§ 3.27 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Bellwin)
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee. —(Lord Bellwin.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [THE EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair.]
§ The Deputy Chairman of Committees (The Earl of Listowel)
The Question is, That the Title be postponed?
§ Lord Grimond
I do not want to delay the proceedings on this Bill, and perhaps I am really rising on a point of information. Do I understand that a Motion to postpone discussion of the Title means that the Government are going to amend the Long Title, and that they are going to amend the Long Title after this Bill has passed all its stages in the House of Commons in such a way that it will cease to be a paving Bill and that important changes will be made in the powers of local authorities? If that is the case, then surely it is a somewhat unusual procedure. I do not for one moment allege that it is an abuse of parliamentary procedure, but surely it is stretching parliamentary procedure rather far to amend the Long Title of the Bill at this stage to make it really a rather different type of Bill?
§ Lord Denham
If the noble Lord looks into this matter, I think he will find that it is the standard procedure in your Lordships' House as regards every Bill that is taken in this House that the Title is always postponed. I understand that the reason for it is that in this House we are able to amend the Long Title, which I believe is not possible to that extent in another place. This always happens in case your Lordships make an amendment to a Bill during the course of its Committee stage which thereafter entails an amendment to the Long Title. There is nothing sinister in this at all.
§ Lord Grimond
I did not imply that there was anything sinister about it, and of course I am most grateful to the noble Lord, I fully understand that I am a novice as regards the procedure of your Lordships' House. But this is a very important constitutional Bill and a paving Bill. I just raise the point: is it really the custom not to make minor amendments to the Bill and therefore change the Title, but really to change the nature of the Bill? As I understand it, it is to enable that to be done that this Motion is being moved.
§ Lord Denham
I have been a Member of this House for a very long time and since I have been a Member of this House it has always been the practice that consideration of the Title be postponed. If the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, thinks that it is wrong—and, of course, it may be—then I suggest that he takes it up with the Procedure Committee, which is the right forum in which to deal with a suggestion of this kind.
§ On Question, Title postponed.
Lord Elwyn-Jones moved Amendment No. 1:
Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause—
§ ("Commencement of Parts I and II.
§ . Parts I and II of this Act shall not come into force until a decision by Parliament has been taken on the continued existence 1035 of the Greater London Council and Metropolitan County Councils, and such decision shall not he deemed to have taken place until Royal Assent has been given to an Act dealing with those matters.").
§ The noble and learned Lord said: I rise to move Amendment No. 1, which is an all-party amendment which, if it is approved by your Lordships, will, until Parliament has approved, if it so wills, the main abolition Bill, prevent the Secretary of State from ordering the cancellation of elections to the Greater London Council and to the six metropolitan county councils.
§ It is common ground that the abolition Bill will have no prospect of obtaining Royal Assent in terms of time (indeed, if it ever does obtain Royal Assent) before the May 1985 elections for the county councils which I have mentioned are due to take place. The aim of the first amendment is to ensure that the elections do take place unless and until Parliament—and I say Parliament, not one Chamber of the Parliament —until both Houses of Parliament, decide what is to take the place of the existing councils.
§ I believe that the amendment will protect the proper constitutional position of your Lordships' House and, additionally, it will ensure the proper parliamentary scrutiny —indeed, in the Commons as well—of controversial legislation. If the amendment is agreed, it will also protect democracy and the rights of electors to local authorities.
§ Since Second Reading, on which we had a full and, if I may say so, informed and important debate on the Bill, several amendments to Clause I have appeared on the Marshalled List. It may be helpful if I endeavour to identify the differences between the amendments. If I do not do so accurately. I have little doubt that the noble Lords whose amendments they are will put me right when it comes to their time to speak to the amendments.
§ Amendments Nos. 2 and 7 are in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret.
§ Amendment No. 2: Page 1, line 7, leave out ("Part II") and insert ("Subsection (1) of section 2").
Amendment No. 7: Page 1, line 9, at end insert—
("( ) Subsections (2) to (5) of section 2 and sections 3 to 5 of this Act shall not come into force until a decision by Parliament has been taken on the continued existence of the Greater London Council and Metropolitan County Councils, and such decision shall not be deemed to have taken place until Royal Assent has been given to an Act dealing with those matters.").
§ These two amendments suspend until after Royal Assent to the main abolition Bill the setting up of the interim councils, which are to take the place of the present county councils. The amendments do not stop the Secretary of State from cancelling the May 1985 council elections as soon as the paving Bill becomes law and before Parliament has dealt with the main abolition Bill. They still allow the power in the councils to pass from the elected councillors to nominated councillors.
Amendment No. 10A is in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Spens, the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, and the noble Lord, Lord Shaughnessy.
Amendment No. 10A: Page 2, line 9, leave out ("subsection (2) above") and insert ("this section").
§ This amendment provides that the order to be made 1036 by the Secretary of State cancelling elections shall be subject to the affirmative order procedures of both Houses. This would at least mean that both Lords and Commons would have a chance to debate the Secretary of State's order. However, I submit that that is in no way a major concession. It would still allow the elections to be cancelled and nominated councils to take office, and in addition, in any event, by long-established convention, this House does not vote on affirmative orders coming before it—not at any rate as a general practice.
§ What I submit is clear is that Amendment No. 1, which I move, is the only amendment that keeps the county council elections alive. I submit that that is a crucial issue in regard to the running of our democracy. The other amendments have the effect of killing those council elections and denying the electors the right to exercise the vote.
§ We submit that the Bill as it stands raises major constitutional issues. The Secretary of State has announced that he will not make the order cancelling the elections to the Greater London Council and the metropolitan county councils until the House of Commons has agreed the Second Reading of the main abolition Bill. When that happens he will make the order.
§ In my submission, what is proposed is based on wholly unacceptable assumptions. No true parliamentarian, no true believer in the parliamentary process, would take it for granted (as the Government apparently do) that both Houses of Parliament, whatever the majority of the Government party may be, will necessarily pass a measure in the future on the strength only of a Second Reading in the House of Commons—unless, of course, there is all-party agreement to what is proposed, and that is certainly not suggested here. Indeed, we are in the presence of highly contentious matters, and the Committee may think that least of all should the easy assumption which the Government make of parliamentary compliance take place or arise when what is in issue in this amendment above all others is the threatened abolition of local government elections to major local authorities.
§ I want to make it clear at the outset that, in considering Amendment No. 1, we are not debating in the slightest degree whether the present GLC is a good GLC or whether the six county councils are admirable or bad county councils. That is not the issue which we are discussing. On this amendment we are not discussing whether any of those councils deserve to be abolished or what merits would arise from that. I hope, if I may say so in anxious anticipation, that the noble Lord the Minister who is to reply will not treat us to what he did on Second Reading: namely, a long discussion on a Bill which we have not seen—the abolition Bill—without identifying his usually alert and courteous mind to what we are really talking about.
§ The difficulty which we would of course, in any event, have if we were tempted to discuss the merits of the abolition Bill is that we have not seen it: maybe it has not yet seen the light of day; maybe it is being nourished in some ministerial bosom ready for production at some date, I know not when, I know not 1037 where. We are in the presence of the great unseen, the great unknown. We have no knowledge of what will be in that Bill or of what is to take the place of these great councils. Indeed, this is why my noble friend Lady Fisher called this the "crazy-paving" Bill: a way is being paved, but to what destination? I am reminded of the famous exchange between counsel and a judge. Counsel said, "My Lord, I hope that your Lordship is following me", and the judge said "I am following you very closely, but where are we going?" That is a question which could well be asked in the consideration of this so oddly called paving Bill—paving the way to an unknown destination.
§ The only relevant issue that we are discussing in this amendment is whether Clause 1 is tolerable and acceptable within our parliamentary system. My submission is that it is a negation of our proud parliamentary tradition and that it undermines the pillars on which our unwritten constitution stands. It refuses, and indeed rejects, the right of millions of electors in the county council areas to pronounce in due time upon the councillors seeking election, and on whom they wish to elect or not to elect as their local government representatives.
§ It gives to 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; different from that which the electorate has seen fit to choose in electing its existing county councils. Indeed, one distinguished Conservative Privy Counsellor and former Cabinet Minister in another place has described, and I think rightly, what is proposed as a flagrant piece of gerrymandering, only he has put it in rather more extreme terms than that.
§ The right of the electors to the county councils, conferred upon them by laws passed by the Parliament of this country, to choose their councillors will, by this clause, if it is not amended, be swept away. And why? Because the present Government fear that if those electors are allowed genuine choice in elections freely held, their choice will be to reject the Government's policies on these local government issues.
I submit that what is sought to be done in this Bill is setting up a dangerous precedent for our parliamentary system. As the noble Lord, Lord Alport, said on Second Reading:
If a Government of one party can suspend elections for great areas of Britain by an interim provisions Bill, why could not a Government of another party suspend elections for Great Britain as a whole?" —[Official Report, 11/6/84; col. 964]
§ We are treading on dangerous ground, my Lords.
§ What the Government are trying to do is rendering a great disservice to Parliament, and this at a time when parliamentary institutions are losing the certainty they once had, and fears are growing that the House of Commons and the House of Lords are becoming ciphers and that political power has wholly passed into the hands of the Executive. What the Government have done, or seek to do, will increase those fears. It will do so by anticipating the House of Commons supineness in the Session 1984 to 1985 in dealing with the abolition Bill. They have done so by 1038 contemptuously dismissing the role and function of your Lordships' House in our parliamentary system. They leave it out entirely.
The Long Title of the Bill refers in the first few lines to what is proposed as,
An Act to make provision for the composition of the Greater London Council and metropolitan county councils pending a decision by Parliament on their continued existence"—
not a decision by the House of Commons. What is proposed is in flagrant violation of what is contemplated in the very Long Title of the Bill. I submit—and we shall be discussing these amendments in due course—that the amendments in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret, and indeed the three other noble Lords, do nothing adequate to remedy the mischief in Clause 1 of the Bill, and what is the best protection for the democratic and parliamentary system is the passing of this amendment.
§ In a democracy a government must rule by consent, and must have regard to the proper limits of their own power. Those limits have been far exceeded in Clause 1 of this Bill. Acceptance of the amendment will reaffirm those limits. We need in our parliamentary proceedings to ensure and exert—we from this House in particular —proper scrutiny of legislation. The only amendment to ensure this on Clause 1 is the amendment which I have the honour to move.
§ 3.46 p.m.
§ Lord Molson
The case for this amendment has been so cogently and clearly put by the noble and learned Lord opposite that what I say on the merits must necessarily be repetition. They, however, are in opposition, whereas I am a supporter of the Government—although a discriminating one. I must therefore explain why I am now supporting not the Government but this amendment.
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. We shall however be deeply concerned as to what is to be put in their place. So far as Streamlining the Cities, the White Paper, is concerned, I think some fairly drastic amendments will be needed, and certainly your Lordships will want to have a rigorous Committee stage on that. The trouble arises out of this paving Bill to authorise the abolition of the councils before we have decided what to put in their place. It is in fact a case of putting the cart before the horse.
I regard it as an uprecedented and unconstitutional procedure for this Bill to come into operation to abolish democratic elections due to take place in May 1985 simply on the passing of the Second Reading in another place of the main Bill. The legislature of this realm is the Queen in Parliament, and this Bill should only come into operation, as this amendment provides, after the main Bill has passed all its stages in both Houses and receives the Royal Assent.
The fact that we have no written constitution imposes on this House a special responsibility and duty. We not only operate within the statutory limits of the Parliament Acts but also respectfully observe those self-denying conventions laid down by the late Lord Salisbury and by my noble friend Lord 1039 Carrington. But that emphasises our duty to safeguard the constitution as it is. That duty we should discharge even against a whipped majority in another place and, let me add, particularly conscientiously should we do so when that is a Tory majority. This amendment will do so.
The main argument against it will probably be based on the timetable and the urgent need to cope with what I agree is inefficiency, extravagance and the misuse of power and money on the other side of the river. The considerations of expediency and convenience should not be allowed to outweigh constitutional principles. The end does not justify the means.
It is wrong that your Lordships' House should, by implication, be deemed not to exist. The assumption is that the unassailable Tory majority in the Commons will act, in the words of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor. as an "elected dictatorship". I was very glad when the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, referred to his writings and lectures when in Opposition. They were familiar to me. I have a great respect for everything that he writes and says.
I quote the political philosophy in Opposition of my noble and learned friend against the Lord Chancellor in office. I am reminded of a story of a High Court judge who was trying a case and counsel said, "I am fortunate, my Lord, in being able to quote your words in a previous case that you tried some years ago". He quoted them. The learned judge said incredulously, "Did I really say that?". "Yes, my Lord, they are in the Law Reports." "Ah", said the learned judge, "They are? Well, with the greatest respect to myself, I think I was wrong".
There might be, if it ever came, as it could not, to a case in the courts, a case called Hailsham v. Hailsham—Hailsham, the political philosopher in Opposition, and Hailsham, the Lord Chancellor in office. I hope that he will show more consistency and more obduracy if his writings are quoted against him. I hope he will say to his colleagues in the Government, "I have so great a respect for Lord Hailsham the political philosopher that I think we ought respectfully to follow his advice".
On the same slightly light note, I should like to quote the quizzical remark of another Member of your Lordships' House of even greater distinction than the Lord Chancellor. I happened recently to meet my noble friend Lord Stockton in that sanctum of Toryism, the Carlton Club. I told him that, largely as a result of his invention when Prime Minister of the Life Peerage, the Government had sustained three defeats on the Housing Bill, but I added that I did not know what would happen to our amendments when they went to the Commons. My noble friend replied, "Ah! The problem used to be the built-in Tory majority in the Lords. The problem now is the elected majority in the Commons".
That anecdote is strictly relevant to my argument in support of this amendment. Words from my noble friend Lord Stockton, even spoken in jest, very often embody great wisdom and experience. The Government have brought these problems on themselves and, let me add, on us who are their well-wishers. It is obvious that neither has the whole 1040 strategy of these reforms been adequately thought through, nor has an integrated parliamentary timetable been prepared in advance. The Government excuse this precipitate and unco-ordinated programme of legislation because the last election was held as recently as 1983, but they had been in power for four years before that.
In answer to the complaint that this extensive programme of local government reform was a hurriedly improvised scheme at the last general election, we had the statement from my noble friend Lord Bellwin at Second Reading that it had been under discussion for years past. Those discussions for those years do not appear to have been very fruitful.
When I was in Government a generation ago we had in addition to the legislation committee a future legislation committee. It planned several Sessions ahead and considered applications by departments for a place for their Bills in the future legislative programme. It planned ahead for the future. I wonder whether that committee thought out the timing, the integration and the co-ordination of this policy with its two separate Bills, or was it bypassed?
I argued at Second Reading that it was wrong to use parliamentary power to replace, in the case of London, a Labour majority with a Conservative one. It will no doubt be said that the present Labour majority on the Greater London Council, which has so abused its power and spent the ratepayers' money irresponsibly, would do so in that extra 11 months of life. Much of the harm it can do has already been done and the rate capping Bill will then be in operation and, I hope, will be drastically applied.
It would appear that the Greater London Council has not used any money unlawfully. It has been used on hairbrained schemes, but it cannot have been unlawful otherwise the district auditors would have taken action. In 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.
I remember what was called, if I remember, the National Economy Act which in 1931 enabled the Government to take wide powers to deal with the economic and financial crises of that time. It passed through all its stages in both Houses in a matter of days. I cannot believe that it is impossible to draft measures well within the constitution which Parliament would pass rapidly without infringing, as I think this Bill does, the spirit and conventions of the constitution. I believe that that pragmatical and constitutional approach would not arouse the public dismay that this Bill in its unamended form has done and which will manifest itself in elections. 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.
When I agreed to add my name to this amendment, I did not commit myself to all my co-signatories' views. It is only confined to this amendment. On the main issue they, we know, oppose the abolition of the top tier of local authorities while I support it. We are agreed, however, that, as drafted, this Bill deems your 1041 Lordships' House to be non-existent. That is unconstitutional and wrong. I hope that your Lordships will not be unduly swayed by arguments of expediency or convenience but will regard this amendment as a matter of principle and support it.
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ Baroness Hornsby-Smith
Before my noble friend sits down, I believe I am right in having heard him say that the rate capping Bill could deal with it. Surely the rate capping Bill can only deal with boroughs who raise the rates and the GLC uses the precept from the boroughs. I should like to know how under the Bill when they do not raise the direct rates the rate capping Bill can have any effect on the expenditure or the precept levied on the boroughs?
§ Lord Molson
I spoke about the general principle raised by this amendment. I suggested that an arrangement might be made. I cannot now go into details.
§ Lord Hayter
Speaking from this particular section of your Lordships' House, there is a phrase that I cannot use: "We on these Benches…"because we on these Benches never know what our colleagues are going either to say or to do. Indeed, I have been bombarded with notes today because this was talked about as an all-party amendment, which it is indeed; but, as far as the Cross-Benchers are concerned, we have to speak for ourselves. I would say, however, that at the Second Reading quite a number of Cross-Benchers voted for the Government—they did not like the reasoned amendment—but the majority voted for that amendment. I conducted a small, private Gallup poll of my own to find out what was the reasoning behind my colleagues' attitude.
Some had very understandable constitutional scruples about a reasoned amendment on a Bill which came from the Commons. I understand that. Others misunderstood entirely the Minister's final speech in the winding up of that Second Reading debate. I will come to that in a minute. Let us talk about what this amendment is not concerned with. So far as I am concerned, it is not about the GLC personalities, it is not about the abolition of councils, it is not about interim measures—although an analogy did occur to me when we were talking about these interim measures, that, as an elected member of my local, Ashtead, cricket club, one day I might become an appointed member of the MCC! There are occasions when new blood is needed there.
But we can argue about this amendment on a constitutional or a procedural point and, as has been emphasised previously, the phrase used in the Explanatory Memorandum is "pending a decision by Parliament". I learned at school, having done some constitutional history, and I learned even more in your Lordships' House, that a decision by Parliament involves eleven stages—a first reading, a second reading, a committee, a report and a third reading in the House and in the other House as well, and then finally Royal Assent.
This short cut of a Second Reading in the House of Commons is presented by some people as being a presentation of a wrecking amendment. But we did not put those words in. They were put there purposely 1042 and, for my part, I think they meant what they said. It is supposed to be a Government timing problem. Again, we, as individual Members of your Lordships' House, have nothing to do with the timing problems. As the noble Lord, Lord Molson, has said, they have apparently been thinking about it for years. So, for my part, "pending a decision by Parliament" means those eleven stages.
Now I come to the other muddle which caused some confusion in the minds of some of my colleagues. When the noble Lord the Minister in his final speech quite correctly said that the main abolition Bill will have to be passed through all its stages in both Houses before the main abolition Bill can become law—precisely so! Well done! Then he went on to say that the passing of this interim Bill in no way changes or diminishes the need for that approval (that is to say, of the main abolition Bill) line by line in both Houses. I agree entirely. It is precisely because I am with the noble Minister in saying that a Bill has got to go through all those stages, that it has got to go through a Committee and be examined line by line, that I feel that this amendment has a great deal to commend itself to your Lordships.
What a curious situation it is that sometimes, year after year. we chide the Government of this side or the Government of that side—and here I am speaking for my colleagues on the Cross-Benches—for passing retrospective legislation. But here we are groaning because they are passing prospective legislation. And there are straws in the wind that perhaps that Second Reading will not go quite so well as they think. But let us get it clear. The Government timing problem is "pending a decision by Parliament". I was reminding myself the other day of Through the Looking Glass, where Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, "When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less". So far as I am concerned, I hope that the Minister's words will mean more than he said when he talked about pending a decision by Parliament; so I, for my part, individually, support this amendment.
§ Viscount Mountgarret
I wonder if I might interject at this stage. I think I would be right in saying that if this amendment were to be passed, all the other amendments that have been put down relating to this particular subject would fall. Therefore, it might perhaps be appropriate if I were to ask leave of the House to speak to my two amendments which are on the Marshalled List today. My noble friend Lord Molson said that he put his name to an all-party amendment, which has been so ably moved by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones. I can hardly think that in the closing remarks of his speech he could really be deemed to be supporting the amendment as strongly as others who put their names to it would have liked. He seemed to be on the verge of wavering somewhat—
§ Viscount Mountgarret
I think that perhaps if your Lordships read Hansard you will find that is what he did indicate. But do not let us digress too much on that point.
1043 The other thing that I should like to say is that I regret very much indeed the manner in which this amendment has in fact been moved; because a wrecking amendment is one thing but a total wrecking amendment of a complete Bill is another. I should have thought that we had had a very long, very interesting and very good Second Reading on this whole subject and on this particular point as well; and that this had been passed—admittedly by only a small majority in your Lordships' House. But, having so done, I should have thought that a completely, total, wrecking so-called amendment to the entire principle of the Bill which has already been passed by your Lordships' House was really not quite the right way of going about things.
The purpose of my amendments is to try to find a way—
§ Lord Elwyn-Jones
If the noble Viscount will be kind enough to give way I would be most grateful. I am afraid I thought that the noble Viscount was referring to somebody else when he said that at the end of his speech he seemed to be wavering. I am astonished that the noble Viscount was referring to me. I stand firm; I do not waver at all.
§ Viscount Mountgarret
I am very sorry. I do not think I indicated that the noble and learned Lord was wavering in any way. I do not think so.
The purpose of my amendments is to try to find a way in which some compromise might be reached between those who wish. quite rightly, to have this paving Bill on the statute book in such a way that will make the transitional period from May 1985 until such time as the GLC and the metropolitan councils are probably abolished more workable, and those who feel, also quite rightly, that the way the Government have proposed that this should be done is somewhat unconstitutional, to say the least.
The Government do have a mandate for the abolition of these councils and we were told quite clearly on Second Reading that for all sorts of reasons—be they good or bad. which is, if I may say so, at the present moment rather irrelevant to the point at issue—the timetable for such an abolition Bill would take effect from about April 1986. If this point is accepted, which I believe it really should be—one has got to try to look at things in a rational way; it is reasonable for us to assume that this abolition Bill will take place—it cannot in any way make sense to hold elections which in normal circumstances would be due in May 1985. Not only would it be a total waste of money to go through an electoral procedure for councillors to serve a mere 11 months, but bearing in mind the manner in which many of the existing councillors—on the GLC in particular—have reacted to this whole matter, it must be as plain as a pikestaff that the holding of elections, in the true sense of the word, would be meaningless as the platforms for those elections would be used only to stir up emotion against the wider issues and would be ostensibly used to attempt to undermine the Government's case and probably even the will of Parliament.
Therefore, I feel it is a prerequisite that the elections proposed for May 1985 should be suspended by this 1044 Bill, notwithstanding the fact that a Bill to abolish the councils has not even been laid before Parliament. I do not believe that this is unconstitutional; nor do I believe that it could be deemed in any way to deny the people of London or the metropolitan areas their right to elected representation, provided that my second amendment can be taken in conjunction with the first.
The second amendment really tries to deal with what I believe to be the real kernel of your Lordships' great disquiet and unease in this matter; certainly that of noble Lords opposite and, I feel, of a number of my noble friends on this side of the Committee. I do not accept that it can be right in any way for this Government or any other government to be responsible for arbitrarily replacing a body of elected councillors of one political party holding a majority by a nominated body giving a majority of another political party; this particularly when the new majority would be the same political colour as that of the Government in power; especially when there is no Act on the statute book to abolish the councils in question. Having said that, I entirely accept and appreciate that it would make sense to provide for nominated councillors from the boroughs which will eventually have the responsibility for running the affairs of the abolished councils to take charge of those affairs to smooth the transitional path. but only after a Bill to abolish has been passed.
As I said on Second Reading, I am more particularly concerned about the public image of your Lordships' House in this matter. A vitally important reason for our existence is to continue to contain an enthusiastic and very strong Government in power in another place. If matters are brought before us which can be shown quite clearly to be either unconstitutional or gerrymandering—call it what you will—we have. I believe, an absolute, imperative duty to require the Government to think again. We attempted to do so at Second Reading, and although the reasoned amendment was defeated by only a very few votes—which I certainly would not call decisive by any manner or means, although I believe it has been called decisive by others—it was clear that there was widespread unrest and unease in your Lordships' House.
The Government. very understandably, and indeed I would say I myself too, are concerned about what might happen if the existing councillors have their term of office extended for any length of time. It is felt, quite understandably, that a considerable amount of damage could be done by the squandering of large sums of money in a policy of non-co-operation and continued bitterness. But as has been mentioned, the ratecapping Bill, which has been passed or almost passed, should to a considerable degree take care of that; and indeed I think I am right in saying that Amendment No. 67 of my noble friend Lord Bellwin also goes a long way to putting an effective stop to any such monkey business.
We have seen something of the behaviour that might come by Mr. Livingstone attempting to make a nonsense of this whole business by having an arbitrary interim election by resigning his position and then standing for election again in September. All I can say is that I hope very much that the Government will take 1045 note of that one and put down an amendment on Report stage to squash any such nonsense—
§ Viscount Mountgarret
because it is not right for people who hold office and are blessed with power to abuse that power but they must use it in a responsible fashion; and if they do otherwise they must expect what is coming to them.
It can be argued that the measure before us is not as unconstitutional as it might seem because the councillors will have ended their four-year term of office in May and that they are not actually going to be removed. But the point is that they are going to be replaced on the GLC by a majority of the Conservative party rather than what is there at present. I believe that that must be wrong but I should like to suggest a route which the Government might consider taking to try to get out of creating such a rather unpleasant mess. They have been running around for the past week or so trying to find various holes down which to bolt and unfortunately the rabbit seems to have put up the net.
But we have to find one hole that is available to escape down. That I suggest might be this. If the Government were prepared to suggest a scheme—I do not know how they are going to do it and I do not know how it would work, but somebody must think of it—whereby nominated councillors from the boroughs might be appointed to the GLC—the short-term. the interim GLC—who reflect the same political representation as is there now, then I do not think that the objections would be quite so great. This would be more reasonable and might make it more possible for your Lordships to accept. But if that is not possible for one reason or another. I cannot see that we can allow this Bill to go forward in the way that it stands.
Without reiterating all the arguments that were rehearsed on Second Reading, which we all know very well, I hope perhaps that your Lordships will bear in mind the points I have tried to make and, in the light of that, that your Lordships' Committee might feel it right not to support the amendment so admirably moved by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones. If the Government can give some assurance that on Report stage they might be able to adopt the alternative route that I have suggested, I should be very happy to withdraw my amendments. I really do not like my amendments very much. I do not like them, but I positively dislike the Bill as it stands. You have to do the best you can in the circumstances.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
The speeches that we have heard so far on this amendment have all been very clearly anti-Government and of course to kill the Bill is their intention; but I do not think the position as it stands justifies the kind of criticism we have heard or that which is contained in the amendments which have been put forward with that as their main intention. The noble and learned Lord, in moving the amendment—and he always does it in such a plausible way that even when he is wrong he frightens me to death because he sounds so effective—said that this was nothing whatever to do with the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan boroughs. We all know it 1046 has everything to do with them. We all know it is part and parcel of that main argument. Without that there would not be an argument. And I feel that while it is very pleasurable, in this Chamber particularly, to approach these matters on the high level of what is a good quality debating club, we happen also to be part of a Parliament that has to do practical things and has to face up to practical things which could be obscured by quoting what has been said by High Court judges in the past, and theorists of that sort.
What is the practical situation? It is this: the Greater London Council and the metropolitan councils (which I know more about than the Greater London Council) were made the subject of the last election in a very big way. At the election, when the whole of the nation were paying attention to all the ingredients and the whole of the atmosphere that surrounded it, they came to the conclusion (and showed it by their vote) that this was an unnecessary tier of government which caused expense, which caused delays and which disrupted business and slowed down general development designed to deal with such things as unemployment, and the electorate felt the time had come, short though its life had been, for such impediments to be removed.
I was prejudiced on that because I thought the extra tier never should have been instigated, and when it was instigated in another place I both voted and spoke against that instigation. All that has happened since has confirmed the fears that I held then; that it was unnecessary, that it would be expensive, that it would put extra obstacles in the way of people running businesses and industries by imposing delay and the consequent costs upon them. All that has been confirmed, and it impressed itself upon the nation to such an extent that at the general election, where this was one of the most important parts of the manifesto, the decision was given that the nation wanted it to be abolished.
§ Lord Diamond
Will the noble Lord give way? I am most grateful to him. Could he refresh our minds with regard to the simple figures? Would he give the figures of the electorate which could be held to support the proposition he is putting forward and the total figures of the electorate that could be held not to support it?
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
The noble Lord ought to drag his mind away from proportional representation sometimes, and I believe that this is an issue which is far enough away from that to be judged on its merits. There is no doubt anywhere—and I think it is accepted on the other side of this Chamber—that the nation by its vote instructed the Government of the day to abolish this tier of government, and they have set about doing it. They have made it very clear how they are going to do it, recognising, as anyone who has played any part in government knows, that these things have to be started very early in the life of a Government, otherwise they cannot be brought to fruition as was intended when the manifesto was brought forward. It is the duty of the Government, 1047 having decided to implement their election pledge, not to allow themselves to be frustrated by parliamentary tacticians, not to allow their intentions to be arrested by perhaps over-presenting what is supposed to be the constitutional position, when in point of fact there is no constitutional principle being breached in this at all.
Nothing is being done without Parliament's approval. Nothing is being asked to be put into operation without both Houses having given their decision. That is the constitutional way of government. And just because we are in the process of getting to the point where we are asking one part of Parliament to give its support does not make it unconstitutional. I believe—and here I am talking particularly to my noble friends who may have had doubts particularly over the way it has been presented—that it is not a bad thing to be practical, impressed though one may be by high-level and sometimes highfalutin' speeches, we must keep our feet on the ground and recognise this amendment for what it is. This is an attempt to prevent the Government of the day carrying out a promise they gave to the electors and for which they had permission.
As regards its being democratic, perhaps I might claim to be in a position to have a view on this. I doubt whether there is any one in this Chamber who has fought more elections than I have. The last was the 19th. I fought parliamentary, local government, European and county council elections, and I have had some sort of contact with the actual carrying out of these things called parliamentary elections and parliamentary approvals. I am not prepared to accept that people who have been elected to a borough council and who are asked to take over the functions of a joint responsibility with other authorities in doing that are being undemocratically appointed. Indeed, for a number of years I was chairman of a joint health service committee which incorporated something like 10 or 12 authorities, although I was only elected by one of the authorities concerned. There is no question of democracy being impinged when the people in a position to carry this out are people who themselves have been elected.
I make no appeal to the opposite side because this is a party tactic and I do not expect them to move away from a party tactic to which they have given a lot of thought. There has been talk about a whipped majority in the other place; but I doubt whether that Whip would be any stronger than the Whip of loyalty that was applied to noble Lords opposite on this issue. But I do appeal to my noble friends that if we keep our feet on the ground we shall perhaps be reflecting the views of the nation much better than these highfalutin' speeches that we have heard where it is being suggested, without any proof and without any real support, that we are breaching some constitutional point, when we are not.
I believe that the people of this country will forgive governments almost anything. They will forgive them adultery, embezzlement—almost murder—but they will not forgive them deliberate stupidity; and the one thing that would be deliberately stupid would be for this Government, having obtained the authority of the 1048 nation to abolish this tier of government, to allow themselves to be frustrated by putting back in office people who have not only said they will set out to frustrate the will of the nation but who have boasted it is their joy that they should do it, and that they will spend the ratepayers' money to do it. For a government deliberately to put a group of people who have made their position so crystal clear in a position to carry out that intention would be dubbed by the nation as being deliberately stupid. That is one thing for which they would not be forgiven. I remember vividly when Mr. Callaghan did not carry out the recommendations on redistribution because it was thought that it would affect the strength of his party by 17 to 18 seats. He did not do it, because it did not suit his book. He thought that it would frustrate what he felt he had the authority of the nation to do and it was not held against him. But it would have been held against him if he had been weak enough or stupid enough, on the arguments of phoney principle and so on, which could not be supported. to move away from something that was perfectly right
§ Lord Mishcon
Will the noble Lord give way for one moment? I intervene only to encourage him to go on with his speech at greater length, because the longer he speaks, the more I feel that the Committee will welcome the first amendment. But having said that, may I ask him whether he will kindly deal, just for one moment,with his refusal to accept the possibility of an election in which the voters will be able to express their point of view, instead of listening to his eloquence?
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
The noble Lord opened with his typical show of smooth arrogance. There was no need for that. We have to listen to quite a lot of what he considers to be the truth, put in his way. If my style is not one that he finds acceptable, that is a pity. But it is the argument that I am concerned with and not the way in which it is presented. I am saying that what is being done now in asking the Committee to approve this paving Bill is in accordance with the Government doing their duty, by carrying out what they told the nation they would carry out and what the nation gave them authority to carry out.
The Earl of Halsbury
With the leave of the Committee, I should like to slot in at this point, because the amendment in the name of myself and my noble friends is a third alternative between that proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, and that proposed by the noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret. May I just make a brief comment on its description in today's copy of TheTimes as, "tabled by Cross-Benchers"? Here I have the same point to make as my noble friend Lord Hayter. It is perfectly correct that all three names on this amendment are those of Cross-Benchers, but more than that must not be read into it. Cross-Benchers generally are in no way involved in it; nor have I discussed it with them as though they were a party whose support I was lobbying.
I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Spens cannot be here to move his own amendment when the time 1049 comes, for he was its principal architect, but he is—only temporarily, I hope— on the sick list. I am sure that I shall be speaking for the whole Committee if on its behalf I wish him a speedy recovery and express the hope that we shall enjoy his genial and always helpful presence in his usual place in due course.
The amendment that I propose is a modest attempt to be helpful by transferring the powers in Clause 1(4), which apply to part only of the activation process, to that whole process, so that it becomes uniformly subject to an affirmative resolution of both Houses. The amended Clause 1(4) would then cover the whole of what will be the future Section 1. It will I think have no incalculable side effects and its immediate effects will he transparent.
Its intention is to be helpful and to smooth feathers that were visibly ruffled during Second Reading by the proposal to make the activation process dependent on events in the other place, without reference to your Lordships' wishes here. If our amendment finds favour in your Lordships' eyes, then you will have a second chance to make your wishes known.
I do not want to make a long speech, but I should like to make some very brief comments on the matters which have tended to bulk rather large in people's feelings: and these are two in number. One is the constitutional position and the other is the democratic position. I have to confess that I am not a constitutional lawyer, nor am I a barrack-room lawyer, either; and I think between these two extremes there is a grey area which can be occupied by wishful thinking. The precedents are few and their analogical resemblances are not very similar. I am reminded somewhat of Bradley's dictum about metaphysics, that it is finding had reasons for what you believe by instinct. He added the rider that it is nonetheless instinctive to go looking for such reasons.
I rather feel that on the constitutional issue people have allowed their emotional involvement with local government theory and practice to justify their feelings by reference to constitutional arguments. To some extent I feel the same about the issue of democracy. Local government in our age wears two hats. With one on, it is the agent of democratically elected central government with responsibility for distributing central government largess on behalf of the welfare state. As such, it is appointed, not elected. I do not think that a rebellious agent can defend himself on the grounds that, wearing a different hat altogether, he was elected and not appointed.
Let me come to the democratic aspect of that second hat that it wears. The total failure of all governments to reform local government taxation has worn it rather thin. The electorate consists of those who receive largess from the welfare state, and can be relied on to support any authority which dishes it out generously, however improperly. Those who supply the wherewithal to add to it from the rates are grossly under-represented on the electoral rolls.
I shall not pursue these points further; otherwise, shall make a Second Reading speech. I am content to note that, from the standpoint of this amendment, neither the consititutional nor the democratic issues strike me as having very great dialectical binding 1050 power in the rather "grotty" situation where we find ourselves with rebellious councils on our hands.
I should like to say a last word, if I may, on affirmative instruments. They are not bound by the Parliament Act, so that we here can exercise a wrecking effect on any process governed by them. For this reason, it is common practice to ensure that we know the wishes of the other place before we agree to affirmative instruments. It is none of our business to wreck. But I am advised—and here, again, I have to take advice—that this is more a matter of convenience than of necessity and that, from time to time, to suit the business managers of both Houses, we occasionally consider affirmative instruments here first. There is no reason why we could not do so by arrangement in the context of an amended paving Bill.
Your Lordships therefore do not have to be thought of as rubber stamps. You can get a free vote in case of real need. You might be asked to reconsider it later, but we are used to deferring to the other place in such cases, and nothing new would be involved. It has been done before on the Rhodesian issue. That is what I want to say about my amendments and in due course, if the opportunity arises, I shall move them.
§ Lord Bellwin
May I just make a very quick intervention and say on that point—of course, I shall he speaking later—that I am glad to confirm, if there should be any doubt, that it is the Government's intention to accept the amendment relating to the affirmative resolution procedure. But I shall refer to it again when I speak a little later on.
The Lord Bishop of Liverpool
It is perhaps worth making the point that we are not speaking only about the Greater London Council this afternoon. We are concerned for the other metropolitan counties, and perhaps I may speak especially from what I know in Merseyside. It is said that the paving Bill is simply a necessary way of making practical arrangements to tide us over a short interim period. The Secretary of State knows that this next year or two will be a very anxious and important time for Merseyside, and indeed for the other metropolitan counties, and I want to set what I say in the context of this next year or two.
The seriousness with which the democratic process is taken during the next year or two is crucial. We face great anxieties at this moment in Liverpool over making a rate—anxieties which other urban authorities are very likely to be facing next year. We sometimes use the word "alienation" to describe the underlying feelings of many people in Merseyside. We use it rightly, with the sense that they feel that they have no serious part in making the decisions which affect their lives.
Every time the democratic process is weakened or discredited, that alienation is deepened. Talk of commissioners being put in to take over the functions of Liverpool City Council rightly makes us shudder. With all my heart I hope that a legal rate will be fixed in the next fortnight and all the fears of bankruptcy for Liverpool and disqualification of councillors will be ended. We do not want a further shift in the direction of centralised control.
1051 In 1985, the Merseyside Development Corporation comes up for renewal. Personally, I trust that it will be renewed. It is doing excellent work. But I make the same point about the shift of power from locally elected authorities. Merseyside Development Corporation, wielding a great deal of power, is a government-appointed quango.
The Government rightly recognise the reality of Merseyside as a place, its needs and opportunities. There is a Merseyside task force, established three years ago by Michael Heseltine as Minister for Merseyside. There is inner city partnership, as in other urban areas with great human needs. I am very glad that the Government have this involvement, but there need to be locally elected partners in the partnership. Perhaps I may say that I hope that Liverpool City Council will enter more deeply into that co-operation between central and local government which inner city partnership should be about.
It is in this context, where there is an urgent need for reconciliation, that the proposed abolition of Merseyside County Council seems to me to be nothing short of a tragedy. Alongside the bitter divisions of politics which have long dogged Liverpool City Council, the county council is a body in which there is that old and valuable habit of reaching out beyond the boundaries of one political party. It is significant that Merseyside County Council unanimously opposes these abolition proposals. There should be a full, public and independent inquiry into the structure and financing of local government in the metropolitan areas.
In the context that I have described, the way that the interim year is handled is extremely important and its connections with the democratic process are vital. The interim provisions Bill proposes that, instead of an election, county councils should be brought up to number by nominees of the district councils. I believe that there is no precedent in our constitutional history for suspending elections to a group of local authorities and then substituting nominees in the place of directly elected members. These nominees would be those who have been elected to district councils. They would have to squeeze their duties as members of the county councils into their already busy lives as district councillors.
I repeat my point about the importance of the next year or two. Inexperienced councillors, in this sense, in 1985-86 would quite likely be legally required to enforce cuts resulting from a budget which might well be rate capped. I have great anxieties about whether councillors who are accountable to their district councils would give their real commitment to a body which should address itself to the needs of the whole of a county. For example, a Sefton district councillor who came to the Merseyside Churches Ecumenical Council to argue the case for abolition of the Merseyside County Council said that he would not support the existence of a body which "doesn't benefit Sefton citizens within Sefton". But a county council is concerned with all the people in the county.
I notice that my notes repeatedly say "MCC"—Merseyside County Council. For much of my life the initials "MCC" could only have meant one 1052 thing—Marylebone Cricket Club—and for much of my life it would have been equally inconceivable that I should have come to London on this Thursday in June and come to your Lordships' House rather than going to Lord's Cricket Ground. Thinking of other anxious happenings at Lord's, a bishop who is a close friend of mine and an equally enthusiastic cricketer wrote to me last week about a bad event which affected us both and then mentioned at the end of his letter a good appointment he had been able to make. "Oh, well, you win some: you lose some", he wrote. Then, "With England you lose some". In the Cricketer magazine this month there is a cartoon of a group of boys, one black boy and some white boys. The black boy says, "You be England and I'll be Richards".
The MCC has come, for me, to mean quite as often Merseyside County Council. They are initials which mean something very important, for Merseyside is a reality. I chair the Manpower Services Commission's area manpower board for Merseyside—not, as was briefly considered, one of two boards to cover that area. The Department of Employment, like the Department of Industry, knows that economically Merseyside is an entity. If we are to bring about the expansion of industry and commerce which we so urgently need, there needs to be a unified package of information and a coherent process of planning. If the economic decline of the county sadly continues, we equally need such co-ordinated information and planning. The Merseyside Chamber of Commerce and Industry is among the many Merseyside bodies which oppose the proposals of Streamlining the Cities. The chamber of commerce says:To abolish the Merseyside County Council is the wrong approach, since it is right for economic, social, cultural and institutional reasons to retain our county council as the natural organ of local government".We are talking about a very substantial shift of power from local government to Whitehall, and we are taking a significant step in that direction by means of an interim provisions Bill. I believe we need to take great care not to weaken the democratic process during these particularly sensitive years. Executive power should be kept within strict proportion to needs. We should beware of setting dangerous precedents for the future.
We are being asked to comprehend the interim measures in this Bill without proper consideration of what the main abolition Bill may contain. This interim provisions Bill seems to me to ride roughshod over Parliament. I believe it is a proper moment for this Committee to make the Government delay and pause for thought. The other amendments to come before the Committee still allow the elections to be cancelled. I support the amendment now before the Committee.
§ 4.49 p.m.
§ The Earl of Onslow
Perhaps it might have been better, both for England and for the Government, if the right reverend Prelate had gone to Lord's and had not come this afternoon to your Lordships' House.
I find myself in considerable difficulty over this Bill. The reason is as follows. It has been established by the slightly doubtful doctrine of the mandate and it has been made quite clear that the Government are going 1053 to abolish the upper tier of local authorities. My noble friend Lord Marshall of Leeds set that out in a ruthlessly intellectual case during the Second Reading of the Bill.
I also happen to think that this Government are a very good government. Five years ago I had the great privilege of seconding the Address on the first term of this Government. I said, to hoots of ribald laughter from the Benches opposite, that I thought it looked as though the Government were going to be a thorough-bred government. This Government have shown very high qualities. During the past five years they have achieved many things which many of us thought they were not going to be able to achieve. So when it comes to the Government being caught with their hand in the till, as I suggest to your Lordships they are being caught, by changing the composition of one section of the governing body by what is, to all intents and purposes, a Czarist ukase, I get cross with them—much more than I would with the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, or Mr. Callaghan, who did it quite happily and, as the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls said, it did not seem to matter: they were being tough; they were not being stupid, but they were allowed to cheat, they were allowed to adulterate, and they were allowed to do this—
§ The Earl of Onslow
I have a rather higher view of the standard of quality of the government of this country, and it is when it is caught cheating
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
The noble Lord has made some remarks about my noble friend Lord Wilson and my right honourable friend Mr. Callaghan which he may wish to reconsider and withdraw.
§ The Earl of Onslow
I think that I was agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, that when Mr. Callaghan did not do the redistribution, it was certainly regarded as something that was not of the highest standards of British parliamentary democracy.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
The noble Earl used words which I do not wish to repeat in this Committe. He knows perfectly well what he said. Will he now be good enough to withdraw those words without equivocation?
§ The Earl of Onslow
I would say that if I had made a comment that was wrong, impertinent or rude pertaining to somebody's personal honour, then of course I would withdraw it with no hesitation at all. What I would certainly go on to say is that there was justifiable criticism of the Callaghan Government for their behaviour over the boundaries distribution. It is that quality of behaviour, which this Government are exhibiting over the change from a Labour-controlled to a Conservative-controlled GLC, which worries me. It is that which seems to me to be cheating. Because ours is such a good Government, and because it is a Government which I am extremely proud to support as much as possible, I find that I am in grave danger of voting against them.
1054 I may not vote for this particular amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Molson, because it may well he that we would be involving ourselves in a referendum. As Burke said, one interferes with the English constitution at one's peril, and one does not tamper with it. A referendum has been, and is, the instrument of dictators. It is too easy to pose a certain question. I would not dream of supporting some of the antics up to which Mr. Livingstone gets—of course not. What I would certainly suggest is that we are here in danger of losing the quality which I hope that this Government and this country always support.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
I think it was fortunate that the right reverend Prelate decided to come to this Committee to deal with the metropolitan county councils rather than go to the somewhat similarly-named establishment in St. Marylebone. I would not be so ungenerous as to suggest that the fact that it is raining had anything to do with his decision. This House always listens to the right reverend Prelate with great attention. If he will allow me to say so, many of us listen with great admiration to the battle which he puts up continually for the interests of the people in his widespread and far from happy diocese. I am sure that his admirable speech added very much to the tone of our debate.
If I may return to the amendment which we are at least in form discussing, this is— and is intended to be—a wrecking amendment. It is a perfectly legitimate political ploy on the part of the Opposition; very much on the same lines of thought as the proposed reasoned amendment which the Opposition put forward on Second Reading and which the House decided to reject. Nobody knows better than the noble and learned Lord who moved the amendment that, were it to be carried, it would create a situation involving inevitable and substantial delay in carrying out the policy which the Government were elected to carry out; that is to say, the policy of abolishing the Greater London Council. That is the amendment's intention.
I hope that we may consider this amendment with that practical consideration very much in mind. Our position and our decision has been made much easier by the amendment to which the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, spoke and which, as I understand it, my noble friend the Minister has said he will be advising your Lordshps to accept. I was suprised that the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, who is usually such a master of the English language, referred to his proposal as "the third alternative". There is of course no such thing in our language. The third option—if the noble Earl will allow me, however impertintently, to seek to correct his grammar—does seem to offer a complete answer to one of the two points put by the noble and learned Lord on the Front Bench opposite.
The noble and learned Lord commented, and I noted down his words, that the proposal in the Bill as it stands was "contemptuously dismissing" the role of the House of Lords in our constitution. I could not help reflecting, when he said that, that he is a most distinguished member of a party which just over a year ago went to the polls seeking a mandate to abolish this House. There has been no conversion so rapid, and I hope so permanent, since St. Paul proceeded to Damascus. I welcome the noble and learned Lord to 1055 the ranks of those—of whom I can claim modestly to be one, at least for my part in the 1968 Bill—who seek to defend the position and rights of this House.
The amendment of noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, seems completely to deal with that argument. The position will be that each House on the same basis will have an opportunity to pronounce on whether this Bill will be put into operation at an early stage in the discussions on the main and substantive Bill. I for my part find that argument wholly satisfying as far as the status and position of this House is concerned, and that is a matter which has always been of very great imporance to me.
The other argument which the noble and learned Lord presented to the Committee was a slightly different one. He referred to the proposals as being unconstitutional. Indeed, he used one of those elegantly-polished phrases of his about the pillars on which the constitution rests. I have often wondered whether they are any more substantial than the supports on which the roof of your Lordships' Chamber rests. I fail to follow the noble and learned Lord as to why a proposal not to allow the members of an elected body to serve out the full term for which they were elected—because it is the intention to substitute a totally different form of organization—and not to go through what would basically be the farce and mockery of an election should be regarded as unconstitutional.
An election held in May of next year,with the main Bill almost certainly in this House by then. would be a waste of money. I am told that one is talking in terms of £3 million or £4 million. It would be a waste of time because what could the ladies and gentlemen who put themselves forward as candidates offer to the electorate as policies, knowing that in a matter of months their term of office would be over?
Moreover, it could be a great deal more than a waste of time; it could be be a very wasteful process—and I hope that the right reverend Prelate does not mind that I am speaking about London—because it has been made abundantly clear by Mr. Livingstone and his colleagues that so long as they are in office, they will forbid their officials to have any contact with the successor authorities, to supply them with information or to give them any help. What useful purpose would be served by deliberately prolonging for a number of months—and I am told it would be something like 11 months—that wasteful, useless period of time?
And what is the agrument for it? The argument for it seems to be that there is something unconstitutional at the end of an elected body's term of office, when you are making changes in ceasing to go through what would be. frankly, the farce of another election. On the question of what is unconstitutional, I differ from the noble and learned Lord with real diffidence—and he knows I mean this—since I have the highest regard for him, not only because he held the office of Lord Chancellor, but also because he held what to him, and certainly to me I think was the even more important office of Recorder of the Royal Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames. But, with great respect, I utterly fail to see, I must confess, what is unconstitutional about 1056 taking this action as part of the general procedure for this fairly drastic re-organisation of local government.
Finally, may I come to my noble friend the noble Earl behind me, who used the evocative phrase "hands in the till"? I do not myself see that anybody is making any great profit out of this, but that may be the jaundiced view of a former Treasury Minister. As I understood my noble friend, he felt there was something morally wrong not in doing what is being done in the five other areas (including, of course. Liverpool) but in doing what is being done in London, because when done there in this way it would transform a Labour majority into a Conservative one. This simply reflects the fact that the elections in the boroughs which will be taking over from the GLC took place subsequent to those for the GLC, with the result that those of the London electors who had experienced the joys of Labour rule decided they would rather vote Conservative in greater measure, and personally I do not go out of my way to blame them for that decision. They are all properly elected persons, elected, I know the noble Lord will say, to another body, but properly elected to local government in London. The fact, which is purely coincidental, that a majority of them look like being Conservative, whereas the other five areas will be Labour, does not seem to me to justify a phrase such as "hands in the till".
As one who has some knowledge of our present administration I can in all seriousness say that the fact that this transfer would take place must have caused the Government to give the matter very considerable thought because it is such an obvious line of attack upon them. But if it is intended, as it is, that the London boroughs shall take over the administrative functions of the GLC, there can really be no more sensible proposal than to put them in charge during the interim period. They have then every motive for getting things straight as quickly as possible, for achieving economies. for clearing up the very considerable mess which Mr. Livingstone and his friends will have left behind; and that practical event, with its advantages for the London ratepayers, seems to me to outweigh enormously what many argue could be a political embarrassment—that in one of the six cases there would be a choice of political control.
Perhaps once again I may say that I was very glad to hear my noble friend the Minister state that he would accept the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury. If your Lordships so decide, I think it would be a very satisfactory outcome to these discussions. I am quite sure that if your Lordships do so decide, the ingenuity of noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite, and in particular the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, will enable them to think up some other ploy for later stages of the Bill.
§ Lord Somers
I wish to refer to Amendment No. 1, which is the one which is technically before us, and which has been described as a wrecking amendment. I cannot see that it is anything of the sort. I am not for a moment implying that the third option which will eventually be proposed by my noble friend Lord Halsbury is not a better one, but to call this present amendment a wrecking amendment seems to me to be absolute nonsense. All it is doing is seeking to delay the legislation until a suitable time when it will work harmoniously.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
If the noble Lord would allow me, I would point out that he has challenged what I said in this respect. Of course, he is right in saying that the amendment's main effect would be to cause very considerable delay and result in a long period during which the Government in London would be left in expensive confusion, with thereby much damage being done to the Government's proposals for a more economical and efficient system. There are occasions—and this is one of them—when delay can be exceedingly damaging, and I stick to the word "wrecking".
§ Lord Somers
In that case, I can say only that the amount of wrecking which various Governments must have done during the course of their existence must be very considerable.
§ Lord Somers
However, I dare say that this amendment will disappear into nothingness eventually, but I should not like it to go with that label attached to it.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Lord Broxbourne
I intervene for a very brief moment to make a short point arising out of the speech of the noble and learned Lord who moved this amendment. In former (I shall not say happier) days, when the noble and learned Lord was so formidable a forensic opponent, I used to exercise my ingenuity to try to find him in a point of false logic. I did not often succeed, but I think today I have. It is a point which has been referred to already in characteristically forceful and witty terms by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter. The central point of the noble and learned Lord's submission to the Committee was, of course, a constitutional one. Your Lordships will appreciate that it is one of the virtues of having an unwritten constitution that almost anything can be said regarding any particular point without its being proved wrong.
But the noble and learned Lord today made as his central point the constitutional impropriety, as he put it, of truncating the legislative powers of Parliament and in effect depriving this House of its second chamber function. To many that might seem a grave and serious charge indeed, but hardly, one should think, to anybody of the noble and learned Lord's political persuasion. I find it difficult to reconcile his warm enthusiasm of today for the principle of second chamber government with the opinions and policies in regard to this matter of the party of which he is so distinguished an ornament.
If the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, or, alternatively, the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, is to reply to this debate, may I invite whichever of them we have the good fortune to hear to address himself to the following point. I speak of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, with equal respect because, although not ever a forensic opponent, he was kind enough to instruct me professionally from time to time, and that is perhaps an even closer bond. The point is this. It is perhaps an unwelcome, but not wholly improbable, hypothesis that the Labour Party might win an election, having gone to the country on a manifesto 1058 which included the proposition or undertaking to abolish the House of Lords. Let us assume that they introduce that Bill in another place and, with their majority, they carry it. It then comes to your Lordships' House, where the position, as I understand it, is governed by the constitutional convention that the Bill, having secured a Second Reading in the other place and there being a manifesto commitment to which it gives effect, your Lordships' House would be denied the opportunity to refuse it a Second Reading here. Of course, the powers of the Parliament Act would, in any case, enable them to get their way in due course.
How does the noble and learned Lord, or the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, reconcile that position with what they are saying today? Do they give an undertaking to your Lordships' Committee that in those circumstances—hypothetical, unwelcome, but not impossible—they would then from the Front Bench say that they would have none of this unconstitutional procedure and that they would insist that this House retain its powers which they so eloquently argue in favour of today?
§ Lord Hooson
Perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to intervene on this point, If the Government proceed with this Bill and establish the Second Reading in the House of Commons as the proper constitutional decision, as it were, has the noble Lord reflected on what a precedent that would be for a Government such as he describes?
§ Lord Broxbourne
As always, the noble Lord makes an interesting point in an effective way, but, if I may respectfully say so, nothing that he said in any way answers the point I am making. It may be that an unscrupulous Government would seek to use as a precedent for different and inferior purposes what is set up in this Bill; but that is a far cry from saying that the position in regard to second chamber government can be altered in the way that the noble and learned Lord appears to envisage, according to circumstances.
Of course, if he, or the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, will say, without any qualification, that it is no longer part of the policy of the Labour Party to introduce single chamber government, and if they will solemnly renounce, and for ever, the heretical doctrine of the abolition of this place and the introduction of single chamber government, I would certainly think that this debate has been far from in vain.
§ Lord Mishcon
The noble Lord, Lord Broxbourne, has challenged me by a question. May I first thank him for his courteous reference to me which, if I may say so, was rather more acceptable than the description of me which the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, gave to the Committee. Whenever I had the privilege of instructing the noble Lord, Lord Broxbourne, he always dealt with the facts of the case with remarkable clarity and did not put before the court any hypothesis which was unnecessary. Unfortunately, he has done that today. We are not dealing with this matter at all, but if he asks me a straight question, I give him the answer.
The Opposition are not challenging at all, and my noble and learned friend did not Challenge at all the 1059 ability of the lower House to pass an abolition Bill relating to the Greater London Council and the six metropolitan county councils. If they did that and it went through this House, the normal traditions would be followed in this House. Therefore, the noble Lord's point appears to me—and I say this with the utmost deference and kindliness—an irrelevance.
§ Lord Broxbourne
I am sorry, but I cannot let that go wholly unanswered. The question on which I invited the noble Lord to give an undertaking was in regard to second chamber government in principle and the policy of the Labour Party in regard to it. That was the point I addressed to him.
§ Lord Elwyn-Jones
That will be the subject of an excellent debate on a future occasion. I am sorry that the noble Lord has embarked upon what is a total irrelevance to this serious debate.
§ Lord Ingrow
With your Lordships' permission, I should like to raise one point which does not seem to have had the attention which it might have had. The debate has seemed very much London centred. It might be unfortunate if that was the impression to go out from this Chamber. There is a unique sourness, as it were, in relations in London, but that sourness does not exist in the metropolitan counties and districts. The arguments there are on the merits of the case as seen by the different parties. I believe I am right in saying that, if the Bill were carried through, no control of a metropolitan county would change as a result of having representatives from metropolitan districts. There is no bitter feeling against the leaders of the councils—certainly not in my part of the world.
Moreover, the leaders who run the great city councils—those of all the parties—would never, for one second, accept that they are inferior in ability to those who have been elected to run the county councils. In fact. the general trend in my part of the world, as the noble Lord, Lord Dean, knows, was that the First XI generally batted for the city and the Second XI went to the counties. They are well capable of doing the job.
I add merely one point. For a long time we had what were called aldermen who were elected by the councillors. They were very similar to what is being proposed in the Bill. It was hallowed for a long time. They were not elected by the people. Sometimes they were defeated candidates in an election, and they were promptly put on the council. There seems to be very little difference in principle. I should hate to think that although in the belief of many people, changes are urgently needed in the metropolitan districts of counties, that should have foundered under the general ill-will of the Greater London Council.
§ Lord Birkett
Since I see that I am invited from the Government Benches to speak, I shall keep what I have to say as short as it is conceivable to do. I have a practical point to make. It has been suggested that interim administrations will be no more than caretaker administrations. I refer not to the great debate on whether there should or should not be elections, but only to caretaker administrations. I say simply that from my experience of London it will not be the case that they will be merely caretaker administrations paving the way for abolition, whether it comes or it does not. They will have an incredible amount of work to do, ongoing from decades before. Please be under no illusion that any 1985 administration will simply be a paving administration.
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
I feel I must rise to speak at this point. I did not hear the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, declare an interest as an employee of the Greater London Council. I think that would have been in order. I also declare an interest as an elected member of the Greater London Council.
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
I thank the noble and learned Lord. I thought that perhaps many people here today who had not been present on the previous occasion would not know of that and might have though differently about it.
I wish to comment briefly on another reason why today there is such concern about London compared with the other metropolitan counties. It is because £6 million is being spent on the publicity campaign. It seems that in our debate the discussion has ranged in two ways between those who wish to abolish the cancellation of the elections and those who do not wish to abolish the cancellation of the elections but are concerned about the change in political control. I should like to comment briefly on those two points.
First of all. I was concerned about the change of political control, but when I looked into it more carefully I noticed that the local London councils had all been elected much more recently than had the GLC and had gone much more Conservative. Then only last year the London Members of Parliament were elected, and again they had gone very much more Conservative. Therefore I think that it is really quite by chance that the proportion of people who would represent those boroughs would come forward and be more Conservative than Labour. We must not be misled by that point. I think that to create artificially, as my noble friend Lord Onslow suggested, a situation where we would produce an unelected Labour majority would be to reject the views that have already been cast through the ballot box in London in 1982 and 1983.
I think that the noble Lord, Lord Somers, in particular should appreciate that, if the Halsbury amendment is better, then if he votes for this one he has lost the Halsbury one. If this amendment were passed, we should not be able to have the Halsbury amendment, and I think that it is a much better amendment because it would bring the matter back to this House again for further consideration. That, I must say, 1061 would satisfy me. I want to see an affirmative resolution in both Houses.
§ 5.20 p.m
§ Lord Bellwin
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, in opening said that he hoped that the debate would not widen too much on aspects other than the specific amendment. I think that he would concede that it has done so rather more than he might have hoped. I shall endeavour not to take it wider than is strictly necessary.
The amendment seeks to hold up the election provisions until Royal Assent has been given to the main abolition Bill. To pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Somers, I would point out that, whatever the amendment is or is not, no one, least of all the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, would deny that its effect is to undermine the paving Bill—indeed, I think that he actually said this. I think that it is necessary for me to explain a little more as to why that is.
It is essential that the basis on which the Government are proposing to proceed is clearly understood, and also why it is just not possible to adopt the proposal in the amendment. This requires me—and I shall do it as briefly as I can—carefully to explain the relationship between this Bill and the main abolition Bill. I suspect that even now that may require further clarification.
This amendment is about the time when a commencement order to bring the election's provisions into force will be made. The Government have made it absolutely clear that the timing of such a commencement order will depend upon the progress of the main abolition Bill. Categorical undertakings have been given that the order will not be made unless and until that main Bill is given a Second Reading in another place. But, as I explained on 21st June in reply to a Written Question by my noble friend Lord Nugent, the making of a commencement order will not in any way pre-empt detailed examination by your Lordships of every line of the main Bill. For this paving Bill to come into irreversible effect, the main Bill will still have to go through all the usual stages, both here and in another place, and to be enacted. Every opportunity will be given to your Lordships to consider in detail all the proposals in the main abolition Bill. I cannot emphasise this too strongly.
I have also explained that if at any stage the main Bill were to fall, then this paving Bill itself already contains the means of restoring the status quo. The mechanisms for this are clearly set out in Clause 1(2). My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has given an undertaking, which I gladly repeat, that if the main Bill fails, he will make an order under this provision to restore the GLC and MCC elections without delay. This means that if the main Bill were to fail at an early stage, it would be possible to restore the May 1985 elections. If it failed at a later stage—that is some time in the spring or summer of next year—the May elections would already have been cancelled, of course, but new elections would be held as soon as practicable later in 1985. Thus the provisions of the paving Bill would in effect then have been nullified. I hope that that clarifies the relationship between the paving Bill and the main abolition Bill.
1062 Nevertheless, the Government are fully conscious of the concern that has been expressed that even the careful arrangement that I have just explained may not provide your Lordships with sufficient assurance that their views will be taken adequately into account before the commencement order activating Part II of this Bill is made. There is some feeling—which I understand—that it would be preferable if a commencement order were not to be made without allowing your Lordships' House another opportunity to express a later view on the cancellation of elections—even if there is by then a decision in another place in favour of the principle of abolition of the GLC and the MCCs. It is therefore timely that an amendment has been tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Spens, the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, and the noble Lord, Lord Shaughnessy. That amendment provides that the commencement order bringing Part II of the Act into force must be approved by affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament. I should like to confirm—as I said in a brief interruption earlier, and as I have indicated to those who tabled the amendment—that the Government are prepared to accept this amendment. That means that both Houses will have a further opportunity to sanction the cancellation of the elections and the creation of transitional councils.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, said—and I jotted it down as he said it—that this is in no way a major concession. I believe that those were his very words. I read in the newspapers that it has even been suggested that this amendment is a minimal change and even that it is purely cosmetic. That I do not accept. It is an important and major modification to the Government's proposals. It has been made in response to the concerns expressed by noble Lords in many parts of the House. How often have I been pressed in recent years to make the implementation of legislation subject to the affirmative resolution procedure! To say now that that procedure is not a major change, or to imply that it does not matter, is surely less than fair, and it makes no sense of the continued attempts that are so often made here to have the affirmative procedure written into legislation. We cannot have it both ways.
It has been said that the Government's proposals are unprecedented. But then never before have a Government abolished an entire tier of local government and replaced it with either a number of existing, wholly-elected bodies, or with members of boards appointed directly by and from those elected bodies. However, what is fully precedented is the cancellation of local elections in anticipation of a major reorganisation of local authorities. This happened in the 1963 and 1972 Acts. The reason for this step is very clear in the present case.
My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter put it so well. Would it not be an absurdity to allow the May 1985 elections to proceed at the very moment when the main abolition Bill is going through Parliament? It seems to be suggested that it would be desirable for elections to be held at the very time when this issue is being considered by Parliament. Would it not be a still greater absurdity if the electors were being asked to vote for an 11-month transitional council after the main abolition Bill had been given a Second Reading 1063 in both Houses, as could most probably be the case? Of course there are those who would wish to turn the elections into a referendum about abolition; but would that be a proper purpose of local elections? Where would be the precedent for that?
To respond to the point made by my noble friend Lord Mountgarret, the choice before the Government was not whether the present memberships of the GLC and the MCCs, having run for their full four-year terms, the elections should be cancelled. Rather it was whether those councillors should be given a further 11-month term of office, or whether they should be replaced by representatives of the local councils who will inherit the upper-tier functions. This choice was available to us because—and this is why arguments based on past precedents are inappropriate and badly founded—uniquely on this occasion, the successor authorities already exist. As to my noble friend's other proposals, perhaps I can refer to them when we come to debate later amendments.
There is a critical, vital and practical reason for the Government to resist this amendment. There has to be some weeks' notice of the cancellation of elections in May. The present timetable provides for the introduction in another place of the main abolition Bill in November followed by Second Reading in December. Allowing for full consideration of such a substantial piece of legislation means that the Bill is unlikely to reach this House for its Second Reading before early April, probably less than a month before the elections would be due to be held. My noble friend Lord Molson said that it is not good enough to pray in aid timetable considerations as justification for the Government's proposals. But such considerations are critical.
I need hardly repeat that the commitment to abolish the upper-tier metropolitan authorities was there for all to see in the Conservative Party election manifesto. The Government proposals are consistent with the manifesto undertaking. They are carefully thought through. The Government are fully entitled to establish a timescale within which, subject of course to the approval of Parliament, their proposals shall be implemented. The timetable for abolition is entirely sensible, practicable and justifiable.
It should now be clear why the cancellation of the elections cannot be tied to the main Bill receiving Royal Assent. The proposers of the amendment surely realise that it would be impossible to complete the detailed consideration of the Bill with the thorough-ness that it merits in time to cancel the May 1985 elections. The only way in which the main abolition Bill could be enacted in time to allow a sensible decision to be taken on the cancellation of the May elections would be to cut short consideration of the main Bill. I am sure that that is not something that anyone is proposing.
The amendment seeks to stop a commencement order being made until the main abolition Bill has received Royal Assent. It is said that this represents merely a prudent means of ensuring that the paving provisions do not prejudge the principle of abolition. In fact, the election provisions do not prejudge the principle of abolition. In spite of what has been said, the movers of the amendment know that the main Bill 1064 will be long, complex and detailed, and that a Bill of that nature could not possibly come to Royal Assent or even to your Lordships' House in time to cancel the May elections.
I do not think that I need to speak at great length or to widen the matter more than necessary. In conclusion, therefore, let me say this. In no way are the Government making what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones. referred to as "an easy assumption of parliamentary compliance". To refer to our proposals as a contemptuous dismissal of your Lordships' House is less than the reasonable and fair comment that we have come to know, and which I have always received, from the noble and learned Lord, for whom I have such a great personal regard and respect.
There is nothing in the Bill before us today, there will be nothing in the main abolition Bill when it is presented. which will prevent both Houses of Parliament from scrutinising, debating, and, if that is their will, approving every clause, every line and every word of each Bill before it receives Royal Assent. Nothing—I repeat, nothing—that is enacted in this paving Bill is irreversible. The Government do take the democratic processes seriously. Nothing that we are proposing will weaken that.
Let it be clearly understood beyond all doubt by everyone that this paving Bill contains within itself now the means of self-destruction if it is the will of Parliament that abolition should not proceed. There is nothing in either this Bill, nor will there be in the main abolition Bill, that will preclude the necessity for both Houses to go through and approve the Government's abolition proposals—the noble Lord, Lord Hayter said it, and I repeat it (I said so on Second Reading)—line by line and word by word. It is on this basis that I invite your Lordships to recognise how misguided is the effect of this amendment. I ask you with all the conviction at my command to reject it in the Division Lobby.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Lord Hooson
On behalf of the proposers of the amendment, I have undertaken to reply to the debate. Your Lordships are rightly troubled about this Bill because it does create a very difficult constitutional precedent. The noble Lord, Lord Broxbourne, posed the question to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, as to what a Labour Government would do or might not do. I have no brief for a Labour Government. I think that I would be in order in quoting what the Conservative Party said in its manifesto about the supremacy of Parliament. It said:The British Constitution has outlasted most of the alternatives which have been offered as replacements. It is because we stand firm for the supremacy of Parliament that we are determined to keep its rules and procedures in good repair".It goes on to say:Labour want to abolish the House of Lords. We will ensure that it has a secure and effective future. A strong Second Chamber is a vital safeguard for democracy and contributes to good government".I wish to dwell on the words "a vital safeguard for democracy". The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, in a typical contribution, which we all enjoyed very 1065 much, referred to the farce of an election. Those are very dangerous words. When we talk of elections, it is so easy to ridicule them and to talk of them as being farcical. Once we embark on that road, we do not know where it would lead us. I know that the noble Lord spoke of the farce of an election in the context of elections to the GLC and the MCCs when the ensuing body elected might only have power for 11 months. I suggest that in practice every indication is that they would have power for longer. There would be need for an enabling Bill because of the difficulties of the administrative change-over—
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
I used the word "farce" deliberately because, unlike the noble Lord, I am quite clear that if these elections were to take place, those elected would serve for no more than 11 months. I would have thought that the noble Lord, as one who believes in democratic government, would think that to go through the process of elections with a policy and proposals put to the electors, knowing that the chopper comes down in 11 months, is a situation to which I could apply a stronger word than "farce", but that would not be parliamentary.
§ Lord Hooson
All that I can say is that I strongly disagree with the noble Lord. It seems to me that we have in our debate today wandered again from the main issue. We have discussed the merits or the demerits of abolishing the GLC and the MCCs. We are not considering that. We are considering this paving Bill. I stated on Second Reading—I do not want to repeat it—that the use of the phrase "a decision of Parliament", and I had drawn attention to it in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, was, so far as I knew, fairly unprecedented. I noticed, too, although I did not refer to this on Second Reading, that the Long Title of the Bill—the Government must have drawn up the Long Title—deliberately and with the greatest care refers topending a decision by Parliament".With the aid of our excellent Library service, I have carried out a search to find out if that term has ever been used in legislation before. I find that it has—on one occasion. I find that the occasion it was used, believe it or not, was the Solomon Islands Indepen-dence Order. Section 71 of that Order reads:Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, all questions proposed for decision in Parliament shall be determined by a majorityof the people. That is a decision of the Solomon Islands Parliament. However, it is absolutely unprece-dented in the history of the Parliament of this country to use the term "a decision of Parliament" in any enactment.
Let me remind your Lordships that in another place the Minister responsible gave an undertaking that he would not introduce an order under subsection (1) until there had been a Second Reading of the main Bill in that House. This was surely tantamount to saying, in the context of this Bill, that the Second Reading in another place was a decision of Parliament. That, surely, is a completely unacceptable proposition. It is quite right that no steps should be taken with regard to this Bill before a decision of Parliament has been taken, but surely that decision is taken only when Royal Assent has been given to the major Bill.
1066 Let me come to the basic principles which seem to have escaped many of your Lordships in the contributions some of your Lordships have made today. Let me quote from Erskine May, the current edition:Parliament … is composed of the Sovereign, the House of Lords and the House of Commons; these several powers collectively form the legislature".Of course, it was the great jurist, Lord Hale, who said that when the Royal Assent has been given to Bills agreed to by both Houses, that resulted inthe compliment and perfection of a law".A decision is not a technical term. But it is a term that is clearly understood in its normal use. In Stroud a definition that is suggested is, "a concluded opinion". I would commend that term to your Lordships. A concluded opinion of Parliament is obtained when the Royal Assent has been given and when it is no longer possible to amend the opinion of Parliament. It can be superseded, but it cannot then be amended.
In my submission it is totally unacceptable to the House and to the people of this country that a decision of Parliament could be regarded as anything less than that. There are, however, abundant precedents in the courts for the use of the term, "decision of Parliament". For example, one finds in this decade courts constantly referring to it. A decision in the Court of Appeal said:Having regard to the recent decision of Parliament to make effective the provisions of a certain Act …".In the Employment Appeal Tribunal, for example, it was stated that,It could be said there is an anomaly in the decision of Parliament to exclude certain classes of people".On a number of occasions it has been referred to in the Court of Appeal.
I see the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor sitting opposite, not in his customary position. Earlier today noble and learned Lords have referred to his contributions to our political life. If I may say so. he has contributed by bell, book and candle. I will not recall the bell, and I quoted from the book last time. Indeed, I think the book might be his greatest contribution to our political life. But let me now turn to the candle: when he has sought to illumine our law when sitting in his judicial capacity in the famous case of Hyam and The Director of Public Prosecutions in 1975. When he was delivering a judgment of the court he said this, at page 71:Such at least is the proper inference to be drawn from the decision of Parliament to enact the first, and the failure of Parliament to enact the second of two draft clauses in the law commissioners' recommendation".Clearly he used the term, "decision of Parliament", quite rightly, to refer to an enactment. Therefore, I submit to your Lordships that the term, "decision of Parliament", in this Bill, imported as it is into the Long Title, imported as it is into the Explanatory Memorandum, can mean only what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, referred to it as, in his judgment in Hyam. A decision of Parliament is taken when an enactment is completed.
This amendment is not a wrecking amendment at all. It is an amendment that is couched deliberately out of the terms in which the Bill itself is couched. It is not 1067 a wrecking amendment. It is a significant amendment, because it restores what I believe is the proper constitutional position. In my Second Reading speech I quoted the observations made in 1975 by the noble Lord. Lord Carrington, on the Trade Union and Labour Relations Bill. May I quote again from his speech on that occasion? It might be of great importance, in view of what has been said about what a Labour Government do and what a Conservative Government do.
I quote from column 1741 of Hansard of 11th November 1975:Mr. Foot talks about the impropriety of an unelected House challenging the Commons, but he and others who feel like him must make up their mind what they want. Do they want a single Chamber Government? If they do, I, for one, would view that with the gravest possible misgivings. Nor do I think it possible that a single Chamber could adequately manage the legislation brought forward by any Government. I am quite sure that Mr. Foot and those others do not want an elected Second Chamber. Nor do I think that many other Members of another place would wish it, for an elected Second Chamber would have to be given more power and not less, and that increased power would be at the expense of the House of Commons".It seems to me that the crisis before your Lordships' House is this. When there has been a Labour Government, on occasions your Lordships have passed what have been called wrecking amendments. I can give noble Lords chapter and verse for it; I did so on Second Reading. On the other hand, when there is a Conservative Government, what this House has relied on is, as it were, transmitting the feeling of the House through the usual channels; that is, the Leader of the House has, I think, interpreted to the Cabinet of the day how this House has felt—not, as it were, how it voted. Because of its traditional Conservative majority, this House has always voted with a Conservative Government; but, in fact, the Leader of the House has transmitted to the Cabinet the feelings of the House, although perhaps not reflected in the vote. I doubt whether that process is effective today. I think that probably it is necessary for your Lordships to pass an amendment like this to bring home to the Government exactly how your Lordships feel on this matter.
I want to deal now with the effect of the Halsbury amendment. I think it is quite misleading. I understand perfectly the reasons why the noble Earl and his colleagues put it down. just as I understand why the noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret, put down his amendment. Clearly they are embarrassed by the position in which the Government find themselves and they have tried to find for them an easy way out. There are no easy ways out in this situation, because the effect of the amendment put down by the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, would be to require the Government to bring in an affirmative resolution.
Let me remind your Lordships of the view of the Leader of this House about affirmative instruments. On 14th May this year, at col. 1268 of Hansard, one finds this Question asked by the noble Lord. Lord Chelwood:whether they would regard the rejection by the House of Lords of an affirmative instrument activating Part II of the Rates Bill as consistent with constitutional propriety as well as politically acceptable; and what precedents there are since 1945 for the rejection of an affirmative instrument by the House of Lords".1068 The Lord President of the Council, Viscount Whitelaw, said:There is a well established convention that the House of Lords does not vote against the Second Reading of a mandated Government Bill. Since the House has always exercised restraint in the use of its powers in relation to subordinate legislation, it might be regarded as inconsistent with this convention if the House were to reject an affirmative instrument to implement Part II of the Rates Bill, for which the Government have a specific electoral mandate.Since 1945 only one affirmative instrument has been rejected in the House of Lords, namely, the Southern Rhodesia (United Nations Sanctions) Order 1968. The order was subsequently re-laid and agreed to".Therefore, what is being suggested, and of course what the Government grasp with both hands, is really a cosmetic amendment. It will have no effect. If they are right about the constitutional propriety of opposing an affirmative order, it means nothing. Therefore, they simply make a concession which is not real in practical terms.
The amendment moved by the noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret, would extend the life of the present councils. I should have thought that that was objectionable on the grounds stated by the Prime Minister herself in the House of Commons. On 12th June, 1984 at column 768 of Hansard for the other place, the Prime Minister said:The issue was not whether the elections should be cancelled. The issue was whether GLC councillors should continue [in Office] for a further year or whether others should continue for a further year. As the hon. Member for South Shields … said from the Opposition Front Bench … he could sympathise with the Government's belief that it would have been wasteful to hold elections. The question was whether we should prolong the mandate of GLC councillors after that mandate had been exhausted, which would have been a wrong precedent which could have been used to prolong the mandate, for example, of the House. That would have been constitutionally wrong".If the Prime Minister addressed her mind to this Bill and imagined how this Bill could be used as a constitutional precedent for the future, then I think she would be serving the interests of this country better.
To my mind this is not an issue to be fudged and to be dealt with by means of a compromise based on no principles whatever, and which will merely have a cosmetic effect. The attitude of your Lordships' House to what is constitutionally objectionable in this Bill will govern for years the view that is taken of your Lordships' House throughout the country. It is fair to say that especially since the broadcasting of Parliament the public esteem for your Lordships' House has risen and the public esteem for the other place has fallen. That is regrettable, but it is not your Lordships' fault.
Moreover, it is fair to say that the really constructive opposition to the Government has been more manifest in this House and that is because of the workings of "the elective dictatorship" which the noble and learned Lord has so eloquently described in his works. If I may say so to him—because he has been commenting sotto voce on my speech throughout—I wish that he had entered this debate in the light of his writings, because it seems to me that when he is in Opposition he sees the problem of the elective dictatorship crystal clear, but when he is on the Woolsack or sitting opposite he sees it as though through a glass darkly. The truth is that what he has pointed out in his book and the problems he 1069 highlighted in his lecture are coming to fruition through his own Government.
Mention has been made of what Labour Governments do. The Labour Government have never tried to ignore the House of Lords. They have never suggested that a decision—
§ Lord Hooson
With great respect, I have no mandate for a Labour Government; I would oppose them as much as I would oppose this Government. But let me say this. There is no precedent for a Labour Government trying to ignore the House of Lords by saying that a decision of Parliament is a decision of the House of Commons only.
§ Lord Boothby
May I ask the noble Lord a question: in the interests of the whole Committee would he now shut up?
§ Lord Hooson
With the greatest respect to the noble Lord. in his interests I might be prepared to do so, but of course it is not in the interests of the Committee as a whole, save that we are all anxious now to take a decision on this amendment.
§ Lord Elwyn-Jones
With those words I heartily concur. The Committee I am sure now wants to come to a decision.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 191; Not-Contents. 143.1071
|DIVISION NO. 1|
|Airedale, L.||Chitnis, L.|
|Allen of Fallowfield, L.||Chorley, L.|
|Alport, L.||Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.|
|Amherst, E.||Collison, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Congleton, L.|
|Arran, E.||Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Darling of Hillsborough, L.|
|Balogh, L.||David, B.|
|Banks, L.||Davies of Leek, L.|
|Barnett, L.||Dean of Beswick, L.|
|Bernstein, L.||Denington, B.|
|Beswick, L.||Diamond, L.|
|Birdwood, L.||Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.|
|Birk, B.||Donnet of Balgay, L.|
|Birkett, L.||Elwyn-Jones, L.|
|Blease, L.||Elysian-Morgan, L.|
|Boothby, L.||Ennals, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Evans of Claughton, L.|
|Bottomley, L.||Ewart-Biggs, B.|
|Bowden, L.||Ezra, L.|
|Briginshaw, L.||Falkender, B.|
|Brimelow, L.||Falkland, V.|
|Brockway, L.||Fisher of Rednal, B.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L||Fitt, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Flowers, L.|
|Burton of Coventry, B.||Foot, L.|
|Campbell of Eskan, L.||Fulton, L.|
|Caradon, L.||Gaitskell, B.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Gallacher, L.|
|Chandos, V.||Galpern, L.|
|Chichester, Bp.||Gardiner, L.|
|George-Brown, L.||Minto, E.|
|Gifford, L.||Mishcon, L.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Molloy, L.|
|Glenconner, L.||Molson, L.|
|Gosford, E.||Morris of Grasmere, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Morris of Kenwood, L.|
|Greene of Harrow Weald, L.||Mountevans, L.|
|Greenhill of Harrow, L.||Mulley, L.|
|Gregson, L.||Nicol, B.|
|Grey, E.||Ogmore, L.|
|Grimond, L.||Oram, L.|
|Hale, L.||Parry, L.|
|Hampden, V.||Peart, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Perry of Walton, L.|
|Hanworth, V.||Phillips, B.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Hatch of Lusby, L.||Plant, L.|
|Hayter, L.||Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.|
|Henderson of Brompton, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.[Teller.]|
|Hereford, Bp.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Heycock, L.||Rathcreedan, L.|
|Hirshfield, L.||Rea, L.|
|Hooson, L.||Reilly, L.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Rhodes, L.|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Roberthall, L.|
|Ilchester, E.||Robson of Kiddington, B.|
|Ingleby, V.||Rochester, L.|
|Irving of Dartford, L.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Jacobson, L.||Scanlon, L.|
|Jacques, L.||Seear, B.|
|James of Rusholme, L.||Segal, L.|
|Jeger, B.||Shackleton, L.|
|Jenkins of Putney, L.||Sharp, B.|
|John-Mackie, L.||Simon, V.|
|Kagan, L.||Soper, L.|
|Kahn, L.||Stallard, L.|
|Kaldor, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Kearton, L.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Kilmarnock, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Kirkhill, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Kirkwood, L.||Stone, L.|
|Kissin, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Lawrence, L.||Strauss, L.|
|Leatherland, L.||Tanlaw, L.|
|Lee of Asheridge, B.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Lever of Manchester, L.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Listowel, E.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Liverpool, Bp.||Tordoff, L.|
|Lewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Underhill, L.|
|Lloyd of Hampstead, L.||Wade, L.|
|Lockwood, B.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Longford, E.||Wedderburn of Charlton, L.|
|Lovell-Davis, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|McCarthy, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|McCluskey, L.||White, B.|
|McGregor of Durris, L.||Wigoder, L. [Teller.]|
|McIntosh of Haringey, L.||Willis, L.|
|Mackie of Benshie, L.||Wilson of Langside, L.|
|MacLeod of Fuinary, L.||Wilson of Rievaulx, L.|
|McNair, L.||Winstanley, L.|
|Mais, L.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Mar, C.||Wootton of Abinger, B.|
|Mayhew, L.||Young of Dartington, L.|
|Milner of Leeds, L.|
|Abinger, L.||Brabazon of Tara, L.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Brookes, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Brougham and Vaux, L.|
|Avon, E.||Broxbourne, L.|
|Bauer. L.||Caithness, E.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Cameron of Lochbroom. L.|
|Bellwin, L.||Cayzer, L.|
|Beloff, L.||Charteris of Amisfield. L.|
|Belstead, L.||Cockfield, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Coleraine, L.|
|Boardman, L.||Colwyn, L.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Constantine of Stanmore, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Merrivale, L.|
|Cowley, E.||Mersey, V.|
|Cox, B.||Middleton, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Milne, L.|
|Crawshaw, L.||Milverton, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Monson, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Mottistone, L.|
|Digby, L.||Mountgarret, V.|
|Dilhorne, V.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Dormer, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne. L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Norfolk, D.|
|Dudley, E.||Northchurch. B.|
|Duncan-Sandys, L.||Northesk, E.|
|Eccles, V.||Nugent of Guildford. L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Onslow, E.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Orkney, E.|
|Elton, L.||Porritt, L.|
|Fanshawe of Richmond, L.||Portland, D.|
|Foley, L.||Radnor, E.|
|Forte, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Reay, L.|
|Gainford, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Gainsborough, E||Renton, L.|
|Gardner of Parkes, B.||Renwick, L.|
|Gisborough, L.||Rochdale, V.|
|Glenarthur, L.||Rodney, L.|
|Gowrie, E.||Romney, E.|
|Gray, L.||Rotherwick, L.|
|Gray of Contin, L.||Rugby, L.|
|Greenway, L.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Gridley, L.||Saint Brides, L.|
|Grimthorpe, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Hailsham of Saint||Sandford, L.|
|Marylebone, L.||Selborne, E.|
|Halsbury, E.||Selkirk, E.|
|Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Shannon, E.|
|Henley, L.||Simon of Glaisdale, L.|
|Hood, V.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Hornsby-Smith, B.||Soames, L.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Somers, L.|
|Ingrow, L.||Stamp, L.|
|Ironside, L.||Strathspey, L.|
|Jessel, L.||Swinton, E. [Teller.]|
|Kemsley, V.||Taylor of Hadfield, L.|
|Killearn, L.||Terrington. L.|
|Kinnaird, L.||Thomas of Swynnerton, L.|
|Kinnoull, E.||Tranmire, L.|
|Lane-Fox, B.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Trumpington, B.|
|Long, V.||Vaizey, L.|
|Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Luke, L.||Vickers, B.|
|Lyell, L.||Vivian, L.|
|McAlpine of Moffat, L.||Ward of Witley, V.|
|McAlpine of West Green, L.||Westbury, L.|
|Macleod of Borve, B.||Whitelaw, V.|
|Mancroft, L.||Windlesham, L.|
|Marley, L.||Wise, L.|
|Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon, L.||Young, B.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Clause 1 [Commencement and termination of interim provisions]:
§ Viscount Mountgarret had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 2:
§ [Printed earlier: col. 1035.]
§ The noble Viscount said: I am a little uncertain as to where we go from here—nowhere! May I ask noble Lords for some guidance? I do not believe that I now have an amendment to move. Therefore, I should like to ask for guidance.1072
§ Lord Elwyn-Jones
Perhaps I may venture a few words of what may not on first sight appear to be impartial guidance. In the circumstances, perhaps the noble Viscount will think of withdrawing his amendment.
§ Viscount Mountgarret
I did not ask for partial or impartial guidance. Perhaps I should have guidance from my own Front Bench.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Viscount Whitelaw)
Perhaps I shall fail on this occasion, as I failed on the last, because I understand that it is a somewhat complex procedure. However, I think that technically the truth is that the amendment really falls, and therefore it is probably correct that my noble friend should withdraw it at this stage.
§ Viscount Whitelaw
I ought to say that I have put it exactly the opposite way round; it should be exactly the reverse of what I said! It is like one of those great things in life which is always so good—it comes to exactly the same conclusion in the end. But my noble friend should withdraw his amendment.
§ [Amendment No. 2 not moved.]
§ [Amendments Nos. 3 to 7 not moved.]
Baroness Birk moved Amendment No. 8:
Page 1, line 10, 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 does not receive Royal Assent, shall").
§ The noble Baroness said: I think that this amendment still stands. I believe that we are all a little confused after that tremendous victory. This amendment seeks to insert a guarantee into the Bill that an order will be made to rescind Parts II to IV if the main abolition Bill is not passed. Clause 1(2), as at present drafted, gives the Secretary of State a power to make an order, subject to affirmative resolution of both Houses. which would repeal the provisions of Parts II to IV of the Bill.
§ There is however nothing in the Bill which would compel the Secretary of State to make such an order. At Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, stated that it was the Government's intention to use this power if the main Bill failed in the course of its passage. However, as for the undertaking not to introduce immediately the order to cancel elections, no safeguard exists in the Bill to give force to this ministerial statement. The amendment that has now been passed acts partially as a safeguard.
§ If the Government resist this amendment I believe they will further undermine confidence in the purposes behind the Bill. The situation could arise where the main Bill could still be under discussion at the time when the interim councillors take over their functions. I am not sure whether this amendment is redundant in view of the amendment that has been passed.1073
§ Baroness Birk
What this amendment seeks to ensure is that the provisions of the paving Bill, including those dealing with the staff commissions and the provisions of Clauses 7 to 9, cease if the main Bill is not passed—this is the core of the amendment—and that the status quo is restored as soon as possible. This procedure would reinstate proper control by Parliament over the actions of the Secretary of State and it would remove any possibility that interim councillors could he appointed or remain in office if the main Bill were to fail. I beg to move.
§ Lord Bellwin
I assume that we are speaking to Amendments Nos. 8 and 9. The Government cannot accept these amendments. We feel that the amendments would confuse the position. Without going into a great deal of discussion (which I shall do if the noble Baroness would like me to do so), we feel that the arguments and considerations on behalf of these amendments are somewhat academic. Amendment No. 8 is probably unworkable. How can we define when a Bill has not received Royal Assent? We could say that the main Bill has not received Royal Assent today. We could say that the day the paving Bill receives Royal Assent. the main Bill has not received Royal Assent. So the day the paving Bill receives Royal Assent is the day that the Secretary of State must, according to this amendment, repeal it. Even if we are a little more lenient in our interpretation of the amendment, it is still not clear as to what stage a Bill can be deemed to have failed to receive Royal Assent.
What if a Bill simply runs out of time and then has to be reintroduced in the next Session? Of course all these considerations are academic: but the simple fact is that should the main abolition Bill fail, the paving Bill will no longer be necessary, useful, or relevant. These amendments would simply serve to confuse the position, and in those circumstances perhaps the noble Baroness may feel able to withdraw her amendment.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
Did I understand the Minister to say that he is taking Amendments Nos. 8 and 9 together? In that case it would be appropriate to indicate our views on Amendment 9.
§ Lord Bellwin
Perhaps I ought to say a little more about Amendment No. 9 because there seems to be some confusion as to what it is.Amendment No. 9: Page 2, line 2, leave out from ("and") to ("including") in line 3 and insert ("supplementary and consequential provisions as are necessary for the purposes of the order").This appears to reflect a misunderstanding of the purpose and effect of subsection (3) of Clause 1. Subsection (3) is there to help in restoring elections should abolition not go ahead. It is the means by which elections could be reintroduced to the electoral cycle. For example, if abolition failed at some point after May 1985, it would be necessary to restore elections but with those elected serving less than the normal four-year period of office. For they would serve until May 1989, when ordinary elections to the upper tier would again be due. That is the sort of transitional arrangement envisaged by Clause 1(3).
There is no question of the clause applying outside the metropolitan areas. The transitional arrangements 1074 relate to an order made under Clause 1(2). That clause applies only to the metropolitan areas. The powers under subsection (3) are not unfettered: they can only be used to make such modifications or provisions as are necessary or expedient to achieve two effects: to repeal the Act, and to restore the original situation. Again, I have greater clarification if the noble Lord wishes; but that is the gist of the point as to why I said earlier that we felt that it would simply serve to confuse, and that is why we do not wish to accept it.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
The noble Minister is speaking to a situation which has been radically changed by the decision of the first vote this evening. I can well understand when a Minister talks about confusion that the confusion is shared by all noble Lords as to precisely the effect on Clause 1. We are satisfied and delighted that our amendment received the approbation of the Committee. An Opposition needs to anticipate situations, and the Minister in saying that these amendments are not acceptable is speaking from the position that he first of all does not like our actions in respect of Amendment No. 1, and as a consequence these follow.
So far as we are concerned quite clearly not only have the Government and the Minister to reflect and to react to the decision that was taken, but the Government have also to come to a view on other matters. It may be that at the end of this debate on this side of the Committee we shall not press these amendments at this stage to a vote, but we are certainly not minded simply to make speedy progress on these amendments at this stage. The points that we raise—I speak particularly in respect of Amendment No. 9—are real and valid.
Amendment No. 9 seeks to strike out of Clause 1(3) the words:supplementary provisions as the Secretary of State thinks necessary or expedient".It is the words "thinks necessary or expedient" to which we take exception. In practice these matters will have to go to court. It is clear that at every stage at which this particular piece of legislation makes progress—even though it may limpingly make progress—there is likely to be a challenge. We believe that it would be intolerable to give the Secretary of State any further powers than would be necessary to, what he terms, "clear up the mess" of his own interim arrangements.
We would want to consider carefully before we give extensive powers to the Secretary of State to amend other legislation in a Bill designed to deal with interim provisions. Clause 1(3) says:An order under subsection (2) above may contain such transitional and supplementary provisions as the Secretary of State thinks necessary or expedient, including provisions modifying the Local Government Act 1972 (in this Act referred to as 'the principal Act') or the Representation of the People Act 1983.The Committee should seriously reflect on this.
I am not saying that the Government are trying to do anything underhanded. By spelling out precisely what they want on the face of the Bill they give me my case. The Committee needs to reflect seriously on what the Government have said all along is an interim relationship. The part to which we take exception says:provisions as the Secretary of State thinks necessary or expedient".1075 We think that that is enormously wide, and we want to challenge and resist making progress in passing Clause 1(3) as quickly—and I do not want to be offensive—as the Minister may have felt unnecessary.
In the course of the interim appointment arrangements, the dismantling of the staff commission and a great many other things. we say there is no certainty in any interpretation which the Minister may care to believe he has regarding the words:as the Secretary of State thinks necessary or expedient".We believe that that is far too sweeping a power to give to any Secretary of State, particularly in relation to this matter at this time in the circumstances of the failure of the main legislation. Recognising what happened here 10 or 15 minutes ago, and recognising what another place may do at the behest of the Government in relation to what happened, we are saying that if there is a failure of the main legislation the Government would have to move quickly to reinstate the elections and to cancel the interim provisions.
I did not hear all that the Minister said, but he certainly said that that would be the Government's intention if the main purport of the legislation was negatived—that is the main Bill, not this Bill—and they would act immediately to put the matter right.
We want to make it quite clear that the supplementary provisions would only be intra vires if they were necessary for the purposes of an order under Clause 1(2). Amendment No. 9 seeks to insert the crucial word "consequential". In other words, they should only be matters which can be seen to be directly related to and which flow from (that is consequential to) the provisions and subject to the following tests: they need to be transitional; they need to be supplementary and they need to be consequential. Amendment No. 9 introduces a safeguard to the order-making powers of the Secretary of State.
I appreciate that conversations are taking place about the best way to make progress in this matter. These are arguments that we have come here tonight prepared to make and which we believe are valid and sensible. We are not satisfied that the Minister has fully assured us either of their invalidity or as to the manner in which the details inside Clause 1 stand, remain and are capable of being activated, or not, in the light of the decision that we have made.
In the ordinary course of events—tonight events have not been ordinary—there are strong reasons why we on these Benches and others in other places would want to be absolutely certain that the Secretary of State has the powers he wants, but we do not want him to have even those. If he has powers in these matters we must ensure that they are circumscribed as tightly as possible and certainly as tightly as Amendment No. 9 seeks to impose.
§ Lord Monson
Is it not the case that Amendments Nos. 8 and 9 deal with quite separate matters? It is possible to disagree with the first, as I do, and to agree with the second. Is it not therefore extremely confusing to have to deal with both at the same time?
§ Lord Bellwin
Of course one can always do that, although as always I assume through the normal 1076 procedures that this is an agreed basis for discussion and debate beforehand. I take the point which the noble Lord, Lord Monson, makes. I understand his difficulty which I think is regrettable. Clearly it is up to him, if he wishes, to make his observations known; he will have to come to a conclusion on that.
As a response to the noble Lord, Lord Graham, there is not a great deal that I want to add at this stage about this. I made the observation earlier and obviously I will want to read what the noble Lord has said, but for the time being, subject to anything that the noble Lord, Lord Monson, may wish to say, presumably he will have to make his own decision about how he proceeds from here.
§ Baroness Birk
On Amendments Nos. 8 and 9 I think that the noble Lord, Lord Monson, is right. In the excitement of the moment when I saw the grouping I had meant to ask to have them dealt with separately. If one does ask Ministers, they are always very agreeable about this, but we did not and as we did not know what effect the amendment that has now been passed would have on it, it made our task difficult. Having said that, we now withdraw Amendment No. 8. If it is necessary when we have all had a chance to go into this matter we will come back with both amendments at Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 9 not moved.]
§ The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Murton of Lindisfarne)
The next amendment is Amendment No. 10 and I understand that it is convenient to discuss Amendment No. 10A with it.
§ 6.26 p.m.
Baroness Birk moved Amendment No. 10:
Page 2, line 9, leave out ("under subsection (2) above").
§ Amendment No. 10A: printed earlier.
§ The noble Baroness said: This is a different amendment. It is true that when the noble Earl spoke to Amendment No. 10A—they are identical, except for one word in the drafting—the Minister chose Amendment No. 10A. At that time it was put forward (although we do not see it in that way) as an alternative to Amendments Nos. 1 and 2. This is entirely different. I think I am right—if not, the Minister will tell me—in saying that this has not fallen as a result of what happened on Amendment No. 1.
§ As the noble Earl explained earlier, the purpose is the setting up of provisions where interim control is to be subject to affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament. Under Clause 1(1) the order to implement Part II requires the approval of neither House of Parliament. The Secretary of State has stated that it would be his intention that the order should not be made until after Second Reading of the main Bill in the House of Commons. That has been changed, as of this moment, and is different now.
§ Lord Bellwin
I think it would be helpful both to the noble Baroness and to the noble Earl if I repeated that what I said on the previous amendment still applies. The Government feel that the amendment in the 1077 name of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, and his supporters is marginally preferable. We think it achieves that which is desired and the Government are prepared to accept it.
§ Lord Elwyn-Jones
I wonder if I may be allowed to intervene. I think we are in the same slight state of "chassis and confusion", speaking for us on this side at any rate. It is now half-past six and I wondered whether we might adjourn the discussion of these matters? There is some intervening business in the dinner hour as I understand it. I am sure the noble Lord knows me well enough not to think that I am making a tactical manoeuvre, but we are in a state of uncertainty about how we proceed. If it is thought that that would be a sensible course to take, I venture to think it would be.
§ Lord Broxbourne
Before my noble friend replies to that suggestion, may I suggest another course? That is that we pass to Amendment No. 15 which would just nicely occupy the time to a more conventional hour. This amendment deals, uncontroversially, with the City of London and does not touch upon all these difficult and controversial topics.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My point is simple and valid. We have embarked on these amendments; we are in the course of debating them. It would be quite unusual to break off now. My noble friend the Minister has suggested what seems to be a reasonable course: that we should accept these amendments. The Bill, in any event, will have to be looked at during later stages and in another place, in view of what happened earlier this evening. It would, in my view, be very much improved if the noble Earl's amendment goes in. I would suggest, with respect, that whether or not we adjourn when this has been dealt with, we at least finish work we have started on these particular amendments. I cannot see any reason why we should break off at this stage.
§ Lord Mottistone
May I support my noble friend. It seems to me that what people are forgetting is that there is a Report stage to come. As has been said, there is a lot of room for not moving amendments at this stage (unless they are clearly going to be useful) and bringing them in at Report. I should have thought that the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, was one which would be valuable, anyhow, but that some of the other amendments might well he not moved at this stage.
§ Lord George-Brown
Here I am supporting the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones. We are now—and I am glad that the noble Viscount has returned—in a state of real confusion here. What happened was not a minor matter, but quite a major thing. Here I am calling into account my experience in the other place, and a lot of us have had that. The obvious point now would be for the Minister to rise and say, in whatever words are used in this place, the equivalent of what would have been said in the other place, which would be that he would move progress and ask leave to sit again. In this Chamber, presumably, we have a different set of words.
1078 As I understood it, my noble and learned friend Lord Elwyn-Jones has said, "We will now take supper and then we shall come back". But at the moment we are dealing with things which have been tremendously affected by what has gone before. It would be rather ridiculous to go on with these amendments. We do not know whether the Bill will be the same. May I sincerely ask the noble Viscount whether it would not really be sensible now to let us all take a little break, let the Government consider what they now want to do in the light of what happened earlier, and then let us come back? Personally I should have thought that the best thing would be to come back another day, not to return later this evening. But we cannot go on sensibly
§ Lord George-Brown
One keeps on getting interrupted here. That does not really help, either. If you really want to make enemies out of friends, this is a good way of doing it. Would it not be sensible now to say that that was a watershed, that something significant happened? The Government may want to fight, but they have to think how they will do it. I really suggest that it would be more sensible, in whatever sense is right in this Chamber, to do what I know we would do in the other House, which would be to break off for a while, to let the Government think what they want to do, and then to resume it from there on. I do not know quite how we do it, but I support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones. At least let us take supper, go away for a short while, and then let the Government consult. The Minister here can, presumably, consult other Ministers, possibly take the thing away for a day or two and bring it back to us when they have made up their minds. But if they really want to fight it—and they are going to lose—then let them do it. We cannot go on like this in a piecemeal way, taking amendments which make no sense in the light of what we have just done.
§ Viscount Whitelaw
I am most anxious to help and. naturally, I accept that the Government lost a major amendment. I think that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, and his noble friends strongly argued a short time ago that their amendment was in no sense a wrecking amendment. If they argued that—which they did argue—I am entitled to say that they are not wrecking the Bill. Therefore, we should continue with our discussion. The logic of that to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, must be complete. I must say to the noble and learned Lord that the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, wishes to proceed with his amendment. There are other amendments which noble Lords may wish to proceed with. The noble Lord shakes his head, but I have to say that he must do that because the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, wants to move his amendment. I think we should proceed. The loss of that amendment did not affect every other amendment that we are discussng now. If the Front Bench opposite were to say that it did, they would be nullifying much of what they were saying earlier. They are not saying it; and that is why we should continue discussing the Bill in the normal way.
§ Baroness Birk
May I say, in answer to what the noble Viscount the Leader of the House has said, that he is absolutely right and it is not what we thought at all. But it means that there are certain amendments which are linked to that particular one. I was anxious, not having had a chance to go through the amendment, to make sure that we were not wasting the time of the Committee and going off on the wrong limb by moving amendments which had been overtaken by that. I do not consider that Amendments Nos. 10 and 10A have been overtaken. I was in the middle of moving No. 10, which is the same as that of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury. As I was going to say before Amendment No.1, I was slightly upset and felt rather distressed that the Minister had not accepted my amendment (which. in fact, was first on the list) but took the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, from the Cross-Benches. That is a very small point, but in substance it is exactly the same amendment. There is the slight difference of an added word in the drafting.
This amendment would give both Houses of Parliament a chance to discuss affirmative resolutions. I do not go as far as did the noble Earl to believe that this House would turn down, on an affirmative resolution, something which in substance had been passed by the other House. But I still think it is something which ought to be in the Bill because it enables the House to discuss this. The noble Earl said when moving it—and I did not interrupt him, so as to save time—something about the possibiity of some changes in the procedure of the House which would enable us to turn down, or vote against, an affirmative resolution. Therefore, I beg to move Amendment No. 10, and I would suggest that it would be for the convenience of the Committee if the noble Earl now spoke to his amendment because we are speaking to virtually the same thing.
§ The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Jacques)
We are on Amendment No. 10. Amendment proposed:Page 2, line 9, leave out ("under subsection (2) above")Let us proceed from there.
The Earl of Halsbury
I did not put down Amendment No. 10A to get the Government out of a hole. I put it down because I thought the Bill would be better with the amendment in it. Perhaps I may finish a little bit of unfinished business which arose between myself and the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, at an earlier stage on the Bill. I have the authority of Mills' Political Economy to quote the following:The three alternatives seem to be: death"—that is, to drop the amendment—or to be permanently supported by other people"—that is, to pass the buck to the Front Bench—or a radical change in the economical arrangements".I do not quite know what that means. But the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, evidently had something of that kind in mind. On the other hand, with the authority of Mr. Gladstone's Oxford essays, his decided preference, he said,is for the fourth and last of these alternatives",which is evidently represented by the manifest wish of the noble and learned Lord to adjourn for dinner. 1080 Placed between these inescapable and multiple alternatives, I think the best thing to do is to go ahead as planned and say, with respect to Amendment No. 10A, I beg to move.
§ Lord Bellwin
As I was trying to indicate a little earlier, the Government are happy to accept the amendment. I am sorry that the noble Baroness—
§ Lord Bellwin
In that case, perhaps the noble Baroness may feel able to withdraw the amendment in the knowledge that, as I indicated earlier, if an explanation is required I shall be glad to make it.
§ Baroness Birk
I shall be very happy to withdraw Amendment No. 10, because the substance is the same as Amendment No. 10A. I should like to know from the Minister why he chose the amendment of the noble Earl over mine.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Lord Bellwin
As I indicated in the debate on the amendment which we were discussing earlier, the Government fully recognise the concerns which have prompted the two amendments which we are now discussing. We accept that both Houses should have a further opportunity to debate the cancellation of the elections before a commencement order bringing Part II into operation is made. In principle, therefore, the Government are wholly sympathetic to the intention which lies behind both amendments. In practice, I have to say that the amendment of the noble Earl is preferred. I am advised that the drafting of the amendment standing in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Spens, and of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, is the most appropriate means of providing for the commencement order to be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure in both Houses. If the noble Baroness wishes to have a debate on the word that is missing, no doubt we can try to do so. But that is the advice which I am given and at the end of the day it really makes very little difference.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
We accept the spirit of the words but the Minister ought to note very carefully that these amendments have been needed in order to clarify. The Minister has said that there was no need to clarify and that what had been said by the Government earlier was quite clear. The fact that these amendments were not only required but actually have the approval of the Minister clearly indicates the care with which all members of the House must look at not a confusing situation but a complicated one. We must be prepared not merely to accept—I say this with no disrespect—what is said to us by Ministers but to study with care what precisely are the implications.
The noble Lord. Lord Skelmersdale, who I see in his place, said on 1lth June at column 960 of the Official Report:My Lords, if I may make a very quick point, before any order is laid under this Bill under Clause 4(4) there must be an affirmative instrument of both Houses of Parliament".I say that with respect—not confusion, but uncertainty as to precisely what was meant by the Bill making it 1081 clear that all that was required to trigger this off was the approval in another place at Second Reading.
We understand that we are not going to divide or be in dispute over the passage of Amendment No. 10A. The simple point I am making is that we have to recognise the need to look at every nuance of the clauses and their implications. It is all very well for noble Lords to say that there are other stages of the Bill; that there is Report stage and Third Reading; but if one can get it right at the earlier stages of the Bill one seeks to do so. Certainly, the Government did not get it right in their first writing of the Bill. They certainly did not get it right in the passage of the Bill in another place, because it has needed these amendments which have appeared tonight in order to clarify the position.
§ Lord Bellwin
We really are making much of this. I do not accept that the Government did not get it right. What the Government have done is to accept certain representations made as improving and clarifying and making it easier for your Lordships to give consideration to matters. That we do accept, but that is not to say that what was there before was wrong. What we now have is something that we accept is better. I always understood that to be the purpose of this as a revising Chamber. But for the noble Lord to say that by accepting amendments that make the Bill clearer in whatever way is in some way going back or whatever, I think is a very dangerous thing.
§ Lord Diamond
I apologise for delaying the Committee but I am unhappy about this amendment and I shall explain why. I hope that those on the Labour Front Bench will be good enough to listen to the cause of my anxiety because it may be that they will have some anxiety themselves.
This amendment suggests that provided a matter—a very important matter—has the consent of both Houses, separately taken on an affirmative resolution, this will be adequate to meet the present circumstances. The present circumstances have changed. I myself would have thought that the Minister—the business of the House is in his charge, not in mine—would be well advised to consider at some length whether it was right to go on to this amendment in the light of what has happened earlier or to reconsider the position. I should have thought that he would have wanted to reconsider it because some of us may be in some confusion about it.
I have two main grounds for being anxious about this. First, I have not the slightest doubt that the right which the Minister says he is conferring on your Lordships' House is meaningless—totally meaningless. We have established, I hope, beyond any question that where a statutory instrument is passed by another place, this House has no right to vote in an opposite direction. It is frightfully important that we should be clear about this. Certainly it is a convention but it is important that we should be clear about it because, as everybody who has studied it knows, it is not a matter which is included in the Parliament Acts. It is not a matter which the other place, if it did not like what we were doing, could put right after some delay. If a statutory instrument does not pass through both Houses it falls, and what the other House has done becomes of no value at all. For that reason, if we were 1082 to vote against a statutory instrument passed by the other place, we would be in immediate and direct conflict with the other House.
The Earl of Halsbury
I did make the point in my speech that there is no statutory reason why it should be moved in the other place first. It could be moved here first.
§ Lord Diamond
I heard the noble Earl say that, but with the greatest respect to him I cannot see that it makes the slightest difference, because it must be carried in both places. The convention is not merely as it is in other matters—that we do not vote against a Second Reading of a Government Bill coming from the other place; it is not that. The convention on this has to be different because it is not covered by the Parliament Act and if we did not vote in the same way as the other House, we would be in total conflict with it immediately. Therefore I say that what this amendment is giving your Lordships is words only. Whoever said it was cosmetic was using the precise description of what the position is. That is the first reason for my anxiety.
The second reason for my anxiety about this is that we have to consider the future and what will now happen. A major amendment has been made to a Bill which has passed through the other place. The other place will naturally want to consider this amendment very carefully indeed. I have no knowledge whatever of what decision the other place will take about it. It may want to come back here; it may not. If it does come back we may have to reconsider the matter. I am anxious that the other place is not misled—I use that term deliberately—into thinking that your Lordships passed this amendment because it would be satisfied with this as an alternative to the amendment which has just passed. The whole of the Government's statement earlier on was that these were alternative methods of approaching the matter and that this was a better alternative than the alternative which your Lordshps have just passed by a very substantial majority indeed.
I am as confused and ignorant on what is next to be done as are any of your Lordships. I claim no knowledge of this except that I have taken a very strong view with my own colleagues. I have been accused of being the guru of propriety so far as these matters are concerned; for example, I took a very strong view when it came to the question of sex discrimination. There was a statutory order there, and I insisted that we could not vote against it in spite of the fact that all the ladies all over the country wanted us to vote against it. We could not vote against it because we should be going in direct conflict with the elected Chamber in the other place. And who was I supported by?—the Government Chief Whip. I am sorry he is not here because I wanted to say it in his presence. He is taking this view himself very strongly.
He takes the view that this Chamber must not vote against the other place on a statutory instrument. Therefore it would be totally misleading to the other 1083 place if they got the impression that this is an alternative way of dealing with an amendment. We have passed an amendment in your Lordships' Chamber by a very substantial majority, notwithstanding the efforts of the Chief Whip, which we well appreciate, quite rightly, to get as many people to support his point of view as he could. Therefore, I am in very great anxiety about this amendment and I do not think it ought to be pursued.
§ Lord Bellwin
I think the underlying tenor of what the noble Lord says is extremely far-reaching. I said when speaking earlier that to say that an affirmative resolution procedure is "cosmetic", as the noble Lord himself has just repeated. I assume means that he and his colleagues will no longer in the future attach the importance to it that I have attached to it in connection with the 25 Bills that I have been debating these last five years. Time and time again, I have either had to resist or agree to that procedure going into legislation: and how to be told that it is only "cosmetic" I think is a very startling observation to be made. It is not one to which, in the context of this legislation, I can give the kind of reply which I think would satisfy the noble Lord. But perhaps that is something which will be taken up on another occasion outside this Chamber. Certainly his observations merit that, and I hope it will happen.
But to suggest therefore that we should not proceed with the amendments that we have in front of us now because in some way it is suggested that this is something the Government might see as an alternative—I know no more than does the noble Lord what will be the line to be taken following the earlier vote on the amendment, but I do know that, as we felt before, we still feel that to have this provision in the legislation is something that everyone has considered desirable, other than the noble Lord who has now spoken. Very well then—not as everyone feels desirable, but as I assume most people do, anyway. Certainly it was not a gesture by the Government, as was said earlier, to try somehow to fudge the issues.
I think it does less than justice to the noble Earl and his colleagues to suggest that we brought that forward—not at all. It was a response to an approach made from all sides of the Chamber. There is nothing sinister, tricky or clever in this at all, and I suggest it is up to the noble Earl to decide whether he wishes to pursue it. If he does so wish, the Government have said that we will accept it. I do not think that in any way affects adversely or disadvantages what might happen later as regards the earlier amendment.
§ Baroness Birk
I think the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, made some points of great importance to this Chamber. It seems to me that we all ought to have the chance to have a look at what has been said and to think about it. It is impossible to divorce any amendment of this type from the amendment which was passed originally. It is also true that, whatever the Minister, with great respect, might say, the noble Earl himself in the debate on Amendment No. 1 put this forward as an alternative. Earlier I was going to interrupt and say that this was really not the same sort of option, but other noble Lords, including, I think, 1084 the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, did treat it in this way. I do not think anything can be lost. It may be that we shall all come to a conclusion by the Report stage. I have already withdrawn Amendment No. 10, and I think that if the noble Earl at this point will withdraw Amendment No. 10A nothing will be lost, because it would give us all a chance to look at it again. It can always be brought back and discussed on Report.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
If the amendment is put into the Bill—and I hope that the noble Earl will press for it to be put in—that does not exclude the opportunity to look at it again at the next stage of the Bill. There will be a Report stage and there will be a Third Reading: and if the noble Baroness thinks it necessary to look at it again there will be ample opportunity. Indeed, it will be somewhat easier to do if it is already in the Bill. I therefore express the hope that the noble Earl will put in what everyone, on the merits—with one or two exceptions over there—regards as a sensible improvement to the Bill.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
If in fact we are faced with the proposition that there is something not in the Bill and the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, sees no harm in putting it in, with the prospect of taking it out, why put it in in the first place?
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
If the noble Lord asks that question, I would not be in favour of taking it out. I think only people with rather limited understanding would want to take it out, but there might be people of limited understanding in this Chamber.
The Earl of Halsbury
I think really the only option open to me is to allow the Committee to decide whether it wants the amendment in the Bill or out of the Bill. If the Government, who are in charge of the Bill, besought me to withdraw it, that would be another matter, but they seem to be quite content that I should proceed with it and so I shall.
§ Lord George-Brown
Before the Question is put, let us be quite clear. The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. has made it perfectly plain that he wants it in so that when it gets considered elsewhere there is an alternative to consider. With great respect, an amendment has just been carried by this Committee by 48 votes: that is no mean majority. Let us not kid ourselves, the Chief Whip on the other side did his utmost. and the arguments I heard deployed were very convincing on both sides. The Committee took a very, very strong view—an unusually strong view—by a large majority. Why should we now mislead the other place, mislead the public or mislead anybody by putting in, with great respect to the noble Earl, something which—let us face it, the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, has been quite honest about it—will then be put up as a possible alternative? I do ask your Lordships to realise what we are being asked to do. We are in fact being asked, by a subterfuge, to undo
§ Lord Denham
I hope the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, will not call it a subterfuge. If the noble Lord 1085 will give way, it is perfectly open. It is on the Marshalled List. The noble Earl says that he wishes to stick to it, and if the noble Earl wishes to ask the Committee's opinion he is perfectly in order. There is nothing wrong about it in any way whatsoever.
§ Lord George-Brown
I do not know what other word to use except "subterfuge"; but, with great respect, there are noble Lords on the other side of the Committee who do see it in that light. There must be a better word than "subterfuge" and, if there is, I will obviously use it. But it will be put as though we took one decision; we then took another one—if it were to be carried, and I hope that it will not be carried—and then the other place have got an alternative to consider. I do not know that "subterfuge" is a non-parliamentary expression. It is a normally good word. It is a
§ Lord George-Brown
I am not used to being interrupted this many times. May I put my own point of view, and will the Committee be kind enough to listen to it? It is my point of view—and, with all the background of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, I still have a background as well—that this will be seen in this way. It would be better not to move it. After all, it began as an alternative to the amendment. Do not let us kid ourselves—it did begin as an alternative. It was originally put forward as an alternative, so let us be quite clear. If we now go putting it in, we are putting in the alternative to the one we have already carried and we are offering other people a chance of considering two alternatives. If that is not a subterfuge, I do not know what is.
If the noble Earl wants to press it, then obviously he will press it—I am not terribly impressed with him—but I hope that the Committee rejects it, on the grounds that a majority of 48 in favour of the original amendment must rule this one out. If anybody anywhere else thinks that we are carrying an alternative, let one of us, even if it has to be me, declare that that did not in any way reduce the determination of this Committee by an unusually large majority to carry the original amendment. This one has absolutely no status or standing at all. It is more than a face-saver for the Government. It is intended to mislead other people elsewhere who will have to consider our affairs.
The Earl of Halsbury
If the noble Lord will give way, I do not mislead. This is an amendment by my noble friend Lord Spens and Lord Shaughnessy and myself to—as I said in my own words when introducing it—help smooth some rather ruffled feathers left over from Second Reading. We did it on our own initiative, and the noble Lord is really going too far in suggesting that I am misleading people. I do not indulge in that sort of thing.
§ Baroness Birk
May I say right away that I do not for one moment think that the noble Earl wanted—and he has never done so for all the time I have known him—to mislead anybody. As he has said, he and his noble friends put it down to smooth ruffled feathers 1086 and he was doing that in a completely honest, sincere and helpful way in order to assist the Committee. As he will agree, there has been a great change since then, owing to the winning of Amendment No. 1 which has altered the whole picture. I wonder whether in view of that—if he will ignore for the moment the way things were put, which he did not quite like—he will withdraw it. He will have another chance and he can then look at it.
His own words were that there is no need any more for what he was intending to do. He was trying to find a middle course, which was a most worthy thing to do. Now that is no longer necessary, because Amendment No. 1 has been won by a very sizeable majority and I think that what the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, said on that point makes great sense. So I ask the noble Earl whether in these circumstances he will give us all another chance to think about it again, when we are not in this rather difficult atmosphere.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
Before the noble Earl responds to that invitation, there are two issues here. One is—as has been very properly exposed by the noble Lords, Lord Boyd-Carpenter and Lord George-Brown—the political issue; the question of what political message goes back to another place from having two amendments carried which may or may not be in conflict, which could be our political judgment, or may or may not lead to another political conclusion. We all have to make up our own minds on that political issue. I would not expect to alter the carefully thought-out view of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter.
But quite apart from our political judgment, there is surely the issue of whether it is proper for this House to send back to another place conflicting signals, and that is a matter on which the Government themselves must state in terms whether or not there are conflicting signals. It must come in words of one syllable from the noble Lord the Minister who is in charge of this Bill. He must say to this Committee, without any equivocation whatsoever, that there is no conflict between Amendment No. 10A and Amendment No. 1, and that the Government would, in terms of the drafting of the legislation, accept with equanimity the passage of a Bill which contained both of those amendments. I know that the Government are not happy with the political import of Amendment No. 1, but we are entitled to have the advice of the Government on the drafting matter and to know whether they would be unequivocally happy with legislation which went on to the statute book with both of those amendments.
§ Lord Denham
I wonder whether I may make a suggestion. We are at the moment discussing the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, I think that is the one
§ Lord Evans of Claughton
May I very briefly say virtually one word to the noble Earl? I am not suggesting that he has misled the Committee or 1087 anything of that nature. In fact, the noble Baroness and I had an amendment down in very similar terms. But would he not concede—and would the noble Lord, the Minister, not concede—that if we pass this amendment now immediately after passing Amendment No. 1 it will be seen as a watering down of the decision made then and that we should have time to consider that before speaking in two voices. As the noble Lord said, surely the noble Earl will concede that it will be seen in another place and outside both Houses as a considerable watering-down of a very clear decision made earlier this evening.
§ Lord Denham
I am advised that the noble Baroness has not yet withdrawn her amendment. We are on Amendment No. 10. The suggestion which I should like to make to the Committee is that if the noble Baroness will withdraw her Amendment No. 10, which I understand she intends to do, we could then take the dinner adjournment and have a look at this. My advice at the moment is that Amendments Nos. 1 and 10A are not conflicting, but I should like to be absolutely certain of that. I know that the noble Earl considers that they do not conflict, but I should like to be absolutely certain of that. My noble friend would like to give the right advice to the Committee. So I suggest that if the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment. we can then take the dinner adjournment and the adjournment business, which will leave the noble Earl's amendment as the first business afterwards, by which time advice can have been taken as to whether they conflict.
§ Baroness Birk
I appreciate what the Chief Whip has said and I am withdrawing Amendment No. 10. But perhaps, in order to save time after the dinner recess, the noble Earl—there were other interventions and he did not have a chance to answer the invitation made by myself, which was followed-up by my noble friend Lord McIntosh—will, like me, withdraw his amendment, instead of having a rushed discussion during the dinner time. Then, if necessary, it can be put down at the next stage. With great respect, I do not think that the noble Earl has had a chance to say what he wants to do.
§ Lord Denham
My suggestion was that my noble friend who is in charge of this Bill was asked to make a pronouncement of what the Government consider to be the case. The suggestion which I was making to the Committee was that the dinner adjournment would allow my noble friend to consult with his officials—not to consult with everybody around here—as to the correct advice to give to the Committee. I think that that is a perfectly proper course and if the noble Baroness will accept that then, when she has withdrawn her amendment, I will, with the noble Earl's leave, move the dinner adjournment of this Committee. We can then come back to this point when my noble friend has been able to look at the various things that have been said, to see whether he can properly advise the Committee to accept the noble Earl's amendment, Amendment No. 1 having been accepted.
§ Baroness Birk
I beg to withdraw Amendment No, 10. but I still say that the noble Earl has not had a chance to say whether at this stage he wants to withdraw Amendment No. 10A.
§ Lord Denham
If the noble Baroness will forgive me, the noble Earl will have his chance immediately we resume after dinner.
§ Lord Denham
The noble Earl was speaking to the noble Baroness's amendment. He has not yet spoken to his own amendment. The noble Earl will have his chance later. This is a fair offer.
In moving that this House do now resume and that our other business should be taken during the dinner adjournment, perhaps it will be for the convenience of your Lordships if I say that we shall not resume the Committee stage of the Local Government (Interim Provisions) Bill before eight o'clock. I beg to move that the House do now resume.
§ The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Jacques)
Before I put the Motion, may I remind the Committee that when it does resume it will be on Amendment No. 10.
Viscount Colville of Culross
My noble friend has already put one Motion to the House: that it should resume. He has not withdrawn it. With great respect, I do not see how we can have a question upon another Motion.
The Deputy Chairman of Committees
The confusion has arisen because we have been speaking to Amendment Nos. 10 and 10A. I now have a clear indication that the mover of Amendment No. 10 wishes to withdraw it. Is it your Lordships' pleasure that the amendment be withdrawn?
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.