers on each metropolitan county council area, and on GLC matters. What will happen to specific areas of the arts? On Merseyside, what will happen to Croxted hall, Speke hall and the Philharmonic hall? The people of the area want to know.

The voluntary bodies are still bombarding us with questions that the Minister has not answered about the future of the voluntary sector. Government Members do nothing but reiterate their prejudices against blacks and women. They attack the voluntary sector to which authorities such as Merseyside county council and the GLC have given grants.

The whole question of costs has yet to be fully discussed. There is a clause on redundancy payments. The Government say that the Bill will save money. However, there is a clause on compensation for loss of office and diminution of emoluments. It appears that the Government mean to pension everyone off and that the pensions will cost more than it costs to run the Merseyside county council.

There are the financial arrangements for the future, the block grant situation and the fact that the joint bodies and quangos will be rate capped before their lives begin. We also have to debate transport and such questions as the future of the bus pass on Merseyside. The Government appear to want to return to the voucher system operated in Tory Sefton before the Labour council gave a bus pass to the elderly of Merseyside.

We have not yet debated the clause on airports. We have to debate the future of Manchester and Speke airports. I suggest that if Merseyside county council is abolished, Speke airport will be closed. How will that affect jobs on Merseyside?

We need time for the Government to make their own case. So far, they have failed to do so. We have continually pressed the Government for clear evidence about costs and have asked them what expert support exists for their proposals, but no such evidence has been forthcoming. We have also asked about the financial saving in each service area. Instead of producing evidence of such saving, the Government have admitted that there will be no savings among the services that we have so far debated. In at least three areas — waste disposal, probation services and archives — Ministers have admitted that there will be no savings. In two others— the coroners service and the trading standards service—they have actually acknowledged that costs will rise. We therefore need time to debate these matters.

The Government have made no case for their proposals. We have debated each clause fully because so far each has covered a major service area. The same can be said of the remaining 56 hours. We shall need that time to debate the remaining clauses and schedules, to put our case for each service area and to get some answers from the Government.

9.40 pm
Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will forgive me if I do not reply to their speeches in detail in the 10 minutes available to me. However, I wish to make two general observations.

First, the first few Conservative Members who spoke seemed more concerned with the contents of the Strangers Gallery than with the contents of the Bill. We then had a series of repetitious speeches complaining about repetition in Committee, but, as the Leader of the House made clear, there has been no repetition in Committee and no attempts to filibuster.

If ever a Bill needed proper Committee scrutiny, this one certainly does. It was never based on any proper inquiry into the proposals. The proposals have not been subjected to any thorough public examination, and they will now not receive thorough parliamentary scrutiny.

Far from being involved in repetition, the Committee has expeditiously discussed a number of important matters, such as technical services, strategic planning, conservation, highways, traffic management, economic development, waste disposal, trading standards, judicial services, support for the arts, promotion of equal opportunities and support for black and ethnic minority communities.

During our deliberations the Committee has clearly demonstrated that the Government have no identified support for their proposals outside the Conservative party. They have been unable to identify any service area in which financial and manpower savings will result from abolition; nor have they identified an area which will be more effectively managed as a result of the Bill. That is the reality of what the Committee has been doing, and the Opposition demand the right and the opportunity to continue to discuss these issues.

I agree with a number of hon. Members who have said that as presently organised the House of Commons cannot possibly deal with Bills such as this. This is a mammoth piece of legislation containing 98 clauses and 17 schedules. It was obvious from the beginning that it would be the subject of a timetable motion. Indeed, I have no doubt in my own mind that in planning its introduction and passage through the House the Government intended to have a guillotine at this stage of its parliamentary consideration.

That decision means that a number of major policy issues in the seven authorities concerned—education, the police and fire services, transport, airports, museums, art galleries, the South Bank, and so on — will be desperately short of time for proper consideration. For example, part IV sets up 19 new joint boards. Clause 40 enables the Secretary of State, without inquiry, to break up police, fire or transport authorities. Clauses 41 to 45 transfer the London and metropolitan museums and the South Bank to Government appointees. One can go on listing major policies in the Bill which will not be given anything like adequate consideration.

It seems from the timetable that the Committee will have between 50 and 60 hours to deal with the remaining 82 clauses and nine schedules dealing with the policies which I have set out. No Committee can, in that time, deal properly and adequately with the issues involved, and I defy any Conservative Members, particularly those serving on the Committee who have sat throughout its proceedings without uttering a word, to say that in the remaining time the Committee will have the opportunity to scrutinise the Bill as it needs and deserves to be examined.

We are here predictably. I share the view, expressed in particular by Conservative Members, that the House of Commons should reform the way in which it examines legislation, particularly legislation such as this. The hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson), among others, asked about the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). My hon. Friend and I share identical views on this subject, and they are that the present procedures are demonstrably inadequate, but so are the arrangements whereby only the Government have any real say about the timetable of legislation. We feel—and the House should address itself to this—that we should reform our procedures so that Bills can be timetabled, but not on the basis of a decision made by the Executive, whichever party is forming the Executive.

The Opposition are said to have the power to delay and have been using it in this instance, as on previous examinations of Government legislation. That is not true. It is clearly the case that the Government can override, as they are doing with this timetable motion, even the limited power of Opposition parties simply to delay progress on a Bill. It is also increasingly seen outside the House, by members of the authorities concerned, by the officers serving those authorities and by the general public that our procedures are not just inadequate but frankly barmy. I do not think that those who observe our proceedings in Committee think it sensible, leads to good legislation or good government, for close on 50 hon. Members to be sitting up all day and night two days a week considering legislation.

I guess that it is no accident that the Secretary of State decided to opt out of this procedure, and in some senses I do not blame him. It cannot be sensible for a Cabinet Minister to be kept out of bed day and night for two days and nights a week and thus not be able to attend effectively to the affairs of state. The right hon. Gentleman does a pretty bad job of it when he gets to bed, so if he were kept up two nights a week, goodness knows what difficulties he would be getting into.

The reality is that reform of the House of Commons would be far more in the interests of the taxpayers than will the Government's proposed reforms of local councils. Taxpayers — and, indeed, ratepayers — would get far more benefit, a far better deal and far better legislation from the reform of Parliament, and the way that this kind of legislation is dealt with, than they will from any plans to abolish the metropolitan counties or the Greater London council. It is clear that those authorities so order and conduct their business that they are able to operate in a far more sane, sensible and logical way than we are able to here. That is the reality. In consequence, they give their ratepayers a better deal.

There is no case for the guillotine—at least in its present form—nor was there ever any case for the Bill. In the absence of the reforms that I have mentioned, I have no hesitation in urging everyone to oppose the motion.

9.50 pm
The Minister for Local Government (Mr. Kenneth Baker)

One of the words that have been used a great deal this evening has been the word "ritual". The noises made against the measure by the Opposition have been ritualistic. They have expressed shock and horror at our attempting to curtail the debate, because they have said that they wanted to improve the Bill. They have never had that intention. Their whole purpose has been to delay and destroy the Bill and to overturn the convincing vote on Second Reading, when the House accepted the principle of the Bill and the Government had a majority of 135.

The word "ritual" has been used to describe the way that we conduct ourselves in examining legislation in Standing Committee. I have been involved in three guillotined measures in the past three years. [Interruption.] I am not as expert as some, as I shall show later. They have all been very controversial Bills—the first two Telecommunications Bills and this Bill.

As one of the prime players, it seems to me that this is how a ritual develops. First, the Government publish the Bill, and then some Opposition spokesman says that they will fight it line by line and clause by clause. That pleases their supporters in the country. But it immediately impales the Opposition on a hook, because it is not then possible for them to come to any sort of reasonable arrangement about the length of debate. They feel—I understand it—that they would be letting down their supporters in the country if they made such a deal.

The failure of such an arrangement means that the Government are also impaled on a hook, because they then have to make a reasonable amount of time available for the measure to be debated—and so it goes on. The House knows the result — very late sittings. A tradition has been established that a timetable motion cannot be moved until a Committee has sat for 100 hours. This time the figure is about 105 hours. It is a sort of new parliamentary virility symbol.

I listened carefully to the words of the Leader of the House this afternoon. He said that he was not persuaded of a need to change the procedures of the House and that he would prefer voluntary arrangements to prevail. I agree that for the great bulk of parliamentary business we would all welcome the idea that reasonable arrangements should prevail, but in regard to very controversial Bills it is expecting too much to think that that will occur. If the Leader of the House is not willing to consider a more fundamental change, perhaps he could lower the level of the virility symbol that is required before guillotine motions are moved from 100 hours to, say, 50 hours. I believe that that was the figure once agreed upon by a former Leader of the House, Mr. Chuter Ede.

I readily agree that the Bill has not been delayed as a result of filibustering upstairs. Indeed, the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Cowans) has hardly ever got into second gear. But that did not prevent him from accusing the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State of filibustering when he introduced an amendment in 12 seconds flat. Upstairs in Committee we have seen a sort of filibuster by amendment. About 600 amendments have been tabled. I would not mind that if those amendments were designed to improve the Bill in any detail, but instead they have all provided opportunities for Second Reading speeches to be made on the same principle.

Mr. Nellist


Mr. Baker

I am sorry, but I cannot give way.

In Committee there has really only been one debate and that has been on the question of whether the boroughs and districts can fulfil the duties, or whether we need county-wide authorities. The amendments have been directed to that. If we had not introduced this guillotine motion, the debate would have been very prolonged. One night, when I had little else to do, I calculated how much longer our debates would have taken—incidentally, I was gambling that we might just pass this motion—if the Committee took as long on the next lot of clauses and schedules as it had taken on the first grouping. I discovered that we would have come out of the Committee on I August. I see that the hon. Members for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore) think that that is a good idea.

If it took us as long to debate the rest of the Bill as it took us to debate clause 2—a three-line clause that took us an hour a line to debate—we would not have come out of Committee until 1993.

Mr. Nellist


Mr. Baker

I have even better news for the Opposition. If it took as long to debate the rest of the Bill as it took us to debate clause 8 — when it took us 10 hours to debate only six lines—the Bill would not have emerged from Committee until the end of the century.

The guillotine motion contains one of the most generous allocations of time for more than 15 years. So far, we have had 118 hours in Committee and, if one includes the time spent on Second Reading, we have spent 133½ hours debating the Bill. After the guillotine motion is passed, another 72 hours will be provided. There will be 14 hours on Report and Third Reading. Thus, in all, 220 hours will have been provided. No Bill has had such a long debate since the Housing Finance Bill in 1971.

That debate will allow the House and the Committee to examine in considerable detail the various matters that we have not yet touched upon. My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth) and the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) said that we had not yet debated ILEA, the police authorities, the fire authorities, the passenger transport authorities, our policy on airports or the future of the South Bank. But our failure to reach those parts of the Bill is due entirely to the tactics developed and used by the Opposition.

As I have made clear to the Opposition Front Bench, we have been willing to make progress. But instead there have been prolonged debates—all on the basic principle of the Bill. There has been a series of Second Reading speeches. That cannot be the right or appropriate way to deal with legislation.

Mr. Nellist


Mr. Baker

I hope that the Bill will be debated exhaustively. I am sure that Opposition Members will be able to debate it now in a more measured way and will not have to sit up until 1 am, 3 am or 5 am. The only people to gain from a delay are the authorities. They are seeking to subvert Parliament's intention as clearly expressed on Second Reading, because if they can delay the Bill, the whole process of legislation and of devolution will come to an end. That is why we must speed the Bill on its way to the House of Lords. We want it on the statute book in the summer so that the process of abolition can continue in the following nine months.

The other word that has been used tonight is democracy. It has been said that the Bill is not democratic. I remember a former Labour Leader of the House standing at this Dispatch Box and moving five guillotine motions in one day. The tumbrils were queuing up at the scaffold as the Bills were wheeled on and guillotined. I am not prepared to take lectures on democracy from a Labour party that will not even have one man one vote for the selection of its Members of Parliament. Therefore, I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will support the motion.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes, 276 Noes, 195.

Division No. 97] [10 pm
Adley, Robert Chapman, Sydney
Aitken, Jonathan Chope, Christopher
Alexander, Richard Churchill, W. S.
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Amess, David Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Ancram, Michael Clegg, Sir Walter
Arnold, Tom Cockeram, Eric
Ashby, David Colvin, Michael
Aspinwall, Jack Conway, Derek
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H. Cope, John
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Couchman, James
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y) Cranborne, Viscount
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Critchley, Julian
Baldry, Tony Crouch, David
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Currie, Mrs Edwina
Batiste, Spencer Dickens, Geoffrey
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Dorrell, Stephen
Bellingham, Henry Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.
Bendall, Vivian Dover, Den
Benyon, William du Cann, Rt Hon Sir Edward
Best, Keith Dunn, Robert
Biffen, Rt Hon John Durant, Tony
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)
Blackburn, John Eggar, Tim
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Emery, Sir Peter
Body, Richard Evennett, David
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Eyre, Sir Reginald
Boscawen, Hon Robert Fairbairn, Nicholas
Bottomley, Peter Fallon, Michael
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Farr, Sir John
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n) Favell, Anthony
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Fenner, Mrs Peggy
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Forman, Nigel
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Fraser, Peter (Angus East)
Bright, Graham Freeman, Roger
Brinton, Tim Galley, Roy
Brittan, Rt Hon Leon Garel-Jones, Tristan
Brooke, Hon Peter Glyn, Dr Alan
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Goodlad, Alastair
Bruinvels, Peter Gow, Ian
Bryan, Sir Paul Gower, Sir Raymond
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A. Grant, Sir Anthony
Buck, Sir Antony Greenway, Harry
Bulmer, Esmond Gregory, Conal
Burt, Alistair Grist, Ian
Butcher, John Grylls, Michael
Butler, Hon Adam Gummer, John Selwyn
Butterfill, John Hampson, Dr Keith
Carlisle, John (N Luton) Harris, David
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Harvey, Robert
Cash, William Hawkins, C. (High Peak)
Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk) Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hayes, J. Pollock, Alexander
Hayhoe, Barney Porter, Barry
Hayward, Robert Portillo, Michael
Heddle, John Powell, William (Corby)
Henderson, Barry Powley, John
Hickmet, Richard Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Price, Sir David
Hill, James Proctor, K. Harvey
Hind, Kenneth Raffan, Keith
Hordern, Peter Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover)
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A) Renton, Tim
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock) Rhodes James, Robert
Hunter, Andrew Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Jackson, Robert Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Jessel, Toby Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Robinson, Mark (N'port W)
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Roe, Mrs Marion
King, Roger (B'ham N'field) Rossi, Sir Hugh
King, Rt Hon Tom Rost, Peter
Lang, Ian Rowe, Andrew
Lawrence, Ivan Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Lee, John (Pendle) Ryder, Richard
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Sayeed, Jonathan
Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd) Scott, Nicholas
Lightbown, David Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Lilley, Peter Shelton, William (Streatham)
Lloyd, Ian (Havant) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham) Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Lord, Michael Shersby, Michael
Luce, Richard Silvester, Fred
Lyell, Nicholas Skeet, T. H. H.
McCurley, Mrs Anna Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Macfarlane, Neil Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire) Soames, Hon Nicholas
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute) Speller, Tony
Maclean, David John Spence, John
McQuarrie, Albert Spencer, Derek
Major, John Squire, Robin
Malins, Humfrey Stanbrook, Ivor
Malone, Gerald Stanley, John
Maples, John Steen, Anthony
Marland, Paul Stern, Michael
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Mates, Michael Stevens, Martin (Fulham)
Mather, Carol Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Stewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire)
Mayhew, Sir Patrick Stokes, John
Mellor, David Stradling Thomas, J.
Merchant, Piers Sumberg, David
Meyer, Sir Anthony Tapsell, Sir Peter
Miller, Hal (B'grove) Taylor, John (Solihull)
Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon) Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Miscampbell, Norman Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Mitchell, David (NW Hants) Temple-Morris, Peter
Moate, Roger Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.
Moore, John Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Morris, M. (N'hampton, S) Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Morrison, Hon P. (Chester) Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Moynihan, Hon C. Thurnham, Peter
Mudd, David Townend, John (Bridlington)
Neale, Gerrard Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Needham, Richard Tracey, Richard
Nelson, Anthony Trippier, David
Neubert, Michael Twinn, Dr Ian
Newton, Tony van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Nicholls, Patrick Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Norris, Steven Viggers, Peter
Onslow, Cranley Waddington, David
Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S. Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Ottaway, Richard Waldegrave, Hon William
Page, Sir John (Harrow W) Walden, George
Page, Richard (Herts SW) Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)
Parris, Matthew Wall, Sir Patrick
Patten, Christopher (Bath) Waller, Gary
Patten, John (Oxford) Ward, John
Pawsey, James Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Warren, Kenneth Woodcock, Michael
Watson, John Yeo, Tim
Watts, John Young, Sir George (Acton)
Wells, Sir John (Maidstone) Younger, Rt Hon George
Whitfield, John
Whitney, Raymond Tellers for the Ayes:
Wiggin, Jerry Mr. Archie Hamilton and
Wolfson, Mark Mr. Tim Sainsbury.
Wood, Timothy
Abse, Leo Foster, Derek
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Foulkes, George
Anderson, Donald Fraser, J. (Norwood)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald
Ashton, Joe Freud, Clement
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham) Garrett, W. E.
Bagier, Gordon A. T. George, Bruce
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Barnett, Guy Godman, Dr Norman
Barron, Kevin Golding, John
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Gould, Bryan
Beith, A. J. Gourlay, Harry
Benn, Tony Hamilton, James (M'well N)
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) Hardy, Peter
Bidwell, Sydney Harman, Ms Harriet
Blair, Anthony Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith
Boyes, Roland Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Bray, Dr Jeremy Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Heffer, Eric S.
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith) Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)
Buchan, Norman Home Robertson, John
Caborn, Richard Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) Howells, Geraint
Campbell, Ian Hughes, Dr. Mark (Durham)
Campbell-Savours, Dale Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y) Hughes, Roy (Newport East)
Carter-Jones, Lewis Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Cartwright, John Janner, Hon Greville
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) John, Brynmor
Clarke, Thomas Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Clay, Robert Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Kennedy, Charles
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.) Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Cohen, Harry Kirkwood, Archy
Coleman, Donald Lambie, David
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. Lamond, James
Conlan, Bernard Leighton, Ronald
Cook, Frank (Stockton North) Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston) Lewis, Terence (Worsley)
Corbyn, Jeremy Litherland, Robert
Cowans, Harry Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Craigen, J. M. McCartney, Hugh
Crowther, Stan McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Cunliffe, Lawrence McGuire, Michael
Cunningham, Dr John McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly) McKelvey, William
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l) Mackenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Deakins, Eric McNamara, Kevin
Dewar, Donald McTaggart, Robert
Dixon, Donald McWilliam, John
Dormand, Jack Madden, Max
Douglas, Dick Marek, Dr John
Dubs, Alfred Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Duffy, A. E. P. Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. Maxton, John
Eadie, Alex Meacher, Michael
Eastham, Ken Meadowcroft, Michael
Edwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE) Michie, William
Ellis, Raymond Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Evans, John (St. Helens N) Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Ewing, Harry Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Fatchett, Derek Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn) Nellist, David
Fisher, Mark Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Flannery, Martin O'Brien, William
O'Neill, Martin Skinner, Dennis
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Park, George Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)
Parry, Robert Snape, Peter
Patchett, Terry Soley, Clive
Pavitt, Laurie Spearing, Nigel
Pendry, Tom Steel, Rt Hon David
Penhaligon, David Stott, Roger
Pike, Peter Strang, Gavin
Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down) Straw, Jack
Prescott, John Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Radice, Giles Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Redmond, M. Thorne, Stan (Preston)
Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S) Tinn, James
Richardson, Ms Jo Torney, Tom
Roberts, Allan (Bootle) Wainwright, R.
Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N) Walker, Cecil (Belfast N)
Robinson, G. (Coventry NW) Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Rogers, Allan Wareing, Robert
Rooker, J. W. Welsh, Michael
Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) White, James
Ross, Wm. (Londonderry) Williams, Rt Hon A.
Rowlands, Ted Winnick, David
Ryman, John Woodall, Alec
Sedgemore, Brian Wrigglesworth, Ian
Sheerman, Barry Young, David (Bolton SE)
Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
Shore, Rt Hon Peter Tellers for the Noes:
Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood) Mr. Frank Haynes and
Short, Mrs R (W'hampt'n NE) Mr. Sean Hughes.
Silkin, Rt Hon J.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the following provisions shall apply to the remaining proceedings on the Bill:—

Forward to