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Greater London Council (Money) Bill

Volume 385: debated on Thursday 14 July 1977

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5.49 p.m.

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. These GLC Money Bills are annual Bills which have to be brought forward as the result of the provisions of paragraph 25 of the Second Schedule to the London Government Act 1963. I was a member of the Cabinet at that time, but I do not recall the reasons why we inserted this curious provision which applies only to the Greater London Council and does not affect the expenditure of any other local authority in the United Kingdom. But it is the law and we have therefore to consider each year a GLC Money Bill. It runs for a financial year, ending 31st March, with, for obvious reasons, a carry-over for six months. This means—and I think that this may be very material to the debate we are beginning—that if the present Bill does not receive the Royal Assent by 30th September, the Greater London Council will have no powers to incur, or to make payments in incurring, capital expenditure, or to be so involved by way of loans.

Some of us who have looked with a certain apprehension at levels of local government expenditure may think that that would be no had thing. But when one comes to consider seriously what is involved for the greatest local authority in the country one appreciates what a serious matter this would be. It would mean that it would be impossible, for example, to make payments to contractors in respect of the council's very substantial house building programme, and in human terms, perhaps even more unfortunate, would be the fact that it would be impossible for the council to lend money to assist individuals to buy their own homes.

I hope, therefore, that in considering this issue and the proposed Instruction put down on the Order Paper by the noble Lord, Lord Henley, the House will bear in mind the background that we are dealing here with a measure which, it' not in receipt of the Royal Assent by 30th September, would create a very difficult situation. The Bill has been passed in the Commons, and I think that in the present economic state of the country your Lordships will be glad to know that it makes provision for £.481/2 million less than did the Bill last year, and so it is, though I speak subject to correction of the noble Lord on the Government Bench, fully in accordance with the directions of the Government, and of the Department of the Environment in particular, as to the scale of capital expenditure by local authorities. I think that in this inflationary situation your Lordships may well feel that a reduction of £481/2 million in capital expenditure represents extremely good work by the Greater London Council and its devoted and efficient staffs.

I understand that it would be convenient and in order if at this stage I were to make one or two comments on the proposed Instruction which the noble Lord. Lord Henley, has put down on the Order Paper. Your Lordships w ill observe that it is of somewhat unusual form in as much as it asks the Select Committee to which, if the House gives a Second Reading to the Bill, it being a Private Bill, it will be committed, to satisfy itself of a negative.

It will be asked to satisfy itself that throughout the many and complex planning procedures to which the particular matter concerned—the development of the St. Paul's playing field site—has been subjected, no "fallacious" information was given at any stage; "fallacious" being the word selected by the noble Lord.

The noble Lord will develop that point if he thinks fit, but I believe that I am entitled to make the following preliminary comment. If the House, in its wisdom, agrees to that Instruction, it is surely evident that the Bill cannot be back in this house before we rise for the summer Recess. However expeditious the Select Committee may be, it could not discharge this task—involving, as it does, the giving of due notice and the dealing with Petitions to be heard, and so on—in that time. We heard earlier today from the noble Baroness the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms that it is intended that this House should rise on 29th July. We were not told when we are likely to resume, but if normal procedures are followed, we shall be unlikely to resume until the latter half of October, by which time, as I have already told the House, the Greater London Council's powers to spend money on capital account would have expired. Furthermore, there is the possibility—and perhaps noble Lords on the Liberal Benches are here better informed than any of us—that the present Parliament may never return at all, in which case we would be concerned, I suppose, with the State Opening of the new Parliament in November, and there would then be an even longer period before this authority would have the right to incur capital expenditure.

This is the background to the question raised by the proposed Instruction. As I understand it, noble Lords opposite may be prepared to deal with the aspect of it that concerns the Inner London Education Authority, with w Rich they are particularly concerned. But in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, I am concerned particularly with the practical problems for the Greater London Council as a whole, with the risk of this authority being put in the degrading position of being unable to pay its hills, with the hardship involved for those who, in good faith, have done work on contract for it, or who have even supplied materials to it. Perhaps here I should declare a potential interest as the chairman of a cement manufacturing company. In this respect there is also the question of home buyers who are thwarted because no funds are available to enable them to buy their homes.

However, I should make one further point before I come to the question of the procedure which is proposed, and it is as follows. It cannot be argued in favour of the Instruction that the House is, among other things, being asked to give, as it were, financial approval to the St. Paul's development, because it is the fact that two preceding Bills—last year's Bill, and that of the year before—which both Houses of Parliament passed, have approved expenditures in favour of this scheme. All that the current Bill does is to include further expenditures under this heading. I will not weary the House by reading out the actual expenditures proposed, but they are contained in the Schedule to the Bill, which is available to noble Lords.

I want to come now to what I regard as the important point of the procedure used, but before doing so I wish to make two confessions. Many years ago, when I was Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation, I was involved with this particular site, and I will confess to the House that, as Minister, I was responsible for taking a piece off the St. Paul's playing field for what was then called the Cromwell Road extension, the road leading to the M4. The House may think that I was sufficiently punished if I recount that, as a result of that, I was involved in the ceremony of inaugurating the work on that road which involved manipulating one of those infernal machines, a pneumatic drill. I do not know how many noble Lords have actually handled one of those machines. Ordinary men who earn their living by so doing are properly equipped, and indeed armoured with protecting clothing. But a Minister of the Crown is attired only in his shiny black suit, and as such I was compelled to operate one of those machines to inaugurate the scheme, under the eyes of the television and Press cameras. So your Lordships may feel that I was sufficiently punished. I was also involved last year, in supporting a Motion for an Instruction to a Committee, moved from the Bench here by the noble Baroness, Lady Young.

That leads me to the very important point of procedure. That Instruction was carried, and in due course our Select Committee reported. Although it is rather long, I hope that the House will allow me—because it is very germane to our discussions—to read the final paragraph, paragraph 12, of the Special Report from the Select Committee on the Greater London Council (Money) Bill, ordered to be printed 26th July, 1976. The paragraph reads:
"The Committee are obliged to observe that they have some anxiety about the procedure adopted in this case. The Greater London Council is the only local authority whose expenditure requires Parliamentary approval. The Petitions against the Bill and the Instruction created an anomalous situation since the need for the Council's expenditure to be justified in this context has enabled a question of town planning to he submitted to another review over and above such safeguards as are laid down in planning legislation. The real objection of the Petitioners was to planning procedure and not to any of the provisions of the Bill, and indeed, apart from the choice of the St. Paul's site, the proposed expenditure in building a unified West London College was not by itself raised as an objection to the Bill. The Committee cannot believe that petitioning procedure is intended to operate in this way, and do not think it right that it should do so. If Parliament wishes to review individual planning decisions, then it ought to do so at an earlier stage, and not at the last moment when all that remains is for the necessary expenditure to be sanctioned or even, as in the present case, where some expenditure, albeit not very great, has already been sanctioned by Parliament. Moreover, the Committee can see no justification for submitting proposals for developments by the Greater London Council to risks of intervention which, if arbitrary or belated, could prove much more onerous than those which proposals for developments by other authorities must undergo."
That is from the report of our own Select Committee.

On the present Bill, a somewhat similar line was taken by the Select Committee in another place. I have the minutes of that Select Committee of 15th June 1977, in which that Committee took broadly the same view as our Select Committee took last year. The Commons Select Committee said:
"It is the Committee's view that the amendment, by seeking to prevent the GLC from spending further money on works on the St. Paul's Playing Field site, would introduce a new non-monetary element into the Bill. Moreover, the inclusion of an obligation to provide an alternative site as an open space if building is to continue on the site introduces a new power …
"They note that the planning powers, the exercise of which the Petitioners complain, are derived from general public legislation and are not derived from the Money Bill"
They go on to say, therefore:
"The Committee have decided that the amendments are not within the scope of the Bill and that the redress sought by the Petitioners accordingly is not proper for the Committee on the Money Bill to grant"
It is therefore a substantial point in the views of the Select Committees of both Houses as to this kind of procedure.

I am not seeking to argue—and your Lordships would not accept it if I did—that it is outside the power of this House to give any direction it likes to one of its own Select Committees. But what I am arguing, in the light of the views of the Select Committees of both Houses which have actually dealt with these issues, is that this is an inappropriate exercise of our powers and introduces, as the Select Committee itself says, a new and separate stage, applicable only to activities by the Greater London Council, and to no other local authority, into the normal elaborate planning machinery. My submission to the House is that in this case, as in others, the planning procedures are there; they have, as I think the House knows, been very fully exercised; and if those involved are not content they have indeed access to the High Court if the planning machinery has gone wrong. Indeed, I can add that, in point of fact, last year some of the objectors in this case did go to the High Court and challenge the planning procedures used, but the High Court found that their complaint was not justified and refused them the remedies that they sought.

Having said that, I want to make it clear—and here I speak on behalf of the present administration at County Hall—that they have very great sympathy with the objectors in this case; and I think many of us who have followed this issue would not, if we were starting afresh, feel that these particular developments represented the best use of the site. It is no part of my argument to the House to suggest that. On the other hand, I think the House must realistically accept that, now that building work has been going on upon the site for a year and very substantial expenditures have been incurred, the situation is quite different from that in which the House decided to give an Instruction to the Select Committee last year. Last year.

building had hardly started. We have now a year's building behind us.

Figures can be argued, but my information is that, if it were decided to scrap this scheme and restore the site to its original (as it were) green field use, we should be talking in terms of demolition costs of something of the order of £3 million with, in addition, heavy payments by way of compensation to contractors for breach of contract. And, at the end of the day—this is more for the noble Lords who speak for the Inner London Education Authority—on top of that they would then have to incur whatever expenditure was necessary to develop another site and another building for the college. There is now a structure in respect of the college, and I understand that the framework for six storeys is already erected. A great deal of building work has gone on upon the site; and, speaking for myself as a ratepayer in London, I would regard it as horrifying if the London ratepayers were to be called upon now, as the result of a reversal of these decisions taken over the years, to incur the heavy nugatory expenditure involved in reversing the decisions of previous administrations, either at County Hall or in respect of the Inner London Education Authority.

The present administration at County Hall, I think, take a more practical line. They sympathise very much with those who are anxious about the diminution in the available open spaces in this crowded area of West London. They have instructed their planning committee to institute a close investigation as to possible alternative open spaces which could be used. I am told—I was told as recently as yesterday—that there seems to be good reason to believe that two or three promising candidates for this use can be found. Here, again, I suggest to the House that as a practical consideration (although I am here going a little beyond what is the necessary part of my argument) it is very much better to accept that, development having reached this stage, it should proceed as economically as possible, and that what everybody wishes to see—that is, adequate provision of open spaces in the area—should he provided otherwise and more economically.

I return to the main points I wish to make on moving the Bill. I believe that I have a right of reply should it be necessary, and I will endeavour, if I can, to deal with any point that arises on the Instruction or on the Bill itself. But I would leave these main points, if I may, with the House: that it would be a very drastic and unwise step to create a situation in which, quite inevitably, the greatest local authority in the country would be unable to pay its bills on capital account after the 30th September—a situation paralleled in the modern world only by what happened to New York, which is not a precedent which any of us, I think, would like to see followed in this great city. I ask the House also to bear in mind the views of its own Select Committee on the previous version of this very Bill, on last year's Bill, under a similar Instruction: that this was not an appropriate procedure, that it was wrong to use a Money Bill as an additional stage in planning procedures, and that if there have been, as I understand is suggested, irregularities in any stage of the planning procedures, then the courts of law are open and are the proper place to which those who are dissatisfied should take their grievances.

Then I add, as I have been asked to do, the good will of the present administration at County Hall and their desire to meet what I think is the real point of the objectors; that is, the desirability to provide as much open space for the people of West London as possible, and to do it, of course, in the most economical way. My Lords, I very much hope that, in the light of this explanation, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, will not feel it necessary to press his Instruction, and I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a .—( Lord Boyd-Carpenter.)

6.9 p.m.

My Lords, it may be for the convenience of your Lordships if I speak immediately after the noble Lord who has moved the Second Reading of this Bill, and that I move my Instruction formally at the end. I shall move it; I shall not withdraw it; but I will not necessarily press it to a Division unless I feel that I have fairly substantial support. If I feel I have not got substantial support, I may well allow it to be negatived, although in the hope that the Select Committee which will inevitably be examining this Bill (because there is a Petition against it) will take note of what has been said in the course of the debate.

The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, made very much the same sort of speech as the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, made in similar circumstances last year. It was perhaps five minutes shorter, but as we have been over this thing so many times I think that that was very suitable. Nevertheless, it was much the same speech. The only difference was that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, clearly has been involved physically in this problem with his compressors—or whatever it is one calls them—which I understand the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, was not.

My Lords, I should like first to say that we are debating this matter only because of the objectors, because of the Petition against it; that all of us who take part in this debate know virtually all that there is to know so far as debating points are concerned and I do not propose to go over it in detail for those in the House who do not know what it is all about. I would refer them instead to the Second Reading debate last year, to the Third Reading debate and leave it at that. I see, however, that the Greater London Council have brought their heaviest guns to bear to browbeat me; so I shall have to try to meet some of the points that have been made.

First, I should like to touch on whether it is or is not suitable that the G LC should, unlike any other local authority, be subject to the Private Bill procedure. It may well be that it should not. It may well be, also, that there is an element of bringing another dimension into planning which should not be there. I would concede both these things at once. It may be that they are inappropriate both so far as the Greater London Council are concerned and in relation to our concept of planning.

Nevertheless the gravamen of the charge that the objectors have been making all along (and which I seek to make again today) is that they have never been able to make their case; they have been frustrated. There is no question of their being able to go to law because there was an illegality. There has been no illegality.

We know that. In the High Court it was shown that there was no illegality. This point has never been open to the objectors. At every stage they have been frustrated in one way or the other. It seems to me that, inappropriate or not, it w as the only course open to the Petitioners. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, has had the grace to admit that, fundamentally, he believes that the objectors may well have been right.

My Lords, if the noble Lord would allow me, I prefer the words that came out of my mouth to those he is putting into it. I stand on them. I think on reflection that he will find that they are not identical.

All right, my Lords, they were not the same. The implication is not very different. In view of the fact that last year the noble Lord supported his noble friend Lady Young in the Division Lobby. I should have thought that he must, at any rate, have a great deal of sympathy with them.

My Lords, if I were to concede everything that the noble Lord has said in his speech today, there still remains a chain of events which, added together, does not look very well. A pattern emerges which I can only call misrepresentation. I have said before that there has been no illegality; but every formal decision which the project was advanced—and I am talking about the ILEAs project to build a college of further education—was taken on the basis of information which, it appears, was fallacious and not all the parts of which were made available either to the Committee last year or to your Lordships. I take as examples one or two of those points which I regard as being misrepresentations.

I think the first is the muddle over whether the Greater London Council had power to acquire land for open spaces or whether they did not, but that Hammersmith Borough Council did. I know that planning procedures are extremely complicated, but they are not so complicated as all that. Why was this issue obfuscated? On the face of it, it means nothing; but, when added to various points, then the chain of events, as I have said, does not look well. The next is the suggestion that the borough council could do nothing because the cost would be £6 million.

When this point was brought up in the Select Committee—I think this was the first Select Committee in the House of Commons—the Promoters' counsel suggested that this was mere gossip. It only emerged later that, far from it being mere gossip, it was a minute, formally minuted, of the council to the effect that the cost of £6 million was more than the council could afford, and therefore that was enough to stop it in its tracks, anyway. In fact, it was not £6 million; it was something like £1·2 million, and the cost that it had escalated to at the moment when £6 million was suggested was about £11/2 million. I feel that that was a reckless statement, if, indeed, it was made by counsel, at the Select Committee. How did it come about? Who put it about?

My Lords, I shall be told again that I am wasting money or that the Petitioners are wasting money by bringing this matter forward yet again—so many millions of pounds on the rates. The noble Lord himself said that he would be feeling sour at having his rates increased. This is what is said all the time. Whenever anybody makes an attempt to delay something, he is told that it is going to be costly. Here is an example of a reckless statement being made with regard to costs which was totally untrue, and known to be untrue at the time. Why was it put about? Why was a public inquiry refused? It was refused in some measure because it was thought that there was no point in going into it at all if it was to cost £6 million.

Then, my Lords, there was the question of the misleading advertisement. Why was it not disclosed at the time of the advertisement that the council had changed their mind and that permission was going to he given for building a college of further education on the land? The advertisement is misleading; some of your Lordships may have seen it. Why was it put about? Was there any significance in this? Why was it put out in August, at a time when nobody reads these sort of things at all? Why did the Secretary of State refuse to intervene on the grounds that the land had never been a public open space? Of course it had never been a public open space; but it had been bought and held specifically from 1964 to, I think, 1968 for the express purpose of making it into a public open space.

Lastly, my Lords, another thing, small in itself: nobody queried, certainly not at Second Reading last year, the question of the housing development. But there was very severe criticism of the building of the school. Why did the bulldozers and the excavators rush in to clear the ground for the school, but did not start on the houses? Why rush in so quickly before the Select Committee could have a look at it? This is the pattern right through. This is what the objectors feel so strongly about: that at every stage either they have been misinformed or the information has been withheld from them. They feel, whether rightly or wrongly, that there has been a certain deviousness throughout; that everything has been pushed ahead to get the college by hook or by crook, and at every stage the objectors feel they have been frustrated.

They have been told they were too late, and their argument is that they were caused to he too late by the fact that the information was withheld from them; that it was not they who caused the lateness in their objection, it was the devious information and the denial of the facts or the misleading facts. I accept that it may well be too late, and the Petitioners, I think, probably may feel the same. Nevertheless, I think they feel that if the project must go forward, then it should be allowed to go forward only on the basis that it is recognised that this whole affair has been based on decisions which have been come to on seriously false information.

Regarding my own Instruction, Instructions, anyway, are not very meaningful. After all, what is one doing by way of an Instruction? One is telling a Select Committee to do what they are charged to do anyway; to do their business properly. In nearly every case I think that that is true. Its only advantage is to try to draw attention by means of an Instruction in your Lordships' House as to what one feels. I will not say it is a chain of events which is improper, and I used the phrase "does not look very well" before. That is almost all one can do. Of course the Committee can do everything asked of it, where it considers it fit to do so. The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, will be telling us so, I expect, in virtually the same words as the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, told us last year.

My Lords, unless I get overwhelming support, I shall not be so foolish as to press my Motion. I shall see what happens when I move it, and hope that I get some sympathy. From the list of speakers, I do not think I shall get much sympathy. But I felt that this matter needed yet one more airing, partly because this chain, this chapter of accidents as they appear to be, ought to be brought to the attention of your Lordships, and the Select Committee ought to have one more look at it. I do not believe that this will seriously impede the passage of the Bill. Having said that, I will leave the subject now to those heavy guns which are pointing in my direction.

6.22 p.m.

My Lords, may I start by supporting the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, in moving the Second Reading of the Bill. He probably had a very difficult task with his conscience in view of the past history of this matter which we debated almost a year ago today. It is a difficult case, I am sure, for Members on the Benches opposite to square their consciences today with what they said last year. Let me support him very strongly in what he said; that is, that it would be a very serious matter if the GLC Money Bill is not enacted in this Session. It will have very serious consequences for the Council.

Last year, when we were debating the Bill, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said that it was a unique occasion. Unfortunately, it is not unique this year as we have been through this debate before and have little to add to what was said last year. Speaking last year, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said that she had examined the matter and felt that political responsibility for the events lay equally with both the main political Parties.

I had some responsibility for this matter during its tortuous course of 13 years since the site was first acquired by the LCC in 1964. I was amazed at a number of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Henley. He claimed that the objectors were frustrated in that they had never been able to make their case. I thought this the most extraordinary statement that I have heard in this House for a long time. He well knows that the objectors to the Bill not only came to County Hall on numerous occasions—and I saw them on a number of those occasions—not only went to the High Court, where they had their case thrown out, not only appeared before your Lordships' Select Committee last year and made their case there, but I have no doubt that a number of noble Lords present have had the case personally put to them by various objectors.

My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me, in both cases when they appeared before the Select Commitee, it was under rather frustrating circumstances. When they appeared before the Lords their locus was challenged and they were refused permission to present their case as such. Out of the kindness of their heart, the Select Committee heard them but this meant that they were unable to cross-examine anybody. Regarding the Select Committee in the Commons, their locus was not challenged—I am not sure why not—and their case was not heard. It was dismissed unheard on the grounds that it was outside the scope of the Bill.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his remarks. They bear out the position that there has been tremendous opportunity for them to make their case, although not perhaps as fully on some occasions as they would have wished. The other comment made by the noble Lord was what he referred to as the fallacious argument about a statement made that the GLC had no power to acquire land for open space purposes. Up to 1974 this was the case: there was no power for the Council to acquire open space in these circumstances. Since 1974 that power has existed by an Amendment which resulted from the Local Government Act 1972. Having said that, it is also clear that on policy grounds the GLC would not have intervened in the duties of individual London Boroughs to provide local open spaces within their boroughs. At the time the original arrangements were drawn up the responsibilities for the provision of open spaces were dealt with in such a way that it was accepted that it was the duty of individual boroughs to provide local open spaces. The open space referred to here would have been local open space in the terms of the original arrangements which were made.

As the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, has said, the GLC have said that they will use their best endeavours to try to find additional open space in the area, though I remind your Lordships that in the site itself there is a certain amount of open space. There is 1½ acres around where the old high master's house exists and there is 1½ acres in the middle of the site largely arising as a result of the decision of the GLC to decrease the amount of housing in that part of the site. Then of course there is the adventure playground and the tennis courts on the Southern part of the site. To suggest that that open space was being completely removed from the area is fallacious.

I understand that the protesters do not contest any more the need for educational facilities in the area. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, went hack a long time in the history of this case. All the remarks that he made came back to me because I have heard them all before: the question of the advertisements appearing in August and that therefore they were not really valid; that it was some underhand work on behalf of the GLC that they should place them in August so that people could not see them. This is quite wrong. Your Lordships know that the GLC is a large organisation and Government is a large organisation. Advertisements of this kind, actions taken by Government, emerge at particular points in time. They are not timed in this way at all.

He also made a comment about the headlong rush of the bulldozers to the site last year. The fact was that the ILEA had gone out to tender and it had accepted a particular tender. The contractors were anxious to get on with the work; the question of the housing development I believe, at that particular time had not proceeded so far as to decide on who was to be the contractor. Therefore, that was a separate contract and that was why the bulldozers did not move into that particular site.

I think that we have been over this matter thoroughly and it has been dealt with by the Select Committee. I do not think that we should burden the Select Committee with this additional Instruction to go over the whole matter again. That would seem to me to be unnecessary, because in fact what the objectors have been asking of us today, and what they have been asking of those involved again and again, is to come to a different decision. They have failed all along. Every move they have made has made those responsible for the developments feel that their decisions were right.

I think the greatest tragedy about this situation is that the housing and educational buildings are not already built and in use. That is the indictment which I would level against the authorities in this case: that it should take 13 years to get a site developed is a situation which really should not be tolerated. Therefore, I hope that without more ado your Lordships will decline to include the proposed Instruction which the noble Lord, Lord Henley, would like us to put to the Select Committee.

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I wonder whether I might intervene just for the record—because I must say that I am completely confused by his remark. If I understood him correctly, he seemed to be saying that prior to 1974 the GLC did not have the power to acquire land. That is what I understood him to say. If I am wrong, perhaps he will correct met.

For open spaces. Bearing in mind that a piece of land not very far from St. Paul's field—Winslow Road—which, after some 17 years, has finally been made into a small park, was originally owned by the LCC and passed to Hammersmith Borough Council, I cannot understand why they could not acquire land if in fact they did so in the same borough.

My Lords, perhaps I can assist the noble Baroness. The position as I understand it, under the London Government Act 1963, was that the Greater London Council, which took over from the London County Council, was not given powers to acquire land for small public open spaces. The power had been in the old LCC and, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, has said, it was given to the new GLC by a provision in the Schedule to the 1972 Local Government Act which came into force in 1974.

My Lords, I have not a great deal to add to what the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, has said. The Statute of 1963 did not give the Council any powers to provide local open spaces: that was the phrase used in the 1963 Act. As the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, has said, a provision in the Schedule to the 1972 Local Government Act gave that power to the Greater London Council. If the noble Baroness is talking about the provision of a public open space prior to the creation of the GLC, different provisions applied.

My Lords, I do not want to prolong this, but the point is that nothing happened with this land and I just feel that, for the record, it ought to be said that there is an area of confusion here.

6.34 p.m.

My Lords, perhaps I might add to the confusion. The noble Baroness in fact has answered herself. The London County Council had wide powers, including powers to provide open spaces all over—and it did—

But it did. I am sorry; there are a lot of open spaces. The noble Baroness may not have got that particular point, but there are a lot of open spaces in London which exist because they were provided by the London County Council. When the London Government Act was passed, the Greater London Council was given power to provide open spaces that were for London as a whole—of significant value to London as a whole—whereas all the powers to provide local open spaces reverted to the local authorities, in other words, to the borough councils, because the borough councils were the primary local authorities in London. That was the change that was made in 1963. As a consequence it was, and still is, Hammersmith which ought to develop this piece of land, in other words, which should have developed the St. Paul's field site. Hammersmith said they could not afford it; and that is where the whole argument really started because, had Hammersmith said at the time they were going to do it, it would have been done.

What happened was that in 1972, somehow or other—it seems to have happened inadvertently—a Schedule was included in the Bill. As a consequence, if the Greater London Council now want to provide a local open space it would in fact have the power. But the truth is that even that, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, pointed out, would be contrary to the whole spirit of the London Government Act, because that Act gave primary local authority powers to the boroughs and it created the Greater London Council as a strategic authority for Greater London. Therefore, we must stop insisting that the Greater London Council must do the job of the local borough councils.

I would again ask your Lordships to remember that there are 32 London boroughs, and not only the Borough of Hammersmith. If the GLC started to provide local open spaces—and I was very interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, said—in Hammersmith, they would probably have to provide similar spaces in Tower Hamlets, in Hackney and in Islington. I cannot see the other borough councils sitting idly by while their ratepayers—because anything the GLC does is paid for by London as a whole—pay for local parks in one area without asking for reciprocal treatment. Once we start on that road, I am not sure where we shall end. That is the point so far as the provision of local open spaces is concerned. Power to provide local open spaces and the responsibility to do so rests squarely on the shoulders of the local borough councils. The Greater London Council is expected to provide open spaces that are significant in London terms.

The only other point I wanted to make—I put my name down to speak merely in case any point needed clarification and I should therefore be able to talk upon it—is the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Henley, about the £6 million. At no stage did the Greater London Council say that it would cost £6 million. The statement about £6 million was made by the director of finance of the London Borough of Hammersmith. That was his estimate of what it would cost his council to acquire that land. It was estimated that £4.5 million would be for land acquisition and £1.5 million for demolition, site clearance and layout as a public open space. That was his estimate. Although there is no doubt that discussions took place between the officers of the two authorities, at no stage did the Greater London Council, as a council, say that it would cost £6 million. What happened was that the Director of Finance of the London Borough of Hammersmith advised his council that, according to his estimate, it would cost £6 million, £4.5 million of which would be for land acquisition, and £1.5 million for demolition, site clearance and layout as a public open space. The figure of £6 million came from there.

Finally, I want to say something that I did not say last year. It was probably not so appropriate last year as it is now. We are in the process of making ourselves look ridiculous. The Money Bill from the Greater London Council will come to us every year, and every year there will be items that are continuous and for which we have voted years before, but for which additional expenditure has to be incurred. Last year, I gave the example of the Thames Barrier. That is a good example because it will go on for several years; every Money Bill in the next few years will contain something to do with the Thames Barrier. Obviously, that is not something with which Members disagree. But there will always be items with which Members disagree. There must be a stage where enough is enough, and in terms of the St. Paul's School site we have already passed that stage.

In 1975, this House included in the GLC Money Bill money for the development of that site. Last year, after an extensive debate and consideration by a Select Committee, it did the same. We must stop at some stage. Are we to go over the same ground every year? Are we to pick up some other item and debate it in that way? It is worth noting that, although the other place debates the GLC Money Bill every year, it does not debate it in this way. It uses the occasion for attacking some of the policies of the GLC, and it is a perfectly good opportunity for doing that. There are usually very good debates in the House of Commons on GLC policy, based on their power to debate the Money Bill. If we are to debate the GLC Money Bill—and I see no reason why we should not—I hope that our debates will be of that character. To sit together, and merely use the opportunity of the GLC Money Bill to have an additional appeal over some planning matter, seems to me to be an abuse.

I hope that this Bill will be given a Second Reading, that there will be no Instruction, that what happened to the GLC last year will not happen again, and that we shall not have people, particularly people trying to purchase a house—because they were the people who suffered most last year—finding themselves in a position where the Council has to tell them that it does not have authority to lend them money, and they must therefore either wait before signing the contract or even have it cancelled. I hope we do not have that. That is not the way for a House of the importance of this House to behave, over a matter of this kind.

6.45 p.m.

My Lords it would be inappropriate of me to comment on the merits of the Bill, or of the Instruction that stands in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Henley, but I think I should say something about the procedural aspects of the Bill and of the Instruction. I hope to do so in somewhat different terms from those used by my predecessor last year, because a certain amount has changed since then.

As the House has heard, the Bill is the usual annual Money Bill of the Greater London Council promoted in accordance with the London Government Act 1963, which, among other things, regulates the expenditure on capital account by the Greater London Council; in this case, during the financial period from 1st April 1977 to 30th September 1978. Of course, the Bill is not a Money Bill in the technical sense of this expression, and there is no constitutional reason why this House, or one of its Committees, should not amend a Money Bill promoted by the Greater London Council if it wishes to do so.

My predecessor, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, pointed out in the debate on the Second Reading of the Bill in the last Session, in connection with which an Instruction had also been put down, that it is possible by suitable amendment both to limit or reduce the expenditure on any item set out in the Schedules to the Bill, and also to amend the purpose for which the expenditure is allocated. So that there is nothing procedurally improper in this course, though it would be unusual in the case of this annual Bill which, with the exception of the Bill last year, has always been passed by your Lordships without debate or amendment.

The present position is that a Petition has been deposited against the Bill by the Hammersmith Society—and I have to declare an interest as a member of the Hammersmith Society, whose aims I support in general—the Fulham Society and the West Kensington Environment Campaign. The Bill will therefore go to a Select Committee and the Petition will be considered there in the usual way. I understand that the Promoters have challenged the locus standi of the Petitioners against the Bill. If this challenge is sustained, as was the case last year with those who petitioned against the Bill, the result would be that the Committee would not be able to consider the matters raised in the Petition. Incidentally, our Standing Orders also provide for the Select Committee itself to consider the locus standi of a Petitioner, even if it is not objected to by the Promoters. However, if the Instruction that the noble Lord, Lord Henley, has on the Order Paper was agreed to by the House, it would also fall to be considered by the Select Committee, and in that event I would propose on a subsequent Motion that the Select Committee should be given authority to hear evidence other than that tendered by the parties.

The Money Bill of last Session had five Petitions against it which, on being challenged by the Promoters, were found by the Committee to have no locus standi. The Committee then went on to consider the Instruction of the House of last year. They sat for five days, and visited the site of the proposed development. With the authority of the House, they then chose to hear three witnesses who were opposed to the development of St. Paul's playing field. Those witnesses were Mr. Stephen Fry, who had acted as agent for four of the unsuccessful Petitions; Mr. Patrick Ground, the chairman of the Fulham Society and Lieutenant-Colonel Dickson Burnaby, a local resident and another unsuccessful Petitioner. It is Colonel Burnaby who is now acting as agent for the three societies I have mentioned, and who has deposited their Petition against the Bill.

Lastly, I think I should reinforce what was said in his opening speech by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, in drawing attention to the general observations in their final paragraph of the Select Committee that considered this matter last year. I think it is of the highest importance that we pay close attention to what our own Committee said on that occasion, and as the noble Lord has read it out in full I do not need to repeat it. But I hope your Lordships will keep it in mind when deciding what to do about the Instruction.

6.50 p.m.

My Lords, there are only two matters with which I should deal in reply, although if any noble Lord wishes to put any other point to me I shall endeavour, subject to my own limitations, to deal with it.

First, may I assure the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, that I have experienced no strain upon my conscience in moving this Bill. Nor do I believe, as he has suggested, that it would be a mistake to give an Instruction to the Select Committee. As I am sure the noble Lord appreciates, the position has changed radically since last year when building had hardly begun. As the noble Lord knows—and indeed said—this year building has proceeded to a very considerable extent. Six floors of the college—at least the framework—and a great many foundations are now on the site. From every practical point of view the situation has wholly changed.

I am authorised by my noble friend Lady Young, who spoke to me before the debate, to say that not only had she no intention this year of moving such an Instruction but that she would not think it appropriate to do so. Therefore I should like to point out to the noble Lord that in my case there is no strain upon my conscience, although I have, no doubt, strained it on many other occasions, but simply a realisation of the practical fact that the situation has completely changed, from the point of view of not only the work which has been done on the site but also—turning to the point about which the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, with his unique authority as the Chairman of Committees reminded us—the attitude of our own Select Committee. We have now received their guidance, which is that they do not regard this as a useful method of proceeding. We are not bound by their guidance but we should require very strong grounds indeed to disregard it and to give them this year another Instruction.

I need to take up only one of the observations made by the noble Lord, Lord Henley. He suggested that it would be useful to have the Instruction in order to tell our Select Committee to do its duty.

My Lords, the noble Lord misunderstands me. I said that in some measure an Instruction is always nugatory, because one is merely telling a Select Committee to do what it is charged with doing, anyway.

My Lords, I have never heard a stronger argument against the noble Lord's own case than that. Now he is telling the House that his proposed Directive will be nugatory, anyhow. This seems to me to be a powerful argument for not pressing it. To suggest that we should tell one of our Select Committees to do what it will do, anyhow, is, I suggest, to treat it with insufficient respect. It will do its duty. This is a Private Bill. As we have heard, Petitions have been submitted and the Select Committee will do its duty. I suggest that it will not find that it is necessary to do what the noble Lord suggests it ought to do: to review, as an additional planning inquiry, the question of the evidence tendered during the planning proceedings. It is for the Select Committee to decide, but it would seem to be a considerable departure from the normal practice of this House were it to turn itself into an additional planning inquiry.

Finally, as I have said—and I know that the noble Lord, Lord Henley, accepts it—not only I but the Greater London Council, on whose behalf I have moved the Second Reading, have very considerable sympathy with the objectors. They are trying to meet the substance of their case, given the facts as they now stand. One can understand that an unsuccessful party to any proceedings always feels aggrieved and frustrated. Those of us who have been engaged professionally always felt aggrieved and frustrated when, from time to time, we were beaten. This is the natural, human feeling of the loser. However, it is not true to say, as the noble Lord has said, that the objectors have not had a chance to state their case. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, completely demolished that argument with his account of the very considerable number of occasions on which that case has been stated.

The objectors' problem is not that they have not had the chance to state their case but that all their planning arguments, both to the Greater London Council and to the High Court, have been unsuccessful. In these circumstances, I hope that the noble Lord will allow, as I am sure he will, the Bill to be read a second time but that he will not seek to attach to it a direction which would have very serious practical consequences for expenditure by the Greater London Council, a point which I ventured to outline when I moved the Second Reading of the Bill. Having made the protest and having once more given these gentlemen a most eloquent airing of their feelings and grievances, I hope that the noble Lord will allow this House and our Select Committee to proceed in the normal way.

On Question, Bill read 2a , and committed to a Select Committee.

rose to move that it be an Instruction to the Committee to whom it is committed that they shall not authorise so much of the expenditure on capital account proposed in the Bill as relates to the development by the ILEA of St. Paul's playing field unless they are satisfied that this project has not been allowed to go forward based on information which is fallacious. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should be out of order if I attempted to answer any of the points which have been made by the three noble Lords who have spoken against me. I can do no more than move my Instruction. I said that I should not withdraw it hut that I would move it and that if I received any support I might press it, although if I received no support I should merely allow it to be negatived. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That it be an Instruction to the Committee to whom it is committed that they shall not authorise so much of the expenditure on capital account proposed in the Bill as relates to the development by the ILEA of St. Paul's playing field unless they are satisfied that this project has not been allowed to go forward based on information which is fallacious.—( Lord Henley.)

On Question, Motion negatived.