§ 2.57 p.m.
§ Report received.1178
Baroness Birk moved Amendment No. 1:
Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Restriction of terms of councillors elected in 1985.
§ PART A PROVISION FOR ELECTIONS IN 1985 AND SUBSEQUENT LIMITATION OF TERMS OF OFFICE
§ .—(1) The Secretary of State shall have power after the passing hereafter by Parliament of an enactment which provides for the abolition of the Greater London Council and the metropolitan county councils and the transfer of their functions, to make an order to restrict to a term expiring not before 1st April 1986, the period of office of councillors of the Greater London Council and the metropolitan county councils elected in accordance with the provisions of the principal Act on 2nd May 1985, for the electoral divisions as set out in Schedule (Composition of Greater London Council and Metropolitan County Councils pending a decision by Parliament on their continued existence).").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, which stands in not only my name, but also the names of the noble Lords, Lord Evans and Lord Hayter, and the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, I feel that we are in a very difficult position in regard to this Bill today. Two thirds of the original Bill have been taken out since Committee stage. It would have been far more proper and far more advantageous to the House in its discussion of the Bill if Parts I and II had been recommitted. This should have been the Committee stage of those parts of the Bill, and not the Report stage which we are on today.
§ Further, only one day has been allocated for Report. We on these Benches certainly feel—and I think many other noble Lords also feel—that this Bill is not receiving the kind of attention that it should.
This amendment which I am moving is the most important amendment this afternoon. It sustains the clear decision taken by the Committee of this House on 28th June and complements that amendment by ensuring that elections take place in May 1985. It also grants power to the Secretary of State to limit the terms of those elected, once the main abolition Bill has been passed. In that way it is, therefore, linked to Amendments Nos. 19 and 50.
Amendment No. 19: Before Clause 8, insert the following new clause:
§ (" Review of metropolitan county council electoral divisions.
.The Secretary of State shall, not later than one month after the passing of the Act, direct the Local Government Boundary Commission for England to carry out a review of the boundaries and electoral divisions of any metropolitan county for which such a review has not been completed under the principal Act within the previous twelve months, and to make proposals by 1st March 1985.").
Amendment No. 50: Before Schedule I, insert the following new schedule:
§ (" SCHEDULE
§ COMPOSITION OF GREATER LONDON COUNCIL AND METROPOLITAN COUNTY COUNCILS PENDING A DECISION BY PARLIAMENT ON THEIR CONTINUED EXISTENCE
§ 1. Pending a decision by Parliament on their continued existence, the composition of the Greater London Council and the metropolitan county councils shall be one member elected for each of the electoral divisions in accordance with the provisions of the principal Act.
§ 2. In respect of the Greater London Council the electoral divisions shall correspond with the Parliamentary constituencies in Greater London.
§ 3. In respect of a metropolitan county, the electoral divisions shall correspond with proposals made to the Secretary of State by 1st March 1985 following a review by the Local Government Boundary Commission for England pursuant to section (Review of metropolitan county council electoral divisions) above and in relation to any such proposals this paragraph shall have effect in place of paragraph 4(b) of Schedule 9 to the Principal Act.").1179
The clear decision on 28th June was taken, in the words of my noble and learned friend Lord Elwyn-Jones, who moved the amendment in Committee to,
prevent the Secretary of State from ordering the cancellations of elections to the Greater London Council and to the six metropolitan county councils".—[Official Report; col. 1035.]
§ Let us be quite clear that the compromise proposed by the Government to extend the terms of office of sitting councillors to April 1986 is in no way a viable substitution for holding elections in May 1985. The Government amendment not only suspends the elections, but does so before the House of Lords has had an opportunity to make a decision on the abolition Bill, the provisions of which are still unknown not only to this House, but, seemingly, also to everyone else: or, if that is not so, they are a very closely guarded secret. Really, we cannot be expected to buy a legislative pup of this kind. Indeed, the order cancelling the May elections would have to be made by mid-March at the latest, before this House could have even a sniff of Second Reading. Even the amendment that is now part of the Bill, providing that any order should be subject to affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament, does not meet the case in this instance. As we discussed in Committee, it is the practice, as we are all aware, of this House not to vote against an order that has been passed by another place. So, although to discuss affirmative orders has some value, it has no real value in this instance.
The Government's extension of terms is to run to April 1986. Yet both past experience and present forecasts indicate that, if it is to be properly done, it will be impossible to complete the abolition handover by April 1986. Indeed, resisting in Committee on 3rd July an amendment which sought to make 1st April 1986 the final deadline for the, now happily deceased, interim councils, the Minister said, at column 180:
To put a specific deadline in this Bill is not only unnecessary but it prejudges Parliament's timetable for considering the main Bill, and prejudges Parliament's consideration of that Bill since it is that Bill which will specify the abolition dates".
§ Further, the Leader of the House, when questioned on the use of the reference to "into 1986", when he made a Statement on 5th July, said that it basically meant April.
§ Let us look at this a little more carefully. The main abolition Bill is highly unlikely to be enacted before July 1985—at the earliest. The joint boards and quangos which will inherit most of the functions of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils cannot be created until then. On the Government's timetable they will have at the most nine months before abolition proper sets in. It takes nine months to produce a baby, but I reckon that it takes much longer to produce a quango. In the metropolitan counties, for example, 18 new joint boards and 36 district councils will have to decide levels of service, appoint staff, reorganise departments, transfer assets (which is a very complicated job), re-allocate debts, reorganise superannuation and insurance and pool information—to mention just a few of the functions with which they will be concerned.
§ The problems of disbanding the GLC are even greater. Central government will have to decide how to reorganise the rate support grant and the rate 1180 equalisation scheme in London. Government departments will need to reassess the new powers and role. Therefore, the councillors whose terms are extended could be in situ 18 months, or even two years, without being elected, and they would include those who would not want to stand for re-election, anyhow, as many have indicated. Yet a proposal to extend the unelected councils for longer than 12 months would, I am sure, not be acceptable to either your Lordships or to people outside. The Government have quoted that well-known fallback "precedent" in order to justify what they are doing in order to cancel elections. They claim that extension of terms accords with the precedents. But there is no precedent for either cancelling elections or extending terms in advance of the main legislation. In 1963 the tenure of LCC councillors was extended in the London Government Act and elections for the new GLC were held in 1964. In 1972 elections to authorities facing abolition were allowed to proceed although the Local Government Act was not implemented until 1974. Therefore, there are no real precedents for this. Even if there were, they would be bad precedents, which should be strictly ignored.
§ The Leader of the House will, I am sure, be at his most persuasive when he speaks. He will rightly say that the interim councils have been dropped. I do not think that the Government could have done less than that. But, I beg you, my Lords, beware his golden tongue which will caress Amendment No. 5, which stands the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, and which is the Government's alternative. However, this will not do. The House of Lords will still be constitutionally by-passed, since the elections will be cancelled before we have seen the abolition Bill. Extending the terms of office in this way without elections is undemocratic, dangerous and unprecedented.
§ We demonstrated, on 28th June, by a very large majority, our opposition to abolishing elections before the main Bill has passed all its stages in both Houses. Many noble Lords—the majority, of course—from all sides of the Chamber spoke against the Government Bill and in every case mentioned the problem of elections and the by-passing of the House of Lords, both of which are important points. Nothing that the Government are offering has altered that one iota. Today, our essential task is to safeguard the constitution and our parliamentary democracy. We can do that, and decently maintain our consistency, only by voting for this amendment. I beg to move.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Viscount Whitelaw)
My Lords, the amendment which has just been moved by the noble Baroness deals with elections to be held to the GLC and the metropolitan county councils in May 1985. On 5th July, I told the House that the Government proposed to introduce amendments providing for the existing members of the Greater London Council and metropolitan county councils to continue in office, but without elections next year.
The noble Baroness's amendment—from what she says, she clearly agrees with its terms—must therefore be regarded as an alternative to the Government's proposals. Thus it might be helpful to your Lordships 1181 if I was to speak to the Government's amendments at this point. The amendments which enable the present members of the GLC and metropolitan county councils to continue in office are Nos. 2, 4, 5, 7 to 11, 48, 49, and 51 to 53. Amendments Nos. 37 to 39, and 54, to which my noble friend Lord Bellwin will be speaking in greater detail later on, are to prevent unreasonable actions by the outgoing authorities.
§ Amendment No. 2: Clause 1, leave out Clause 1.
§ Amendment No. 4: Clause 2, page 2, line 18, leave out ("order shall be made under subsection (2) above") and insert ("such order shall be made").
§ Amendment No. 5: Clause 3, leave out Clause 3 and insert the following new clause:
§ ("Suspension of elections and extension of terms of office
§ 3.—(1) No ordinary elections of councillors of the Greater London Council or for a metropolitan county shall be held after the coming into force of this Part of this Act; and any such councilor—
- (a) whose term of office would, apart from this section, expire on 7th May 1985; or
- (b) who is elected to fill a vacancy occurring after that date, shall, unless he resigns his office or it otherwise becomes vacant, continue to hold office until 1st April 1986.
§ (2) In section 7(2) of the principal Act (elections of metropolitan district councillors) the reference to a year of election of county councillors shall be construed as a reference to a year of election of councillors for a non-metropolitan county.
§ (3) In sections 89(3) and 90 of the principal Act (filling of casual vacancies) as they apply to the Greater London Council and a metropolitan county council references to the date on which a councillor or person would regularly have retired shall be construed in accordance with subsection (1) above; and in the said section 89(3) the words after the semi-colon shall not apply in relation to those councils.
§ (4) Section 8(2)(a) of the principal Act and paragraph 6(2) of Schedule 2 to that Act are hereby repealed.").
§ Amendment No. 7: Clause 4, leave out Clause 4.
§ Amendment No. 8: Clause 5, leave out Clause 5.
§ Amendment No. 9: Clause 6, page 5, line 4, leave out subsections (1) and (2).
§ Amendment No. 10: Page 5, line 17, leave out ("a council whose members are appointed under this Part of this Act") and insert ("the Greater London Council or a metropolitan county council").
§ Amendment No. 11: Page 5, line 25, leave out subsections (5) and (6).
§ Amendment No. 48: Clause 11, page 9, line 12, leave out subsection (5).
Amendment No. 49: Clause 13, page 9, line 17, at end insert—
("() For the purposes of this Act the constituent councils are—
§ Amendment No. 51: Schedule 1, leave out Schedule 1.
§ Amendment No. 52: Schedule 2, leave out Schedule 2.
§ Amendment No. 53: Schedule 3, leave out Schedule 3.
§ Amendment No. 37: After Clause 10, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Control of disposals of land.
§ .—(1) Neither the Greater London Council nor a metropolitan county council shall after the passing of this Act dispose of any land except with the consent of the Secretary of State.
§ (2) Any consent under this section may be given either in respect of a particular disposal or in respect of disposals of any class or description and either unconditionally or subject to conditions.
§ (3) This section has effect notwithstanding anything in section 123 of the principal Act (general power to dispose of land) or in any other enactment; and the consent required by this section shall be in addition to any consent required by subsection (2) of that section or by any other enactment.
§ (4) It is hereby declared that section 128(2) of the principal Act (protection of purchases etc.) applies to any disposal of land to which this section applies.1182
§ (5) In this section references to disposing of land include references to—
- (a) granting or disposing of any interest in land;
- (b) entering into a contract to dispose of land or to grant or dispose of any such interest; and
- (c) granting an option to acquire any land or any such interest; and references in this subsection to an interest in land include references to any easement, right or charge in, to or over land and to a licence to occupy land.").
§ Amendment No. 38: After Clause 10, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Control of Contracts.
§ .—(1) Except with the consent of the Secretary of State neither the Greater London Council nor a metropolitan county council shall after the passing of this Act enter into a contract which (with or without other matters) provides for—
- (a) the carrying out by or for the council of building or engineering works in respect of which the consideration exceeds £250,000;
- (b) The carrying out by or for the council of maintenance works in respect of which the consideration exceeds £100,000;
- (c) the supply by or to the council of goods in respect of which the consideration exceeds £100,000;
- (d) the provision by or to the council of administrative, professional or technical services in respect of which the consideration exceeds £100,000; or
- (e) the use by another person of any vehicle, plant or apparatus of the council, or the use by the council of any vehicle, plant or apparatus of another person, in respect of which the consideration exceeds £100,000.
§ (2) Where the consideration or any of the consideration under a contract is not in money, the limits specified in subsection (1) above shall apply to the value of the consideration; and any necessary apportionment shall be made of consideration which is referable to two or more of the matters mentioned in that subsection or to any of them and other matters.
§ (3) For the purpose of determining whether a limit specified in subsection (1) above is exceeded in the case of any contract, there shall be taken into account the consideration under any other contract or contracts entered into by the council in the previous twelve months (but not earlier than the passing of this Act) so far as relating, in a case within paragraph (a) or (b) of that subsection, to works of the same or a similar description to be carried out on the same or adjacent land or, in a case within paragraph (c), (d) or (e) of that subsection, to goods, services, vehicles, plant or apparatus of the same or a similar description.
§ (4) Any consent under this section may be given either in respect of a particular contract or in respect of contracts of any class or description and either unconditionally or subject to conditions.
§ (5) A contract shall not be void by reason only that it has been entered into in contravention of this section and a person entering into a contract with a council to which this section applies shall not be concerned to enquire whether any consent required by this section has been given or complied with.
(6) In this section—
building or engineering works" includes any work involved in the laying out of land, the improvement of land or buildings, the construction or improvement of a highway and any work of demolition;
maintenance works" includes work for the maintenance or repair of land, buildings or highways, the gritting of a highway and the clearing of snow from a highway.").
§ Amendment No. 39: After Clause 10, insert the following new clause: ("Disqualification for contravention of sections (Control of disposals of land) and (Control of contracts).
§ .—(1) If, on the application of a constituent council or a local government elector for the area of a constituent council, it appears to the High Court that the Greater London Council or a metropolitan county council has made a disposal in contravention of section (Control of disposals of land) above or entered into a contract in contravention of section (Control of contracts) above, the court may order any person responsible for authorising the disposal or contract who is, or was at the time of the conduct in question, a member of the council to be disqualified for a specified period for being a member of any other local authority.1183
§ Amendment No. 54: In the title, line 12, after ("of') insert (", and disposals of land and contracts made by,").
§ These amendments have been introduced in response to the decision of your Lordships on 28th June, when what is now Clause 1 was inserted into the Bill.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Viscount will give way for one moment. I understood that there had been a certain amount of discussion about grouping. The later amendments which the noble Viscount mentioned are not in the original groupings. The original groupings cover Amendments Nos. 1, 19 and 50 and Nos. 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9 and 11. I really must protest. I carefully did not refer to the later amendments, but the Leader of the House did.
§ Viscount Whitelaw
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I hope that she will excuse me. I made it very clear that I understood that these amendments would be discussed separately later, and that my noble friend Lord Bellwin would reply to them in detail. I hope the noble Baroness would feel that it was reasonable for me, as it was part of the statement which I made on 28th June, to refer in general terms to these amendments, but in no way prejudicing the discussion which will follow. I hope that that would be felt reasonable by the noble Baroness, because, on the whole, I feel that it is my duty to explain what I did say as part of the package in my statement on 5th July.
I have decided to set out the Government's proposed new package myself because I feel that the Government's reaction to your Lordships' vote raises issues concerning this House and its relations with another place, wider than this Bill. Such issues, in my judgment, should properly be dealt with by the Leader of the House.
The Government believe that your Lordships' decision was based principally on two objections to the Bill as introduced. The first objection—and by far the most widely and strongly held—was to the proposal for nominated transitional authorities. In particular, objection was taken to the fact that political control of one of the authorities would have changed when the nominated authority took over. Noble Lords in all parts of the House felt that this was undemocratic and would be a bad example to set for the future.
The second objection which was raised—this was referred to by the noble Baroness—was to the cancellation of the elections to the Greater London Council and the metropolitan county councils due to be held in May 1985. It was clearly right for the Government to give careful attention to the decision taken by this House in a matter which raised what were, in many people's minds, constitutional issues.
As I indicated to the House on 5th July, and as will be apparent from the amendments which have been tabled, the Government have accepted the view expressed by your Lordships so far as the transitional authorities are concerned. They have therefore decided that the present membership of the Greater London Council and the metropolitan county councils should be extended until those authorities cease to exist as a result of the main abolition Bill, if that Bill is approved by Parliament.
1184 The noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, criticised the provisions of the Bill as giving the Government,the power to impose upon local governments and their electorates nominees of different councils, differing in functions and duties from the county councils, elected for a different purpose, and, significantly, of a different political persuasion".—[Official Report, 26/6/84; col. 1037.]The course which the Government are now proposing meets this objection completely.
As I also indicated on 5th July, it would clearly be unreasonable and wrong for actions to be taken by the outgoing authorities between now and the date of abolition which might prejudice the position of the successor authorities. I would very much hope that such actions would not take place. If they were to take place, it would certainly not be in the interests of the people that these authorities have been elected to serve. But the Government must, in order to safeguard the position of the successor authorities, take account of the suggestions that prejudicial actions may take place. We have therefore decided to introduce the three new clauses contained in Amendments Nos. 37, 38 and 39. These provisions are entirely aimed against irresponsible action. Amendment No. 37 requires the consent of the Secretary of State to be given to all disposals of land by the outgoing authorities. Amendment No. 38 requires such consent to be given before certain contracts above prescribed values are entered into.
Both amendments empower the Secretary of State to give general consents to particular classes or descriptions of disposal or contract, and it is my right honourable friend's intention to make full use of this power so that the proper conduct of the authorities' affairs is not impeded.
The third new clause, Amendment No. 39, buttresses the first two new clauses by providing for the disqualification of council members who are responsible for authorising illegal disposals or contracts. Such disqualification can be ordered only by the High Court. It is not proposed to invalidate transactions undertaken in contravention of the new provisions, and thus there is no question of the rights of third parties being prejudiced.
The Government have not accepted the argument advanced by some of your Lordships—and in particular in the amendment which has just been moved by the noble Baroness—that there should be elections to the Greater London Council and the metropolitan county councils during the passage of the abolition Bill through Parliament.
There has been a danger throughout the discussion on this Bill to regard the issue as simply one of the Greater London Council. Whatever may be the disagreement with me otherwise, many noble Lords will agree that much of the argument has centred on that particular point. But all the metropolitan county councils are involved. I understand that elections, if held, would involve some 14 million voters. And what would be the outcome of all the work and all the activity involved in that? It would be the election of councillors, if the abolition Bill passed through Parliament, for less than a year. How could this be justified?
1185 Furthermore, the elections would be held when the main abolition Bill was before Parliament and might well have passed through another place and had its Second Reading in this House. Surely none of us in Parliament can neglect the dangers inherent in a sort of referendum taking place on an issue which is the subject of parliamentary proceedings. I can think only too clearly of the sort of undesirable precedent that would create on other occasions; and so, I believe, would many of those noble Lords who are advocating an election today.
Nor of course do I lack powerful allies in expressing doubts about the wisdom of elections. The Opposition's own spokesman in another place, the honourable Member for South Shields (Dr. David Clark), said on the Second Reading of this Bill that he sympathised with the Government's wish not to hold elections. He went on to suggest that the natural thing to do in those circumstances was to let the existing local authorities continue—which is exactly what we are now proposing. I must emphasise to noble Lords that he is, after all, the spokesman of the Opposition in another place, and that is what he said.
During the Second Reading debate in this House many noble Lords, in making the case against the Government, made reference to speeches made by my right honourable friend the former Prime Minister, the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, and other ex-Cabinet colleagues of mine over the years. I can now pray them in my support. Mr. Heath originally in April, on Second Reading of this Bill in another place, argued that the right way to deal with the problem of the elections was for the existing councillors to continue until the changeover. My other colleagues have also indicated their support for this course.
My conviction that the cancellation of elections to the outgoing authorities is the right approach is strengthened by the fact that it has been done in the past. Both in 1963, at the time of the setting up of the GLC, and in 1972, at the time of local government reorganisation in England and Wales, provision was made for the cancellation of elections. In both cases the terms of office of existing councillors were extended—as is now proposed in the Government's amendments before your Lordships. Certainly—and I say this at once, to concede the point made by the noble Baroness—on those occasions the cancellation was done in the main Bill abolishing the authorities. But in this case, in view of the timing of the elections, there is no alternative but to introduce the necessary provisions in this Bill.
One ground of objection raised by some of your Lordships to the cancellation of elections was that the cancellation was to be effected by an order made without reference to this House, while the main abolition Bill was still in another place. My noble friend Lord Bellwin indicated at Committee stage that the Government were willing to accept an amendment—tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Spens, the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, and the noble Lord, Lord Shaughnessy—providing that the order cancelling the elections should be subject to approval by both Houses of Parliament. In the event that amendment was withdrawn, but Amendment No. 4 before your Lordships today has the same effect. It will provide a further opportunity for your Lordships to 1186 consider this matter, and will I hope set at rest any fears that proper regard is not being paid to the views of this House.
§ Viscount Whitelaw
My Lords, "Not at all" may be the view of the person who said that, but it does not happen to be my view.
I believe that on behalf of the Government I have made a quick and positive response to your Lordships' vote on the 28th June. I am entitled to point out that the Government have made a substantial concession to the views of this House, particularly when one remembers that the Bill had a majority of 128 on Third Reading in another place. As a Government, we have paid, as I see it, proper respect to this House as a revising Chamber. I do not believe that any Government could be expected to go further, and few would have gone as far.
I hope that the noble Baroness will not press her amendment because, for all the reasons I have given, I believe that the Government's package is one which should command the support of the whole House.
§ 3.22 p.m.
§ Lord Evans of Claughton
My Lords, I am presented with a difficult problem in following the noble Viscount, who has spoken with great persuasive powers as he always does. Before I refer to the matters about which he has spoken at some length, I wish to refer briefly to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, which is of very great importance to your Lordships' House. The noble Baroness made the point that what the Government are doing at Report stage is virtually introducing a new Bill. They are putting forward some very far-reaching amendments indeed which those of us on the Opposition Benches have had comparatively little time to consider. I should have thought that it was a great pity in the conciliatory atmosphere that the noble Viscount has been propounding, that we have not been conciliated so that we could have had the Bill recommitted and then considered these entirely new points, certainly about financial controls, in the atmosphere of a Committee stage rather than at the Report stage.
Having said that, I expect that some of your Lordships will think that the concessions that the Government have made are sufficient. Indeed, to be quite frank, I and my noble friends thought a very great deal about the proposal that was being put forward for allowing the existing councils to run a further year. But I must say that, after mature reflection, we came to the conclusion that, in view of the thrust of your Lordships' arguments on 28th June, the proposal would not be sufficient to satisfy the views expressed then about the Government's proposed legislation. Admittedly, the amendment that was carried in your Lordships' House has been observed to the extent that it cures the "nominated councils" concept which was totally repugnant to a very large majority of your Lordships. But it does not do anything else. It cures only the change in political control that might result from a nominated council.
1187 However, the other objections that were made during the debates at Committee stage, and I think on Second Reading, are still valid. The proposal that the noble Viscount has put forward does change the electoral arrangements before the main legislation will have passed through both Houses of Parliament, and maybe before the main legislation has reached your Lordships' House. Therefore, I feel that the very clear opinion of your Lordships passed in the amendment on 28th June has not been observed in the amendments that have now been put forward.
I must go on briefly to say that I think the Government are being extremely sanguine in believing that they will be able to predict the timescale to April 1986. It is my belief—and I have some support from the right honourable gentleman the Secretary of State—that April 1986 certainly might not see the end of the problems about the changeover that will take place. He admits I think that the staffing problems will certainly not be resolved by that time. However, as regards the Government's legislation to abolish the metropolitan counties and the Greater London Council, I certainly agree very warmly with the noble Viscount that we have had far too much time and energy concentrated on the Greater London Council and apparently the mutual hate campaign between the Government and Mr. Livingstone, and far too little time spent on the very considerable work, activities and benefits that the metropolitan councils have given to the areas under their control.
The main Bill will involve the setting up of at least 18 joint boards, and it will involve at least 36 district councils in taking over the existing powers of the counties and the Greater London Council. As someone who has spent a large part of his life in local government, I cannot see how, for example, the harmonisation of standing orders, how the financial regulations and the working practices—all entirely different from council to council—can be sufficiently co-ordinated in the timescale that the amendment envisages.
Therefore, I must say that while one concedes that there has been a concession made by the Government in extending the life of existing councils, it seems to me that if the timescale that I predict is the one that results, and the life of these councils has to be extended beyond April 1986, then the old councils—the Greater London Council and metropolitan councils—will have served a very long additional term. They will be serving six or seven years when they were only elected for four years, which might well not be the wishes of the electorate at all by that time. They will be very stale councils.
Therefore, although strong arguments have been presented for the course suggested by the Leader of this House, I feel that we should stick to what I believe was the principle enunciated in the amendment that was carried, and that we should persist in that view. As one who served on a district council and a metropolitan county council, I can hardly bear to think how difficult it will be when reorganisation goes through to get, for example, the 10 district councillors of Greater Manchester to agree among themselves as to who will do what and how they will do it. How will these councillors with multifariously different attitudes and 1188 internal jealousies be persuaded to work together? I know that they will have to work together eventually—it will be forced on them. But I do not believe that the proposals meet the wishes of this House in terms of elections, and I do not think that the timescale described by the Government is realistic or can be carried through. Therefore, I hope that your Lordships will support the amendment which has been moved by the noble Baroness.
§ Lord Molson
My Lords, it is in the honourable tradition of this House to deal with broad matters of principle and not to allow itself to be unduly restricted by matters of minor amendment. On no occasion could this be more applicable than when the large issue of contstitutional principle has been raised. The Opposition—both Oppositions—have done their best to raise this matter—I think quite rightly—to a matter of the gravest constitutional importance. Therefore, I think that my noble friend the Leader of the House was entirely right to deal with its matter on the broadest lines. It would have been impossible to raise the great issues which have been discussed not only in this House but in the press and throughout the country if he had not presented the general picture of all the amendments which the Goverment propose to move as a single comprehensive whole. It represents an acceptance by Her Majesty's Government of the considered opinion of your Lordships' House. Thanks very largely to the tact and persistence of my noble friend the Leader, this Government, possessing as they do a great majority in another place, have bowed to what I am sure is the right constitutional doctrine: that your Lordships are right in making amendments to Bills which come from another place.
This matter could not have been dealt with by a number of small amendments. I hope that your Lordships will bear with me if I pursue the argument that, so far from abandoning any of the principles for which your Lordships have voted, in point of fact the series of amendments (not a single one, but all of them taken as a whole) represents the establishment of an important constitutional principle in which the Government have accepted the considered opinion of your Lordships.
Personally, I feel obliged to deal with this matter in a little detail, but it is entirely in line with the general matter because, unwittingly, I have been involved on the air in defending the views that I put forward and, unexpectedly, Mr. Kenneth Livingstone appeared on the air on the same occasions. I hope that I convinced the large audience which I was addressing of the correctness of my views, but apparently I failed to convince Mr. Livingstone! Even in these solemn matters humorous incidents occur.
On one of these occasions when I had spoken over the air, I came to the House and found a message waiting for me from my noble friend the Leader of the House asking me to come to him in his room at 6 o'clock. It was slightly reminiscent of an invitation to my housemaster's room! I arrived there, not punctually, but five minutes early and I told my noble friend that on ITV at 6 o'clock what I had said was likely to appear on the screen, and I understood that perhaps Mr. Livingstone would appear at the same time. My noble friend said that he would be very 1189 interested to hear what I had had to say. I replied that I, too, should be very interested to hear what I had said, and I added that I was also rather nervous.
However, when the television set was turned on at 6 o'clock it turned out to be on the wrong channel and on the screen appeared Wimbledon. Although Wimbledon was more beautiful and more interesting than Livingstone and Molson would have been, we did not feel that it was relevant to the matters under discussion, so my noble friend turned off the set and we returned from Wimbledon to Westminster.
I am sorry to see that today the six county borough councils have been spending their ratepayers' money on whole-page advertisements putting forward their political views. I regard that as an abuse of the ratepayers' money. Because, for example, those ratepayers say that the Government are treating your Lordships' House as a rubber stamp—and the Marshalled List proves exactly the opposite—and because we who had to vote against the Government on two occasions had to support the amendments that were available, it has been argued that we were in favour of preserving the Greater London Council and the other councils, and, as the noble Baroness has suggested today, of elections in May 1985. When I put my name to the amendment that was carried, I made it plain to my co-signatories that I was supporting the main issue and not in the least supporting anything that might follow from that, however logically it might follow according to the line of reasoning of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones.
I have consistently made it plain that, in supporting amendments to this Bill, I am not supporting either the proposal to preserve those councils or the elections of May 1985. I hope that when I try to establish that your Lordships will acquit me of any egotistical desire to repeat my own previous speeches. But I have to do so in order to justify the line which I have taken and, which indeed your Lordships have also taken.
On the first occasion, on the Second Reading debate on 11th June I said at column 920 of Hansard:I am not voting against the Second Reading of this Bill. I am not voting against the abolition of the … metropolitan county councils. How could one do so at the present time when the Bill has not even been published? I am voting in favour of drastic amendment of this Bill during its Committee stage here".I then went on to criticise what was proposed for the interim and I said that the proposal was:in my opinion so irrational and so undemocratic that I doubt whether it will survive critical scrutiny in your Lordships' House".Well, it has not. Later, I said:Without making any commitment, I have every intention of supporting my noble friends on the Government Front Bench in the abolition of these authorities." [Col. 921.]I then continued:your Lordships may think it suitable to carry amendments against the Govenment". [Col. 921.]And your Lordships did so.
On 28th June (at col. 1038 of Hansard). I said:When we come to the main Bill to abolish the Greater London Council and the metropolitan county councils I shall vote for the Second Reading.After criticising the Greater London Council for abusing its power and spending the ratepayers' money irresponsibly, I continued: 1190In relation to abuse of its power in general, Parliament can at any time impose restraints by rapid legislation and possibly by this Bill if suitable amendments were made.That is exactly what is being proposed at the present time. I said:Can we not have an arrangement which would be acceptable at any rate to Tory Peers who cannot go along with the Government as this Bill is at present drafted but who support the main objective, as I do? But I repeat that the end does not justify the means." [Col. 1040.]This series of amendments do exactly that.
I hope that I have not wearied your Lordships with this ratiocination supported by relevant quotations from my previous speeches, and I have shown that the Government have met, by these amendments, all the arguments of constitutional principle raised in earlier debates on which some of your Lordships voted against the Government and I think a number of my noble friends abstained from voting. We can, without any inconsistency or abandonment of any principle, vote for this amendment. I hope and believe that by a large majority we shall do so.
§ Lord Molson
My Lords, I am obliged to my noble friend; but I have said that we are discussing the general issue on this matter as was indicated by the Leader of the House.
If I may end on a facetious, even perhaps a frivolous, note I would say again what I said on 5th July. A medieval judge, in a well-known dictum, said:The Devil himself knoweth not what is in the minds of men".Mr. Livingstone was recorded as saying that a settlement on these lines was not in the minds of your Lordships. I have shown that a settlement of this kind was in the minds of some of your Lordships. So Mr. Livingstone—who in the opinion of many of us was uniquely qualified to know the extent of the Devil's knowledge—flatly contradicted the judge when he claimed to know what was in your Lordships' minds. But the judge was right, and Mr. Livingstone was wrong.
§ 3.44 p.m.
§ Lord Diamond
My Lords, I am getting up at this point because I thought that nobody else was rising in order to expand on what my noble ally has said with regard to this series of amendments. I thought it was appropriate that the Alliance point of view with regard to the future of all these councils should be made clear, and why. First, I must start by acknowledging my agreement with what the Leader of the House said at the start of his speech, and my appreciation for what he has done.
All of us are deeply indebted to him not only for listening to the debate and the result of that debate on an earlier occasion, but in succeeding, in spite of the very large majority in another place, in spite of—I hope I am not being too frank—the attitude normally displayed by cabinets with regard to the importance of events in your Lordships' House, and in spite of the attitude of this particular Cabinet, in being able to persuade his colleagues to accept a major departure from original policy.
1191 Some of your Lordships may feel—I think most of you would feel, and I certainly would feel—that honour is therefore satisfied. Indeed, that is so. But that is very different from saying that your Lordships' duty, on appropriate occasions, to make the other place think again is equally fully satisfied. I do not think it is, and I shall explain why as shortly as I can.
The Alliance has gone to considerable trouble to consider these matters in great depth. We had a very high powered commission considering these matters for some two to three years, the results of which were incorporated in the Alliance manifesto. That manifesto made it absolutely clear that it was our desire to bring the people much closer to their representatives in local elections, and that the way of achieving that would be to remove one tier of government; to set up regional authorities; to devolve upon those regional authorities all those responsibilities which need not be carried out in Whitehall; and finally would be to see that the regional authorities were appropriately represented in your Lordships' House. The suggestion was that some substantial number, possibly 50 per cent., of a revised second Chamber should consist of regionally-elected representatives in your Lordships' House to go along with another 50 per cent. of appointed persons as Lords in Parliament.
That is a totality of ideas which together make a great development in local government coupled with a desirable reform in your Lordships' House. It is therefore not easy to relate those principles to the particular issue which is before us now. We are in the usual position of wishing that we were not in Ballybunion—however attractive a place that is, especially if you are a golfer—and wishing that we were not starting from there on our journey. But we are. We have to turn our minds to what we now should do in relation to the general issue before us at this present time.
We said we would give it very careful consideration when our Leader made his important statement. We did not respond in any other way. We said that we would give it very careful consideration. We have done so; and we have reached the conclusion that the weightiest argument of all is the right of individuals to elect their representatives in self-government. I can think of no more weighty argument than that. That it is put to us in contradiction that it will cost a fair sum of money is not a weighty argument against it.
Nobody is more keen on saving money than I am. It is in my blood and I have had a great deal to do with it. Nobody can say "No" to ideas of expenditure in more than 52 varieties better than myself. Nevertheless, it is not right that a sum of money should be set as an argument against the principle of the right of electors to decide in these important bodies how their affairs should be run, how they should be governed for at least 12 months and possibly for 24 months. That is the substantial argument which outweighs every other. We do not count arguments in this House; we weigh them and that is the weighty one.
There is no basis whatever for suggesting that there is a solid precedent for doing what we are doing. The only precedent is in an enabling Bill, in the main Bill itself. If the Government had not made such a cock-up 1192 of all these arrrangements and if, instead of trying to introduce a paving Bill which now looks ridiculous (assuming that the Government's amendments will be accepted), they had introduced one Bill and were proposing in that one Bill to make these arrangements, then they would not have been anticipating the will of Parliament. It would have been totally different and that probably would have been acceptable to a great number of your Lordships. But they have not done that.
Therefore I repeat that there is no substantial precedent for what is now proposed. It would be more than dangerous, it would be wrong to deny in these circumstances the people of these vast areas the right to determine their own self-government. Therefore we shall vote in that sense.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
My Lords, I think that we ought to be concentrating upon the first amendment moved by the noble Baroness, because that is what is likely to be put to the test first. I could not help feeling what a consummate actress the noble Baroness was when she was moving that amendment. She was quite superb in the way she presented a case which has no substance in it as though it was serious. A lot of it was humorous in a way—
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
My Lords, in a minute I will show the noble and learned Lord what I mean, by quoting. The noble Baroness spent a lot of her time saying that the timetable for getting alternatives could not be done in months. She even went on to suggest that it would take years. Those of us who have been in Parliament for any length of time know perfectly well that the timetable is what Parliament makes it. She talks about two years to do these things. We know perfectly well that if the will is there and if the general desire to move forward is there on all sides it can be done in any period one likes to lay down.
On issues much more important than this we have seen things go through all their stages and organisations set up in weeks. So the very idea of suggesting that one of the problems in accepting the alternatives my noble friend has put forward is that the timetable would not allow it is a nonsense and I think she knew it would be a nonsense—
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
No, my Lords. I have just got on my feet. Next the noble Baroness said that there were no precedents for this. Then she half gave way on that and said there were precedents for extending the life, but there was no precedent for its happening before the main Bill and what it stood for had been gone through. But, if we had to be tied so deeply into that as a precedent, there never would have been a precedent in the first place. In order for there to be a series of precedents to rely on in the future someone has to set a precedent at some time.
I am arguing that on this issue at this time if one takes all the circumstances into account—first the need for the legislation, then the personalities involved who are trying to frustrate the legislation—if ever there 1193 was an occasion to set a precedent (and Heaven knows it is a small one) this is the time to do it. I say that with full confidence because it was clear to me when our manifesto said that we would abolish the Greater London and the metropolitan councils, that what is being suggested now by my noble friend—or something like it—would have to precede the eventual main legislation.
When on Second Reading we agreed, with a big majority almost equal to that on the first amendment in the Committee stage, it must have been obvious to anybody who had any understanding of parliamentary procedures that this sort of thing was inevitable to get the main legislation, backed up by a manifesto, backed up by a big Parliamentary majority which shows that the country wanted it—
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
My Lords, what did the noble Baroness say? She said that even if there were precedents we ought to ignore them. I took down her words. She said that even if there were precedents they ought not to be followed, so where is the sanctity of precedent in this argument, having said that?
It reminds me of the story of the husband who had a wife who was sometimes unreasonable. She gave him two ties for his birthday. He thought, "I'd better wear one", and when he came down she looked at him and said, "So you didn't like the other one then?". The argument of the noble Baroness reminds me of that.
It was clear to me when we dealt with this at the Committee stage that there was nothing that my noble friend and his colleagues in the Government could do which would satisfy the Opposition on this. They did not intend to be satisfied on it. It was perfectly clear that that would be their attitude and it is clear with the amendment that they have now moved, which would mean a new Bill altogether.
That word "constitutional" is always being thrown out with great emphasis in your Lordships' House. Nothing unconstitutional, nothing even verging upon being unconstitutional, will happen if we follow the advice of my noble friend. We do not have a written constitution which is being breached. It cannot be unconstitutional if the Government continue to do what they have done up to now. They have not moved an inch, or tried to move an inch, without first getting the approval of both Houses of Parliament. If that does not make it constitutional, I do not know what will. All this talk about being unconstitutional makes a nonsense of our being able to recognise changing circumstances and the changing world which we see coming upon us all every day. If we allow this argument of being unconstitutional when Parliament is being made the body that is to decide what will happen, then we are moving along a road upon which I think it will be almost impossible to continue with what we call a parliamentary government.
1194 The noble Lord from the Liberal Benches spoke about its not being democratic. He made a great point that people must be elected to make these decisions and that there is something undemocratic if we do not do that. On that I agree with him. Ultimately it is the voters who ought to have the power to decide and have to suffer the consequences if their decision is right or wrong. But in this instance the only suggestion that I have heard is that people elected to other councils should be called upon to implement what it will eventually be their responsibility to implement later on. I have heard no suggestion that anybody other than elected councillors would do this—I give way because I have quoted the noble Lord.
§ Lord Diamond
My Lords, the noble Lord clearly was not listening to what he himself said on an earlier occasion when he supported the Government.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
My Lords, I am making perfectly clear what I have always felt and I have said it on all occasions, because, as I said in my last speech on the Committee stage, I have actually operated what is suggested and has been suggested by the Government up to now. There is no question of stepping into the dark and not knowing what will happen. What we have suggested in the terms as I have understood them is that we shall go back and will operate more or less the system that existed before the local government Act which brought the metropolitan boroughs and the Greater London Council into being. I have reminded your Lordships that 10 or 12 smaller authorities, all of whose members were elected, got together and had to organise the regional health service and that sort of thing. All that has been suggested here is that we should revert to something that has worked. It is not only words, but something which has actually been in operation and worked successfully.
I believe that if your Lordships' House were on this occasion to follow the advice of the noble Baroness and were to support this wrecking amendment, that would be unconstitutional in its long-term effects and, I believe, undemocratic in its long-term effects—and for this reason. Every Government, if they are to face up to their responsibilities, have to be aware of the precedents, yes. They have to be aware of the rules of law, yes. But they have also to take into account the atmosphere which they experience every day, and everybody on all sides of this House knows that if you extend the life of the people who are at present in charge of the Greater London Council you are extending the life of people who want to put a dagger in what you think is important legislation; and they would do that.
I want to warn my noble friend that, although he has suggested Amendments Nos. 37, 38 and 39, the very fact that he felt he had to put down those amendments shows that he has doubts whether the people there will work as they ought to work. The fact that he has to incorporate those amendments in order to try to give himself statutory power to enforce his views is confirmation that he thinks (as I do) that Mr. Livingstone and his friends will pay no attention to whatever is passed. They will use every minute and every bit of power they have, right to the end, to frustrate this legislation, which has the authority of the 1195 manifesto and the people of the country behind it. I hope that my noble friends and those who are not committed on understandable loyalty-to-party grounds will recognise this for what it is, and will not allow the amendment of the noble Baroness to have the approval of this House.
The Lord Bishop of Liverpool
My Lords, I acknowledge the concession that the Government have made and the irenic way in which the noble Viscount the Leader of the House put forward the case, but I believe the question still remains, as I felt the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, put it quite plainly, whether the package which the Leader of the House has commended to us has restored a proper democratic accountability. I want to make just one or two very brief points.
The noble Viscount the Leader of the House spoke of a whole package, not simply this one amendment, which included the amendments just referred to, Amendments Nos. 37, 38 and 39, which limit expenditure to £100,000 and £250,000. I have been meeting this morning with the Bishops of the London diocese, and they have been speaking to me. Those of us who have care of great buildings, for example, know that £250,000 sounds a great figure but can scarcely do more than offer some repair to an ancient church. We are talking about perhaps two years of budget restrictions which are far more than preventing unreasonable spending, It would be taking away any serious capacity to act during that period of time. I believe that such capping proposals should be introduced, if they are to be introduced, as part of the substantive Bill.
The metropolitan county councils, such as Merseyside, for example, which are responsible for the overview of wide and important matters which continue during a period of two years, are making positive intervention where the needs are greatest. I do not believe that in this way, before the substantive Bill is brought forward, that capacity to act should be taken away. At the root of the anxiety in your Lordships' House behind the amendment that was carried recently was a firm opposition to implementing intentions until the main decision has been properly taken by Parliament.
§ Lord Kaldor
My Lords, may I say something in the unusual role of a constitutional lawyer? I fear that in this debate the main issue between the two sides—one wanting elections and the other passionately wishing to avoid elections—does not come to the surface. But supposing that in those elections the large majority of people elected were those who approve the changes proposed in the coming Bill abolishing the metropolitan county councils and the Greater London Council, I suggest that noble Lords opposite would have no objection. Similarly, I do not think that noble Lords on this side would be so keen on pressing for elections if they thought that those elections would provide a mandate for the Government to proceed with these reforms.
The Government say that they do not need this mandate; that the proposals were in the manifesto, and that constitutes a mandate. I think that this is a serious 1196 20th century corruption of the doctrine of the manifesto. The fact that some proposal or other appears in an election manifesto which contains perhaps 50 other proposals does not mean that all the people who vote for that party approve of every one of those things which are in the manifesto. All that it means is that they want to vote for that party and that they approve of their ideas as a whole.
In the 19th century, in Gladstone's day, the doctrine of the mandate meant something quite different. It meant that to introduce a change like this, a constitutional change, you dissolved Parliament and went to the country with this sole issue before the electors. You then received a mandate or you did not receive a mandate. It was true of the Irish Home Rule Bill, it was true of the Parliament Act 1911 and it was true of the introduction of protection, for which Stanley Baldwin dissolved Parliament in 1923. But I do not think that you can maintain that the mere fact that this figured in a manifesto is an adequate substitute for asking the people immediately affected—and the electorate of the constituencies are the people immediately affected—whether or not they are in favour of this change. Holding the elections would be an ideal way of finding out.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ The Earl of Perth
My Lords, when the original Bill was introduced into your Lordships' House, many of your Lordships had two main worries. One was that it was a gerrymandering Bill and the second was that it would in some way denigrate from the powers of this House. I feel that the noble Viscount the Leader of the House has met us today, in his preliminary speech, on both of these points. For example, the political colour of the Greater London Council and the metropolitan councils is to remain unchanged during what I would call the interim period. So much for the gerrymandering. Then we had the anxiety that in some way or another this was derogating from the powers of your Lordships in particular. Again, this point has been met because we have been told that nothing will happen until the abolition Bill has received the Royal Assent. So, my Lords, it seems to me that our main worries have been removed.
The noble Lord, Lord Evans, suggested that we should have a new Bill. I do not see why we should have a new Bill because, after all, what are these amendments but asking your Lordships to approve the abolition of the GLC and of the metropolitan counties, which was in the Conservative manifesto.
I think that the main argument of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and others, has been, "Oh well, it will mean probably more than nine months—it may be a year and perhaps even two years—before the Bill becomes law and therefore before the abolition takes place". Some of your Lordships will remember the time when it was proposed by the Government that the LCC should be abolished and that the GLC should be put in its place. I was present in the House at that time and I well recall the tremendous fight that was put up by Lord Morrison of Lambeth to try to stop that change. Day after day, night after night, clause after clause and word after word, he challenged the then Government. All of that, I suppose, took about six weeks. If that happened at that time, I can see no 1197 reasons why, if the Government really want to get something through, it should not happen again. Maybe it would be over a month or two; April is one thing; a little later in the year, say June or July, is another—but, broadly speaking, I cannot possibly imagine why the Government, if they want to, cannot get this Bill through both Houses within a year.
That being the case, I feel two things. One is that the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, should not he accepted by your Lordships; the other is that, for the reasons I have tried to outline, the main amendments—I am sure that many in your Lordships' House are grateful for their being moved or put down—meet most of our worries and therefore we should support them.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ Lord Molloy
My Lords. I believe that in his speech the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, more or less exposed the difficulties that the Government Benches are in. He made it transparently clear—something which we all knew—that we have no constitution in this country, and at the conclusion of his speech he pointed out that this measure is in no way unconstitutional. That I submit is the confused attitude in which the Government find themselves after the decision of your Lordships last month. The fact of the matter, brutally put, is that: it was not anticipated by Her Majesty's Government; it has thrown them into a terrible dilemma; and they must somehow or other seek means to evade responding to a fundamental decision made in your Lordships' House.
I believe, too, that the new clause moved by my noble friend Lady Birk, with the support of the noble Lords, Lord Evans of Claughton and Lord Hayter, and the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, is a reasonable new clause to make a part reality of what this House decided and what the majority in this House wanted. The only way to say "Nay" to that is to say that when we voted against the Government the last time we made an error and now we are going to withdraw. That will in no way enhance the status of this House because, if I may say so, the majority of people—I have no actual firm evidence other than that gained from talking at public meetings—found that the decision of your Lordships' House was courageous; not so much that it caused the Government to have second thoughts but that it defended democracy. A great many people smiled at the fact that it was in this House of Peers that democracy was defended. That is something of which I believe we can indeed be very proud.
The noble Viscount the Leader of the House, Lord Whitelaw, made the point that the Government felt uneasy about the attitude of some councillors, whom they are not going to vote against, whom they are not going to urge voting against in their party publications, but whom they are going to demolish. When the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, said that—I regretted it, because he had made a reasoned speech—he returned to the birthplace of this entire measure. It was born out of hate and venom. Both are very bad advisers.
It seems to me that subsequent clauses, on which I cannot speak yet, will once again try to ignore the desire of this House and ignore the opinion of ordinary 1198 people. What can we do, whatever we think of them, other than look at the various polls? When it suits our purpose we say, "Look at this poll, look at that poll", and so on. But we all know that when the polls are not in our favour we are not sure whether they are very good. When they are in our favour then, of course, they are quite remarkable. We all know too that, by and large, within a 5 per cent. or 6 per cent. margin, they are fairly accurate. This weekend a MORI poll of Londoners revealed that 61 per cent. of the people of our capital city approved of what was done in this House just last month. Londoners believe that your Lordships were right to defeat the Government a couple of weeks ago.
Then, I believe, the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, made a vitally important point. He said that we cannot talk about constitutions—unless we are the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls; then we can talk about constitutions which we are going to rape, talk about things which are unconstitutional, and then say we have no constitution. I do not know how you work that one out but it is a problem for the noble Viscount.
The noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, made an important point when he referred to the London Government Bill of 1962. Here perhaps is where the present Government went wrong and where the Conservative Government which introduced the London Government Bill in December 1962 were so right. First, the Bill was based on a Royal Commission—no Royal Commission for this Government. It was based on a White Paper. The White Paper was debated in another place and it was debated in your Lordships' House. Various amendments were made; some were accepted by the Government of the day, who appeared first of all hostile. But we have got to see what that Government adhered to when they were asked by the Royal Commission to adhere to certain fundamentals. If the only answer we have is that Royal Commissions are a nuisance, then why set them up in the first place? If they are going to set them up, I believe it is incumbent on the Government to take some degree of notice of what they recommend.
The fundamental recommendations of the Royal Commission on the London Government Bill were adhered to by the Conservative Government of the day. It did them very great credit. The result was that, when the elections took place in London, the opposition parties tried to use that point but lost and were defeated because of the upright behaviour of Sir Keith Joseph and his colleagues in another place. That is so totally absent in the behaviour of the present Administration.
The Royal Commission stated,that it is best to give as much power and responsibility as possible to those who are in the closest touch with the people for whose benefit local government services are provided".It also said:We believe that there is a serious danger that unless local government can be rehabilitated in the way we suggest there will be a drift towards some form of regional administration, with a good deal of intervention by the central Government".The former Conservative Government of 1962 took cognizance of that and avoided introducing anything which might he redolent of that form of totalitarianism. I should like now to quote what was 1199 said by Sir Keith Joseph, when he opened the Second Reading debate:In a most cogent chapter of its Report, Chapter 13, the Royal Commission considers and rejects two alternatives. First, that the central Government should fill the gap in the local administrative structure. The Commission says that this would be the death knell of responsible local self-government in greater London. [Official Report, Commons, 10/12/62; col, 53.]He added:The Commission is plainly right".Later he went on to say this:The Bill will ensure that there is a body directly elected by the people of London charged with responsibilities for watching over the whole physical environment in the interests of London as a whole and having powers and resources to match its responsibilities." [col. 54.]It was on that basis and that argument that the Conservative Party later fought that great election for the GLC, and they won. I feel it is a sad thing today that the Government which created this GLC and based it on democracy—that that same party—should now be building a new structure which is totally alien to the whole concept of democracy as we have seen it grow up. It is pushing us back a few hundred years. This issue has been discussed in many other parts of Europe and America with unbelief in some places that we should be doing this. I believe that the new clause moved by my noble friend Lady Birk is a move in the right direction for us to make a reality of the views that your Lordships expressed, not in favour of either Government or Opposition, but for what I believe is the general desire of Londoners and the ordinary people of our country.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, as I understand it, your Lordships are formally discussing Amendment No. 1 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, but together with it are discussing Amendment No. 5 in the name of my noble friend the Leader of the House. It is therefore perhaps useful to seek to look at one as against the other. Contrary to the form of the Bill as it originally came to your Lordships, they both provide for the continuance of the GLC over the further year which, as your Lordships will recall, under the earlier provisions would have been dealt with by representatives of the successor constituent authority. The basic distinction is that the noble Baroness's amendment provides for an election at the normal time for the GLC, whereas my noble friend's amendment provides for an extension of the term of office of the present incumbents.
I quite appreciate that there are Members of your Lordships' House, like the noble Lord, Lord Diamond—and I am sorry that he is not, I think, in his place at the moment—who attach such importance to the electoral process that that would seem to them to be a decisive difference. But I would ask your Lordships to reflect a little further on this matter. Obviously, if you are setting up a body with a full term of life in front of it, it is proper that it should be elected according to the ordinary rules of election for that body. But on no view is that being done in this case. The date spoken of for termination of the GLC under these proposals is April 1986: that is to say, the life of the new council will be something under 11 months. I wonder whether, if the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, were here—
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, I am much obliged. I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, has contemplated how far he carries his argument about the supremacy of elections. There must come a point of time in respect to which it is not worth going through the whole electoral process, not only for the expense—and I am bound to say that I thought some noble Lords opposite, who had served in government with the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, when he was Chief Secretary to the Treasury, looked a little surprised at the way he brushed away questions of the control of expenditure—but there must come a point on the time-scale at which it is a waste of money and a waste of effort to have an election.
Therefore it is very much a matter of judgment for your Lordships whether 11 months comes within that time-scale or not, but what I think more important is: what would that election be about? Plainly the issue that would be discussed—certainly by the present incumbents of the GLC—would be the continuance of the GLC. But that, ex hypothesi, is an issue which would be before Parliament and almost certainly by then at a very advanced stage in our discussions. It would he quite impossible for anyone putting up for an electoral term of 11 months to put forward any constructive policies or plans for London.
The election would be either about matters which this House would then be concerned with, or it would be about trivialities. Therefore it seems to me that to go through the farce of an election for the purpose simply of rather dogmatic democratic consistency would be a mistake, and that it is better and simpler to take the ladies and gentlemen who have been elected to the GLC and give them a further year.
§ Lord Howie of Troon
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord would permit me to intervene just for a second?
§ Lord Howie of Troon
My Lords, I think the noble Lord is quite right when he says that such an election would be limited in its scope. It is quite likely that it would be in the nature of a referendum on whether the matters which were, as he puts it, before Parliament at that time were right or wrong. But would he be right in suggesting that such a thing would be trivia? I would have thought that such an election, if it dealt with whether or not it was right to retain the GLC, would be a matter of very great importance, and it would be something upon which the electors as a whole could properly be asked for their opinion, rather than for Parliament itself to arrogate the total right to decide.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, I take the noble Lord's point, but I think that he under-rates the question of the time-scale. At the time when this referendum, as he calls it, would be taken, the abolition Bill would certainly be through another place and probably quite well advanced in this House; and it really would be fantastic to believe that the outcome of that referendum would have any influence on events.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, I personally believe that they have done a good deal of harm on occasion; but, even if one is a great believer, the referendum should be taken before the moment of decision and before the legislation is introduced, not after, and therefore—
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, I am sorry: if the noble Lord wants to intervene again I will happily sit down; but if he speaks from a semi-sedentary position he is a little more difficult to follow. I take it the noble Lord is quite happy to accept that what is essential, if you believe in referenda, is to have them taken at the right time when they can influence decisions. If they are taken at a time when it is too late to influence decisions they probably annoy the people who have taken part in them quite a bit when they see how futile their particular manifestation of opinion has been.
This is therefore the difference between continuing the present GLC for another year or having this election. When I spoke in this House on the last occasion this Bill was before us, I made the same point about the futility of an election of a body for a few months, and I am very happy to leave the point there, although I do feel that one can exaggerate the significance of the election.
But what has been done has been to meet the major point, about which I know a lot of noble Lords felt very strongly, of the change in the political complexion of the GLC. That point has been met and so, I think, has the point about the position of this House. I think I am not exaggerating if I say that these rather striking decisions, in the circumstances, reflect the calibre and quality of our present Leader of the House and his courageous willingness to take what cannot have been, in the circumstances, an easy decision.
I have only one more point. The right reverend Prelate referred—and we shall be coming to them a good deal later this evening—to the clauses in which power is taken to restrain expenditure by the GLC during its final year. We can discuss these then, but I would only say to the right reverend Prelate, with great respect, that there are a very large number of people in this House who would be horrified at the idea of leaving the ratepayers of London to the depredations of the present majority of the GLC. Not only have they indulged in great extravagance but they have gone out of their way to say that on their way out they will indulge in a scorched earth policy. If the Government were not to come forward with restrictions of this kind I, and I think a good many others in this House, would find it very difficult indeed to support this proposal. I hope that the right reverend Prelate, whose genuine sympathy with the causes for which he works we all recognise, will appreciate that something of this sort is essential in the circumstances and the only question perhaps—and we shall come to this—is whether the 1202 safeguards proposed are adequate. The GLC is a great spender. Some control must be exercised and I hope that he will reflect on that.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ Baroness Seear
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, and speakers on the Government side have all emphasised that this is only for 11 months. Both the noble Baroness and my noble friend Lord Evans questioned whether it is possible to do a transfer of this scale in 11 months, and surely the burden of proof is on the Government to show that so large an undertaking can be undertaken in so short a time. If that is not so, then the argument based on 11 months, which was the burden of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, falls, and surely the obvious thing is that it will not be done in 11 months.
The only other point that I wish to make is about the assumption that this will be a referendum to support Councillor Ken Livingstone and his friends. Here I speak as a London ratepayer and I happen to be represented in the GLC by no less a character than Councillor Ken Livingstone himself. I am absolutely longing for the opportunity to cast my vote against that gentleman and to get a less extravagant council in to handle the transfer. Surely it is in everybody's interest that you have a different council handling the transfer, but you cannot do that unless your have an election.
§ Lord Ingrow
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend the Leader for his reference in his opening remarks to the metropolitan counties. I have no part in the London argument, nor in the personalities thereof, but one must remember that the major part of the metropolitan counties existed without a two-tier authority for the whole of their existence until 10 years ago, and few people think that they are better managed now under a two-tier system.
But I should like to make two points that have come out of the discussion, the first of which is about the deferring of elections. I go back—being a little older—longer than some people, but I remember being elected to a council on 1st November 1946. In those days, the borough elections were held in November. I was elected for a term of three years, but in the interim period it was decided that the elections should move to the spring in order to encourage greater turn-outs and everybody got another six months.
Every councillor in a borough council who was in office on 31st March 1948 had a further six months of office. All mayors did and they had extra mayoral allowances for those additional six months. That included all those councillors who were elected to councils when the British public did not vote as well as they might have done in 1945. They would all have come out in 1948. Instead they went on till 1949, six months later—perhaps Labour councils lasted longer than they would have done—and had an extra rate-fixing session.
But nobody then thought that it was a terrible thing. Extending for another six months was the practical way, the economical way, the way that suited the public, and everybody did it without any argument. Those who say that it is monstrous to deprive the 1203 public of the chance to vote—perhaps wrongly, because we have not been invaded for a long time and therefore we do not value the secret vote as we should—have the wrong idea, which many top politicians of all parties have, that there are vast cohorts outside this hall waiting to canvass solidly for three weeks every night with other people writing envelopes. All parties will say that a lot of people think there have been quite a lot of elections, and for many people there will not be tears if there is not an election in the metropolitan counties next year.
My other point is the one raised about the length of time to achieve the handover. The noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, raised the point. I think the noble Lord said that he has spent a lifetime in local government. If you have spent a lifetime in local government, I am sure you do not believe that it can be done in 12 months. I am not scoring a point. I have spent only half a lifetime. But the fact remains that if you have had to exist in business all your life, except for the statutory period of six years or so in the army, you find that a very large number of things can be done very quickly indeed, if they have to be done. Business and the armed forces would not survive unless they were able to act fairly quickly. Local government is a fairly leisurely occupation, but it will have to be a good deal less leisurely in order to meet the deadlines. I am quite sure that all those very capable chief executives can fit in with any period that Parliament lays down and, therefore, I hope that those objections to the general argument, which I find slightly bogus, will not influence your Lordships on either the practical point or the moral point.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, made two points which I would welcome the opportunity, within the rules of order of a Report stage, to debate with him very briefly, and I shall now attempt to do so. The first point he made was that the timing for any legislation is in the power of Government and Parliament to determine, and that there is no reason why legislation should not be brought forward quickly and brought into force quickly if the Government so decide.
The second point he made was that the manifesto commitment of the Conservative party at the last election to the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan counties carried with it a manifesto commitment, which ought to be observed, to any measures that were thought necessary in any paving Bill. One can hold one or other of those views—I happen to think that they are both wrong—but certainly, in logic, one cannot hold both of them.
If the noble Lord is right in his first point, and the timing of legislation is the prerogative of Government and Parliament, why has Parliament not seen the main Bill which would provide for the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan counties? The answer must be that the Government have not found it possible to bring forward such a Bill and they are forced to bring forward a paving Bill in its place. That is where the Government have found themselves in such enormous difficulties.
I do not deny the possibility that in certain 1204 circumstances Governments would be right to bring forward preparatory legislation, paving legislation, in anticipation of later decisions of Parliament. But such paving legislation can, I suggest, only be such as increases the liberties of the citizen, not legislation which—as in this Bill which comes before us now, or the preceding paving Bill which came before us on Second Reading and in committee—actually restricts the liberties of individuals. That is the difference with a paving Bill. That is why any paving Bill of this kind which restricts the liberties of the 14 million people in London and in the metropolitan counties is unacceptable. I am surprised that so many noble Lords do not see that that is the fundamental objection to the Bill. I cannot see into the minds of the 190 Peers who voted for the amendment during the Committee stage, but I presume that that was in the minds of a considerable number of the 190.
The only other point I want to make was brought forward by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. He objects to referenda. I do, too; I agree with the noble Lord. However, he queried the validity of elections next year on the ground that the election would be about something which he does not like. I should have thought that by now political parties had learned that they may attempt to persuade the electorate about what elections should be about but that in the end it is for the electorate to decide. I should have thought that the evidence of February 1974 was sufficiently in the memories of most of your Lordships to make that point clear. The Heath Government wanted the election to be about who rules the nation. The electorate thought otherwise. I find it very disdainful of the noble Lord, as an attitude towards the electorate, to think that because he has a view about what an election should be about the electorate themselves should not decide what that election should be about.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, as the noble Lord has made a personal reference to me, may I say that the point I was trying to make, which I hope I made clearly and which I shall try to do again now, is that when you stand for elective office you must put forward the policies which you will implement if elected. I was making the perhaps fairly obvious point that if you are going to be elected only for, say, 10 months, there will be very few policies which you can honestly and sincerely put forward. That is not disdainful; that is realistic.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I was not suggesting that the noble Lord was being disdainful to the councillors. Of course they must put forward the policies upon which they wish to be elected. I cannot imagine that any of the parties contesting an election on 2nd May 1985 would lose the opportunty to put forward those policies and seek to persuade the electorate of them. If, however, the noble Lord believes that what would happen would be that the electorate would express a view on the Government's policies on abolition, I think he is right, and then I insist that it is disdainful of him to suggest that the electorate should not make up their own minds on that matter.
§ Viscount Whitelaw
My Lords, with the leave of the House, may I say that I believe your Lordships are 1205 keen to come to a decision on this issue and that therefore I should reply very briefly to the points which have been made.
The noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, recognised the concession which I had made but felt that by prolonging the life of the councils they were likely to be prolonged for six or seven years instead of one year. I bow at once to the noble Lord's considerable knowledge of local government. Such knowledge has been paraded by the noble Lord and also by my noble friend Lord Ingrow. I have to admit that I have no experience at all of local government. I believe that my friend Lord Ingrow had a point when he said that if a reasonable time limit is set—I emphasise the word "if"—and if there is goodwill on both sides, this will be in the interests of the ratepayers of the various areas concerned. I speak as a ratepayer in London, though sometimes I wish I did not. If there is goodwill on both sides, my noble friend Lord Ingrow believes that this could be achieved in the time available, and I very much hope that he is right.
My noble friend Lord Molson spoke with pleasure of what has been done. I am grateful to him for the very generous remarks which he made. I noted that some speakers have said, as my noble friend mentioned, that it is going to be claimed in the advertisements that this House is a rubber stamp. It is interesting to note how many different things you are accused of doing when you are in politics. At one moment you are accused of trying to make people a rubber stamp; at another you are accused of driving them into a wicked surrender. All sorts of arguments are put forward.
I do not accept the rubber stamp view, for this reason. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, to the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, and to others who spoke on the same basis that it is important to remember what is the role of this House. I stressed that role in my opening speech and I come back again to it.
It is surely correct to say—though I speak subject to correction by those who know much more about it than do I—that this House is a revising Chamber and that it asks the Government in another place to think again. I felt it to be my duty to go to my colleagues and make suggestions as to how we could reasonably meet the views of this House. Those noble Lords who questioned whether I was able to go far enough must recognise that I was doing so against the background of the elected Chamber of the House of Commons having passed the Bill by a majority of well over 100. That is the basis upon which I went to my colleagues. I see in front of me some of those who in the past have occupied my position. I reckon they know very well that if one goes to one's colleagues against that background it is an achievement to get—properly, as I see it—a concession for this House. I do not believe, as I said in my speech, that it would have been possible to go further.
I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, that he was a trifle hard when he said that I was evading responding to the views of this House. However, I take what he said in the best of parts and turn to what was said by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool. I regret that he is not in his place because I wanted to say something nice about him, which he might be surprised to hear, and also something very 1206 firm to him, which he might also be surprised to hear. What I am going to say that is nice about him is that I recognise fully that in putting the point which he made about expenditure on Merseyside he is representing his very considerable concern about the problems in that area. From my period of office as Home Secretary I recognise the great contribution he has made.
That is the kind remark which I want to make. Against that background, I hope that I may also be allowed to point out to the right reverend Prelate that the clauses which are going to be discussed will in no way limit expenditure. The position is that the Secretary of State will have to give his consent. Provided that the kind of projects which the right reverend Prelate submits are satisfactory, I believe that consent will be given. I hope that the right reverend Prelate will realise that in using the words "not limited" he was not wholly correct. I hope, too, that we shall be able to meet the very real point which he made. If the right reverend Prelate has been unable to hear my remarks, perhaps he will read what I have had to say on this matter.
The noble Lord, Lord Kaldor, spoke about manifestoes and 20th century corruption. I have to say to the noble Lord that I suppose I was swept into that phrase about 20th century corruption with very good company. Many noble Lords in all parts of the House who have been in government, and also those who advise governments, recognise that at times they quote the manifesto and that at other times they stand upon what has been put forward in the manifesto. We are all entitled to do that. I have never put too much stress on ours, but we are entitled to put some stress upon it. In the past, the noble Lord has, I am sure, put some stress upon his and I do now, but not too much. I believe that neither of us is guilty of 18th, 19th, or 20th century corruption in so doing.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Perth for what he said, because I genuinely believe that we have met the charge. I minded very much personally the charge of gerrymandering. I minded it all the more when that charge came from some of those whom I greatly respect and from some of those who had been colleagues in Cabinet with me—one, indeed, a Prime Minister whom I served for a very long time. I found that to be deeply distressing. I am very glad that by the amendments which have been made that charge has been completely removed, and I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Perth for what he said.
My noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls told his story—I hope this will not be thought to be too light a point—of someone who had been given ties on his birthday. I have to say to your Lordships that this year I was given no ties on my birthday, merely a very sharp defeat for the Government in your Lordships' Committee at that time, from which I hope I have taken the appropriate lessons—always a proper thing to do.
The noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, actually welcomed the idea that if there was an election held, it might be considered to be a referendum. I must say I was interested, on the other hand, to find the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, taking the opposite view—and they are quite close together on the same Bench—that if it was going to be a referendum, he 1207 would greatly dislike it. I hope that the two noble Lords will decide between them. Personally I should dislike it if it were a referendum—and I stick to my point which I made during my initial speech; namely, that, there must be at least a danger that if councillors are going to be elected for only one year, that will be the result of that election. It may well not be. Many would like it not to be, but there is surely at least a danger; and I think the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, was genuine enough to admit it.
The noble Lord, Lord Diamond, said something which was slightly surprising to me. He said that of course cost did not really matter. I must say, looking back at my time with him in another place, I found that, coming from him, surprising, but perhaps he would do me the credit of realising that I had thought that criticism might be made if I gave the cost of these elections, and so I was scrupulously careful not to do so. I think he was therefore firing at a target—even if it was me—from which I managed to get away at that time. I think there is a point here, but I equally agree with him that we should not over stress it.
The Leader of the Liberal Party, the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, again mentioned the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, about the period likely to be more than 11 months. I do not believe that this should be so, always provided that every effort is made on all sides to make sure that it can work. I believe that it can, and I believe that it should.
The noble Baroness also said, on the question of a referendum, that, as a constituent, she was longing to cast her vote against Mr. Livingstone. Perhaps it would be fair for me to say to the noble Baroness—indeed, it surely is fair; and I think this is the important point which I was making against a referendum—that she will have every opportunity in this Chamber to cast her votes (and very powerful votes) as to exactly what she wishes to see when the abolition Bill comes before this House. My argument is that this is the proper place in which these matters should in the end be discussed. That is why I was against a referendum—partly on the grounds of the short period of time, and partly on the grounds of the dangers of a referendum.
Of course I understand the views of those who would have liked to see this House go further, who still believe that even for a period of 11 months there should have been an election. Of course there are strong arguments for that. But I maintain that, having received a very clear message from your Lordships on 28th June, it was right for me to go to my colleagues. I do not think any noble Lord in this House would imagine that it was possible to go and get everything that everybody in this House wanted, particularly in view of the very strong views expressed in another place.
I feel that I have done the best I can for this House. I have stood up for this House as a revising Chamber, I must say, at a very difficult time, on a very difficult Bill, and it is on that basis that, despite the feelings of some noble Lords, I hope I may be able at this time to command considerable support in the Chamber for what I have sought to do in the best interests of the House of Lords.
1208 I think the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, put her case very reasonably, but I am sorry that, on the basis I have mentioned, I must ask the House to vote against her amendment, and thereafter to vote for those of the package I have put forward. I hope that your Lordships will feel that this has been a reasonable debate, that the Government have taken up a very reasonable position, and I therefore ask for support for what we have done.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, the noble Viscount the Leader of the House really has my admiration. He has made a tremendously good job of what is fundamentally a very bad case, for which he personally is not responsible. He was extremely fair when he agreed that the other precedents that have been quoted were, in the main, in legislation, which is the point which I and others have been making continually. But he also said that because on this occasion there was not time, the proposal had to be in this Bill. What we are being asked to do is to vote in a way that would be quite contrary not only to how we voted before, by a large majority, but also to the constitutional issues as they concern this House and to the whole concept of elections, because the Government did not have the time to bring forward their main Bill and include all these proposals in it. That really is not good enough. With great respect, we cannot be asked to do that.
I find the argument about elections and whether it is going to be a referendum quite extraordinary, because what we are talking about are elections which should normally take place. The way they are dealt with by individual people involves their own individual vote and their own individual right. It is interesting to notice that since the last vote we had on this matter in this Chamber, when the amendment was carried by a large majority, in the metropolitan county councils, according to a MORI poll, 60 per cent. were against the cancellation of elections and 16 per cent. for, while in the GLC, 61 per cent. were against the cancellation of elections and 13 per cent. for the cancellation. I find it very difficult to understand the attitude of noble Lords opposite to the point that if there were elections, it would mean, particularly in London—and I must say that, while they said that we did not concentrate on the metropolitan counties, they have spent most of the time discussing the GLC—that voters would take the opportunity to vote for what they wanted and against what they did not want, so that it would be a proper democratic vote.
If I may say so with respect, I do not think there is very much in the argument that the tension would be taken off the elections as the Bill was going through Parliament. The whole point on the question of delay—which has not been satisfactorily answered—is that the setting up of alternative councils when abolition takes place will be so complicated. The councils will be so vast and so difficult to administer that there will be a very real problem about time. It is not just a question, as the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, seemed to think, of rushing something through Parliament. That is only the beginning of it. It is then a question of how you deal with the functions afterwards.
These are very serious constitutional issues. We are not dealing with taking odd snipes at different people, 1209 at different parties, or even at one another in this House. What we are concerned with is the major change that is envisaged in a large number of local authorities before the main Bill is passed, let alone before it has even been published.
I think we have to take this question very seriously. I must say, with great respect, the Leader of the House, with great dexterity, was able to divert our attention from the amendment which we are discussing. This is the one that would deal with the cancellation of elections and which, in so doing, would by-pass the constitutional position of the House of Lords. The noble Viscount diverted our attention by speaking in general terms—and he had a right to do so—about the whole Bill and about what was going to happen in later clauses. We are not at the moment discussing the later clauses. We are discussing the question of the cancellation of elections. I think there are many noble Lords in this House who must still be unhappy. Having voted as they did on 28th June, they cannot possibly be satisfied by the case that has been put forward today by noble Lords opposite. I hope that noble Lords will stick to the line that they took on 28th June, since in the main nothing fundamental has changed since then, and that they will support my amendment.
§ 4.59 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 155; Not-Contents, 248.1212
|DIVISION NO. 1|
|Airedale, L.||David, B.|
|Allen of Fallowfield, L.||Davies of Leek, L.|
|Amherst, E.||Dean of Beswick, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Denington, B.|
|Attlee, E.||Diamond, L.|
|Avebury, L.||Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L|
|Aylestone, L.||Donnet of Balgay, L.|
|Balogh, L.||Elwyn-Jones, L.|
|Banks, L.||Ennals, L.|
|Barnett, L.||Evans of Claughton, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Ewart-Biggs, B.|
|Bernstein, L.||Ezra, L.|
|Beswick, L.||Falkender, B.|
|Birk, B.||Falkland, V.|
|Birkett, L.||Feversham, L.|
|Blease, L.||Fitt, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Foot, L.|
|Boothby, L.||Gaitskell, B.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Gallacher, L.|
|Bottomley, L.||Galpern, L.|
|Bowden, L.||Gardiner, L.|
|Briginshaw, L.||Gifford, L.|
|Brimelow, L.||Gladwyn, L.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Gosford, E.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Graham of Edmonton, L.|
|Buckmaster, V.||Greene of Harrow Weald, L.|
|Burton of Coventry, B.||Grey, E.|
|Campbell of Eskan, L.||Grimond, L.|
|Caradon, L.||Hampton, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Hanworth, V.|
|Chitnis, L.||Hatch of Lusby, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Hayter, L.|
|Collison, L.||Head, V.|
|Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Hirshfield, L.|
|Darcy (de Knayth), B.||Hooson, L.|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Hughes, L.||Plant, L.|
|Hunt, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]|
|Irving of Dartford, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Jacques, L.||Rea, L.|
|Jeger, B.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Jenkins of Putney, L.||Rochester, Bp.|
|John-Mackie, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Kaldor, L.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Kearton, L.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Kennet, L.||Scanlon, L.|
|Kilbracken, L.||Seear, B.|
|Kilmarnock, L.||Sefton of Garston, L.|
|Kirkhill, L.||Serota, B.|
|Lawrence, L.||Shackleton, L.|
|Leatherland, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Lee of Asheridge, B.||Simon, V.|
|Listowel, E.||Stallard, L.|
|Liverpool, Bp.||Stamp, L.|
|Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Stedman, B.|
|Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Lockwood, B.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Longford, E.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Lovell-Davis, L.||Stone, L.|
|McCarthy, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|McIntosh of Haringey, L.||Tanlaw, L.|
|MacLeod of Fuinary, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|McNair, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Mar, C.||Tordoff, L. [Teller.]|
|Mayhew, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Milford, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Milner of Leeds, L.||Wedderburn of Charlton, L.|
|Minto, E.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Mishcon, L.||Wheatley, L.|
|Molloy, L.||White, B.|
|Mountevans, L.||Wigoder, L.|
|Mulley, L.||Willis, L.|
|Nicol, B.||Wilson of Langside, L.|
|Ogmore, L.||Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.|
|Paget of Northampton, L.||Winstanley, L.|
|Peart, L.||Wootton of Abinger, B.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Burton, L.|
|Alexander of Potterhill, L.||Caithness, E.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Caldecote, V.|
|Allerton, L.||Cameron of Lochbroom, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Camoys, L.|
|Annaly, L.||Campbell of Alloway, L.|
|Annan, L.||Campbell of Croy, L.|
|Arran, E.||Carnegy of Lour, B.|
|Ashbourne, L.||Carnock, L.|
|Astor, V.||Carr of Hadley, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Cathcart, E.|
|Avon, E.||Cayzer, L.|
|Bagot, L.||Chelmer, L.|
|Balfour of Inchrye, L.||Chelwood, L.|
|Barber, L.||Clitheroe, L.|
|Bauer, L.||Cockfield, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Colwyn, L.|
|Bellwin, L.||Constantine of Stanmore, L.|
|Beloff, L.||Cork and Orrery, E.|
|Belper, L.||Cornwallis, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Cottesloe, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Cowley, E.|
|Bethell, L.||Cox, B.|
|Biddulph, L.||Craigavon, V.|
|Boardman, L.||Craigmyle, L.|
|Bolton, L.||Craigton, L.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Crathorne, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Crawshaw, L.|
|Braye, L.||Croft, L.|
|Brentford, V.||Cross, V.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Dacre of Glanton, L.|
|Broadbridge, L.||Daventry, V.|
|Brookeborough, V.||Davidson, V.|
|Broxbourne, L.||De Freyne, L.|
|Bruce-Gardyne, L.||De La Warr, E.|
|Buckinghamshire, E.||De L'Isle, V.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||MacLehose of Beoch, L.|
|Denman, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Digby, L.||Mancroft, L.|
|Dilhorne, V.||Marley, L.|
|Donegall, M.||Masham of Ilton, B.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.|
|Duncan-Sandys, L.||Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon, L.|
|Ebbisham, L.||Merrivale, L.|
|Eccles, V.||Middleton, L.|
|Eden of Winton, L.||Milne, L.|
|Elibank, L.||Molson, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Morris, L.|
|Elphinstone, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Elton, L.||Mountgarret, V.|
|Enniskillen, E.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Erne, E.||Moyola, L.|
|Faithfull, B.||Munster, E.|
|Fanshawe of Richmond, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Ferrier, L.||Norfolk, D.|
|Fisher, L.||Northesk, E.|
|Forbes, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||O'Brien of Lothbury, L.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Onslow, E.|
|Gainford, L.||Orkney, E.|
|Gardner of Parkes, B.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Geddes, L.||Peel, E.|
|Gibson-Watt, L.||Pender, L.|
|Gisborough, L.||Penrhyn, L.|
|Glanusk, L.||Perth, E.|
|Glenarthur, L.||Peyton of Yeovil, L.|
|Gormanston, V.||Platt of Writtle, B.|
|Gowrie, E.||Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.|
|Gray of Contin, L.||Portland, D.|
|Greenhill of Harrow, L.||Radnor, E.|
|Grey of Naunton, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Gridley, L.||Rawlinson of Ewell, L.|
|Grimston of Westbury, L.||Reay, L.|
|Haig, E.||Reigate, L.|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.||Remnant, L.|
|Halsbury, E.||Renwick, L.|
|Hanson, L.||Richardson, L.|
|Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Ridley, V.|
|Harris of High Cross, L.||Rochdale, V.|
|Harvey of Tasburgh, L.||Romney, E.|
|Harvington, L.||Rotherwick, L.|
|Hastings, L.||Rugby, L.|
|Henderson of Brompton, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Henley, L.||Saint Oswald, L.|
|Hertford, M.||Saltoun, Ly.|
|Hives, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Home of the Hirsel, L.||Sandys, L.|
|Hornsby-Smith, B.||Savile, L.|
|Howard of Henderskelfe, L.||Seebohm, L.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Selkirk, E.|
|Ilchester, E.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Inchcape, E.||Shannon, E.|
|Ingrow, L.||Sharples, B.|
|Ironside, L.||Sherfield, L.|
|Jessel, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Kaberry of Adel, L.||Soames, L.|
|Kemsley, V.||Somers, L.|
|Killearn, L.||Southborough, L.|
|Kilmany, L.||Spens, L.|
|Kinnaird, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Kinnoull, E.||Stodart of Leaston, L.|
|Kintore, E.||Strathcarron, L.|
|Kitchener, E.||Strathcona and Mount Royal L.|
|Lane-Fox, B.||Strathspey, L.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Swinton, E. [Teller.]|
|Lloyd of Hampstead, L.||Taylor of Hadfield, L.|
|Lloyd-George of Dwyfor, E.||Terrington, L.|
|Long, V.||Teviot, L.|
|Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Thomas of Swynnerton, L.|
|Lyell, L.||Torphichen, L.|
|McAlpine of West Green, L.||Townshend, M.|
|McFadzean, L.||Tranmire, L.|
|Mackintosh of Halifax, V.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Trenchard, V.||Vivian, L.|
|Trumpington, B.||Waldegrave, E.|
|Tryon, L.||Westbury, L.|
|Tweedsmuir, L.||Whitelaw, V.|
|Ullswater, V.||Windlesham, L|
|Vaizey, L.||Wise, L.|
|Vaux of Harrowden, L.||Wynford, L.|
|Vickers, B.||Yarborough, E.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Clause 1 [Commencement of Parts I and II]:
§ Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 2:
§ [Printed earlier: col. 1181.]
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment having already been spoken to, I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 2 [Commencement and termination of interim provisions]:
Baroness Birk moved Amendment No. 3:
Page 2, line 7, after ("may") insert ("and in the event that a Bill for the abolition of the Greater London Council and the Metropolitan County Councils and for the transfer of their functions has not received Royal Assent by 31st July 1985, shall").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this may well be an amendment that the Government will be prepared to accept. If so, it would save time. It seeks to ensure that elections are reinstated if the main abolition Bill is not passed. The Government's main amendment proposes to extend the term of office of existing county councillors by cancelling the 1985 elections before the main abolition Bill is passed. I think that we are entitled to ask this: what happens if the passage of that Bill is delayed?
§ In answer to a Written Question from the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, said that if the main Bill fails, then elections will be reinstated, to be held in May 1985 or later in the same year. But that obligation is not written into the Bill. This amendment would correct that and make sure that that provision is on the face of the Bill, thus avoiding the possibility of councillors continuing to hold office without having been elected to do so.
§ If for some reason the main Bill were not passed in the next Session, or for any series of reasons abolition were delayed, it is essential that councillors whose office is held over by courtesy of Parliament seek reelection. Under the Bill as at present drafted that need not happen. Although the Secretary of State has undertaken to reintroduce elections if the main Bill fails, the Bill does not require him to do so.
§ The provisions of the paving Bill are free standing. Apart from the will of Parliament, unforeseen events could also determine that the main Bill is not approved for enactment. However, under the Government's proposals the interim or intermediate arrangements could proceed, irrespective of the fate of the main Bill. That has a great deal of relevance to the later parts of the Bill, where, for example, a staff commission is to be appointed; councils and their officers placed under a duty to provide information: legitimate spending powers are to be centrally controlled; approval of structure plans, and other 1213 functions, are to be frozen; and the GLC and metropolitan counties will have a mandatory duty to undertake financial consultation.
§ All those provisions will take effect immediately. If the paving Bill is passed, they are likely to have been in operation for several months before the main Bill reaches the House of Lords. Those measures pre-suppose the abolition and are said to be dependent on it, but it would be clearly unacceptable that any of them should continue if the main Bill were not to be enacted; yet, as with the extension of terms of councillors, there is no guarantee in the Bill on their repeal if Parliament does not approve the abolition proposal.
§ The amendment seeks only to ensure that all the provisions of the paving Bill cease if the main Bill is not passed and that the status quo is restored as soon as possible. That procedure would reinstate proper control by Parliament over the actions of the Secretary of State and would remove any possibility that councillors would stay on, unelected, if the main Bill were to fall. It seems to me to be a sensible and practical amendment in the position that we are in, with a paving Bill leading on to the main legislation. I beg to move.
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, the truth is that this amendment is unnecessary. Should the main abolition Bill fail, the paving provisions will no longer be necessary, useful or relevant. The Government have always recognised that. That is why we have given our undertaking about the commencement order; why the power to repeal is included; why the Bill has the Short Title that it does; and why we have all come to call it the paving Bill. There has never been any question but that, should the main abolition Bill fail, the Secretary of State will exercise the power to repeal the paving legislation and restore the status quo as soon as is practicable. The amendment is not only unnecessary but, I submit, also undesirable. I recognise that a date, 31st July 1985, has been specified in answer to an objection which I put forward to a similar amendment in Committee which did not specify a date; the objection was that it was unclear at what stage a Bill could be deemed to have failed to receive Royal Assent. But by including a specific date we simply run into another objection. The amendment now before us would prejudge Parliament's consideration of the main Bill. It sets Parliament a deadline for considering a future Bill. Clearly that is not acceptable.
§ Lord Evans of Claughton
My Lords, I understand the view expressed by the noble Lord the Minister about the position if the Bill fails. I have been quite rightly subjected to a certain amount of well intentioned humour about the fact that I said it might go on very much longer than people had predicted. However, I wonder what would happen if, after the paving Bill, the main Bill dragged on through another place and through your Lordships' House for a very long time indeed. Would the position be that the councillors, given an extended term under the terms of this paving Bill, would then continue on almost indefinitely, something like the Long Parliament of the 17th century, or the Rump Parliament? Would it not 1214 be advisable that there should be some kind of terminus ad quem such as this amendment suggests, for that purpose if not for the other one on which the Minister has given an undertaking?
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords by leave of the House, I hear what the noble Lord says. Of course, a hypothetical situation such as he describes could not be ruled out as impossible. However, if we are dealing here in terms of likelihood, I think not least because of much of what was said—and I would refer specifically to what my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter said during the earlier debate—that in practical terms that really is not a scenario which seriously needs to trouble us. What ought to trouble us is the likelihood of the possibility that I have described and the undesirability of fixing a firm date in the way that this amendment does. I have no doubt at all that this would create all kinds of problems, and the Government cannot accept it.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, it causes me some slightly hitter amusement that on the other amendment we were told all the time that of course everything will be sorted out and the Bill will he through before the end of the session; that it is possible that the following year everything will be done so there need not be elections. Now the Minister is replying to this on the basis that in case the Bill is not through we should not put in this date. What we are concerned with is that, whether it is this date or another date, there should be something which does not let what will be a status quo just go on forever.
The noble Lord, Lord Evans, was quite right when he explained and added to what I said by saying that this could go on indefinitely if there is not something in the Bill which makes it quite clear that if the abolition Bill does not go through, this stops. The councillors will be sitting there. Are they to be ossified forever, sitting in their respective metropolitan councils, or the GLC, because there is nothing in the Bill? The Written Answer to a Question, or indications, from the Secretary of State are entirely different from having this on the face of the Bill. I think this is very unsatisfactory.
However, what I propose to do at the moment is to withdraw the amendment and have another look at it, taking into account what the Minister has said about the date. I would also ask him if he would look at it. I stress that this is not a party political point. I think the real problem here is that nowhere is there any intimation in the Bill of what happens if the abolition Bill, for some reason or other, does not get through, is unduly delayed or anything else which could happen. I do not know if the Minister would like to agree that he will look at it or take the point, because his answer seemed to be mainly concentrated on the question of the date.
§ The Lord Chancellor (Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone)
My Lords, I am not sure what Question I ought to put. Is the noble Baroness withdrawing her amendment, or not?
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, I was going to withdraw the amendment, but hopefully would have heard a word from the Minister. This is the problem with Report stage.
§ Lord Bellwin
Again, by the leave of the House, though I am anxious on Report not to keep asking for leave, may I say that of course I will, as I always do, read carefully what the noble Baroness has said and I will be in communication with her about it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 4:
§ [Printed earlier: col. 1181.]
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 3 [Suspension of elections and appointment of councillors]:
§ Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 5:
§ [Printed earlier: col. 1181.]
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Lord Alport moved Amendment No. 6:
§ After Clause 3, insert the following new clause:
§ ("ILEA .
§ .—(1) Section (Suspension of elections and extension of terms of office) (1) shall not apply to the election to the Greater London Council by electors of an inner London borough for membership of the Inner London Education Authority.
§ (2) A councillor elected to the Greater London Council by electors of an Inner London borough for membership of the Inner London Education Authority—
- (a) whose term of office would expire on 7th May 1985; or
- (b) who is elected to fill a vacancy occurring after that date, shall, unless he resigns his office or it otherwise becomes vacant, continue to hold office until a date which shall be no later than 1st November 1985.
§ (3) An election to the Inner London Education Authority shall be held not later than 1st November 1985.
§ (4) At the election referred to in subsection (3) above one person shall be elected by the City of London to represent it on the Inner London Education Authority.
§ (5) Any person elected to membership of the Inner London Education Authority under subsection (2) above shall be a member of any body or authority which may as a result of any subsequent enactment be established to assume the responsibilities and functions of the Inner London Education Authority.
§ (6) Persons elected under subsection (3) or (4) above shall hold office for a period of four years from the date of the election and any vacancy arising during that period shall be filled by an election held in the electoral district where the vacancy has occurred.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, it will be recalled that at Committee stage I sought to amend the Bill to allow the proposed elections of the ILEA to take place next May when, without this Bill, an election would in the ordinary course of events have been held. On that occasion I advanced the arguments in favour of this in the interests of the continuity of administration of education in inner London and of the future of the 300,000 children, the teachers and the staff of the ILEA who depend upon good administration for the effectiveness and standard of their education.
§ Amendment No. 5, to which your Lordships have just agreed, only affects marginally the problem with which I am attempting to deal. It means that the present ILEA will continue in office until 1986, after 1216 which presumably an election of some successor body will be held. This in turn means that for the next 20 months education in inner London will be administered by an authority under sentence of death, whose powers of decision on the important problems of adjusting accommodation and teaching staff in the face of falling pupil numbers, and on the urgent task of raising educational standards throughout education in London, will inevitably be reduced and whose motivation will be weakened.
§ At the end of that period a completely new body will be set up whose members will perhaps take a couple of years to get to grips with the important matters upon which decisions are urgently necessary now. In all, nearly four years of the future administration of education in inner London will consequently be jeopardised. My amendment seeks to advance the election to the new body by six months. Under my amendment an election will take place to the ILEA before 1st November 1985. On that occasion 36 members—35 for the inner London boroughs and one for the City of London—will be elected for a period of four years. These members will thereafter continue to hold office after the present GLC ceases to exist and will be members of any authority which subsequent legislation next year may bring into being. That legislation might, I suppose, increase the number of members by nomination by the inner London boroughs and the City as is at present the practice. The advantage of my amendment is that the period of uncertainty will be reduced and that there will be continuity of administration for London's education over the transitional period between the present GLC and the new structure for the government of London which the Government are seeking to introduce.
When I moved my amendment at Committee stage, my noble friend Lord Bellwin said that the Secretary of State for Education and Science, when discussing a similar amendment in another place, agreed that
there are arguments here on both sides".
My noble friend went on to say:
All these matters are not black and white, and open and shut … We have just on the balance reached the conclusion which I think is probably right".—[Official Report, 3/7/84; cols. 168–169].
§ Balance is the key word. The balance of the argument with which I am addressing your Lordships is not between two alternative courses of action to provide what is best for the future education of young people in inner London or what is the most practical as between two solutions to the administrative problems which the proposed new system for London throws up as a result of this and the succeeding Bill next year. The balance is simply between the interests of education, which have long term significance for the whole population of our capital city and which will affect the lives of a generation of its children with consequences that stretch out into the decades of the next century, and the short term political interests of the two contestants in the present controversy over the Government's proposals. It could be argued, on the one hand, that an election held for the ILEA next year would take on an undesirable and inappropriate political significance to the disadvantage of the Government. On the other hand, it could be argued that the prospect of an election to the Inner London Education Authority next year would weaken the 1217 energetic campaign that the GLC has mounted against abolition to the disadvantage of the majority party there.
§ I always hesitate, particularly in the presence of the right reverend Prelates, who assist us in our deliberations, to make reference to the Old Testament. I think however that I am right in saying that King Solomon gained favour in the sight of the Lord by asking, not for long life or for political success, but for judgment. I hope very sincerely that the Minister who replies will tell us that the judgment of the Government in this matter is that, after further consideration, the interests of education in the great capital city of ours outweigh the possibility of some small political embarrassment for the Government next year.
§ I know that whoever answers this debate may well argue that there would be advantage in waiting to include the provisions that I am suggesting in next Sessions's major Bill. At that time, he may well argue that the detailed arrangements for the future of the ILEA, its composition and its powers, will be clearer. The main Bill will presumably be passed and receive Royal Assent by the end of July 1985 in time for elections to be held in the subsequent October. That is really what the object of my amendment is. There may be advantages in arranging that the end of the term of office of members of the new ILEA should coincide with the borough elections that become due in 1990. That would enable my object to be achieved, the Minister may well argue, just as effectively as including it in this amendment in this Bill. Such arguments will no doubt weigh with your Lordships. But what really matters is that changes now apparently to take place in the manner in which London is governed should be carried out with the least interruption and damage to its greatest service—education. I hope very much that the Minister's reply will make it unnecessary for me to divide the House. But, if it is necessary, I hope that your Lordships' judgment will support the amendment. I cannot of course guarantee that if it is passed, we shall find favour in the sight of the Lord; but I know that we shall earn the gratitude of all those who have at heart the real interests of education in London. I beg to move.
§ Viscount Whitelaw
When I announced in this House the change that the Government proposed to make in relation to elections to the Greater London Council and the metropolitan county councils, I told my noble friend Lord Alport that I hoped to be able to tell the House at Report stage what had been decided on the timing of direct elections to the Inner London Education Authority. As noble Lords will know, the ILEA is a committee of the GLC. Unless reconstituted, it would disappear with the abolition of the GLC. The Government, as the House knows, have decided that the ILEA should continue in existence as a directly elected body. That decision has I think been welcomed by my noble friend and many others. We are fully aware of the importance of getting the timing of this important election right. The new ILEA must be elected in good time to allow it to prepare for a smooth takeover of its important functions. That is the burden of the extremely important amendment of my noble friend Lord Alport. I accept its importance. I accept, too, naturally, what my right honourable 1218 friend the Secretary of State for Education said in another place about the balance so far as the dates are concerned and the importance of getting this right.
My noble friend's amendment provides for the elections to be held not later than 1st November 1985. Whatever wisdom has been granted to me—and I should say to the right reverend Prelates, evidently not much—what has been granted to my noble friend is considerable, because I continue by saying that the Government are now firmly of the view that this is a matter best left to the main abolition Bill itself. The Government have been criticised for attempting to make major advance provisions in this Bill that would more appropriately be dealt with in the main Bill. Noble Lords may agree that this is such a provision. Our intention is to deal with the date of the ILEA elections together with the substance and dates of all other matters connected with abolition in the main Bill itself.
In my reply to my noble friend Lord Alport on 5th July, I said that I would come back with a clear indication of what the Government intends. I hope that he and the House will forgive me for perhaps going a little further than I should have done on that occasion. I certainly trust that what I have been able to put forward is the Government's firm decision to deal with this matter in the main abolition Bill. That has, however, this advantage. The Government, in finalising the provisions that we are putting into the main Bill, are considering carefully how the dates of various measures should be arranged in relation to each other. In making these decisions, we shall consider most carefully all the arguments that have been deployed in relation to this amendment. There will then he an opportunity for your Lordships to debate the Government's substantive proposals on timing when the main abolition Bill reaches this House. The Government's overriding concern will be to ensure that the date chosen is the most appropriate one for the proper continuation of educational facilities in London. I agree wholly with what my noble friend said—it was the main purpose of his amendment—that education must not suffer and that we must make certain that it does not.
I hope that my explanation will help to meet my noble friend's concerns. I can give him a categorical assurance that dealing with the date of elections to the new ILEA in the main abolition Bill rather than in this paving Bill will not preclude the holding of those elections in the Autumn of 1985 if that is the best course to follow. The Government will carefully note my noble friend's view. I shall see that it is brought to the attention to those of my colleagues most closely concerned. We have noted what he says is the best date. We shall consider that most carefully. When the abolition Bill itself comes forward, the matter, coupled naturally with our decision, will then be put before Parliament for full debate. I am grateful to my noble friend for having raised this important matter in the way that he has done. In the light of what he has said, I hope that he may now feel able to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Kilmarnock
My Lords, having supported the noble Lord, Lord Alport, in Committee, I should like to do so again, very briefly. In my submission, the 1219 sooner that elections to ILEA are organised and held the better. The noble Viscount the Leader of the House has spoken of deferring this decision to the main abolition Bill, which presumably would be likely to receive Royal Assent, if it does, some time in the summer of 1985. But it must be borne in mind that the existing GLC councillors will be in place for a further year from that date. Imagine the chaos of demoralised GLC councillors, in their last months, preoccupied with staff problems and the dismantling or handing over of existing services, with neither time nor will to deliver prompt decisions on key matters affecting London education!
If the Government want to argue, if the noble Viscount wants to argue, that there is no problem as ILEA's elections will follow immediately on the demise of the existing councils, they or the noble Viscount should first take into account the following obvious difficulties. The new body will need more than a few weeks to decide on the composition of its committees. The transfer of key staff from the GLC to the new body will take some time. During this process, decisions on the appointment of head teachers, on the repair and maintenance of buildings, and on the purchase of vital teaching aids and materials, will have to be deferred, to the detriment of teaching in the schools.
I should like to make a plea to the Government not to involve ILEA, quite unnecessarily, in the death throes of the GLC, if that is to be its fate. If these throes should be prolonged beyond the Government's target date, as many prophesy they will, ILEA will be left in limbo and elections will presumably be deferred for an indefinite period; and that cannot be right.
The noble Lord, Lord Alport, has made an excellent case for advancing by a few months the ILEA elections, to which the Secretary of State is committed, in order to ensure a smooth transition and lack of disruption to the education of London's children. One gathers from the noble Viscount's speech that the Government do not intend to accept the amendment, but I hope very much that they will bear these considerations in mind and attach to them the importance they deserve when they are deciding on the date for the ILEA elections.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, my name was put to the last amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Alport, at the Committee stage of the Bill, and I was strong in supporting him to have the elections for ILEA in May 1985. I have to confess that I find it more difficult to support the idea that the elections should happen by 1st November, and I think that, on balance, if they are not to be in May next, which would be the ideal solution for ILEA, perhaps it would be wise to wait to see what is in the main Bill. But I hope that all the considerations about transfer, the problems for the schools, for the officers and for the staff will be taken into account by the Government when the date of the elections for ILEA is considered.
§ Lord Alport
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, and to the noble Baroness, Lady David, for the support which they have given on two occasions and the advice which they have given to 1220 your Lordships' House on this particular matter. Having listened very carefully to what my noble friend Lord Whitelaw has said, I think it would be difficult for me to proceed with this amendment on this occasion. Quite clearly—and I think that it is well recognised—there are still many details to be decided with regard to the arrangements for the government of London after the end of the GLC, and at present those are not clear. I believe it would be right to give further time for the Government to make up their mind with regard not only to the form of the new ILEA but also to the date when the elections should take place.
I would say only this, if I may. While one will wait for the major Bill to come next year, I hold myself free to introduce this subject if the provisions that are put forward in that Bill do not, in accordance with my view, fulfil the needs of education in London. In the meantime, while waiting for that Bill and thanking my noble friend for the reply which he gave, I beg leave to withdraw this amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 4 [Replacement of councillors]:
§ Lord Bellwin moved Amendments Nos. 7, 8 and 9:[Printed earlier: col. 1181.]
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, by leave of the House, I beg to move Amendments Nos. 7, 8 and 9 en bloc.
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Clause 6 [Supplementary provisions]:
§ Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 10: [Printed earlier: col. 1181.]
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of this amendment is to enable the Secretary of State, if he considers it necessary for the transaction of business, to reduce the quorum of the council of an abolition authority below that specified in the Local Government Act 1972. The considerations to which I referred in moving the new disposals of land clause are relevant to this amendment also.
§ Your Lordships have already agreed that subsections (1), (2), (5) and (6) of Clause 6 will be omitted because they deal with appointments to the transitional councils, which will now no longer come into being. But subsection (3) will be amended so as to adapt the Secretary of State's power to reduce the quorum specified in the Local Government Act 1972 for meetings of the abolition councils, as they will now be.
§ As before, the power will be exercised only, first, if he considers it necessary for the transaction of business at council meetings; and, second, subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House. The purpose of the amendment remains the same as before—namely, to prevent council business from being disrupted by deliberate non-participation or the resignation of council members—and, like the other new counter-obstruction provisions, it needs to be seen in the context of the changed situation which I described earlier. I beg to move.1221
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, the Minister has made it quite clear that the purpose of the amendment is to negative any attempts by a council in situ to operate its own standing orders in accordance with the lights in which those standing orders were compiled; in other words, it is to anticipate an event which the Minister believes will happen. Of course, this is all part of a piece by the Government in this legislation. It remains to be seen whether or not those things come to pass; but what the Minister is doing is to seek powers to circumvent the possibility of a council exercising its own standing orders. In effect, what the Minister is doing is to amend the standing orders of the councils which are affected.
The House ought to take on board very carefully the draconian nature of the powers which the Government are taking. They are going to seek not only to reduce the quorum. I should like the Minister to tell us down to what number he feels it will be safe for him and his colleagues to leave a quorum in situ. I should like the Minister to spell out for us, before we make progress, the kind of actions which are likely to be the ones that will lead to this taking place: or is the Minister going to tell us before any actions at all take place—that is, in order to circumvent the very first retrograde action that the amendment of the standing orders is going to bring about?
Often standing orders refer to one-half plus one, or one-third plus one, depending on the numbers. Can the Minister tell us precisely the kind of amendment the Government have in mind? Are the Government going to take away the right of a council to exercise its own powers? If the Minister says he is going to take unto himself the right to reduce the quorum, what rights has the council left in respect of its own quorum and its own business?
To what extent is the Minister going to visit upon the council, its sub-committees and all of its other bureaucracy which is governed by standing orders, the effect of this amendment? It is all very well the Minister saying that it simply refers to a quorum, to those who need to be present in order for the business that is transacted to be valid. I can imagine some interesting situations which could arise. We need to be told the full extent of the powers which this simple amendment provides.
Sadly, the Government have not taken on board what they believe will be the situation before the abolition of the councils, but have anticipated the actions of certain councils in the event of progress being made as regards the abolition argument. So the Minister is simply telling us with all sweetness and light that all that he is doing is seeking to prevent a council conforming to its own standing orders. We want the Minister to tell us a little more of the circumstances in which he believes that he will need to act, and also a little more about the flesh on the bones of the amendment that he is proposing tonight. We need to know a great deal more.
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, by leave of the House, let me simply say that in terms of numbers it would, frankly, depend in each case upon how many people were turning up to ensure that the council's business was being conducted. If one is to assume that this is a draconian step which is being taken without any 1222 preconsideration, I would only have to refer the noble Lord—as I shall, if I am asked to do so, when we come to later amendments dealing with obstruction—to some of the statements made by many of the people who are currently working in these councils as to what they will do. If there is a sad aspect to this whole matter, it is that there are many people working in other of the councils concerned who would in fact seek, not only to disrupt but to prevent the council conducting its business. They are the ones who, as has so often been the case in the last few years in all matters of local government, have to pay a price, because there are those who say quite clearly, "Our intention is not only not to co-operate, but to seek to frustrate the policy; and if that means frustrating the operation of the councils, then so be it". We would be very remiss if we did not take powers to ensure that at least there be a quorum of people to conduct the council's business.
Any councillors who do not intend to act in an irresponsible way have nothing whatever to fear or to be concerned about as regards what this amendment seeks to do, because they will turn up and they will conduct the council's business. They are the elected members, and I should have thought it was their duty so to do. Moreover, that is their right and that is their opportunity. This could be described as a reserve situation to cover the possibility (I shall say no more than that, and I say less than others have said) that there will be those who do not want the council's business to function. It would be very irresponsible of government not to take some powers to do as we are proposing in this amendment, to enable them to ensure that the council can, in fact, operate.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, by leave of the House, can the Minister be a little more specific about the circumstances in which these powers will operate? For example, if what we are now talking about becomes an Act of Parliament, can the Minister tell us by precisely how much a quorum will be reduced? If the Minister says that it depends, or that we shall have to wait and see, or that we shall have to anticipate, are we to await upon the intention of a councillor, or of many of them, not to turn up at a council meeting in order to take a decision? In other words, can the Minister tell us what will be the trigger?
The Minister talks in terms of generalities. The fact that a council does not like what a government are going to do is not news, it is not unique; it is happening all over the country. There are councils which are dragging their feet on a range of matters and which have done so not only over the last five years under this Government but for the previous five years under a previous Government. The Minister is asking us to make this an Act of Parliament, and, therefore, I want him to tell us the precise circumstances in which this piece of legislation will be used.
The quorum having been reduced, what leeway is there for accidents? With the quorum reduced, one assumes to a figure which will allow the minority who wish to attend the council meeting to make sure that there is a valid quorum, accidents can happen. What kind of leeway will there be? Shall we actually have the Minister in Whitehall altering figures, or is it going to be percentages? Whichever it is, what kind of leeway is 1223 there to take account of circumstances, whether or not there has been reluctance, which lead to accidents? The Minister needs to tell the House a little more.
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, again by leave of the House, the noble Lord referred to a council not liking what a government are doing. This has nothing to do with whether a council likes or does not like what a government are doing. This is simply about the conduct of the council's business—nothing more nor less than that. All that the Government are saying is that the council must continue to conduct its business. There are many people who have said, "We have no intention of enabling the council to conduct its business". They have not said it in those words, but they have said it in so many, and I shall give quotations if called to do so.
But the fact is that, faced with that type of situation, a government must have the power to enable there to be a quorum of members. The noble Lord asks, "How many should be a quorum?" You can fix the quorum at a lower figure, but that certainly does not stop others turning up. If the majority party wants to turn up, then that is what it ought to do. This whole discussion would have been unthinkable as recently as four or five years ago. It would have been absolutely unthinkable that people elected to office to represent the electorate should even talk of not turning up to conduct the council's business because that will frustrate Government policy. That is the type of scenario that we now see. It is so sad, and it cannot appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Graham, with his background in local government. We are putting this forward to make sure that the business is continued—there are no sinister motives or reasons. Whatever quorum is fixed, however low it may be, it is still within the power of the members and it is the right of the members—all of them—to turn up. Indeed, that is really all that the Government want them to do: to turn up and conduct the council's business.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 11: [Printed earlier: col. 1181.]
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ 5.58 p.m.
Lord Evans of Claughton moved Amendment No. 12:
After Clause 6, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Financial consequences of abolition.
§ .(1) Before the introduction into Parliament of legislation proposing the abolition of the Greater London Council and the Metropolitan County Councils and the transfer of their functions—
- (a) The Secretary of State shall require the Audit Commission to inquire into and publish a report on the financial consequences of implementing proposals for the abolition of those authorities and the transfer of their functions; and
- (b) That report shall be submitted to each House of Pariiament.
§ (2) The Secretary of State shall furnish to the Audit Commission conducting the inquiry referred to in subsection (1) of this section, a statement of the expected effects on public expenditure of the abolition of the Greater London Council and the Metropolitan County Councils and the transfer of their functions.").1224
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, when considering this amendment I should be grateful if we could also turn our attention to Amendment No. 13.
Amendment No. 13: After Clause 6, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Committee of inquiry.
§ .Before the introduction into Parliament of legislation proposing the abolition of the Greater London Council and the Metropolitan County Councils and the transfer of their function the Secretary of State shall appoint a committee of inquiry to inquire whether those authorities should continue in existence, and that committee of inquiry shall report on the matter.").
§ Both amendments seek to ensure that before the main abolition Bill is introduced into Parliament investigations are completed as to the need for, and the financial implications of, abolition. This paving Bill, as its name suggests, is intended to prepare the way for total abolition. There is, however, very considerable uncertainty about very many aspects of the abolition proposals which can be resolved only when the main Bill is discussed in another place and in your Lordships' House.
§ The evidence and financial estimates upon which the Government base their policy have not been made available, and it is suspected in some circles that those bases do not actually exist. In those circumstances, what these amendments seek to ensure is that information is gathered and assessed by independent bodies and presented to Parliament before Parliament is asked to consider the issue of abolition in the main Bill.
§ It might be thought that the Government, in seeking to be reasonable, would not wish to take the step of abolishing elections and by-passing precedent in an atmosphere of uncertainty and lack of information. However, to date the Government have refused to relax their determination to legislate with undue haste, without appearing to be sure of the consequences, and in the face of the 90 per cent. respondents who opposed the White Paper's proposals and who replied to the Government's request for submissions on the proposals.
The amendments bear directly on the Long Title of the Bill, which states that it makes:
provision for the composition of the Greater London Council and metropolitan county councils pending a decision by Parliament on their continued existence".
§ Parliament can hardly take a fully considered, objective and balanced view of the future existence of these bodies when so little information is available to it. It is not enough to hope that more information may be made available by the Government when Parliament comes to consider the main Bill. These amendments seek to ensure that that information is made available and is required to be available.
§ So far as I can see, the Government have produced no evidence to support their proposals to abolish the councils, except that there is a general atmosphere that they should go and a feeling, engendered throughout the debates and discussions on these Bills, of a personal vendetta involved in the Government's proposals. There has been no independent investigation or inquiry set up by the Government to consider the functions, costs or operation of the Greater London Council or the metropolitan councils, the needs of their areas, or the relative effectiveness of alternative structures. A very interesting series of 1225 proposals has been put forward by the Conservative members of the Greater London Council for a London-wide body, with a different kind of constitution from the present one, but no consideration by this Government seems to have been given to the advice of their own friends.
§ Despite repeated requests, both here and in another place, Ministers have been unwilling to give any clear estimate of the costs which they claim that their proposals for the abolition of the six metropolitan councils and the Greater London Council would save. Again, they have refused to publish the public responses to the consultation on the White Paper, Streamlining the Cities. I gather that over 5,000 responses were received and, as I believe the Government have themselves conceded, less than 10 per cent. were in favour of the abolition proposals. In the face of this opposition from generally informed sources, the Government should surely concede the necessity for some kind of independent committee of inquiry to look into how best the present county-wide services should be administered, and these amendments seek to do just that.
§ In Committee on 3rd July, at cols. 234 to 240, there was a short debate on an amendment that I moved calling upon the Secretary of State to produce a report on the financial consequences of the abolition proposals. Your Lordships' Committee was then reminded that the only independent financial study, by Messrs Coopers and Lybrand, which was based on detailed information gathered from all the metropolitan counties and half the metropolitan districts, concluded that there would be likely to be extra costs—not decreased costs—of between £36 and £61 million per annum; and that is just in the six metropolitan areas, and excludes such extra costs as might be incurred in the Greater London area.
At that time the noble Lord the Minister opposed the amendment and he made a number of points; first, that the financial effects of abolition would depend on decisions to be made by the successor bodies once they have information on the existing Greater London Council and metropolitan county council services; secondly, that the time to debate the issue of costs should be during the debates on the main Bill; and, thirdly, that:
The case must rest on the savings in administrative costs, overheads, and other things".—[Official Report, 3/7/84; col. 258.]
§ I propose here that before Parliament is asked to consider the main Bill, as the noble Lord the Minister suggested, the Audit Commission, which was set up under the 1982 legislation, should report on the financial effects of the abolition proposals in the light of the information which must have been gathered and will have been gathered under the later provisions of the paving Bill, and in the light of the Secretary of State's own assessment of the likely effect of his proposals on public expenditure overall.
§ Therefore, in moving these amendments I seek to meet Lord Bellwin's arguments: first, that the financial investigation would be conducted in the light of information gathered by the Secretary of State and by the boroughs and districts on the operation of the metropolitan councils and the Greater London Council services; secondly, that an informed debate about costs could then take place in your Lordships' 1226 House and in another place when the main Bill is introduced. Thirdly, it would ensure that an independent—I repeat, independent—study is made of the financial effects of removing a tier of government and redistributing the services of that tier—the services to be maintained, so the Government assure us, at the same level and at an equally high level among a mixture of boroughs, districts, joint boards, joint committees and central Government agencies.
In its submission on the White Paper, Streamlining the Cities, the National Union of Ratepayers' Associations stated:
Before any fundamental alterations are embarked upon, evidence should be produced to show that the hopes of savings and better value for money have every chance of being realised in the future. The onus is on the Government to prove that its reorganisation plans will give … ratepayers a better deal".
§ Those comments were made by the National Union of Ratepayers' Associations and not by a political party or a group of Left-wing agitators. Presumably the ratepayers' association is the body of people most concerned to ensure that expenditure levels are kept down.
§ I believe that this amendment would ensure that the Government will have to discharge that burden before Parliament is asked to decide the issue on abolition. The Audit Commission was established under the Finance Act 1982 with extensive powers in respect of the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of local authorities, and we debated its powers and duties at great length in your Lordships' House during the passage of that Bill. If the Audit Commission, is appropriate for anything, it would seem to me to be particularly appropriate as the body to be asked to inquire into the costs of abolition and the likely cost of transferring functions to other bodies.
§ Without such reports, effectively, the Government seem to be asking Parliament to ignore the possible costs of their proposals, to ignore the possible costs or the possible savings which eventually will be contained in the main abolition Bill but whose first critical discussion was during the course of this paving Bill. I should have thought that the paving Bill provides the ideal opportunity to insert these amendments so that, when we discuss the main Bill, we shall have the fullest possible information about costs, expenses, and so on. Therefore, if we believe in open government and a full and effective discussion of the problems, I think it would be sensible for these amendments to be supported. I beg to move.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, this amendment and Amendment No. 13, to which I believe the noble Lord, Lord Evans, said he wished to speak, seem to me to be simply an attempt to involve the Audit Commission—and a wholly undescribed committee of inquiry in Amendment No. 13—in the processes of consideration of the forthcoming abolition Bill. This is an odd procedure. To talk, as Amendment No. 13 does, simply of a "committee of inquiry", without indicating its character, quality and function, seems to be quite extraordinary. But what strikes me even more about it is how derogatory this proposal is to the parliamentary process. If the Government are introducing complicated legislation of this kind with obviously substantial financial issues involved, then it 1227 is for the Government in another place and in this House to justify the proposals, including their financial aspects.
We heard a good deal a week of two ago about how certain former items in this Bill were derogatory to this House. It seems to me that the suggestion that none of us here is capable of probing the financial aspects of Government legislation is even more derogatory. This House is full of people with financial experience. It is full of people who have been directly involved in public finance. The idea that we are not capable—and would not regard it as our duty—of forcing the Government to give a clear account of the financial consequences for their measure seems to me rather offensive. I hope therefore that my noble friend will reject this amendment.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ Lord Sefton of Garston
My Lords, I find it strange to refer to an amendment of this sort as offensive and as in some way affecting the proper government of this country. If we were speaking of a Bill which was merely a financial Bill, and which dealt with certain statistics which dealt with certain matter of fact principles, then it might be that Parliament would be the only place to decide and to put forward the financial justification of the particular Bill.
However, the noble Lord starts from a premise that he assumes is right, and then builds a case upon a foundation which has no base at all. This is not just a Bill which talks about the financial consequences of doing something; a balance sheet that can be drawn up by the Government. The Bill we are discussing strikes at the root of government in this country, and I do not just refer to parliamentary government. If we have developed anything at all in this country that is of any use to mankind, it is a system of consent to government at practically every level from the grassroots right to the top. That is what we are talking about.
One of the major problems of this Bill, and the abolition Bill, is that it is undermining the consensus by which this country has operated for numerous centuries. It is undermining that consensus because now there is a wide feeling abroad among people who have spent a lifetime developing local government systems in this country. I only wish that some of the people who are here this afternoon to vote had in fact had some experience in local government.
Let me speak for Merseyside. Merseyside is a typical example of the problems being faced in this country both economically and socially. Merseyside is an area which for many years was dominated by the presence of Liverpool city council. It was the largest in a wide area, parts of which depended for their economic existence upon the existence of trade inside Liverpool. When people moved out to more luxurious areas like the Southport and Wirral areas they left behind problems of which we are seeing some manifestation now.
Merseyside has just gone through a traumatic experience, and gone through it mainly because that kind of consensus that should exist between central and local government has ceased to be. If we carry out 1228 the abolition Bill as the Government intend, I wonder what will they do when a local authority like Liverpool, hard pressed by economic problems, then starts once again to try to take decisions which central Government do not like? Will they abolish Liverpool? Within Merseyside that is where the problems are.
We shall have the abolition Bill after 10 years of a Merseyside county council. Supporters of that reorganisation from that side of the Chamber said that it would take perhaps five to 10 years for there to develop a new attitude towards local government and central Government. After 10 years the Government propose to get rid of it and substitute the kind of local organisation which led to the problems on Merseyside, and which led to the fragmentation of decision-taking inside Merseyside when it was so important to build up a consensus on Merseyside that would lead to a good society.
Now that has gone. What we are talking about now is whether or not the Government should go forward, and try to convince many good people on Merseyside who have spent a lifetime in local government that they want to take them with them; that they want to demonstrate that this is a good move; that after the change Merseyside will be a better place to govern, a better place to live in, and a better place socially. That is what the Government should be doing. But what are the Government doing?
Question after Question has been put down in this House as to the research which the Conservative Party or the Government have carried out into these proposals. There have been no answers. Question after Question has been put down in this House as to the consequences, financial and otherwise, of the proposals they were bringing forward. There have been no answers. The truth is that this Government are determined to do what they have decided to do inside the Conservative Party. They do it at their peril, because just as the consensus has been destroyed in this country, just as the alienation of millions of trade unionists has taken place, just as the alienation of moderately-minded people has taken place because of the economic pressures of 4 million people without a just standard of life, so it will happen in local government. The consensus will be gone completely.
At least if we carry this amendment it will demonstrate that the Government are prepared to show their cards on the table, and let all the financial consequences be examined in an independent way so that people inside local government can be taken along with any proposal. And we hope that, if the Government are shown by a proper and impartial examination to be wrong in certain things, they will be able to change their minds. It will at least get us away from the idea that the Government are determined to impose their will upon a local government system which is one of the most valuable things that this country has ever created.
I urge the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin—not because he happens to be the Minister concerned; and it is a fairly hopeless request—in the name of all the conversations that he and I have had in the AMC and other places, and I urge him because of all the beliefs that he held about local government, that we should preserve this local authority purpose, and that we should not 1229 fragment into the kind of local government that this Bill will impose on Merseyside, and to think again and have this inquiry.
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, may I say first that I would wish that the noble Lord, Lord Sefton, was as vehement in his expressions of concern about so many things. I know that he has these concerns—because I too gladly refer to the conversations not that we had, but that we still have from time to time—about what is happening in local government. In response to an earlier amendment I mentioned that we are discussing taking measures that five years ago would have been unthought of and unnecessary. There is so much going on in local government today which is anathema to those who are really concerned about the future of local government. I shall come to the points that the noble Lord made in a moment, but that had to be said in the beginning in that the noble Lord asked me something specifically referring to my background in local government.
§ Lord Sefton of Garston
My Lords, there is no one who has opposed what is going on in local government more than I have. There is no one who disagrees more with the abuse of power inside local government which is being operated in certain places. But am Ito say that over and over again? Because Ken Livingstone steps over the boundary, does that mean that the Government are going to change the whole system? Is it not just possible that if the Government tried another approach we could get local government back on to an even keel; we could once again re-establish in this country the consensus which used to exist between central and local government? We cannot, because the Government will not even try.
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, I should have begun my response with a quotation which reads as follows:We shall, therefore, legislate to create unitary district authorities which will be responsible for all of their functions in their area so that they can sensibly undertake. We shall, of course, consult carefully and genuinely before we introduce our legislation. However, we shall set up no more inquiries. We shall legislate. And we shall legislate so that these reforms will be enforced during the lifetime of the next Parliament".That was Gerald Kaufman just prior to the general election on behalf of the Labour party. So whoever should be concerned about our having to set up inquiries and so on, I do not think it should be any of your Lordships opposite.
The debate we are having about the financial implications is one that we have had several times already. We had it on Second Reading, in Committee and I have had it in many places elsewhere. No doubt we shall have it again. The fact is that, however one sets out, one cannot tell now what will be the decisions taken on spending by local authorities for the first year when they will be taking over the planning cycle 1986–87. It is all right to quote Coopers and Lybrand, but if one reads them carefully one sees that they qualify everything they say all along by referring to assumptions that they are making. There is no objection to that, but they have to make assumptions.
Another equally famous—if that is the right word—certainly respected company, Price 1230 Waterhouse (who did not spend the time Coopers did, but no one can take away from them in any sense their reputation compared with Coopers) were willing to put their name to something quite different. One can argue this at length, but in thinking about it carefully one finds it makes no sense to try to base assumptions on the kind of assumptions that were made.
We have taken steps and made inquiries and there are reports from people in the North-West, from treasurers and leaders of councils in London with their projections on what they think will come about. Not only do they endorse our original thoughts about savings, but they go much further than we would. I would not want to put numbers, but the Government would say that seriously to consider taking out a whole tier of local government—a tier which has built up to employ in administration alone the numbers that there now are—and to say that there can be no savings, is to fly in the face of any logic. We do not accept that that is so. I have explained why we do not accept this business about another review. Of course, it means delay: that is what opponents of the Bill want to see. But we shall not get into that.
We have said, and your Lordships are aware, that the Secretary of State has given a firm and clear understanding that we will keep Parliament fully informed on the cost of and savings from this change. In particular, the Financial and Explanatory Memorandum of the main abolition Bill will state the expected effects on public expenditure. But there is no purpose in placing a clause in this Bill to produce an unnecessary report and to cause unnecessary delay before the information is available.
Quite apart from the objections that I have already raised, neither of these amendments has any place in the paving Bill. Both amendments seek to remove the Government's right to introduce and Parliament's right to consider a future Bill as and when it is expedient so to do. If Parliament wishes to place conditions or caveats on the main abolition Bill, those matters should be discussed as part of that Bill. That is all I want to say on the amendments.
I have one last word as I sit down. I keep saying that this is Report and I do not want to keep on bobbing up and down, but to respond to the noble Lord, Lord Sefton, the fact is that he knows as well as I do that just about everybody in the metropolitan districts, every district leader at the time of reorganisation and since and up to the time when the Government announced their intention to introduce abolition, was speaking out vociferously and fervently in favour of abolition. They know very well that while there may be an odd situation where they may not do better, the fact is that I believe very much that in a unitary authority the local people know best. How on earth Liberals, of all people, can oppose us on this I do not know, with their continued expression on wanting local government to be at as local a level as it can be. I do not accept that we have a better system working where I come from than worked before reorganisation; quite the contrary. If you can show me any services that have worked better I want to see them, and if you do I will show you another one that is worse. The fact is that I am far from convinced. I believe vehemently, as does the noble Lord, Lord Sefton, that abolition when it comes—it is 1231 not part of these amendments or of the Bill—will be better and will get us back to where we ought to be in local government, at the local level.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, more than once the Minister has said that we have been over this ground before. These questions have been asked at Second Reading. The questions have been asked, but no answers have been given. The Minister says that it is not possible to give answers to certain of the questions, but I invite him to look forward to the situation when the alterations take place, the dust dies down, the figures are produced and the ratepayers are faced by a Bill which is infinitely more costly than what is paid now. The Minister cannot tell us that it will not be so, as he is unwilling to give us any figures. I imagine that people will then say, "We don't like that. Let's go back to where we were before". One of the premises upon which the abolition case has been built is that ratepayers' money is being wasted in a range of ways. Never mind the way in which grants are given, the whole bureaucracy is wasteful. When the Secretary of State announced his intentions in these matters he was not as coy as the Minister is now on one of the main planks. One of the main planks was that this would save money.
All these amendments are doing is to ask the Government to let us have some validation of the arguments that the Government have used. Who better to do that than—not a private organisation as respected as are Coopers and Lybrand, or anyone else—the Government's own Audit Commission? What on earth is wrong with that? I will say what is wrong. The Government have a timetable; they want to get this quick rather than right. If they get it quick and it turns out to be wrong, too bad, the damage has been done but it will not be damage in the Government's eyes. They will have achieved their objective. That is not to save money or to get local government reorganised, but to get rid of the local government units that are proving to be such an embarrassment.
The Minister could help us considerably by answering the questions that have been asked here this evening. The noble Lord, Lord Evans, says there is no evidence. What the Minister has said is that he has seen some interesting information from the North-West and from some of the treasurers in the metropolitan areas. The House may decide that something the Minister has seen, that we have not—the Minister will not tell us about it—is sufficient for us to pass a massive piece of legislaton.
I invite noble members opposite to contemplate the enormous hostage to fortune that they are giving. The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, in what I think will be looked upon as a memorable phrase, said that this House would be offensive if we were to force the Government to give a clear account of the financial consequences of their legislation. How offensive is that, not merely to your Lordships' House but to the whole concept of what we are supposed to be here for? We are supposed to be here not merely to ask the question but, before we pass the legislation, to be satisfied. The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, said that it would be derogatory and offensive if we were to force the Government to give a clear account of the 1232 financial consequences of their actions.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to intervene? I have rarely met such a perversion of my argument. The point that I was making was that when the Bill—in this case the abolition Bill—is before Parliament it will be the function and the duty of both Houses of Parliament to get from the Government the financial consequences and to press them for all available details at that stage.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, I would simply say that Hansard tomorrow will reveal whether the premise upon which I made my criticism of what he said is valid or not. What the noble Lord is saying is, "Let us get on with it; let us pass the first piece of legislation to abolish the metropolitan counties and the GLC! Let us do that first and then let us see what case the Government wish to present later". There is no one in business who is looking at feasibility studies and there is no council which has had an idea put to it which will not ask how much it will cost, how much it will save and what will be the financial consequences, before taking the first decisions.
These are the first decisions in toto and what we are asking is that, before Parliament accepts the premises behind the first decisions, we should have some financial details. The Minister is entitled to say that the proper place for that is at a later stage. We are simply saying that the earlier we can do that, the better it will be as far as we are concerned. The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, said that it would be an odd procedure for us to involve the Audit Commission in the abolition Bill because both Bills hang together—but that is what we are doing.
My Lords, this is what we are driven to as an Opposition. We believe that the financial consequences, let alone the political and bureaucratic consequences, will be enormous. We are simply saying to the Government, "Why do you not put your money where your mouth is?"Why do the Government not say to us, "Here is the evidence"? If that means a delay of months or of a year, let us see the evidence. The Minister believes that when the evidence is produced the people will accept it. What we are saying is, "Produce the evidence first!" We have been invited to buy this particular pig in a poke. The questions that we have been asking have not been answered, and they deserve to be answered.
When the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, made his earlier remarks, what he said was that there is insufficient information of a financial character. We have been deluged—of course we have—with special pleading not only from the authorities but from the bodies that believe that they themselves are going to be affected. But there is no use in hoping that the information will come along later. We need the information at this particular time. There is no argument about it: the Government have certainly made their case based upon the financial savings. The noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, actually began to deliver as far as he was concerned. Five thousand responses have been made to the White Paper and, as far as the Government are concerned, only 10 per cent. of the 5,000 are in favour of the abolition proposals.
1233 When the GLC had to look at this proposition, it made available all the submissions which had been put forward. Together with other noble Lords (not all of one political persuasion) I went to County Hall to look at them. In fact, some could say that that was a put-up job; hut, of course, they would—would they not?—because their grants are affected. But at least the evidence was there for us to see; and they are very worried people. And all that they are saying to the Government in respect of the financial case is, "Why do the Government not produce some figures?" We know why. It is because the original premise upon which the Government's case is made is one that is very shaky indeed.
As far as we on these Benches are concerned, what we are getting, sadly, in this debate are bias and prejudice from both sides of the argument. We are, each of us, the protagonists in these arguments, convinced that the other is wrong; that there is something malevolent about the actions that are being taken in proposing the matters and also that somehow or another we have got no right to oppose them. What we are saying is that when it comes to finance, there ought to be no argument. The Government have rested upon the premise that it is impossible to forecast the kind of programmes and the kind of work that is going to be done. I am simply saying that it is all very well but we want some figures which either can be accepted or can be criticised.
The noble Lord the Minister failed to take any account of the arguments of the National Union of Ratepayers. While they are not a political body, I think that one of the cases that the Minister and his colleagues have made in manifestoes and other places, is that the ratepayers are demanding these abolition steps. The National Union of Ratepayers are saying that before those steps are taken, the onus is on the Government to prove that their reorganisation plans will give ratepayers a better deal. We know what the ratepayers, in the main, mean by a "better deal": that is, not only value for money but also a reduction in the cost of the service. I hope that, when the noble Lord, Lord Evans, responds to this particular amendment, he will certainly press upon the Minister that the Government have run away from the opportunity they had. They had an opportunity not only to convince their own supporters, those behind them who have listened with care and diligence to the arguments but still have been denied the facts. They have not been given the facts by this side of the House because we are not prepared to speculate about the situation. The Government have rested their case on prejudice and bias and we believe that that could be negatived substantially if they were prepared to use proper financial yardsticks.
§ Lord Evans of Claughton
My Lords, I have listened to everything that has been said during the debate on this particular amendment. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sefton of Garston for his support. We have been members of the same council in opposition to each other for a number of years. He will know that over the period when I was on the county council and he was chairman of it, I was then (as I still am in principle)—surprise! surprise! to the noble Lord the Minister—opposed to the concept of metropolitan 1234 counties. However, I must say that the Government have made such a mess of this legislation that I am actually becoming quite fond of them. I think that the Greater London Council is a different matter. I believe that there is need for some kind of strategic planning and so on for a capital city.
I am anxious to have the information to enable me to find out what are the financial arguments for and against abolition of one tier of local government. I was never in favour of blank destruction of the county councils. I wanted them to be replaced by some form of regional government; and that is still broadly my view. I was rather surprised at the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, being so upset by this desire on my part that your Lordships and everyone else should have more information to enable them to come to a sensible decision as to whether the metropolitan county councils should go or should remain. I think that the arguments of the National Union of Ratepayers are very valid arguments in this context. I accept the fact that I merely suggested in my second amendment that the Secretary of State should set up a committee. I concede that it will have to be more specifically stated but I have sufficient trust in the Secretary of State to believe that, if my amendment were carried, the Secretary of State would set up a committee of inquiry which was of a balanced nature.
However, I believe that the Executive has access to far more information than do the Opposition parties. Therefore, if the argument on the main Bill is to be a sensible and deep-thinking argument, I think we are entitled to have more information than the Government seem to be making available to us. I think we should have it early, before the main Bill, rather than later during it. I think that that is a perfectly sensible proposal. I must say to the noble Lord the Minister that he may believe that Gerald Kaufman speaks for me but I want to assure him with great warmth that Gerald Kaufman does not speak for me, nor for my noble friends in either the Social Democratic or the Liberal Parties. I would like to remind the noble Lord the Minister that I was working away quite happily as a county borough councillor saying what a fine form of government county boroughs were when what happened but his previous Conservative Government came along and destroyed our beautiful unitary system and replaced it with a two-tier system in the metropolitan areas which none of us wanted at that time. It was forced on us. Now the Government, having realised their mistake, want to dismantle it without going into detail as to what are the financial implications and so on.
So I do not think that it is we on these Benches who have been inconsistent. I think that it is the Government who have been inconsistent. I believe that we should force them, in so far as we can—perhaps we are becoming a little arrogant but possibly what has happened today has made us slightly less arrogant—to provide your Lordships of all political persuasions and of none with the information that the National Union of Ratepayers wants and that any person sensibly interested in the future of local government should want and should be entitled to receive. Therefore, I seek to test the opinion of the House on this amendment. I beg to move.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 12) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 107; Not-Contents, 197.1237
|DIVISION NO. 2|
|Airedale, L.||Lawrence, L.|
|Amherst, E.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.|
|Attlee, E.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Lockwood, B.|
|Balogh, L.||Longford, E.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||McCarthy, L.|
|Bernstein, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Beswick, L.||MacLeod of Fuinary, L.|
|Birk, B.||McNair, L.|
|Blease, L.||Mar, C.|
|Blyton, L.||Mayhew, L.|
|Bottomley, L.||Milford, L.|
|Bowden, L.||Milner of Leeds, L.|
|Brimelow, L.||Molloy, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Mountevans, L.|
|Burton of Coventry, B.||Mulley, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Nicol, B.|
|Chitnis, L.||Phillips, B.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Collison, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|David, B.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Rochester, Bp.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Diamond, L.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Ennals, L.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Evans of Claughton, L.||Scanlon, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Sefton of Garston, L.|
|Foot, L.||Serota, B.|
|Galpern, L.||Shackleton, L.|
|Gifford, L.||Simon, V.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Stallard, L.|
|Gosford, E.||Stedman, B.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Grey, E.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Grimond, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L. [Teller.]|
|Hampton, L.||Stone, L.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Stabolgi, L.|
|Hayter, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Hooson, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Tordoff, L. [Teller.]|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Hughes, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Hunt, L.||Wedderburn of Charlton, L|
|Irving of Dartford, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Jacques, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Jeger, B.||White, B.|
|Jenkins of Putney, L.||Wilson of Langside, L.|
|John-Mackie, L.||Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.|
|Kilbracken, L.||Winstanley, L.|
|Kilmarnock, L.||Young of Dartington, L.|
|Abinger, L.||Barber, L.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Bauer, L.|
|Aldington, L.||Belhaven and Stenton, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Bellwin, L.|
|Allerton, L.||Beloff, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Belstead, L.|
|Annaly, L.||Bessborough, E.|
|Astor, V.||Biddulph, L.|
|Avon, E.||Birdwood, L.|
|Bagot, L.||Bolton, L.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Hyton-Foster, B.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Inchcape, E.|
|Braye, L.||Ingrow, L.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Ironside, L.|
|Brookeborough, V.||Kaberry of Adel, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Kemsley, V.|
|Broxbourne, L.||Killearn, L.|
|Bruce-Gardyne, L.||Kilmany, L.|
|Caithness, E.||Kinloss, Ly.|
|Cameron of Lochbroom, L.||Kintore, E.|
|Camoys, L.||Kitchener, E.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Knutsford, V.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Lane-Fox, B.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Lauderdale, E.|
|Carnock, L.||Lindsey and Abingdon, E|
|Cayzer, L.||Long, V.|
|Chelmer, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Chelwood, L.||Lyell, L.|
|Cockfield, L.||McAlpine of West Green, L.|
|Colwyn, L.||McFadzean, L.|
|Constantine of Stanmore, L.||Mackintosh of Halifax, A|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Marley, L.|
|Cowley, E.||Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Merrivale, L.|
|Craigmyle, L.||Middleton, L.|
|Craigton, L.||Milne, L.|
|Crathorne, L.||Minto, E.|
|Croft, L.||Molson, L.|
|Dacre of Glanton, L.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|De Freyne, L.||Monson, L.|
|De La Warr, E.||Montagu of Beaulieu, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Morris, L.|
|Digby, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Dilhorne, V.||Moyola, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Munster, E.|
|Duncan-Sandys, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Dundee, E.||Northesk, E.|
|Eccles, V.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Eden of Winton, L.||Onslow, E.|
|Elibank, L.||Orkney, E.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Peel, E.|
|Elphinstone, L.||Pender, L.|
|Elton, L.||Penrhyn, L.|
|Erne, E.||Perth, E.|
|Erroll of Hale, L.||Peyton of Yeovil, L.|
|Faithfull, B.||Pike, B.|
|Fanshawe of Richmond, L.||Platt of Writtle, B.|
|Ferrier, L.||Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Portland, D.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Radnor, E.|
|Gainford, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Gardner of Parkes, B.||Rawlinson of Ewell, L.|
|Geddes, L.||Reay, L.|
|Gisborough, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Glanusk, L.||Remnant, L.|
|Glenarthur, L.||Renton, L.|
|Gormanston, V.||Renwick, L.|
|Gowrie E.||Rochdale, V.|
|Gray, L.||Romney, E.|
|Gray of Contin, L.||Rotherwick, L.|
|Grey of Naunton, L.||Ryder of Warsaw, B.|
|Gridley, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Grimston of Westbury, L.||Saint Oswald, L.|
|Haig, E.||Savile, L.|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.||Selkirk, E.|
|Halsbury, E.||Sherfield, L.|
|Harmer-Nicholls, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Harvey of Tasburgh, L.||Soames, L.|
|Harvington, L.||Somers, L.|
|Hastings, L.||Southborough, L.|
|Henley, L.||Spens, L.|
|Hertford, M.||Stamp, L.|
|Hindlip, L.||Stodart of Leaston, L.|
|Hives, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Home of the Hirsel, L.||Swinton, E. [Teller.]|
|Hornsby-Smith, B.||Taylor of Hadfield, L.|
|Howard of Henderskelfe, L.||Terrington, L.|
|Thomas of Swynnerton, L.||Vaizey, L.|
|Torphichen, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Townshend, M.||Vickers, B.|
|Tranmire, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Trefgarne, L.||Whitelaw, V.|
|Trenchard, V.||Windlesham, L.|
|Trumpington, B.||Wise, L.|
|Ullswater, V.||Wynford, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ [Amendment No. 13 not moved.]
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Clause 7 [Establishment and functions of staff commission]:
Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 14:
Page 6, line 3, leave out from ("such") to ("shall") in line 5 and insert ("relevant authorities, bodies representative of such authorities and staff employed by them").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, with this amendment I should like to take Amendment No. 15.
Amendment No. 15: Page 6, line 5, leave out ("not later than one month after the passing of this Act").
§ The amendment seeks to broaden the requirements on the Secretary of State to consult before establishing the staff commission and to remove the current discretion as to which organisations are consulted. There is of course real pleasure that some consultation is taking place and what we are asking the Government to accept is that the consultation be widened.
§ Clause 7 requires the Secretary of State to consult such local authority associations or local authority unions as appear to him to be concerned, before establishing the commission. The commission is to be established within one month of the passing of this Bill. It is obvious from the Government's timetable that the consultation is not intended to be extensive.
§ In Committee the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, at column 186, indicated some sympathy with the argument for greater consultation, but he rejected the grouped amendments on the ground that a veto might be given to individual authorities to block the establishment of the commission. What was Amendment No. 31 might have appeared to give rise to that veto and so it has not been re-tabled. Therefore, in our view the Government ought to be minded to accept the amendment that is now before the House.
§ As this amendment makes clear, there is no requirement on the Secretary of State to consult the local authorities directly affected by the abolition proposals; this is despite the fact that Clause 7 defines them as relevant authorities for starring purposes. Consultations are to be conducted, if at all, through local authority associations; that is, the AMA and the Association of London Authorities. As was made clear in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Evans, and myself, this could place the AMA in particular in a very difficult position. The House might recall the argument that the AMA, which has to represent the views of disparate organisations within it, may very well have some difficulty in doing that, though it is not an impossibility.
§ In the same debate the noble Earl, Lord Kintore, also said, speaking from the Government's point of 1238 view, that all opinions should be represented in the consultations. The consultation process itself will take place in difficult circumstances. The main Bill will still be at an early stage of discussion during the one-month period and we are simply trying to forecast and anticipate when this present Bill will receive Royal Assent. The expectation is—I think not unreasonably—that when that happens, the main Bill will still be before Parliament, either in another place or here.
§ The first year of the staff commission's work will take place in a virtual vacuum, without the backing of an agreed abolition policy. We believe that in these circumstances it is important that the upper- and lower-tier authorities are given the opportunity themselves to take part in the consultation.
Again I quote the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, who at column 189 complained that relevant authorities had not themselves instigated consultations with the Government since the publication of the Bill. With due respect to the Minister, that is not the point that we are trying to make in this amendment. As a matter of both principle and practice, all authorities affected should have the opportunity to engage in consultation at a serious level. If a number were then to choose not to take part in consultation, that would be a matter for them. The House might prefer to follow the words of the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, on 3rd July, at column 188, when he said:
My right honourable friend will be perfectly happy to consult with those who want to consult him".
§ All we are seeking is a form of words on the face of the Bill which will allow those who wish to consult the Minister to exercise their statutory right to do so. The trade unions, whose members will be affected, should also have a clear right so to do. I think the Minister can rest assured that without that written into the Bill, people vitally affected—both trade unions and local authorities—are unlikely to find a means whereby their views will be put.
§ What we want is the removal of the discretion, and we believe that there is a discretion on the Secretary of State to consult such trade unions or local authorities as he (that is, the Secretary of State) considers it proper to consult. The amendment would require such consultations to be offered to local authorities and their associations, as well as the trade unions. To date there has been no discussion with the trade unions over the implications of the break-up of the upper-tier councils, and the Minister has, I think, the opportunity to tell us whether that is correct. In other words, have there been consultations with the trade unions on the consequences of the abolition Bill? If in fact there has been no opportunity and consultations have not taken place, will the Minister tell us how he is going to set about consulting the trade unions on this matter?
§ In our view, the Government are moving with undue haste. I would repeat that they need to be right, rather than quick. We believe that our amendments are reasonable and they ought to have the support of a sympathetic Minister, who replied to the debate on the last occasion and who is in his place to answer them here tonight. I beg to move.
§ Lord Hooson
My Lords, from these Benches I should simply like to indicate that we support this 1239 amendment. We think it is very important that there should be the broadest consultation. It really is a criticism of the Government and their strategy that this consultation has not already taken place. I was moved to intervene because of a remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, on the last amendment, when he twitted the Liberals, of all people, as being against the idea of unitary authorities. I am not an expert on local government, but in 1972 I happened to speak against the then Local Government Bill in another place, objecting to the way in which local government was being reformed. I said that I was in favour of unitary authorities, but that there should be a strategy for it all.
In view of the words uttered by the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, and the fact that there has not so far been consultation, it seems to me that we come to the basic fault of the Government; that is, that there does not appear to be a strategy at all. What they appear to be doing is reacting to provocation, and they do not have a strategy. If there was a strategy, one would expect that there would he a plan for authorities throughout the country and a determination on where elected strategic authorities are required. It seems to me that it is terribly difficult to justify, for example, Essex having an elected strategic authority and the huge metropolis of London not having one. It is the absence of this kind of strategy as well as the absence of thinking about this matter that makes one feel that this is a highly rushed, hasty Bill, and that here we have an example of the lack of consultation beforehand.
I wish that the Government could convince me—and I have an open mind about the whole question of whether metropolitan authorities are necessary. I, and those on these Benches, should be very much happier if there was any sign of a strategy and a thought-out policy with regard to this matter, rather than a reaction to personalities and their, no doubt, in many cases, objectionable, performances. This amendment shows that there has been a complete lack of consultation so far, and, at the very least, the consultation should be broadened.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, I think there is widespread agreement that a staff commission will be an essential part of this reorganisation, just as in other previous reorganisations: in the words of 1066 and All That, that it is a good thing. But I have to say to your Lordships that, in the Government's view, these amendments would throw into question the very existence of the staff commission. What we are proposing in Clause 7 is to set up such a staff commission along the lines of those established under previous reorganisations—exactly those lines. Such commissions, independent commissions, have been widely welcomed and have played a valuable role in ensuring fair treatment for staff. My right honourable friend (and when I referred to him in Committee I meant, as I do now, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and not my noble friend Lord Bellwin) has made it clear that he intends to see that this commission match their predecessors, both in standing up for the staff, who obviously face an unsettling period, and in having a real understanding of the problems of both new and old employers.
1240 These amendments which we are now discussing would require the Secretary of State to consult individual staff and authorities, not just their representative bodies. They would, in effect, give any one authority or representative body consulted by the Secretary of State the power to veto or to delay indefinitely the establishment of a staff commission, irrespective of what any and all of the others think. Is that democratic? Is that really in the best interests of staff? Are the Opposition really saying that they are prepared to put those interests at risk in this way? The right and proper way forward is to establish the staff commission and for them to work out their modus operandi, and who they will consult with.
The real nub of these two amendments is when the consultations should take place. I readily accept the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Graham, that no consultations with the unions have as yet taken place, and the reason is that the unions have not wanted those discussions. They appear to take the attitude that, if they turn their back on the Government's policy, then it will go away and they will not have to bother about it. The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, spoke about the absence of thinking—I think I have the words right. If that does not display an absence of thinking, I should like to know what does.
Nothing we are doing will prevent the staff commission from consulting whoever they wish, and, indeed, the Government are open to views. The difficulty has been that some authorities have been unwilling to make their views known to us, and—I have said it before and I say it again—I wish to goodness they would. But we are dealing now with the need to establish a commission. I say to the House what I said in Committee. It is totally unacceptable to make the existence of such important safeguards a hostage to potential vetoes, which I strongly suspect would be politically motivated.
I am sure that the House will agree that the commission need to be in place at the earliest possible opportunity. It must be in the best interests of all the staff concerned that they begin the process of consultation with interested bodies and provide my right honourable friend with general advice on staffing issues without delay. The sooner they are set up, the sooner they can start to consider how to protect the interests of staff. They will not start their work in earnest until Parliament has settled the principle of abolition in the main Bill. Until then the commission will make their plans, will make contact with authorities and staff representatives and will ensure that no one tries to jump the gun. This must be right in the interests of staff, and I ask the House to reject these amendments.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, I intend to withdraw the amendment, but can the Minister reiterate that which I believe he has implied and which his noble friend Lord Bellwin indicated during the last session? If no consultation has taken place because it has not been requested, and in view of the noises that were made that the Minister will be happy to see that consultations take place with those who wish to take part, will the Minister confirm that it is his understanding that the staff commission, outwith any obligation in the Bill, will be prepared to consult; that 1241 is, to receive representations from, and to discuss with, local authorities and trade unions who request them so to do?
I ask your Lordships to forget the arguments about politicisation; as to whether politics have stopped it. I simply want to have an assurance from the Minister that if a trade union or a local authority, which appeared not to have the opportunity as of right, nevertheless wished to exercise the opportunity—once the procedure starts and the staff commission begin to work, saying, "We are now prepared to consult and we have some obligations to do so"—it will be able to ask, "Will you also listen to what I have to say?" Can the Minister tell us to the best of his ability—because the staff commission will decide—that those who wish to make representations and to have discussions will have the opportunity of doing so?
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to respond to that. Yes, the noble Lord, Lord Graham, is perfectly right in saying that it will he for the staff commission to decide. But I can see absolutely no reason—and nor, I am sure, will any of my ministerial colleagues—why they should not decide in the way that the noble Lord has suggested.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 15 not moved.]
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, this might be a sensible time to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned until five past eight.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.