Because of the large number of hon. Members who have indicated their wish to speak—more than 50—I intend to apply the limit of 10 minutes on speeches between 7 and 9 o'clock. I ask those hon. Members who are called before 7 o'clock and after 9 o'clock—this debate can continue until midnight—to bear that factor in mind. In view of the pressure, this is a day for short speeches.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill will abolish the Greater London Council and the six metropolitan county councils and devolve almost all of their service functions to the London boroughs and to the metropolitan districts.
To understand the need for change one must look at the present structure. Taking London, the Herbert commission's report proposed, and in the London Government Act 1963 Parliament enacted, that the boroughs were to be the primary units of local government. The GLC was made solely responsible only for ambulances, sewerage and sewage disposal, the fire service, waste disposal, structure planning and some major roads. The Inner London education authority provided education for one third of London's children.
The GLC was also given a strategic housing role, and took over the LCC housing estates, but the boroughs were established as the main housing authorities. The GLC inherited some of the LCC's open spaces. In 1970 it acquired responsibility for London Transport.
Since then, ambulances have gone to the health service, sewers and sewage disposal to the water authority and, thanks to the work of Lord Plummer and Sir Horace Cutler, most of the housing estates have gone to the boroughs. Under last Session's Act the GLC lost its responsibility for public transport. Therefore, virtually all the local government services affecting people's daily lives are now with the boroughs.
The new system established in 1965 never really settled down. The creation of powerful boroughs, the sharing of major functions between the tiers, the lack of a clearly defined role for the GLC, all made for conflict and confusion. To the GLC, Greater London is a single administrative area to be run from the centre. To most Londoners London is a series of separate local areas with very diverse characteristics. Camden has little in common with Croydon; Hackney has little in common with Harrow; Redbridge has little in common with Richmond.
I remind the House that it was a former Conservative Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, himself responsible for the creation of the London boroughs, who said in 1898, after the creation of the London county council:
We might have obtained a much more efficient machine if we had been content to look upon London as what it is, not as one great municipality, but as an aggregate of municipalities".
Contrary to the GLC propaganda, the GLC does not run London; the GLC never has run London; the GLC has never been more than the minor partner in the provision of local government services in London. The major partners are, and since 1965 have been, the London boroughs.
Turning to the metropolitan county councils, no fewer than 33 of the 36 metropolitan districts encompass former county boroughs, they have always resented the loss of powers to weak and ineffective upper-tier authorities, people have never identified with the metropolitan counties. Of course, the metropolitan counties have run some services well, but that is not the point. They simply do not have enough major functions to justify their existence as a separate directly elected tier of government.
Most hon. Members, in all parts of the House, now agree that there has to be change. The argument, therefore, is about what change. Do we, as some suggest, give the GLC and MCCs increased powers? Do we keep them but with reduced powers? Or do we abolish them?
No. Mr. Speaker, you said that large numbers of hon. Members wished to speak, so I shall press ahead.
Some have argued for more power for the upper tiers and for turning them into a regional tier of government. Some hanker for a so-called "strategic authority". The word "strategic" here means not just land use planning, but social and economic planning and social engineering—all of which are so dear to Socialist hearts.
We have also heard — and we shall hear further—similar views from the alliance. Mr. Livingstone also thinks that his authority should be given wider powers. What strange bedfellows. Leaving that group aside, I see little support for a form of government which would rightly be seen as sucking power upwards away from the people. "Regional government" has always been a minority cult in England, so we reject that view.
More vocal are the arguments in all areas, especially in London, in favour of keeping an upper tier, but in a weaker, slimmed-down form. Most such schemes, when examined closely—we have examined many of them closely—turn out to be little different from the present authorities. Talk of a "head office for the boroughs", a phrase that I have heard recently, has an ominous ring.
Where would it lead? Mr. Livingstone is brutally frank. He said that he would settle for a GLC with 80 per cent. of the present powers because a future Labour Government, he says, could easily give it back the other 20 per cent.
I look forward to hearing the Labour party's plans. I expect that we shall be told—or perhaps we shall not.
Anyone who favours a slimmed-down upper tier for its own sake has to tell us what such weak authorities would actually do. If they had substantive functions, how could they avoid the duplications, conflict and bureaucracy of which it is the Bill's intention to rid us? If they had no substantive functions, what sort of people would waste their time serving on them? That is the dilemma facing those who argue for some new elected pan-London body. Of course, the Government will listen to the arguments but I have yet to hear a convincing case which resolves that dilemma.
Will my right hon. Friend explain what is so different between London and the other capital cities in Western Europe that London should not have a city-wide elected body? Our provincial cities are still to have city-wide local authorities. What is so special about London?
I am sure that my hon. Friend has read the Institute of Local Government Studies report and its useful examination of municipal government in a number of cities. The report shows that there is no uniformity of practice. Systems vary from having no upper tier authority to having two elected upper tier authorities. There is no parallel between what might happen in other cities with different traditions and what happens here in London, which has a long and strong tradition of strong borough government.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the arguments that he has adduced so far could apply equally well to both the United States and Australia having no federal Government? Would that not be particularly ridiculous for Australia, the population of which is about the same as Greater London's?
We are talking about local government, not national government.
The third option is abolition. That is the one that the Government have unhesitatingly chosen. We believe that local government should be local. We see no place for a two-tier structure in London, or in the metropolitan counties. That was why, in our 1983 manifesto, we committed ourselves to abolishing those councils. As I said a moment ago, we have yet to hear which of those options the Opposition would choose. Why have they been so shifty and evasive? [Interruption.] Is it because they know that no Government would wish to live with a structure which would inevitably lead to the sort of conflict that we have seen? I have no doubt that they know that a slimmed-down upper tier would be seen as a rather futile device. Is the reason that perhaps they actually agree with much of the policy but have been afraid to say so?
Not all Opposition Members have been so ambivalent. After the last election, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) wrote:
I do not intend to lift one legislative finger to stop the return of single tier local government in Birmingham.
We shall watch carefully what the hon. Gentleman does with his fingers in the next few months.
As my right hon. Friend is so rightly suspicious of some of the devious designs of Labour Members, why is he taking to himself powers that he would not be happy for a successor Secretary of State of a different political persuasion to have? Why are there so many reserve powers in the Bill?
Later in my speech I shall deal briefly with my hon. Friend's point. My hon. Friends and I will be happy to deal with the details at later stages of the Bill.
The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), who is not with us today, told a Labour local government conference in 1981 that he wanted a single tier of local government in London. He said that the present system was a recipe for conflict. He went on to say:
We shouldn't regard the existence of the GLC as sacrosanct. In my view it is an enormous bureaucracy which has a dubious role to play.
The hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) will no doubt give his views to the House in due course. He has carefully avoided — indeed, resisted — giving any commitment to restoring the metropolitan counties and has taken some stick from his hon. Friends on that account. But he apparently has a commitment to recreating some kind of "elected authority for London". We wait with interest to hear the details of his proposals.
I must press on with my speech.
I will now deal with the Bill and with our proposals for the new structure. I want to dispel some myths. There was a suggestion, bandied about before the Bill was published, that it would be no more than an enabling Bill. Now that it is before the House, we can see that virtually all the substantive changes are dealt with in the Bill itself. Of course, there are — as there always have to be in legislation—order-making powers, but in this case they generally follow closely the precedents in the 1963 and 1972 Acts.
It is not a Bill to transfer wholesale local authority functions to central Government. Based on this year's budgeted spending by the upper tier authorities, only about 5 per cent. of the GLC's service functions will pass to Government Departments or agencies, including flood protection, some roads, historic buildings and major arts activities. About 95 per cent. of the GLC's service functions will be devolved directly to the London boroughs and the joint fire authority.
In the metropolitan counties, virtually all service functions will go to the districts and to the joint authorities.
There is no deep-laid plot aimed at a central Government takeover. Two clauses in particular —clauses 80 and 93 — have led the Opposition to formulate their conspiracy theory.
Clause 80 enables the Home Secretary, the Secretary of State for Transport or the Secretary of State for Education and Science to control the manpower of the joint authorities and the new ILEA for a transitional period of three years. Whatever the Opposition may say, I do not believe that the ratepayers would forgive us if we allowed a replay of the empire-building which happened after 1965 and 1974. Transitional controls — and clause 80 is transitional—are entirely justified to prevent that.
Clause 93 has also been seized upon by the Opposition. They have pronounced it to be "breathtaking" and
"unprecedented". They have over-reacted and they are wrong. The powers in clause 93 are precedented. Clauses in more or less identical form are in section 84 of the London Government Act 1963 and in section 254 of the Local Government Act 1972. Much more important, the orders which can be made under clause 93 are limited to matters that are
incidental, consequential, transitional, or supplementary
to the general purposes of the Bill. They could not be used to alter radically the main provisions of the Bill or subsequently to give effect to different policies from those in the Bill. In particular, they could not be used to take the joint authorities out of local authority control.
Finally—this answers the point made by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) — the Bill is not the end of local democracy in London and the metropolitan areas. Yes, 693 upper-tier councillors will disappear, but borough and district councillors, a majority of whom will come up for re-election in 1986, will run local government in those areas—4,395 of them.
Before my right hon. Friend leaves this very important part of his speech, will he say something to those Conservative Members who feel that the GLC should be abolished in its present form, but that the residue of its powers, which, by their London-wide nature—main roads, for example — cannot be given to the boroughs, should be vested in a slim-line, directly elected, democratic body?
I have no doubt that that matter will be dealt with in detail in Committee. I did say that those who argue for such a course are caught on the horns of a dilemma. If such an upper-tier body had substantive powers, inevitably it would be in conflict with the lower tier. If it had no substantive powers, what would be the point of having it? That is an argument that we shall no doubt hear more about during the debates on the Bill.
I must press on. There are many hon. Members who wish to speak in the debate.
Part I of the Bill provides that the seven authorities will cease to exist at midnight on 31 March 1986. Part II, together with schedules 1 to 8, contains the arrangements for transferring most of the present upper-tier functions to the boroughs and districts.
Among the powers devolved to the boroughs and districts is structure planning.
I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not give way.
The Bill provides a new and simpler system of unitary development plans. It also gives increased freedom to local government, for there will no longer be a requirement for the plans — which will incorporate elements of current structure plans— to be approved by me.
Of course, there will remain the need for an overview of land use planning issues in the metropolitan areas. To meet that, I shall where necessary give planning guidance —under existing powers— to the boroughs and districts. That guidance will not be dreamt up in Marsham street. In the metropolitan counties I shall want to call conferences which will bring together all the planning authorities to discuss strategic issues and to produce draft guidance. In London I shall be advised by a planning commission established under the Bill.
In all areas there will be an opportunity for public comment.
Parts III and IV establish the new authorities: A directly-elected Inner London education authority — a change from our original proposals that has been widely welcomed— and joint authorities to run the fire brigade and civil defence in London and fire, police and passenger transport in each metropolitan county.
Joint authorities are no strangers to local government. It was the Labour party which established passenger transport authorities in Tyne and Wear, Greater Manchester, Merseyside and the west midlands and they were widely regarded as effective. There are also seven combined police authorities in England, and it is a matter of history that four of those were created by the Labour Government between 1964 and 1970. Neither the passenger transport authorities nor the combined police authorities have ever been regarded as quangos, and there is no reason why they should be so regarded. Nor will the new joint authorities be quangos. On the contrary, being made up of elected councillors appointed by the borough and district councils, they will be, and will clearly be seen to be, part of the local government system in those areas.
The Government are, of course, well aware that some district authorities would like to asume full responsibility for some or all of those services.
The hon. Gentleman can get the answer to that from his hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr.
The Bill therefore provides, in clause 40, for a power by order for individual authorities to take over the running of those services where they can make a good case to the appropriate Secretary of State for so doing.
As one of those who originally helped to set up the metropolitan counties, may I ask my right hon. Friend please to answer the following question? Clause 40 provides power for him — no doubt in consultation with the Home Secretary— to break up the metropolitan police forces. Will he give an undertaking that he will embark on no such thing?
It is a power for my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to respond to a request from one or more of the metropolitan district councils if they wish to take over part of one of the joint services. The Government have made it clear that such a break-up would not take place unless a case was made showing that it would be effective and efficient in the area concerned and would not have undesirable consequences for other areas, so I cannot give my hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks.
Part V deals with the arts and voluntary organisations. Again, for the most part, the functions will pass to the boroughs and districts, but there are a few cases in which special arrangements are needed. In particular the south bank complex in London will, after abolition, be run by the Arts Council. Many people in the arts world will welcome this move as the GLC, under its present administration, has shown itself quite unfitted to run this important national institution. In addition, we intend to establish a new trustee body under clause 44 to run art galleries and museums on Merseyside.
If the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) had listened instead of shouting he would have heard me say that, in addition, we intend to establish a new trustee body under clause 44 to run art galleries and museums on Merseyside.
Clause 46 makes special provision to help voluntary bodies which serve a wider area than the individual borough or district.
It cannot be repeated too often that it is no part of the Government's purpose that worthwhile voluntary activity should suffer through the abolition of the seven authorities. I am aware, however, that there is concern about this. I shall therefore explain how we intend to help the voluntary bodies. There are four separate measures.
First, the boroughs and districts will have increased resources to match their increased responsibilities. They will no longer have to hand over to the GLC and the metropolitan counties the money that the upper tier authorities currently spend on support for voluntary bodies. Secondly, clause 46 provides for boroughs and districts to fund voluntary bodies collectively; so long as two-thirds of the councils in any area agree, all will be bound to contribute proportionally. Thirdly, for projects previously funded by the GLC and the metropolitan counties, the Government will give transitional help of £5 million in the form of 75 per cent. specific grants. Fourthly, urban programme projects funded by an upper tier council will be considered for renewal in exactly the same way as other urban programme projects. The Government are still consulting the voluntary bodies on the details of these arrangements. Let no one doubt the genuineness of our commitment.
No, I must get on.
Part VI deals with staffing issues. I have recently issued and placed in the Library a paper which explains in some detail the effect of these provisions and the way in which we intend to deal with other matters — in particular, compensation for redundancy—by regulations. We have already established an independent staff commission to safeguard staff interests. I urge the unions to start talking to the commission now as it is there to help their members. If they refuse to do so, it is their members whom they will be letting down.
I have never been known to abuse either you, Mr. Speaker. or the rules of the House. If I wished to do that, I should appeal to the Minister not to let his own Back Benchers intervene so often. The right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) could then get up and deny the challenge being made to his sanity, as he designed the rules.
I ask for your protection, Mr. Speaker, in raising this matter before the Minister moves on to another section of his speech because the trade unions representing the members to whom the Minister has referred are at this very moment negotiating severance conditions and other matters. Is the Minister saying that, irrespective of rate capping, he will take into account the amounts now being negotiated? Will he address himself to that matter now?
Order. I heard what the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) said about his previous points of order to the Chair. However, I think that that question was somewhat wide of a point of order—if I may put it in a charitable way.
Part VII establishes a residuary body in each area. These bodies are purely temporary. The Bill imposes on them a duty to wind up their affairs as soon as possible. However, they will have an essential role to play in the transition. As well as inheriting any property, rights, liabilities, and so on, which do not go to one of the successor bodies, they will take over the administration of existing debt and superannuation funds—and even there there is a proviso. In any metropolitan county, the districts may agree among themselves before abolition that those functions should pass to one district council, in which case they will not need to go to the residuary body.
Part VIII deals with finance, including detailed transitional arrangements concerning GREs, block grant and targets; and there will be necessary changes to London equalisation. It is our aim to secure that abolition does not fortuitously benefit or penalise any individual authority.
Mr. Speaker, the central purpose of the Bill is to provide a more local and a more accountable system of local government in London and the metropolitan counties. People in these areas will have only one local council to deal with. They will look to their local councillors to deal with complaints and queries. Decisions will be taken locally by strong, elected local authorities.
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain one thing to us, or tell us where we can obtain the information? I understand that the new combined joint police forces are to be funded for three years directly from Whitehall — not by the right hon. Gentleman's Department but by the Home Office. We praise ourselves in this country for having locally organised police forces. Will a Home Office spokesman give us some information on all these matters, including those raised by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), such as the splitting up of police forces? Will there be a White Paper? This is an important constitutional issue. It is a far more important matter than water or drains, and the Government are not giving us a fair amount of information on it.
Indeed, there will be an upper limit on the total amount of the precept. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am sorry; the right hon. Gentleman said "funded". The police forces will be funded partly by Government grant and partly by precept. For the three transitional years, there will be an upper limit on the amount of precept that a police authority may charge. That is a perfectly reasonable provision.
Does the Secretary of State not also agree that he has powers to give detailed directions about the exercise of their functions by the new police authorities?
That is a matter for the Home Secretary, because it is police authorities that are involved. There will be a control upon the precept and upon manpower. That will be the extent of the control.
Returning to the subject of savings, I remind the House that I undertook, earlier in the year, to publish the Government's latest estimate of the savings that we expect and of any extra costs likely to be incurred. I draw the House's attention to the full written answer given last Friday to my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey).
If anyone doubts the scope for savings, let him consider the GLC's spending record. Its extravagance has become a by-word. Its £10 million propaganda campaign, its women's committee which spends three times the budget of the Equal Opportunities Commission, its absurd forays into foreign policy—the list of its follies is endless. It would all be a great joke if it were not for the fact that it is the hapless ratepayers of London who have had to pay for it all.
The GLC and the metropolitan counties together are planning to exceed the Govenment's targets by more than £400 million. Their budgets exceed their GREs by £600 million. Of course, not all of this can be, or perhaps even should be, wiped out. There is plenty of scope for the successor authorities to make savings.
Mr. Speaker, in opposing the Bill, the Opposition owe it to the House to come clean on what their policy is. If they have no policy, let them at least base their opposition on what is in the Bill and not on the myths that have been plastered over all the hoardings in London and the metropolitan counties.
The Opposition say that abolition is pure party spite —[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Abolition has been and is supported by local authorities of all political persuasions. They say that abolition will destroy local democracy in the big cities. Nearly 4,500 local councillors will prove them wrong.
They say that, after abolition, Whitehall will take over. Wrong again. Only 5 per cent. of service spending in London, and virtually none outside London, will go outside local government. They say that the abolition councils will be replaced by quangos. Wrong again. Only two permanent new appointed bodies will be created—the advisory London planning commission and the Merseyside museums trustee body. They say that there will be no savings, only costs. There will be savings, and it is the ratepayer who will benefit.
Mr. Speaker, abolition of these seven authorities was a clear manifesto pledge on which this party fought and won the last general election.
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:
this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Local Government Bill because of the centralisation of powers, attack on local democracy, threat to the quality of local services and employment prospects, and the additional costs to ratepayers inherent in its proposals, which are without any proper justification.
First, I warmly welcome the Secretary of State back to his duties after his unfortunate accident, and I wish him a complete recovery from his injuries.
The Conservative Government have an abysmal record on local government legislation. During almost six years in office, the Government have consistently undermined local government, eroded local freedom, diminished accountability, transferred powers to non-elected —sometimes closed — boards, given Ministers more and stronger controls, and given voters less say and less control over their own communities and services.
In making those shifts, Conservative Ministers have diminished the quality as well as the quantity of public provision, and added to unemployment and inefficiency. In other countries there is movement towards broadening the foundations of democracy and the prevention of its erosion, by means of the devolution of power, more local decision-taking, and more involvement by communities in their own affairs. In Britain, however, there has been a clearly identifiable and dangerous — indeed, sinister—trend towards central control. As each policy failure is exposed, the screw is turned. In the process, the ability of our political democracy to place the welfare of all members of the community on the agenda of political discussion and debate has been frustrated.
The latter result—a deliberate aim of the Government — cheats people of redress, undermines confidence in the democratic process and stokes up the fires of social tension and disaffection. The Government have legislated to prevent local councils from tackling problems and from providing services of the quality that people desire. This miserable Bill is the latest example of the Government's failure.
A leading article in The Times of 24 November said:
The abolition bill can be examined in vain for any expression of a general philosophy of the role of government in society, a doctrine of fiscal limits. It is a document lacking any sense of future … It is a document lacking coherent principles for local administration".
I could not have put it better myself. That conclusion does not surprise us because the Bill's authors, the Government and Department of Environment Ministers, are people who have demonstrated a complete lack of principles on these crucial issues, let alone any semblance of coherence.
For this Bill, the well-known author of "The Binding of Leviathan" — the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment—has been bound and gagged himself. He has been pushed to one side in favour of yet another author of words of high principle on these crucial local government issues—the Minister for Local Government. He is joint author of the now famous pamphlet "Maybe it's because we're Londoners," in which he wrote, among other things too numerous to mention, the following:
The strategic role of the GLC should be enhanced … Far from the GLC being allowed greater independence Whitehall has, quite wrongly, interfered more and more…The GLC must become a proper stategic authority".
Of course, he was simply confirming the views of the Secretary of State for the Environment, who said identical things to the Marshall inquiry on London government. However, those were the days when Conservatives controlled the GLC and a Labour Government were in office in Westminster.
Perhaps I could set the record straight for the hon. Gentleman. If the debates on this measure are to consist of quotations from my previous pamphlets, articles and speeches, the House is in for a rich diet. The pamphlet from which the hon. Gentleman quoted was a collection of essays by six Conservative Back Bench Members, of whom I was one. I wrote the introduction and chapter 1. I stand by those words. The hon. Gentleman has quoted from another section of the pamphlet, and the words that he quoted were written by my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend).
Apparently the right hon. Gentleman now has not even the guts to stand by what he put his name to. Against that background, how dare he put his name to the introduction of this Bill? What perfidy that
is. How was the Minister able to say on the BBC's "Today" programme on Radio 4 the day after the GLC by-elections:
I believe and have always believed in the abolition of the GLC, consistently since I represented London back in the 1960s."?
Of course, the right hon. Gentleman is an author in another direction—he produced a book of satirical and abusive verse, an anthology of other people's works. Perhaps it offers some key to his thoughts because it was published when he was, to quote a phrase, between jobs. He was on the Back Benches at the time. No doubt that is why, on consecutive pages, he included poems about the wicked grocer and elderly discontented women.
Perhaps the best way in which to sum up this ministerial team of wordsmiths and head-standing artists—a kind of Flanagan and Allen bunch, every one of whom is now eating his words—is a quotation from yet more writing by the Minister. The quotation might well encapsulate the thoughts of the Secretary of State as he reflects on the Prime Minister's judgment of his performance:
In time no doubt she'll glumly say
This lot could not be wetter.
She'll scrap us all and start next day
With something rather better.
In seeking support for the Bill, the Secretary of State is asking his parliamentary colleagues to live a lie. None of the claims made for the Bill has any basis in fact. Not one claim can withstand a cursory examination, let alone any searching analysis. The Government claim that the proposals will result in major savings for ratepayers, the return of power to districts and boroughs and greater accountability to electors. A simplified and more understandable structure of local government is promised. It is further argued by the Secretary of State that an unnecessary tier of administration is being removed. Not one of those claims is true.
Even now, after a deluge of evidence to the contrary —still disgracefully suppressed by the Secretary of State —and after an abject failure to quantify any significant savings other than by the deliberate creation of more unemployment which will cost the ratepayer and the taxpayer dearly, the Secretary of State persists in the pretence—because he must try to cover, disguise and hide the truth—that these proposals owe everything to political malevolence and vindictiveness and nothing to a coherent, planned or principled reform of local government under democratic control. He demeans himself and his party in the process.
I remind the right hon. Gentleman and the House that, as recently as February 1983—a few weeks before the Conservative manifesto was published—the Minister of State, Home Office answered a parliamentary question in which he said:
My right hon. Friend"—
the then Secretary of State for the Environment, now the Secretary of State for Defence—
considers the possibility of change in the structure of local government as part of his overall concern with providing an economical, efficient and effective framework for local government, but he does not at present plan to take any steps to change the existing system."—[Official Report, 23 February 1983; Vol. 37, c. 459.]
A few weeks later, cobbled together in the Conservative manifesto was a commitment, without any examination, inquiry, thought or preparation to abolish these seven councils.
Although the Bill is long and complex—it has 98 clauses and 17 schedules—it is full of holes and racked with internal contradictions. It is derived from the White Paper "Streamlining the Cities", but in no way does it reflect the views that were submitted on that White Paper. The evidence has been ignored.
I shall begin by examining the joint claims that these proposals will simplify local government and return powers to the boroughs and districts. In reality, the proposal is that the functions of each elected metropolitan county should be dispersed to more than one dozen different boards, joint boards, agencies and quangos—all non-elected. Some powers are given to the Secretary of State and only some—a few—are given to district councils. Is that simplification? Is that returning powers to elected authorities? In this process, one metropolitan county precept is replaced by at least seven precepts or direct charges on the district rate.
The pattern is the same for each metropolitan county and for London. In the counties, 82 per cent. of spending is to go from democratic control to non-elected joint boards and quangos—less than 20 per cent. will go to district councils. In London, 67 per cent. of GLC net expenditure goes to non-elected bodies and only 31 per cent. goes to the boroughs, and less than 20 per cent. of GLC ILEA services goes to elected authorities. How is that returning power to the boroughs?
Does the hon. Gentleman regard the seven existing joint police authorities as non-elected bodies? Does he consider that the police authorities responsible for the policing of one third of the population outside the metropolitan areas are in the hands of appointed quangos? If so, he has never said so before. Why does he apply that description to these new ones?
I do not mind saying that the Labour Opposition have serious reservations about non-elected government and the provision of services. Another fundamental and major difference is that those budgets and precepts were never controlled and directed from Whitehall, as the right hon. Gentleman now proposes.
Do Conservative Members believe that such arrangements will simplify anything? Will people who pay the rate bills more readily understand the reason for those bills increasing, as they undoubtedly will? In the metropolitan county areas, there will be 18 new joint boards for police, fire and public transport. They will be responsible for the expenditure of £1·2 billion, which will be taken out of direct democratic control. There is no simplification here, nor are major powers returned to elected local authorities.
After a study of joint working, the institute of local government studies at Birmingham university concluded:
It seems to us inconceivable that the new arrangements will produce a system which is more comprehensible and accessible to individual citizens".
Nor is it true — it is plainly untrue — to claim, as Ministers do, that an unnecessary tier of local government is being removed. Indeed, the Government's own proposals confirm the need for a strategic tier as they keep many of the services at a countywide level but simply remove them from democratic control. A change in the nature of the administration is proposed, not a change by removing administration.
First, the change will be made from directly elected accountable and strategic local government to appointed, and in some areas remote and obscure, boards and quangos. The administration will be less accessible to people as well as less responsive.
Secondly, the administration and management of important services is to be fragmented. Here again, there will be direction, and some cases control, from Whitehall. Far from removing administration, bureaucracy is likely to increase and duplication and waste will occur.
In a recent report on the proposals, PA Management Consultants concluded:
The multiplicity of compulsory and voluntary joint working between councils is an unsound basis for an effective lasting structure".
The central weakness lies in the failure to provide an effective method of resolving inevitable conflicts. Instead the proposed structure will tend to institutionalise conflict.
The hon. Gentleman has concentrated on greater London and is now moving on to the proposals for the met counties. However, in the unlikely event of the re-election of a Labour Government in coming years, will the hon. Gentleman pledge that Government to restoring the met councils?
Let me say absolutely unequivocally, as was made clear at the Labour party conference a few weeks ago, that the Labour party is committed to preserving under democratic control the achievements and strategic functions in the management of local government services. That is quite specific—[Interruption.] Lest the Conservative Government be in any doubt, let me add that there is no chance that the Labour party will cobble together some last-minute attack on local government, even Tory local government, and include that in its manifesto without a proper review and study of the functions and contributions of local government —[Interruption.] If there are roses on the Opposition Benches, there are bloomers on the Conservative Benches.
I shall, and the answer is the same for London as for the conurbations. We shall recreate an elected authority for London's strategic policy and service delivery, and we will return to democratic control management and responsibility for services at a strategic level in the conurbations in England. I am sorry if that is not clear to the right hon. Gentleman, but that is party policy and that is what Labour Members stand by.
When these proposals were announced, they were said to be necessary to eliminate councils which were expensive and wasteful overspenders. In May 1983, the Conservative party considered savings as the primary reason for abolition. At that time, the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) claimed that £120 million would be saved annually as a result of the sacking of 9,000 people employed by the councils. However, by the autumn of that year, the present Secretary of State had begun to sidle away from any such promise. He said during Question Time:
It is not possible at this stage to do other than make assumptions which may or may not be justified".—[Official Report, 26 October 1983; Vol. 47, c. 267.]
When the report prepared by Coopers and Lybrand was published, the Government failed, and have still failed, to
provide any proper response. The Government assert major savings but produce no evidence. They have quietly reduced the claim to £100 million, but will not—because they cannot—substantiate the claim.
The truth became clear when, in October this year, a document reporting a Government interdepartmental meeting was leaked to The Guardian. Those minute record that even the Treasury no longer believes that savings will result from abolition, other than from sacking people, thereby adding to the unemployed. The minutes state:
saw manpower control as the only way of delivering the savings promised from abolition".
Sacking people was the only way to deliver savings.
There is, of course, another way, which even the Treasury dares not mention, at least on the record. It is feared and dreaded by thousands of people who so depend upon them. That would be further to undermine the provision and the quality of services provided by the GLC and the metropolitan counties. We reject that as strongly as we reject unemployment as a solution to local government.
No wonder the Secretary a State refuses to substantiate his claims. He promised to
place more information before the House before we come to consider the main abolition Bill".—[Official Report, 9 May 1984; Vol. 59, c. 924.]
He has signally failed to keep that commitment and to honour that promise. Last Friday's eleventh hour parliamentary reply tells the House nothing new. The right hon. Gentleman cannot keep that promise, and he knows it. It is impossible to discern from the Bill what the outcome will be, but "savings" seem the least likely result.
The most likely outcome of these proposals is an increase in costs to ratepayers. Boroughs and districts will be denied necessary expenditure to sustain services and will be forced either to increase rates or cut services. The reticence of Ministers about all this is understandable, especially because even their tiny band of supporters can stomach these proposals only if savings result.
The Confederation of British Industry stated:
Our support for abolition is given on the assumption that it will lead to substantial savings.
It has gone very quiet lately. Some months ago, the Association of British Chambers of Commerce stated:
It has become urgent for the Secretary of State to provide a detailed breakdown of the savings expected and clear guidance on where and how economies should be obtained. Only if such evidence and guidance is forthcoming can the continued support of the business community for abolition be counted upon.
The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy was more direct. It stated:
We argue that the proposed structure will lead to less effective management than at present, and will lead to higher rather than lower cost—we have no doubt that efficiency will suffer.
The Minister for Local Government now says that savings were never the primary objective in introducing the reform. On 29 November, he said that the case rested on the provision of a more local and more accountable system of local government. Who is in charge of the Department of the Environment? The Bill has few friends and little support. University departments, professional bodies, industry and commerce have seriously questioned its manifest inherent contradictions, its weaknesses and the glaring anomalies, which so amply demonstrate that it has been cobbled together without forethought or preparation.
In addition, the Bill is an enabling Bill. It gives wide-ranging and massively important powers to Ministers. It is a Bill for centralists. It provides more than 40 new powers for Ministers, many of which are unprecedented and some of which are astonishing. All joint boards are to be controlled by the Secretary of State, who will fix their precepts and budgets for three years. Ministers will be able, without an inquiry, to break up proposed police, fire or transport undertakings. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) asked a question about that, to which he did not receive a straight answer.
Clause 21 gives the Secretary of State for Education and Science power to abolish the Inner London education authority at any time, either by breaking it up completely or by hiving off its duties. In answer to that point, the Secretary of State said:
The hon. Gentleman is evidently yet another person under the illusion that the ILEA, or its replacement as a unitary education authority, was at risk. There was no threat to it"— [Official Report, 5 April 1984; Vol. 57, c. 1131.]
Despite that, the Bill contains an explicit power for Ministers to abolish the ILEA. It is clear that the Tory promise of a directly elected education authority for London is yet another heavily qualified commitment which could be rescinded as the Bill stands, simply on the basis of a one and a half hour debate in the House.
The Bill even creates a new category of designated roads at the whim of Ministers in the Department of the Environment. Not content with making himself the planning officer for London, the Secretary of State even has powers to decide what should happen to particular roads both in the GLC area and in areas presently under the control of London boroughs. The range of powers is staggering. In clause after clause, 64 types of statutory instrument, of which parliamentary scrutiny can only be limited, are set out.
The Bill leaves unresolved the future administration and support of policies for sport, recreation and leisure, the future of enterprise board policies and the crucial issue of support for voluntary organisations, about which the right hon. Gentleman belatedly had something to say this afternoon. We view with the gravest alarm the absence of any Government plan for sport and recreation in the event of the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan councils.
The only tentative proposal which was mentioned in the yellow document relates to the future of the Crystal Palace national sports centre, but there is no commitment to that in the Bill.
The stock answer to other vital issues relating to sport and to wider issues of recreation and conservation is that the responsibility will be devolved to the London boroughs and district councils. For many sport bodies and for thousands of people and teams there can be no comfort in such an answer. In future, they must look solely to borough and district councils for support.
It is obvious that the constraint on local government expenditure will make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for such councils to replace the money spent on sport and recreation by the GLC and metropolitan county councils. The size of the problem is illustrated by the fact that the GLC will spend about £41 million this year in the GLC area. The Government's proposals constitute an attack on sport and recreation, which will diminish the quality of life.
One of the supreme ironies in this respect will be in the Secretary of State's own constituency. It appears that a GLC golf course will be divided so that nine holes will be in Redbridge, eight in Havering and one in Epping Forest. It is rumoured that Conservative Members are only concerned about the destination of the 19th hole.
This year, the GLC and metropolitan county councils are funding voluntary organisations to the tune of about £60 million. The organisations help many of the most disadvantaged people in areas of high social and economic deprivation. The Bill puts their work at risk. The Government pretend to recognise the valuable role of the voluntary sector, but their proposals to safeguard those organisations after abolition are inadequate, unjustified and unworkable.
Firstly, the Government expect individual borough and district councils directly to fund grants to voluntary organisations. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations has already been in touch with the borough and district councils about that. Only one in eight of the councils can confidently predict that it will be able to fulfil the majority of its new responsibilities for voluntary organisations. For London, where more than 200 voluntary bodies have been represented, the London voluntary service council has calculated that boroughs will have to double their present levels of funding. That would bring them into conflict with targets. Penalties could then be imposed and there would be the possibility of designation under the Rates Act, 1984. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations describes the proposals as unworkable, inadequate and a cause for great anxiety. The Opposition share that anxiety.
The work of the councils for equal opportunities, ethnic minorities, industry and employment will also be undermined by the Bill. That has an all-too-familiar ring about it. It is typical of the plethora of legislation introduced by the Government to attack local government. It is another measure of centralisation. More and more powers are given to Ministers. It is another measure to undermine local democracy. It is another measure which pretends to do one thing but does another: it pretends to give back or devolve power, but virtually removes it and concentrates it. It is a classic example of a Government living a lie.
The Government's proposals have few friends and have been roundly condemned by many Tories in local government. Certainly the people of London and the metropolitan counties have made no secret of their distaste for the proposals and for the fact that their votes on these crucial issues are being removed. One can imagine the reaction in Paris if Mr. Chirac were told by President Mitterrand that he and his council were to be abolished, or in New York if President Reagan announced to Mayor Koch that the administration of the city of New York was to be summarily dismissed.
The Tory party in Parliament is asked to give the Bill support. Those backing such proposals demonstrate all the symptoms of having been infected by the political equivalent of AIDS — acquired indifference to democracy syndrome. The Bill contains a fraction of the promises that the Government made about returning powers. If a fraction of the time the Government have devoted to undermining local councils had been given to promoting constructive capital investment, and if half the effort Ministers put into preventing councils from tackling problems had been directed towards improving the quality of services, Britain and the British people would be in a much better position.
What relevance do the Bill and these policies have to the real problems of this country? Far from helping to resolve the economic, industrial and social policy failures of the Government, it will add to them. We are committed to the democratic control of public services and to improving their quality and hence the quality of people's lives. We believe that a genuine partnership between central and local government, with an expanding role for the latter, is an essential element for economic recovery.
The Bill is a disaster, a shambles with no intellectual, philosophical or economic merit. We reject it with contempt.
I confine my brief remarks to the government of London because the government of London is a unique problem and has been for many years in our national history. It is a pity that the continuing debate on the role of local government and the government of London and its future has become entangled with the subject of the metropolitan county councils—those great artificial creations for whom few tears will be shed when they finally go, as is rightly proposed, under the Bill.
When some months ago we were discussing the paving Bill to the present Bill, the House was kind enough to hear my words on the case for more power being given to the boroughs in London. I believe that to be the right direction in which we should go, and to the extent that the Bill achieves decentralisation and the delegation of powers to the London boroughs in the Greater London area, it is wholly right, and that trend gives me no problem. It is in line with the principles upon which the Government were founded and for which many of us argued for many years. We argued that we should decentralise authority and power and minimise the need for an overlay of overblown, pompous bureaucrats and unnecessary administration. If I felt that all that was intended by and included in the Bill was in that direction, I should have no anxieties. The question that must be asked is whether the Bill, or that part of it which deals with Greater London, goes in that direction.
However the argument may be presented, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has spoken of only 5 per cent. of the service expenditure—I believe that that was his phrase — of the GLC going upwards rather than downwards, the fact remains that a range of functions goes up rather than down, and the functions are going to the centre rather than being decentralised. We are seeing the power going to the boroughs and that is welcome; but we are also seeing power going to the Departments of Whitehall and to committees and other unelected bodies. Some of us are bound to be worried that by any definition and whichever way one slices the argument that is not decentralisation; it is centralisation. It is a considerable accretion of state and official power.
When we move so firmly and plainly against the principles upon which the Government were founded, we must be careful and perhaps we should pause and not do so. It was Montesquieu who said:
The deterioration of every government begins with the decay of the principles on which it was founded.
So why have the Government been forced to move in that direction and allow the centralisation of powers over the government of London in central government and in the state? They have been forced to do so because, having rightly abolished the Greater London council—that is a correct move and one that will be regretted only by those who have narrow and often selfish political aims to pursue — they cannot bring themselves to accept a new, smaller, Londonwide body. They question, as my right hon. Friend did, whether such a body would have any useful functions.
If I feel otherwise, I should, for a few moments, answer the question why we need any Londonwide body, even of a more limited and far more carefully circumscribed kind than the GLC with which we have been afflicted over the years.
With regard to the transport utilities and the London transport organisation, I do not believe the need is for some kind of democratic control over the overground and underground railway system and the bus transportation system of the Greater London area. The management and organisation not just of the Greater London area transport but of the surface rail transport in a wider area than the Greater London area should be integrated into an undertaking that should be as free as possible from constant political interference and will be best run as freely as possible. I want to see that rather than the more limited London Regional Transport board that we now have.
Other issues are bound to remain Londonwide. I am thinking of traffic management guidelines, tourism, some of the parks that cross borough boundaries, and the future of waste recycling, which will be a vastly growing and highly technical citywide activity in the future. I am thinking also of historic buildings and the arts, for which places have admittedly been found in the Government's plan, but I wish to know why they do not belong properly in some Londonwide body.
The worry must be that those arguments have not been refuted. They have simply been put down. Of course, these practices can be done centrally for a time. They can, for a time. be organised through Whitehall and the Departments, but my right hon. and hon. Friends must know that such an arrangement that removes from one of the world's vast megacities any citywide administration must be a temporary arrangement. It will not endure. I do not believe that it is wise to proceed with the legislation knowing full well that there will be forces at work from the moment of the inception of the legislation which will aim to replace it and reform it yet again.
We must pause before we proceed in a way that leaves this huge city, our capital, without a citywide government when throughout the world vast cities of the kind that we are talking about have citywide governments of one kind or another. I do not know of any city—I do not believe that my right hon. Friend meant to suggest otherwise—of the size of London that does not have a citywide government. The metropolitan and other cities of Britain will have, after the reforms in the Bill have gone through, city governments and probably much more effective city governments than they have now, but London will not.
As you wish us to be brief, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall end now by re-emphasising the point. This Bill will be an impermanent solution. It will not endure, and therefore it is not wise to push through this part of it, although there are many other excellent parts. It will be bad for our capital city and bad for England. If my right hon. Friend will bring forward plans for a way in which the Londonwide functions, which are there, can be gathered together and can provide the framework within which more decentralisation and effective borough government can proceed, much can be salvaged from the wreckage of the Government's judgment on this single point.
For many months to come, and possibly a good deal longer than that, we in this Parliament and many thousands of elected and professional people in local and national Government will be squandering our resources on what is an ill-conceived Bill and was an ill-conceived idea from the start.
There is no doubt in my mind, and there have been no doubts for some years past, that reforms are needed, but abolition will not provide them. We know the real reason why this Bill was introduced. It was because the Prime Minister, at five to eleven in the drafting of the Conservative party manifesto before the last election, having lost the battle to abolish rates to which she had twice committed herself, had to come forward with something as an alternative. That is why we are suffering today in metropolitan and Greater London government and in this Parliament, and why we are wasting resources on this issue.
Unless the Government change course, as they could yet do, the Bill will usher in at least a decade of instability in local government, and in our urban communities, which will continue to decline, while social tension will increase. The Bill will be a major contributory factor to the growing tension in our large urban areas, and in particular in the Greater London area.
There has been too much political posturing and, by some, abuse of metropolitan government for personal and political aggrandisement. It did not start in 1981. The Prime Minister, with, I regret to say, some help from some notable people in my party, is just finishing off the destruction of the GLC that Sir Horace Cutler started when he was in office, with the backing of many Conservative Members.
Personal and political manipulation for purposes not to do with local governance, the corruption of political and financial patronage, the subordination of politics to sectarian interest groups, the extremism and authoritarianism at national level should concern both sides of the House. I am completely opposed to what the Government are doing. I hope and trust that many Conservative Members who, rejecting the crude extremism that has come to dominate their party, will work to get the Government off their present course. Equally, Labour Members who wish to defend and advance democratic Socialism have to put our house in order. There are things going on in local government today that should raise grave anxieties in our party and demand our attention, just as the conduct of the Government demands our attention and our opposition.
There is a smell of the Weimar republic about what has been going on in local government, as there is elsewhere in British politics, and it is not confined to any one particular party. The metropolitan authorities and the Greater London council have done many good things in the past 10 to 20 years, in architecture, environmental reclamation, housing, the arts, industrial development, community and voluntary efforts, research, and economic and social problems.
However, for all this, these authorities have not measured up to the expectation of them as strategic authorities that they had at their creation. Despite the multi-million pound campaigns, electoral support for local government, in Greater London at GLC level and in metropolitan county authorities at their level, is still minimal—the range is about 30 per cent. at elections. Functions, boundaries and relations with district authorities are ill-defined. Problems of finance, urban renewal, planning, roads and transport, housing, environment, education and training, youth and community services, have often, although not always, been inadequately tackled.
Let us take one notable example. In London, we have been without real strategic road planning for over a decade. Many housing sites take even longer to develop. Integrated transport is non-existent, and is now being made worse by what the Government have done recently in their legislation. Many other parts of management can be accused of having been inefficient and inadequate, and it is not simply a question of resources.
As a result of this, the inner-city areas have continued to decline inexorably. This is due just as much to inadequate management, by Government Departments as well, as to inadequate resources. Communities and neighbourhoods have continued to wither. There are some notable exceptions—Tyne and Wear and west Yorkshire are among them— but the inadequacies of action are widespread.
I repeat what I have said often in the House and elsewhere. The abolition Bill will not resolve any of this. Most Conservative as well as Opposition Members want elected local government for Greater London and the other metropolitan areas. I suspect that most Ministers do as well. The Prime Minister is unpersuaded yet, but the Government can expect even more serious embarrassments, Back-Bench rebellions, humiliation in the Lords, losing the argument, if not the vote, in the Commons. The Secretary of State has said, to quote from a statement he made in July in the Local Government Chronicle, that:
We need to win over staff affected by abolition—or it will be delayed by lack of co-operation.
Given that he has neither won over staff nor obtained co-operation, we have a recipe for chaos in April 1986, if the Bill goes through and has to be implemented.
What is to be done? The Bill is here, and the Government are stupidly committed to it—I suspect that I have much Conservative support for saying that. It is still not too late. All of us, Ministers included with Members of Parliament and those outside the House, should decide now that within two years at the most, the quangos, joint boards and committees could be brought under coherent democratic city government.
By the time that the House has finished with the Bill, I believe that it should provide for the necessary review and machinery to this end. I suggest that possibly a commission on the future of metropolitan government should be established with all-party support even while the Bill is being considered in Parliament, with the remit to create a new and more effective elected structure with county and districts within the metropolitan authorities, to concentrate on structure planning, transport planning and co-ordination, urban renewal, co-ordination of complementary functions and services, applied research, and little else, with the backing of the district authorities accordingly. Such bodies might be smaller than at present and would not have the general powers of other local authorities at district level.
There should be a major overhaul of the ill co-ordinated machinery which has characterised so much of metropolitan government over the past 10 to 20 years. Perhaps committees and departments should be limited in number according to major statutory functions, which could be defined. Borough and district authorities might have rights of elective representation within any such new democratic machinery.
I urge that such a commission be set up, that it should report within one year and that there should be a commitment by all parties to legislate promptly on the basis of its report. The commission should thereafter have a continuing role to oversee the future of metropolitan government, possibly overseen in turn by a parliamentary committee. Its remit should cover boundaries for both metropolitan areas and the districts within them, departmental machinery and committees and many other functions that could be decided in the future. I have in mind the importance not simply of the transfer of those functions that could be suitably transferred to the districts and boroughs but also the encouragement if not the outright creation of what has been described in the past as urban parish councils within what I consider to be the overlarge boroughs created by the 1963 Act setting up the new machinery.
These are some of the activities that I believe should be engaged in by that commission, assuming that the Bill proceeds through both Houses of Parliament.
The commission should also concern itself with financial reform. I wonder from time to time what one of the national vice-presidents of the Conservative party, Sir Frank Marshall, thinks about all that the Government are doing. I recall the Marshall report, not that I necessarily agreed with all that he put forward in that report, and I recall his desire to see an enhancement of the GLC's position and of its financial role. We have not heard anything from him in recent times. But I suspect that if Conservative Members have the good sense to consult someone such as Sir Frank Marshall at national level in their party, as well as other national local government leaders, they will get some sensible advice on how to deal with the Bill.
I see no relevance in that observation. I am commenting on the report that Sir Frank Marshall prepared. With respect to the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stevens), he should pay more attention to the views expressed by Sir Frank Marshall and by other members of his own party at that time inside and outside county hall, including one or two Ministers who are now on the Treasury Bench supporting the Bill.
All of us, both Government and Opposition parties, should be reflecting further this winter and in the spring, even while we are engaged in the battle over the Bill. Clearly there will be no going back on this fight. But whatever changes may be sought in the Bill, with the Government's huge majority the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan authorities may be steam-rollered through Parliament. If it is, it will be done for the wrong reasons and will set in train many years of instability in local government, it will undermine democratic politics, it will risk centralised chaos and it will perpetuate divisiveness and tensions in society where there should be a healing of the tensions. For the sake of democratic politics, effective renewal and good city management, basic common ground between the parties for an elective system of city-wide government for the future must be found. Among Opposition Members, and I suspect among many Government supporters and outside the Chamber, the will exists to move in that direction. We want only a commitment from the Government to save elective government for London and the metropolitan areas.
As the one Conservative Member of Parliament not only in Sheffield but also in the whole of south Yorkshire, I welcome this chance to represent my constituents and Conservatives elsewhere in south Yorkshire in supporting the Bill. My comments will add to the remarks that I made on the Third Reading of the Local Government (Interim Provisions) Bill.
My contribution will relate to south Yorkshire—not to the GLC—where the minority position in which I find myself is a curious one, for not many years ago no one could find a good word for the South Yorkshire county council. In 1972 I supported my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), when what has been said about this Bill today was said by Labour Members about the Bill that he introduced then. The House knows the capricious nature of Ken Livingstone's support for the GLC. So it is with the support for the South Yorkshire county council expressed by the Opposition.
For a number of years after the county council was formed the Socialist-led Sheffield city council was in favour of abolishing it. In 1979 it passed a resolution to that effect. The reason was that all sides thought that it was inefficient—it was then, and it must be now. Right from its inception it was easy to see that there were few clearly defined tasks for the county council and that it was to be handed the left-overs. Districts felt that the county served no purpose and that it created duplication and confusion. As the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Michie) described the council during our last debate, it was a "dog's dinner", although apparently he put it right, as he also said in the same debate.
A close look at the Department of the Environment's yellow book reveals the frequency with which the word "concurrent" is used to describe the powers of the two tiers in so many services. The result is confusion. This has been put to me ever since the passage of the 1972 Act by business men, industry, commerce in south Yorkshire and in my constituency. The volume of objection to two-tier local metropolitan counties demanded a response from a Conservative Government, and they have given that response today.
There are a number of examples of confusion involving Conservative county councillors on district matters simply because people do not know where to turn. People are confused about who is responsible for what. This is true of the county's consumer protection department and the districts' environmental health departments. Frequently the county is unaware of things that are technically its responsibility. Last year, a milk cycle race took place in Doncaster which necessitated the closure of certain highways. Obviously it is a council matter, but the county did not discover that this had taken place. This sort of confusion has been brought out time and time again. Today South Yorkshire is holding a meeting of its policy committee anti-nuclear working party. It has been unable to find a true role in local government and has moved into foreign affairs. South Yorkshire county council is a nuclear-free zone. So are all the districts. On the boundaries of some such nuclear-free zones motorists drive through two sets of notices, some put up by the districts and some by the county, within a few yards of each other pointing out that they are driving into nuclear-free zones. What an extravagance. It is bad enough to have one, but to have two within a few yards of each other is an extravagance that ratepayers cannot tolerate.
I would be pleased to see a violence-free zone, but I do not believe that it would be very effective. Perhaps my hon. Friend will allow me to continue with my speech, because we are being called to make short contributions.
I thank the hon. Member for making the point I want to stress in my speech. If I may continue with it, we might have a mutual area interest in and around what is known as Pomono Street, where our two constituencies converge. It used to be in the Hallam constituency. The city council permitted considerable development to be carried out in that area, which led to traffic problems. Ever since, I have had to correspond with the county council. Similarly, when there are bus problems, particularly in Dore and Totley, an area with which the hon. Member is familiar, ironically these have to be dealt with from Barnsley. They cannot be dealt with from Sheffield. The county council is responsible for a small percentage of local services—for 20 per cent. of that expenditure—but it does not prevent it from being expensive. It is budgeting to spend at present £172 million. However, the county has been rather reckless in its transport policy. I learn from county councillors that it is costing £80 million a year. The Secretary of State mentioned a figure of £59 million for last year. The support for local transport in south Yorkshire is costing £45 per head against nearly half that figure, as an average, in the metropolitan counties.
Only this week was I approached by a local branch of the Institute of Advanced Motorcyclists, which complained about the poor standard of the roads. The high subsidy for buses unfortunately proves to be detrimental to the maintenance of roads in the city. Neither this Bill, nor rate capping, will overcome the fundamental malaise of local government in the districts which make up South Yorkshire, including the Sheffield district, called the city council. All the people in the metropolitan counties, certainly in Yorkshire, know that in their heart of hearts they cannot have "owt for nowt". For GLC people, that means anything for nothing. In my region, due to half a century of Socialism, the majority of the population are dependent upon benefits — either subsidised council housing, or subsidised public transport, or costly public services, besides such state services as health, social security and education. This majority therefore depends upon others in the region to pay rates and taxes as well as others outside the region to sustain their standard of living. This majority is therefore dependent upon the seed corn of Socialism and invariably at local elections vote for Socialist councillors, and in general elections for Labour Members, because their standard of living depends upon substantial subsidies from other people, whether from outside the region, or alone within it.
Is the hon. Member able to say that that is actually the case? In 1974, when the hon. Member was an industrialist in Sheffield, the number of people being supported by the state is the same as it is today. Does not the hon. Member believe that the economic policies that are being pursued by the Government, of which many of the industrialists to whom the hon. Member referred in his speech are highly critical, have got something to do with our problems?
I was going to mention that in January I am reporting to the Council of Europe on the latest work of the OECD on the economic situation facing all western countries, in particular Council of Europe countries. There is concern in all western countries that the level of public expenditure is too high. Today the House is dealing with local government expenditure, which is 25 per cent. of all public expenditure in this country. The House will be debating this matter on Thursday. If there is optimism that the standard of living will rise—and there is hope of economic growth of 2 per cent. to 3 per cent. in both this and other countries — there are regional disparities, as we learned last Thursday. South Yorkshire is the scene of such disparity. It is a case of the chicken and egg. There is obduracy by the Socialist leadership on the shop floor, in town hall and city hall. The fact that Socialists have been in power for 50 years is surely the cause of this disparity, not the result of it.
My reservation about the Bill is that it is not a substitute for rating reform, or even for more fundamental reforms. I have listened with interest to the contribution from the right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson). However, the Labour majority in south Yorkshire and its districts continues to oppose the Government's moves towards a property-owning democracy through, for example, the sale of council houses. The South Yorkshire county council is made up of many trade unionists, including county councillors who are sponsored by the National Union of Mineworkers.
The members of the police force whom I have met and the approaches I have received from the Police Federation —I note that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) is in his place—make it clear that the police do not believe that they are gaining the support, for a variety of reasons, of the police committee of the county council. Responsible citizens in Sheffield would like there to be more fundamental reforms than are before us today, and I accept this. Therefore, I accept that the Bill will not solve all the problems that local government currently presents. The inconsistencies of the financing of local government will remain and the inadequacies of the rating system and lack of local authority accountability will not be removed.
My constituents in Hallam and the Conservatives in south Yorkshire as a whole will be relieved that the Government are fulfilling their election mainfesto pledge. If they were to read the manifesto of the Labour party for the last general election they would be surprised to find that the Opposition today are against these proposals, because the Labour party manifesto made it clear that they believed that two tiers of local government were unnecessary. The selective amnesia that Labour Members indulge in undermines their arguments. It is the irresponsible behaviour of Socialist local government that threatens the balance of power. The Bill has not been introduced too soon, and I support it.
Many people have realised that the Bill is a vicious attack on local government, but few recognise that it is also an attack on parliamentary democracy.
Most people accept that the Bill has been born of political spite, but few understand that it also reflects a continuing trend of civil servants who want to take powers from local democracy and confer them on Ministers or, as cynics might say, on themselves. They are certainly unwilling to submit those powers to proper, effective parliamentary scrutiny.
It is sad that the main thrust of the Bill is to deny local democracy its opportunity to control and influence local events and effectively to deny the House the power of scrutiny over many of the decisions that have been taken away from local government and in which we have a right to be involved.
For the first 40 years of this century, the big cities, particularly places such as Manchester, Birmingham, and Sheffield, demonstrated how effectively local democracy could run a wide range of services. It is amazing to see how we have retreated in recent years from many of the services that local democracy, at least in the big cities, ran so effectively. Services such as water, sewerage, gas, electricity, transport and parts of the Health Service were run by local authorities. Major areas of municipal enterprise were carried out extremely effectively. Some of the small authorities may have been open to criticism, but the record of the big cities was outstanding. They showed that local democracy could provide a high standard of services and do the job effectively.
Since that time, there has been a steady removal of powers from locally elected, democratic bodies. Functions have been transferred to unelected quangos, and the Bill takes that process much further. An increasing number of bodies are appointed by Ministers, or, as in the Bill, at second hand by local authorities. They are not directly accountable to local democracy or effectively accountable to the House.
We have to ask whether we have been giving Ministers too much power of patronage. If the trend is to continue, perhaps we should look at the United States system, under which the President at least has to get congressional approval for many of is appointments. There is growing evidence that Ministers are abusing their power of patronage. It ought to be under the control of the House.
Not only does the Bill erode local democracy, but it takes major steps to erode the power of the House. Major legislation has always been scrutinised by both Houses through debates on Second Reading and in Committee. That process has usually involved many hours of debate over many months. There have been effective opportunities for arguments to be deployed in the House and opportunities for a parallel debate to take place in the country.
We have always said that only minor changes should be made under the delegated powers that enable Ministers to make orders or regulations. In the past 20 years, there have been substantial changes in that area. Ministers have increasingly taken powers to make regulations, and the powers of the House to scrutinise those regulations have been drastically reduced. The open-ended debates that used to take place on statutory instruments have been restricted to one and a half hours. More of the debates are taken in Committee and our powers to scrutinise regulations have also been reduced because of the sheer volume of regulations in recent years.
Increasingly, matters that would have been included in primary legislation only a few years ago are now pushed through in regulations which provide no opportunity for a proper debate in the House or outside. We should be jealous of the way in which those powers are being taken away from us.
The Bill includes powers to make regulations for a wide range of purposes. We should be extremely worried about that. The most clear-cut power is that to abolish the Inner London education authority or to change it in any way. Parts of ILEA could be taken away and the whole structure of education, under which everything from nursery education to further education has been the responsibility of the local authority, could be varied by regulations. In any other circumstances, the House would demand a major Bill to implement such a proposal and we would also demand the opportunity for a debate in Parliament and outside.
My hon. Friend takes my argument a little further. Let me ask Conservative Members a simple question. What would be their reaction if a future Labour Government announced soon after coming into office that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry would present a short Bill including powers to nationalise by regulations any industries that that Government wanted to nationalise?
That view has been canvassed by many of my hon. Friends and it has some attractions. Some people are dissatisfied with the time that it takes to get things through the democratic process. However, if Conservative Members think that such a Bill would be unreasonable, how can they believe that it is reasonable to abolish the ILEA, in exactly the same way? ILEA, in terms of the children that it serves and the number of its employees, is far bigger than some of the industries that might be considered for nationalisation.
As I said, I can see the attractions of such a Bill, but, attractive as it may be, the duty to give the House the power to control legislation is stronger than the attractions of a short nationalisation Bill. Conservative Members should think carefully. They may be impatient, but they should remove the ILEA provisions from the Bill and say that if the Government want to change the position of the education authority they must bring primary legislation to the House.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) pointed out, regulations cannot be amended. We have either to approve or reject regulations. That changes fundamentally the relationship between a Minister and the House. It is easy to bring forward a package with a series of attractive measures and one unattractive measure and to ask the House to accept or reject the whole package. It is much harder for Ministers to bring forward legislation in which they have to justify each clause and line of the measure. The regulation-making powers in respect of ILEA are unacceptable.
There are nearly 60 other areas in which the Government will have power to make regulations. They seek to deny the House the opportunity to make amendments on any of those matters. Why is the Secretary of State taking power to act by regulations, rather than putting his proposals on the face of the Bill? Does he want to hide his real purpose from Parliament or does he want a free hand for the future so that the Government can do whatever they like?
Anyone who has been a Member for even a short time will have come across examples of powers being taken in an Act to do certain things and, two or three years later, a new Minister using those powers in unexpected ways. We are all told that what matters is not the promises given by Ministers in the House, but the words in the statute. That is the danger of regulations.
A particularly absurd example is before the House at the moment. During the passage of the legislation which brought about our membership of the EEC, the present Foreign Secretary repeatedly assured the House that regulations ancillary to the main purposes of the legislation would not be used in all the sorts of ways that my hon. Friend envisaged. The Foreign Secretary gave categoric assurances about that from the Dispatch Box. Now the Foreign Secretary is using those very regulatory powers to get through the inter-Government regulations on raising funds for the EEC. That is a clear example of the danger of this House allowing that sort of opportunity into regulations.
We should also remember the sheer volume of statutory instruments. Often the Government produce about 30 statutory instruments a week. Following the recess, the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, of which I am Chairman, had to go through about 80 sets of regulations for each of four weeks. We are now down to having to consider about 30 sets of regulations a week. No hon. Member can claim that the Committee carries out its scrutiny effectively. We are fortunate to have Mr. Speaker's counsel to help us, but it is an extremely difficult task to ensure that all that legislation conforms with the Acts which give it powers.
Under this Bill, that scrutiny may be easier but it will be much harder for the House effectively to scrutinise such proposals. The House has only an hour and a half's debate. Each Front Bench has half an hour and hon. Members have the remaining half an hour. If it is a negative order, we may well have less than half an hour. Therefore, the opportunities for the House to scrutinise regulations are completely inadequate.
Take the present controversy over student grants. Hon. Members are looking for parliamentary opportunities, but that measure will be achieved by a statutory instrument which will come before the House in about 11 months' time, with only an hour and a half's debate and not subject to any amendment. Therefore, the House will have to accept the whole of it, or none of it.
I believe firmly that we should reject the Bill because of the way in which it erodes local democracy and also takes away from the House many of its powers to scrutinise legislation and to control Ministers.
The Bill will disqualify local councillors who work for such organisations as the fire service. That is particularly mean and petty. The Government claim that the Bill will reduce the confusion among the electorate between one tier of local government and another. However, the Bill is a recipe for confusion. How will strategic planning be co-ordinated with strategic transport in a region? That will be extremely difficult.
I served on Oldham council for 10 years. While I was on that council many fine speeches were made about the way in which we should preserve and develop the Medlock valley. In 10 years nothing was done because that work was shared between the Oldham council and the old Ashton authority. During those 10 years, we also had a duty to record footpaths and to ensure that they were free from obstruction and open. Again, virtually nothing was done, despite the good speeches that were made.
Since the Greater Manchester council has been in operation for the past 10 years, there have been major achievements in the Medlock valley, the Tame valley and many of the other lungs running into Manchester. Its achievement in setting up county parks and ensuring that footpaths are opened up, made easier to walk and well signposted is remarkable. The council's small section which deals with footpaths and their recording has had a remarkable record for removing paths with obstructions and recording paths on maps.
If we try to break up those functions between all the authorities in Greater Manchester, I fear that it will be impossible for the job to be done as well, as effectively and as cheaply. We shall be taking a step backwards in opening up the countryside around our large cities.
Therefore, if we are anxious about local democracy, we should reject the Bill. If we are concerned with our rights and duties as Members of Parliament, we should also reject the Bill because it takes away our right to scrutinise major decisions which will be taken in Britain. We should not give that power to Ministers, of whatever party.
One of the bravest speeches that the Chamber has heard today was that of the right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson), who rightly and unreservedly condemned the party political tactics of members of his own party in the GLC. I noticed that the right hon. Gentleman's speech was welcomed with stony, coward-like silence from his hon. Friends. I venture to suggest that if more hon. Members had his courage, the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) would not have needed to remind the House that many city councils since the war have gone far to the Left and have come into the clutches of the Marxist-led Labour party and my right hon. Friend would not have found it necessary to introduce the Bill today to protect ratepayers. [Laughter.]
I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman. He has had many opportunities in the past nine months to table an interminable number of questions and to make an interminable number of interventions. No doubt today or tomorrow he will make an interminable speech.
The amendment that the House will be invited to vote upon tomorrow night says that the Bill will centralise powers. No Labour Member has yet proved that case. It says that the Bill is an attack on local democracy. No such case has yet been made out. It says that it will harm employment prospects. No such case has been made out. Indeed, by the raping of local government and by the rapacious and imprudent use of ratepayers' funds, commerce and industry, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Sir. J. Osborn) rightly pointed out, have been forced out of the inner cities and metropolitan counties into the shire counties and areas of the prudently-led local authorities. That has had a direct effect on employment opportunities in the cities and in the metropolitan areas.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell). The Bill is exercising the minds of my right hon. and hon. Friends because it seeks to do two things in one fell swoop. It would be wrong to suggest that we are all in agreement with all parts of the Bill without reservation. But the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) smiles too soon. Surely the purpose of a Standing Committee is to refine a Bill and to bring some parliamentary sandpaper to some of the clauses and schedules that do not entirely meet with hon. Members' agreement.
The future of the GLC is to some extent different because it found its birth in the old London county council. To some extent, it must be different from the future of the metropolitan county councils, which were born out of a legislative promise in the early 1970s, from, I admit, the Conservative party. The two cannot be taken as one. Therefore, when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State considers the detailed points that my hon. Friends and I put forward, I hope that he will accept that there is a case for some fine tuning and the use of some parliamentary sandpaper.
How can Opposition Members talk about taking power away from the people, "centralisation of powers" and an "attack on local democracy"? The Bill's central core must be to devolve power, responsibility and services back to the people, to the ratepayers and the local voters.
The London boroughs elect 1,914 councillors to represent them. The GLC has merely 92 councillors, many of whom have no direct contact with their electorate on a ward by ward or district by district basis. The metropolitan districts elect 2,500 councillors who no doubt have a much closer appreciation of and more contact with their electorate than the mere 600 metropolitan county councillors.
Given the hon. Gentleman's case, would not it be logical for the Government to retain the borough representatives on the Inner London education authority instead of abolishing them, as proposed in the Bill?
The hon. Gentleman has made a point that has been debated elsewhere and will no doubt be debated in Committee.
Many of my constituents in Mid-Staffordshire work, and have commercial and industrial interests, in the West Midlands metropolitan county area. They believe, with me, that the abolition of that authority will mean lower rates, better value for their money as ratepayers and taxpayers, no more expensive time-consuming county hall bureaucracy, more local control of services, and local policies that are determined by local people for local people and that are not borne out of mongrel party political dogma. They believe that the policies of the successor authorities will place an emphasis not on politics but on services.
It should perhaps be recorded that only two members of the alliance are in the Chamber and that there have been only two here for the majority of the debate. But it will be interesting to find out how they vote tomorrow night. After all, only last year they had the following manifesto commitment:
We propose…abolishing 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.
The hon. Gentleman knows full well that that manifesto contained two commitments of principle: one to democratic local government and the other to the abolition of the present system only where there is a better replacement for it. On neither of those grounds are the proposals in the Bill acceptable, and the hon. Gentleman knows it.
The House and the electorate at large look forward in eager anticipation to discovering the cost of regional government and the closer contact that it will have with the electorate.
My hon. Friends will be interested in the way that several Opposition Members cast their vote tomorrow night, particularly in view of the commitment made from the Dispatch Box by the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham)—
I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. I am sure that it is only a matter of time one way or the other. He gazed into his party's crystal ball and gave a firm commitment about the way in which his party would decide at the next election to restore some form of strategic and accountable tier to local authorities. [Interruption.] It is worth reminding hon. Members what Mr. Livingstone said not only in 1979 but in 1982. In 1979, he said:
I do not conceive of the GLC as local in any sense. I feel that the boroughs are the major instruments of local government in London. I feel in a sense a degree of regret that Marshall did not push on and say 'Abolish the GLC' because I think it would have been a major saving and would have released massive resources which could have been put into far more productive use
…I very much regret that Mr. Cutler has not been the really ruthless Tory that he likes to project and come forward with the biggest axe of all and axed the whole appalling show.
In 1982, while addressing a conference of the Chartered
Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, the same Mr. Livingstone said:
I believe that we should in principle have a system in which government is done at the lowest possible level, the level closest to the people. People would be better served if it was provided by the borough councils and not the metropolitan areas. I have always at heart been committed to the borough council rather than to regional government.
We look forward with interest to the way in which some Opposition Members, who have the conscience and the courage of the right hon. Member for Brent, East, cast their votes tomorrow night.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will consider a matter that concerns me, and that involves a quango or one of the consultative boards. I have written to him and his right hon. Friend the Minister of State about it. In the GLC area, particularly in docklands, and in several industrial estates in the metropolitan county areas, overriding leases of industrial premises have been taken by the first-tier authorities, or in docklands by the Greater London enterprise board. After abolition, the covenants of some of those factory estates will be called into question by the pension funds, the institutions and others who have invested in them. The answer that I have received so far from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is that the leases for Greater London will be vested for the time being in the Greater London residuary board. But we learn from the Bill that that body will be in existence for only five years. Leases may well be set to run for 21, 42, 66 or even 99 years. I hope that my right hon. Friend will seriously consider to whom those powers and responsibilities should be transferred on expiry of that quango.
I support the Bill in principle because I believe that it will abolish the pure party political spite that sadly resides in many of the first-tier authorities. I also believe that it may well restore prudent finance and move local democracy to the people whom local government should serve and is really elected to serve.
Like other hon. Members on both sides of the House, I cannot claim to be an enthusiastic supporter of the existing two-tier local government structure in the metropolitan areas. From my probably prejudiced standpoint as a former London borough council leader, my experience is that the two-tier system has confused the electors, who can seldom remember which tier does what, and has built-in duplication, bureaucracy and conflict, as problems and paper shuffle between two tiers of local government.
Therefore, I do not approach the Bill on the basis that the GLC and the metropolitan counties are perfect institutions that should be preserved at all costs. But in examining any proposals for change, four criteria are significant. First, will the changes produce a system more accountable to local people? Secondly, will they reduce the domination of local affairs by Ministers and civil servants in Whitehall? Thirdly, will they produce a system of government that is easily understood by ordinary voters? Fourthly, will they mean more efficient and less costly administration?
I submit that, on the first three tests, the Bill fails miserably, and that on the fourth issue the prospects are far from encouraging. Let us take, for example, local accountability. It is a fact that elected councils are to be replaced by an intricate spider's web of quangos, agencies and joint boards. It is a fact that GLC powers will be given to the regional water authorities, the Arts Council, the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission, the Sports Council and to the delightfully entitled "residuary body". Of course, all those bodies are appointed by Ministers and are not elected by ordinary people.
The Secretary of State argues that the joint boards are somehow different, that they are part of a genuine system of local government. It is a fact that members will not be directly elected to those bodies. They will be appointed, presumably by party caucus meetings. The policies of the joint boards will not be directly before the electors. I suggest that the Bill is retaining a two-tier system of local government, in which the upper tier is hidden and is not directly accountable.
The Secretary of State referred to the Herbert commission whose 1960 report paved the way for the reorganisation of London government. The commission looked specifically at special bodies and agencies, which it called ad hoc authorities. The commission was pretty contemptuous of them. It stated:
the idea…need not detain us long. There are two fatal objections to any attempt to deal with London problems by the creation of further ad hoc bodies…
The first objection is that these bodies are either the creatures of central government or they are responsible to no-one. The problems of London require the responsible exercise by local authorities of their powers. If ad hoc bodies exercise separate independent powers they present problems to both central government and local government.
The Herbert commission continued:
The second objection is that, as we have shown, so many of London's problems are interlinked. What is needed is some means of considering them as a whole and dealing with them. It is no solution to separate them still further by giving each to some specially designed ad hoc body.
The Secretary of State may argue that joint boards are not ad hoc bodies, but they are certainly specially created and, in their initial stages, they will be the creatures of central Government. Clause 80 gives the Secretary of State sweeping powers to control the activities of joint boards and the new Inner London education authority during their first three years of life.
I cannot believe that bodies that do not have the power to control their own staffing levels, budgets, management and internal organisation can accurately be described as part of local government. The Secretary of State argues that he is justified in taking the initial powers over the joint boards because he wants to ensure that their functions are, in the words of the Bill,
discharged economically, efficiently and effectively
We would all subscribe to that admirable aim, but the problem with the Secretary of State's approach is that it is not local people who will be deciding on the performance of those joint boards but civil servants in Whitehall.
Just to guarantee that the Secretary of State has a belt and braces coverage of the problem, clause 64(6) automatically rate caps the new joint boards and the Inner London education authority for their first three years of life. I repeat: to regard bodies that are subject to such detailed central control and direction as examples of genuine local government is to do violence to the English language.
Apart from the detailed control over joint boards, hon. Members have already referred to the growth of direct Whitehall controls over existing boroughs and districts which appears in the small print of the Bill. On planning, the Secretary of State has the right to issue strategic guidance to which boroughs and metropolitan districts must have regard in drawing up their own local plans.
At the other end of that process, the unitary plans which the local authorities will draw up will give more power at the local level and less at the central level. The authorities will not be required to submit those plans to the Secretary of State for approval, as happens at present with the structure plans. This is a devolution of planning powers to the local level.
I accept that that may be what the Secretary of State is seeking to achieve. I believe that most people would regard the fact that he begins the exercise by issuing strategic guidance as something that inevitably limits the freedom of local authorities to draw up their own local plans. That is the point I am trying to make. The same sort of situation arises with road traffic in Greater London. Again, the Secretary of State can give guidance to the London boroughs. If they act contrary to the guidance, the Secretary of State can direct an individual authority to take specified action in a specified period. If the authority fails to comply, the Secretary of State can undertake the work himself and charge the local authority for what has been done.
Ministers are given sweeping powers to intervene through directions, approvals, consents and guidance on 59 different occasions in the Bill. There are 64 opportunities for Ministers to introduce statutory instruments. I suggest that all that adds up to a third tier of metropolitan government—a tier in Whitehall whose powers are immensely strengthened by the Bill.
What is the ordinary citizen of London — or the metropolitan counties — to make of this confusing patchwork quilt of quangos, joint boards and ministerial power? He simply will not understand it, unless, of course, he has a PhD in political science. If ordinary people do not understand how they are governed, accountable local democracy is inevitably undermined.
The explanatory and financial memorandum accepts that abolition will involve "some transitional costs" and puts the figure at about £40 million in 1986–87 for both the GLC and the metropolitan counties. Redundancy payments are the major element in that sum. The GLC officers have a different calculation, putting the costs for the GLC alone at £65 million in 1986–87, with an additional cost of £32 million a year thereafter. There is a clear conflict of view about that assessment.
When it comes to savings, about which we have heard so much but have had so little detail, the explanatory and financial memorandum claims a figure of £100 million. There is, however no detailed breakdown to justify the figures. There is no estimate of the cost of establishing the successor authorities and of splitting up central services between individual boroughs and districts. It is a great pity that in seeking to make an assessment we have no impartial calculations on which to base our judgment. I suspect that my constituents, like those of other right hon. and hon. Gentlemen will say that any reorganisation of local government costs them money. I suspect, too, that they will be right in this case.
I object also to the way in which the Bill builds in uncertainty. Reference has already been made to clause 21 which empowers the Secretary of State to undertake a statutory review of ILEA by 1991 and at any time subsequently. That could mean that all of ILEA's powers could go to the inner London boroughs. Individual functions could be hived off — for example, adult education, nursery schools or primary schools. This power could bring about the dismemberment of ILEA by the back door.
Equally worrying is the fact that the Inner London education service will be subject to a permanent review and continuing public debate. That is hardly likely to produce the sort of stability that is necessary for an effective education service in a difficult area such as inner London.
Clause 40 gives the same sort of sweeping powers to the Secretary of State to scrap the London Fire and Civil Defence Authority which is set up under clause 26. The Secretary of State can totally reorganise police authorities and passenger transport authorities, so there can be no firm future for those bodies either.
Clause 59 enables the Secretary of State to give the residuary bodies any of the powers and functions previously carried out by the GLC and the metropolitan counties. That measure holds out the extraordinary prospect of the abolished authorities having some sort of ghostly life beyond the grave, but a life directed by the Secretary of State who appoints and has power to control the residuary bodies. Throughout the Bill Ministers are given the powers to change, vary and amplify the distribution of functions and powers and the properties of the bodies involved. Hon. Members cannot be sure that the proposals in the Bill will last long and, more importantly, that what we see is what we will get.
There is wide agreement that the Government should have commissioned an impartial study and analysis of the system of government in Greater London and the metropolitan counties before embarking on legislation. I do not believe that the GLC and the metropolitan counties should be retained indefinitely. They are too large to be genuinely local government and many of their powers are wrong. In some cases, their boundaries are too small to make them effective strategic authorities.
I believe that the aim must be one tier of local government in which boroughs and districts carry out genuinely local powers and provide genuinely local services. Beyond that, there will be a continuing need for a wider tier of elected government to be responsible for the powers, duties and functions that must be carried out across a city region. I refer to powers for major planning, economic development, transport, fire services and major leisure and recreational facilities. Such regional bodies would not be sucking powers up, as the Secretary of State suggested, but would have the ability to pull powers down from Whitehall closer to ordinary people. None of that will be available from this Government, of that we can be sure. However, if the Bill goes through, it is only a matter of time before the House will have to return to this issue to create order out of the chaos that will flow from this legislation.
I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright). He may be surprised to learn that I listened with intermittent agreement. Perhaps that is not entirely surprising, because while Mr. Livingstone has been hiring London's hoardings at the ratepayers' expense and plastering them with contentious political posters, the real argument about the future of the GLC and the metropolitan counties has been carried on within the Conservative party. Occasionally that was evident during the Secretary of State's speech today.
In some ways during the past few months, the most effective opposition to the Government's plans for London has come, not from Mr. Livingstone, but from Alan Greengross, the Conservative leader of the GLC. Alan Greengross has largely accepted that a wide range of powers should be transferred from the GLC to the London boroughs, but he and most of his Conservative colleagues at county hall argue that there will still be a need for a directly elected body to provide an effective and financially disciplined voice for London as a whole.
In this plan, Alan Greengross has been supported by a number of non-partisan, non-Socialist voices. For example, on 24 November The Times put it rather well when it said:
The citizens of Mr. Heath's constituency in Bexley, and those of Mrs. Thatcher in Barnet, belong to the same urban mass; it is a nonsense to deny that they are not mutually involved in the same set of London-wide issues, too big and too general safely to be left to the Councillors respectively of Bexley and Barnet.
That view has been echoed by Lord Marshall, who was quoted by the right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson) in his attack on the Government and Ken Livingstone. Lord Marshall is a Conservative with impeccable local government credentials. He has served for years as the Conservative party's vice-chairman with responsibility for local government. He carried out a detailed survey of local government in Greater London.
I doubt it.
I agree with Lord Marshall when he says:
I share the view of those who maintain that the sum of local needs and aspirations falls short of the wider interests of London as a whole".
Lord Marshall is right when he says that a number of issues — such as public transport and traffic — need to be discussed on a Londonwide basis. Indeed, in my view, a gaping gap in the centre of the Bill, and to some extent in the Secretary of State's speech today, is the failure to make any provision for the sensible discussion of Londonwide problems.
Do we need a special directly elected body to fill that role? I am particularly well placed to understand the Government's reluctance to establish "Son of GLC" because for a couple of years I was Minister with special responsibilities for Belfast in the Northern Ireland Office. I had to deal with a directly elected council which had almost no powers. It could have been worse. We had a good working relationship, but I understand why the Government think that such a formula is not desirable for London.
Some people suggest that the London Boroughs Association should become a suitable forum for discussing Londonwide issues. I am sure that the association should play an increasingly important role in the life of the capital, but I do not think that anyone who is not already a member of the LBA believes that it can be the principal forum for such discussions.
Hon. Members representing London constituencies will have to play a greater role in debating Londonwide issues. In the 20 years since the GLC was established we have been pretty casual in the way that we, as a House, have dealt with London issues. We hold a couple of debates each year in private Members' time on London money Bills and the Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill, but too often they are long on political knockabout and short on serious discussion of London's problems.
In the last few years we have also had an annual debate on the report of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. They have been good debates, but there is a limit to the time that can be found for regular debates on London issues on the Floor of the House. With the departure of the GLC we need a London Grand Committee, open to all London Members, to discuss London's special problems and to monitor and scrutinise the workings of such executive agencies as London Regional Transport.
Many experts agree that the day-to-day political interference from county hall politicians in the working of London Transport has cost London ratepayers and travellers many millions of pounds. At last the politicians' fingers have been prised from the driver's wheel of London Transport. We do not want those political hands back. But our constituents have a vital interest in the policies and performance of London Regional Transport, and it is right that we should scrutinise and monitor its performance.
I know that the chairman of London Regional Transport would welcome such debates, and that a London Grand Committee would be an ideal place in which to hold them. The responsible Minister and the board of London Regional Transport would be bound to pay attention to what was said in those debates.
There are issues of less immediate importance that might also need some scrutiny. In part II of the Bill I note and approve of the Government's proposals to put the GLC's admirable historic building section under the wing of the Historic Monuments Commission. That seems to be a logical step. But perhaps unexpected difficulties will arise. It may be that the arrangements will not work out as well as we hope. There again, a London Grand Committee would be the ideal forum with which to probe and discuss any difficulties that arose.
Will the hon. Gentleman accept that, in general terms, such a toothless watchdog—that is what a London Grand Committee would be—would have the same problems as the Scottish Grand Committee and the Welsh Grand Committee, giving rise to great frustration and little satisfaction? Further, those Committees each have a whole Department with which to deal, whereas we would have a small sector of part of a Department, and no real control whatever.
I do not accept that the Scottish Grand Committee and the Welsh Grand Committee are wholly ineffective. If the Government were to introduce proposals to do away with the Scottish Grand Committee or the Welsh Grand Committee, I have no doubt that Opposition Members — including Scottish and Welsh Members of the Liberal party—would be loud in their condemnation of the Government's action. I believe that a London Grand Committee could be a better voice than the GLC has been in recent years for the problems of London as a whole.
In recent years, the agenda of GLC monthly meetings has been confused and its debates have been largely chaotic. I note that at one particularly long session in 1983 the debate on the GLC's capital allocations for the following financial year lasted just 35 minutes, while 36 minutes in the same session were spent on discussing whether Shell U.K. Oil had exported oil to South Africa.
Incoherent debates are difficult to report properly and, as a result, responsible London media such as The Standard or the London Broadcasting Company devote little space or attention to them. A London Grand Committee could provide a forum for Londonwide debate, which would be better than anything we have at the moment.
I hope that my right hon. Friend, in replying to the debate, will tell us how the Government intend that the Londonwide issues should be monitored, scrutinised and debated. I hope that his reply will be sufficiently forthcoming to encourage me to continue to support the Bill.
I wish to establish three points: first, that the Bill is a wicked act of political vindictiveness; secondly, that it is a direct attack on the democratic process; and, thirdly, that it is an affront to the people of Tyne and Wear. The hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle) almost made my case for me on my first point, and my hon. Friends will have noted carefully his introductory remarks.
There is no moral, economic or sociological reason why the Bill should be introduced, so it must be concluded that it is for purely political reasons. It is no coincidence that the Tyne and Wear county council, like all the other local authorities that are under threat, is Labour-controlled. The Labour party has been the clear choice of the people in the Tyne and Wear area at every election since the authority was formed. That political majority is mirrored in the district councils in the Tyne and Wear area and also by the Members of Parliament who sit in the House of Commons.
It is logical that the people of the area should vote in the way they do. It reflects their aspirations for a higher standard of living. Yet the whole northern region is in turmoil, due exclusively to the policies of the present Government. Unemployment in the region has consistently been the highest since the Government were first elected in 1979. The living standards of young and old have been eroded. The basic industries in the area are under severe attack, and their very existence is threatened. That applies particularly to coal, shipbuilding, steel and heavy engineering, each of those industries having shed thousands of jobs. Only last week the Minister, in this very House, announced horrendous cuts in regional aid, which will further damage the northern region, threatening more jobs in the Tyne and Wear county council area.
A lengthy list of measures has been introduced by the Government since 1979 affecting the people of Tyne and Wear. No wonder the people have looked to local government for protection from the damage done by the Government. However, regrettably, damage limitation is all that has been possible. The Tyne and Wear county council has an excellent record in that respect, and I have received many letters of tribute from companies for what the authority has managed to achieve.
Among the successes achieved by Tyne and Wear—I do not wish to minimise its efforts in other areas while I concentrate on industrial and economic matters—is the attraction to the area of the Nissan company. Although we all recognise that the Nissan company had its own good economic and financial reasons for choosing the northeast, nevertheless the company will create about 250 jobs in the short-term. By the end of the 1980s, it should be producing about 2,500 jobs directly, and perhaps twice as many in the spin-off. But we should need 1,000 companies, each bringing 250 to 300 jobs, to solve our unemployment problem. That is the magnitude of it.
Our hope and expectation is that other companies will follow Nissan. If the hard-headed business men from Japan can be convinced that we have the skills and the management ability in the north-east that they need, other companies are bound to take note.
However, the point that I wish to underline is related not to the Nissan company but to the officers and elected local authority councillors in Tyne and Wear who were instrumental in attracting the jobs to the area. I recognise that it was a team effort—an equal partnership with Sunderland borough council and Washington development corporation. However, despite that success, recognised throughout the land, the Government have the stupidity and ignorance to threaten two thirds of that partnership—Tyne and Wear county council and the Washington development corporation.
I spoke about the threat to the Washington development corporation in the recent Second Reading debate on the New Towns and Urban Development Corporations Bill. To break up the industrial attraction group is nothing short of madness. People in the region cannot and will never understand how any Government could act with such blatant vindictiveness. People in the north-east are crying out for jobs. They want to be rescued from the dole queue. Yet the Government seek to plunge them even deeper into the morass of unemployment. For the people whom I represent, the decision to abolish the Tyne and Wear authority is clearly political, vindictive and wicked.
In this direct attack on the democratic process the Government are set on a course which will lead, if it has not done so already, to the United Kingdom having the most centralised Government in western Europe. From the Cabinet to outside bodies, all opposition has to be eliminated. Local authority spending is to be limited through rate capping. That process, with the penalty system, will bring enormous problems for local government. Local authorities will be unable to carry out the many statutory functions required of them by central Government and at the same time keep within the law. Local authorities with a strategic function are to be eliminated altogether.
Two matters could have been tested at the ballot box—first, that people in the districts were happy for extra money to be raised to pay for essential services and, secondly, that people wanted the metropolitan counties. On the first matter, Tory candidates had the opportunity to campaign against rate increases in the 1984 elections in Tyne and Wear. I need not remind Conservative Members that Tory leaders in Sunderland lost their seats in that election. In my constituency the Tories did not even put forward any candidates. No doubt the House will draw the correct conclusions from that.
Attitudes to the Tyne and Wear metropolitan authority could also have been tested at the ballot box, but the Government took the cowardly decision to abandon the elections altogether. When democratic processes are available to test policies, they should be used. Yet the Government, clearly and deliberately and in full knowledge of what they are doing, are eroding the democratic process and removing, brick by brick, a wall of protection built over centuries, often at great cost to individuals.
In a democracy, one must listen to and weigh evidence from reputable and independent authorities. This may be a painful process, especially when one's prejudices are challenged, but although an individual may remain stubborn and unflinching, a Government cannot do so without threatening democracy itself. Yet the Government have consistently refused to justify their claims through an independent inquiry.
I have considered the main arguments in the studies commissioned by the metropolitan authorities. I have noted the conclusions of the Coopers and Lybrand study into the finances of abolition. There is also the study of joint boards by the highly respected Inlogov and a study by PA Management Consultants of non-financial matters. The PA Management Consultants study concluded:
The proposals represent a significant enlargement of the powers of central government in local affairs.
The Government are also blatantly undemocratic in their proposal to replace the directly elected Tyne and Wear authority with a series of quangos. The official stated purpose of the Bill is to
Abolish the Greater London Council and the metropolitan county councils; to transfer their functions to the local authorities in their areas and, in some cases, to other bodies".
That is highly misleading as at least 70 per cent. and probably 80 per cent. of the spending will be transferred to bodies directly controlled by Whitehall—a further significant shift to the centre.
Finally, the Bill is an affront to the people of Tyne and Wear, who have consistently voted for a Labour-controlled authority because they prefer the priority given to essential services by that council. Our integrated public transport system, for example, is visited by people of many countries and is respected throughout the world. If the many services provided by the council had not been what the people wanted, they could have given political control to another party through the ballot box. People in the area want the right to elect and to sack their representatives. They want their local authority to be free of interference from central Government. They want elected representatives who are accountable to them. They want all that because they are democrats. We are the true protectors of democracy. By introducing the Bill, the Conservatives have abdicated any right to call themselves democrats.
I do not know whether you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, share my view that we are at the beginning of a long, hard slog. I express my sympathy to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, whom we are all glad to see back in his place. My sympathy extends also to the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), as I suspect that the rose in his buttonhole will have wilted and that his humour, which gale us pleasure today, will be much needed in the long debates in Committee that lie ahead of him and my right hon. Friends.
I approach the Bill with a sense of apprehension but also of déja vu, as I was one of those who commended the last reorganisation of local government from the Dispatch Box in 1973, with my right hon. Friends the then Secretaries of State for Defence and for Energy and the then Financial Secretary, now Secretary of State for the Environment — all of whom have since done rather better than I have. I commended that reorganisation to the House with the same confidence that we were entirely right as my right hon. Friends will doubtless display today. There was just one difference. At that time we were proposing to set up the metropolitan counties. We are now proposing to destroy them. Such is the wisdom of the Conservative party, however, that on both occasions we were right.
We are right to get rid of the metropolitan counties for the following reasons. First, they perform very few useful functions which would not be better performed by the proposed successor authorities, although there are certain responsibilities that the Bill fails to cover. Secondly, the performance of some of the metropolitan counties and certainly of the GLC in recent years has been such that party and ideological considerations have been put first and the interests of ratepayers and the community have been lost in the process. On balance, therefore, I believe that the metropolitan counties and certainly the GLC should go. Nevertheless, I must express certain doubts about the way in which the Bill will turn out.
I very much doubt whether abolition will save money. I have been involved in the whole subject of legislation affecting local government for far too long to imagine that the sanguine expectations of money being saved by reorganisation will be realised. I agree with the late Patrick Hutber, who stated in Hutber's law that
most legislation intended to make things better and cheaper generally makes them worse and more expensive.
I believe that that process will operate to some extent with this legislation.
Having observed the fall-out of the 1973 legislation in local government, it is clear to me that at that time we made a fundamental error that the Government are now in danger of repeating—we reformed the structure but not the finance. One of the big problems for local government ever since that time has been that such is the demand for services at the local level that rate arguments, rate-capping arguments and arguments about rate support grant and grant-related expenditure allocations have continued apace—simply because we reformed the structure but did not provide the new structure with an adequate revenue-producing financial base. With the present Bill, too, we shall change the structure but not provide a satisfactory financial base for the new authorities.
One specific area in which I have an interest is the impact of the Bill on the metropolitan police services, which is contained in clause 40 and clause 80. For all practical purposes, clause 40 means that the Secretary of State can reconstitute any of the metropolitan district police forces if he wants to. Inevitably, towns such as Sheffield, Rotherham, Liverpool and Birmingham will demand their own police forces back. There may be something to be said for that. I shall consider the substance of the case in a moment. However, once this power is on the statute book, nothing can prevent the great cities within the metropolitan police areas demanding that their police forces be returned to their own control. Hon. Members representing those cities, on either side of the House, will join their local councillors in supporting that demand for the local police forces to be returned to accountability—if that is the right word—to the new district authorities.
I understand that the present Home Secretary has no intention of agreeing to this. He will not be easily persuaded, and the Bill makes it clear that unless he is persuaded that the new city police forces will be better and that in setting them up there will be no countervailing damage done to other areas of the police service, he will refuse. However, that is only the view of the present Home Secretary. Once the provision is on the statute book, future Home Secretaries may take a different view, and the House must examine the impact on the police service of the power in the Bill, not the statements of Ministers.
Few people in the police service will weep any tears over the disappearance of those metropolitan council members of their own police authorities who have lost no opportunity to condemn, or even to impede, the work of the metropolitan police forces. However, that is not an argument for opening wide the door to the prospective dismemberment of the efficient metropolitan county forces that have come into existence over the past 10 years. Whatever view we take of, for instance, the miners' strike or the crime wave, we can all pay tribute to the efficiency of the Merseyside, Greater Manchester, South Yorkshire West Yorkshire, West Midlands and Tyne and Wear police services. The Metropolitan police services are a success. It is, therefore, a brash step for any Government to open the door to their potential dismemberment. Too much time and trouble have been invested in building them up over the past 10 years for us now to run the risk of breaking them up and handing over the pieces to 20 or more successor authorities, few of which will have the size or the resources to do the job as well.
I know who wants the change to be made. First, although they would deny it, a proportion of senior officers within the police service would love this because of the prospect of another 20 or 30 chief police officer posts. I cannot blame them. There is not much blue sky in the police service, and the prospect of more jobs at senior level is bound to be attractive.
Secondly, and more important, there are several hundred ambitious local councillors in the cities who relish the thought of getting hold once again of their own city police forces under their own police authorities.
It may or may not be a good idea. In future, many of my hon. Friends — reflecting the pressures within their cities—may demand that they too should have control over their own police services. The Government of the day will then say that they are simply returning the police service to more local accountability. That would be the argument, but there are three fatal flaws in it.
First, such a move would usher in a period of confusion and scenery-shifting, not to speak of a scramble for jobs, at a time when the police service needs stability above all else. Secondly, it makes no sense to have within the same bricks and mortar area two or three different police forces, with all the danger of overlapping jurisdictions and different attitudes to equipment, public order, training or recruitment. Police operations no longer can be run on the basis of separate police forces within the same area. Such matters as mobile equipment, radio telecommunications, recruiting and attitudes all need to be handled on a strategic basis within the same conurbation.
I have nearly finished my speech.
So, first, there would be a period of confusion. Secondly, it makes no sense to have overlapping jurisdictions. Thirdly, the change for city forces would cost a bomb, and the money would be far better spent on recruiting more policemen and on equipping and training them better.
I know that the Government hope that this will not happen. I am glad to see that the Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw), is here tonight but I can tell him that, once one opens that door, there is no way in which political representatives at the local level, or in the House, will not immediately start to knock and to condemn the existing metropolitan police forces, because that will pave the way for the demand that they should be fragmented.
That is the political issue arid the danger to the police. I shall do my best to ensure that clause 40 is thrown out.
The speech to which we have just listened, with other speeches and interventions from the Government Benches, must have convinced the Secretary of State that his support on those Benches is at best partial and unenthusiastic and at worst minimal and grudging. One should not be surprised about that. Seldom in my long years in the House have I heard so distorted and insubstantial a case as the Secretary of State put for the Bill.
There were times when I could hardly believe my ears. There stood the right hon. Gentleman, saying that the object of the Bill was to decentralise power to strong London boroughs. Yet we all know — the right hon. Gentleman must have known it as he spoke—that no one has done more than he to centralise power, taking power away from the London boroughs and absorbing into the Department of the Environment more and more, every day, of their decision-making powers. No one has done more than the right hon. Gentleman to weaken the boroughs, to reverse the process of decentralisation and enhance the process of centralisation, and yet he talks about decentralisation and about strengthening the boroughs. I suppose, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that if I said that it was a piece of hypocrisy, I would be out of order; so I will not say that it was a piece of hypocrisy. If I could think of another word that described it adequately, I should use it. The Secretary of State sounded like King Herod appointing himself president of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. It was a monstrous piece of role reversal in rhetoric. He already has many powers and, as successive hon. Members have observed, there are more than half a hundred additional powers in the Bill, and he still talks about decentralisation.
The right hon. Gentleman's arithmetic was at fault as well. The powers now exercised by the GLC and other metropolitan counties are to be dispersed in three ways—first, to lower tier local government, secondly, to the Government and, thirdly, to other bodies or quangos. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned some of the powers that are to go to unelected bodies. He said that only two new bodies are being set up, but there are plenty of old ones that will get more and more to do. One of the new ones will be set up to advise him on planning. He will choose its members. It is pretty clear that he will not choose to advise him anyone who is unlikely to give him the advice that he wants. I see no point in that quango.
A large proportion of the decisions that affect the welfare of all citizens are at the moment made by people whom they have elected, who are accountable to them and whom they can sack. Such decisions will increasingly be made by people the Minister chooses, who are accountable to him and who he can sack. Many important functions will be performed in that way. We do not have to speculate about the effect of that as there are two parts of the country—the east end of London and Liverpool—with river side areas where local people have been ruled by a quango for the past three years. Such people know only too well how they suffer as a result of being run by people who are not accountable to them.
The London Docklands development corporation controls an area which includes 50,000 people, half of them in a densely packed part of Tower Hamlets. Those people do not matter tuppence to the LDDC. The only people that the corporation cares about are property developers and anyone else who can produce a fast buck for it, irrespective of the social and environmental consequences. Local people therefore lose recreation sites, amenities and access to the riverside. I can illustrate the point no better than by reading part of an advertisement—time does not permit me to read all of it—inserted by a riverside tenants' association in an east end newspaper last week. They said:
Thank you LDDC from the people who live at St. Katharine's Dock. Thank you for sometimes listening to our views and always ignoring them … Thank you for your promises even though you break them … Thank you for reneging on your written commitment about public walkways in St. Katharine's Dock … Thank you for not enforcing your decisions when developers flout them … Thank you for the illegal builders' yard which caused nine months of misery … Thank you for a planning policy which creates traffic chaos and noise … Thank you for blocking out the daylight from our homes … Thank you for robbing the public of a riverside walkway … Thank you for not preserving the two remaining historic buildings in St. Katharine's Dock … Thank you for putting development profit above the quality of our lives.
Thanks for nothing!"nothing!
The thing that makes those tenants most sore is that the corporation keeps them in the dark about what it is up to and planning to do. The LDDC board meets in secret. It does not publish agendas or minutes. That is much worse than the secrecy of any local authorities of which some of us complain. It never enters into consultation with local representatives until after it has finalised its decisions. Once, joint working parties were set up to deal with local issues on the Isle of Dogs. They collapsed because the corporation's representatives never turned up.
I believe that the hon. Gentleman does not understand that all of the complaints about lack of interest in the docklands will, under the Government's scheme, be well taken care of because borough councils in places such as Hillingdon and Barnet, where I am, will have an abiding interest in what goes on in the docklands and look after local interests.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will go and tell those chaps in St. Katharine's that they have nothing to worry about because the hon. Gentleman's Hillingdonites will look after them. To be perfectly honest, they will say, "Come on. Pull the other one."
For the benefit of the many hon. Members, such as the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), who are interested in water sports, I should like to give a typical example of the LDDC's behaviour. The Shadwell basin in Wapping is the last seven acres of open water in the London docks. Every planning proposal since 1976 has been committed to the development of Shadwell basin as a public water recreation area for the people of the east end of London. About 2,000 people use it each year for all forms of water sports and for training. Much money has gone into it, given by many statutory and voluntary bodies, including the corporation. Suddenly, the whole thing is threatened because the corporation is proposing to put high walls all around the basin in the form of four-storey luxury housing, which all the experts who have examined it say will destroy the basin's wind pattern and thus render sailing difficult and board-sailing impossible. What is the corporation's reaction to the anxiety of local people at this loss of a treasured amenity? For 11 months the people who run the Shadwell basin project have written to the corporation asking for a discussion. Not one of their letters has been answered.
I am on my last sentence. There is much more to say, but my point is that, as many of the functions performed by elected authorities are to go to quangos, the conditions that I have described will multiply a dozenfold as a result of the Bill. If there were no other reason for voting against it—and there are many—that is reason enough.
Some of us will recognise the behaviour of councils in the description given by the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) of the London Docklands development corporation, but I shall leave consideration of the river Thames because there is more in England than London and more in this debate than the GLC. The metropolitan counties cover nearly 5 million more people than the GLC, have six times as many councillors and employ 60 per cent. more people.
For the 10 years they have existed, the metropolitan counties failed to attract either public loyalty or much awareness. I do not recognise the creature which is now brought out for me to see. For years people have ignored these authorities. It is rather like bringing out an old retainer from the kitchen and dressing him up as prince for the occasion. These great metropolitan councils, which we are now asked to defend, have had 10 years in which to develop a new role to which people can attribute loyalties, but they have not done so. We are now asked to believe that to abolish them is an exercise in smashing democracy.
The hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) quoted from The Times and said that there was no philosophy behind the Bill. I question that. My own view — this was referred to by the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) and others—is that, if we could, we should run the country on the basis of single-tier authorities. That phrase emanates time and again from all quarters of the House, and there is clear agreement about it. Democracy is not only about voting but about accountability in the context of "get-atability". It is about being able to recognise and identify those to whom one turns.
We recognise Parliament as the place for dealing with nations. We recognise some of the old counties—in Manchester, we still drink to the Queen as the Duke of Lancaster. We recognise our old towns and cities. But the metropolitan counties, however much we may wish that they had done so, have failed to achieve anything like that identifiable purpose.
In addition, as ordinary citizens we can recognise single-purpose bodies. It is easily understood that if a problem relates to water, one goes to the water authority, and if it relates to the police one goes to the police authority. That is quite different from saying that there should be a second lot of general purpose people. Such people start with a limited range of functions and seek to add to them. They then begin to overlap, thereby giving rise to confusion. Therefore, there is no difficulty in ordinary people understanding that for the greater bulk of their local services they will go to the town hall and that for a service which is necessarily carried out in common they should go to the authority named as delivering that service.
Personally, I should like to see some of these combined services broken down into smaller units. I do not have the same fear about clause 40. I appreciate that it will not always be possible to have single-tier authorities, but, if we can, it would be desirable to have groupings on the narrowest basis.
I do not believe that once a councillor serves on a joint authority he ceases to be democratically elected. At present, on the Greater Manchester police committee there are four Labour councillors from the city of Manchester. Under the new proposal there will be five councillors from the city of Manchester, and as representation will be on the basis of party, that will presumably mean four Labour councillors and one Tory councillor. Therefore, there will be an adequate representation from each area on each authority. Such representation will be much more related to the population and spread through more parties. Consequently, it will be possible to identify the person whom one should approach to deal with such a matter. This is a question of identification, not necessarily one of having a direct vote.
It is perfectly possible to have a democratic input by a nominated person from a democratically elected council. That has happened before, and it can happen now. Many joint committees already exist, even in the metropolitan counties. Those who rush to serve on the joint authority which controls Manchester airport — one of the most popular bodies on which a councillor can serve—do not complain that they have been nominated.
I accept that these councils have done good work. It would be perverse to suppose that 600 councillors, sitting for 10 years, have done nothing but bad work. The people whom they employ have done many good things. However, it is wrong to suppose that they are essential to our lives. The three essential functions of the metropolitan counties are police, fire and transport. The Bill provides a proper authority for controlling those. There has been a gross over-inflation of the other functions which they undertake.
There is, for example, great talk about the extent to which arts and voluntary bodies will be done down by the process. That is not true. In Manchester, some of us have tried for many years to secure a greater recognition of the city as a major regional centre for the arts. This is not simply a question of putting more local money into the centre. It is a question of noting that national institutions do not exist solely within London, and that national money and policies should affect institutions in the provinces.
Therefore, it is of great importance—for me a great pleasure—that some of the institutions which have been locally funded will get on to the national list. That applies to the Royal Exchange theatre, the Manchester museum, the Whitworth art gallery and the Hallé orchestra. The Hallé Concert Society, which has backed that orchestra when many others have not contributed, says that it is pleased
to be funded centrally as a national organisation".
It is important to recognise that the change in the funding of these bodies is of great value.
Unfortunately, much of this debate has been conducted to stimulate fear about what will happen. Some of the comments have been disreputable, just like the leaflet which asks, "Do you want a state-controlled police force?" That was put out by the GMC'. No one could justify the statements in that document—[Interruption.] No doubt in Committee we shall have much pleasure listening to what Labour Members believe to be justification.
There has also been the suggestion that people will lose because there will be fewer resources. That confuses two arguments. There is a case for arguing that the resources devoted to some local government services have, to put it mildly, been over-constrained. That is perfectly reasonable, but it does not follow from the Bill. Either the existing system or the new system can have more resources put in or more resources taken away, and it does not follow that a change in the system which is now proposed will necessarily reduce the resources available.
The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) spoke of the time when local authorities were responsible for a great range of activities, such as health and water. We also heard reference to the grand old cities and the county boroughs. I share that view. The time of great municipal enterprise was wonderful. But that is not achieved through the metropolitan counties. We must find other ways of doing that, and we must aim to drive more and more on to the district councils.
The hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester) dismissed in a cavalier fashion the well-founded fears of many people in the regions about these proposals, as have many Conservative Members. They do not care how their constituents feel. However, there is great anxiety in the west midlands about these proposals. I have received a considerable number of letters, especially from pensioners who are worried about the integrated bus service and the possible removal of their privileges on the west midlands bus routes. We cannot overlook those expressions of anxiety.
I am astounded and shocked that a Government, especially one who call themselves democratic, should consider introducing such a Bill, and be determined to steamroll the measure through the House in the face of united and determined opposition of hon. Members from all parties, all groups, all organisations and all elected representatives without consulting those who are most involved. It is an insult to all who believe in democracy and a slap in the face to all who spend time, effort and money helping disadvantaged people in our constituencies and regions, and other people who rely on the services that the regions provide.
The enormity of the proposals is further compounded by the evidence from Coopers and Lybrand. That firm is well known to the Government. Even the miserable sum of £100 million which the Government claim could be saved by this mayhem cannot be substantiated. The firm claims that the likely costs of the exercise in the six metropolitan county councils will be almost £70 million a year. The alternatives to the metropolitan councils are to be no fewer than 18 new joint boards for police, fire and transport. Those services now consume 67 per cent. of current metropolitan county council expenditure. The Government propose to transfer police, fire and transport, which take 67 per cent. of a £1·2 billion budget, from directly elected councils to Government quangos. A further 15 per cent. will be transferred to other agencies. That means that 82 per cent. of spending will he taken from elected councils. By any standards, that is highway robbery.
What will district councils get from the deal to finance the extra services that they. will have to take over? They will get less than one fifth of present expenditure. The West Midlands county council has allocated £280,000 to equal opportunities organisations, mainly to ethnic minority groups. Hon. Members know that we have a large number of ethnic minorities in the west midlands. Who will fund such work after dissolution?
The Government praise the voluntary sector from time to time. We all do, but voluntary bodies cannot meet the mounting demands for help by collecting pennies in the street. Who will give them the funds to carry out the important jobs which have already been placed on their shoulders?
With the Government's continuing attack on social services there is now greater need than ever to support voluntary bodies, yet the Government expect the boroughs and district councils to take on the responsibilities of providing grants to voluntary organisations. None can guarantee to do that, unless they receive additional resources. To replace the £60 million now being spent by the Greater London council and the metropolitan county councils, the Government are offering only £3·7 million a year for four years to ease the transitional period. That is nowhere near the present sum that voluntary organisations get to carry out their responsibilities. It is totally inadequate. Many organisations will fold and thousands of disadvantaged people, who now get help from voluntary bodies, which are supported by the metropolitan county councils will suffer. What will the Minister tell them?
The Secretary of State will become a dictator of the joint boards' finance. He could dictate about jobs, services, management, the block grant that they will receive, planning, highways, traffic powers, and airports. He could break up, without an inquiry, joint boards for police, fire and public transport. He could regulate salaries and interfere with all staffing levels of the district councils, and not just with the staff involved in the services that the councils are to inherit from the metropolitan county councils. The Bill provides a freeway for the Secretary of State to become an absolute dictator in local government.
Furthermore, the Secretary of State could create dozens of quangos. Conservative Members say that they do not like quangos, so the Secretary of State calls them residuary bodies. They will operate a wide range of other services at enormous additional cost, which will be borne by the wretched district councils, whose resources will be cut when the metropolitan county councils are abolished. The Secretary of State could amend primary legislation by order. What about the poor bewildered citizens on the receiving end? They will be utterly confused and frustrated by stifling, top-heavy bureaucracy. There will be umpteen different precepts, levies and charges, which will bewilder our citizens.
The Bill is a recipe for conflict. It is undemocratic and a huge step along the road to fascism. It will demolish locally elected bodies and replace them by non-elected quangos. What word other than fascism can describe that? In Germany, before the war, local authorities were abolished and Nazi quangos were installed to make it easier for the Nazi takeover. Such are the dangers we face in the Bill.
The Government's proposals are opposed by every democratic, academic, professional and environmental body. Many bodies that co-operate with the West Midlands county council have expressed their opposition to these proposals. Ten years ago a Tory Government created the metropolitan county councils. Now they seek to strangle them, when in every other democratic country regional problems and responsibilities are being resolved by regional authorities. Nevertheless, the Government seek to put the clock back.
If a Labour Government had proposed such a Bill, I can imagine the rage that Tory Members would have expressed in the House. I can hear the voice of the Prime Minister who, as Leader of the Opposition, would express her anxiety and fulminate against the killing of local democracy. She would stand at the Dispatch Box and call on her troops to fight the legislation every inch of the way. I promise the Government that all of us who care about the survival of local democracy and who share the views that have been expressed in plain terms by the metropolitan county councils will fight this legislation every inch of the way.
One point that has emerged during the debate is the feeling expressed by some hon. Members that the Greater London council and the metropolitan county councils should have been dealt with separately. Despite the hammer blows received recently to the belief that the House of Commons can still sometimes produce good legislation, this is undoubtedly a sad day. It gives me no pleasure to assert that this is undoubtedly one of the rather dubious Bills that the House has seen presented in recent years, irrespective of the party in government.
Although many keep quiet, it is widely known that this rather crude and unconsidered Bill was originally born from an abrupt and primitive political decision arising out of the worst kind of sudden-whim, sudden-hunch politics that Governments in Britain would not practise if it were harder for them to get bad Bills through this place.
It is staggering to reflect that a near 100-clause, hugely scheduled Bill such as this has never been properly discussed in the various party and Government circles since it was promulgated as a surprise insert tacked on to the last manifesto. An enabling Bill abolishing a whole tier of local government cannot possibly be examined properly from now on—as the guillotine will have to be applied. The whole measure rests on no outside, independent, searching expert inquiry as has always been the case in our United Kingdom tradition, and, as far as I can see, as was requested after the Marshall inquiry set up by the last but one Conservative GLC leader in 1977.
I am given to understand that the reason given in 1977 by those in the party responsible for such matters was that no more upheavals were justified and that people were tired of change. What a supreme irony. It is above all disturbing that our Tory colleagues at county hall were never consulted or warned that such a proposal was to be officially launched, and, as one said privately, that there was not even a single telephone call.
I am sad that our Cabinet colleagues at no time insisted upon a proper examination of this hugely complex matter before the die was cast in the creation of a thoroughly bad, ruthless Bill which has left the Civil Service smarting and furious and the Conservative party divided and miserable as never before.
We are always lectured by the Whips about loyalty. That is their job so I do not complain. But loyalty is a two-way thing. In a system where Governments elected on a minority popular vote can literally legislate anything they want, and where there are no checks and balances, no supreme court to declare something unconstitutional, the only restraint can emanate from the Govenment. It is a fiduciary, political responsibility not to push the party too far down a path which is widely regarded as wrong, silly and unjust, and not to push Parliament too far, especially when the seats majority is artificially inflated and not genuinely increased. In other words, they must not push the whole system of consent and restraint too far lest it breaks under the strain. Political wisdom and self-restraint are in many ways more important than convictions, politics and action.
There are many things wrong with this proposal, and the time is so limited that I do not know where to begin. The shortness of the time means that I can only cite a number of main drawbacks. The whole background is the total chaos of local authority financing.
This is an enabling Bill with excessively sweeping powers. It does not genuinely return powers to the boroughs as many would like. It is much more a centralisation measure and a number of clauses, from clause 83 to 90, give drastically sweeping discretionary powers to the Secretary of State that would be unacceptable whichever Government proposed them.
The London planning commision as proposed is a rather objectionable shadowy body, and I should hate to think what would happen in the future if it were in the wrong hands. It is wrong for Ministers to try to condemn the existing GLC set-up for excessive spending and then assert that it should be scrapped anyway, as county hall accounts for only 11 per cent. of total local service spending.
The whole aim of a strategic planning and co-ordinating body should be to operate on a modest budget even if it has primordial powers. The Bill is intrinsically unconstitutional. I hope that the House, and perhaps their Lordships, will have the courage to stand up to it and insist on sweeping amendments.
Even our normal supporters in the press have universally condemned these proposals. I am grateful for their support in other matters. They have certainly got it right. I quote from The Standard of 23 November:
When the legal jargon is translated it allows Mr. Jenkin, the Environment Secretary, or his successor, to add to, subtract from or otherwise tinker with the system in just about any way he please — up to and including abolishing the Inner London Education Authority or dispersing the fire service. And all without the tiresome bother of passing a further law through Parliament. Such sweeping central power ought to worry every London MP—and most of all even Tory MPs. It illustrates exactly why there is a continuing need for London to have an authority of its own to counter and contain Whitehall's inbuilt appetite for power.
On 20 September 1984, the Financial Times, hardly a Left-wing revolutionary newspaper, said:
The principle of unitary local government where it can be created without loss of efficiency or accountability is a desirable general objective. But London is different. It is both a collection of villages and small towns strung together by in-fill development and traffic jams and a cohesive capital city of international importance. The boroughs cater for the first, a city-wise authority — directly elected, with independent taxation revenues and powers to match its functions and status—is required for the second.
Those aspirations, coupled with the need for London to be a strong and authoritative strategic planning authority—of which my hon. Friend the Minister of State was in favour some years ago when we all wrote the pamphlet about collective responsibility — in general must represent a strong slice of overall parliamentary opinion in all parts of the House. That is why it is difficult or impossible to support the Bill as it stands, because the principle and detail are not merely wrong but profoundly disturbing in every way. The Government will, I am sure, see the wisdom of accepting later amendments to that end.
It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) who has turned the knife that was inserted by my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham). I agree with every word of the hon. Member for Harrow, East. The hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester) and others made some interesting points. I was surprised to hear the hon. Member for Withington praising the city of Manchester. It has been Labour controlled for many years. He usually criticises it. I did not think that I would ever hear him advocate that it should be given more powers.
I used to be a councillor in Manchester, and I witnessed his colleagues in the city voting consistently against supporting the Hallé orchestra and the Royal Exchange theatre. The orchestra was born out of the 69 Theatre and we fought for funds for it through the city council against the opposition of his supporters and Conservative councillors. I am pleased that he has been converted to support his Labour-controlled local authority and the work that it has done over the years.
Of course, in an ideal world, in theory everyone is in favour of unitary local government—one-tier authorities — if it is practical to have all services run by one unitary authority. The Redcliffe-Maud commission realised after a Royal Commission and public inquiry that it was not possible to run all regional and metropolitan services upon that basis. The Bill does not propose one-tier unitary local government. It will establish and keep in existence metropolitan regionally-run services. The only difference is that they will not be run by democratically-elected councillors.
The hon. Member for Withington spoke about a matter of identification, not election. The authority is easily identified, but so was Franco. Many people can be easily identified. Bureaucrats who run services are easily identified. People know who to go to. However, the nature of democracy is that once one has identified them and does not like what they are doing they can be got rid of. One cannot get rid of quangos or, by an election, a joint board that has been appointed by separate district authorities, because district authorities are elected on their record and not on the record of the joint board. That is nonsense.
The other argument that has been advanced by Conservative Members is that suddenly there is a difference. We must get rid of democratically elected local government because Left-wingers have been elected into power. That is what we have heard consistently from Conservative Members who support these abolition proposals. They are in favour of elections only if the people whom they like are elected.
The way to get rid of those councillors with whose political views Conservative Members disagree is through the ballot box, but that is not to be the way. I can imagine the anger—it emerged in the debate—of many hon. Members as they drive into the Merseyside or Manchester county council areas and see the nuclear-free zone signs. They are in favour of abolishing the metropolitan counties one way or another. If the Secretary of State for the Environment will not do it, they seem to fancy the idea of the nuclear bomb doing it. They are angry that there are people who run Labour-controlled metropolitan councils who want to abolish nuclear weapons, and they want to get rid of them. If they do not like it, they should re-elect Conservative councils in Merseyside and Greater Manchester. There used to be Conservative councils there, but the Government have been creating unemployment on such a massive scale that that is no longer possible. The abolition proposals were based on a misguided belief that they would prove electorally popular. The Government were obviously guided by short-term gains that were unrealised.
It is important to highlight the function of the threatened authorities in making a case against abolition. Merseyside county council has been so successful in carrying out its statutory functions that it would be a mistake to get rid of it. It spends more than £118 million, 40 per cent. of its entire budget, on protecting the public through the police, fire, trading standards, and coroner's services and prosecuting solicitors. The Conservatives claim that they are the party of law and order, but their policies are creating mass unemployment and civil unrest, increases in burglary and crime on Merseyside, and a massive increase in hard drug taking, particularly among young people. The Labour-controlled county council spent £94 million alone on the police service, and has provided the Merseyside police service with modern headquarters, equipment and communications services and eight new police stations, all of which have helped to increase efficiency and all of which are the kind of thing that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), who is paid by the Police Federation, mentioned earlier. The county council devotes much of its expenditure to crime prevention and protection of the public.
That background of increasing unemployment, and cuts in social, education and community services, is causing an increase in the crime rate. Police pay is one of the council's highest costs, and abolition will not reduce that. For the hon. Member for Withington to say that the claims of a possible police state were exaggerated, when he has Mr. Anderton, who is a cult figure of the Right, as his chief constable, proves that there is no democratic accountability as there was with the old watch committees. The only argument against the Bill from the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds referred to the one part of the Bill that I support—the possibility of returning police forces to democratic accountability and elected control.
The Merseyside county council has also ensured that there is adequate investment in the fire service. It has the busiest fire service outside London. It costs £22 million to run, and that will be taken out of democratic control. Since 1964, the council has created an integrated transport system, and completed the loop and link network to the underground rail system in the centre of Liverpool. It has invested £16 million in rolling stock on the Merseyrail northern line, and £20 million is planned for replacing the rolling stock on the Wirral line. It has continued massive improvements in Liverpool airport, and maintained the Mersey ferries, which are part of Liverpool's history and which will go if the Merseyside county council is abolished. The airport will also be under threat.
The services provided by the county council are many and I do not intend to list them all. There is one, however that is of fundamental importance—the council's role of economic and job creation in an area that has been hit with massively high unemployment. I see that in my Bootle constituency every weekend. Acting as a catalyst, the county council has co-ordinated the efforts of the public and private sectors in exciting, innovative ways, which I should have thought that even Conservative Members would have welcomed. It has set up companies responsive to the needs of the private and voluntary sectors, to provide both economic and environmental initiatives.
Where it has been possible to further the policies of urban regeneration, the county council has exploited the potential in Government programmes. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) was chairman of the committee that did this for many years, and I pay tribute to the work that it did. It was successful with such things as the maritime museum and a variety of urban regeneration programmes such as the redevelopment of redundant docklands, which I wish was happening in my constituency. It may be possible for the county council to develop policies to move out into Bootle, but it cannot do that if it is abolished. Many other things have been done.
The Government should realise that the value for money of Merseyside county council is recognised by the people of the area. Costs will not diminish with joint boards and the quangos. The reorganisation will cost a fortune. Those Conservative Members who secretly have their eye on the GLC building as offices for Members of Parliament after abolition should say where the joint boards and quangos are to go. There will be no space across the river for offices. We should do better to abolish the House of Lords and use its offices.
The Bill will not make local government more local. The biggest and most costly services—police, fire and public transport — are to be put into the hands of unelected joint boards. Those services represent 67 per cent. of current Merseyside county council expenditure. It is a recipe for bureaucracy, for increased inefficiency, for the public being unable to identify who is responsible for what. The Bill is motivated by political spite. Labour councils have taken the initiative, in the tradition of previous Labour councils, which pioneered gas, water, electricity and the first police force. This time, with limited resources and the Tory Government pressing on them, they have pioneered policies against discrimination in support of blacks, Asians, women, gays, the handicapped and the peace movement, to develop co-operatives, to organise tenants and residents' groups in a way that is changing the nature of our society and challenging the crime of the get-rich-quick-spiv society that the Conservatives support. As a result, these bodies are to be abolished.
Before I launch into my remarks on the Bill, I should like to take the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) to task for including the Merseyside development corporation in his remarks about the London Docklands development corporation. I am not qualified to talk about the LDDC, but I am qualified to talk on what the MDC has been able to achieve. I do not think that anybody would take anything from the outstanding achievement of that body in 1984, and the international garden festival.
The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) referred to the Redcliffe-Maud commission, which reported in 1969. Before 1968, I was one of the members of a council that made submissions to the Redcliffe-Maud committee. Overwhelmingly, the consensus among politicians of all parties was that unitary local authorities were preferred. It is now a matter of history that the 1972 Act, which was brought in by the Conservative Government of that time, went against the wishes of myself and many of my fellow councillors of all political persuasions, and set up the metropolitan county councils.
I opposed that move then because I thought that it was wrong, and nothing that has happened in the intervening period has made me think that the views that I held then are wrong today. However, it was an Act of Parliament, and in 1974, when that Act became effective, we tried our best to make it work. As one of the local government leaders on Merseyside, I can honestly say that I did all that I could to try to make the Merseyside county council work. I do not think that anybody who knows my record at that time would dispute that. However, I feel that it is not just a coincidence that, since the change in 1974, we have also seen an over-politicisation in local government, which I deplore. As much as anything, that is because today councils are too large.
I remain unrepentant in my belief that the county boroughs were an ideal vehicle for local government. They were innovative, responsive and identifiable. Therefore, I welcome this attempt—we shall have to see how it works out—to devolve some of the powers back to the primary authorities which were split by the 1972 Act.
We have lost the word "local" from local government. We have to try to put it back. But I am not so naive as to believe that we can ignore what has happened in the last 10 years and even before that.
We have heard much criticism of joint boards. Joint boards are nothing new. In 1968, the passenger transport authorities were created. They were joint boards. I was a member of the Merseyside passenger transport authority. The authorities were set up because it was recognised that there was a need in certain services for a slightly wider area of control than that operated by the county boroughs. They worked well, although they had their limitations. But to pretend that a joint board comprised of elected councillors who are nominated by their sponsoring authorities is somehow undemocratic is to misunderstand the nature of joint boards. They are subject to the democratic control of democratically elected councillors who are there to make decisions on behalf of their respective conurbations.
We have to accept delegation to our colleagues, which we all do every day in the House. If we cannot accept that same delegation to our colleagues in local councils, we show that we have precious little faith in local government.
Although I believe that the Bill is an important step along the road, I do not believe that it is or should be the end of the road. We have heard already from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that a review is under way and that its remit is extremely wide. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester) spoke of the need for a broad approach to the services being operated. It is also important to recognise, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) said, that we have not got it right in the past because we have limited the scope of the reviews that we have undertaken.
I make no apology for saying that the time has come —I hope that this review will do it—to look at the structures, the finances and the functions —[Interruption.] I refer hon. Members to my earlier comment. I was referring to the review set up by my right hon. Friend to look at local government finances and structures.
I agree that we have to look at the elements together, but for all the reasons that my experience as a local councillor gives me, plus the critical examination that I have made of the part played by the metropolitan county councils since their inception in 1974, I cannot believe that there is any justification for continuing with these authorities for one moment longer than necessary. In my view, they have failed totally to create the sort of role for themselves that the proponents of the 1972 Act envisaged.
The county councils have had some successes—how could they fail to, with the massive resources available to them?—but are we seriously suggesting that we need this tier of bureaucracy to run a joint board for a police force or for transport? I cannot believe it.
The hon. Member for Bootle paraded the successes of the Merseyside county council. I have not time to go into the excesses of the county council save to mention one. One of the excessive acts of the county council meant that, for the first time in its history, Merseyside was effectively split in half when the county council managed to close the Mersey tunnel. That has done more harm on Merseyside than any other action that could be suggested. It gives me no satisfaction to say 10 years on, "I told you so." All that I was saying and was supported in saying by many of my colleagues in 1972, 1973 and 1974 has been proven abundantly.
I represent a constituency in west Yorkshire, and the West Yorkshire county council, under the administration of its Labour group, has a great deal of which to be proud. Since the reorganisation of local government in 1974 the county council has been controlled by both the Labour party and the Tory party. With each change of control, the case has been made for the continuation of the county council.
My constituents support the continuation of the county council. That is demonstrated by the number of people who have taken the time and in many cases the trouble to write to me as their Member of Parliament asking me to defend the county council and to vote against the Government's proposals to abolish the metropolitan district county councils. I have received hundreds of such letters, and I feel that the Minister should take note of the wishes of the people of west Yorkshire.
On no occasion has anyone suggested, either by making representations at advisory meetings or by letter, that the Government's proposals are bona fide for the West Yorkshire metropolitan county.
I want briefly to highlight some of the work of the county council. In the mining areas of west Yorkshire a number of collieries have closed. One of the outstanding features of the county council is its land reclamation schemes. In my constituency I have the former West Riding and Whitwood collieries, the latter adjoining the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse).
The land reclamation work done by West Yorkshire county council is a remarkable achievement, and it has been well received by the people in the area. According to the proposals contained in the Bill, the authorities that will be taking over responsibility for land reclamation will not be sufficiently large to carry out the work that west Yorkshire has been doing. I fear that we shall lose the valuable contribution towards land reclamation which is made by the county council. On the other side of my constituency, which borders the Dewsbury constituency, reclamation work has been carried out on the former Shawcross colliery site and also on the site of a disused railway and tunnel. The work which has been carried out by the county council has been excellent. I fear, as do the people in my constituency, that we shall lose that kind of service and the valuable contribution which is made towards improving the areas. It is on that premise that I ask for the Bill to be rejected.
Furthermore, West Yorkshire county council has been instrumental in providing job opportunities and the resources to develop further job opportunities in the area. If we do not allow the county councils to continue to provide that kind of back-up and service to people who want to develop job opportunities in the area, I fear that there will be further additions to the vast numbers of unemployed people in the area.
The Secretary of State impressed neither me nor anybody else on this side of the House by the way he presented the case. At no time has any proof been produced by the Secretary of State or any of the Government's supporters that what they propose is valuable and will work. The proposed savings are arbitrary. The county councils have said that there may be problems, but until there is some justification for the proposals this Bill cannot be justified.
You are aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as are other hon. Members, that there have been calls for an inquiry into the operation of the county councils. They have been rejected in total by the Government. They fear that if they had to hold a genuine inquiry into the operation of the county councils they would lose the argument. The county councils are doing a worthwhile job. This can be proved. The Government are afraid to allow an inquiry to be carried out, because there is no foundation for any of the points which they have made both in the paving Bill and in this Bill.
We believe that the policies of the county councils have been successful. We have witness of that success, in transport, land reclamation, job opportunities, planning and a number of other areas. The six metropolitan county councils and the Greater London council have had huge successes. We are aware of the frustration caused by the repeated inability of the Government to find an acceptable alternative to the present rating system. We are aware of the promises which have been made by the Prime Minister and other members of the Government to abolish the domestic rating system. We are also aware that, after a time, they have had to admit that it is not possible to abolish it. To provide some appeasement, they have introduced a local government Bill to abolish the county councils.
Having worked with the county councils and noted the contributions they have made, one can only say that abolition will leave a great void which cannot be filled by quangos or by joint committees. The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Thornton) referred to the work of the joint boards. Before coming to this House, I served on the Yorkshire water authority. If these quangos are to operate like the Yorkshire water authority, I foresee increased charges and no savings whatsoever. Little information will be made available to the people who will be paying for the service. This is happening now. The meetings of the regional water authority in Yorkshire are held in secret. Nobody is permitted to listen to its deliberations. One can readily foresee that when the quangos are formed they will be only one step away from that situation, which could develop when providing the services listed in the Bill. If the practice of the Government is going to be to set up quangos so that they can be controlled by the Secretary of State, I hope that the electorate will take note of it.
Finally, we were advised by the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester) that in his opinion the Bill would create single-tier authorities. If that is the philosophy being fed to Conservative Back Benchers, they are being misled. There is no foundation for the creation of single-tier authorities in the Bill. I hope that Conservative Members will take note of the constructive points which have been made as to why the Bill should not be accepted. I appeal to hon. Members to reject the Bill out of hand.
I begin by paying tribute to the undoubted hard work and success of many of the talented people employed by the metropolitan counties. There is no doubt that in Tyne and Wear, the county which covers my constituency, much has been achieved with services over the last decade. The officers and local government civil servants running some of the provisions on the ground — consumer advice, trading standards, archives, the fire service, the mending of roads, transport, and so on — have undoubtedly rendered good public service. To denounce all of them, as some people have done, is not just churlish, derogatory and personally insulting to many but highly dangerous to the whole edifice of local government. Whatever else, we must be very wary that we do not throw out the baby with the bath water.
My first concern is that essential services should be preserved at effective levels and not disrupted or rendered less effective by reorganisation. My second concern is that any reorganisation should happen only if those services can be provided more democratically and efficiently and with better value for money. If that is not achieved, my right hon. Friend and all my hon. Friends will rue the day that this move was ever contemplated. Nevertheless, it is evident that such services can be provided perfectly well under a variety of structures. It is the service that matters far more than the edifice itself, so long as that is democratic. There is clearly no point, and certainly a great cost, in constructing unnecessary tiers, with all the bureaucracies and administrative red tape such structures tend to attract. Remoteness, complexity, bureaucracy and centralisation are all enemies of democracy. This is not just a bland assertion. It was overwhelmingly demonstrated in 1974 and afterwards. Everyone saw the massive cost to the public of that 1974 reorganisation, which was a disaster in conception, but an even worse calamity in practice.
The case for the different metropolitan counties was of varying strengths. The case for Tyne and Wear was the weakest. There was no political demand for the county and certainly no public demand. There was little rational justification for the geographical unit. Tyneside and Wearside were lumped together in an uneasy conglomeration, where areas of common concern were outweighed by a diversity of interests, aspirations and traditions.
From the word go, the districts regarded the county as less democratic, more remote and a centralisation rather than a devolution of power. They registered their opposition. By 1975, every district council in Tyne and Wear had registered its opposition to the county tier.
The then leader of Newcastle city council wrote to the then Prime Minister:
My council believe that the Local Government Act 1974 has created a considerable amount of duplication in Metropolitan areas; greatly increased costs of administering Local Government services and in many areas seriously reduced the effectiveness of these services and I would urge you to give careful consideration to the Sheffield resolution.
That resolution said that metropolitan districts could administer all local council services more efficiently, economically and viably than could the metropolitan county councils.
Is the hon. Gentleman worried by the fact that some of the architects of what he calls the disastrous local government reorganisation—and other reorganisations, including the health authority reorganisation — are sitting on the Government Front Bench? Indeed, one of the main architects of the bureaucratic muck-ups is to wind up the debate tonight.
I am pleased by that, because it shows that my right hon. Friends have the flexibility of mind to be able to recognise their own political mistakes, which is more than can be said for many Labour Members.
People realised that the few services that could be provided by a larger local government unit than the already very large metropolitan districts were certainly not sufficient to justify a new structure and tier. Even Tyne and Wear county council soon realised that. The result was a rapid search for work to fill idle hands.
In the 1970s, when, as a journalist, I attended most of the county's major committee meetings, I found it entertaining to see the spawning of new responsibilities, self-appointed units and more tasks, in a frantic striving for self-justification. While the chief executive for the county gathered titles, varying, from time to time, from secretary to the joint police authority to chairman of the transport executive, to secretary to the joint airports authority to secretary of the North-East County Councils Association, his chief officers became directors and later took on the grand titles of executive directors, with even grander salaries to match.
Meanwhile, council leaders created one new committee after another, with a plethora of sub-committees and panels and a strange familiarity of faces appearing each time. As the international committee promised to be the foreign affairs arm of the county, promoting goodwill trips abroad, and the economic planning committee sought to build collectivism on Tyneside, more and more planners sought to intervene in the lives of ordinary people by deciding what they thought was best for people, rather than freeing the people to decide for themselves.
The county's response to the inevitable criticism of its inflation of activities was not to moderate, but instead to become less accountable and more dictatorial and to shrink behind closed doors, banning the public and press from a host of important decision-making committees. By 1979, that process had given Tyne and Wear county council one of the worst reputations for closed government, inaccessibility and lack of accountability. No one can seriously believe that decisions taken by a cabal of about half a dozen machine politicians, behind closed doors, amounts to democracy.
The defence of Tyne and Wear has nothing to do with democracy and everything to do with vested interests and defending the accretion of power by a few headstrong men — super bureaucrats in the administration and senior political apparatchiks in the elite of County Durham Socialism, who have manipulated the genuine and good men lower down the chain of command.
However, in the past few years, there have been some changes. The idle hands have turned themselves from self-aggrandisement to mischief-making. Tyne and Wear has been infected by the political and financial irresponsibility that has rotted other parts of this tier of local government.
No. Time is pressing. If it were not for the 10-minute rule, I would give way. However, the hon. Gentleman may be interested to hear of the latest example of irresponsibility. It is the "Anti-Leon Brittan Campaign", which said in a recent leaflet:
Boycott Brittan. Why? Because, as Home Secretary he has engineered the new Police Bill which is designed to contain and suppress social unrest, especially among the 4 million unemployed.
That committee is indirectly funded by the ratepayers of Tyne and Wear, via the so-called Centre for the Unemployed.
Other examples abound. The most instructive occurred just a few months ago when the county donated over £250,000 to the miners. That decision paid no regard to democracy or to public opinion in the area. There was a massive and immediate response from the public through petitions and objections to the decision.
My support for the Bill does not stem from political vindictiveness. It is not because Tyne and Wear is Labour-controlled. Conservatives knew that that would be the case when the county council was first set up, yet it was still set up. It is not only because of the examples of abuse that I oppose the council, because they could be dealt with by amending legislation. I support the Bill because I believe that democracy, specifically local democracy, is best served by bringing government down a tier and closer to people, which the Bill, although not perfect, will generally achieve. Services will be brought closer to the people, enabling greater communication and consultation. There will be closer scrutiny and greater efficiency, springing from the removal of an unnecessary level of administration.
Tyne and Wear is a failed experiment. It is not a monument to democracy. It is a monument to centralisation and to self-interested bureaucracy and rule by a small and remote power elite. I believe that I speak for the vast majority not only of my constituents, but of the population of the Tyne and Wear area when I say, abolish it.
I never expected to see the day when I would rise in the House to speak about a Bill whose provisions, when combined with earlier rate-capping measures, seek to destroy local government as an independent democratic force. Those measures can be understood only as part of a process in which the modern corporate state first moves towards and then elides with the authoritarian state.
Increasingly, the Government are saying to corporate interests, among which I include local government interests, that it is so difficult to run a complex modern industrial society that those interests can no longer remain part of the decision-taking process and can no longer be allowed to help fashion the corporate consensus.
The GLC and the metropolitan counties have shown themselves so uninterested in consensus politics that they are regarded as positively subversive. My brief intervention will support the subversives.
I wish to concentrate on only one aspect — the damaging effects on art and culture in Britain that will result from the Bill. I shall start with Hackney and move outwards. This morning, I asked the GLC for a computer printout of all the bodies in Hackney to which it gave grants. I was amazed at the breadth, depth and freshness of it all.
Important artistic centres such as the Hoxton hall, Chats palace and the Rio cinema receive grants, as do innumerable theatre groups such as the Little Women theatre company, Theatre of Thedelma, Theatre of Black Women, Inner City theatre company and the British Asian theatre company. Music groups receive considerable grants, including the Jenako rhythm group and the Triangle music workshop. Mural painting is helped through the Ray Walker memorial committee and some 15 other community arts groups receive grants from the GLC.
Most of those groups will be at risk if the GLC is abolished, and a number of them will certainly die. With rate-capping, there is no question of the London borough of Hackney stepping in to help. There is no question of clause 46, headed "Grants to voluntary organisations", being able to help either.
It seems a wanton waste of local talent and energy to destroy what has been built up over the years. It is an insensitive denial of artistic imagination and cultural responsibility that will render barren the hopes and aspirations of many people in the inner city area. Tonight and tomorrow, and for God knows how long, the philistines will have it in the House.
I could not help contrasting the "stuff the people of Hackney" policy with the attempt in the Bill to save high and prestigious art. I cannot express my unhappiness that under clause 45 the South Bank complex —the Royal Festival hall, the Queen Elizabeth hall, the Purcell room, the National Theatre, the National Film Theatre and the Hayward gallery — will be handed over to the Arts Council.
I do not agree with Lord Goodman when he says that the Arts Council is a "wholly successful English institution". An analysis of its operations and the ideology behind them shows it to be a disingenuous hypocritical provenor of art that is restrictive and elitist, oligarchic and discriminatory. Is it not odd that the Government should be seeking to hand over this vast swathe of British cultural life to the Arts Council at precisely the time when the Labour party is on the verge of coming forward with proposals to abolish that institution?
The GLC has sought to make art in London popular, accessible and capable of commitment and an expression of the aesthetic needs and wishes of all the people of the capital. That is not and never has been the role of the Arts Council since it was founded by the great Keynes. Nowhere is the attitude of the Arts Council better exemplified than at the Hayward gallery.
To its eternal shame, the Arts Council, as ideologically motivated a body as I know in Britain, has encouraged and developed the notion of an exclusive Mandarin art as the only good art, and it has backed the notion through a network of administrators, dealers and cultural entrepreneurs. When it puts on shows it does not go to the artists' studios where the work is but to artists' addresses where artists represent some great but ill-defined new god called Taste. Then it takes us one step further down the road and encourages us to believe that art itself, and not the world, should be the focus of the artist's imagination.
It was partly to break free of those concepts that the GLC decided to evict the Arts Council from the Hayward gallery, although the truth is that the chairman of the Arts Council, Rees Mogg, had been trying to hand over for some time to the British Film Institute for a museum of moving images. That being so, the current legal actions by the Arts Council against the GLC is an abuse of the due process of law.
If the Arts Council claims that it supports an art that is universal, timeless and free, surely the GLC and the rest of us have the right to ask why the Hayward gallery and other galleries supported by the Arts Council have persisted in the notion that great art is a male activity in which male genius communes itself with nature. Why has the Arts Council tried to marginalise, reject and define as bad the work of women artists?
The disgraceful facts of the last 12 years are these. In 1972 the New Art exhibition at the Hayward gallery and the British Sculpture 72 show at the Royal Academy failed to include any work by women. Two years later, the exhibition British Painting 1974 at the Hayward showed works by 106 men but only 16 women. The first Hayward annual show, designated to present the accumulated development of British art, had just one woman exhibitor and 32 men. In 1977 the British Painting 1952–1977 exhibition at the Royal Academy had works by 172 men but only 22 women. Finally, of 28 one-person shows in the past 16 years at the Hayward gallery, only three have been by women. It is no use saying that one Hayward annual show was sponsored by six women, particularly when the art establishment responded with such snide jibes as,
Ladies night at the Hayward
No deadlier than the male
Of course the GLC is right to criticise the Arts Council and the Hayward gallery. Anyone who has read that monumental work "Old Mistresses": Women, Art and Ideology" by Rossita Parker and Griselda Polock and, more recently, "The Subversive Stitch" by Rossita Parker will see how justified are the attacks of the GLC and the rest of us on the art establishment and the Arts Council for constantly denigrating women's art.
It all reminds me of that terrifying phrase of Mrs. Hugo Read:
Woman is taught to believe that for one half of the human race, the highest form of civilisation is to cling upon the other, like a weed on a wall".
I am bound to tell Mrs. Read, as she stirs uneasily in her grave, that if clause 45 is enacted it will continue like that — with the sublimation, subjugation, oppression and sheer nasty contempt shown by the Arts Council towards women artists.
As with women, so with blacks and other ethnic minorities which the GLC has tried to help. Raschid Areen has written eloquently of 10 years of an attempt to get one black person to put on an exhibition at the Hayward and he failed miserably. Of 128 shows put on by the Arts Council at the Hayward, only 11 have dealt with art outside the United States and Europe. Even the very globe itself shrivels in the hands of the Arts Council.
I do not know why the Arts Council does not follow the GLC and admit that all art, in its creation, in its meanings and interpretations, and in the uses to which it is put, is political. That applies as much whether we are talking about a 15th century Italian Renaissance painting by Filippo Lippi or a modern abstract painting by Mark Rothko.
Is it not significant that a few weeks ago the GLC sponsored an exhibition by Amnesty on the theme of torture? Is it not significant that next October the GLC at the Festival hall is sponsoring a major exhibition organised by Anti-apartheid, backed by Hugh Casson and Peter de Francia, the distinguished Communist professor of painting at the Royal College of Art. Who can conceive of the Arts Council backing that kind of approach? Like Pontius Pilate, it prefers to wash its hands clean of the problems of the world it purports to serve.
Let there he no mistake, there will be an enormous loss to our cultural heritage if the GLC is abolished, precisely because that artistic and cultural drive which creates and protects our civilisation is the first thing that barbarians the world over, as well as on the Conservative Benches, seek to destroy. On the forty-third etching of Goya's Los Caprichos is written the words,
The sleep of reason produces monsters".
I believe, and I am sure that the people of Britain believe, that it is better to reject the monsters of the Bill and to support the imagination and vision of the metropolitan authorities and the GLC.
All Conservative Members must be extremely grateful for the passionate and well-informed speech that we have just heard from the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore). I am not sure who has the reproduction rights of that speech, but if I could play that speech in Harrow the large number of people who are now deserting the "Save the GLC" campaign would turn into a torrent.
One thing shines out from the speeches of all Opposition Members bar one like a lighthouse on a clear dark night and that is their lack of faith in local borough councils. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) is not in the Chamber, because I thought that he made the wittiest and most well-turned speech from the Opposition Front Bench that I have heard in many a long year. But it was full of hatred of the boroughs. He had no trust whatever in them. He said that the only safeguard lay in the GLC and the metropolitan counties — [Interruption.] I listened to the hon. Gentleman's speech and it was full of criticism. He said that what the GLC and the metropolitan counties had done was good, and that it would not be done by the boroughs. But I believe that it will be done by the boroughs, because the Bill brings local government to the people.
I am grateful for the fact that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science and my right hon. Friend the Minister are on the Front Bench to listen to me, because I want to tell them of my wholehearted support for this excellent Bill. But in case anyone should think me unguardedly sycophantic I shall make one major criticism. I cannot think why the Government did not take this opportunity to abolish ILEA. That would have completed the circle and returned responsibility for local people to the boroughs where it belongs.
The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) is the next door neighbour of the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse), and I shall refer to the speech of the hon. Member for Normanton first. [Interruption.] If I am wrong about their being next door neighbours, I apologise. But I shall give way to the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford when I have finished my joke. It is a joke with a twist in the tail for my right hon. Friend the Minister. The hon. Member for Normanton spoke about water authorities putting up prices. But the Thames water authority, which is efficiently run by the new organisation, is dying to reduce the water rates. However, it tells me that by some complicated means my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is trying to make it increase them. Nevertheless, that is the subject of a different debate and I shall not cloud the happy water between us now.
My son was the hon. Gentleman's opponent during his campaign, but he always had great respect for him and, indeed, still does. I have always reciprocated that goodwill, especially when there has been any pairing in the offing.
About six months or a year ago I received many letters from voluntary organisations that were worried about the future of their funding. But my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was then very properly consulting all those organisations. Those arts groups, ancient historic buildings and archaeological societies are now happy and relaxed about the new means that my right hon. Friend has found in order to look after them.
But the criticisms of those people are far less uncomfortable to me—this is the sort of Oxford group stuff—than the attitudes of my old Conservative friends who have served on the GLC for many years. They are sad about the demise of an organisatiion that they have served well, and for which they have great respect and affection. Hardly any of them want the GLC to continue as it is. They would be happy to have a much smaller residual GLC mark two—[Interruption.] It would be directly elected. But it would be a big waste of time and money to elect some new organisation just to wash up what is left after this Bill is enacted. Indeed, I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) also said that there might be a small elected GLC mark two. I should be very happy if my right hon. Friend and his right hon. Friend — there are so many right hon. Friends about tonight that I almost get bewildered — felt that the London Boroughs Association could be invested with a greater authority and perhaps be given some ceremonial aspects to its work.
Mr. Deputy Speaker wants me to conclude my speech, and I have only just—
I entirely agree, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but the applause of Opposition Members has lengthened my speech rather unnecessarily. London does not need a great central figure, because it already has one —the Lord Mayor of London—[Interruption.] I speak as a liveryman of the Grocers Company. If there has to be a great ceremonial spokesman for London, the Lord Mayor is the man.
I shall now conclude by referring to the Bill. The GLC has been the greatest flop and disaster that this country has ever known when it comes to our highways. I made a very interesting speech about 15 years ago in an Adjournment debate when I tried to get a road put right outside Northwick Park hospital in my constituency. If that road had been the responsibility of Harrow, Brent or the Ministry of Transport, it would have been widened and would not have been a tremendous danger. The danger remains, and we must rectify the problem—
Thank you for your protection, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in these trying circumstances. I am glad that, some 10 minutes after he began his speech, the joke by the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Sir J. Page) has finished. I return to the reality of the Bill.
We are talking about a sustained attack on our democratic structures. This is a particularly bitter pill to swallow for those hon. Members who come from the metropolitan county areas. The Government, because of the knee-jerk ideological responses from Conservative Back Benchers, had it in for the GLC. Because the Government could not sustain the arguments about the GLC's abolition, they had to cotton on to the metropolitan counties to give the legislation a veneer of respectability. It is a shame that tonight we have heard an attack by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Merchant) on members of local authorities, especially in the north-east. He attacked people who had served local government honourably for many years. We heard personalised attacks because they were the only possible justification for an attack on the metropolitan counties which are generally recognised as successful in metropolitan areas such as Greater Manchester.
I shall briefly follow the lines discussed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore) in talking about the arts. The hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester), who represents the Greater Manchester area as well, is satisfied with the provision for the arts after the abolition of the Greater Manchester council. He suggested that the Government have agreed already to underwrite the GMC's arts programme. It must be clearly understood that, should the Government agree to fund what they describe as the major performing bodies—the Royal Exchange theatre, the Hallé orchestra and the Northern ballet—there is no guarantee that bodies such as the Whitworth gallery will receive any support. The Government have given no undertaking to find well over £750,000—more than half the GMC's arts budget—for those bodies. That concerns me and many other bodies, including North West Arts. We feel strongly that the boroughs, despite the defence by Conservative Members, will not provide the necessary service.
I was once a councillor on the Trafford borough council — Trafford falls within my constituency — and that council has never been notorious for spending. In fact, the council has been notorious for avoiding spending, whether on social services, housing or any other service. It is inconceivable that that council will gratefully accept the possibility of taking on responsibility for the services that will be transferred to it. That is consistent with the report produced by PA Management Consultants, which was asked to examine the non-economic cost of abolition. The consultants stated:
overall we have been unable to find a single service where the quality of service to the local elector is likely to be improved as a result of the change in structure. In many cases we believe there will be a marked decline in quality".
That is the view of most people in the Greater Manchester area. That is why people are worried about what will happen to public transport. They are concerned about the police committee and fire service because there will no longer be adequate democratic access to those bodies. Conservative Members kid themselves that indirect democracy is the same thing.
At the moment, if I wish, I can speak to my local councillor about the problems of the police committee and the fire service. Even if he is not a member of the particular committee involved, my councillor can have an impact because he is a member of the county council. Once the indirectly elected bodies come into being, the individual local authority councils will have no greater impact on the indirectly elected bodies than I will. The ordinary members of the public will not have the necessary access to that body to make an impact.
The legislation cannot be equated with an extension of democracy when we note that 70 per cent. of the work of the metropolitan counties will be passed not to the boroughs or to groups closer to the public, as Conservative Members pretend, but to the plethora of indirectly elected bodies—joint boards and committees—most of which mean little to me and even less to my constituents who will face the problem of ascertaining how to put pressure on those bodies.
My hon. Friend says that he will, and who am I to argue? The burden will fall on Members of Parliament to sort out the problems, because the public will not have access to those who make the decisions. People will come to Members of Parliament because they will have influence. Hon. Members will not, however, have greater influence over the joint bodies, and that is the tragedy. There will not be increased democracy, accountability and closeness to the public. In fact, these bodies will move further from the public's ability to influence and to translate their aspirations into the policies of those bodies.
Many hon. Members who have served in local government organisations have had experience of indirectly elected bodies of one kind or another. When I was a councillor on the Trafford borough council, I served on bodies to which I was nominated by the council. In general, they were disastrous bodies on which to serve because of their remoteness from the public. Even bodies such as the district health authorities are remote from the public and local councillors. The public do not believe that they can adequately influence any indirectly elected councillors or the organisations' behaviour. As a local councillor I never fought an election saying, "I shall have an interest not only in housing and education but in the NHS." That does not happen. Conservative Members believe in a myth if they pretend that that is what happens.
Many hon. Members are worried about the cost of abolition. On many occasions, the Secretary of State has been pestered to come clean and give his estimates of those costs. What really is the cost of abolition and the ongoing costs of financing the new quangos, which will be unrepresentative of the public and which can, therefore, more or less please themselves about their costs? Not only the Opposition but the Manchester chamber of commerce are worried about the effects of this measure. Some months ago, the Manchester chamber of commerce wrote to all hon. Members who represent Manchester constituencies pointing out that if it does not have adequate cost figures it will be suspicious about and feel jaundiced towards the whole proposal for the abolition of the metropolitan councils. The chamber of commerce and the Opposition believe that the abolition decision is based purely on ideology and bears no relation to the cost structure. Amounts of £50 million are bandied around. Such a figure is frightening when we consider that that is the initial cost of abolition of the counties. We must consider the many years over which the interest payments will accrue. Economically, this measure cannot make any sense.
I return to my original theme. The public in the Greater Manchester area recognise that the decision to abolish the metropolitan county councils was an act of political spite that saw its birth the moment Conservative Members lost control of those metropolitan counties. It is an act of political spite that the Government will deeply regret. The public will not understand the diminution in the quality of service. They will not understand why they are forced to make sacrifices to pander to Government Back Benchers or the backwoodsmen on the more narrow-minded district councils throughout the country.
Today's debate is one small step for this Parliament, but it is one giant leap for Birmingham. This is a great day for Birmingham, but 1 April 1986 will be greater still because we shall get back that which was taken from us 10 or 11 years ago when the West Midlands county council was set up.
It would be wrong for me to pay too much attention to the goings on in the Greater London council. The only information that I have read is what I have culled from Private Eye. If what I have read there is the tip of the iceberg, the rest does not bear thinking about.
There may be arguments for and against plans for the other metropolitan counties such as Tyne and Wear, Manchester, Liverpool and elsewhere, but there is no case for the West Midlands county council. There never was a case and there is even less of a case today. If one asks any true Coventrian, any Brummie or Wulfrunian they will all say the same. They will say that they are prepared and want to stand on their own to meet the challenges of their society and of their future, with their own resources and using their own democratic process.
The arguments for the metroplitan counties have been well rehearsed but the two-tier system has led to confusion among the electorate and difficulties for all involved. For instance, snow-clearing and road-gritting in the west midlands cause problems because the county clears the main roads and the local authorities the minor roads. Gritting teams cross each other, unable to grit certain roads because it is the other authority's responsibility.
The problem with local government reform in the 1970s was that only one target was in mind—how big it could be made. The philosophy was that big was beautiful and big spelt efficiency. I with others fought long and hard when the Maud report came out. We did not like the result in 1974 and we have campaigned against it ever since. Many hon. Members will recall the words of the late Sir Frank Griffin, the leader of the Birmingham city council, who spoke at innumerable Conservative party conferences saying that Britain's second city demanded its own authority back.
All political parties in Birmingham are behind restoring authority to the city. Few words have been spoken against the Government's policy by any political party in Birmingham. Birmingham has over 1 million inhabitants who can run their affairs efficiently and properly. It is the right size.
Since 1974, Birmingham has steadily declined as a second city as a result of strategic influence being lost and because the West Midlands county council has had too wide an area to control and look after. No account has been taken of the districts.
All political parties are generally of the opinion that once the total local government authority is back in the city's power we shall be better able to face the challenges of the next decade.
I assume that the ignorance displayed by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) arises from his arrival in Birmingham being so recent. If he knew the city better he would know that his claim is false. The Labour party was critical of the original settlement in its detail but it never favoured the abolition of democracy — the retention of a second tier with no democratic accountability. That is the view of the Labour party in Birmingham.
The answer is that I have lived in or around Birmingham for about 41 years. Some of my family were born there, and my father ran a shop in Corporation street for 44 years, so I think that my credentials are impeccable. I was educated in the city and spent a large part of my life working there. I think that I know the city as well as anybody else, and probably a good deal better than some other Members of Parliament.
The arrangements for the transition of power back to the constituent authorities—the district councils and the city of Birmingham—perhaps leave a little to be desired, but it is still a significant step forward.
Before my hon. Friend leaves his point about the Labour party's attitude to the reforms in Birmingham, may I ask him whether he has read the remarks of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) in the Sutton Coldfield News of 23 September 1983? He said:
I do not intend to lift one legislative finger to stop the return of single tier government to Birmingham. That was the view of all the City councillors and it was clearly the view of all West Midland MPs before the election.
It is in part II, which refers to the transfer of functions. Much of the work now undertaken by the county council in regard to roads, strategic planning, and so on, will be handed back to the local authorities, and rightly so.
In referring to the police service, I am slightly at odds with my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). The chief constable of the west midlands is on record as saying that the city of Birmingham could well manage its own police force. He has, in proposals to the Home Secretary, said that the West Midlands police force could be split into three separate authorities, although Coventry and Solihull could well go back into the Warwickshire constabulary, where they were originally. There would be a new black country force, with Birmingham retaining a separate force, as it once had.
I welcome the provision in the Bill that after a certain time proposals can be made by the new authorities. The city of Birmingham in particular could have the opportunity once again to run its police force. Equally, there is a hope that the fire service can be returned to the city of Birmingham.
I agree that, where cities can take over responsibilities, they should do so, particularly in regard to the local police force, as soon as it is practically possible. At present, problems arise from having a very large west midlands constabulary. According to the chief constable, it is too large and too remote. Those of us who live within the west midlands are aware of the difficulties that the police force has in relating to the constituent authorities within the region. Within a short time the opportunity will arise to renegotiate the structure of the police force in the west midlands. I look forward to that happening so that true answerability can return to the city of Birmingham.
Like many Conservative Members, I have received a large number of letters referring to the threat of local government being taken over by Whitehall and faceless men in bowler hats running everything. It is alleged that central Government control will creep into every facet of our lives. We have now started to receive letters referring to abolition of bus passes and disruption of bus services as consequences of the so-called bus Bill. It is said that further safeguards are needed, that the county council has a major role to play in bolstering democratic activity in the area and that if it does not continue to do that Whitehall will get its hands on everything. That is not true. The consequences of that Bill may well be that local bus services will once again be the responsibility of the city, which ran them so efficiently not so many years ago. Many people in Birmingham would welcome that change, despite all the rhetoric and propaganda for the existing system from the preservationists.
I should make it clear that, personally, I have always had very good service from the officials of the West Midlands county council. One cannot take that away from them. They have a job to do and one expects them, as professionals, to carry it out to the best of their ability. It is not their fault that problems arise because the system does not work very well.
A city the size of Birmingham can and will run itself. I am sure that the people of Birmingham and all the political parties there share that view. I am sure that no Labour Member would dare go back to Birmingham and say that he had rejected the chance of Birmingham once again having the democratic right to run its own local government. All Birmingham Members should support the Bill.
I am still a member of South Yorkshire county council and proud of it, so I know of the problems that county councils throughout the country have sorted out. There has certainly been a difference in my area, and I am sure that the same is true of all metropolitan areas. One has only to mention the success of the south Yorkshire transport policy, which has been operating for many years. Its success is clear in terms of passenger mileage, efficiency and all other aspects. It follows the pattern of other countries in western Europe, where it is recognised that an efficient public transport system run by county councils or similar authorities is essential. Our consumer protection service, which was initially regarded as possibly a waste of time, has proved highly successful. Many clients have been satisfied and south Yorkshire now has international recognition and international standards in this respect.
The county council helps the entire area that it serves, not just people at county hall. Having served as a district councillor until May this year and having been a district and city councillor for 15 years, I can look at the matter from both points of view. It has never been argued, and it is certainly not argued by me or by my colleagues in south Yorkshire, that the system of local government must never be changed. It has consistently been argued, however, that in considering any changes we must not fall into the trap into which the Tories fell in the previous reorganisation. It is vital to assess the needs, the financial implications, the job losses, the cuts in services and the threat to democracy before any decision is made. The Government should not make the decision, and then suggest that we should have a review. That would be a marvellous thing. First, one passes the legislation and then one reviews what that legislation does to the community.
The Opposition argue that, before any change is made, there should be a proper assessment. Otherwise, the Bill will be simply another case of central Government meddling in local democracy. I use the word "meddling" because the measure has not been thought out. As has been said in the debate, the Bill has nothing to do with saving ratepayers' money or with introducing more democracy at a lower tier. It is a case of political spite, no more and no less.
We should ask whether there is a possibility of saving money. It has been claimed that up to £100 million is likely to be saved. However, that has not been proved by the Government. I understand that the Government have taken no steps to seek out that information or to produce it in evidence. The Coopers and Lybrand report of 29 November suggested that the new system is likely to cost much more than the present local government system.
The contents of the Bill make it clear that, instead of increasing local democracy, it will increase centralisation. It is a centralising Bill. The Secretary of State will have powers to rate-cap 18 new joint boards as well as to influence the number of people employed by those boards and the levels of services and management provided. In other words, the boards, which will inherit over 67 per cent. of the activities of the metropolitan counties, will be under the direct control of the Secretary of State. Once again, the democratic Conservative Government plan to ignore the ballot box because they do not like the political results of its use.
There will be less accountability. The set-up in the joint boards may be similar to what exists in the case of water, gas and electricity. There has been a press campaign, which many of us have supported, to insist that the water boards should provide more information, yet it now seems that we are to increase the number of such boards with little accountability to the public and the press. That seems odd, when the same Government say that local government should be more open to the public. I am sure that the Government will put more and more pressure on local government to become more open, but they are prepared to remove services such as the police and fire services from local government's control altogether and to make sure that no one knows how they work, what the manning levels will be or what they cost. That is a contradiction in terms. It is hypocrisy.
Last year, the Central Electricity Generating Board rightly came to the conclusion that there was no need to increase electricity prices in that year. However, central Government told the board that it must do so, so electricity prices were increased. That was part of the Government's hidden taxation. The boards are not democratic or accountable; they are subject to tremendous pressure from the Secretary of State.
The proposals in the Bill have prompted local government associations to make their points. I have read the reports of the town councils and parish councils, which fear that the abolition of the county councils will make their position worse. Members of those bodies appreciate the work done by the county councils and feel that they themselves have played a valuable part in partnership with the county councils and that the abolition of the councils will be a step towards their own areas having less choice and less influence on affairs.
Time presses. I could speak for hours about the virtues of local government. I have served on both tiers of local government. I am proud to have done so and hope that both tiers will be retained. The quality of the service has been matched only by its continual endorsement, in no uncertain terms, by the electorate. That is why the Government want to remove the metropolitan councils.
I speak as an hon. Member who has many constituents who work in Greater London and as the only Conservative Member who is still a serving member of the GLC, to which I was first elected in 1977.
There have been quite a few changes on the GLC since 1977. One of the most interesting is the Pauline conversion of Ken Livingstone. What has persuaded the man who called for the abolition of the GLC in 1979 only five years later to spend £10 million of ratepayers' money on a campaign to prevent just that? The answer is to be found in the activities of the Labour majority on the GLC since 1981.
After the GLC elections of 1981, London's Labour Briefing, the magazine of the far Left which controls the GLC, proclaimed, "London is ours." The far Left's trouble was, as it found out, that it was not. As compared with the 32 London boroughs, the GLC had little to do with the running of London. Labour's response was to expand the GLC mainly by inventing new functions for it. The vast majority of them encroached into areas that were the responsibility of other bodies and they were always politically motivated.
For most Londoners there has been no benefit, just larger rate bills. The facts of the expansion are there for all to see. There are now twice as many committees on the GLC as there were in 1981 and the budgets of committees which existed then have been increased greatly. It is not enough for the Labour party to claim that, because the GLC has been expanding, it is somehow indispensable. Parliament has set limits to the duties of local government and, in the case of London, the boroughs are at the forefront. Few statutory functions now remain with the GLC. A great deal of its time and resources are now spent beyond the limits that are normally accepted for local government. I shall refer to two areas.
The first concerns a committee of the council and the second concerns a body created by the Labour-controlled GLC that contains no directly-elected councillor. Hon. Members will be aware that policing in London is the responsibility of the Home Secretary. As police authority, he is accountable to the people of London through Parliament and London's Members of Parliament. That did not deter the GLC. Under the slogan of democratic accountability, words that the GLC uses only when it suits it, as I shall demonstrate, it created a police committee to examine policing in London. Its budget for this year is £1·8 million—by GLC standards a small sum—but the GLC has no responsibility for policing, so the £1·8 million does not go into the fight against crime. Most of it goes on wages for the committee's support unit and grants to monitoring groups.
Such groups spend their time and ratepayers' money collecting hostile information about the police. When they report verbatim to the committee, no attempt is made to corroborate any evidence that they produce. The committee, with its support unit, has spent thousands of pounds opposing the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, preparing reports on the future of policing and leading the official Labour party into a policy advocating political control of the police. It has just completed a report on policing in the miners' dispute and has commissioned another on the courts' use of bail during it. Apart from the electoral difficulty that that has caused the Labour party nationally, what has it achieved? One thing is certain—the GLC has not helped to prevent or solve one crime.
The true nature and intent of the people involved is summed up by two quotations. The first was reported in The Standard and comes from the chairman of the police committee, Mr. Paul Boateng:
We must now make magistrates accountable to the Party. That doesn't mean they will refer every decision to the Party but the quality of their justice will be measured…they will have to accept the Party line on justice".
A woman employed as a lawyer for the police committee support unit said at the 1984 Labour party conference:
Mr. Kinnock said that the police were the meat in the sandwich. They are the salmonella poisoning in the sandwich. Neil says you should not break the law because the Labour Party needs legality. As a lawyer, I say to you its absolute rubbish".
It has been said, quite rightly, that the only good thing about the police committee is that it does not have any statutory responsibility for policing in London.
Ken Livingstone is fond of saying that the GLC has created 2,000 jobs in London at a cost of £4,000 per job, and that this has been achieved through the Greater London enterprise board, which is known as GLEB. He also claims that this figure is far less than the cost of a job through the Manpower Services Commission. Interestingly, the GLC had never used this figure in an advertisement. The reason is simple. First, GLEB has not created 2,000 jobs. It has assisted firms employing 2,000 people. Some were new jobs, others already existed and were jobs which GLEB felt needed preserving or enhancing. Quite simply, GLEB's figures cannot be compared with any other job creation programme. To do so, as Ken Livingstone has, is dishonest. The cost of preserving a job is a strictly unquantifiable sum which ignores later reality. Will someone still have to preserve these jobs in 10 years' time?
Secondly, the figures given for the cost per job are entirely misleading. The actual total cost per job, according to GLEB's own figures, is £16,037, which ignores return on investment. For the three months up to June 1984, investment income was £4,000 from 2,000 jobs. Over the same period the GLC provided more than £10 million. The shareholders of most private companies would not be satisfied with a return of a few thousand pounds on an investment of more than £10 million. No wonder that GLEB has no shareholders!
In its corporate plan for 1984–85, GLEB describes itself as an industrial development and job creation agency free from political control. Are we supposed to believe that the fact that the Labour party appoints the members of the GLEB board ensures that this is so? The truth is that GLEB acts in a way remarkably like the GLC. The Sheba Feminist Publishers, the Camden New Journal, and the Squeals on Wheels creche are not voluntary groups given grant by the GLC but are companies given loans by GLEB. Is it an accident that nearly every company helped by GLEB has an address in a borough with a Labour-controlled council?
This worrying state of affairs is exaggerated by GLEB's property dealings. By June 1984, GLEB had spent nearly £14 million in two years on acquiring 28 sites. Much of this money came directly from the GLC in mortgages. There have even been 11 cases where the GLC has lent GLEB money to buy property from the GLC. The GLC is providing GLEB with substantial sums of money, some of which is used to finance companies, but substantial amounts go towards building up large assets for GLEB which are often effectively passed over from the GLC. During each of the past three years the Greater London enterprise board has spent £8 million, £23 million and £20 million respectively.
It is curious that the Labour-controlled GLC, which is happily spending £10 million, describes itself as a defender of democracy. Yet it transfers assets to the tune of several million pounds a year to a non-elected unaccountable private limited company. The method of transfer has not always been obvious. Many of the deals were never placed on the open market, but took place privately under the seal of confidentiality, supposedly to protect commercial interests. The loans are repayable over 30 years, and in some cases interest will not have to be paid for the first two years. What would the Labour party say if the Government or a local authority controlled by a party other than the Labour party behaved in that way?
Will the hon. Lady, who is a colleague of mine on the Greater London council, admit that her views about the abolition of the GLC do not represent the majority view of her Conservative colleagues at county hall? Secondly, she was disparaging about the GLEB's estimate of the costs of job preserving. Does she agree that £4,000 per job for GLEB compares favourably with £68,000 per job estimated for each job that the Government have saved in the enterprise zones, and £30,000—
The majority of GLC Conservative members support the abolition of the GLC as it stands. Secondly, I have already qualified the £4,000 per job which Mr. Livingstone quoted. The cost is well over £16,000.
The GLC's extraordinary attitude to jobs is further highlighted by its attempt to impose a lorry ban at night and weekends in London. In Broxbourne a large number of people are employed in the horticulture industry. Such a ban would have a damaging effect on those jobs, which depend on London as a regular market for their produce. The GLC in its haste to pander to yet another pressure group did not think through the consequences of its decision. That is common to much of the GLC's work. The GLC is so far removed from the people of London that individual decisions affecting jobs often take no account of what individuals or firms want.
The GLC's refusal to see any connection between the level of rates and unemployment, and the fact that its remoteness prevents it from being accountable for this failing, underline the wisdom of these proposals. The level of unnecessary waste, duplication and mismanagement goes beyond the few examples that I have time to give. Three further examples will serve to illustrate it.
At a council meeting on 6 November 1984 the chairman of the finance and general purposes committee revealed that the GLC would initiate an alternative review of the social security system, to be assessed by a panel made up of a number of people receiving social security benefits. The review would require the hiring of a consultant. No justification has been provided for that extraordinary waste of money. The Government are already engaged in a far-reaching review, which is being conducted by experts in that area. When it is completed, the necessary changes can be made because the Government have responsibility for the system. The GLC has no such responsibility. How much time and money will be wasted? How many reams of paper will be wasted as GLC officials work on a review that is pointless, can achieve nothing and is outside the council's responsibilities
I shall give way in a moment.
The antics of the GLC women's committee have been well documented in the press. The same criticisms—the lack of statutory responsibility for such a body and the huge sums that are being spent with no conceivable benefits—can be made. Unfortunately, the story does not stop there.
Does the hon. Lady believe that the public of London should be given the opportunity to vote and show whether they support all those councillors who are responsible for all those horrible things?
I remind the hon. Gentleman that four GLC Labour members caused by-elections but that only 25 per cent. of the electorate bothered to turn out to vote.
Because the GLC has so little to do, even the committees that have some statutory purpose have tried to extend their areas of activity beyond what is normally considered to be the province of local government. At the same time, the level of mismanagement is truly remarkable. The past two years have seen a running battle between Labour councillors and the GLC staff association, which came to a head last month. Ken Livingstone announced that the GLC would sack any member of the staff who gave information to the Government even when required to do so by law.
Although the past six months have seen any number of outbursts by members of the Labour party calling for the law to be defied, I do not believe that there have been any cases where a council leader has threatened staff in that way. That sort of dictatorial thinking lies behind much of the GLC's behaviour. It is a case of the devil finding work for idle hands. If the GLC had had sufficient work to do in London, would it have had time to invite the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Adams) to county hall to help the GLC solve the problem of Northern Ireland; would it have had time to lecture us all on the problems of South Africa; and would it have had time to assess the applications from groups outside London—the National Union of Mineworkers, for example — to use its facilities to advance their causes?
There has been talk recently of a GLC in exile. What we have seen at county hall for the past three years is a bizarre Labour Government in exile. Five years ago, the GLC was described as a body which existed to
provide all the substitutes for those who have not managed to get elected to Parliament and have tried to model this building on the one across the road. That situation is an extremely expensive one for the people of London to bear.
Ken Livingstone said that and he has proved it time and time again in the past three years.
I commend the Bill to the Opposition. When the GLC goes, Ken Livingstone will be out of a job. The Labour party should employ him. The success that he has had in creating the mirage of substance at the GLC is needed by Labour policy. It is time that Londoners had a proper say over their rates and how they are spent. It is time that Londoners received valuable services for all their money, and it is time that the most efficient and accountable authorities—the boroughs—did the job. The best way to "say no to no say" is to abolish the GLC.
I shall also confine my comments to the Bill as it affects the Greater London council because, like the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe), I am a serving member of the GLC, although I am considerably prouder of that than she appears to be. I look forward to seeing her a little more regularly at county hall after her contribution tonight, when she can perhaps explain it in more detail to her colleagues there.
When the Prime Minister wrote the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils into the 1983 Tory party election manifesto, I do not believe that even the most perceptive of the Ministers she had then—she had one or two at that time—could have envisaged what a political millstone this would become for the Tory party.
The country faces massive economic and social problems of appalling complexity, many of which have been created and compounded by Government policies, but here we are about to tie up the better part of the parliamentary year on a Bill which is about as relevant to those problems as medieval discussions about the number of angels who could dance on the end of a pin.
Most informed opinion is against the proposals contained in the Bill; both Ministers and their supporters know that to be the case. We are here tonight simply because one person, in May 1983, thought that the abolition of the GLC would be a good vote-catcher. Although it is painfully clear to the Tories that the reverse is the case, they cannot do anything about it, because prime ministerial face is very heavily involved. We all know how expensive this Prime Minister's face is to the country. The Tory party has decided that, whatever the cost in local government democracy or the chaos that will ensue from the Bill, that is infinitely preferable to the right hon. Lady having to back off.
Apart from the Prime Minister and a handful of parliamentary sheep who would cheerfully follow her over the edge of a cliff, hon. Members know that the abolition of the GLC is irresponsible and a classic case of party political vendetta being forced all the way to the statute book. Prime Ministers have become far too powerful and can force through legislation in defiance of all good sense and political justice. This Prime Minister is fast becoming a dangerous fanatic. She believes that only she knows best, seeing all opposition to her, whether inside the party or outside it, as tantamount to treason. She has no regard to the alarming build-up of social tensions and bitterness being created by her love of confrontation.
When the Government set out their proposals for abolition in the White Paper "Streamlining the Cities", the reaction was one of general disbelief and opposition. Over 2,000 submissions about the proposals were received by the Government, but, despite repeated demands, Ministers have refused to publish the results, and we all know why. In much the same way that the Conservative party refused to contest those four by-elections because it knew that it would lose them, it has refused to publish the results of the submissions to Cmnd. 9063 because the vast majority of those submissions oppose the Government's proposals.
Contrary to Government disinformation, that opposition has not simply been the result of the GLC whipping up the payroll vote. A large number of trade associations, learned societies, academics, employers, churchmen and voluntary bodies have all condemned the Government's proposals. In their support of them, Ministers have been able to rely only on a ragbag collection of politically partisan councillors, led by Lady Tesco of Westminster, and the Institute of Directors.
The Government have also been aided and abetted in their campaign of deception by the Tory newspapers, and the liars, drunks and hacks who write for The Sun, the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, the News of the World, the Sunday Express and The Mail on Sunday who have all done their utmost to discredit the GLC. However, I remind the hon. Member for Broxbourne that, despite all the attempts at misinformation by the Government and their poodle press, recent opinion polls show that over 70 per cent. of Londoners are opposed to the abolition of the GLC.
The Government have failed to camouflage their appallingly weak case. Putting over that weak case has been costly in terms of ministerial careers and reputations. Lord Bellwin's vulgar ineptitude earned for him the very concrete shoes that he predicted would be put on the GLC. The Secretary of State for the Environment has ended up as a sort of political wino stumbling around the place looking for a friendly face and a bit of relief.
That relief has come in the shape of the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker). The right hon. Gentleman has been quick to realise — I pay him a tribute that he may not welcome—that the only tactic to adopt with a lousy case is to speak in vague generalities with great confidence and a very loud voice. He is well qualified in all three respects, but even he must feel embarrassed by what he wrote about the GLC in his evidence to the Marshall inquiry in 1977.
The GLC has circulated copies of the pamphlet, "Yes, Minister" to all hon. Members, and it relates to the right hon. Gentleman's publication "Maybe it's because we're Londoners." In an earlier intervention, he complained that he did not write the pamphlet, that he had merely edited it. But he personally submitted that pamphlet to the Marshall inquiry, and I have it amongst my voluminous records of the proceedings of the inquiry. When he presented it, he made no attempt to dissociate himself from the views expressed in it.
In 1977, the Minister who is now primarily responsible for steering this abolition Bill through Parliament was calling for less Government interference in the affairs of county hall and the enhancement of the GLC's role as a strategic authority. In that demand he was joined by the present Secretary of State for the Environment, who gave oral evidence to the Marshall inquiry. At the panel hearing on 16 November 1977, the right hon. Gentleman said that he thought emphatically that GLC planning should extend to a positive socio-economic role and that local government had suffered a lack of autonomy.
The House is entitled to know what brought about such a Pauline conversion on the part of these two Ministers. Either they must admit that they were wrong in 1977, and if they do they call into question their judgment today, or they must tell the House the real reasons for the conversion. I believe that those real reasons are base. They are seen as placemen, a couple of circus performers ready to jump backwards through hoops on demand in exchange for the sugar lumps of political office.
Was the hon. Gentleman one of those members of the GLC who supported the present leader of the council before the last GLC election, or one of those who were quite happy to see their party come to power in county hall and then achieve the sugar lumps of political office on the back of the new leader of the GLC, having stabbed the previous one in the back on day one?
The Secretary of State for the Environment and the Minister for Local Government were right in 1977. They are now wrong in 1984. Ken Livingstone was wrong in 1979. He is now right in 1984. I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman's question.
The effective denial by the two Ministers on the Treasury Bench of once well held and considered views may earn them some favour in the eyes of the Prime Minister, but I believe that it will earn them only contempt in the opinion of their former colleagues.
To deal with the matter raised by the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris), the views expressed by Ken Livingstone in 1978 and 1979 appear to bear some resemblance to those that Ministers are expressing today. However, there is a very important difference. In 1978 Mr. Livingstone said that all powers should be devolved to the boroughs. I disagreed with him then and I still disagree with him. But whatever the Bill may state in its misleading explanatory and financial memorandum about providing for the reallocation of the functions of the GLC
principally to the London borough … councils",
the Bill makes no such proposal.
In their propaganda the Government have referred to "getting rid of" an unnecessary tier of local government. If we are going to do that, and take all local government down to the unitary level, when shall we see proposals for the abolition of shire counties and for all power to be given to the districts? The fact is that the Bill does not propose to get rid of GLC services. It proposes merely to get rid of a body called the Greater London council. Next Monday it is proposed that we should get rid of GLC elections and of the accountability and democratic control which Londoners currently exercise over their services.
Will my hon. Friend agree that the point he is making for the GLC is equally relevant to the west midlands, where only 20 per cent. of the services are estimated by value to be devolved to the districts and that 80 per cent. will come under central Government or joint board control? Both for the metropolitan counties and for the Greater London council this Bill has got nothing whatever to do with increased local democracy.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This Bill is a living lie. It says that power will be devolved to the boroughs. The Bill will do no such thing. London boroughs will have direct responsibility for only 30·9 per cent. of the GLC's net expenditure in 1984–85. The remainder will go to the Government, or to quangos or to the indirectly elected joint bodies.
Hon. Members should remember that the LCC, the predecessor authority of the GLC, was set up in 1889 to replace the indirectly elected Metropolitan Board of Works. It was decided that indirectly elected bodies were not appropriate for London government in 1889. I maintain that that remains true in 1984. Indirectly elected bodies are neither truly democratic nor accountable. It is a total fiction for Ministers to claim otherwise.
The case for the abolition of the GLC which has been inherited by the Minister for Local Government remains as weak as ever. Therefore, he has resorted to a series of unsubstantiated assertions which reveal his profound ignorance of GLC functions or his belief that, with a docile Tory press whipping up ignorance and prejudice, he can afford to go around spreading misinformation. In his Daily Telegraph article of 29 November, he stated that 75 per cent. of the GLC's expenditure would go to the boroughs. I have already mentioned that the figure is 30·9 per cent, but if inner London education is included the proportion drops to 15·7 per cent. Even if the joint body that is proposed for the fire brigade is regarded as a devolved local service, the figure is still nowhere near 75 per cent.
The Minister for Local Government conveniently ignored in his calculation debt servicing, housing deficits, and the GLC subsidy to London Regional Transport. He assumed that waste disposal would go to the boroughs, although the matter has yet to be decided, and that services for which individual boroughs are merely paymasters, such as concessionary fares and grants to voluntary bodies, were all included in the figure of 75 per cent.
In the same article in the Daily Telegraph, the Minister for Local Government repeated the Prime Minister's totally misleading statement that only 11 per cent. of current expenditure on local services in London is accounted for by the GLC. The truth is that the GLC spends 20 per cent. of the total budgeted expenditure in London ranking for block grant. That figure of 11 per cent. is obtained by omitting items from GLC expenditure while adding to the calculation the costs of the Metropolitan police, which in London have never been a local government service. In the same article he complained about the GLC wanting to achieve political control of London's police. I would remind the Minister that all police forces outside London are under local political control and, of course—
No. I would give way to the hon. Gentleman if he had been here for most of the debate.
In a written answer, the Minister for Local Government produced a tissue of propaganda, half-truths and wishful thinking about the so-called savings from abolition. Even at this late stage, Ministers cannot say that they have any true indication of the likely level of savings. They now say that that will depend on policy decisions yet to be made by the successor body, although they admit that there will be about £40 million costs for redundancies in 1986–87, plus transitional costs.
The GLC estimates that in 1986–87 costs for the council alone will run to £65 million and that there will be continuing costs of at least £32 million a year, at today's prices. We at county hall calculate that the cost of abolition of the GLC will be about £225 million over the next five years.
It is clear that arguments about the costs will continue. It is time for the Government to say that the case will be submitted to an independent financial assessment by outside accountants. If the Government are prepared to do that, I undertake that the GLC will give full co-operation to such an independent inquiry. I do not wish proceedings in the House and in Committee to be taken up by fruitless exchanges between the two sides about figures that neither side can adequately prove. If the Minister will agree to set up an independent inquiry, the GLC will co-operate. The council has no reason to hide from the truth, but we suspect that the Government have a great deal to hide from the electorate.
In the Daily Telegraph article of 29 November and in the Tory party political broadcast on the previous evening, the Minister for Local Government made the preposterous statement that the only Londonwide service that Londoners see from time to time and which the GLC still provides is the fire brigade.
Has the Minister ever visited the GLC's south bank or the national sports centre at Crystal Palace? Has he ever walked on Hampstead heath or in Victoria park or in the Lea valley or in Mile End park or in the Trent valley or in Burgess park? Has he ever been to Kenwood or Marble Hill house or the Ranger's house? Has he ever shopped in Covent garden or driven along the 900 miles of GLC roads past the 2,000 GLC traffic lights? Has he ever crossed the Thames by a bridge or gone under a GLC tunnel? Has he ever travelled on the Woolwich free ferry? Has he ever wondered how the green belt got there, how it was assembled and how it is preserved? Has he ever wondered how his domestic rubbish miraculously disappears? Has he ever gone by boat from one of the GLC piers to the GLC's Thames barrier? Has he had no worries about the 2,000 voluntary groups funded by the GLC? Has he ever appeared in an outer London court house? Some of his hon. Friends ought to be there now. Has he ever bothered his mind about London's historic buildings? Has he ever worried about pollution control or about the London record office?
All those services are provided by the GLC, and they are Londonwide. If the abolition of the GLC is all about the fire brigade, why do we need a Bill with 100 clauses, many of which are taken up with problems of the GLC?
The Bill stinks in the nostrils— as do some Tory Members in the Chamber. It arises out of the Prime Minister's political malevolence and it is an insult to nearly 100 years of Londonwide local government.
We have perhaps the finest local government system in the world, yet all that the Government can do is to attack local democracy and our system of local government. If the GLC goes down by virtue of this legislation. my colleagues and I at county hall will at least have the great pleasure of knowing that we shall take with us a lot of London Tory Members and, I believe, ultimately the Government. Such thoughts will comfort me in the long and bitter period to come while we resist the legislation inch by inch as it moves towards the statute book.
Whether or not the Bill reaches the statute book, I am utterly confident that there will be a Londonwide directly elected council based in county hall a long time after this Government of third-raters have passed from the political scene into the well-deserved obscurity that awaits them.
It gives me great pleasure to speak after the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). He always strikes me as being like one of the Marx brothers when he stands up to make a speech such as he has just made—the rather sad one who keeps running into things and never does anything quite right. It brings back to me what I hear about the Leader of the Opposition following the line of the Duke of Wellington in his thoughts when he hears the hon. Gentleman speak:
I don't know what he does to the Tories but my goodness he frightens me.
We had the hon. Gentleman's usual humorous performance this evening. We have had a fair amount of quotation of poll statistics, as we have had for many months on the hoardings across the river, about the alleged dislike of Londoners for the Government's proposed legislation. But one's memory does not have to be all that long to go back to the Harris poll that was published in June 1983 about the attitude of Londoners towards the GLC when a majority were of the opinion that the GLC was too bureaucratic, was impersonal and was not understood by Londoners, not surprisingly because they felt that it did nothing for them.
The attitude of Londoners in June 1983 was the very attitude that spawned the policy of abolition which the Conservative party put in its general election manifesto. The position has not changed much, except that a total of £12 million has been spent over 18 months to try to bend a few minds to believe that the GLC does something useful for Londoners.
Londoners today are celebrating the beginning of a process that will take them back much closer to local government, through local government and the services from the town hall. The posters on our streets these days which show a brick wall wearing a pin-stripe suit and a bowler hat much more accurately describe the GLC's attitude towards Londoners than they describe the attitude of the Government and Whitehall towards Londoners.
As a relative newcomer to the House—certainly I was not here in 1962, when the original London Government Bill was debated—I thought that it would be worthwhile to look back at some of the things that were said at that time. One particular quotation from the Official Report in the autumn of 1962 is particularly apposite tonight. The speaker was Mr. Michael Stewart, the then Labour Member of Parliament for Fulham, speaking from his party's Front Bench in opposition to the Conservative Government's proposals. He started off by saying that
the powers of the Greater London Council will gradually eat up and overshadow those of the boroughs.
He went on:
"Nor can it last because the Government who are bringing it forward not only lack support for these proposals, but, as we saw on 22nd November, the very day the Bill was published, lack the support of people in every part of the country for almost every one of their policies. In view of that, we believe that this job should fall to be recast by a Government which will have in mind the real needs of planning which the Government have funked, and the real needs of the human services, which they have despised."—[Official Report, 10 December 1962; Vol. 669, c. 84.]
By an amazing coincidence, this Bill was also published on 22 November. The views expressed by Michael Stewart could well have been used yet again by the Labour party to describe its present feelings, although in reverse. The much-honoured Mr. Michael Stewart, who was then the Labour party's Front Bench spokesman, was talking about the creation of the GLC, but his party now says exactly the same things about its abolition.
Curiously enough, the Bill that was passed on 31 July 1963 came into operation on 1 April 1965 when a Labour Government were in power. Nothing was done by that Labour Government or by any subsequent Labour Government to abolish the very body that it had so castigated—the GLC. Similarly, I suspect that the very prophetic words of the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) about the metropolitan councils will not come true. Indeed, I suspect that the Labour party—if it ever returns to power—will not make any attempt to reinstate the metropolitan councils that we are about to abolish.
Quite a bit has been said about Lord Marshall, or Sir Frank Marshall as he was at the time. He was called upon to write a report about the GLC's role in local government. My researches took me to his report. In paragraph 1.2 of that report, he wrote about the GLC and said:
Such an authority, however, cannot exist in isolation. It must maintain relationships with other authorities on a wider or narrower plane, with organisations outside the public sector and with the peole of London. The way it does so is of paramount importance to its relevance and credibility and thus to its success in its chosen role.
On this reckoning, the GLC has fallen short — largely because it has not found it easy to identify a role for itself which is acceptable to those with whom it interacts. In the eyes of some it has abrogated its responsibilities, whilst others consider it has usurped their proper functions. To many ordinary people it seems an expensive irrelevance.
It was not surprising that in 1979 the leader of the Labour opposition at county hall, Mr. Ken Livingstone —and since then we have heard quite a bit about him—said that he believed that the Conservatives at county hall, Sir Horace Cutler and Sir Frank Marshall, had not gone far enough, or so far as to abolish the GLC. He believed that that was the right policy. Since then, Mr. Livingstone has taken the matter even further. I have quoted him before, but in June 1982 he told the CIPFA conference:
I have always at heart been committed to the borough council rather than to regional government.
That is precisely the policy that the Government have introduced in this Bill for the benefit of the people of London and the metropolitan councils. Sir Frank Marshall said that the GLC had not fulfilled its so-called strategic role. How right he was. The hon. Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) says that the London Docklands development corporation has not done much for the people of that part of London. The fact is that the GLC had a perfect opportunity to do all that before. If only the GLC
could have worked with its colleagues on the Labour-controlled councils in the east end of London. Yet the councils say that it is impossible for them to work with the GLC.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Greater London enterprise board has created and saved jobs at a cost four times cheaper than the docklands and the Government's enterprise boards have done?
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the first chairman of the docklands joint committee, which was a partnership between the GLC and the London dockland boroughs, was the leader of the GLC? Is he aware that the partnership went well until the GLC became Tory and Mr. Cutler began the disagreements?
I have no reason to disagree with the hon. Gentleman, except that I was quoting the view of a Labour leader of a Labour-controlled council in the east end of London. In the mid-1960s he said that the problem involved with the advancement of docklands was that the councils could not work with the GLC. We can take the matter no further, because the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) referred to a view that I cannot check out and I am quoting the statement of a Labour leader of a council.
The south circular road is another example of where improvements should be made. It is taking my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and my hon. Friend the Minister of State to do something about that wonderful collection of signposts, but nothing else. We hope that the powers in the Government's hands will make the south circular road into something resembling a proper road.
I remind the Labour party, which clearly is somewhat embarrassed by the statements of some of its colleagues in support of unitary authorities, of what Labour Members subscribed to in the Labour party manifesto in the June 1983 election. That aim was simple. The manifesto stated:
we aim to end, if we can, the present confusing division of services between two tiers of authority. Unitary district autorities, in England and Wales, could be responsible for all of the functions in this area that they could sensibly undertake.
That is the whole point. We hear a great deal of rhetoric from Labour Members. We begin to pierce some of that rhetoric when we find that the Labour party has no intention of restoring the metropolitan councils. For a little while longer, Labour representatives may feel that it is appropriate to put up hoardings, spend a few more millions of pounds and use a little more rhetoric and make out that they would restore something of the old GLC. They see the GLC as having been a useful platform off which some of them could jump to other things. I am deeply cynical about what Labour representatives say to us when I recall what they said in 1962 about the creation of the GLC.
I happily withdraw that word "hypocrisy". I invite my hon. Friend's comments on the remarks made by the hon. Member for Newham. North-West when he spoke of his party's defence, across the water, of the green belt. When I was a member of the GLC the Labour party did its utmost to build all over the green belt round London.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) speaks with authority, since he was a member of the Conservative-controlled GLC and before that he was in opposition at county hall. He knows better than I about those times. My hon. Friend is right because the hon. Member for Newham, North-West has political tunnel vision in this respect.
The people of London and the metropolitan areas will soon appreciate what the Government are doing in the Bill. We intend to provide closer personal service for them. The people of Kingston upon Thames will have 50 councillors to look after them instead of only two members of the GLC. It is clear that 50 local councillors, instead of two councillors on a great body like the GLC which is remote, impersonal and bureaucratic, is better. Unitary authority will bring great benefit to the people of London and the metropolitan areas.
When I hear the hon. Members for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) and for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) I cannot help thinking that their speeches are more attuned to the hustings. However, if the Bill becomes law such speeches will never be delivered at the hustings. They have a great dislike of the majority on the GLC, but they have not enough trust in their own persuasive powers to allow the people of London to make a decision between their view and the Labour view.
It is striking that the Tories have shifted their ground and arguments. One of the main arguments used at the outset was that the metropolitan counties and the GLC were overspending. The main purpose of the Bill was to effect savings in local government. Throughout the argument, Conservatives have ignored the fact that cost inflation for the metropolitan county services since 1978–79 has been 86 per cent. compared with cost inflation for other local authorities of about 78 per cent. Conservatives have ignored the need to provide certain services such as police and fire services. Such services cannot be neglected lightly.
I was a chairman on the Merseyside county council a few years ago. When we tried to make sensible trimmings to our budget we decided that we could not touch the police services. The chief constable would have argued that if we had done so we would not have been carrying out our duty.
Let us compare the provision of police and fire services in the metropolitan counties with the provision—or non-provision — of social services for the chronically sick and disabled, or the provision of council houses in the metropolitan districts throughout the country.
It was possible in Liverpool for a Liberal council to ignore the needs of handicapped people who required telephones—and the council was able to get away with it. It was possible for a Liberal council in Liverpool, aided by the Tories on that council, to stop building council houses, despite the 29,000 unmet housing needs in the city. Again, it was possible for the council to get away with it. There are higher levels of need in the metropolitan county councils. That is one of the reasons why, in the Government's book, they appear to be high spenders.
I have it on good authority that when the Tory party was originally considering its manifesto for the 1983 election, it intended to review the local government system. But the leader of the Tory party, the Prime Minister, scratched that out and replaced it with the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan councils. It is a personal vendetta on the Prime Minister's part.
The Tories are suggesting that, as a result of the Bill, £100 million will be saved, but there is no breakdown of that figure. We do not know how or where it will be saved. All we know is that £50 million is expected to be saved in Greater London.
Recently I asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how the savings would accrue on Merseyside. I asked him how many employees of the Merseyside county council could expect to be made redundant and what the cost would be in terms of compensation. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of
State for the Environment replied:
The numbers, in each case, will depend on detailed decisions to be taken by successor bodies.
I asked the Secretary of State what was his estimate of the annual savings to ratepayers on Merseyside. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State's reply was that £50 million would be saved annually with the abolition of the metropolitan counties. He added:
On average, this represents about 3 per cent. of MCCs' rate fund current expenditure".—[Official Report, 29 November 1984; Vol. 68, c. 558.]
If the Minister is not prepared to make an estimate, I am. I estimate that the savings to the ratepayers on Merseyside will be no more than 15p a week, or £8 a year. But at what cost? We know that there will be redundancies. We know that there will be the cost of increasing the number of unemployment benefits. We know that there is a real monetary cost to the taxpayer in paying those benefits. We know that there is less prospect of young people in our areas finding jobs.
The Government shifted their ground. They not only shifted their ground; they shifted their Minister. The hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave) has retired hurt. The attempt is being made to create the acceptable face of the Department of the Environment in the person of the Minister for Local Government. He is the new boy.
That is a very good comparison. The Minister for Local Government said last Friday that savings are not the primary objective. He said:
The case for abolition rests on the provision of a more local, more accountable system of local government in the metropolitan areas."— [Official Report, 30 November 1984; Vol. 68, c. 612.]
I am sure that he would be the first to suggest that that is very much in line with the Conservative manifesto, which said that the aim of a Conservative Government would be to return most of the functions to the boroughs and districts. If any Tory Members believe that by supporting the Government tomorrow they will be voting for that manifesto, they could not be more wrong. They will be
voting to ensure that the joint boards, the joint committees and the trusts to which the Secretary of State referred will be set up to replace democratic, accountable and genuinely local government.
The PA Management Consultants report shows that on Merseyside only 15 per cent. of the functions will be devolved to the districts. A mere 3 per cent. of the functions of the county council will devolve to each of the five metropolitan districts. If the proposals do not make savings and do not make local government more local, they will, according to the Government, at least cut out bureaucracy. The Secretary of State says that they will simplify the structure. The White Paper was entitled, "Streamlining the Cities". What we are being offered, however, is not streamlining but a chaos of authorities in the form of quangos or semi-quangos, which will lack cohesion and will make responsibility for services far less clear than it is now and local government far more remote from the people than the metropolitan counties have been.
If the Conservatives believe that the Bill will bring savings in bureaucracy, they should think again. Every joint board, committee or trust will require support services. The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but every board will presumably have to have a treasurer. All these bodies will need financial services, legal services, computer services, technical services and personal services. That is what bureaucracy means. But instead of one bureaucracy there will be a large number of bureaucracies, all of which will have to be paid for by the ratepayer and the taxpayer. These bodies will be denied the economies of scale accruing to multifunctional authorities.
Redcliffe-Maud argued that local government reform was needed because of the disparities in size and resources among local authorities. The largest county borough was Birmingham, with more than 1 million people, and the smallest was Canterbury, with only 25,000. All those authorities were supposed to provide similar services—fire services, police services, and so on—and they were often found wanting. It is perhaps unusual for me to agree with the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), but I certainly agree with his comments today about the fragmentation of police forces, the resulting diffuse systems of equipment, and so forth. For example, a criminal might commit a crime in Altrincham and then travel to Rochdale, crossing six different police authority areas in which different equipment and different radio wavelengths were used, as was the case before the reforms of the 1960s and 1970s in London and the metropolitan areas. There will be the same haphazard allocation of functions as occured before the reform. There will be overspill problems and peculiar boundary arrangements.
There are those who believe that the west midlands and Tyne and Wear authorities have no affinity with the people in their areas. However, whether he lives in Liverpool or Wallasey, Halewood or Southport, everyone who lives on Merseyside — "on Merseyside" is the phrase that is always used—regards himself as a Merseysider. People are proud to be Merseysiders, just as I am proud to be a member of the Merseyside county council.
We must ask the Government what is to happen to the county help for small enterprises, introduced by the Tory county council in 1978 and improved by the Labour majority after 1981. Will small businesses on Merseyside still receive assistance? The matter is not mentioned in the Bill. Will co-operatives still receive the assistance that we have given to enable working people to provide their own enterprises? Will there be proper assistance to enable the unemployed to set up their own centres? There is no mention in the Bill, either, of the Mersey tunnel or of tourism. The people of Merseyside are entitled to know to whom those services will be accountable and whether they will be provided at all.
There are nearly 70 references in the Bill to instances in which the Secretary of State would have more power. The real reason why the Government have brought in the Bill is nothing to do with improving local government. The Bill has been brought in to provide the gauleiter political back-up to aid and abet the dinosaurean economic policies of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
I was one of the Conservative Members who voted against the Local Government (Interim Provisions) Bill. I did so because I thought that it set an unfortunate constitutional precedent in that it presumed that Parliament had passed certain legislation that it had not yet passed, and not because I was inherently opposed to the abolition of the Greater London council.
However, the fact that I voted against that Bill has meant that, since that time, I have been inundated with lobbying material from every organisation under the sun that is opposed to the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan counties. Much of the material has, I suspect, been commissioned at considerable expense on the part of local government ratepayers.
I have taken care to try to read such material as I have been sent by various public relations and other lobbying organisations. If I ever had any vague reservations about the correctness of abolishing the GLC and the met counties, the lobbying and briefing papers have served only to remove them.
Documents are not all that I have been sent. Today a video arrived in a plain brown envelope, produced at great cost to the ratepayers of Greater London, purporting to tell me what happened at the Conservative party conference. There is no need to spend the ratepayers' money to tell me what happened at my own party conference.
I should like to make one or two simple constitutional points about the Bill. We have heard much noise from the Opposition today and at other times about the Bill being an attack on local democracy. No local authority has any powers, duties or functions other than those given to it by Acts of Parliament. Local authorities are nothing other than a creation of Acts of Parliament. The GLC and metropolitan counties have tried to take powers that Parliament has never given to them and to acquire from ratepayers the money to pay for them. We have the ludicrous example of the Greater London women's committee, which spends three times as much money as the Equal Opportunities Commission. No Act of Parliament gives the GLC duties, functions or powers to look after equal opportunities in Greater London.
Hoardings saying that eight out of 10 Londoners want to retain the GLC are mistaken constitutionally, as the time for the decision about whether the GLC and metropolitan counties should be abolished was the last general election. It was clear in the Conservative party manifesto that we intended to abolish the GLC and the metropolitan counties. It was in that knowledge that the Conservatives were returned to Government with an overwhelming majority. Since then, the GLC and others have attempted to mislead electors, using their money, as to the functions, duties and powers of those bodies. An analysis of what the GLC does reveals why it has failed as a strategic authority. Anyone who wanted a finer definition of why it has failed had to do no more than listen to the speech of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), who concluded his peroration by saying that the greatest loss to Londoners arising from abolition of the GLC would be the loss of Greater London control of the south bank, Hampstead Heath, Woolwich ferry and the London Record Office. If that is all that is left of a strategic authority, the sooner it goes the better. It has remnant duties to which it has sought to add further functions and powers which were never given to it by Parliament. It has sought to delude the people of London that it does things that Parliament has never authorised it to do. Moreover, it has done that with money appropriated from the ratepayers of London.
In what is, so far, a short speech, the hon. Gentleman has said half a dozen times that the GLC and metropolitan counties are doing things that were not authorised by Parliament. If he is saying that, in certain respects, they have been acting ultra vires, why have they not been challenged in the courts?
Whether they have been doing things that are distinctly ultra vires and therefore challengeable in the courts I seek not to say. I am saying that they have tried to acquire functions that they have never been given by Parliament.
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. They have turned the penny rate into a mockery. Perhaps when I give way to the hon. Gentleman he will refer me to the Act of Parliament that gives the GLC the duty, power and function to have a women's committee that spends three times as much money as the Equal Opportunities Commission.
I am delighted to do so —the London Government Act and section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972. The hon. Gentleman is saying that authorities are exercising functions for which they have no statutory power. He must recognise that he is plainly wrong. Does he accept that authorities do these things through the exercise of statutory powers and nothing else?
The hon. Gentleman makes my point. He refers me to section 137, but authorities are making the penny rate a penny mockery. The GLC and the metropolitan councils have used and abused that section.
I would not mind if it affected only Londoners, but it affects the rest of the country. If the GLC and the metropolitan councils seek to appropriate unto themselves an unfair share of the national financial cake, by seeking to appropriate duties that Parliament has never given them, it costs authorities such as mine dear, even though they have prudent housekeeping and have sought to cut ratepayers' bills.
That argument has been put forward by Labour Members on many occasions and it just does not wash.
Labour Members say that the Bill is an attack on local democracy. That does not wash. Local government is a function of Parliament and the Conservative party won a clear mandate at the last general election to abolish the GLC. One must therefore look at this matter on its merits. The GLC has failed as a strategic authority.
In addition, the Bill will give considerable powers back to local residents at a level they will understand—that of the London boroughs. Let us look at what will happen to the residual powers that are left to the GLC. The responsibility for local planning and development will be transferred back to the London boroughs and the metropolitan district councils — power back to the people. Responsibility for highways, streets and bridges will be transferred from the GLC and the metropolitan county councils back to the London borough councils and the metropolitan district councils—again, power back to the people. Waste disposal will be transferred in like manner, as will drainage and flood prevention—further examples of power back to people. The administration of justice will be transferred back to the London borough councils and the metropolitan district councils—also an example of power back to the people.
All those residual powers are pretty much the remnants of duties with which they are now left. Therefore, the GLC and the metropolitan county councils have clearly failed as strategic authorities. Their abolition should not be regretted. All Conservative Members will look forward to 1 April 1986, when some sanity will return to local government.
It is clear that the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) failed to demonstrate that the GLC has been acting ultra vires. It was clear from his speech and those of the hon. Members for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) and for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) that their chief reason for wishing to abolish the GLC is that they do not like the policies which the current GLC is pursuing. That is a total denial of the principle that lies behind the debate. If the Conservative party dislikes a particular form of government, it either rate-caps it or abolishes it. The Conservative party has operated on that principle for the past six years. That is a disturbing reflection on it.
Some Conservative Members will have read an interesting pamphlet entitled:
How do we get out of this mess without appearing disloyal?
by Mr. Rodney Gent. No fewer than four and a half pages —more than one third of the pamphlet—are devoted to the political reasons why the Greater London council should be retained. The arguments between Conservative Members who are in favour of the GLC and those who oppose it are not arguments about local government and the need to devolve power to local authorities, regardless of whether the Government like the authorities' policies, but about whether they like the policies which a particular local authority is pursuing. As my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) pointed out, that has characterised the Conservative party's behaviour for the past six years. Indeed, it has characterised its behaviour for far longer than that.
I am glad that the Secretary of State for Education and Science is present. It has not yet been acknowledged that he introduced the London Government Act 1963. He is now present to provide his apologia pro vita sua for that legislation.
My hon. Friend says that the right hon. Gentleman did deal with the Second Reading debate. No doubt that matter can be settled later—time is short. It is interesting that the right hon. Gentleman spends his life introducing legislation and regretting it afterwards. No doubt when he replies he will again regret the actions that he took 22 years ago.
The Labour party opposed that legislation, as I did. It seemed that the motive behind the London Government Act 1963 was entirely political. The Conservative party's objective was to end Labour control of the London county council. Alas for it, that objective failed to be realised, because at the first GLC election the Labour party won control and the Conservative Government had to give in to protests from those who did not want so see education in inner London broken up and had to retain the Inner London education authority. ILEA has been under the control of the Labour party, except for one period, ever since.
The Conservative party has deeply regretted the London Government Act 1963 and the setting up of ILEA. Ever since ILEA was set up, that party has sniped at it. I am glad that the Minister for Local Government is present. He was chairman of the so-called Baker committee, which produced a remarkable report based almost totally on misinformation, as he knows. Its statistics were entirely erroneous, the principles it enunciated were not reflected in its conclusions and the document had little to recommend it.
It is interesting that the right hon. Gentleman who, as chairman of the Baker committee, was able to report to the then Secretary of State for Education and Science that ILEA should be broken up, should now find himself, as a Minister, supporting this legislation. The legislation was introduced as a consequence of a decision by the Prime Minister in the middle of the general election to support legislation based on no investigation, no inquiry and no public consultation, and without even a debate in the House.
It must be unparalleled for a Government to bring legislation of this importance before the House—I hope that the Minister is listening—without any inquiry into the proposals which are put before it.
I wish to mention two aspects of the GLC's work which have so far received scant attention. The GLC has a statutory duty, under present legislation, to provide for a research and intelligence function. I do not know whether the Minister has any idea of the damage that will be done if that function were to disappear.
When the GLC was investigated by the Marshall committee, the evidence provided by Westminster city council was:
It is unlikely that
London local authorities
would be able to perform their own functions satisfactorily without the research and intelligence function of the GLC.
I wonder whether the Minister understands that the information provided by that body is crucial for resource allocation to meet London's needs in respect of the economy, social issues and environmental and inner-city matters, as well as a host of services.
It is vital for London's economy.
I happen to know that because I was elected to a London constituency in 1971. At that time, the research and intelligence department of the GLC identified the declining employment and industry in London. It was the first to recognise that. When I tried to talk on the issue, as a result of the evidence that that department produced, I was laughed at by those who said that it was absurd to suggest that London had serious industrial and employment problems.
Alas, that department was all too right. It was as a result of those investigations that later the Labour Government came forward with their White Paper on the inner cities. We produced the Inner Urban Areas Act 1978 which I had the honour to pilot through the House. It is now accepted that London has serious inner-city, employment and industrial problems. As a result of the work done by that department public opinion and Government opinion and policy were altered.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) has properly mentioned the work that the GLC has done on industry and employment. The Bill does nothing about that. The Minister barely mentioned it. I sometimes wonder whether he is aware of that work, because, as has been properly mentioned, the Greater London enterprise board has within a short time made significant efforts under difficult circumstances to provide jobs and assist in the development of industry in Greater London, where there has been a serious decline in employment and industry over the past decade or more. It has had to work under exceptionally difficult circumstances, while the Government have pursued policies that have only added to that decline in industry and employment. This is a bad Bill.
I regard the Bill as an insult to the House, because the Government are asking the House for powers to make directions and orders on important policy matters, including the abolition of the Inner London education authority. The tragedy is that London government needs reform. The London Government Act 1963 was a disaster. A great deal needs to be done, but the chance of progress towards greater democracy is, I believe, destroyed by the kind of legislation that we are considering.
We shall need to wait for a Labour Government before London government is better organised to meet the democratic needs of Londoners.
If ever there was an argument for the metropolitan counties, it is the Bill. In the last election manifesto, the Government said that they would get rid of most of the functions of the metropolitan counties. This they have singularly failed to do. From the Conservative Benches tonight, we have heard a great deal of political prejudice and arguments as to why Tory Members do not like Ken Livingstone and other council leaders. There has been little attempt to address the issues of local government.
I am pleased to see that the Bill fails to abolish countywide functions. In west Yorkshire, for instance, only 18 per cent. of such functions are transferred wholly to the districts. The remaining 82 per cent. will be administered on a countywide basis. West Yorkshire as a county remains. Instead of a county council there will be a series of quangos and joint boards. Therefore, the overwhelming majority of functions are county functions.
However, instead of one council, we shall have a number of councils, a number of rate precepts and a number of bodies with authority to levy on the ratepayers. If the Bill were ever to be translated into a film, its title would no doubt be "Last Quango in Whitehall". The Government have created a whole series of quangos. We have had experience of this through the Yorkshire water authority. If one is looking for an unpopular body in Yorkshire, one has to look no further than the water authority. It is heavy with bureaucracy, has pushed up the rates already, will push them up by a further 12 per cent. this year. and has provided fat cat salaries for its top bureaucrats. All the evidence suggests the unpopularity of quangos and the Government's failure to abolish countywide functions, so why do we have this Bill to abolish the county councils? The only argument is that this Bill is an attack on Labour authorities. It is built out of spite, and it is an attack on democracy.
It is an attack on democracy for three reasons. First, if the Government abolish the county councils, they will take from the electorate the right to chose their priorities. The electors will no longer be able to chose their transport policy and other policies administered by the county councils, which will not now be subject to democratic control. Secondly, there will be no election to the joint boards. No councillor who sits on a joint board will have to put a manifesto to the electorate. All councillors will emerge on the joint boards as a result of decisions taken by a Conservative or Labour group. Thirdly, the Government are rate capping the joint boards for the first three years, and abrogating to themselves substantial ministerial powers.
In those three ways, the Minister and the Government have taken away from west Yorkshire and the other metropolitan areas the ability to excercise democracy, and put in its place rule from Whitehall. One of the ironies of this legislation is that the Government have told the electorate in these areas that they would like to get rid of two-tier administration, although they were not talking about the shire counties. However, instead of doing that, they have provided three-tier local government—district councils, joint boards or joint committees, and rule from Whitehall. That is a recipe for chaos, and for electoral cynicism and apathy.
This shift away from democracy and away from local control has occurred without a public inquiry and without any attempt by the Government to verify their assertions and subject them to objective scrutiny. Reports have been produced on behalf of the metropolitan county councils. The Minister told me last week that the report by P.A. Management Consultants was long on assertion and limited on fact. It would have been useful if, before legislating, the Government had had a report which was short on assertion and long on fact. We have not had that from this Government.
The hon. Gentleman has just accused the Government of doing no research into the proposed legislation. Does he deny that in the press release by the Labour party after its local government conference in 1982 it was said that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) had said that if the Labour party proceeded to unitary authorities there would be no more commissions and that we would proceed straight to legislation?
The hon. Gentleman's intervention is even more pathetic than his speech. At no stage did he answer my assertion that the Government had not subjected their proposals to an independent inquiry. When he can answer that, he has a right to intervene again.
The Government are legislating on the basis of dogma and their political prejudice. The Secretary of State for the Environment will be remembered for his intervention in an earlier miners' strike when he told us to brush our teeth in the dark. In 1984 he is legislating on local government in the dark. The habits of a decade die hard. So we have a shift away from the districts and from the people.
I want to refer to functions that the county councils have carried out, because the Government have abrogated certain responsibilities. Last week, a former Leader of the Conservative party talked about the economics of the housewife. One of the characteristics of those economics is that the Government have pulled away from their responsibility to manage the economy. We saw that last week in the statement on regional policy and we see it in many other respects.
In the county areas we have had to fill that gap, not sufficiently, in an attempt to minimise some of the damage the Government have inflicted. The hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) said that the GLC had saved only 2,000 jobs with the Greater London enterprise board. I invite her to compare that saving with the total number of jobs that the Government have destroyed over the past five years. If she wants to study the work of the West Yorkshire enterprise board, I shall happily compare its figures with what the Government have done to push us up to levels of unemployment never experienced before in west Yorkshire.
Given the hon. Gentleman's majority, I am sure that he has a special interest in short-lasting jobs.
This is a bad Bill. It is bad for west Yorkshire, bad for local government and bad for democracy. The Secretary of State said that he would speak confidently in favour of these proposals. I suggest that if he is confident and prepared to advocate them round the country, why does not he put them to the ballot of the people in the metropolitan counties? We hear a great deal from him and his colleagues about the desirability of ballots. Why does he not take the risk? If he did and performed as he did in his speech today, the result of such a ballot would be very easy to predict.
In July 1981 I introduced a private Member's Bill called the Greater London Council (Abolition) Bill. Little did I realise that my modest proposal would result in today's debate.
I made my proposal because, rather like the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), I largely believe in single-tier local government. The reason for abolishing the GLC and the metropolitan counties is to pass back to the control of the local boroughs the responsibilities of the larger authorities.
It is significant that the expenditure of the GLC, which is my principal concern, amounts to 11 per cent. of the money spent by the 32 London boroughs. Under the Bill, 75 per cent. of that 11 per cent. will be passed down to the 32 boroughs. I welcome that, because the public do not generally support the GLC arid the metropolitan county councils. In the GLC elections of May 1981 only 44 per cent. of the London electorate troubled to vote and in the recent four by-elections, only 25 per cent. of the electorate were sufficiently interested in the issues to vote—even after the expenditure of millions of pounds on propaganda.
I welcome the Bill, because the existence of a two-tier system of local government in London has led to conflict over the past few decades. It has often meant that the powers of the larger authority have been in conflict with those of the boroughs, which are the primary sources of local services. That is why I believe that the Bill is right and why I shall support it.
Over the years since the creation of the GLC, many of the original services given to it by the House have been transferred by the House to other bodies. Examples include the creation of Thames water in 1973, the transfer of the ambulance service to the NHS in 1973 and the transfer of housing to the 32 London boroughs in the previous Parliament. That has left a GLC with a series of minor functions, few of which are strategic and most of which could be discharged at borough level. For example, the management of coroners' courts and the issuing of entertainment licences are obviously local issues.
However, I welcome the joint board for the London fire brigade. There has been a joint fire service in London since the second world war, and a joint body under the control of the elected London boroughs is a desirable objective. I also welcome the directly elected ILEA and I look forward to the authority taking office when the Bill becomes an Act.
The Bill will serve the people of London well. It fulfils a manifesto commitment that was popular in the general election. I support the Bill and look forward to supporting it in the coming weeks.
There have been three significant points about this Second Reading debate. The first is that the Secretary of State completely failed to make the case that the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan counties would increase local democracy. It is clear from what we have heard this evening that it will
reduce it. Let me quote the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he was the Minister of Housing and Local Government, and Minister for Welsh Affairs in 1962. I have to tell the right hon. Gentleman that his memory was at fault; he did move the Second Reading of the London Government Bill. I forgive him; he was probably thinking about student grants. The right hon. Gentleman said:
the Royal Commission considers and rejects two alternatives. First, that the central Government should fill the gap in the local administrative structure. The Commission says that this would be the death knell of responsible local self-government in Greater London. The Commission is plainly right.
He goes on to say:
The second solution examined was the setting up of ad hoc authorities for various purposes. The Commission points out that many of London's problems are interlocked and need to be considered and dealt with as a whole." — [Official Report, 10 December 1962; Vol. 669, c. 53.]
The right hon. Gentleman was right then, but unfortunately he is not right now.
Secondly, my hon. Friends have ably exposed the weaknesses, incoherence and sheer political spite behind the Bill.
Thirdly, and perhaps most significant of all, the Secretary of State received at the very best extremely halfhearted support from his party. Indeed, if the Government put on the Committee all the Tories who have spoken I would not give much for the Government's chances of getting the Bill through its Committee stage at all.
The hon. Gentleman has not been here a lot. I have listened to every speech except two, which is probably more than the Secretary of State.
I want to concentrate much of my remarks on what the Bill intends for ILEA. I find some of the ILEA clauses quite inexplicable; indeed, deeply disturbing. The Secretary of State for Education and Science has taken a great deal of pride in the fact that the Government responded to the overwhelming feeling of Londoners and decided in favour of a democratically elected ILEA instead of a joint board of elected councillors. He was right. Indeed, he patted himself on the back for his decision on several occasions before the House—on 5 April, on 9 May and on 23 October. He has told us that we really need not have worried; ILEA was never at risk.
The chairman of the Tory party, as is his wont, went even further. On 5 April he announced to an astonished world:
This is the listening Government. Today Sir Keith Joseph, Secretary of State for Education, announced that ILEA will in future be elected directly by the people of London. That is what the people of London wanted, it came overwhelmingly from the Government's consultation and the Government has taken the earliest possible opportunity to announce that that is what we are going to do. It used to be thought that consultation was merely a polite necessity before Governments did exactly what they intended to do in the first place. This Conservative Government believes in real consultation and the ILEA decision is proof of that.
Let us have a look at the Bill. It sets up a democratically elected ILEA in clauses 17 and 18, but what it gives with one hand it takes away with the other. The truth is that under the Bill democratically elected members will be muzzled by the Government. Under clause 64 the new
authority will be automatically subject to the rate-capping provisions of the Rates Act 1984 for the first three years of its existence. That is bad enough, but it is only a start. A number of other clauses give the Secretary of State unprecedented powers over the new authority. Clause 80 gives the Secretary of State powers to require ILEA to submit its plans on the control of the number of employers, provision of services and supplies and the administration of the authority. Clause 48 gives him powers to control levels of pay of non-teaching ILEA employees by setting up reviews. It is even more incredible that clause 20 gives him power to interfere in policy matters. Clause 20(5) gives him authority over ILEA's main policy objectives. Clause 21 goes even further, for it gives him power, subject to affirmative order, to transfer ILEA functions in whole or in part, either before March 1991 or at any subsequent time, to the borough councils.
In other words, the Government could wind up ILEA without introducing any new legislation despite all the promises that they have made. How does that square with the Secretary of State's remarks of 5 April? Some of us wonder whether the clause is there at the Prime Minister's command or that of the right hon. Gentleman's.
My charge against the Secretary of State is that he has misled Londoners, the House and the country. He must tell the House why he has broken the promises which I heard him make directly on 9 May in front of 2,000 London parents. He made the same promises to the House on 17 July. He said that apart from rate-capping the Inner London education authority would be free to decide its priorities and allocate its resources. That is just not true. He promised an autonomous directly elected authority for inner London education. The authority that will be set up by the Bill will be subject to a degree of central control that will be unprecedented in the history of local government. The Bill introduces democracy for inner London education by the front door and lets it out by the back.
The Secretary of State will justify his attack on the ground of ILEA's extravagance. He usually starts by paying a faint and rather fastidious tribute to ILEA's achievements. Any fair-minded person must admit that ILEA has substantial education achievements to its credit. It has a good pupil-teacher ratio, extensive nursery provision and good primary and secondary education. It has made a special effort to help the 16 to 19-years age group. It provides the most extensive adult education service in the country and makes generous provision for pupils with special education needs. The examination results—I take the Secretary of State's test—in 1983 were the best since 1978. The DES statistical officer has confirmed that if proper account is taken of background factors, ILEA's school leavers performed significantly better on almost every account than might have been predicted — [HON. MEMBERS: "Who?"] The DES statistical officer. If Conservative Members do not understand their statistics, they should get learning them. Of course, ILEA is not satisfied with current levels of achievement. That is why it has set up the Hargreaves inquiry into secondary schools, which has been welcomed by many, including the right hon. Gentleman. ILEA has set up the Thomas committee on primary education, which will be reporting in the near future. It has introduced special measures to help children from deprived families, to give greater opportunities to girls and to assist ethnic groups. The truth is that ILEA is a progressive local education authority which is setting educational standards and showing the way forward in many important respects, as DES officials recognise full well.
The Secretary of State says that ILEA is too expensive and wasteful. He argues that its budgeting is flabby. He finally says, and apparently believes, that cutting ILEA's budget will do no harm and may improve the performance of children in ILEA schools. It is true that ILEA spends more than other educational authorities, and so it should. On almost count, ILEA has more to cope with — population density 20 times the national average; one-parent families twice the national average; children taking school meals twice the national average; and children speaking English as a second language four times the national average. Seven out of 10 of the most disadvantaged boroughs are in inner London. It has twice the national average of primary schools built before 1900 and one and a half times the national average of secondary schools built before 1900.
It is untrue to argue that ILEA is a wasteful authority. ILEA's gross spending between 1978–79 and 1983–84 rose by 77 per cent. The national figure for a raise in pay and prices in educational service was 76 per cent. That is hardly a wild spending spree—keeping up with the rate of inflation. Despite the total withdrawal of block grant from ILEA — a loss of £160 million — ILEA's net expenditure between 1978–79 and 1983–84 grew by 87 per cent. Over the same period, local expenditure grew by 86 per cent. and central Government expenditure by 99 per cent. That was when the Secretary of State was in Government.
I do not want to rush the hon. Gentleman, but so far he has spoken only about inner London. He has said nothing about the outer London boroughs, which also are covered by the Bill, or about the metropolitan counties. Does that confirm that the Labour party has ditched the metropolitan counties' future?
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was here earlier today — [Interruption.] I listened to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) I am not sure whether the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) did so. If he had been here earlier today, he would have heard my hon. Friend make an excellent speech ranging over the whole area. Frankly, my hon. Friend made such a good case that I do not need to add to it.
In any case, Her Majesty's inspectorate—the adviser to the Secretary of State—has confirmed that ILEA is one of the few authorities reaching the proper standard of educational provision. It is untrue to say that ILEA's budgeting is "flabby" — that is the word used by the Secretary of State, not me. The right hon. Gentleman made much play of the £24 million underspent in 1983–84. I am extremely surprised that he does so. First, we are talking not about an overspend but about an underspend, and that is different from what has happened to the central Government's plans over the past few years. Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that ILEA received a windfall of £10 million from the GLC superannuation fund. The Secretary of State knows also that ILEA prudently marginally overestimated the inflation rate. ILEA thought that inflation would increase by 5 per cent., instead it went up by 4·5 per cent. ILEA did better than the Government, because the Government said that the increase would be 3 per cent. ILEA's underspend was actually £8 million, or not more than 1 per cent. of the total budget. There were good reasons for that, including the fact that ILEA had not started its asbestos programme in the year concerned. That was hardly flabby budgeting.
It is clear that the cuts which the Secretary of State has in mind will harm ILEA's educational functions. In its budget for 1984–85 ILEA has made significant savings. It is budgeting for a small decline in real spending. To cut back to the Government's proposed expenditure level will hurt education.
ILEA's chief education officer is not a political leader but a technical expert. He is widely admired and he has said that savings of £9 million would make a significant impact and that savings of more than £20 million would do serious damage to London's education. In any case, next year is only the first year. The Secretary of State has clearly warned that he will require further extensive cuts. He has the power to make them and that will do further extensive damage.
If ILEA were wasteful and spending too much — I argue emphatically that it is not — it is none of the Secretary of State's business. The Government make no contribution in rate support grant to London's education. The revenue comes from the rates. But we know that 80 per cent. of Londoners support either increased spending on education and increased rates, or keeping spending and rates at current levels. That percentage includes a majority of Conservative supporters.
If ILEA voters do not like ILEA's spending they will have the advantage which the voters of other authorities will not have. They will be able to turn out those in power. The truth is that the Secretary of State's problem—or at least one of his problems—is that, like his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science, he does not really trust democracy. Because we do trust democracy we shall vote against the Bill.
I had expected a longer peroration than that from the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice).
I was in at the birth of the GLC. I inherited a Bill drafted by my predecessor and steered it through the House. Now I am assisting at the obsequies of ILEA. [Interruption.] I was in at the birth of the GLC and now I am assisting at its obsequies—perhaps that is better.
The London county council fought against the 1963 Bill. It released a barrage of tendentious propaganda. It refused to co-operate in the transitional arrangements. During the debates on that Bill the late Mr. Chuter Ede told us that the metropolitan board of works had reacted similarly when replaced by the LCC. Strong feelings are evoked by such legislation.
One of the books that I remember from my childhood had the peculiar title of "Gobbo Bobbo—or the One-Eyed Griffin". It was a curious mixture of magical displays, by a sort of Merlin, of the history of London, all interspersed in a diatribe against the LCC. There was a witch called Bordibus Skulibus. [HON. MEMBERS: "She's not here tonight."' Despite the claims of Labour Members, I suspect that the criticisms of the Bill, and the objections to it, tend to be councillor-deep and not people-deep. We are concerned with residents rather than representatives; we are concerned with ratepayers rather than councillors.
If Labour Members were to pay more attention to the real interests of ratepayers, they would take a different view of the Bill. Three-quarters of the rates levied by the GLC are paid by businesses, and businesses are the prime providers of jobs. The constant harping by Labour Members on the level of spending, and the pride they take in large spending, seems to show that they do not realise that the more that is raised in rates, the greater is the damage to employment in inner London.
It is ironic to remember that the City of London was twice offered, in the 19th century, the opportunity to take over the government of London as a whole and twice refused that opportunity. So the ceremonial function that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Sir J. Page) wished to have for London as a whole might have been performed, had the City of London taken a different decision, by the Lord Mayor of London.
Since its creation, the GLC has lost many powers. Labour Members do not emphasis that very much. Since it was brought into being by the statute of 1963, it has lost most of the powers with which it began. Most housing has gone, ambulances have gone, education is now going to a directly elected body, transport has gone, sewerage has gone and drainage has gone. All those relatively massive powers with which the GLC was endowed at its birth have, by decision of this House, been removed from it. The GLC that was brought into existence 21 years ago was a very different animal, with far wider powers, from the GLC that the Government are now seeking to terminate.
The support from the Conservative Benches for the Bill in its entirety — the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils—has been very robust and articulate. [Interruption.] I have seldom heard such effective speeches as came from my hon. Friends the Members for Crosby (Mr. Thornton), for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King), for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey), for Banbury (Mr. Baldry), for Newcastle upon Tyne. Central (Mr. Merchant) and for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds that the Government have no intention whatever of injuring the operational efficiency of the police. I should also mention my hon. Friends the Members for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe), for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester), for Harrow, West and for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler). The only criticism came from my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes).
My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) expressed approval of the general decentralising tendencies of the Bill but expressed the wish that there should be a small body—he did not say whether it was to be an elected body—to take a view of the interests of London as a whole. I must ask my right hon. Fiend, whose powers of analysis I greatly respect, what kind of powers he thinks that such a body might have. No doubt he will make that clear.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) also referred to some kind of forum in which wider London issues might be discussed. He expressed some dissatisfaction with the scope that the House provides for discussing Londonwide issues and produced the interesting idea of a London Grand committee, to which I am sure that my right hon. Friends at the Department of the Environment will give consideration.
As the right hon. Gentleman is clearly having difficulty stretching his material until midnight, perhaps he will answer this question. Is not his real problem the fact that he has always been fond of snatching up fashionable ideas, pursuing them for a year or two and then dropping them? Does he agree that that is why we are now in this mess?
No, I do not agree. There has been a constant chorus from the Opposition to the effect that the Bill is undemocratic. They seem to think that indirectly elected bodies are somehow undemocratic, whereas in fact they are very close to the democratic, whereas in fact they are very close to the democratic end of the spectrum. Hon. Members who were not here earlier should note that when the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) was asked by my hon. Friends how he would proceed if ever a Labour Government were returned to power he was quite unable to give a clear answer, taking refuge in sheer gobbledegook, which I defy any hon. Member to understand. I offer him a second chance now. Would a Labour Government restore the metropolitan councils and the GLC? It seems that he does not wish to give a clear answer. The Opposition must face the dilemma. They must opt either for boards appointed by Ministers, which we have avoided in practically every case, or for indirect election, which is certainly not undemocratic.
The Opposition also seem to think that the Bill is a centralising Bill. That, too, is an absurd fabrication and distortion of the truth.
With respect, that question has no connection with the Bill whatsoever.
If the expenditure of the GLC on education and transport is omitted, 95 per cent. of its current spending on service delivery goes to the boroughs. This is a decentralising and democratic Bill. [Hon. Members: "Oh."]
No, I will not give way. I have much to say.
I turn with relish to the subject of the Inner London education authority. The hon. Member for Durham, North has allowed himself to become a spokesman for the ILEA. One might almost call him the hon. Member for ILEA. He should exercise rather more independent judgment instead of simply parroting what ILEA tells him to say.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West expressed some regret that the Government had not decided to abolish ILEA. However, I must remind my hon. Friend that we said in our White Paper, "Streamlining the Cities", that
The Government consider that a unitary education service, administered by a single education authority, offers at present the best prospect of meeting the educational needs of inner London.
We came to that conclusion because there is so much movement across borough boundaries by London children and students that to break up ILEA would mean a very big departure indeed from current practice. We therefore decided to keep a unitary authority and in due course decided, as a result of consultation—
The Secretary of State may be able to answer this question. If the position is as he explained it to his hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Sir J. Page) why is there a power in clause 21(5) for the Secretary of State by order, and with only one and a half hours' debate, to break up the centuries-old unitary education system of London to which he has just paid tribute and to distribute it to the boroughs, when the inner London boroughs have never had that power?
I shall answer all the questions, if I can. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] I will answer them now, if I am given time.
The hon. Member for Durham, North went so far, with no justification whatsoever, as to say that although the Government had declared their intention to maintain ILEA, though in a directly elected form, we are muzzling it as a decision-making authority. He quoted three clauses, of which one was the clause to which the hon. Gentleman refers. The first was clause 64, which follows—[HON. MEMBERS: "Clause 63."] It is clause 64, which is a consequence of the rate capping that the Government have decided is necessary to protect the ratepayers of London and the businesses of London, which provide the jobs. The GLC has brought rate capping upon itself, with the consequences in the clause about the level of precepts. That does not interfere with the decision-making of ILEA. It will be free to decide how to spend up to the precept level imposed under rate capping powers by my right hon. Friend. There is no suggestion that my right hon. Friend or I will seek any interfering power in regard to decisions made by ILEA under that precept.
Clause 80 is also a consequence of rate capping, which has been brought on the ILEA by the GLC's irresponsibility.
I shall not give way. Clause 21 should be of some comfort to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West. The Government believe that it is necessary for the protection of the pupils of inner London. If our hopes of ILEA are not fulfilled and if the unitary authority does not achieve the standards that we think the children of London deserve, the Government of the day have the power after review, after publishing that review and subject to affirmative resolution, to adopt a totally different policy in connection with the education of the children and students of inner London. That power was also introduced in the 1963 Bill and was later cancelled by a Labour Government. I take that as another demonstration of Labour's—I shall not say indifference to standards for children's education as that would be unfair—but their failure to concern themselves enough with standards as opposed to expenditure.
To be honest, the Secretary of State is explaining this in a way that makes it even worse than I feared. He is saying that this is the only local education authority in Britain over the objectives of which the Secretary of State has control. Clause 21 says that if he is not satisfied, he can abolish it. It is pretty extraordinary is not it?