Orders of the Day — Local Government (Interim Provisions) Bill

– in the House of Commons at 3:45 pm on 22 May 1984.

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Order for Third Reading read.

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West 5:12, 22 May 1984

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

The Bill has emerged from Committee, Mr. Speaker, as you have pointed out, unamended. That is not to say that it has not been debated fully and explored fully in detail. Indeed, we are already entering into the territory of legend in the House after a night during which some hon. Members have been present throughout in the Chamber.

If I may enter a brief personal anecdote here, I once went to China in the company of my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath). Wherever we went, there were large numbers of elderly gentlemen who had been on the Long March. Indeed, if all the elderly gentlemen that I was told claimed to have been on the Long March had been on the Long March, it would have been a mass migration. I detect already a number of boarders who have joined in the discussions of last night, as if they had been present, yet they were not present. The Opposition Back Bench Members and Government Back Bench Members who were present may know that some of the judgments that have been made from other parts of the House of what happened are a little wide of the mark.

The Bill paves the way to the fulfilment of one of the two major pledges which the Conservative party made before the last election in regard to local government. The first was the Rates Bill and the second was the abolition of the metropolitan counties and the Greater London council. It is to the second objective that the Bill paves the way.

It lies close to the centre of the Government's policy that what one might call the overhead, the burden of unnecessary administration on the backs of working people—of taxpayers, ratepayers and all other people—should be lightened where it is possible to do that, while providing services reasonably and at good value for money.

We therefore have this part of our policy—that is, the removal of a tier of government that has shown itself to be unnecessary and that has many enemies in the local government world and elsewhere—and the removal of this tier is a central part of the whole approach by the Government to the economy and the management of our lives. This policy, I need hardly remind the House, was resoundingly endorsed at the general election. Although I have been teased by my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup and the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) for not paying too much attention to mandates, there are some things of such note that go into manifestos that it would be odd to put them there unless one was trying to draw the attention of the electorate to them and unless one intended to come to the House and say that they had been endorsed. Where the Labour party, with all its complex procedure of delegation and the creation of manifestos, would be if it did not believe in the mandate, I am not clear. It is an argument which comes oddly from Labour Members.

Nothing that has happened since the election has reduced our determination to give the electors what we believe they clearly voted for. They want less government and not more. In the autumn, therefore, my right hon. Friend will be putting before Parliament our proposals for restructuring local government in the major metropolitan areas. This paving Bill is an integral and necessary part of those plans.

I hope that the House now understands why we must introduce these provisions now and why we cannot wait and include them in the main abolition Bill. It is essential, for if abolition is to be achieved in 1986 provisions cancelling the elections cannot wait for the main Bill, which would be unlikely to become law until after May 1985, when the elections are due to be held. These provisions will be brought into effect by order, and my right hon. Friend has given a clear and unequivocal undertaking not to make that order until after this House has given a Second Reading to the main Bill.

It could not wait for Second Reading in both Houses. The main Bill is unlikely to reach the other place in time to cancel the elections after its Second Reading there. It would be unprecedented to include in the Bill a provision tying the exercise of the order-making power to the Second Reading. There is no precedent for saying in one Bill that a commencement order will not be made until after the Second Reading of another Bill.

The main measures, which come into effect on enactment—the setting up of the staff commission, the information requirement, the enhancing of the borough and district audit rights and so on—are all aimed partly at the formulation of the abolition policy in detail and partly at the smooth transition to the new arrangements. They will already be making their contribution to both of those objectives, particularly to formulation, while the main abolition Bill is in Parliament.

The Bill provides the safeguards that will ensure that its provisions have effect only if abolition goes ahead. Again, it unequivocally ensures that the suspension of elections and the arrangements for transitional councils will come into operation only when a commencement order is made. My right hon. Friend has given a clear and firm undertaking that such a commencement order will not be made until Parliament has approved the principle of abolition by giving the main Bill a Second Reading.

The Bill also provides the necessary mechanisms for repealing the interim provisions and restoring the original situation as quickly as possible, if that were necessary. That is all that it provides, and we clarified that in the discussions in Committee. There is no question of giving the Secretary of State powers to cancel elections anywhere, for whatever reason, or as has been suggested. I stress that point; it should be made clear, as it was made clear in Committee.

The order-making powers of clause 1, both for commencement and repeal, are narrowly drawn. They are exerciseable only for the particular purposes of the Bill. They do not allow any interference with elections in other parts of the country. I make it clear once again that the operation of the Bill's provisions—their fate—is entirely dependent on Parliament's decisions on the main Bill.

It has been alleged that we are presenting the Bill before the House knows our plans for abolition. That is not true. Our plans are well known. They remain broadly as described in the White Paper "Streamlining the Cities". A number of changes have been announced by my right hon.

Friend the Secretary of State and other right hon. Friends since then. In particular, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has announced changed plans for ILEA. There have been changes on points of detail, such as those concerning the arts, historic buildings, voluntary bodies and sport, which my right hon. Friend took the opportunity of announcing on Second Reading.

The proposals were set out clearly in the White Paper "Streamlining the Cities" in much more detail than in the White Paper preceding the 1974 reorganisation. There is no doubt about our commitment to the prime objective of devolving responsibilities of the lower tier. I have made it clear to the House—

Photo of Robert Wareing Robert Wareing , Liverpool, West Derby

Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that that was a White Paper with very large green edges? We are still not clear, even at this point, about who will be responsible for transport and for the police in all the conurbations outside Greater London. The White Paper called for consultations. There have now been well over 3,000 responses to the Department for which the hon. Gentleman has some responsibility and to other Government Departments, and they have been kept a closely guarded secret from hon. Members. Are we not entitled to know the Government's reaction to those responses?

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

The hon. Gentleman made a number of points which we have frequently heard. He is right to say that the White Paper had green edges. I have already said that we have made changes since then in a number of respects, including one important respect involving ILEA.

Earlier today, we dealt with the so-called secrecy of consultation, which is a bogus cry. There is no precedent for the Government to publish the correspondence and the documents they receive in a consultation exercise of that type. Those articles remain the property of those who sent them. It remains entirely up to those who sent the documents to publish them if they wish to do so, as many of them have done. That is a bogus cry, and it does not reflect the reality of the debate. I believe that no one says that the issues are not being argued about in reality.

What the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) said about our not knowing where we are in relation to, for example, the police in the metropolitan counties is not true. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made it clear that our proposal is not necessarily for all time or is the final and only answer, and that other proposals could be brought forward in due course. That statement has been welcomed in many of the metropolitan counties because it shows a sensible flexibility. I believe that recently the leader in the Birmingham Evening Mail strongly welcomed that move.

Many have argued that we should not proceed with such a reorganisation until there has been a great inquiry by a Royal Commission or a blue ribbon team set up to look into the whole matter. When I first became involved in this policy, that seemed to be a commonsensical view. Why do we not have a great study? The more I studied the matter and the more I learned of the history of local government developments in this country, the less necessary that study seemed to be. There is practically no period during which the structures of local government in Britain, especially in London, have been stable for very long. During the past 150 years there has been a process of steady flux. There is a continuing stream of comment on the different strands of opinion.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) made a thoughtful speech on Second Reading in which he traced the history of the Conservative commitment in London to devolution to the boroughs, which goes back to 1894. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) has just left the Chamber because I was going to refer to the Powell plan of 1955, about devolution to the seven boroughs. That was one of the characteristic elements in that tradition.

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

I do not want to defend the Powell plan, but I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am glad to have that off-the-cuff admission by the Under-Secretary that he does not wish to defend the Powell plan. It was put forward by the Conservative committee of which the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) was chairman in the mid-1950s. However, the Minister will accept that the Conservative Government of the day did not endorse that plan, but in place of it they established the Herbert Commission, which proposed the Greater London council, which was passed into law by the Conservative Government. Therefore, to suggest that there is continuity behind the present policy is to stretch history a little.

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

The hon. Gentleman completely misunderstands my argument. I want to defend the Powell plan to that extent. A continuing line of Conservative argument led to the Herbert Commission's recommendations, which looked out of date almost as soon as they were produced, six years after the commission was set up. One could argue that they were a diversion. I shall take another example. A distinguished commentator and expert on London affairs who now advises Mr. Kenneth Livingstone of the GLC is Mr. Roland Freeman, who succeeded the former as chairman of the London Municipal Society. In those days he was a great proponent of something that is now familiar to us — a joint board structure, with devolution to the boroughs. It is ironic that he should find himself earning his living from arguing the exact opposite.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Before we leave this point, will the Under-Secretary, in trying to weave this strand of historical continuum out of the threadbare facts, reflect that the Marquis of Salisbury's Government established the London County council and the other county councils in the first place? He is correct to say that among the ragbag of ideas put forward by the Conservative party, but rejected, some precedents can be found for this proposal, but when Conservative Governments in the last century and this faced the issue they came down in favour of two-tier government with a strong overall county council—in 1888 it was the London county council and in 1962 it was the GLC.

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

It might be for the convenience of the House if I encouraged the hon. Gentleman to make his own speech in his own time rather than in my time. There is plenty of time for him to make his speech.

My point is entirely valid, and it is not damaged by the hon. Gentleman's criticism. There is a strong strand, within the Labour tradition about which the hon.

Gentleman will know much more than me, of devolution to the boroughs, and until recently the present leader of the GLC was a distinguished representative of that tradition.

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's complimentary comments, and I wholly endorse what he is saying about the desirability of further devolution to the boroughs. I am sure that in return he will concede that that leaves the problem of some London-wide functions, whether they should disappear into the Government or whether they should be handled at a London-wide level. This may be a debate for the future rather than for today, but some of us are worried how those London-wide functions will be handled even when, properly, as much as possible is devolved to the boroughs.

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

My right hon. Friend makes a fair point. History shows that none of the solutions is ever found to be as final as it looks. If we swung right out with a maximalist strategic planning authority to which boroughs would be added, that would soon show itself to be wholly wrong. We are moving sharply back in the devolutionist direction, which is right. Because we are proposing one joint board in London, we are acknowledging that at least one function is London-wide. There is no complete purity in any solution, and I accept the implication of what my right hon. Friend said. Abolishing a tier of authority will clearly save money. The figures will show that, but the savings will not be shown finally until the new arrangements are in place. Estimates of savings must be worked out. Further work will be done on that.

The Ho se seems to approach the subject the wrong way round. One does not keep a structure of government which is unnecessary for the love of it, or even because of the vigour with which people defend it. We must move to a simpler structure.

Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment

I am grateful to the Under-Secretary for giving way amid such gobbledegook. If calculations have been made, why has the House had to wait for Third Reading to be told what is in the Government's mind? Ministers make assertions. Where is the evidence? The Minister says that savings are inevitable because functions are being removed. Throughout the Committee stage we were told that functions were to be transferred. What will be the cost?

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

Whenever the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) has a feeble point to make he prefaces it with some personal abuse which, admittedly, is not too tough. My argument is clear. We cannot prove what the savings will be until we know where all the functions will go and what the financial consequences will be.

Photo of Mr William Benyon Mr William Benyon , Milton Keynes

I do not want my hon. Friend to be distracted by noises from the Opposition into thinking that we are not extremely worried about the cost element. I hope that he can reassure me that we are not ducking out of producing a detailed study.

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes (Mr. Benyon) made a powerful speech on the subject on Second Reading. Of course we are aware of the anxieties. Further estimates and figures will be brought forward. I still think that the House is considering the matter the wrong way round. If one believes that a rational structure is best for local government, it will probably turn out to be the cheapest structure. Many former critics of the GLC, who are now its defenders. will be able to see savings.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

The best is not always the cheapest. Does the Minister accept the Coopers and Lybrand figures for the metropolitan counties, or the London Borough Treasurers' figures? The Minister cannot say that no figures have been suggested. The Government are the only body who have not presented figures.

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

It would not be sensible for the Government to present speculative figures. However carefully the figures are worked out, they can be only speculative. Some are speculative with a bias in one direction and others in another direction. They all show the possibility of some savings — even the Coopers and Lybrand figures show that—and some show possible great savings.

Many Opposition Members have been determined opponents of the upper-tier authorities. They hide their present change of heart behind demanding proof of savings which might make them stick to their original position. They did not call for such proof when they held the old opinions — [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) is making a speech from a sedentary position. I am happy to see that she has just joined our debate. There were many hours when she could have joined in the debate, but no doubt she was busy elsewhere.

The underlying purpose of the interim arrangements—

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

The hon. Gentleman must make his own speech later. I have given way to him twice, to his junior several times and also to his hatchet man several times. I shall not give way again.

There is another main issue of controversy. We have had bitter arguments about the elections. I still believe that there is nothing unprecedented in the principle of saying that the elections should not go ahead. It would be absurd to allow the elections to go ahead for the rump council in its final period. A real argument has been put forward by some hon. Members, including some of my hon. Friends, about what to do having reached that conclusion. Although there have been very powerful adjectives of disapprobation about the course we have chosen, I have not heard anything that has shaken my belief that it is a perfectly rational and sensible course to appoint to the transitional council elected members of the lower-tier authorities.

As we know from the advertiser's brief that someone in the GLC sent us, the Opposition know that the argument about gut feeling cannot easily be dealt with by the Government. The advertisers brief says, "Do not spend too much time, for God's sake, defending the GLC because it is indefensible; do not waste time on services because the Government will soon out-manoeuvre you; stick to the arguments that are all about gut feeling and the emotions of elections."

There is a perfectly rational and sensible case for saying that the elected members of the lower-tier authorities should carry the weight of the transitional councils. I am saddened and a little surprised by the adjectives used by my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup.

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

There is plenty of time for the hon. Gentleman to make a vehement speech that will be of interest to the House.

We listened to some of the arguments in Committee on certain points. We agreed with the hon. Member for Copeland that the argument against the suspension of the boundaries revision were strong. We agreed to reconsider that point. Arguments were put in great detail about the problem of the representation of minority parties. That worried some of my hon. Friends as well as Opposition Members. We have freely conceded to the House that the objective of having a minority representation cannot necessarily produce an exact proportional outcome in every case. We still think it worthwhile and sensible to pursue the objective of having some minority representation, even though that is not necessarily a perfect outcome. We had useful discussions about that in Committee.

There was some agreement across the Floor on one or two points. The Labour party agreed with us that it would be wrong sharply to increase the size of the GLC, even though that would have given the possibility of having a more exact proportional outcome. We have recognised the genuine concern of hon. Members on various matters and have promised to look again at some of them.

There are various important information provisions in the Bill—in clause 7 and in later clauses—that are of importance to the lower-tier authorities and successor authorities in the formulation of their plans. I would not want to underestimate the amount of work and the intense effort that will be needed by all those concerned in the public service and local authorities, together with councillors in local authorities, to make this difficult transitional period work. It will be a difficult period. There was some unnecessary sabre-rattling in Committee from a few hon. Members about confrontation in this period. That would be quite outwith the traditions of public service that we expect and receive from the local authorities. [Interruption.]

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

Some hon. Members who made those hostile noises in Committee have just identified themselves by giving tongue in a manner familiar to the Committee.

The Bill has been intensely opposed by those who are defending the interests of the upper-tier authorities, and it has been genuinely and straightforwardly opposed by some hon. Members on both sides of the House whom I would not accuse of defending a particular interest but who are worried about particular points.

The Bill is fair and sensible. It is not the Bill that one might imagine from the rhetoric that it has engendered. When we look back at these debates after a year or so, some of the shrill rhetoric that we have heard will seem odd and synthetic. We may find it hard to remember why some of these provisions were thought to be so extraordinary and dangerous. They are a necessary stage in the achievement of an important and central Government policy. When the period of undoubted difficulty and hard work at the time of transition is over, it will be clear that the Bill was an important element in the development of an important policy. I commend it to the House.

Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment 5:43, 22 May 1984

We have reached this Third Reading debate rather earlier than we had expected. The Under-Secretary has just made a low-key speech about the consideration of the Bill, it purposes, and what he believes it will achieve. My hon. Friends believe that the Bill might more properly be entitled the Transfer of Political Control Bill, because—at least in London—that will be a major outcome of it.

I should like, first, to comment on the events of the past 24 hours, because what has happened in the House has been portrayed by Liberal Members as a victory of some kind for themselves. In their press notice, the Liberals say that they wanted to ensure that the legislation was not rushed through the Commons. However, the net result of their activities last night is that the Bill is passing through the House more quickly than it would otherwise have done.

My second observation about recent events is that not a single change and not a moment's delay has been secured by the Liberal tactics. The behaviour of the Liberals has not led to any change. On the contrary, the passage of the measure has been speeded up.

I wish to make it clear that my hon. Friends and I had no intention of placing in jeopardy the important debate which should have taken place today on Government policy towards British Leyland at Bathgate and Leeds and towards Jaguar. If it had not been for an unprecendented ruling by you, Mr. Speaker, that debate would have been lost. Thousands of workers and their families in the motor vehicle manufacturing industry would have reacted with anger and dismay, and the Liberal party would have born the responsibility. Far from achieving a great victory, the Liberals have in some respects allowed the Government a breathing space on that issue. They have been allowed to wriggle off the hook, at least for 24 hours.

Furthermore, the events of the past few hours have meant that, rather than the issue of hybridity being considered calmly and quietly in your office, Mr. Speaker, we were forced to raise it on the Floor of the House. I strongly regret that. I do not believe that the general public think that the House sitting all night is particularly sensible or clever, but whatever conclusions can be drawn from or claimed for sitting late, none of them can be regarded as anything other than dismal for the Liberal party.

I should like now to deal with the attitude and behaviour of the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen). He was not present at any time during the Committee stage of the Bill or in any other debate on it. He has not made one speech on it. He came in this afternoon and, with monumental arrogance and hyprocrisy, raised the issue on the Floor of the House and said that he and his right hon. and hon. Friends were determined to prevent the Bill from proceeding and to defend the GLC and the metropolitan counties. We should examine the manifesto on which the right hon. Gentleman fought the general election campaign. It says that the alliance's proposals would inevitably involve the eventual abolition of the Metropolitan Counties, and the GLC".

Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment

That was the alliance's stance. If the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Wrigglesworth) wants me to read on, I shall read it all. The manifesto said that the alliance proposed simplifying the structure of local government to make it more effective by abolishing one of the existing tiers of local government. This will be done by stages … It would inevitably involve the eventual abolition of the Metropolitan Counties, and the GLC". What more does the hon. Gentleman want me to say?

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Will the hon. Gentleman tell us that, in the same paragraph, there appears the statement that those steps will be taken against the background of the establishment of regional government throughout England, including London? Is he aware that that has been our party's policy for much longer than present Labour party policy has been established?

Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment

My intention is not to dispute what the hon. Gentleman says but to point out the hypocrisy of the behaviour of the right hon. Member for Devonport in the Chamber today. He fought the general election campaign on a commitment to do exactly the opposite of what he pretended to be doing today.

Photo of Mr Ian Wrigglesworth Mr Ian Wrigglesworth , Stockton South

The hon. Gentleman has attacked my right hon. Friend.

Photo of Mr Ian Wrigglesworth Mr Ian Wrigglesworth , Stockton South

The hon. Gentleman does not want to answer. He cannot face up to it.

Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment

The hon. Gentleman flatters himself if he thinks that I am not prepared to face him or anything that his party may say. I remember facing up to the hon. Gentleman when he was a colleague in the Labour party, before he ratted on the voters and all the people in the party who had worked so long and hard for him. I assure him that he holds no terrors for me.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. So that we may proceed in order, I remind the House that on Third Reading we should be considering those matters which are in the Bill.

Photo of Mr Ian Wrigglesworth Mr Ian Wrigglesworth , Stockton South

The hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) seems to have thought better of the rather extreme comments that he has just made. [Interruption.] If his colleagues will allow me, I will respond to his criticism. He knows exactly what the position is. He knows that the SDP published a long statement on its regional policies and the party published a joint programme from which the hon. Gentleman has quoted selectively. It says that we intend to replace the existing regional authorities with new regional authorities with new powers and a new remit. That remains our commitment and I shall expand on it further if I succeed in catching your eye later in the debate, Mr. Speaker.

Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment

All I can say is that, instead of protesting too much, the hon. Gentleman might have been better advised to plead the fifth amendment.

On Third Reading we have to face the fact that, after consideration in Committee of an unprecedented measure, aside from two small but significant points that the Government have agreed to concede, the Bill is to go through the House largely unchanged. All the original fundamental questions about the Bill remain unanswered by the Government. I was astonished when the Under-Secretary of State, in his reference to costs and finance, dug a hole for himself and deliberately jumped into it. First, he said that there would be savings and that they would be significant. When we asked why after so many months the Government had still produced no significant case on this, he demurred and then said that it would not be sensible to name a figure.

I have, as I am sure the whole House has, a copy of a letter signed by the Secretary of State for the Environment, dated 12 January 1984, on Conservative Central Office paper. I shall not read it out, but it begins "Dear Councilor," and ends, "Yours ever, Patrick". Attached to that letter is a document which actually repeats the claim that savings of at least £120 million will be made as a result of this measure. Why does the Under-Secretary of State go on denying this? Where is the evidence? Why cannot the Government produce an argument to substantiate that claim? It is because there is no such argument or evidence. That is the reality on finance, so let us challenge the Government head-on once again about this. They have denied the House of Commons, the GLC and the metropolitan county councils any vestige of evidence to support that claim although they have had months and months in which to do so. They have failed abysmally to answer that central question in these debates.

As with the arguments on finance, so with the arguments about structure and functions: there has been no proper inquiry, no evidence to support the Government's assertions, and nothing which could convince even Conservative Members, many of whom in their heart of hearts must shudder at the probable impact of this measure—the bureaucracy involved. the anti-democratic nature of the legislation, the further accretion of powers to Whitehall, all embodied in this miserable little measure.

After a series of major debates, in which we have spelt out and drawn attention to the unprecedented abolition of elections, taking votes away from 30 million people next year, the gerrymandering of political control in London—

Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment

The hon. Gentleman says, "Rubbish." How can he contest the facts? His right hon. Friend has already conceded that the political control in London will change.

Photo of Mr Martin Brandon-Bravo Mr Martin Brandon-Bravo , Nottingham South

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the taking away of the votes of 30 million people. Will he confirm to the House that those 30 million people will have a local government vote? They will vote for the boroughs, and that is where the action is.

Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment

The hon. Gentleman says that that is where the action is. If there is no problem about the GLC, why are we going through the tortuous business of abolishing it? What is the purpose? The reality is that, for the people of London and the metropolitan counties, the action is in the areas of strategic planning and transport and in all the services that the GLC and the metropolitan county councils provide. There is a great deal of action there, with many important decisions being taken and many important services being provided.

Photo of Robert Wareing Robert Wareing , Liverpool, West Derby

Does my hon. Friend agree that 1985 will be the first year in peacetime this century when the citizens of Britain will be unable to cast their vote in a local election?

Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment

I agree that, as my hon. Friend says, by an unprecedented act, people will be denied the right to vote and to elect councils democratically — councils which were actually the creation of a former Conservative Government in the early 1970s. That is one of the supreme ironies of the measure.

Important principles are at stake. There will be a morass of three different systems of administration. First, there will be the concluding period of the existing authority; then there will be the interim system; then the joint boards will take over. There will be three different systems within a very short period. What is proposed is almost tailor-made for confusion, for delay, for bureaucratic mix-ups and for the ineffective, inefficient use of important scarce resources of manpower and of finance.

Budgets will be controlled from Whitehall for three years. I heard the Secretary of State say that people wanted less government, and that as a result of the Bill they would get less government. The absolute reverse is the case. As a result of the measure, there will be more involvement by central Government, not less. Several points can be made to substantiate that. It represents another "own goal" in regard to the purposes, provisions and outcome of the measure.

We see another unprecedented power being given to Ministers — the power of compulsion over council employees, placing them in the invidious position of having either to carry out the policies of the elected members of the council, or to conform to instructions issued by the Secretary of State from Whitehall.

A further general point to be made about the Government's attitude on consideration, as with the so-called Rates Bill, is that reasoned arguments —arguments backed up with fact and carefully thought through, which have been put not only by people in the authorities involved but by hon. Members on both sides of the House — have been simply brushed aside. In many cases they have barely been answered, showing the Government's intention to steamroller the Bill through with minimum, if any, change and with no concession to reason or sensible argument or debate.

Part III assumes that this House and the other place will pass a subsequent measure. The Minister has not responded to that point either.

Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment

The hon. Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) shakes his head. I cannot believe that he has read the Bill if he does not believe that. He has only to look at clauses 7 and 8 to come to that conclusion. The Bill assumes that the subsequent substantive measure will be enacted.

We have not only an example of bad, unprecedented, bureaucratic and, in some cases, authoritarian provisions in the Bill, but no less an authority than the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to thank for being able to share the innermost thoughts of the Government about it. Speaking to a Conservative meeting on Wednesday 14 March 1984—I quote from the Conservative party's news service—he said: The GLC is typical of this new, modern divisive version of Socialism. It must be defeated, so we shall abolish the GLC. It is difficult to recall a more seriously anti-democratic authoritarian public statement by any Cabinet Minister than that in my 14 years in Parliament.

Far from improving administration or giving people a better deal or even guaranteeing more efficient and effective services, far from saving public money and streamlining administration, the likely outcome of the Bill is the reverse. Bureaucracy will increase. Decision taking, far from being streamlined, will become more complicated. Accountability will be diminished. The effective use of resources will decline. The way in which we use manpower and finance in the provision of services will become less efficient. People will almost certainly have to suffer worse services than presently exist when many are desperately crying out for an improvement and an expansion of the services which for so many people, particularly in the inner cities, are already dangerously inadequate and unable to respond to their genuine needs and requirements.

The Bill has virtually no merit at all, and Labour Members remain implacably opposed to it.

Photo of Mr John Whitfield Mr John Whitfield , Dewsbury 6:03, 22 May 1984

We have had countless hours of debate on what has become popularly known as the paving Bill, which lays the ground for the abolition of the metropolitan county councils and the GLC. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said, I believe on Second Reading, perhaps the most notable opposition to the Bill has come from the Conservative Benches. I should like to address my remarks to that opposition.

The House has listened to some plausible criticism of the Government's proposal from, among others, my right hon. Friends the Members for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym), for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon). In addition to the power of oratory that my right hon. Friends possess, they have in common the fact that they were all members of the Government of my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup who must bear some responsibility for saddling the country with the overweight, overexpensive and overcomplex system of local government—

Photo of Mr John Whitfield Mr John Whitfield , Dewsbury

—that the Government have a clear manifesto commitment to reverse.

The Local Government Act 1972 was hailed at the time as a long overdue piece of reform. In my view, it was one of the most disastrous pieces of legislation. It made a substantial contribution to our loss of control over public expenditure. It resulted in the considerable apathy that the public now have for all aspects of local government. It is a measure of which we in the Conservative party should be somewhat ashamed but which we are now in the process of reversing, at least in part.

The abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils is only the first step towards a return to what may now be regarded as the halcyon days of local government that existed before the 1974 reorganisation.

One would have thought that my four right hon. Friends, to whom I have referred, would at least have remained silent on the subject of the difficult legislation upon which the Government have now embarked. One thing that I have learnt during my short time in this place is that admitting errors, or even remaining silent about them, seldom commends itself to hon. Members. Those of my right hon. Friends have not remained silent; they have argued with all the considerable eloquence that they command that the Government's proposals to limit local authority expenditure are an unwarranted interference with local government sovereignty. They have argued also that to proceed with the Bill is to deny local people their democratic rights. Neither of those arguments stands up to examination. Local government sovereignty is a myth. Local government is neither local nor is it government. By the Local Government Act 1972—

Photo of Mr Walter Harrison Mr Walter Harrison , Wakefield

How long was the hon. Gentleman in local government? What experience does he have of it, and what does he know about it?

Photo of Mr John Whitfield Mr John Whitfield , Dewsbury

My experience of local government is as a ratepayer. [Interruption.] The Local Government Act 1972 ensured that local government ceased to be local. Those who brought in that Act ensured the abolition of the rural and urban district councils. It was they who abolished those councils. Similarly they abolished the borough councils and the county borough councils. Little did we know in those days how lucky we were to have local government which was indeed local.

Those who worked in the pre-1974 authorities were well known, approachable and, in the main, respectable local personalities. They had a specific commitment and affection for the areas they represented. Even the county boroughs were small enough to have a special character and flavour of their own. They were more than capable of running their own police forces and their own transport services. They found no difficulty in mending their roads or in deciding who should have planning permission and who should not. They did not need any strategic plan.

Photo of Mr Bill O'Brien Mr Bill O'Brien , Normanton

I appreciate the opportunity to make one point. I must remind the hon. Gentleman that in the period to which he is referring we had county councils. One of the most efficient was that in the West Riding. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that we should go back to county organisations? Is that what he is implying?

Photo of Mr John Whitfield Mr John Whitfield , Dewsbury

The hon. Gentleman will hear shortly what I have to say on that matter.

I know of no person in my constituency of Dewsbury who would not welcome the return of the county boroughs of Huddersfield and Dewsbury and of the urban and rural district councils in Mirfield, Kirkburton and Denby Dale

Photo of Mr John Whitfield Mr John Whitfield , Dewsbury

—other than the enormously privileged but, unfortunately, not so few who work for and run the faceless new authorities which, in my constituency, are Kirklees metropolitan district council and West Yorkshire county council.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. Is the hon. Gentleman giving way? If so, to which hon. Gentleman is he giving way?

Photo of Mr John Whitfield Mr John Whitfield , Dewsbury

I do not intend to give way.

Local government ceased to be local the day these gargantuan authorities took over from their indigenous predecessors. Local government ceased not only to be local but also to be government. Today local government is no more in the vast majority of cases than an agency through which central Government administer the various services they provide to the community, he they education, housing, planning control, social services or whatever.

Having created these agencies to administer local services, having imposed many additional responsibilities on them and having directly provided over half the funding of the agencies, surely central Government are entitled to decide the manner in which the agencies should operate.

Photo of Mr John Whitfield Mr John Whitfield , Dewsbury

In advancing their arguments that central Government should riot be allowed to control these monster agencies which they have created, right hon. and hon. Members made much reference to local democracy.

Photo of Mr Walter Harrison Mr Walter Harrison , Wakefield

Will the hon. Gentleman give way, because he has referred to my birthplace?

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. The right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Harrison) makes a touching point, but unless the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Whitfield) gives way it is not possible for the right hon. Gentleman to intervene.

Photo of Mr John Whitfield Mr John Whitfield , Dewsbury

I could not hear whether the right hon. Gentleman wished to intervene. I shall give way to him.

Photo of Mr Walter Harrison Mr Walter Harrison , Wakefield

I tried to intervene several times when I heard my birthplace mentioned. When I heard the hon. Gentleman speaking about Dewsbury I tried on at least four occasions to intervene. Having served for six years some 20 years ago on the council in that area, having family in the area and having part of the hon. Gentleman's constituency associated with mine, I am of the opinion, through family information and my constituency relationship, that I am knowledgeable about the statements that the hon. Gentleman has made. My information is quite contrary to that of the hon. Gentleman. From the statements that are being made in the Chamber about knowledge of local government, one wonders what hon. Gentlemen know about local government.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

It might be a good idea if the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Whitfield) was allowed to finish his speech. The right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Harrison) might then catch my eye, to the great enjoyment of the House.

Photo of Mr Walter Harrison Mr Walter Harrison , Wakefield

I am trying to put a question to the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. Will the right hon. Gentleman put a question to the hon. Member?

Photo of Mr Walter Harrison Mr Walter Harrison , Wakefield

I wish to ask the hon. Gentleman this direct question. Seeing that he is so knowledgeable, was he born in his constituency, how long has he lived in it, and how long has he represented it?

Photo of Mr John Whitfield Mr John Whitfield , Dewsbury

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for reminding the House of his associations with my constituency, which, from what I can gather, are in the past.

I think that we are being diverted, and I propose to proceed with what I was saying. If people like the right hon. Gentleman will speak to people who live in Dewsbury—the people with whom the hon. Gentleman claims to have such an affinity—they would know that the vast majority of them do not even know who their county councillors are. Those who do know who their county councillors are have no idea what they are doing. Hon. Members could also find out, if they bothered to speak to the electorate whom they claim to represent, and about whose democratic rights they seem to be concerned, that most district councillors in these areas in their private moments are looking forward to taking over the responsibilities of the metropolitan county councils, which they have long regarded as being an unnecessary, expensive, interfering adjunct in the business of local affairs. If only they would talk to the ordinary man in the street about such issues, the right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken against the Bill would not feel so confident about wheeling out the worn-out old arguments about local sovereignty and democracy.

While the electors of London may find the political scene in London a little duller without Mr. Livingstone, the electors in the metropolitan counties will hardly notice the difference when the counties cease to exist. The metropolitan counties will be mourned by no one. However, I admit that their abolition would be no panacea. As the House will know, there are many imperfections in the metropolitan districts, but that is not under debate today.

I ask the Secretary of State, when he comes to frame the detailed implementing legislation in the autumn, whether he will at least consider some measures that might require, or at any rate encourage, the districts to delegate some of their increased responsibilities to the parish councils. Only in this way will the business of the administration of local affairs be bought back to the people from whom it was so savagely wrenched in 1974.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 6:20, 22 May 1984

We are coming to the end of what has been an extremely compacted period of debate on this fundamental constitutional Bill. I shall deal first with some of the points made by the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), so that the issue may be put in its proper perspective.

There have been two relatively recent substantial reforms of local government. The first, 20 years ago, created the GLC. The second, 10 years ago, created the six metropolitan counties. The position taken by Liberal members who were in the House on those occasions was that regional government should always be the objective and the way of devolving government from Westminster nearer to the people. It has been our premise and it remains our strong view that we in Westminster try to run too much of the government of Britain and that it would be better run if it were handed nearer to the people.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Bonsor Sir Nicholas Bonsor , Upminster

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that one of the larger results of the Bill will be to do precisely that—to hand closer to the people the powers that have been misused by the GLC?

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that in part we go with the Government along the road of devolution of local authority power. However, we do not go with them in their belief that in attempting to reform local government one can trespass on two fundamental constitutional principles. The first is to believe that it can be done without proper public debate, consulting the public to ensure that what is done will last. Although the Government went into the last election having added at the last moment into their manifesto a commitment—we have always accepted that it was there—to abolish the GLC and the metropolitan counties, that should never have been contemplated without a Royal Commission or similar inquiry to ensure that the complex interrelated and important matters of providing the services for the people would be debated and properly resolved before decisions were taken.

Our second fundamental objection is that nowhere in their manifesto did the Government envisage abolishing elections. They did not tell the country that part of the process of abolishing the authorities was that before their abolition elections would be abolished, while the authorities continued. One of the most appalling implications of that is that in London a change of political control is an inevitable consequence of the proposals which the Government are laying before the House in this paving measure.

Photo of Mr Martin Brandon-Bravo Mr Martin Brandon-Bravo , Nottingham South

We have listened to five or six hours of the hon. Gentleman's discourse since early yesterday. Has he anything new to say?

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Had the hon. Gentleman been here all the time—

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

—he would have realised that it was necessary to deal separately with the various provisions of the Bill. I was grateful that at least two of the hon. Members who chaired the Committee of the whole House were complimentary to me in saying that, unlike many hon. Members, I concentrated on dealing with the amendments before the Committee.

The hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) may be satisfied with my following point because to some extent it is new. During the recent elections, exactly what was the position — this was implicitly defended by the hon. Member for Copeland—of the Labour party, as opposed to the Conservative, Liberal and Social Democratic parties? It is notable that not a word was said in the 1979 Labour party manifesto—hon. Members can look at the documents later if they do not believe me—about whether the Greater London council should be continued or abolished. That was clearly a live issue in 1983, because the Government had declared their intentions. About the time of the general election, the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) told us about the Labour party's view. The 1983 Labour manifesto stated: We are examining how best to reform local government. We believe that services such as health, water and sewerage should become answerable to a much greater extent to elected members, and we aim to end, if we can, the present confusing division of services between two tiers of authority. Unitary district authorities, in England and Wales, could be responsible for all of the functions in this area that they could sensibly undertake.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

That was in June 1983, the very time when the hon. Member for Copeland, who is leading for the Labour Front Bench—during the past 24 hours he was leading only in the last round and not the 14 rounds that preceded it—was accusing us of being inconsistent. I challenge him to show the country how he is consistent when the Labour party completely changed its position. We had said repeatedly that we believed in regional government.

I shall quote — not selectively — from the alliance manifesto which states that we propose to revitalise local government … simplifying the structure"—

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Finsberg Mr Geoffrey Finsberg , Hampstead and Highgate

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I find great difficulty, when the hon. Gentleman reads successive election manifestos, in relating what is being said to anything in the Bill which, I understand, Mr. Speaker, is the only purpose of a Third Reading debate.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I said in response to a previous interjection that speeches on Third Reading must relate to what is in the Bill. Hon. Members should not deal with what might be contained in the Bill in other circumstances.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Inevitably, we have been properly dealing with the details of the legislation as we come to the final phase of the Bill. I wanted to put my view clearly on the record by quoting because the hon. Member for Copeland misled the House by quoting selected parts of the alliance manifesto. It is very short and it says: we propose … to revitalise local government … by … simplifying the structure of local government to make it more effective by abolishing one of the existing tiers of local government". I hope that the hon. Member will read this in Hansard. This will be done by stages against the background of our proposals for the development of regional government. It would inevitably involve the eventual abolition of the Metropolitan Counties, and the GLC (but not ILEA) and would also allow for the restoration of powers to some of the former County boroughs". If we were in the position of the Under-Secretary and his colleagues and we had the opportunity to introduce legislation to reform local government, we would make sure, first, that we did it after consultation with the people concerned; secondly, we would make sure that regional government was established according to the preferences of the people in the English regions; and thirdly, we would not contemplate this amazing trespass into constitutional precedent in abolishing elections.

I want to make two other points at this stage. First, the Government have always sought to justify their proposals on the basis that they will save money. The Secretary of State—a lawyer—said that the onus was on him who wished to change the system to prove his own case. He has miserably, noticeably and comprehensively failed to produce the evidence to show that his reforms will save money. If they do save money, he will be vindicated after the event. However, we are meant to be planning the future of local government, not guessing at it. It is appalling that all he does is accumulate information in his office and secrete it about his person, and those of his advisers, instead of sharing it with the public who want to know the arguments, the facts and the figures.

Second, it is clear that the Government realise that their arguments are flawed. They have admitted it throughout our debates on this Bill. They ignored the electors of the City of London. They accept that the plans to have ILEA converted this year from a directly elected body to an indirectly elected body next year, to an indirectly elected body the following year again were—in the words of the Secretary of State for Education and Science—not totally perfect. According to another quotation from the Government, the arguments from these Benches had a certain validity, but were not overwhelming. As the Under-Secretary has been gracious enough to admit on occasions, the Government know that they are in hot water. They have been told so by their own supporters, and they have been told so by us.

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

It is rather unfair of the hon. Gentleman to criticise the Government when we listen to the arguments of the House or the Committee and make a change. On the whole, the arguments of the alliance parties have not persuaded us. We have managed to resist them fairly easily. Changes have been made, and I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would be gracious enough to thank us for them.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman will know that I was here when the announcement about changes to ILEA was made. I welcomed the changes and hoped that the Government would go both steps down that road and not stop where they did. Of course, the changes are welcome. What is appalling is that the Government were determined from the beginning to make sure that there would be no amendment in case that might delay the legislation. There was no Report stage, and there was no chance for a proper debate.

If we have run into difficulties during the past 24 hours, those difficulties are not of our making. They are the result of the Government's attempt — I slightly alter the wording of the White Paper—to steamroller the cities, instead of planning for their future. They have sought to rush through this place legislation without precedent to make sure that we provide for an eventuality that may never happen. This place may never abolish the GLC and the metropolitan counties, and it has not yet been asked to do so. We should not be asked to consider how they should be governed in interim phases of 11 months until the substantive matter comes before us. It is the wrong way to legislate, because it is to legislate without knowing where we are going. However, that is the Government's chosen route.

The opposition has come from this side persistently, consistently and consecutively for the past 25 hours. We said at the beginning, we have said throughout, and we say again that the Local Government (Interim Provisions) Bill grossly misnames a constitutional abuse of this House, and it is an exercise by the Government of their functions in a way that shows their disdain for the electors of our capital city of England and the six metropolitan regions that have authorities. Millions of people have told the Government that they are going the wrong way. We say it now, and we shall continue to oppose the Government until they change their mind.

Photo of Mr William Benyon Mr William Benyon , Milton Keynes 6:35, 22 May 1984

I shall detain the House for only a short time. I refer to your remarks, Mr. Speaker, during the speech of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). The Bill does not outline what is contained in a Bill abolishing the GLC and the metropolitan counties. That Bill has not been published. We are not discussing that provision. We are discussing a paving Bill. In spite of the length of our proceedings, which have lasted for more than 24 hours, and in spite of our detailed discussions, I believe that only one provision in the Bill really matters. That is the substitution of the present governing bodies of the GLC and the metropolitan counties by ad hoc bodies and, in the case of the GLC, changing the political complexion thereby.

Everything else does not matter. It is perfectly sensible and in accordance with precedence to postpone elections and leave the existing authority in operation until the new measures come into force. That does not worry me at all.

It is fascinating being in the House because, when such a measure is introduced, we never quite know where we are going. However, as the argument proceeds, people outside the House begin to judge matters from what they have heard in our debates and from what they have read in the press. Then they begin to make their views known. I submit with the greatest respect that on this one provision the argument has been lost. It was lost earlier in the most telling intervention—I cannot remember which of my hon. Friends made it. He wondered whether we would have introduced such a measure had Sir Desmond Plummer still been in charge of the GLC. That sums it up.

The argument has been lost, not only among the supporters of the Opposition parties, but among ordinary sensible Conservative voters. Before the Bill is considered in another place in even greater detail than it has been in the House of Commons, I make one last fervent appeal to my right hon. and hon. Friends to remove from the Bill the provision I have referred to. I accept entirely that consistency, loyalty and dedication are worthy attributes. We all recognise those attributes in my right hon. and hon. Friends. However, nothing would become them more than if they recognised that what appears correct in practice may be wrong in principle.

Photo of Kevin Barron Kevin Barron , Rother Valley 6:38, 22 May 1984

I wish to be brief. The Under-Secretary said, when moving the Third Reading, that there was nothing unprincipled about the Bill. That is far from the truth. The Bill seeks to cancel the 1985 elections. In the past, those elections have always been formed as part of legislation and have not, as the hon. Member for Milton Keynes (Mr. Benyon) said, come before any Bill to abolish the councils. In that sense a grave principle is involved and I hope that my hon. Friends and perhaps some Conservative Members will make it clear to the Under-Secretary that they disagree with that principle.

The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Whitfield) appears to have left the Chamber. He admitted his knowledge in such matters, because he was a ratepayer. He referred to the position of local authorities in Yorkshire before the last reorganisation in 1974. I should like to refer to my locality. The Minister, on Second Reading and today, referred to the concept of two-tier authorities as though it were new since 1974 or that it was evil, ill-conceived and should never be used.

I remind the Under-Secretary—and the hon. Member for Dewsbury, if he comes back into the debate within the next few minutes—that my locality, which fell under the West Riding county council until 1974, had one county councillor. There was also an urban district council in my village which had 12 representatives. That was replaced as a result of legislation from the Conservative Government in 1974. Indeed, the hon. Member for Dewsbury failed to mention—I do not know why—the politics of that Government who introduced the very structure which this Government will eventually abolish.

In my area, those representatives were replaced by three members of the Rotherham metropolitan borough council and one member of the South Yorkshire county council. The number of councillors in my village was reduced from 13 to four. Now the Government are, in effect, telling my constituents and those living in that village that they can do without another one and that the number can be reduced to three. Some argue that that was not an attack on local democracy. But it was. The events of 1974 were bad for my constituents and for their contact with local councillors and in the communities. If the Bill is enacted it will further weaken my constituents' contact with their local councillors; it will not bring councillors any closer to them. Indeed, in that example 25 per cent. of the councillors will be taken away.

The measure involves a grave constitutional issue. It raises the old question of the substitution of district councils for metropolitan county councils. The whole matter must be examined. First, district councillors, by implication, cannot know what duties have been performed by county councillors. Moreover, the introduction of those bodies has wider implications. I understand that it is so in the GLC. However, I do not wish to labour the point about the GLC. The Opposition have done that often enough in this and earlier debates on the Bill.

The measure will change the political balance of power. That is a most dangerous course for the House to follow. Any change of power — whether in national or local government—has always been done through the ballot box. It is a grave constitutional error for a Government to change the balance of power—be it in a town hall, county hall, or wherever—unless it is done through the ballot box.

In 1974, West Riding county councillors were put into the South Yorkshire county council. Legislation then meant that the West Riding county councillors were given extended office while the elections for the South Yorkshire county council came forward—a council, incidentally, which has good, popular support. I do not wish to digress, but that council has an excellent transport policy. I do not know whether "Streamlining the Cities" will come into being, but I assure the Under-Secretary that my constituency has no such cities. The people there would go to great lengths to demonstrate the popularity of South Yorkshire county council — in respect not just of transport but of many other services.

Photo of Mr Richard Tracey Mr Richard Tracey , Surbiton

I am intrigued to know whether the hon. Gentleman paid those lavish—perhaps well-deserved—compliments to South Yorkshire county council as a result of receiving the well publicised letter from Mr. Thwaites, the leader of the council, asking the hon. Gentleman to do a little more in debates in defence of those principles.

Photo of Kevin Barron Kevin Barron , Rother Valley

My answer to the hon. Gentleman is no. The hon. Gentleman will see from Hansard that I have taken part in every Division but one during the past 24 hours, when I was busy on the Committee proceedings on the Finance Bill. That is one out of a considerable number. I spoke on Second Reading. I took no notice of the letter from Mr. Thwaites. I realise that Roy Thwaites represents over a million people in the South Yorkshire area who want to retain that council. I understand why he is anxious—as is every hon. Member from the area—to retain that council on behalf of our constituents. The Opposition are not going for Red Ken or anyone else. We are here to defend our constituents' interests, and that is what I intend to do—letters or no letters.

The case that the Under-Secretary has put on Third Reading is not proven. I do not propose to go over the arguments about Coopers and Lybrand or about whether the measure will or will not save money. The Under-Secretary has once more failed to convince us. Perhaps one day we shall discover the truth, but I fear that it may be too late and that a grave attack on local democracy will have been made by then. The Under-Secretary should be honest with the British people and tell them that the Bill is nothing more than an attack on local democracy and that it has nothing whatever to do with defending it.

Photo of Dr Ian Twinn Dr Ian Twinn , Edmonton 6:46, 22 May 1984

I welcome the paving Bill. Our patience has been tried a great deal with details over the past 25 hours, and we have heard right hon. and hon. Members rehearse arguments about what they call the great principles at stake. Having listened to the Second Reading and Committee debates, I cannot understand where some of my right hon. and hon. Friends and Opposition Members find the principles in the Bill, which is essentially a practical measure to pave the way for the introduction of a much-needed reform of local government.

Photo of Mr Allen McKay Mr Allen McKay , Barnsley West and Penistone

Does the hon. Gentleman not count the removal of people's right to free elections as a matter involving a principle?

Photo of Dr Ian Twinn Dr Ian Twinn , Edmonton

I was about to say that if there is a principle behind the Bill it is the reform of local government and its return to local people. I, too, speak in the interests of my constituents. The people of Edmonton find the Greater London council a remote body with very little bearing on them. Indeed, we have sometimes found the London borough of Enfield rather remote. People regret the passing of the smaller local authorities in London, although they understand that it is necessary in terms of providing services.

In London, we face a top-heavy and redundant tier of local government. I shall not rehearse the arguments for "Streamlining the Cities" that have been advanced over the past 25 hours because that is not what the Bill is about. It is about making it possible to introduce a further Bill later. The Government propose to take a radical step to remove a burden on ratepayers in London and in the metropolitan counties.

I am especially pleased with the progress of the Bill and with the introduction of direct elections for the ILEA. Although that does not affect my constituents, it affects those with whom I have worked closely throughout my political life in London. Living in the ILEA area, and having worked for a polytechnic funded by the body, I greatly appreciate the fact that it is to be controlled by politicians who are directly responsible to the electorate.

The principle that right hon. and hon. Members have tried to produce is a spurious one. It might have been better received had it been well argued during the past 25 hours but we have heard little detailed argument about the principle from my right hon. and hon. Friends and less from the Opposition.

In Committee, members of the GLC who are also Members of the House asked what representations we had received from our constituents. I have received 10 printed slips from the GLC and two reasoned letters in support of those slips. I have received as many reasoned letters in support of Government policy. In fact, I have not received much post at all on this issue. That is surprising when one thinks that the GLC has spent £3 million on advertising. One wonders about its sense in doing that, and about the value to ratepayers of the advertising. Obviously it has not stirred up the great political ferment that the GLC would have liked.

In addition, about £60 million has been given to groups in London, and many of those groups have been encouraged to write to add words of support against "Streamlining the Cities". The public support that that booklet was meant to whip up has not materialised. Of course, some bodies have contacted hon. Members, but they have not conducted a physical campaign which has been of great impact within London, outside a narrow party political circle.

Therefore, I see no difficulty with the Bill. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has promised that the abolition of the elections will not be implemented until this House has approved the principle of the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils.

I believe that is good enough for us in this House. It is essential that the Bill goes through and is enacted so that future policy can be implemented, if the House decides to pass that legislation eventually. It would not be possible to do it the other way round. Therefore, in practical terms, I welcome the Bill, and hope that it goes through today.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West 6:52, 22 May 1984

I have taken a fairly active part in the proceedings of the Bill. I do not wish to detain the House for too long this evening, but I want, for the record, to make a few remarks about the Bill, and the present position.

I believe that we have wasted our time in trying to persuade the Government to make changes in this Bill. We have tried to divert them from the course on which they are set—confrontation with local government here in London. I confine myself to London, and to the chaos to which the Government will be reducing local goverment structures in London and elsewhere.

I ask Conservative Members to reflect for a moment. I have asked them before and I shall ask them again. I am ever an optimist. Let us think for one moment what would be the response of Conservative Members, of the Tory gutter press and indeed of the more respectable Tory press if the proposal were being brought forward by a Labour Government, and if a Labour Government were actually to suggest that elections due to be held in London were to be eliminated and the political control of the body for which the elections were to have been held was to be changed from Conservative to Labour. What would Conservative Members say? I listened to the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), and I took some heart. I know precisely what Conservative Members would have said if a Labour Government had been putting forward this legislation.

I remember what the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup said when he challenged his former Parliamentary Private Secretary, now the benighted Under-Secretary—

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

Assistant, or some form of baggage master, or whatever the relationship was.

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

I was a political adviser, as the hon. Gentleman was to the right hon. Member for Clydesdale (Dame J. Hart).

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

It has been said that, if a Prime Minister needs political advice, he or she should not be Prime Minister.

Anyway, there was a close relationship between the present Under-Secretary and the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup. The right hon. Gentleman challenged the present Minister to say whether he believed that abolishing an election and changing the political control of the GLC and other bodies was politically or morally acceptable. Having put that point to the Minister, the right hon. Gentleman repeated it to the Secretary of State. The Minister might respond to me, but I wanted to hear him say to his previous political master something that he did not say because he had not the guts to do so.

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

The hon. Gentleman cannot always have exactly what he wants. I did not think it worth responding to a question of that kind. Obviously, if I thought that I had been asked to do something immoral, I would not be standing at the Dispatch Box to do it, and I do not believe that either he or my right hon. Friend meant that.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

It is a great shame that the Minister did not say that when the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup challenged him directly. But perhaps we can draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the Official Report, where he will at least find a reply, albeit one made in his absence. It is clear that the Minister is unwilling to be closely associated with this legislation in the presence of his previous political master, whose views on democracy, accountability and opposition are very different from those of the political mistress whom he now serves.

The Ministers have been ridiculed at the Dispatch Box, not only by Opposition Members but by Conservative Members. At times it has been almost too cruel to witness, but they deserve to be ridiculed. With this legislation, the three primary Ministers concerned have destroyed their political reputation, not only in the country but in the House. The Minister referred to me earlier as a hatchet man. Fine; if that is how he sees my role, so be it. But he has been acting as a sort of hired gun. Of course he will get pats on the back from his colleagues. "Well done," they will say. But when they go away, they will say, "My God, another awful performance at the Dispatch Box. We did not have much of an argument to start with, but the Minister made very little of it."

The fact is that no one really respects a hired gun. The Minister has lent his undeniable talents to trying to push through legislation which he knows in his heart to be undemocratic, unjustifiable and totally indefensible in constitutional terms. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup even quoted from the Minister's own book "The Binding of Leviathan". Having listened to those words, I do not know how the Minister has the nerve to come to the Dispatch Box in view of what he has said and done before, and to defend this bastard piece of legislation.

I know that I am biased. At least I am prepared to admit it. But the Opposition — that includes Conservative Members, because they have been in opposition—have won all the arguments. The country knows that we have won all the arguments; Londoners know that we have won all the arguments. But, of course, we have lost all the votes. That is to be expected when we are confronted with the arrogance of today's Tory power, and the elective dictatorship that has been referred to by Conservative Members.

The Bill, like the White Paper, is ill thought out and riddled with inconsistencies. It has all the hallmarks of legislation conceived in undue haste and originating in political vindictiveness. The interim councils will not work. We have heard all the arguments—for instance, that the appointing councils will have to try to find some form of political balance. The Ministers could not tell us what political balance was. All that they could say was, "If no one else decides, the courts will have to."

Their motto is always to leave it to the courts, to leave the legislation as open as possible, and to let someone else get out of the mess that the Ministers have put them into—because it is a mess that local government is being pushed into by the Bill. It will provide a carnival for lawyers, which no doubt will please some Conservative Members, but it is so imprecise and so badly worded and drawn that it shows the Government's profound ignorance of the implications of their own undue haste.

Ministers have no real idea of the range and complexity of the services provided by the GLC. That is why they are requiring officers to give information under duress. Ministers who have refused to give Opposition Members information will now compel others to give them the information they should have had before they put the Bill before the House. The Bill is not only ill conceived; it is an intellectual insult to hon. Members on both sides of the House and to those who have served in local government, both in this city and elsewhere. The Bill should be thrown out lock, stock and barrel, and with it should go the three incompetents, the three people who have prostituted themselves from the Conservative Benches in putting it forward. I hoped, as we went through, to see something better from the Ministers. I have been sadly disappointed. They deserve the ignominy that they will get from masterminding the Bill through Parliament. It will do nothing for their reputations, and I am glad of that; and it will do nothing for local government in London, and I am very sad about that.

We will fight the Bill all the way. I am quite prepared to defy this law, because I believe that it is bad law. It is law which infringes civil liberties and personal freedom, and anyone who is half a person should stand up and say that this law must be defied because it threatens the freedoms of us all.

Photo of Sir Ian Percival Sir Ian Percival , Southport 7:02, 22 May 1984

It is very natural that one's views about this Bill should be coloured by one's views on whether these county councils should be abolished, and of course there is a clear division between the Labour party and ourselves on that issue. I am not nearly so clear about the position of the Liberal party, because in my part of the country, where the proposed abolition of the Merseyside county council is very popular, and rightly so, the alliance parties not only support that decision but claim to be responsible for it. But that is not the issue before the House today. The issue before us, as we have been reminded, is this Bill and what is it.

Photo of Robert Wareing Robert Wareing , Liverpool, West Derby

In view of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's undoubted knowledge, will he tell us where his evidence is—it certainly is not proven by the polls—for saying that the overwhelming majority of people on Merseyside have indicated in any way whatsoever that they are against the Merseyside county council? Is it from industry or the churches?

Photo of Sir Ian Percival Sir Ian Percival , Southport

The hon. Gentleman puts words into my mouth. I did not say anything like what he attributes to me, but I know the feelings in my own constituency, which is an important and substantial part of the county, and I can tell him that what I have said is very true in relation to my own constituency. That may be why the Liberals there are claiming to be responsible for this decision, whereas of course they are not: it is a decision of my Government and one of which I am proud. But that is not the issue before the House today. As you, Mr. Speaker, have pointed out, the only subject for this debate is the contents of the Bill. It is all mechanics; it is all practical. The Bill is not perfect, and I am glad that my right hon. and hon. Friends have been able to give assurances that they will take heed of what has been said about some of the mechanics and see whether they can be improved. That is the purpose of the debate in this House.

Only one point of principle has been raised, and that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes (Mr. Benyon). I would like to draw the attention of the House to the very measured terms in which he made the point even though everyone knows that he feels as strongly about that point as any Member in any part of the House. We have had to listen to some very extravagant terms in the course of the debate. I think that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) spoke about a "constitutional abuse of the process of the House". What nonsense. There is a point for serious consideration, but we do not get serious consideration of it by describing it in such extravagant terms.

Photo of Mr Chris Smith Mr Chris Smith , Islington South and Finsbury

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that it is a pity that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and all his hon. Friends in the Liberal and Social Democratic parties, with one noble and late exception, are not here to hear his remarks?

Photo of Sir Ian Percival Sir Ian Percival , Southport

I do not think that I will be tempted into that. I want to get on with the things that I want to say. But I do not disagree with anything that the hon. Gentleman has just said.

For goodness sake, let us avoid indulging in such extravagant terms as "constitutional abuse of the process of the House". The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Tony Banks), who has just spoken and has already left, used phrases such as "totally indefensible in constitutional terms" and "an intellectual insult to the House". That is no way to discuss serious points.

My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes made the one serious point that arises in the Bill. He recognized that we must have transitional provisions. Of course we must. It would be irresponsible not to have them. Therefore, the question arises what should be done about the governing of the councils in the last short period of their existence. The Government have decided on. the provisions in the Bill. No one would suggest that they are perfect, but no one has come up with any answer that can be described as perfect.

Photo of Mr Allen McKay Mr Allen McKay , Barnsley West and Penistone

Why does the right hon. and learned Gentleman think that it is necessary anyway? Why could not the terms of the existing councillors be extended?

Photo of Sir Ian Percival Sir Ian Percival , Southport

That is an alternative way of covering the transitional period. No doubt all the alternatives have been considered. However, in the end the Government have to decide which one to adopt.

Yes, there is a question of principle involved, but I happen to disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, for I do not believe that that question of principle is such as to rule out the practical attractions of taking the course proposed. I have followed the arguments as best I could. I say "as best I could" because so often they have been obscured by over-flowery and extravagant language. Nevertheless, while fully recognising the sincerity of my hon. Friend's view, I hold a different one. I believe that the practical necessities justify what is being done.

Parliamentary debate on this measure is not finished. It is part of our constitutional process that the Bill will go to another place to be further debated. No doubt much will be said on this point in that House and no doubt we shall all listen to it—

Photo of Mr Tom Cox Mr Tom Cox , Tooting

The right hon. and learned Gentleman refers to the other place, but he totally ignores the electorate who, given the opportunity, would have left the Government and this House in no doubt about their total condemnation of the Bill. What does he say about their rights?

Photo of Sir Ian Percival Sir Ian Percival , Southport

The hon. Gentleman's intervention is arrogant in suggesting that I have totally ignored that. I have been in this House for a long time and I am well aware of the rights of electors. I have made it my business to protect them to the best of my ability over a substantial number of years. I am well aware of that part of the argument.

However, at the end of the day, having weighed all the arguments, the Government have to take a decision. It is a luxury to be able to sit clown, or even to stand up, and make the sort of observations that the hon. Gentleman and others have made. A Government ultimately have to decide how in practice they will implement what they have pledged themselves to do. That is how I see this requirement. I am satisfied by the argument that I have heard at present that there is no question of principle here sufficient to outweigh the practical necessities of the situation.

Let us not forget that the Government are pledged to do this and must therefore do so in the most orderly way possible. Before I gave way to the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) I was saying that there will he further discussions in another place. I hope that we shall all listen to what is said there; I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends will. But: for the moment I hope that the House, in discussing the measure, will concentrate on what is really the one question of principle and will do so in rather more measured tones than I have listened to. We owe it to those whom we represent to do that rather than to mislead them by such extravagant phrases as those I have referred to. And, again, I support my right hon. Friend's proposals.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford 7:10, 22 May 1984

If the last 25 hours of debate have identified anything, it is that the Bill is an extremely bad one. It paves the way only to uncertainty and confusion. So far, the House has been denied detailed proposals about how services will be run after 31 March 1986. The White Paper, Cmnd. 9063, which should perhaps be renamed "Strangling the Cities", is vague. The responses to the White Paper, submitted by over 5,000 organisations and individuals, have been suppressed by the Government.

The 4 May statement by the Secretary of State has added ambiguity to the outline proposals. For example, we are now unsure whether the police service is to be broken up between 36 metropolitan district councils or is to be run by six joint boards. I suspect that the Government have set themselves the long-term objective of taking direct control of the police service in the metropolitan areas.

The Bill pre-empts the discussion by Parliament of the details of the substantive Bill. It is therefore profoundly anti-democratic. It is an insult not only to the House but to the residents of the metropolitan counties. It takes away their right to vote in the 1985 county council elections, making them second-class citizens in comparison with their neighbours in the shire counties.

When I look at the detail of the Bill I find that nonsense is compounded by yet further nonsense. I have 10 brief points to make on that detail. First, the Bill does not provide for an automatic return to the status quo in the event of the substantive legislation not going through. It could leave us with a permanent transitional council, which is clearly ludicrous. Secondly, clause 2 paves the way to proportional representation. Does that mean that the Secretary of State wants proportional representation introduced elsewhere in our political life? Thirdly, the Bill assumes that half as many members as are to be found at present on the metropolitan county councils could run the transitional councils in 1985–86. Does the Secretary of State imagine that the members of the transitional council will be able to devote 100 per cent. of their time to running the county services?

Fourthly, the Bill does not acknowledge the fact that there are metropolitan district councillors employed by the present metropolitan county councils. Presumably these individuals—11 certainly in west Yorkshire—would be debarred from nomination to the transitional council. On 1 April 1986 there would be the anomaly that an employee of a passenger transport joint board in a metropolitan area would be unable to stand for election as a councillor in his or her county area, whereas in a neighbouring shire county an equivalent employee in the public transport function would be allowed that right. The right is to become a privilege available only to those who live in shire counties.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh , Gainsborough and Horncastle

I am very interested in the coherent and cogent arguments which the hon. Gentleman is giving to the House. Will he tell us whose letter he is reading out?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford

I am reading no one's letter out. I am reading from the brief that I have compiled from what I have gathered together over the past few weeks. I do not need other people to provide me with letters to read out. If the valid points that I am making are accepted and considered by the Secretary of State, my speech tonight will have been well worth while. If he is to speak tonight, he will have the benefit of the full information which I am providing.

The fifth point—after that useless intervention—is that the members of transitional councils will not be directly elected. In west Yorkshire it is possible that none of the seven nominees from Wakefield metropolitan district council will be drawn from my constituency. It is therefore unlikely that the problems of my constituency will be properly catered for.

The sixth point is that the Bill takes no account of the existing pressure on the time of metropolitan district councillors. It is difficult to imagine that any district councillor worth his salt will be able to find the time to serve on a transitional council as well as finding the time to deal properly with his metropolitan district council responsibilities.

The seventh point is that the Bill, as well as abolishing the 1985 elections, paves the way to the permanent diminution of the rights of metropolitan county electors. They are to be denied in future the right to vote on police manning levels, fire service budgets or public transport policies.

Eighthly, schedule 1, specifying the number of councillors to be nominated to each of the transitional councils, does not reflect review work carried out by the boundary commission. Does the Secretary of State have so little time and regard for the endeavours of the boundary commission?

Ninthly, the members of transitional councils are to be recallable at will. This is totally unworkable. It means that each metropolitan district council will mandate its nominees to vote according to the policies and objectives of that district, ignoring any county perspectives. What a disastrous prospect.

My last point is that the proposed duty of officers to provide information is excessively onerous. It places them in an impossible position, caught between loyalty to an employer who is sensitive and responsive to local circumstances, and the demands of an uncomprehending Whitehall. Are all metropolitan county council employees to end up suffering from schizophrenia?

Returning to the central issue, I should like to ask why all this nonsense is necessary. West Yorkshire metropolitan county council is an efficient and well-run authority. It has kept its precept down. It has forged good working relations with the metropolitan district councils. It should be noted that not one West Yorkshire metropolitan district councillor has come out in support of the Government's proposal. Relations with local business are good. Let me refer to a response to the Government's White Paper, Cmnd. 9063, to which I have already referred, made by the Leeds chamber of commerce and industry: The Chamber has great respect for the politicians of both parties who have led the West Yorkshire County Council and theLocal Authority Officers who have exercised its policies. The Chamber has often opposed or sought to amend those policies but whatever the issue, the County Council has made a genuine effort to consult business interests, and has been open about its intentions and as a result of consultation has amended its policies on a number of occasions. Local organisations have been strong in their criticism of the Government's proposals. The president of the Leeds chamber of commerce and industry, James Johnson, said on the radio: We don't want to see the abolition without more facts. We don't want to see industry and commerce picking up the bill for the abolition of the Metropolitan Councils … the Government hasn't really provided us with any costings of what the ultimate cost will be. In its response to the Government's proposals, the Bradford chamber of commerce says: The Bradford Chamber of Commerce cannot support the abolition of the Metropolitan County Councils as proposed by the Government but it does support an independent inquiry of the present two-tier system, followed by a thorough review and debate before any decision is made. Surely any Government should be obliged to take the actions suggested by the Bradford chamber of commerce.

Photo of Mr Paddy Ashdown Mr Paddy Ashdown , Yeovil

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Can he confirm that the South Yorkshire county council sent letters to all Labour Members of Parliament admonishing them for their lack of attendance on this Committee and during previous legislative procedures on the Bill? What does the hon. Gentleman think those county councils must have felt about the disgraceful lack of attendance by Labour Members last night?

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. The hon. Gentleman must bear in mind that we must relate the Third Reading to what is in the Bill.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford

As I am not a South Yorkshire county councillor, I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman's question.

Kirklees and Wakefield chamber of commerce said in its response: The discussion of the Government's proposals for streamlining the cities closed with members of this Chamber expressing considerable reservations about the proposals and with support for an independent inquiry followed by full and detailed consultation and debate before proceeding. Rod Thomas, spokesman for the West Yorkshire branch of the Police Federation, has described the Secretary of State's proposal to hand police powers over to metropolitan district councils in the following terms: It would defeat the whole object of what happened in '68 when the first amalgamation of the police service took place and then again in '74 when the West Yorkshire Metropolitan Police was brought into being and we've just now got a good efficient working unit and that's what West Yorkshire wants to keep and I think it will be a retrograde step to go back to the old system. Those are the comments of independent bodies. They have expressed their views on the Bill that we have been debating all these hours. None of those bodies has any vested interest; they are simply expressing an honest opinion.

In an opinion survey carried out on 7 April, Leeds polytechnic discovered a high level of local satisfaction with the police, fire and public transport services, all of which are run by the county council. Of those interviewed, 85 per cent. were in favour of West Yorkshire Metro's fares policy. The British Road Federation, one of the Government's allies, described the county council's present highways programme as a realistic attempt to ensure that the limited funds available are directed to those proposals which represent value for money. I turn to one of the smaller services. The local Yorkshire and Humberside area office of the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux has declared its worry that if the Metropolitan Counties are dismantled some District Councils may not be able to find enough resources to maintain trading standards services at their present level. On countryside and recreation, the chairman of the Huddersfield canal society has written to the Secretary of State saying: I would like to put on record our concern over the proposed abolition of the Metropolitan County Councils. The director of the Yorkshire and Humberside tourist board has said: With the present constraints on District Councils, it is out of the question for them to make up a loss that would follow abolition of the metropolitan counties. While there are many other expressions of support and concern, I turn to the public opinion survey carried out by Leeds polytechnic, to summarise the position. It says that 70 per cent. of the people in west Yorkshire want to see the county council maintained in its present form, or strengthened. But where is the mandate for that in the Government's proposals?

Many of the local organisations concerned about the Government's White Paper have pressed for a proper balance sheet of the costs and benefits of the proposals to be prepared, or for an inquiry to be held. That is the only sensible way forward. Why are the Government denying that option to people living in the metropolitan counties? It must be that a full benefits study would reveal that their true motive is political spite. There is no doubt that the Government's decision to introduce the Bill arises merely from political dogma to have what they see as revenge on certain leaders of metropolitan councils in recent years, and on the leader of the Greater London council. No valid argument in favour of the Bill has come forward during the past 25 or 26 hours. The Government should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves for taking away from 18 million people the right to cast their votes to decide on the membership of their local authorities.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Bonsor Sir Nicholas Bonsor , Upminster 7:26, 22 May 1984

This debate reminds me of a pop song which includes the line, "Around and around and around they go again." In other words, everything that we have heard in the Third Reading debate has been said time and again in Committee. I do not blame Labour Members for repeating their criticisms; it is their proper duty to oppose Government legislation — even when they agree with it. However, the likelihood of their doing that successfully in respect of this Bill is fairly remote. From the hyperbole—or overstatement — put into their attack, the impression may have been given that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is a trades union leader proposing to call a general strike without first balloting his members. The Bill contains interim provisions which have effect only during the 10 months —[Interruption.] If Labour Members wish to intervene in my speech, they may do so, but if they continue to shout that will make the debate more difficult.

Photo of Kevin Barron Kevin Barron , Rother Valley

I do not wish to digress from the subject of the debate, but will the hon. Gentleman comment on the fact that under the Bill next year thousands of people in south Yorkshire will be denied the right to vote for county councillors?

Photo of Sir Nicholas Bonsor Sir Nicholas Bonsor , Upminster

That is typical of the misrepresentations about the effect of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman's constituents will be affected by it, and so will mine; I speak as a Member of Parliament for the Greater London area. But to talk about denying people a vote is wholly misleading. They will be able to vote for their Member of Parliament and for their local councillors. Again, they may vote for the people who will represent their interests in the interim council which is being set up. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."]. There is no point in Opposition Members saying no from a sedentary position. [AN HON. MEMBER: "You are misleading the House."] I am not misleading the House; the hon. Gentleman should explain how he believes that I am doing that. People will elect those who will represent their interests.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way; I was afraid that he might digress so much from his course that he would mislead us. The hon. Gentleman seems to have failed to realise that those in the borough councils elected in 1982 had not the slightest clue that they would suddenly be thrust into running the Greater London council and the metropolitan county councils. That is the fraud that is being perpetrated in the Bill.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Bonsor Sir Nicholas Bonsor , Upminster

Here we go again, with the usual overstatements from the hon. Gentleman. I agree that we are dealing with interim provisions for a period of 10 months, during which something will have to be done. The Government faced three options. First, they could have asked for new elections. I am sure that most Opposition Members will have the intellectual honesty to admit that calling for new elections and asking people to put themselves forward for election to a body that is to last for less than 10 months would have been a thoroughly unsatisfactory solution.

The second alternative was to let the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues on the Greater London council remain for a further year, but that would not have been any more democratic than the solution proposed, because the hon. Gentleman and his friends have run out of time. They were elected to serve for four years. That period will have elapsed and, speaking as someone who is entitled to vote in these elections, I would have been unlikely to support the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends had I been voting in their constituencies. I am sure that I am not alone in that feeling about London. So it would have been at least as unrepresentative of the democratic desire in those constituencies, and areas which Greater London councillors represnt as if they had had their term artificially extended for a further three months, which was proposed as the better alternative.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd , Stretford

Will the hon. Gentleman answer two questions? He said that if elections had taken place, the election would have been for only 10 months. He makes a presumption about the ultimate fate of the metropolitan counties. That is still in the balance, because the Bill has to be debated in the other place and because other legislation has to be enacted. Will he cast his mind back to local government reorganisation in the 1970s? There were elections in my area in 1972 for councillors to continue in office for only two years. I agree that there is a difference between 10 months and two years, but what times does the hon. Gentleman consider adequate? We are resorting to an odd principle of democracy if the period has to lie between 10 months and 24 months.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Bonsor Sir Nicholas Bonsor , Upminster

To answer the second point raised by the hon. Gentleman, most people would agree that it is highly undesirable to ask people to put themselves forward, to take on what for many candidates would be a new job, for only 10 months. The hon. Gentleman is of course entitled to disagree with that.

My point is that the attack on this proposal as a constitutional affront is a gross over-statement. While no one would pretend that the solution reached is perfect, it is none the less justifiable and it does the most to defend the interests of those who are currently governed by the GLC but who will in future be governed by local councillors who will take over most of the GLC's present powers. What my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is doing is justifiable and the attacks upon the Bill are grossly over-stated.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Shadow Minister (Health)

Will the hon. Gentleman accept that, at least in relation to Greater London, despite the various reorganisations of local government that have occurred this century, there has been no example of the interim arrangements for any area actually changing political control by Government decision?

Photo of Sir Nicholas Bonsor Sir Nicholas Bonsor , Upminster

I certainly would, but that is no argument for saying that because something has never been done it should not be done now. The hon. Gentleman suggests that, because something has not been done in the past, it must not be done in the future. I do not agree.

There are two criticisms of the Bill which I ask my right hon. Friend to consider closely. One was mentioned in Committee. I recall that my right hon. Friend was not present for that part of the debate. One of his Ministers was, but I ask him to look closely at this personally, if he has not already done so. I refer to clause 2(5), in which he provides for the body that will take over the GLC to strike a balance of representation in circumstances in which to do so would often be impossible. Legislation which lays duties that cannot possibly be fulfilled must have been badly drafted and deserves a second look.

I wish to make a second point in equal detail with regard to clause 3(1). The fact that councillors can be instantly removed by their councils and replaced by other councillors turn them from representatives into delegates. We in this country have a system of representation, not of delegation, and I believe that it is a dangerous step for us to allow people to be sent as representatives but under the direction of those who send them to that forum so that, if councillors as a whole disagree with the independent judgment of their representative, they can dismiss and replace him. That concept is alien to what we do in the House and our local councils, and I find it wholly abhorrent. I hope that we will find other ways of attacking it.

Most of the criticisms of the Bill have not come from Opposition Members. The most powerful criticisms came from my right hon. Friends the Members for Cambridge, South-East (Mr. Pym), for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) and for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) and my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes (Mr. Benyon). [HON. MEMBERS: "Where are they now?"] That is a very good question, and I was about to raise it myself, especially with regard to my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, because I very much regret the terms in which he attacked the Government's legislation in the Bill.

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has informed his right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) of his intention to make a personal attack on him in that way, but he should know that his right hon. Friend is carrying out an extremely extensive campaign on behalf of his party in the Euro-elections. His effort has been much greater than that of almost any other Conservative Member.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Bonsor Sir Nicholas Bonsor , Upminster

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for standing up for my right hon. Friend, but I am sure that he is capable of standing up for himself. My remark was not a criticism but a comment. I regret his absence here, because I wanted to say something about the way in which he attacked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, once his own colleague in his own Cabinet. He attacked him by calling the measure a dictatorial act and saying that it was an unjustifiable interference by central Government with liberties. My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup led the Conservative party into a prices and incomes policy which I found wholly abhorrent to Conservative principles. That policy interfered far more with independent liberty than anything that is proposed in the Bill. I found the whole tenor of his attack on the Bill and the Secretary of State most regrettable and wholly without merit.

Finally, in supporting the Bill with the reservations that I have expressed, I hope that the main Bill which is to follow it will be published and that great consideration will be given to its detail, because one of the unhappy aspects of our present position is that the long-term future of London still remains in doubt. I hope that we will shortly be able to publish and discuss the long-term provisions which will come in when the present Bill expires.

Photo of Mr Chris Smith Mr Chris Smith , Islington South and Finsbury 7:37, 22 May 1984

One of my distinguished predecessors in the House some 100 years ago was William Torrens who was the Member of Parliament for Finsbury. He had the misfortune of mistakenly belonging to the Liberal party but apart from that he had the privilege of representing the people of Finsbury. He spoke in the debate on Second Reading of the London Government Bill on 4 July 1884. I believe that the quotation of his words is apposite, although not exactly so, to the circumstances of our debate today. He said: Why should the Metropolitan Boroughs be disfranchised against their will? As trustees for a free people Parliament has no right to subject the people of London to the deprivation of local rights and privileges enjoyed by other towns of the country. I contend that that is what the Bill will do to the people of London. I oppose and reject it because I believe that it is impractical, unworkable and motivated purely by political opportunism rather than by common sense.

I wish to say three things about the Bill. We must remember that it is an unvarnished Bill which has been through long hours of Committee deliberations and At is unchanged. The first point is that it is, as the colloquial title has it, a paving Bill, which means that it prepares the way for other legislation. However, that legislation is unpublished, unknown and largely undecided. 'The Government are taking the breathtaking step not just of abolishing elections and changing the political control of councils, but of doing it in advance of our knowing what the subsequent legislation will be. That makes this a much more serious proposition than Conservative Members, and especially the hon. Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor), have tried to make out.

Of course the Government could easily have got round the problem. They could have introduced the Bill at precisely the same time as they bring forward the equally unpleasant measures for the abolition of the metropolitan authorities, but they chose not to. For some reason best known to themselves, they are choosing to bring forward the Bill before any of us — and, I suspect, even themselves — know what the legislation will contain. That is significant.

Secondly, the Bill is a recipe for administrative chaos, as its contents and the number of detailed powers which it gives the Secretary of State show. For example, it gives him power to determine the quorum of a meeting of the joint board. It gives him power to direct officers of constituent councils and of the present metropolitan counties, including the GLC, to provide him with information. It gives him power to decide not to proceed with a series of different enterprises which at the moment are under way. It places other very onerous duties on him and his civil servants. We could justifiably ask the Secretary of State whether he has decided what the implementation of the Bill will add to the work load of his Department and what it will cost the public purse.

Has the Secretary of State further considered the impact on present local authorities and on the joint boards of the requirements in the Bill to provide information, matters that have been debated at some length in Committee? There is bound to be difficulty and indecision for the council officers concerned. An enormous amount of time and effort for local government officers will be wasted, and the smooth running of local government will be interrupted.

However, the disruption will come not just from that but from the fact that people in some areas will have three different administrations governing them over 12 months. That is shown by the example of the Inner London education authority. Happily, it will end up as a directly elected authority, but it will have two other different forms of administration in the lead-up to the direct elections.

The operation of the Bill will lead to chaotic administration, and people in the areas that the Bill covers will not be governed well as a result. The Government should have considered that before coming forward with these over-hasty measures to provide them with a lead-in to their proposed legislation.

There is a third and more fundamental objection. The first objection is that the Bill prejudges unknown legislation, and the second is that it is impractical, unworkable and will cause administrative chaos.

The third objection—much the most important—is that the real reason for introducing this legislation is not that the Government want to abolish elections, not even that they are desperately anxious to abolish the metropolitan counties and the GLC, but that they are frightened of fighting those elections. They do not want to put to the people of London and the metropolitan counties the major issues of how they should be governed and how the strategic planning for their areas should be undertaken. The Government know, as all hon. Members know in their hearts, that if those issues were debated in an election campaign in 1985, as is at present planned, the Government's case would fall and they would be defeated in the polls.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh , Gainsborough and Horncastle

Would another reason for this legislation be that the Government want to devolve more powers to boroughs, just as 100 years ago progressive Conservatives believed, not in the LCC, but in giving power to the vestries—the local people? Ultimately, that is what this Bill will achieve.

Photo of Mr Chris Smith Mr Chris Smith , Islington South and Finsbury

The hon. Gentleman has completely ignored the argument. If he wants a debate about how much power should be devolved to individuals, neighbourhoods, boroughs or cities, I should be glad to take part in such a debate, and there are, of course, various powers, services and services at each level. Surely what is important is that the people affected should have the right to decide what happens to them, who should provide the services and what those services should be.

Photo of Mr Richard Tracey Mr Richard Tracey , Surbiton

I believe that the hon. Gentleman was once a member of a local authority, so I trust that he had some concern for the ratepayers. Does he agree that to spend £3·5 million—that, I gather, would be the cost of electing councillors for 11 months—would be grossly profligate, and certainly would not be welcomed by ratepayers? Is that what he is suggesting?

Photo of Mr Chris Smith Mr Chris Smith , Islington South and Finsbury

I am not suggesting that at all. I do not propose that constituent councillors should be abolished. What the hon. Gentleman says prejudges legislation that has yet to be published and to come to the House.

I heard a chance remark of the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Mr. Thompson) on Second Reading, during a Division. I happened to be standing next to him, while we were milling around the Floor of the House, and when someone mentioned democracy, he said, "Democracy is the rule of the majority". That is what democracy means to him. That is not what it means to me. Democracy means the right to representation for everyone, including minorities — not just a decision by Conservative Members that "We, as the Conservative party, have won a general election. We have decided to do this, and we shall bludgeon it through, no matter what the people affected by this legislation may think about it".

This legislation is not just about the abolition of elections; it is about the abolition of the right to a voice by people in London and the metropolitan counties, and—more than that—it is about the abolition of the right to have creative dissent and discussion in our communities and our nation. That, surely, is something that we, as a Parliament, should foster and not squeeze, as the Government seek to do through this nasty and objectionable Bill.

Photo of Mr Martin Brandon-Bravo Mr Martin Brandon-Bravo , Nottingham South 7:50, 22 May 1984

I am glad that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) has returned to the Chamber. I am aware that banter from both sides of the House forms part of our debates, but the personal abuse by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West was very much out of court and I deplored it.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North

You are abusing 18 million people.

Photo of Mr Martin Brandon-Bravo Mr Martin Brandon-Bravo , Nottingham South

The other comment of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West gave even more concern. I am aware that some hon. Members get more emotionally carried away than others, but last night and today that hon. Gentleman exhorted his fellow Members to defy the law. I feel extremely sad when I hear such a comment from an hon. Member. I have been in local government since 1968. I always understood that the House of Commons made the law, and that we in local government operated within that law. That is fundamental. It is the worst possible form of anarchy when hon. Members exhort their colleagues to defy that law if they do not like it.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen , Leyton

Was the hon. Gentleman in the Chamber last night when we discussed the Greater London development plan and heard that the Secretary of State was breaking the law by not implementing changes to that plan as a court had requested? Does the hon. Gentleman deplore the Secretary of State's action?

Photo of Mr Martin Brandon-Bravo Mr Martin Brandon-Bravo , Nottingham South

I was present for about 80 per cent. of last night's debate as the records of the votes taken will show. I regret that I was not present at the time to which the hon. Gentleman refers, so I cannot comment.

Most Back Benchers who have spoken in the debate are directly involved in constituencies covered by the metropolitan authorities and the GLC. However, it is not their sole preserve. Whether we like it or not, the totality of public expenditure, of which local government is a part, affects us all. Hon. Members whose constituencies are not directly covered by the Bill are nonetheless affected, as are their constituents.

What I like about the Bill is its principle of a return to single-tier authorities. It paves the way for a substantive measure that will return about 36 authorities to what we in the shires understand as county boroughs. That is dear to my heart. The city of Nottingham contains about 280,000 people and after the substantive Bill becomes law, as I hope it will, that city will be larger than more than half of those independent boroughs. Our city, a district council, provides 50 per cent. of the total precept of the county authority. I believe that that relationship between first and second-tier authorities highlights one of the reasons why I, and perhaps the majority of hon. Members, believe that we are doing the right thing in paving the way to abolish the second-tier authorities. Indeed, we had clear evidence today that it was part of the Labour party's manifesto to move towards single-tier authorities. That was also the alliance platform for the general election. I scratch my head in wonderment at what the hysteria of the past 24 hours has been about.

Emerging from the objections of the Opposition has been the idea of a challenge to democratic rights. To most business people I know, that would seem like a sick joke in connection with local democracy and local rates. One has to say the obvious — [Interruption.] I wonder whether the children on the Opposition Benches would kindly allow an hon. Member a small moment — [Interruption.] Hon. Members—I was about to call them hon. children, but I beg their pardon for that—

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

We should proceed in order. May I remind the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) that many hon. Gentlemen wish to take part in the debate, and that such remarks take up our time.

Photo of Mr Martin Brandon-Bravo Mr Martin Brandon-Bravo , Nottingham South

I apologise, Mr. Speaker.

Simple facts have to be stated time and again because they are constantly forgotten. It is true that the electorate has a 100 per cent. share in the elected council, but it has only a 25 per cent. of the liability raising local taxes. In many areas only 25 per cent. of that 25 per cent. pay full local taxes. That produces the strange formula of a quarter of a quarter—a kind of Boston tea party stood on its head. I do not suggest that only those who pay rates should have a vote—far from it. However, we should recognise the present imbalance in local government and the way that it raises its taxes. We must be more careful when we use the term "local democracy".

Earlier the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) called from a seated position, "What about transport?", as if that would prove an insurmountable problem. My local district council runs one of the largest bus fleets in the country, serving the areas of five district councils. I see no earthly reason why bus undertakings elsewhere cannot operate as efficiently as the Nottingham undertaking. A transport undertaking need not be run by a metropolitan authority.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Whitfield) claimed that his experience was that of a ratepayer. I did not join in the laughter and sneers from the Opposition Benches. Sadly, we keep forgetting that the ratepayers pay the wages of all local authorities. In effect, they also pay our wages. That must not be forgotten.

Finally, I should like to come to the defence of a friend, as a result of a remark made last night during a discussion on the difficulty of getting information from officers. It was suggested that officers would not give the required information. An hon. Member—the House will forgive me if I cannot recall his constituency—suggested that the chief executive of Liverpool, Mr. Ray O'Brien, would not be able to co-operate with Mr. Hatton. I know Mr. O'Brien well, because he was the chief executive of Nottinghamshire county council. He has faithfully and professionally served authorities of both colours. The remarks last night about officers not co-operating with councillors were a slur on the profession. I hope that the hon. Gentleman concerned will withdraw those remarks.

8 pm

Photo of Mr Bill O'Brien Mr Bill O'Brien , Normanton

I wish to respect Mr. Speaker's call that we should keep to the spirit of the Bill. I intend to do that and also to be brief.

I wish to take up the points raised by two Conservative Members. The hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) expressed pleasure that the Bill will abolish the two-tier system and that the one-tier system will come into operation. However, that is not so. In some areas, local government will still have a two-tier system, whatever happens to the Bill.

The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Whitfield) expressed concern about the 1974 reorganisation of local government. In an intervention, I reminded the hon. Gentleman of the county functions at that time and I mentioned the West Riding county council.

In other words, two Conservative Members expressed the view that the Bill will abolish the two-tier system. Do Government Members know what the Bill means? The speeches of some hon. Gentlemen make us doubt whether they are aware of the Bill's consequences. It is dangerous for Government to change laws or introduce legislation when they do not fully realise the consequences of their decisions. I therefore ask right hon. and hon. Members to think very carefully when they vote on the measure.

The real reason for the Bill is not that the Government believe that the metropolitan county councils and the GLC are unwieldy, uneconomic or do not work properly. It is because several years ago a promise was made to ratepayers that domestic rates would be abolished. Since then the Prime Minister in particular, and the Government in general, accepted that they cannot deliver that promise. The Government therefore are introducing legislation as an appeasement to the ratepayers; they will abolish the large-spending authorities — the metropolitan county councils and the GLC. That is the real reason behind the Bill.

The most important feature of the Bill—and of local government—is finance. Those who have spoken in the debate have highlighted my belief that finance lies at the heart of the matter. Indeed, a former Secretary of State for the Environment—before the 1983 general election—promised that the ratepayers would benefit from substantial savings if such legislation were introduced. The bedrock of the Bill is finance. The explanatory and financial memorandum states: Clause 9 enables a borough or district council to object at the audit of the GLC/MCC accounts and to bring a court action under section 19 or 20 of the Local Government Finance Act 1982. It is thus proposed to give the London boroughs and the districts the power to challenge the accounts of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils. That power has hitherto been given only to local government electors—the ratepayers — and is provided in the Local Government Acts of 1933 and 1972 and the Local Government Finance Act 1982. The Bill does not ensure that the provision will come to an end if the abolition proposals fail to be approved by Parliament— a point that I hope Conservative Members will bear in mind.

It is proposed to give the metropolitan districts and the London boroughs the power—and yet not to give the shire districts a corresponding power—to challenge the accounts of the shire county councils. Yet the shire county precept generally forms a greater percentage of the shire district rate levy than the MCC precept does of the metropolitan district rate levy. That is a most important point. The great fundamental for which Ministers and Conservative Members argue will apply only in the MCC and GLC areas—the dogma is being applied only to them—and not in the shire counties. A political bias is involved. Furthermore, I repeat that the provision is without precedent because historically the right of challenge has been given only to local government electors.

The main financial consideration for a ratepayer is the total amount that he is required to pay, which is made up of the MCC or GLC precept plus the rate raised by the district or borough for its own purposes. If it is in the district or borough council's interests to ensure that the MCC or GLC precept is restrained, equally it is in the interests of the MCC or the GLC to see that the district or borough does not make excessive demands.

The purpose of one of the Opposition's amendments was to give reciprocal rights of challenge to the MCCs and the GLC and thus to place them on an equal footing with the district and borough councils. I am sure that many hon. Members—and, indeed, the ratepayers—would accept that our approach to local government finance was a fair one. I make my comments on the basis of 30 years' service in local government and an interest in local government finance generally. The justification for the powers conferred upon boroughs by clause 9 is that they apparently provide a safeguard against actions by the GLC which would create problems for successive authorities. That is what the Bill provides.

There is no apparent foundation for any fears of such actions, and, anyway, existing law already provides safeguards through audit and through the courts. If those safeguards are considered by the Secretary of State, or the Government, to be inadequate, they should be reviewed for the whole of local government, and not only for the GLC and the metropolitan county councils.

The proposals would have the effect of setting one elected public authority against another, both being funded by London ratepayers or ratepayers in the counties. They would use the money of the same ratepayers to finance the pursuance of any conflict. Bearing in mind the unrestrained powers that clause 7(2) would confer on boroughs to require information from the GLC, it is clear that any borough so inclined could bring about a costly process of dispute on numerous individual items of expenditure, and would tie up vast personal resources in the process.

Unless the Secretary of State brings forward some proposals to avoid the divisions that can be generated between two local authorities, I can see, as I said yesterday, untold difficulties arising between local authorities as a result of the Bill.

The proposals seem to be designed to maximise the chance of a councillor being disqualified or surcharged to an extent that would not apply in any other local authority. Elected members of the GLC and the metropolitan counties will have to carry out their duties while being exposed to a degree of personal risk that councillors elsewhere will not suffer. The duty to consult the boroughs before the 1985–86 budget is totally unnecessary. The GLC has an established process of wide consultation, with all interested parties—not simply the boroughs—and will follow it again voluntarily this year.

The procedures in clause 9(2), (3) and (4) of the Bill are wholly unnecessary, as the GLC has already published a consultation document on its budget for 1984–85, and proposes to do so again for 1985–86. In previous years, the document has been sent to borough councils, chambers of commerce, voluntary organistations and other public bodies, and any interested individuals. There is no chance that the practice will not be followed, so the Secretary of State must either be ignorant of the GLC's procedure, or have some further unspecified action in mind.

There is a great deal of financial uncertainty and mystery shrouded in the provisions of the Bill. I hope that the Secretary of State will lift the shroud and clear the mystery at present embodied in the Bill.

Finally, I refer to the point made by the hon. Member for Dewsbury—he is not in his seat, but I am sure that he will read Hansard. He said that the electorate in his constituency is not aware of the present arrangements in local government—it did not know who all its county councillors were, for instance. I do not accept that outlook and philosophy. A large part of the former Dewsbury constituency is in my constituency, and the former Dewsbury constituents who are now in Normanton are fully aware of what is happening in local government. They are awake to what is taking place, and have an interest in their own communities and destinies.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) referred to the reforms proposed by the Liberals in the last election, and—for the first time in a 26-hour debate during which he had objected strongly to the Bill — admitted that it was Liberal policy to abolish the county councils, as the Tories are proposing to do. There is no difference between the philosophy of the alliance parties and the Conservatives. The only defence of local government comes from the main Opposition party.

I hope that all hon. Members will give strong support to the proposals of the Labour party, and will oppose the Third Reading of the Bill.

Photo of Mr John Osborn Mr John Osborn , Sheffield, Hallam 8:17, 22 May 1984

My constituents, like those of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport (Sir I. Percival), expect me to be here to support and welcome not only the Local Government (Interim Provisions) Bill, but the main Bill. They are desperate to see such a measure on the statute book. My constituents, and for that matter many people in isolated parts of south Yorkshire, look to me as the only Conservative Member of Parliament among some 14 to 17 seats in the area to give them hope for the future. They will respect the fact that the House is taking such a long time in debating and supporting this Bill.

Many people — particularly those living in my constituency—feel that, over the years, they have been unfairly victimised in one way or another by the county council or perhaps by the city council. Sometimes there has been confusion. When a gipsy site came out to Lodgemoor in the west end of Sheffield, such people did not know where to turn. They did not know whether the problem should be dealt with by the county council or the city council.

When it came to road maintenance, they looked to the city council, but found that, while the threats came from city councillors, the resposibility lay largely with the county council. The threat was to cut it down in Hallam. Now the teachers have chosen not to attend the schools in Hallam, although they are attending other schools elsewhere in Sheffield and South Yorkshire. That is what is hurting my constituents at the moment.

This debate will ensure that Conservatives in Hallam will appreciate that the Government have finally done something since 1979. My constituents have pressed me to persuade the Government to show that they mean business. Therefore, I have no hesitation in supporting my right hon. Friend and this measure this evening.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Whitfield) said that he represented the ratepayers. As most of the ratepayers in Sheffield, let alone South Yorkshire, come from my constituency, I think that I can claim the same representation.

The management of local government has presented problems for some time. When the present Secretary of State for Energy, my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), was Secretary of State for the Environment, he followed up the commission chaired by Lord Redcliffe-Maud and the policy committees of the Conservative party. I was well aware of the recommendations of public servants, officials, and civil servants that gave rise to the 1972 Act. Of course, any change in Government does give rise to controversy, as those who were in the House at that time are aware.

However, it must be realised that the two-tier system in metropolitan counties has consistently been opposed by Socialist councillors in the district councils. When the Act came into operation, a resolution was passed by the Sheffield city council condemning the setting up of the South Yorkshire county council. In the early years there was conflict between Socialist councillors in the city council and Socialist councillors in the county council. So let us not forget that what my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester put in was heavily criticised by Socialists on Sheffield city council some 10 years ago.

Photo of Mr Walter Harrison Mr Walter Harrison , Wakefield

One of the problems to which the hon. Gentleman is referring was that under the 1972 legislation councillors in that area were being denuded of their powers and responsibilities. The hon. Gentleman knows that Sheffield was an all-purpose area, and it was being denuded. It suited the Conservative Government's purpose. [Interruption.] Do you want to get in, Roy?

Photo of Mr Ernest Armstrong Mr Ernest Armstrong , North West Durham

Order. The right hon. Gentleman must get on with his intervention.

Photo of Mr Walter Harrison Mr Walter Harrison , Wakefield

I did not intend to intervene. I was prompted.

Photo of Mr John Osborn Mr John Osborn , Sheffield, Hallam

I thought that I was being asked to give way. I shall now continue with what I have to say.

At the time of that change in 1972 public officials gave cause for concern. I remember the problems facing my late right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby, Sir Graham Page. To the chagrin of many Conservative councillors, local officials took advantage of that change. Therefore, any local government change presents the Government of the day with problems. My recollection is of growing muddle and confusion, at the taxpayer's and the ratepayer's expense, in the metropolitan councils for that reason.

This Bill makes a start. I shall not touch too extensively on whether there should be new elections next year, whether the existing councils should have gone on for 11 months or whether, as has been decided, it would be better to have district shadow authorities. But it should be pointed out that even now — in South Yorkshire for instance—the same people are both county councillors and district councillors. Therefore, the caretaker provisions can be handled by people who have served for many years in both the main parties in both places.

Photo of Mr Roy Mason Mr Roy Mason , Barnsley Central

Since this Bill to abolish the metropolitan councils was introduced, there has been a request, both from within the House and by many independent bodies outside, for an independent inquiry into the validity of the Government's argument that there will be cost savings. Why does the right hon. Gentleman not agree to that, and why did the Government not agree to it?

Photo of Mr John Osborn Mr John Osborn , Sheffield, Hallam

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for intervening. As regards cost savings, he should have seen the letters that I have received and have had to send on to Ministers about the waste of ratepayers' money in South Yorkshire on the publicity campaign opposing this measure. Notices are to be put up in South Yorkshire about a nuclear-free zone—

Photo of Mr John Osborn Mr John Osborn , Sheffield, Hallam

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to finish my speech. He can make his own contribution after this.

In Committee last night alliance Members gave many examples, not confined to South Yorkshire and Sheffield, of the ruling party not allowing the opposition into key committees. All that is disastrous. On top of that, South Yorkshire has pursued a disastrous transport policy. I shall simplify it as follows. Income has been static at about £15 million ever since the South Yorkshire county council was set up. It meets costs of about £75 million a year. The transport support grant and the ratepayers have to make up the difference.

For 10 years, until last spring, I have had to persuade desperate citizens that reforms to reverse the 1972 Act should not be pushed forward too urgently because any new measure must be allowed to settle down. The greatest pressure has come from industrialists, the local CBI and chambers of commerce. When the Prime Minister stated in the Conservative manifesto that South Yorkshire county council would be abolished, my election campaign became easier because so many people expected to learn of some message of hope from a Conservative Government who were standing for re-election.

Reference has been made to my right hon. Friends the Members for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour), for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym) and to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon). They have dealt with the legal niceties of the decision that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made. Time and again he has pointed to the precedent of the London Government Act 1963 and the Local Government Act 1972.

My Conservative supporters, who are paying the bills, accept that there are niceties in democracy, but they feel that a Conservative Government must not use kid gloves in their area or they will have to leave and close up shop. That is largely the result of deliberate Socialist policies. It is not called the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire for nothing. There has also been duplication and muddle and there have been many examples of that in my own city.

Earlier in this debate it was suggested that if Sir Desmond Plummer had been in charge of the GLC the pressure for this change might not have been so great. If there had been a responsibile, independent — not necessarily Conservative — majority on the South Yorkshire council, with realistic policies, the pressure might not have been so great from politically neutral, perhaps apathetic, business people, such as small shop keepers and retailers—[Interruption.] I find that many people in South Yorkshire do not support the Conservatives as strongly as I would wish, but I shall give reasons for this point of view now.

However, the high cost of public expenditure is driving business people out of the city. That is causing unemployment, and public measures are introduced to deal with that unemployment. That raises rates and, as rates rise, more businesses are driven out of the area. It is a vicious circle that gives rise to a series of problems that run in parallel. South Yorkshire county council policies add to the burden on the districts in South Yorkshire. Citizens living in my constituency cannot afford to live in their houses and are selling up. The rate of sale of houses has never been higher. Companies cannot afford to stay in business and are therefore desperately hoping for measures that will alleviate the position.

I accept, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that this is a paving Bill and that I am in danger of talking about the main Bill. This is a paving Bill affecting metropolitan counties. The county shires are one problem;: metropolitan districts and counties are another. They have given rise to duplication and confusion in administration. A start has to be made. What any Government have to do is difficult, but there has been consultation. How do I know that? Councillors, particularly Conservative councillors on county councils, have told me about the documents that have been circulated to them. My right hon. Friend has consulted them.

Local government, particularly its funding, has been out of control for a decade. It was under the Labour Government of the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan) that the problem in South Yorkshire and Sheffield arose. The trouble is that too many people are living in subsidised housing and travelling on subsidised transport for which someone else pays. Those people, in a community like South Yorkshire, who have to pay for it have had enough. Otherwise they will get out and leave the area. Therefore, I welcome the Bill as a first and definite step in the right direction.

Photo of Robert Wareing Robert Wareing , Liverpool, West Derby 8:32, 22 May 1984

I am obliged to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Sir J. Osborn) for his contribution to the debate. Along with the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), he has put his finger on the real reason why the legislation is before us. He has done the House a great service through his speech. When we talk about the Bill to people outside the House, those millions of people who are desperately looking for work, they ask "What has this to do with our plight?" It has nothing at all to do with that.

Photo of Robert Wareing Robert Wareing , Liverpool, West Derby

The people outside the House, who are struggling to have decent housing—and there are 29,000 people in Liverpool with housing needs—will say, "You had an all-night sitting in the House. What was that about? Was that about housing needs?"

Photo of Mr Tristan Garel-Jones Mr Tristan Garel-Jones , Watford

The hon. Gentleman was not here!

Photo of Robert Wareing Robert Wareing , Liverpool, West Derby

I was here. The answer is that our all-night sitting had nothing at all to do with their plight. It was not as if the Secretary of State and his boss, the daughter of darkness in 10 Downing street, woke up one morning and had the idea that services in the local authority areas should be improved. That was not the idea at all. The real reason for the measure, as the hon. Member for Hallam admitted in his speech, relates entirely to party political prejudice and the desire of the extremists who currently run the Tory party to have bodies appointed by Ministers — the autocrats in this Government — rather than to accept the elective principle for which members of my party and their predecessors have fought for over a century.

We have a Government who prefer to put investment into non-elected bodies, such as the London Docklands Development Corporation or the Merseyside Development Corporation, with no accountability to consumers and no councillors to go to. For example, the Merseyside Development Corporation had, for a couple of years, a director of the International Garden Festival—which I am glad to say is now flourishing.

Sir John Grugeon was appointed as director in February' 1982. It was no coincidence that he happened to have been the former leader of the Tory-led county council in Kent. Those are the sort of people who are brought to Merseyside to tell Merseysiders how to run the area. The irony is that in February 1982 Sir John Grugeon resigned. There were a lot of rumours. The gentleman said that he was sacked, but if he was sacked in February 1982 he was still allowed to draw his full salary until 31 December 1982. One can imagine the outcry there would be from Tories in Merseyside or in London if Ken Livingstone allowed an official who had resigned or been sacked to receive a salary for 10 months after he had been sacked. The people of Merseyside were not able to take the matter up with local councillors. Not a bit of it. We shall have more Sir John Grugeons if the Government have their way.

The Government prefer quangos to democratically elected councils. For the transitional councils there is the question of the numbers. Forty-nine indirectly elected councillors on Merseyside will be expected to deal with the problems which are now being dealt with by 99 directly elected Merseyside county councillors. In an area of great social problems they will be expected to deal with matters that are now the concern of the county council on top of the problems which they were elected to deal with. These councillors have great constituency work loads. The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Woodcock) should know Merseyside well enough to realise that every one of us—Members of Parliament and councillors alike in that area — have considerable constituency work loads.

Who will the electors seek out when there are only 49 indirectly elected Merseyside county councillors? Who will the people in the 99 wards go to if they have a problem in relation to highways or waste disposal?

I am pleased because, not only have we had the reactionary speech from the hon. Member for Hallam, but I have been able to listen, for the first time since I came into the House, to the right hon. and learned Member for Southport (Sir I. Percival). If ever an area owed a lot to Merseyside county council, it is Southport. I understand that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is coming up to retirement age. Until the Labour party took control of Merseyside county council in 1981, the Tory-dominated Sefton district council, alone among the five districts on Merseyside, refused to give concessionary fares to pensioners — not that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be travelling on the buses and ferries on Merseyside. I am sure of that.

The Sefton district council is noted for its miserly attitude. In 1981 I became the chairman of the Merseyside economic development committee and one of my first acts was to offer Sefton district, along with all the other districts, a place on that committee. It was turned down, because Sefton district was not interested. Yet those are the people who will be represented on the transitional Merseyside county council. Conservative Members may say, "Well, that's because you're a Left-wing Socialist." Not a bit of it! The Tory leader of the Merseyside county council, Neville Goldrein, offered places to his fellow councillors on the Merseyside economic development committee. But he was turned down. Incidentally, Neville Goldrein represents a ward in Sefton district.

Photo of Mr Ernest Armstrong Mr Ernest Armstrong , North West Durham

Order. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that this is a Third Reading debate and he must relate all his remarks to what is in the Bill.

Photo of Robert Wareing Robert Wareing , Liverpool, West Derby

May I remind you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that transitional councils are covered by the Bill. Sefton district will be asked to have indirectly elected councillors on the transitional council. I am pointing out that those who will be asked to represent Sefton are not interested in representation on the Merseyside county council, and I am offering proof of that.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) has returned to the Chamber. I agree with him that Merseyside county council has an excellent and honourable chief executive in Ray O'Brien. The hon. Gentleman has said that industry is opposed to the metropolitan counties, but I remind him that the Merseyside chamber of commerce and industry is not opposed to the Merseyside county council. The Merseyside chamber of commerce and industry is fully behind the retention of the county council and has often stated that view.

The Secretary of State cannot have listened to what the Merseyside churches have had to say. The Archbishop and the Bishop of Liverpool both abhor the Secretary of State's attempt to abolish county councils. Only a few days ago, the Merseyside churches ecumenical council held a vote. It was overwhelmingly in favour of the retention of the county council.

So which credible body on Merseyside is in favour of these draconian measures? [Interruption.] It cannot be the electors. If the hon. Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter) wants to intervene, I shall allow him to do so, but he has not yet made a speech, and he certainly is not here to defend the interests of people on Merseyside, even from a sedentary position.

The opinion poll carried out by the Liverpool polytechnic showed that 71 per cent. of people on Merseyside who were polled were in favour of retaining the county council. So it cannot be the electors who are in favour of the Government's draconian measures, because in the local elections this year the Conservative party lost in every district of Merseyside. In only one district—Wirral—did the Conservative party manage to maintain 50 per cent. of its candidates. Furthermore, it cannot have been electors at the general election last June, because the people of Merseyside elected Labour Members of Parliament by an overwhelming majority. There is not a single Conservative Member of Parliament representing Liverpool, Knowsley or St. Helens.

Photo of Mr Martin Brandon-Bravo Mr Martin Brandon-Bravo , Nottingham South

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman because, along with others, he has referred to opinion polls. Can he say whether that questionnaire sought to discover whether the constituent knew that there were two local authorities? Did the questionnaire ask whether the electors wanted to abolish one of them, or was it put as a carefully loaded question designed to produce the very answers that the hon. Gentleman has given us?

Photo of Robert Wareing Robert Wareing , Liverpool, West Derby

Those involved were merely asked about their county councils. For example, the Government intend to abolish the Merseyside county council, and people were asked whether they agreed with that. They replied "No". Of course they were asked other questions, but that was the one relevant to this debate.

However, we have won the argument on the issue. That is demonstrated by the fact that the Government have kept very quiet until this Third Reading. Indeed, there are Conservative Members here who are either speaking or making interventions, but who until now have not contributed to the debates; I suspect that they have been dragged in for the purpose. We all know about planted questions.

I hope that the Secretary of State is a reasonable man. But I am afraid that he and the rest of the Government Front Bench are mere minions. Those who threaten democracy are devoid of principle, and put the holding of office above all else.

Photo of Mr Richard Tracey Mr Richard Tracey , Surbiton 8:46, 22 May 1984

I begin by thanking you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for spending so much time and energy in chairing us during the many hours that we have spent in debating the Committee stage and Third Reading of the Bill. Indeed, you look more sprightly than many of the rest of us do. I am sure that those Opposition Members who were present for much of the Committee stage of the Bill during the night will agree with that.

I feel that perhaps I am prying into private grief between the Labour party and the Liberal-SDP alliance, because much of our debate in the past 24 hours has been taken up with their battle. Only a very few Labour Members are now present, two of whom suggested during the debate that local government officials should indulge in what can only be described as anarchy by refusing to give information to the Government and borough councils. We have to thank Liberal and SDP Members for keeping us here for such a long time, even though the relevant amendments had been tabled by Labour Members. Nevertheless, it appears that Labour Members are now taking a great interest in the debate.

I was sorry to read in The Guardian yesterday—that newspaper is a trusted receptacle of news for the Labour party — that apparently Labour Members have been pressured by the leaders of South and West Yorkshire councils into taking more part in these debates.

Photo of Mr Ernest Armstrong Mr Ernest Armstrong , North West Durham

Order. We have had a wide debate, but the hon. Gentleman must come back to the terms of the Bill.

Photo of Mr Richard Tracey Mr Richard Tracey , Surbiton

I was going on to say that those Labour Members have now given us their views on the Bill, although I did not gain any benefit from what they said. The information has largely been loaded. Some of it has been material from unions, such as NALGO. I have received much the same sort of information from councils such as West Yorkshire and the Greater London council.

The Bill will lead us to the efficient and businesslike transfer of the powers of metropolitan councils to the borough councils in which the powers will eventually be vested. That is what ratepayers want, and what they will value greatly when they receive their rate demands after 1986, when the high-spending profligate metropolitan councils—

Photo of Mr Richard Tracey Mr Richard Tracey , Surbiton

The hon. Gentleman will wish to make his own speech, so I shall not delay the House by taking up his intervention.

The ratepayers will welcome lower rate bills when those profligate councils have been disbanded.

The Bill is about interim provisions leading to the abolition of metropolitan councils. We have heard much from Opposition Members about abolition. I assume that they have rehearsed their speeches for the autumn. I was sorry that even the chief spokesman for the Opposition, the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), did so and repeated his attacks on the Liberal-SDP alliance. It is a pity that Opposition Members have had to pre-empt the abolition debate.

We have debated the important aspects of the interim provisions. We proceed along reasonable lines in administering local government. We take the lines accepted by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) who, until a few months ago, was the chief Opposition spokesman on environment matters. Only a year ago, in a lecture subsequently published as a paper entitled "Labour and Local Democracy", he said that Parliament created local government, that Parliament could take away local government and any parts of it, and that there was no question about that.

In 1979, the leader of the majority party on the Greater London council, Mr. Ken Livingstone, said that he wished to see the abolition of the GLC, and that he wished that Lord Marshall and Sir Horace Cutler had also taken that line. He repeated even more recently, in 1982, during a lecture to the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, that, in his opinion, the best place for local government was at borough level. We cannot beat that. This is the chap who, we are constantly being told, is the great defender of the metropolitan councils. But that is not so. He is source material for Conservative Members.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that Ken Livingstone, when talking as leader of the GLC about devolution to the boroughs, meant the devolution of all services to the boroughs? The Government propose not devolution to the boroughs, but the provision of a series of indirectly elected boards. That is not devolution to the boroughs.

Photo of Mr Richard Tracey Mr Richard Tracey , Surbiton

We know that the powers of local authorities in the London area are already 70 per cent. with the boroughs. Presumably Mr. Livingstone was talking of devolving a few more powers to the boroughs. Nevertheless, he may still have been left with some which, had he been momentarily sensible, he would also have put into specific hands—for example, the historic buildings and monuments division of the GLC, which, quite rightly, has been handed to the Historic Monuments Commission.

Today—the day on which we gave the Bill its Third Reading—is a landmark in the history of the abolition of the metropolitan councils. I believe that people will now begin to see the reality of what is happening and realise that the Government are proceeding along businesslike lines. As I said in Committee, we are now taking powers to get the essential facts and information from councils and giving powers to borough councils and, I hope, to the interim councils to challenge the budgets of the metropolitan councils as we move towards handover. That is most important. I hope that my right hon. Friend will accept that perhaps some of the powers need to be clarified even more than they are in the Bill.

Photo of Mr Jonathan Sayeed Mr Jonathan Sayeed , Bristol East

Will my hon. Friend comment on the Second Reading of the London Government Bill in 1962? In that debate, Mr. Fred Willey, who, as I am sure my hon. Friend knows, was the Labour Member for one of the Sunderland constituencies, said of the GLC: The proposed new council has been described as a Frankenstein monster. This is not being too melodramatic. I warn the Government that if they create this body it will prove to be very rapacious. An inherent instability will be created within local government." — [Official Report, 11 December 1962; Vol. 669, c. 227.]

Photo of Mr Richard Tracey Mr Richard Tracey , Surbiton

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding me of the attitude taken by the Labour party during the creation of the GLC. Indeed, I can add to what my hon. Friend said in quoting Mr. Fred Willey. I found it interesting, when reading the debates of that time, that not only had Mr. Fred Willey, then a leading Labour Member, said that about the GLC, but so had Mr. George Brown and Mr. Michael Stewart, both now in another place. More especially, I noted, so had Lord Morrison of Lambeth, who, of course, was a veritable mentor—

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is the hon. Gentleman's speech in order? He seems to be straying an awful long way from the provisions of the Local Government (Interim Provisions) Bill into pure political propaganda, some of it inaccurate.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. So-called political propaganda is not unknown in the Chamber.

Photo of Mr Richard Tracey Mr Richard Tracey , Surbiton

I apologise, Mr. Speaker. Perhaps I have been mixing too closely with certain hon. Members who indulge in blatant propaganda when speaking in the Chamber. I hope that I am not catching their ways.

I end with a hope. When Third Reading is concluded, I hope that much of the scaremongering will cease. It has been very costly scaremongering. Certainly we know that £3 million has been spent directly on public relations by the GLC, and no doubt many millions of pounds have been spent by the metropolitan councils. I trust that this costly scaremongering, with its tales about old people, parents, various organisations and so on, will stop, and that we shall take a turn for the better.

In conclusion, when I look at some of the propaganda that has emerged, especially in the Greater London area—massive hoardings and pieces in the papers about the wonders of the GLC — I wonder whether there is perhaps a slight motive in the mind of the leader of the GLC in believing that it will help his own political position in the country. I was somewhat surprised to receive a publicity leaflet the other day about a book that has been written about him entitled "Citizen Ken". No doubt it will become a new little Red Book in the Labour party. One passage of the leaflet said: May 8—The Queen, Prince Philip, Ken Livingstone and his mother, Ethel, open the Thames Barrier. I was most pleased to have been present to see the Thames barrier opened. That project was certainly started by the Government and managed by the GLC. In due course it will be managed by the Thames water authority after abolition of the GLC. But I was interested to see whether Her Majesty the Queen actually opened it. Certainly Prince Philip was present at her side. I was pleased to see that Mrs. Ethel Livingstone, who looks an absolutely charming person, was also present. But there is no way that Mr. Ken Livingstone or Mrs. Ethel Livingstone opened the Thames barrier. When I hear this sort of publicity for the man across the river, I wonder where he is going next. I think that I know—I think that he will be in the House in the place of someone who is here now.

9 pm

Photo of Mr Roland Boyes Mr Roland Boyes , Houghton and Washington

I want only five minutes, because I wish to allow some of my hon. Friends to speak.

I should just like to say why we are here. We know that there is a political alliance between two parties here, but today we have seen the grand alliance of three political parties to prevent a debate on the fate of 1,800 British Leyland workers. That shows the sort of people who are members of those parties.

The hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) mentioned that certain senior local government officers had advocated anarchy. As a former assistant director of social services, and therefore a senior officer, I can tell him that a ruling in the courts determined that information obtained by an officer of a council — whether confidential or not—was the property of the local authority, not of the individual. Therefore, without the express permission of his authority, the officer could not give information to any other individual or body. That is clearly laid down.

There is no moral, political or intellectual justification for the changes proposed by the Government. I should like to refer to two aspects, although I could cover many others. The first is the lack of precedent. The Government's decision to abolish elections to local government before they have decided what to do about local government is outrageous, as they are aware. I should like to quote from the ministerial group on the abolition of the GLC and metropolitan county councils, MISC 95. Clearly it understood this when it considered the two options—deferral or suppression of the elections. It states: (i) Deferral. It would be in accordance with precedents of past reorganisations to defer the elections for a year". It also said that some members of the group argued that there were constitutional: and political objections to substitution. However, despite that, the Government decided to go for substitution and to defer the elections before abolition.

I should like to quote The Times editorial of 13 April 1984, which would have made a basis for a wonderful examination question for university students: Mr. Jenkin and Mr. Waldegrave replied that there was no precedent for their proposal because there was no precedent for the situation their proposal was tailored to fit". If that is not a convoluted argument, I do not know what is.

The Government's argument is that the metropolitan councils—I live in the Tyne and Wear metropolitan council — are placing unfair financial burdens on constituents. Surely the most effective and democratic way of reprimanding councillors is to hold an election and to allow the people who put them in positions of trust to remove them. I think that the Government knew that the councillors on the Tyne and Wear metropolitan council were doing such a good job that they dared not take that risk. They knew that the people whom the councillors represent would have put them back again with an even bigger majority.

I can lean on two pieces of evidence. The first is the general election of 1983, in which 11 Labour and two Conservative Members of Parliament were returned to the House. There was none from any other political party. Despite all the exaggerations about the behaviour of the councils, the people whom I represent again voted overwhelmingly for Labour. If the Government are really concerned about ratepayers' rights, it is a massive contradiction not to let the ratepayers of the Tyne and Wear county council area decide for themselves whether the council is wasting their money.

My second piece of evidence is a booklet by the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), a treatise about supposed waste of money, called "Politics on the Rates". Even that Conservative hon. Member said about the Tyne and Wear county council: Only a payment of £250 to the campaign against the appointment of additional district auditors could be described as in any way remotely political. Are elections in the Tyne and Wear area to be abolished because the council gave £250 out of about £2 million to a campaign that could be described as "remotely political"? To attack democracy takes us down a dangerous road. I greatly regret that the Government are taking us down that road.

Several Hon. Members:


Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. Many hon. Members are anxious to take part in the debate. I should like to fit them all in before the wind-up speeches begin. If hon. Members would speak briefly, it would be immensely helpful.

Photo of Mr Ian Wrigglesworth Mr Ian Wrigglesworth , Stockton South 9:07, 22 May 1984

I shall indeed be brief, Mr. Speaker. I strongly support many of the arguments against the Bill that have been advanced by the Opposition, and should like to refer to one or two in putting our opposition to the Bill on the record.

However, I must first refer to the remarkable contribution by the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) from the Labour Front Bench at the beginning of the debate. It was remarkable, first, because as soon as he had made it the hon. Gentleman left the House and has not listened to any other speeches in the debate. He did not attend many of the debates in Committee during the night, either. It is a gross discourtesy for a Front Bench spokesman to do that.

To make matters worse, the hon. Member also made a despicable and dishonest misrepresentation of the policies of the Liberal and Social Democratic parties which, if he has read the documents from which he quoted, he must know is inaccurate. At the election and in publications at other times, the alliance proposed that regional authorities should replace the second tier of local government. That policy is widely known and recognised inside and outside the House.

The hon. Member for Copeland also made an intemperate personal attack on me. That was unworthy of him. I have a high regard for his ability, and it was uncharacteristic of him to launch into a personal attack. Unlike him, I am not prepared to put party before conscience and the commitments that I have made to my constituents. I am not prepared to tolerate friends and colleagues being thrown out of public office by party cabals. I am not prepared to accept policies with which I do not agree being thrust down my throat by party conference or committee. I am not prepared to do about-turns because a party committee or cabal requires me to do so. The hon. Member for Copeland is prepared to do so, but it does not help the debate for him to make intemperate personal attacks.

We have had a remarkable debate during the past 24 hours and more. The Bill's proceedings have taken up a substantial number of hours, and we have had a full debate as a result of our efforts to ensure that all the clauses were debated, not half of them, that all the amendments were considered, not half of them, and that we had double the time that we would have had if the agreement between the two Front Benches to closure the debate last night had come into operation. As a result of our party's actions, the House has had a full opportunity for debate.

The opposition to the Bill is not just rhetoric, and Conservative Members and the Secretary of State are wide of the mark if they think it is. They need only look at their own Benches. Senior members of their party do not oppose the Government unless a fundamental issue is at stake, and that issue has been put forward by both Conservative and Opposition Members.

In our view, the Bill is unnecessary, because the Government should have extended the life of the existing elected authorities. That would have been the best way to proceed, before abolishing the authorities. The Bill is objectionable in principle, because it alters the control of the area on the basis of an administrative change, instead of on the basis of the ballot box.

The Bill should be opposed because we have no estimates of the costs that the new administration will involve. The record of the Secretary of State and his colleagues in reorganising the Health Service, with the tremendous waste and cost that that involved, encourages us to place little faith in their ability to carry out changes.

Finally, the Bill is an attack on democracy. It has been motivated by party political advantage. It is a tinkering with the constitution for party ends, which is a dangerous course to pursue. We shall therefore oppose the Bill.

Photo of Mr Reginald Freeson Mr Reginald Freeson , Brent East 9:13, 22 May 1984

This Bill, like much else that is associated with this subject, and the conduct of our debates at the hands of the Government are unworthy of the Secretary of State, for whom, generally speaking, I have considerable regard and respect.

The Bill can be described only as political opportunism. It is before us for one reason only — that the Government do not like the the political complexion of the elected members who now run the metropolitan counties and the GLC. That is not a sound reason in priniple, nor is it a good intellectual process in working out good local government policy. It is intellectually and morally untenable. I regret to say that, but I put it on record, because that is what it is.

I want to say a word about the background to the Bill. There is no doubt in my mind, or in the minds of most people both in the House and outside, that there is considerable scope for improving local government—in particular, in cities with major urban problems of regeneration. There is scope for improving the internal organisation of local government, to get away from much of the departmentalism. There is a good deal of scope for reforming the structure of committees as well as of departments. There is much scope for reforming the system of local government finance and for further devolution within the elective local government system at district and borough level as well as across the country as a whole. Those are my views, and they are widely held both inside and outside local government.

The White Paper, "Streamlining the Cities", which was the background to the Bill and the measure to be introduced in the autumn, did not consider any of these issues. Despite the pretence, very little political debate, either by or in support of the Government, referred to these issues. Even the issue of devolution, of transferring powers to the districts, was not tackled by the White Paper or by the Bill. Nor will it be tackled by the forthcoming legislation.

A close examination of the proposals, for which this Bill is the paving legislation, makes it clear that only about 10 per cent. of the powers and responsibilities of the GLC and the metropolitan authorities will be transferred to the district authorities within those areas. The bulk of those powers and responsibilities will be transferred to Government-sponsored quango boards, not to the local district authorities as was suggested in the main theme of the Government's advocacy for this measure.

One central issue in the Bill is the transference of responsibility for running the country and GLC authorities to appointed boards during the transitional period. That is an issue of principle as well as of practicality. They go together. There is an important question of principle, and it is not outweighed by any arguments about practicality. Earlier, the Minister and his hon. Friends said that practicalities outweighed the issue of principle. However, they rarely defined those practical issues. The practical problems, which will arise by the creation of these appointed boards or agencies to run the authorities, have been discussed. Practical problems are likely. The path will not be smooth.

I was leader of my local council when the London Government Act 1963 was introduced. I was also a member of the newly elected authority which took over from the boroughs. In my case, Willesden and Wembley was replaced by the Brent authority. The transfer was undertaken by elected members. The new authority worked with us to transfer the functions.

I have read or listened to all the speeches made by the Secretary of State, and indeed many others, on the issue; but nowhere has there been any real argument against the extension of existing elected authorities.

Photo of Mr Reginald Freeson Mr Reginald Freeson , Brent East

There is too little time to give way. I shall sit down in a moment.

No arguments have withstood that simple proposition. It is a precedent. It has been done before. It could have been done this time, but the Government have not done it, for one reason—political opportunism. It is nothing to do with all the arguments and speeches that we have heard about devolution. That is a disgrace to politics and to this House, and it will bring local government into disrepute. However strong their views, the Government should have more respect for their responsibilities in local government than they have shown in the Bill.

Photo of Mr Tom Cox Mr Tom Cox , Tooting 9:21, 22 May 1984

I could make many comments. But hon. Members with a background of local government, regardless of which side they sit on, will know that the Bill is riddled with erosions of democracy. We have had no response from the Minister or his junior Ministers to the many important questions that have been asked. The Under-Secretary waffled on about costs earlier today, and we know that officers will be under an enormous threat in trying to continue to give adequate information when services are being run down. It is a sad day for the future of local government, not only the authorities that we are discussing in the Bill, but throughout the country.

As a Member for an inner London constituency, I should like to touch on a specific point. In recent years, thanks to the efforts of the Greater London council, considerable financial help and back-up services have been forthcoming to the ethnic communities in inner London. I speak specifically of black and Asian communities. We know of the enormous hardships that such people and their families have had to face, and it is only as a result of the back-up of the GLC in areas such as mine that money has been advanced so that community centres can be built, community helpers can start to work with community groups and training facilities can be developed for the young unemployed. It is thanks to the GLC that we have been able to build up the confidence of the ethnic communities in the areas that we represent.

I remind the House that in the past we have had to spend a considerable amount of time discussing the sad effects of our neglect of inner city areas. Let me strengthen my points with a brief reference to comments made by Lord Scarman when he headed the inquiry following problems in those areas. He said that there is a need for a more co-ordinated and directed programme for combating the problems of racial discrimination". Devolving responsibility for such matters to the boroughs would be unlikely to meet that need. That is why we are so opposed to the break-up of the GLC, and of the services and responsibilities that the Bill will threaten.

We know from experience—we have discussed this in relation to many other aspects of the Bill—that such matters should not be left to the boroughs. In London we have 32 boroughs of different political persuasions, with different outlooks on the issues that come before them. But this is an issue of crucial importance not only to London but to many other city areas. The kind of help, confidence and support that we build up for the ethnic groups in our communities should be of paramount importance. But. far from helping to build up those services, the Bill will erode them. When we are told, as we were earlier today, that there will be substantial savings but are not told what those savings will be, as an inner London Member I shudder to think what will happen if those savings are imposed on the services needed in areas like mine.

As my hon. Friends have said, I hope that we continue to oppose the Bill inside and outside the House, in response to the views that we know are held by the people of London, because the Bill goes against all the democratic rights and beliefs which have been fought for and built up in this country over many years. It must be opposed on those grounds alone.

Photo of Mr Bill Michie Mr Bill Michie , Sheffield, Heeley 9:25, 22 May 1984

I rise again because of my great concern and not, as I think the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) said, because of pressure from the county council. As a county councillor, and a district councillor until May, no one puts me under pressure, and there is no need to do so, because we believe in the county council and fought an honest and straight battle on it. Those lies will be put straight in Sheffield tomorrow, as the Liberals apparently reported in Sheffield that no Labour Member was in the Chamber from 1 o'clock onwards last night. That is the sort of lie we often hear from Liberals, and that is why they get no seats in south Yorkshire.

I want to make some very quick points, mainly because other hon. Members want to speak. I believe that the county council was a bit of a dog's dinner when it 'was created and yet the county councillors and officers have made such a good job of it that most people are satisfied with it.

We should look at what the South Yorkshire county council has done and remember the dereliction that it has cleared away, the slag heaps that have disappeared, the country parks and lakelands which are now there and the culture that has come in where there was none before. That is what the counties and south Yorkshire have done, and that is why many people are saying "That's OK by me."

One problem that has never been admitted by the Government, and perhaps never will be, was hinted at by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Sir J. Osborn). Business men in our chamber of commerce have said that they should have an extra vote over mere ratepayers in the electorate because they pay higher rates. Obviously the Government will not get it that way, so they can do it only by taking away the electorate's vote with one hand and giving it to business men with the other. That is one way of cheating the electorate out of its democratic vote.

All the county council committees that I have worked on have functioned well and I congratulate them. Whatever people think about county councils, I believe that the Tory Government have messed it up once. I ask them, for God's sake, to leave it alone and not to mess it up again.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen , Leyton 9:28, 22 May 1984

At about 2 o'clock this morning we had a short debate about an appropriate title for the. Bill. The best one was the "Local Government (Attack on Democracy) Bill". That is what it should be called.

Local democracy is important, not just because it is a check upon centralised power, which we need these days, but because it is about the right to vote. That vote has been hard fought for in the past and it should not be taken away at the whim of the governing party. But it is not an abstract thing, a vote about nothing. It is also a vote about services, jobs and rate levels. That is the context in which we must view the Bill, because it is a joint attack on the vote and on services. We have had the rate support grant cuts, the penalties and the rate capping — and now there is abolition.

The Bill, which replaces directly elected regional authorities, with unaccountable, unelected, quangos, is worse than it seems. It is an anti-democratic cheat's charter. It abolishes the 1985 elections and it introduces gerrymandering. In the GLC the Tories will take control without an election. The best option is that the present Labour majority of seven will become a Tory majority of 14, and the result could be much worse.

The two aspects, abolishing elections and gerrymandering, create very dangerous precedents for future Governments. The Government have no mandate for such a policy. They did not say at the general election that people would lose the right to vote for their own regional government. The Government's unpopularity over this issue is reflected in the polls — seven out of 10 Londoners are opposed to the Bill. In the local elections the Government received black eyes, particularly over the costs involved in the Bill.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North

Is my hon. Friend aware that in less than an hour this will have become the longest continuous sitting since the war on any one Bill? That is symbolic of the resistance that the Labour movement is mounting to this vicious legislation.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen , Leyton

The Government have gone ahead with this undemocratic measure without any public inquiry or proper analysis. They have been talking of savings of £120 million, but their estimates have been wholly unsubstantiated. All the costs, disruption, service cuts, job losses and loss of democracy are the result.

No wonder that the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) said that the more the case is advanced, the less good it seems. That is a massive understatement. The only excuse for the Bill is political malice, because the GLC and the metropolitan councils are going the opposite way to the Prime Minister. They are much more popular, and much more successful. The Prime Minister cannot brook opposition of that sort. The Bill is a bad Bill, and the public pressures against it will continue. The Tories will not be allowed to disfranchise 13 million people. It is deeply offensive to those people that they will not be able to vote for their public services. The Tories will reap the harvest of public disgust over the Bill. Trade unionists will not see their jobs go without a struggle.

The Bill is about gerrymandering, and abolishing an election. Let the people decide, and stop the rigging.

Photo of Mr Dave Nellist Mr Dave Nellist , Coventry South East 9:34, 22 May 1984

We are at the end of the longest debate that has taken place on a single Bill in the past seven years in this Chamber. As the last sitting county councillor who is also a Member of Parliament present in the Chamber, and probably the only speaker in the past few hours from the west midlands area, it is difficult to sum up, in the couple of minutes left to me, the obnoxious nature of the legislation that the Government are putting through Parliament.

I put on one side the fact that the Secretary of State has not proved a single one of the facts and figures with which he set out six months ago to claim the savings that abolition would provide. I also put on one side the fact that the extra costs of abolition will be tremendous. Services like fire brigades, highways, transport and police cannot be split between six or seven district councils, and give the same standard of service as was supplied regionally.

I put those arguments aside because of shortage of time, and deal with only one remark made a couple hours ago by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Sir J. Osborn). He told hon. Members then present in the Chamber that too many people are living in subsidised housing, and travelling on subsidised transport. I am often accused of bringing class issues into debate. But that statement epitomises the class nature of the anti-democratic measures being taken in the Chamber tonight.

There is a reason for the measure. The Government, facing a crisis, trying to line the wallets of those who paid to get them elected, have decided in recent Budgets to save their big companies £3,000 million by abolishing the national insurance surcharge. That money must be found but from where? It might mean 30 fewer hospitals or 50 fewer community centres or community health centres; perhaps there will be 50,000 fewer council houses or even 100,000 fewer jobs. That could mean £3,000 million being wiped out of the public expenditure budgets because the national insurance surcharge is lifted. To do that, the Government must control the end product; they will control councils by limiting their expenditure and will wipe out the metropolitan councils.

Those are the reasons behind the legislation. Labour-controlled authorities are trying to reduce bus fares and provide better roads and consumer services. Yet this class-ridden Government—as the speech by the hon. Member for Hallam clearly demonstrated—have taken the logic of their own position: if they cannot win at the ballot box and transform a Labour-controlled GLC into a Tory-controlled GLC, they will do so through bureaucratic diktat. If the Government cannot change the opinions of workers in the west midlands, Tyne and Wear, Manchester, Merseyside and areas in Yorkshire affected by the legislation, they will abolish those people's representatives. That is what it comes down to. If the Government cannot convince people, they will wipe out their institutions. At least our 20-plus hours of debate today, and the speeches of Opposition Members, have warned those outside of this Government's true nature.

Whether or not the Bill is accepted. I make a prediction. First, the Government will not be in office in three years' time to witness its final implementation; secondly, in the next three years, a few tens of thousands of workers in the county councils will ensure that the Government do not have the easy path which they believe lies ahead.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 9:42, 22 May 1984

During our many hours of debate on the closing stages of the Committee proceedings and on Third Reading today there was much discussion about the different parties' attitudes to local government and local government reorganisation.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State —the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave)—tried to dredge up the ancient and slightly distorted history of the Conservative party to suggest that there is a continuum in the Government's present proposal. We know that the Marquess of Salisbury—a Conservative if ever there was one — brought forward the original London county council legislation in 1888; a Conservative Government, under the then right hon. Harold Macmillan, introduced the London Government Act 1963 which created the GLC; and a Conservative Government in 1972, under the premiership of the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath)—under whom both the Secretary of State and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State loyally served—reorganised local government. In other words, the fact that Conservative Governments created the LCC, the GLC and the metropolitan councils was dismissed entirely by Conservative Members. All that is prayed in aid are the recommendations—rejected by a Conservative Government—of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell).

We also heard about the alliance's proposals for local government reform. Right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House should read the alliance's election manifesto. They should remember that such is the opportunism of alliance Members that the tune that they played today is totally different from the one that they played at the general election when their manifesto stated that the alliance proposed to abolish one of the existing tiers of local government. This will be done by stages against the background of our proposals for the development of regional government. It would inevitably involve the eventual abolition of the Metropolitan Counties, and the GLC … and would also allow for the restoration of powers to some of the former County boroughs". The words are there to be seen. I read them all. In its manifesto, the alliance was committed to the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils. People will judge politicians, not least by their consistency.

It is a fact that neither the MCCs nor the GLC have received unanimous support from the House. Indeed, I hear that that the Secretary of State is about to let us into a closely guarded secret.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

He is going to resign, is he?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

That will be no secret by the time the Conservative party has finished with him and he has pushed through this legislation and the Government have picked up the bill for the Rates Bill which, according to the Financial Times, will cost £500 million, if not £1,000 million.

I understand that the Secretary of State has in his hands a secret Labour document which will embarrass Opposition Members. No doubt some reservations about the GLC or the MCCs are expressed in it, and we shall listen to him with bated breath. However, if he spends his time dredging through our ancient history, he will be missing the point of the debate.

The Bill is not about the reform of local government. No Government have ever done what this Government are doing. Whenever there have been proposals for changes in local government in the past, the Government of the day have gone through a proper consultation process. They have established a royal commission or an advisory committee and have developed a consensus. However much a Government dislike or disclaim consensus, they must gain consent from all the voters for measures governing the development of democratic institutions. Otherwise, the institutions that are created will not last long, as the Secretary of State will discover if he pushes the changes through.

There have been no consultations on the Bill and there are no proposals for reform or change before the House. We have no idea—nor has the Secretary of State—about the detail of the proposals, which took up three lines in the Conservative party manifesto. The Bill is about abolishing elections and withdrawing people's democratic rights, and that is being done before any reforms have been put be fore the House. That is an unprecedented and anti-democratic action — unfortunately, wholly consistent with this Government's authoritarian tendencies, which we see exercised all too often in many Departments these days.

We object to the Bill because it is a constitutional affront. It is an example of elective dictatorship and the abuse of power by an elected Government. Furthermore, it is not justified on the basis of the Government's own arguments. There is no need for an interim provisions Bill to abolish elections before reforms are brought before the House, and nothing of the kind has happened before.

The Secretary of State is forcing the Bill through the House—with the support of Conservative Members—not because it is a necessary part of a serious reform of local government, but because the Government are scared that they have suffered a dramatic loss of support in the cities and great towns of this country. They know that if there were elections in 1985 in the GLC and MCC areas the people would pass a devastating judgment on the first few years of Thatcherism, and that is a conclusion that they cannot face.

If the GLC and the MCCs and our colleagues, Mr. Kenneth Livingstone in London and Mr. Roy Thwaites in South Yorkshire, are as unpopular as the Government would have us believe, and if the people of Sheffield and South Yorkshire dislike having to pay slightly higher rates—although much lower bus fares—let us put the facts to them. Let us put to them the argument of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Sir J. Osborn) that, as a result of the higher rates in Sheffield, unemployment has risen higher than elsewhere. Let the people judge the facts. The reality is that, despite the Government's devastation of the steel industry, and despite the higher rates, unemployment in South Yorkshire has risen far more slowly than in the jewel in the crown of the new Tory establishment—Birmingham. Birmingham has had rate cuts, but unemployment has risen faster there than in South Yorkshire. We all know that local government spending has been protecting jobs and services and that jobs have been lost as a direct result of the Government's economic policies.

The proposal is not justified by the Government's detailed arguments about cost savings and efficiency. The Government went to the country to obtain the fraudulent mandate, which they claim to have on this issue, on the basis that at least £120 million would be saved. Time and again we have challenged the Government to produce costings to justify that claim. The Conservative party is supposed to be the party of business men and accountants, but the Government have plucked that figure out of the air without any justification. No wonder the Parliamentary Under-Secretary said earlier that there is no point in putting forward detailed figures. The Government do not have any figures.

The change which this so-called paving Bill pre-empts will not lead to savings. It will lead not to an abolition of functions, but to a more complex arrangement for the administration of those functions. This is an antidemocratic measure. The Government know that they have lost the argument and support, but, instead of being willing to put their case before the people of London and the great cities of this country, they seek to jackboot the changes through the House in a classic example of dictatorship.

The people of our great cities showed in the elections on 3 May that they wholly reject the measure and all that it stands for. I warrant that, as the Government sow elective the wind, they will reap a whirlwind. The Secretary of State and the Conservative party will rue the day that they sought to abolish elections and to destroy democracy in the hearts of our great cities and towns.

Photo of Mr Patrick Jenkin Mr Patrick Jenkin , Wanstead and Woodford 9:47, 22 May 1984

The hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) started his speech this afternoon with what I can only describe as a savage attack on the alliance parties and on the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), who has paid us two brief visits during this long sitting. I have always regarded the hon. Member for Copeland as a kindly man, but he displayed a talent for invective and passion of which I did not suspect him. He has been critical of the Bill, but his strictures on the Bill were but as tender love pats compared with the ferocity of his attack on the alliance parties. Of course the alliance parties argued back, with egg all over their faces. Those of my hon. Friends who were present know that we were treated to a remarkable spectacle of the two main Opposition parties tearing each other to pieces. It was a sight to warm the cockles of a simple Tory heart like mine.

I should like to begin in a different vein and to express my very warm appreciation of the sterling work of my two hon. Friends, the Under-Secretaries of State, the Members for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave) and for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young). They handled most of the Committee stage, with skill and stamina. The hon. Member for Copeland was a little unfair. The debates were answered and they were answered with courtesy. Argument was met with argument. My hon. Friends have done the Government proud in the debates on this Bill.

We have heard a lot about the pressures on Yorkshire Members of Parliament to take part in the debates and we have seen the results in some of their speeches. However, I should like to draw the attention of the House to the pressure on Greater Manchester Members, which seems to have been handled, if I may put it this way, with even greater finesse. I have a document here from the Greater Manchester council. It is a memo to all staff from a Mr. R. G. Kilner who, I am told, is a senior man—an assistant county engineer. I shall not read the whole memo but just a couple of passages. It states: It is understood that the Labour opposition to the Bill was less enthusiastic than expected. I shall be pleased therefore, if as a matter of urgency, any member of staff who lives in a Labour constituency would write to his MP at the House of Commons telling him that he is expected to take an active interest". This is perhaps a little more serious: If anybody is not yet exhausted from their epistolory efforts"— spelled wrongly— a letter to Patrick Jenkin might also be useful". It then suggests the line to be taken: You might add that when you voted Conservative — it does not matter whether you did or not—you were not aware that you were voting for the cancellation of elections. It finishes: In any of the letters do not describe yourself as an employee of the GMC". The document shows that the public are being invited to support the campaign through a pattern of deception and lies. This ill-starred circular discredits every single letter that has been written to Members of Parliament in this campaign.

Photo of Mr Roland Boyes Mr Roland Boyes , Houghton and Washington

Mr. Speaker and Mr. Deputy Speaker have quite correctly throughout the evening asked hon. Members, straying slightly, to return to discussing the Bill. When will the Secretary of State start talking about the Bill?

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I think the Secretary of State was here when I said that.

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike , Burnley

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Secretary of State, when replying to the debate, referred to Greater Manchester Members of Parliament

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. That is a point of argument and not a point of order.

Photo of Mr Patrick Jenkin Mr Patrick Jenkin , Wanstead and Woodford

We have been attacked throughout these debates for depriving, as it is said, 18 million people of the right to vote. The case for unitary metropolitan authorities means that the local electorate will have only one layer of local government to pay for. Therefore, they will have only one layer of local government to vote for.

What on earth is undemocratic about that? As my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) said, these same 18 million people will retain, without question, their right to vote in borough and district elections.

Photo of Mr Patrick Jenkin Mr Patrick Jenkin , Wanstead and Woodford

Is it seriously argued that democracy requires two layers of government if only one is needed? Why stop there? Why not go on and have three layers of government and three lots of votes, or four layers of government and four lots of votes? The argument is ludicrous. Local government in the metropolitan areas is best served by the boroughs and the districts. They are smaller, closer to the people and run from the local town hall.

My hon. Friends the Members for Dewsbury (Mr. Whitfield), for Edmonton (Dr. Twinn), for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) and for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) spelt out the arguments with great force. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Sir J. Osborn) assured the House that his constituents were in strong support of the Bill. To those who have been stampeded into protesting because they believe that they are losing their vote I say this: elections to the boroughs and districts will continue on exactly the same basis as before. The local electorate will be able to vote for one all-purpose metropolitan authority— their local council. There is nothing undemocratic about that.

Although my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes (Mr. Benyon) accepted that it was right to cancel the 1985 met county and GLC elections, he argued the case for the existing council to run on for an extra year. He rightly said that that was the one really serious argument against the Bill. The hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) made the same point on Second Reading. At column 469 of the Official Report he said: I can sympathise with the Secretary of State's claim that it would have been wasteful to hold elections. I fully realise that, but the natural thing to do in those circumstances is to let local authorities continue in existence for another year."—[Official Report, 11 April 1984; Vol. 58, c. 469.] It is clear that the real issue is not the suspension of elections but the choice between whether the existing councils should run for an extra year or whether they should be run by the borough and district councils.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport (Sir I. Percival), speaking with all the authority of a former Law Officer, said that there was no question of principle here to outweigh the practical considerations. He is right. The GLC and met county councils were elected in 1981 for four years. It is a perfectly sound argument to say that they should not have their term of office extended by an extra year for which they were not elected and for which they would have no mandate.

The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said that many would not serve. In previous reorganisations there was no choice. The term of the existing councillors had to be extended, but in this reorganisation successor councils are already there. That is what makes the difference. The boroughs and districts are powerful, democratically elected bodies in their own right and they will succeed to the powers and functions.

So the democratic arguments are finely balanced. What makes the difference is that the lower tier — the boroughs and districts—have every incentive to make reorganisation succeed. That is why the Government came down in the end in favour of the boroughs and districts nominating elected councillors from within their own ranks to run the GLC and the met county councils in the final 11 months.

Photo of Mr Patrick Jenkin Mr Patrick Jenkin , Wanstead and Woodford

Then it is said, "That means a change of control." So be it. Is it really suggested that to retain Labour control in London we should legislate for a minority of Labour boroughs to nominate the majority of GLC councillors? That would be a ludicrous solution.

We have had long debates on the Bill and it is time to draw them to a close. The Government gave a very firm pledge to abolish the GLC and the metropolitan county councils. We shall fulfil that pledge. It is an aim that, over the years, has had much support from all parties. The l3i11 is the first essential legislative step along that road. Not all the expensive advertising, nor all the pressure of petitioners on pensioners, mortgagors and suppliers can disguise the fact that the campaign against the Bill is little more than a series of expensive, political stunts.

Some people have said that the GLC's campaign is convincing them that that body has no role. The GLC has become little more than a hollow shell with no real function, except to campaign expensively for its own purposeless survival. I ask the House to support the Third Reading of the Bill in the Lobby tonight.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 304, Noes 176.

Division No. 335][10.00 pm
Adley, RobertBulmer, Esmond
Aitken, JonathanButcher, John
Alexander, RichardButler, Hon Adam
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelButterfill, John
Amess, DavidCarlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Ancram, MichaelCash, William
Arnold, TomChapman, Sydney
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H.Chope, Christopher
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)Churchill, W. S.
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y)Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Batiste, SpencerClarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Beggs, RoyCockeram, Eric
Bellingham, HenryColvin, Michael
Bendall, VivianCoombs, Simon
Berry, Sir AnthonyCope, John
Best, KeithCorrie, John
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnCouchman, James
Biggs-Davison, Sir JohnCranborne, Viscount
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir PeterCrouch, David
Body, RichardCurrie, Mrs Edwina
Bonsor, Sir NicholasDicks, Terry
Bottomley, PeterDorrell, Stephen
Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaDouglas-Hamilton, Lord J.
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)Dover, Den
Boyson, Dr Rhodesdu Cann, Rt Hon Edward
Braine, Sir BernardDunn, Robert
Brandon-Bravo, MartinEdwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)
Bright, GrahamEggar, Tim
Brinton, TimEmery, Sir Peter
Brittan, Rt Hon LeonEyre, Sir Reginald
Brooke, Hon PeterFairbairn, Nicholas
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)Fallon, Michael
Browne, JohnFarr, John
Bruinvels, PeterFavell, Anthony
Bryan, Sir PaulFenner, Mrs Peggy
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Buck, Sir AntonyFookes, Miss Janet
Forman, NigelLilley, Peter
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Lloyd, Ian (Havant)
Fowler, Rt Hon NormanLloyd, Peter, (Fareham)
Franks, CecilLord, Michael
Fraser, Peter (Angus East)Luce, Richard
Freeman, RogerLyell, Nicholas
Gale, RogerMcCurley, Mrs Anna
Galley, RoyMacGregor, John
Gardiner, George (Reigate)MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)
Garel-Jones, TristanMacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)
Glyn, Dr AlanMaclean, David John
Goodhart, Sir PhilipMadel, David
Goodlad, AlastairMaginnis, Ken
Gow, IanMajor, John
Greenway, HarryMalins, Humfrey
Gregory, ConalMalone, Gerald
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)Maples, John
Grist, IanMarland, Paul
Grylls, MichaelMarlow, Antony
Gummer, John SelwynMarshall, Michael (Arundel)
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)Mates, Michael
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Maude, Hon Francis
Hampson, Dr KeithMawhinney, Dr Brian
Hanley, JeremyMaxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Hannam, JohnMayhew, Sir Patrick
Hargreaves, KennethMellor, David
Harvey, RobertMiller, Hal (B'grove)
Haselhurst, AlanMills, Iain (Meriden)
Havers, Rt Hon Sir MichaelMills, Sir Peter (West Devon)
Hawkins, C. (High Peak)Mitchell, David (NW Hants)
Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk)Moate, Roger
Hawksley, WarrenMolyneaux, Rt Hon James
Hayes, J.Monro, Sir Hector
Hayhoe, BarneyMoore, John
Heathcoat-Amory, DavidMorris, M. (N'hampton, S)
Heddle, JohnMorrison, Hon P. (Chester)
Henderson, BarryMoynihan, Hon C.
Heseltine, Rt Hon MichaelMurphy, Christopher
Hickmet, RichardNeale, Gerrard
Hill, JamesNeedham, Richard
Hind, KennethNelson, Anthony
Hirst, MichaelNeubert, Michael
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)Newton, Tony
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)Nicholls, Patrick
Holt, RichardNicholson, J.
Hooson, TomNormanton, Tom
Hordern, PeterNorris, Steven
Howard, MichaelOppenheim, Philip
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)Osborn, Sir John
Howe, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyOttaway, Richard
Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)Page, John (Harrow W)
Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Hubbard-Miles, PeterParkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Hunt, David (Wirral)Parris, Matthew
Hunter, AndrewPatten, John (Oxford)
Hurd, Rt Hon DouglasPawsey, James
Irving, CharlesPeacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Jenkin, Rt Hon PatrickPercival, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Jessel, TobyPollock, Alexander
Johnson-Smith, Sir GeoffreyPorter, Barry
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)
Jones, Robert (W Herts)Powell, William (Corby)
Jopling, Rt Hon MichaelPowley, John
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir KeithPrice, Sir David
Key, RobertPrior, Rt Hon James
King, Roger (B'ham N'field)Proctor, K. Harvey
King, Rt Hon TomRaffan, Keith
Knight, Gregory (Derby N)Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston)Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover)
Knowles, MichaelRenton, Tim
Lamont, NormanRhodes James, Robert
Lang, IanRidley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Latham, MichaelRobinson, Mark (N'port W)
Lawler, GeoffreyRoe, Mrs Marion
Lawrence, IvanRost, Peter
Lee, John (Pendle)Rowe, Andrew
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Lennox-Boyd, Hon MarkRyder, Richard
Lightbown, DavidSackville, Hon Thomas
Sainsbury, Hon TimothyThompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Sayeed, JonathanThorne, Neil (Ilford S)
Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)Thornton, Malcolm
Shelton, William (Streatham)Thurnham, Peter
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)Townend, John (Bridlington)
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)Tracey, Richard
Shersby, MichaelTrippier, David
Sims, RogerTwinn, Dr Ian
Skeet, T. H. H.van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)Viggers, Peter
Smyth, Rev W. M. (Belfast S)Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Soames, Hon NicholasWaldegrave, Hon William
Speller, TonyWalden, George
Spencer, DerekWalker, Bill (T'side N)
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)Wall, Sir Patrick
Squire, RobinWaller, Gary
Stanbrook, IvorWard, John
Stanley, JohnWardle, C. (Bexhill)
Stern, MichaelWarren, Kenneth
Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)Watson, John
Stevens, Martin (Fulham)Watts, John
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)Wheeler, John
Stewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire)Whitfield, John
Stokes, JohnWhitney, Raymond
Stradling Thomas, J.Wiggin, Jerry
Sumberg, DavidWood, Timothy
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)Woodcock, Michael
Tebbit, Rt Hon NormanYeo, Tim
Temple-Morris, PeterYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Terlezki, Stefan
Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.Tellers for the Ayes:
Thomas, Rt Hon PeterMr. Carol Mather and
Thompson, Donald (Calder V)Mr. Robert Boscawen.
Anderson, DonaldDavies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)
Archer, Rt Hon PeterDavies, Ronald (Caerphilly)
Ashdown, PaddyDavis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)
Ashley, Rt Hon JackDeakins, Eric
Ashton, JoeDewar, Donald
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)Dobson, Frank
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Dormand, Jack
Barnett, GuyDouglas, Dick
Barron, KevinDubs, Alfred
Beckett, Mrs MargaretDuffy, A. E. P.
Beith, A. J.Eadie, Alex
Benn, TonyEastham, Ken
Bermingham, GeraldEvans, John (St. Helens N)
Blair, AnthonyEwing, Harry
Boyes, RolandFatchett, Derek
Bray, Dr JeremyField, Frank (Birkenhead)
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Fisher, Mark
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)Flannery, Martin
Buchan, NormanFoot, Rt Hon Michael
Caborn, RichardFoster, Derek
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)Foulkes, George
Campbell, IanFraser, J. (Norwood)
Campbell-Savours, DaleFreeson, Rt Hon Reginald
Canavan, DennisGeorge, Bruce
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Carter-Jones, LewisGodman, Dr Norman
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Golding, John
Clarke, ThomasGround, Patrick
Clay, RobertHamilton, James (M'well N)
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)
Cohen, HarryHarman, Ms Harriet
Conlan, BernardHarrison, Rt Hon Walter
Cook, Frank (Stockton North)Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Corbett, RobinHaynes, Frank
Corbyn, JeremyHeffer, Eric S.
Cormack, PatrickHogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Cox, Thomas (Tooting)Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)
Craigen, J. M.Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
Cunliffe, LawrenceHowells, Geraint
Cunningham, Dr JohnHoyle, Douglas
Dalyell, TamHughes, Dr. Mark (Durham)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Pavitt, Laurie
Hughes, Roy (Newport East)Pendry, Tom
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)Penhaligon, David
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)Pike, Peter
John, BrynmorPowell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)Radice, Giles
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldRandall, Stuart
Kennedy, CharlesRedmond, M.
Kinnock, Rt Hon NeilRees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)
Kirkwood, ArchibaldRichardson, Ms Jo
Knox, DavidRoberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Lambie, DavidRobertson, George
Lamond, JamesRobinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Leighton, RonaldRoss, Ernest (Dundee W)
Lewis, Terence (Worsley)Rowlands, Ted
Litherland, RobertSheldon, Rt Hon R.
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Lofthouse, GeoffreyShort, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)
Loyden, EdwardSkinner, Dennis
McDonald, Dr OonaghSmith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)
McGuire, MichaelSmith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)
McKelvey, WilliamSoley, Clive
Mackenzie, Rt Hon GregorSteel, Rt Hon David
Maclennan, RobertStott, Roger
McNamara, KevinStrang, Gavin
McTaggart, RobertStraw, Jack
McWilliam, JohnThomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Madden, MaxThomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Marek, Dr JohnThompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Marshall, David (Shettleston)Thorne, Stan (Preston)
Martin, MichaelTinn, James
Mason, Rt Hon RoyTorney, Tom
Maxton, JohnTownsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Maynard, Miss JoanWallace, James
Michie, WilliamWardell, Gareth (Gower)
Mikardo, IanWareing, Robert
Millan, Rt Hon BruceWeetch, Ken
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)White, James
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)Williams, Rt Hon A.
Nellist, DavidWinnick, David
O'Brien, WilliamWoodall, Alec
O'Neill, MartinWrigglesworth, Ian
Orme, Rt Hon StanleyYoung, David (Bolton SE)
Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Park, GeorgeTellers for the Noes:
Parry, RobertMr. Allen McKay and
Patchett, TerryMr. Don Dixon.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.