Skip to main content


Volume 82: debated on Monday 8 July 1985

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

5. — (1) In this paragraph 'the proceedings' means proceedings on any further Message from the Lords on the Bill, on the appointment and quorum of a Committee to draw up Reasons and the Report of such a Committee.

(2) Mr. Speaker shall put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown for the consideration forthwith of the Message or, as the case may be, for the appointment and quorum of the Committee.

(3) A Committee appointed to draw up Reasons shall report before the conclusion of the sitting at which they are appointed.

(4) Paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business) shall apply to the proceedings.

(5) No dilatory Motion with respect to, or in the course of, the proceedings shall be made except by a member of the Government, and the Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.

(6) If the proceedings are interrupted by a Motion for the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 10 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) a period equal to the duration of the proceedings on the Motion shall be added to the period at the end of which the proceedings are to be brought to a conclusion.

As last week, so today the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) has made a great fuss about the fact that we are debating the Bill and that we intended to move this motion. I would have more sympathy if the GLC and the metropolitan counties had not obviously devoted all their energies between then and now to putting advertisements in the press rather than tabling amendments to the House, but that is exactly their priority, and it has been their priority throughout.

We shall be debating amendments that have come to this Chamber from another place. I am astonished that, if the issues are so serious, the Opposition actually want to spend time debating the timetable motion. I would have been quite happy to move the motion and take it on the nod so that we could get on to the substantive issues.

No one can now claim that the Bill has not had adequate time for debate. Despite the guillotine in this House, the time spent was over 200 hours. That was double the time spent on the 1963 London Government Bill, and nearly as much as on the 1972 Local Government Bill—almost twice the length of this Bill and covering the whole of England and Wales.

So it was also in another place. There was a long day's debate on Second reading, with a formidable list of speakers. There were 10 days of Committee stage discussion stretching late into the night on virtually every occasion. There were then six days on Report and a full day's debate on Third Reading—all in all, almost 120 hours of debate altogether in the other place. Lord Buckmaster calculated that that amounted to over a million words.

The principles of the Bill have been widely supported in both Houses of Parliament. The Bill received a Second Reading in this House by a majority of 135 and a Third Reading by a majority of 155. In another place the reasoned amendment moved on Second Reading was rejected by a majority of 126—a majority of more than two to one in the Government's favour. On some issues, notably the so-called "Voice for London" issue, the votes in another place came a trifle closer — that I shall concede—but always the proposal was rejected. I might remind the House that when that issue was debated on Report in this House the proposal was rejected by 335 votes to 193—a majority of 142.

The other place has returned the Bill to us with 98 amendments—far fewer than the 280 Lords amendments on the London Government Bill. Of these 98, 76 are straightforward and the Government will invite the House to accept them as they stand or with minor drafting changes. Worthy of note are the amendments which provide for a committee of councillors from the London boroughs to consider planning issues in place of the London Planning Commission originally proposed in the Bill, the amendment calling for a report on countryside matters, the amendment deleting the order-making power to break up the Inner London Education Authority, and the amendments providing for the continuity of a number of specialist services.

The two issues of substance on which the Government will invite the House to take a different view from their Lordships concern highways and road traffic and waste disposal.

There is plenty of time to debate those issues. Although I recognise that the Opposition and some of my hon. Friends want to add to or amend some of the Lords amendments, as far as I can see they all concern issues which have already been argued fully in this House and in another place at earlier stages of the Bill. Although it is perfectly right to return to those matters now, we consider that the proposed time is reasonable.

I understand that the Opposition will oppose the timetable motion. Are they really saying that the whole day, extending, as the motion provides, until midnight, is too little time to debate these issues fully? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] Opposition Members have had but one tactic throughout this legislation — to delay it just as long as they can. They failed to win the case on its merits. They had hoped to emasculate the Bill in another place, but they failed there too. It is now right and proper that we bring debate on the Bill to a conclusion and get on with the job. That is the purpose of this motion, and I commend it to the House.

The Question is, The Local Government Bill allocation of time motion. Mr. Tony Banks.

3.47 pm

Yes. I defer, as always, to the chairman of the Greater London council, but I hope that he will not mind, if, this time, I speak before him, with, of course, his permission.

My good and hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) is unavoidably absent today. Nothing would have given him greater pleasure than to be here to lead the fight.

We oppose the motion because it is constitutionally unacceptable that seven major debates on issues central to the operation of the Bill should be crammed into no more than six hours of debate today. For the Government to suggest that we should not have taken the one hour to discuss general principles is verging on the hypocritical because, had they thought that the principles were important enough to be discussed, they could have allowed more time.

The Bill would implement the Conservative party's manifesto commitment of June 1983, which said:
"The Metropolitan Councils and the Greater London Council have been shown to be a wasteful and unnecessary tier of government. We shall abolish them and return most of their functions to the boroughs and the districts."
The White Paper — the so-called "Streamlining the Cities" White Paper — tried to expand on those aims. We were told that the Bill would do three things: transfer most functions to the lower tier, remove an unnecessary tier of government and achieve major savings. The electorate was told before June 1983 that £120 million would be saved.

Another reason why we need much more time to debate the Bill is that, even if it is passed in its present form, it will be a failure when set against the aims which the Government have set for it. The Secretary of State said the Bill had not been emasculated. He has obviously not read or listened to what happened to the Bill in this House and in the other place. It does not transfer most functions to lower-tier authorities. Of 42 major functions currently operated by the GLC or the metropolitan counties, 32, that is 75 per cent., are to be transferred wholly or substantially to countywide bodies, including fire, police, almost certainly waste disposal, passenger transport, financial services and waste management. In case the Secretary of State has missed this, since the White Paper, thanks to the effectiveness of the opposition in this House and outside, 25 functions have been substantially altered to provide now for countywide control.

Secondly, this measure does not remove an unnecessary tier of government. Indeed, progress on the Bill has confirmed the unavoidable need for countywide services, but what the Bill has removed is democratically elected control of those countywide services. If anybody denies that, let the Secretary of State contradict the figures which show that in the Greater London area 60 per cent. of the spending will still be undertaken by countywide bodies. In the metropolitan areas, it will be 90 per cent. of spending.

Thirdly, this measure will not produce the savings which were so wildly claimed for it at the general election. That claim of £120 million is in today's prices worth £140 million. It was scaled down in the explanatory memorandum to the Bill when it was first published at the end of last November, and it is an issue on which Ministers are coy, to say the least. We have had a succession of Ministers from other Departments, such as the Minister of State, Department of Transport, saying, "Wherever that £100 million is coming from, it is not coming from passenger transport." The Minister of State, Home Office is saying, "Wherever that £100 million is coming from., it is not coming from the fire service or the police or from civil defence." In the Secretary of State's speech, not a word was said about the great claim that this measure would save £120 million. The Public Accounts Committee will find him out after others have seen to his demise from his present high office. However much creative accounting it goes in for, the Public Accounts Committee will find that this measure will not save money, but will increase costs. The Coopers and Lybrand studies, which the Minister has never sought to contradict, show that for marginal recurrent savings there had to be set against one-off savings of between £272 million and £407 million.

Another reason why we need more time to debate this measure is that it will in no way streamline the cities, because in the place of seven great authorities there will be 62 quangos, joint boards and joint committees and five Government Departments with enhanced powers. Did any Conservative Members in supporting the manifestos in 1979 and 1983, take account of the fact that it would be a matter of voting for more quangos, more joint boards and more centralised control? That will be the result of the Bill.

The Bill has never been anything more than an unprincipled, spiteful and vindictive attack on seven great local authorities for no reason other than that they are Labour. Many Ministers, including the Minister of State, have had to eat their hats, and to eat their former words in support of the GLC and the metropolitan counties.

Will the Secretary of State seek the Prime Minister's approval to release the letter which the Prime Minister sent after the Marshall inquiry to Mr. Cutler when he was leader of the Greater London council? We have not heard of that letter before, I understand on the very best of authority that after the Marshall inquiry Mr. Cutler wrote to the Prime Minister who was then Leader of the Opposition, asking her whether she wanted a further statutory inquiry. As I understand it, the right hon. Lady replied that she did not wish for a further statutory inquiry into the GLC, but wished to see the GLC preserved and said that the GLC was
"the jewel in the crown of Conservative local government."

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that if his party were ever returned to government it would not bring back the GLC and the metropolitan counties in their present form? I emphasise "in their present form".

We should bring back a strategic authority for London in a better form. I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has today released a letter which contains a categorical assurance that we shall reinstate democratic and directly elected control of countrywide services in every area to which the Bill applies.

We should be grateful for the fact that in piloting the measure through the House the Secretary of State has greatly contributed to the decline in the Government's popular support. There is no doubt that the Government forced this measure into their manifesto because they thought that it would increase their popularity, but, thanks to the opposition in the House and outside, it is one of the main reasons why the Government suffered a humiliating defeat last week and why they will suffer further such humiliating defeats next May in the local elections.

The Secretary of State claims to have won a series of votes. We are aware of the supine nature of the Government's supporters. We are aware that we may lose votes today, but we fight to win. Whatever votes we may lose, the Labour party has overwhelmingly won the arguments about this mean and nasty Bill, which will result in worse services, staff uncertainty, administrative chaos and increased costs for ratepayers and taxpayers. Above all, the Bill reduces the rights of 13 million electors to have a proper say about the services which directly affect them.

We shall fight the measure now. We shall continue to fight it in the future. At the next election, we shall be pledged to its repeal. Not least because of that pledge to repeal, when we are elected to power in 1987, we shall make the repeal of this measure one of the next Labour Government's first acts.

3.56 pm

During the debates on the Bill I have often found myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), but not today. I strongly support the timetable motion, in general, because I believe that Bills should be timetabled — a good Bill should not need 170 hours of debate—but in particular, because the sooner we get rid of this unfortunate Bill, this embarrassment for the Government, the sooner it is out of the way, the sooner will most people forget it and the better therefore will be the future chance of a Conservative Government.

I am one of that band, which has been small up to now, of Conservative Members who consistently over the past year or two have done their best to persuade the Government to desist from flinging down banana skins upon which they then slip. Unfortunately, the failure of my powers of persuasion were demonstrated with painful clarity by last Thursday's events. In future, I shall have to try harder and, I hope, with more support from my hon. Friends.

I should not be arguing for a quick end to the debate if there were a snowball's chance in hell of the Government listening to what was said, but with a severe attack of political deafness and a majority as large as it is, mere words are useless. I should argue differently if the majority were a more normal 40 or 50. If it had been, I doubt whether we would ever have had the Bill. Even if we had, such a majority would have ensured that we could have knocked more sense into the Bill.

I had high hopes of the other place. It has improved the Bill, and my hopes were raised when I saw it reported that my noble Friend Lord Whitelaw was against it. With his great political experience, that was not the least surprising. Sadly, however, even he and his colleagues were mostly, with honourable and noble exceptions, in the end whipped into line. The sooner we are done with this Bill the better. But though it may be forgotten by the majority, its ill effect will live with all those who live in London and the metropolitan counties. In the metropolitan areas a mass of districts, mostly controlled by the Left of the Labour party, will replace a mere six Labour metropolitan councils. That is hardly a good Conservative recipe for administration.

In London, the powers of the GLC will be administered partly by the London boroughs, mostly controlled by Labour, partly by an elected ILEA, but sure always to be controlled by Labour, partly by a residuary body, which has the benefit of an excellent chairman, and partly, and increasingly in my judgment, by Whitehall, as will become steadily clearer. The change-over will be chaotic and the cost very high. That will hardly please the electorate, nor will it uphold the old classical Tory belief in the maximum distribution of power. I trust that a general election will come before the chaos becomes too obvious. All this is to satisfy a sudden and ill-thought-out whim. It is a strange world in which we live, but it is time that a little more common sense was introduced into it.

4 pm

The hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) is clearly the voice of reason within the Conservative party. It is an echo that we have heard gathering strength throughout the passage of the Bill but it has still not convinced the Conservative Front Bench, particularly the person who inhabits No. 10 Downing Street. The hon. Gentleman has expressed fears that are clearly held by many reasonable Conservative Members.

The Government's guillotining of this latest stage of the Bill is entirely consistent with their tactics, which have been shoddy in the extreme throughout its passage through both Houses. We have been told that the Bill was conceived in haste and in malice by the Prime Minister. It has been nurtured on the lies propagated by the Daily Mail, The Sun, and the Daily Express and it has been dragooned through Parliament by a bunch of placemen prostituting what is left of their political principles. From that, I exonerate both the Secretary of State and the Minister for Local Government who clearly revealed that they had no political principles to start with.

We have been told by the Secretary of State that we have had many hours of debate on the Bill. Indeed, we have, but most of it has been sustained by the Opposition during the Committee stage. When we reach the later amendments we shall no doubt have a repeat of what we have seen before. The Conservative Benches will be completely denuded of Members, save the few miserable rejects on the Government Front Bench and some of their Parliamentary Private Secretaries who are forced to sit behind them and appear loyal. The rest will disappear because Tories are embarrassed by what their Government are doing.

The Government have used secrecy, deceit and plain dishonesty in their efforts to abolish the GLC and the metropolitan county councils.

I do not believe that they are asleep. I believe that it is a new thing called "political osmosis". They hope to get some sense through the green leather of the Benches on which their heads rest. There is no credible support for the Bill. Ninety amendments were made in another place and major principles were established and changed, yet we are to have only about six hours' debate.

I apologise for intervening in my hon. Friend's speech, but had the Secretary of State not been windy I would have said the same to him. Does my hon. Friend realise that those amendments were made at 11.30 pm last Wednesday in the other place, yet here we are on Monday, less than 48 sitting hours later, talking about those very amendments? Not only is the Bill being subjected to the guillotine, but it is being pushed through the House at the speed of light, which is a gross misuse of parliamentary privilege.

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend, but I believe that the hon. Member for Devizes got it right. The Government are severely embarrassed by the Bill. They want to try to rush it out as fast as they can. The hon. Member for Devizes was quite wrong to expect that, merely because the Bill is likely to be passed, somehow the electorate will forget about it. I remind him that the GLC and the metropolitan county councils will still exist until 31 March and no one believes that the GLC, of all bodies, will allow the London electorate to forget about this particular legislation.

I was on the point of reminding the House that "Streamlining the Cities" received about 5,000 responses, the overwhelming majority of which were implacably opposed to the Government's proposals. The Government cannot and have never been able to cite one independent, authoritative academic or professional body in support of abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils. The Prime Minister's determination, which in certain respects, from a political point of view, can be considered to be admirable, has turned into sheer boneheadedness. She has permitted her judgment to be dominated by her political vindictiveness towards the GLC, and not one of the bunch of gutless ministerial nonentities who surround her has the courage to tell her the truth. She is taking her party towards political annihilation in London, and local government towards chaos throughout the country. There is overwhelming opposition to the Bill among the electorate as council by-elections and opinion polls clearly show.

The Tory party in London is now too frightened to fight elections. Of the four GLC by-elections called since May this year, the Tories have decided to fight only one, at Romford. That shows that no political principle can be involved. That by-election will be contested on Thursday and the Tories will lose it because of the Bill.

I can see why the Government are worried about elections and why they want to abolish the ballot box. Despite what goes out in the media, the Tories lost two of the safest seats in Sheffield in last Thursday's by-election. Are the Government to start abolishing district council elections as well?

I do not know whether they are about to abolish district council elections, but given their authoritarian nature it would not surprise me. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Michie) is quite correct. The real impact of this Bill will be seen in the borough council elections in London and the district council elections in May 1986. From a Labour point of view, we expect to make a clean sweep throughout London. Westminster city council will go Labour in 1986 because of the Bill and the Government will be surrounded by their political enemies. Such thoughts comfort me at times like this.

Whatever happens to the Bill, there will be no comfort for the Government. They have never made anything other than the most generalised statements about their overall objectives. They have talked about massive savings as the reason for abolition, but those savings have never been quantified in any detail. The Government claim that £50 million a year will be saved by the abolition of the GLC, offset by £20 million in the first year because of transitional costs. We have never been given a breakdown of these figures despite repeated requests, and one or two parliamentary questions by myself.

Coopers and Lybrand estimate that the transitional costs resulting from abolition will total between £122 million and £167 million. Early-day motion 795, tabled in the names of a number of Conservative Members, draws the Government's attention to the estimate. I should like to know whether Ministers have asked their civil servants to look at the figures produced by Coopers and Lybrand to see whether they can fill any gaps in their woeful lack of information. The Government's £50 million a year estimate is considered by Coopers and Lybrand to be a substantial over-estimate because it takes no account of the increased costs of debt financing. These figures cannot be verified.

Policy changes, as Alan Greengross, the leader of the Conservative party at County hall has pointed out, could produce for the Government far more savings than they could ever get through abolition, but policy changes would mean that the Tory party would have to go out and win an election at the ballot box. That they have refused to do, and they have abolished the county level ballot box in London.

The hon. Gentleman is concerned about depriving Londoners of the democratic right to vote, but will he explain how many seats will be contested next year in the borough elections? Is that not an opportunity for Londoners to exercise their democratic rights?

Yes, and Londoners will take it, and they will sweep the Tories out of London. However, we are talking about county level elections, which have effectively been abolished in London, but which will be maintained in the shire elections. I cannot see what principle the hon. Gentleman as trying to prove.

The Government have claimed that the GLC services will be transferred to the boroughs and a so-called unnecessary tier of local government will be removed. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) has confirmed, it is not the GLC and the metropolitan council services that are to be abolished but rather democratic control over those who administer most of those services. He went on to show the number of functions that would be transferred wholly or substantially to countywide bodies.

Far from streamlining local government, Ministers are introducing proposals that will lead to about 195 successor bodies and authorities taking on GLC and metropolitan county council activities after abolition. If the Secretary of State believes that that is streamlining, it is clear that he would make an even worse job of design engineering than of local government.

Has the hon. Gentleman forgotten that four key metropolitan county councils, the Labour parties in those districts and the GLC leader in London have called for the abolition of these authorities, and that it has taken the Leader of the Opposition since April, when he was asked by the leader of the West Yorkshire county council whether he would restore the metropolitan county councils, to come up with a fudged compromise?

I have sat through every debate on this Bill, here and in Committee. I have heard our Front Bench clearly make statements that the GLC will be restored and that the next Labour Government will have to look at the whole structure of local government in the metropolitan areas. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that we are going to respond in the same knee-jerk way as the Prime Minister reacted when she read some of the bad publicity that the GLC was getting and said, "We will abolish it, off with its head", he does not understand the way that the Labour party works. We shall make sure that local government is put on a firm and sound footing, and that will involve us approaching the matter properly and democratically and not in the haphazard and undemocratic way of the Conservative party.

The electorate knows that this Bill is nonsense. It started off as a botched-up exercise in political vindictiveness and has now become the most absurd legislative proposal since the window tax. Everybody knows that the Bill will not work. We all know that it is nonsense, and yet it still limps towards the statute book. It does so simply because it is now all about the Prime Minister's face — the most expensive commodity in British politics today. That face sinks ships in the south Atlantic, wages war on trade unionists and the unemployed and undermines the economy. It is now set, against all reason, natural justice and the facts, to abolish the GLC and the MCCs.

The Bill is immoral and unworkable. It seeks to use parliamentary sovereignty to destroy an important part of local democracy and, by doing so, it brings both the law and the House into disrepute. In my first speech in this House I said that the abolition of the GLC would eventually destroy the Government. I see no reason to change that prediction. The coming Labour Government, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has made clear, will have to reorganise local government in London. At County hall, we are already working on a new, super and improved GLC, for the years to come. It will be larger and more powerful, and it will undoubtedly involve the abolition of the City of London. Perhaps, using some of the precedents established in the Bill, we shall abolish the City of London by Order in Council. We shall cite certain things that the Government have attempted to do with ILEA.

Politics is a funny business. It appears from the way that selections for parliamentary candidates in my party are going that half the current Labour group from County hall will be here to see the new, super, improved GLC being created, and I look forward to that.

In the meantime, abolition of the GLC will not end as an issue, even after the Royal Assent has been given. As chairman of the GLC, I give an unyielding promise to the Government that no political goodwill will be forthcoming from County hall between now and 31 March 1986. We shall do all that is necessary to protect jobs and services in London.

The Bill has become a spectacular embarrassment for the Government that even now most of them regret. It is no wonder that the Government wish to force the Bill through tonight by using the guillotine. The destruction of this particularly loathsome Government is all the consolation that I need if the GLC is to be abolished. The Bill will achieve that destruction.

4.16 pm

We have just heard a turkey voting against Christmas.

One of the reassuring things about the Bill is that authoritarians in the Labour party say that it will lead to a reduction in democracy, but Mr. Ted Knight, the leader of Lambeth council, when he was defeated last week on a vote about rates, said that it did not make any difference and that he would continue his policies. He spat in the face of democracy, and that is what authoritarians in the Labour party always do.

One thing that the Bill will do—

I shall not give way.

One thing that the Bill will do — this is not its purpose, but a by-product of it — is to rid London of Ken Livingstone as leader of the GLC. That is ridding us of somebody who has done for local democracy what Josef Mengele has done for medicine—perverted his art with brutal and idiosyncratic practices—[Interruption.]

Order. Only one hon. Member should be on his feet at a time. Is the hon. Gentleman giving way?

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In the general guffawing that usually surrounds the speeches of the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow), perhaps hon. Members missed the fact that he compared Ken Livingstone with the mass murderer of Jews in concentration camps. Is that not exceeding the normal bounds of decent debate?.

I have no intention whatever of withdrawing my remark, because of the way that I made it. We all know that Ken Livingstone is not a mass murderer, and that is not the point that I was making. I was making the point that he perverted the trust that was put in him in terms of local government, and he perverted that art through idiosyncratic and brutal experimentation against the people of London. Not only that, but he abused his trust by using vast amounts of ratepayers' money for publicity and propaganda that has fuelled the interests of the Labour party. This a disgrace, and the sooner the Widdicombe report comes out and does something about it the better.

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend's remarks about Mr. Ted Knight, but how will the Bill improve the position if it is to give more power to Mr. Ted Knight?

We shall have to see what happens to Mr. Ted Knight in the fullness of time and what the ballot box says about him. My hon. Friend will then see that true democracy works. My hon. Friend views the Bill in a different way from me. He is in a small minority in the Conservative party. The reason why I am making these points is that the vast majority of Conservative Members are whole-heartedly behind this measure. It brings democracy closer to the people and gives more control over what is happening to local people. That is why I support the motion.

4.20 pm

I can follow neither the extremism nor the bombast of the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow). He is no doubt aggrieved that his rates in Lambeth are going down, and he will no doubt exercise his single ballot box vote there next year.

We have seven hours and twenty minutes in which to discuss the 98 amendments which were made by the other place. This is the exercise of the Government's use of the parliamentary chopper. Their first exercise of the chopper was to provide no debate within the Conservative party. They chopped any debate within the Cabinet. The Prime Minister decided to include this proposal in the general election manifesto. The second exercise of the electoral chopper was to chop any opportunity to hold a public inquiry and take expert evidence, as has always happened in the past when local government has been reformed. The Government have chopped any opportunity to listen to those who might know a little more about the working of local government than either the Secretary of State or his colleagues who have been given charge of the Bill.

The Government's third exercise of the parliamentary chopper was to chop the 1985 elections in London and in the six metropolitan counties of Britain. The Tories did not do all that well in the elections on their own ground, namely, the shire counties, let alone in the elections that might have taken place in the urban areas of Great Britain. Their fourth exercise of the parliamentary chopper was to chop the elected government of our capital city after a history that goes back 100 years. They have chopped regional government, municipal government and strategic government for the majority of citizens who live in the urban counties. Another exercise of the chopper is to guillotine this debate.

The history of the reaction to these proposals suggests that there is a bigger chop yet to come. The Government included this promise in their general election manifesto of 1983. Their vote went down. At the beginning of the general election campaign 44 per cent. of the population supported the Government, but three weeks later only 42 per cent. supported them. The shire county elections in England and Wales took place earlier this year. Throughout their history the Conservative party has been in control of the majority of the shire counties. It also controlled the Association of County Councils. The result of the Government's policies emanating from the Department of the Environment, their policies relating to local government and local government finance and their policy to make the people out there pay for what the Government are doing here means that they have lost control of the majority of shire counties in England. Their vote has gone down. For the first time ever they have lost control of the Association of County Councils.

What has happened when Members of Parliament have been elected? There have been a few by-elections since the Government first came to office. Only two seats have changed hands in by-elections. They were Tory seats. The Government had a majority of over 12,000 in Portsmouth, but they lost that by-election. That failure was also connected with their local government policies. In Brecon and Radnor the Government had a majority of over 8,000, but they lost that by-election, too. It will not have escaped the attention of the House that the Government lost those by-elections, not to the Labour party, but to the alliance. The message from the electorate of Brecon and Radnor and everywhere else is that because the Government do not respect local government, or local services, or the views of local people, they will be up for the chop at the end of this Parliament. That will be the result of the folly of their policies.

Can the hon. Gentleman explain why, since the Conservative party lost control of the Association of County Councils, it has managed to take the majority of the chairmanships, with the support of the Liberals?

The reason is that the Labour party is incompetent at organising itself and the Association of County Councils is unused to holding the balance of power. It was only under pressure from the alliance that it nominated a member of the Labour party to chair the Burnham committee to look after education, because of the protests of the Labour party.

No, I shall not give way again. The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to make his speech.

The result of this policy is that, contrary to all their protests and to what was said by the Secretary of State's predecessor, who is now the Secretary of State for Education and Science, the Government are giving more power to the Secretary of State and his successors, to quangos and to nominated or indirectly elected bodies. They are all equally inappropriate and inadequate substitutes for local government. We have watched the flight of confidence as people have been driven from their jobs, not only in county hall, but in the metropolitan county councils.

Crucial matters are to be debated today. However, they reflect only bits of policy, because the Government's policy was formed on the run and has not been thought out properly. All those who served on the Committee know that the Government had no answer to the question about who supported their proposals. They did not even have an answer, for half of the time, about their proposals. The bits of the Bill which were amended by the other place deal with strategic planning — hardly something which the Government presume can be carried out by borough or district councils. Highways and traffic management do not stop at borough boundaries and suddenly become somebody else's responsibility at a handover point, as happens when one crosses the Channel. It is ludicrous that these matters are not to be dealt with by countywide authorities.

The Government had no policy on waste disposal when the Bill was previously considered in this House. Waste disposal may not be one of the most exciting parts of the Bill, but if waste disposal goes wrong it will be an important matter for those who are concerned about the environment and who will have to cope with waste and rubbish in their cities and urban areas.

As for the Government's education proposals, it has been said for decades that education in London is better looked after by a cross-borough authority. The Government, it is said, ought therefore to have left it alone. Instead, they are not allowing county education structures to remain in place. The details and the principles need to be considered fully, not in a rushed debate. That is what the guillotine will imply.

I take on board entirely and agree with the point made by the hon. Gentleman. His argument about waste disposal applies precisely to Merseyside, as it does to many of these other services. However, can the hon. Gentleman say what advice he would give to the electors of Liverpool, Mossley Hill? I understand that his hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) has consistently supported the abolition of the metropolitan counties, against the interests of the people of Merseyside. Is not the only way to deal with the matter in Mossley Hill at the next general election to vote for the Labour candidate?

I shall deal in a moment with that matter and all that goes with it, as well as with the statement this morning by the Leader of the Opposition. I repeat what the Government ought to bear in mind. At the beginning of the debate on the Bill the alliance made its view clear. —[Laughter.] It is no use the Labour party laughing, because it still does not have a clear policy.

Our position has been made clear for decades. London should again have — whatever the Government do— a regional authority. The rest of England should have regional authorities. The Labour party is still — it is entitled to take its time — sorting out whether it will replace county authorities with metropolitan authorities, whether it will have only district authorities, or whether it will have a combination of the two. However, we repeat what we said at the beginning, that the only satisfactory answer is to give London and the other areas proper regional government. Under that form of government regional functions such as transport, planning and waste disposal, which should have been provided many years ago, will be carried out.

Can the House determine from that statement that the official view of the Liberal and Social Democratic parties is that the metropolitan counties should be abolished?

We have always believed that the metropolitan counties should be replaced by regional government. We opposed the setting up of the metropolitan counties, and we have never liked them. [Interruption.] It will be done by regional government, with many of the powers which Whitehall and this Secretary of State and his successors will inherit. Perhaps the Government should have paid more heed to that message at the beginning.

I end with these two notes of warning to the Labour party and its policy makers and to the Government. They should notice that since 1982 the alliance, and not the Labour party, has done best in local elections in London — [HON. MEMBERS: "Not in London."] It is true. Labour Members may try to prove me wrong but they will not succeed. We have done better in London in local elections. We have been consistent in our policies and arguments on the issue. I hope that, one day, the Labour party will have a consistent approach and policy. Labour Members will not be the victims of what is primarily a Government folly. The Government intend passing powers to a residuary body. As a body, the Government were withering when the Bill was introduced. They will be the residuary body at the end of this exercise, and they will have only themselves to blame.

4.32 pm

I wonder whether any hon. Member or any person outside who hears this debate will be able to consider this as a serious debate. I suspect that this is the type of debate that brings the House into some disrepute. There is no doubt that the people know full well that the Government, who were elected with an overwhelming majority in 1983, had a policy to abolish the Greater London council and the metropolitan counties. In June 1983 a poll conducted by National Opinion Polls clearly showed that the public had little idea what the GLC did and saw no reason why it might not just as well be abolished. In the general election which followed soon after that poll the Conservatives won 56 of the 84 London seats that were up for election. If that did not represent an overwhelming majority vote for the Conservative party's policies, I should like to know what did.

No doubt the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to speak in the debate.

Various politicians in the metropolitan counties have told us of their wish to abolish the metropolitan councils because they see no purpose in them. They believe that it is far better for democratic practices to be returned to the district councils, which have many more elected members representing a much smaller proportion of the population. The same applies in Greater London. I am sure that, once the people realise that their interests are represented by many more councillors, it will be an irrelevance to have a Greater London council.

Since the general election, £12 million has been spent by the GLC in an attempted brainwashing exercise. Almost £1 million has been spent by the metropolitan counties in doing the same thing. The latest intervention is a letter from the Leader of the Opposition which, we have been told, took him six months to write — no doubt, there was a lot of rewriting. We have been told that the Labour party is not committed to restoring the GLC and the metropolitan councils in their present form. This was confirmed by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), speaking from the Front Bench, in reply to my intervention. The Opposition are committed to restoring what they call a strategic, democratically elected voice. That is a very different thing.

The hon. Gentleman will have his opportunity to speak.

I ask the hon. Member for Blackburn and his Front Bench colleagues whether they believe that the district councils and the London borough councils are democratically elected bodies. If they are not, what are they? The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues know only too well that there are members of the Labour party in senior positions who share the view that the metropolitan councils and the GLC are superfluous and an irrelevance.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way to the right hon. chairman of the GLC. Will he reflect on this point? Of course the impending Labour Government will not bring back the GLC as currently established, because it has lost transport, housing, ambulance services and water and sewage services. It would be pointless bringing back the GLC as it is now. We want to bring it back with all those services added to it.

I am sure that the House and the world outside will find it instructive to hear the right hon. chairman of the GLC make such a partisan statement. It is rather like you, Mr. Speaker, making a speech in a partisan way for, or against, the existence of the other place. I am sure that you would not do that—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not the case that whoever sits in your seat would be expected to support the concept of an elected democracy?

If a great mind like yours, Mr. Speaker, will not answer that intervention, I certainly will not try.

I remind the Opposition, who are spending so much time arguing against the Government delivering their manifesto commitments, of two statements. On 23 September 1983 the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), writing in his local newspaper, the Sutton Coldfield News, stated:
"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 Midlands MPs before the Election."
He was referring, of course, to the 1983 general election.

Then very recently, in April 1985, Mr. Ken Livingstone, the leader of the Greater London council, wrote to the chairmen of his committees:
"We have never defended the GLC status quo and have always argued for an extension and development of our powers."
I realise that from the Labour party there is indeed a view that it wishes to go further and that it wants, of course, to abolish the shire county councils, but what we are asking for is that the Government's commitment in the manifesto should be delivered now without further ado to the population, and there should be no further talk about this matter. We should proceed to legislate.

4.41 pm

I wish to make one brief point which I think goes to the kernel of the argument about the motion.

The kernel of the Bill is the removal from direct democracy of a whole range of powers which at present exist in the metropolitan counties and the Greater London council. If the House is to mean anything, it must be the watchdog of democracy against the dictatorship of the Executive. The Executive in the form of the Government are bringing forward the Bill to remove democracy from the hands of many of my constituents and many others throughout the country. It therefore behoves us—

It being one hour after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. SPEAKER put the Question pursuant to the order of the House of 11 February.

The House divided: Ayes 285, Noes 166.

Division No. 255]

[4.41 pm


Adley, RobertEvennett, David
Aitken, JonathanEyre, Sir Reginald
Alexander, RichardFairbairn, Nicholas
Amess, DavidFallon, Michael
Ancram, MichaelFenner, Mrs Peggy
Ashby, DavidFinsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Aspinwall, JackFletcher, Alexander
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H.Forman, Nigel
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)Forth, Eric
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y)Fox, Marcus
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)Franks, Cecil
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Fraser, Peter (Angus East)
Batiste, SpencerFreeman, Roger
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyFry, Peter
Bellingham, HenryGale, Roger
Bendall, VivianGalley, Roy
Bennett, Rt Hon Sir FredericGardiner, George (Reigate)
Benyon, WilliamGardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)
Best, KeithGarel-Jones, Tristan
Bevan, David GilroyGlyn, Dr Alan
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnGoodlad, Alastair
Biggs-Davison, Sir JohnGorst, John
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir PeterGow, Ian
Body, RichardGower, Sir Raymond
Bonsor, Sir NicholasGrant, Sir Anthony
Bottomley, PeterGreenway, Harry
Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaGregory, Conal
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)Griffiths, Sir Eldon
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)
Braine, Rt Hon Sir BernardGrist, Ian
Brandon-Bravo, MartinHamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)
Bright, GrahamHamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Brinton, TimHampson, Dr Keith
Brittan, Rt Hon LeonHanley, Jeremy
Brooke, Hon PeterHannam, John
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)Hargreaves, Kenneth
Browne, JohnHarris, David
Bruinvels, PeterHaselhurst, Alan
Bryan, Sir PaulHawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk)
Buck, Sir AntonyHawksley, Warren
Burt, AlistairHayes, J.
Butcher, JohnHayhoe, Rt Hon Barney
Butler, Hon AdamHeathcoat-Amory, David
Butterfill, JohnHeseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Hickmet, Richard
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S)Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Cash, WilliamHogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Chalker, Mrs LyndaHolland, Sir Philip (Gedling)
Chapman, SydneyHordern, Sir Peter
Chope, ChristopherHoward, Michael
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)Hubbard-Miles, Peter
Clegg, Sir WalterHunt, David (Wirral)
Colvin, MichaelHunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Coombs, SimonHunter, Andrew
Cope, JohnIrving, Charles
Couchman, JamesJenkin, Rt Hon Patrick
Cranborne, ViscountJessel, Toby
Crouch, DavidJones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Currie, Mrs EdwinaJones, Robert (W Herts)
Dickens, GeoffreyJopling, Rt Hon Michael
Dicks, TerryJoseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
Dorrell, StephenKellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
Dover, DenKey, Robert
Dunn, RobertKing, Roger (B'ham N'field)
Durant, TonyKing, Rt Hon Tom
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)Knight, Greg (Derby N)
Eggar, TimKnowles, Michael
Emery, Sir PeterLamont, Norman

Latham, MichaelRoe, Mrs Marion
Lawler, GeoffreyRossi, Sir Hugh
Lee, John (Pendle)Rost, Peter
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)Rowe, Andrew
Lennox-Boyd, Hon MarkRumbold, Mrs Angela
Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)Ryder, Richard
Lightbown, DavidSainsbury, Hon Timothy
Lilley, PeterScott, Nicholas
Lloyd, Ian (Havant)Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)Shelton, William (Streatham)
Lord, MichaelShepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Luce, RichardShersby, Michael
McCrindle, RobertSilvester, Fred
Macfarlane, NeilSims, Roger
MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)Skeet, T. H. H.
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Madel, DavidSmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Major, JohnSoames, Hon Nicholas
Malins, HumfreySpeed, Keith
Maples, JohnSpeller, Tony
Marland, PaulSpicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Marlow, AntonySpicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Marshall, Michael (Arundel)Squire, Robin
Maude, Hon FrancisStanbrook, Ivor
Mawhinney, Dr BrianStanley, John
Maxwell-Hyslop, RobinSteen, Anthony
Mayhew, Sir PatrickStern, Michael
Mellor, DavidStevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Merchant, PiersStewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire)
Mills, Iain (Meriden)Stokes, John
Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)Stradling Thomas, J.
Mitchell, David (NW Hants)Sumberg, David
Moate, RogerTapsell, Sir Peter
Montgomery, Sir FergusTaylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Moore, JohnTebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)Terlezki, Stefan
Moynihan, Hon C.Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.
Mudd, DavidThompson, Donald (Calder V)
Murphy, ChristopherThompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Neale, GerrardThorne, Neil (Ilford S)
Needham, RichardThurnham, Peter
Nelson, AnthonyTracey, Richard
Neubert, MichaelTrippier, David
Newton, TonyTrotter, Neville
Nicholls, PatrickTwinn, Dr Ian
Norris, Stevenvan Straubenzee, Sir W.
Onslow, CranleyVaughan, Sir Gerard
Osborn, Sir JohnViggers, Peter
Ottaway, RichardWaddington, David
Page, Sir John (Harrow W)Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Page, Richard (Herts SW)Walden, George
Parris, MatthewWalker, Bill (T'side N)
Patten, J. (Oxf W & Abdgn)Wall, Sir Patrick
Peacock, Mrs ElizabethWaller, Gary
Percival, Rt Hon Sir IanWalters, Dennis
Portillo, MichaelWard, John
Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Powell, William (Corby)Watson, John
Powley, JohnWatts, John
Price, Sir DavidWells, Sir John (Maidstone)
Prior, Rt Hon JamesWheeler, John
Proctor, K. HarveyWhitney, Raymond
Raffan, KeithWiggin, Jerry
Raison, Rt Hon TimothyWolfson, Mark
Rathbone, TimWood, Timothy
Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover)Woodcock, Michael
Renton, TimYeo, Tim
Rhodes James, RobertYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Ridsdale, Sir JulianTellers for the Ayes:
Rifkind, MalcolmMr. Carol Mather and
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)Mr. Robert Boscawen.
Robinson, Mark (N'port W)


Alton, DavidBarnett, Guy
Ashton, JoeBarron, Kevin
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)Beckett, Mrs Margaret
Bagier, Gordon A. T.Beith, A. J.
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Bell, Stuart

Benn, TonyLeighton, Ronald
Bermingham, GeraldLewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Bidwell, SydneyLewis, Terence (Worsley)
Blair, AnthonyLitherland, Robert
Boothroyd, Miss BettyLloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Boyes, RolandLofthouse, Geoffrey
Bray, Dr JeremyMcCartney, Hugh
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N)McKelvey, William
Bruce, MalcolmMaclennan, Robert
Caborn, RichardMcNamara, Kevin
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)McTaggart, Robert
Carter-Jones, LewisMcWilliam, John
Cartwright, JohnMadden, Max
Clarke, ThomasMarek, Dr John
Clay, RobertMarshall, David (Shettleston)
Clwyd, Mrs AnnMason, Rt Hon Roy
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)Maynard, Miss Joan
Cohen, HarryMeacher, Michael
Coleman, DonaldMeadowcroft, Michael
Conlan, BernardMichie, William
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Corbett, RobinMorris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Corbyn, JeremyNellist, David
Cowans, HarryOakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Cox, Thomas (Tooting)O'Brien, William
Cunliffe, LawrenceOwen, Rt Hon Dr David
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)Park, George
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)Parry, Robert
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)Patchett, Terry
Deakins, EricPavitt, Laurie
Dixon, DonaldPendry, Tom
Dobson, FrankPike, Peter
Dormand, JackPowell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Dubs, AlfredPrescott, John
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.Radice, Giles
Eadie, AlexRandall, Stuart
Eastham, KenRedmond, M.
Edwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE)Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)
Evans, John (St. Helens N)Richardson, Ms Jo
Faulds, AndrewRoberts, Allan (Bootle)
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)Robertson, George
Flannery, MartinRobinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelRogers, Allan
Forrester, JohnRooker, J. W.
Foster, DerekRowlands, Ted
Fraser, J, (Norwood)Sedgemore, Brian
Freeson, Rt Hon ReginaldSheerman, Barry
Freud, ClementSheldon, Rt Hon R.
Garrett, W. E.Shore, Rt Hon Peter
George, BruceShort, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr JohnSilkin, Rt Hon J.
Golding, JohnSkinner, Dennis
Gould, BryanSmith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Hamilton, James (M'well N)Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)Snape, Peter
Hardy, PeterSoley, Clive
Harman, Ms HarrietSteel, Rt Hon David
Harrison, Rt Hon WalterStraw, Jack
Hart, Rt Hon Dame JudithThomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Hattersley, Rt Hon RoyThompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Heffer, Eric S.Thorne, Stan (Preston)
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)Tinn, James
Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)Torney, Tom
Howells, GeraintWainwright, R.
Hoyle, DouglasWallace, James
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Wareing, Robert
Hughes, Roy (Newport East)Weetch, Ken
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)White, James
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)Wigley, Dafydd
John, BrynmorWilliams, Rt Hon A.
Johnston, Sir RussellWilson, Gordon
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)Winnick, David
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldWoodall, Alec
Kennedy, CharlesWrigglesworth, Ian
Kilroy-Silk, Robert
Kinnock, Rt Hon NeilTellers for the Noes:
Lambie, DavidMr. Allen McKay and
Lamond, JamesMr. Frank Haynes.

Question accordingly agreed to.


That the Order of the House [11th February] be supplemented as follows:—