My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into a Committee on the Bill.
Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—( Lord Bellwin.)
My Lords, there is a matter of great importance which I should like to raise at this stage before we go into Committee, and that is to question the value of going through the charade of a Committee stage in this House when the Secretary of State has already acted on Clause 41 before this House has even considered, let alone accepted, it. I make no complaint about the conduct of the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, in the proceedings on this Bill—he treats this House with consideration and courtesy and with a due regard to its function as a second Chamber—but I must protest about the affront to the House by his Secretary of State. In utter disregard of the function of this House and its part in parliamentary procedure and constitutional rights, the Secretary of State has announced that 14 councils will have their grant cut for overspending.I complained at Second Reading that this was retrospective legislation in that councillors would have legally fixed their rates in April and yet could be penalised when this Bill came on to the statute book in November. Questions were asked in this House in the course of that debate as to how the formula to deal with overspending would be worked out—whether the formula would be put to both Houses of Parliament, and what right of appeal would be available to local authorities. We expected to receive answers to these questions when we reached Clause 41 in Committee. Instead, the Secretary of State has acted in an unbelievably arrogant way by using this proposed retrospective legislation and pre-empting the decision of this House by taking unto himself powers not yet approved by it. What could be more unconstitutional than that freely elected councils should be penalised because a Secretary of State disapproves of their perfectly lawful behaviour? The noble Lord's right honourable friend has acted in a highly unconstitutional manner. Before we proceed further with the Bill this House has the right to ask for an explanation from the Government. The whole House will also be concerned about the reports in the national press last week to the effect that the Secretary of State had been entertaining selected Peers from shire counties and giving them figures to demonstrate, as he claims, how much better off their shire county would be next year under the arrangements proposed in this Bill and urging them not to oppose his proposals in this House. Is there any substance in this report? If so, I do not for one moment believe that noble Lords opposite will respond to this kind of pressure, since I know that they are more concerned with the principles involved than they are about their share of the kitty. Equally disturbing are the reports in this morning's papers that an arrangement has been made between the Government and leading noble Lords representing the ACC. Should such reports be accurate we can see no amendments at this stage in the list which would justify a decision to abandon the long-held antagonism to both the principle and practice of the block grant which has been so regularly voiced by the leaders of the ACC and which was repeated so forcefully from all parts of this House during Second Reading. If these reports of arrangements are accurate then I should like to ask whether the noble Lords, Lord Sandford and Lord Greenwood, have also been approached about the possibility of similar arrangements with the ADC and the AMA. At this stage I do not propose to ask the House to debate the rights and wrongs of Clause 41, or the way in which it will work, or which authorities are due to be penalised, or why. That we can do when we come to the transitional arrangements outlined in the Bill. But what this House is entitled to is an explanation as to why these objectionable steps were taken by a Government Minister without waiting for the views of your Lordships' House and also a statement as to whether the press reports about secret meetings and arrangements are correct. We are a legitimate part of Parliament—it comprises the Crown, the Lords and the Commons—and the whole House will be concerned at the way in which a Government Minister has acted in this instance. The House will not take kindly to such an affront to and disregard of the constitutional rights of your Lordships' House.
My Lords, once the words "retrospective legislation" are uttered it is quite inevitable that the ears of my noble friends on the Liberal Benches prick up. In those circumstances, perhaps I ought to indicate very briefly that it is our view that this does not amount at this stage to retrospective legislation, and that an indication given by a Minister that when a Bill on its way through Parliament is enacted he proposes to use powers given under it, is very far removed from being retrospective legislation, certainly of the sort to which we on these Benches would wish to take objection.I am not in any way supporting what has happened. It may well be that there is a complaint to be made about the selection of the 14 authorities. It may well be that the choice has been arbitrary and difficult to justify on any rational basis. It may be that as a means of reducing public expenditure it will turn out to be totally ineffective. But those are matters that we can properly discuss as we proceed in Committee on this Bill.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, for saying precisely what I would have said on the first of the three points which the noble Baroness makes. In my opinion there is nothing whatsoever wrong, nor can one possibly talk of retrospective action, when what we have said is precisely what we have been pressed to say for some time, not least by the supporters in another place of the noble Lords opposite—or should it be the other way round? I am not sure. The fact is that for some time now we have been pressed to say which authorities, if any, would come within the transitional arrangements when the legislation now going through Parliament becomes an Act. Until that time nothing can or will be done, and I see nothing whatsoever wrong in stating what we intend to do when that happens. That is the position on the first of the points that the noble Baroness has made.Her second point was about people being shown confidential figures for next year's rate support grant. I am not sure that in this House we should have to defend newspaper articles, because when I read reports such as I read today I find that one paper says one thing and another paper says exactly the opposite about what we are supposed to be doing. I read them initially with some concern, happily finishing up with some amusement because one really does not know which to read next. So on that point I do not think I should have to say other than that I am very surprised that any Members of your Lordships' House should give credence to a suggestion that confidential figures would have been shown. In fact, there are no such figures. There are exemplifications, and those exemplifications are available to all the local authority associations, who have them, and nothing goes beyond that. On the last point the noble Baroness made, I am absolutely satisfied that there has not in any way been the slightest impropriety. It has long been the normal practice for Government Ministers to be available at any time to anyone who wishes to come along and talk to them about what they may or may not like to see in Bills, by way of amendment or whatever. This, and no more than this, is what is done. Indeed, this has been done by Members of your Lordships' House, on all sides. I say again that I see nothing whatsoever wrong in that. Indeed, I should have thought it would be applauded by your Lordships. I am sorry that as we embark on the very long and arduous task ahead of us we should have to start in a rather unhappy way. But let us hope that we can discuss the many matters we have to discuss on their merits as they come along, and that we can do so in a spirit which is at least in accordance with what I understand is the way in which your Lordships' House always works.
My Lords, as my noble friend was so kind as to refer to me and to the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, of which I am president, perhaps I could assure your Lordships without any hesitation whatsoever that there has been no agreement reached or sought to be reached between the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and the Government on the lines to which my noble friend referred. But I think the point at issue is this, and this is the point which the Parliamentary Secretary did not touch on in his comments. It is not the propriety of having discussions, but what would be the impropriety if the Government had reached an agreement on how to conduct the Committee stage of this Bill in your Lordships' House without having discussed that proposal with the other local authority associations. That, I think, is the danger, and I very much hope that the noble Lord will be able to give us assurances on this point. One of the reasons why this issue has become so embittered has been the feeling of the local authorities, both Conservative and Labour, that the Government have not taken their points of view sufficiently into consideration.
My Lords, as my name has been mentioned as the president of the Association of District Councils perhaps I could make a short contribution at this point. First, in respect of the noble Baroness's point, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State made it crystal clear in his statement that the whole of these proposals were subject to the approval of Parliament. That is there in black and white and I think completely vindicates the position in that respect. As to deals and discussions behind the scenes, as described in the Guardian this morning, I would agree with my noble friend that when it comes to the press on this issue, their reporting is unreliable to the most extraordinary degree. I should have thought that we should follow his advice and pay very little attention to the press in these matters. If I were to find, however—and I have not yet done so—that there has been any negotiation with one association and not with the others, I should have to take an extremely serious view of it. I have no evidence to that effect, and I am certainly not going to believe the Guardian until my noble friend gives me some explanation to lead me to think that I should give some credence to it.
My Lords, I do not quite know what is meant in this context by the word "negotiations". If one could substitute "discussions" and "talks" for that word, then of course there have been discussions and talks with all the associations. The door has been and will remain open all the time for that to be done, and that will go on. Beyond that I can only repeat that I know of no reason in any way to consider that there has been any impropriety whatever, and on that basis I suggest we now proceed with the Bill and discuss on their merits the individual amendments and clauses as we come to them.
My Lords, may I ask the Minister to clarify one point to the satisfaction of the House? The statement has been made that there have been no negotiations with one local authority body as distinct from any other. Can he confirm that in the discussions that have taken place no invitations have been accorded in regard to those discussions to one association which have not been accorded to the other local authority associations? Can he also confirm that there have been no discussions in relation to the Committee stage of this Bill with one local authority association which have also not taken place with other local authority associations? If he could clarify that in simple language it would make many of us much happier.
I cannot do anything of the kind, my Lords. The position is absolutely clear. It is up to any association, or indeed any individual Members of your Lordships' House, to come along and talk, and they have done just that. They do not always come together—in fact, they usually do not do so—but come singly and discuss their points of view, and I see nothing at all wrong in that. Noble Lords cannot expect me to justify that which is in the press. I do not feel able to go beyond the explanation I have given. I have not tried to fudge words but to say what the position is, and that is what I seek to do.
My Lords, I apologise if I am persistent but the Minister must know that he did not reply to my specific question. I did not talk in terms of discussions, which obviously take place with a Minister if someone seeks discussions. I asked the noble Lord directly whether invitations had been accorded to one association which had not been accorded to another. I further asked whether, in the course of discussions, any arrangements in regard to the Committee stage of this Bill had been made with any one association which had not been made with the others. Those were clear questions and I ask the noble Lord with his usual courtesy to give a clear answer.
I want to be helpful, my Lords, but I cannot give the kind of answer that would apparently satisfy the noble Lord because I am not sure precisely what it is he is seeking to ascertain. I have tried in good faith to say exactly what has happened, namely, that discussions have taken place with the associations, with individual Members of this House and generally with people who have made suggestions about what they would like the Government to do. That is what it is all about so far as I am aware and I cannot go further.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
House in Committee accordingly.
[The LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]
Clause 1 [ Relaxation of Ministerial control of authorities]:
moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 2, line 5, at end insert ("or police authority").
The noble Viscount said: I will, with permission, speak at the same time to Amendments Nos. 3, 12, and 309 as they are all consequential to the police authority matters which I wish to raise at this point. These amendments have been tabled on behalf of the Association of County Councils, who regard the control over the police authorities as being, at a quite unnecessary level and feel that the decisions of those authorities are unable to be acted upon without the approval of the Home Secretary. The Bill is entitled:
"An Act to relax controls over local government;"
and although many controls are being removed by this part of the Bill in relation to other departments of State, nowhere are the Home Office removing any control over police or fire authorities, and that is a great mistake in that the opportunity to do so should be taken now.
The attitude of the Home Office seems to be founded on the general duty of the Home Secretary under Section 28 of the Police Act 1964, the special constitutional position of the police and of course the Government's overall responsibility to maintain law and order. As to the special constitutional position, nobody would wish in any way to question the fundamental principle that the operational decisions of policing the country should not be subject to political interference, but the detachment of the police authority from operational decisions is not a justification for greater involvement by central Government in the administration of those things; if anything, it should be quite the reverse. Further, I do not think anybody would dispute that in the last resort no Government should be expected to stand aside from the maintenance of law and order. But while that might justify the retention of some of the reserve powers against a breakdown of any locally administered service, it hardly justifies the sort of detailed structure of control which now exists under the 1964 Act where approval is needed not only for the sort of things that have been mentioned—such as the approval of chief constables and so on—but even for trifling alterations to police stations.
From my experience as a member of a police authority, at one time we wished to give a pension to a retired police dog who had caught many criminals in a long and distinguished career; we wished to supply it with a couple of tins of meat a week, but the Home Office vetoed that as being a control they felt they should exercise. Many members of police authorities feel that when they go on those authorities there is almost nothing they can do. That is very restricting and it is making it difficult to get people to serve on police authorities. We therefore suggest that the Government should remove these controls, which are much more restrictive than those on any other local government service, that Ministers should not be allowed to make decisions on these matters and that, as we heard so often on Second Reading, there should be much more freedom for locally elected local authorities to do what they can within the total approval of Parliament. My noble friend Lord Inglewood spoke strongly on this point on Second Reading and I know that if he were here he would have supported the amendment, because he is a great expert on these police matters. I therefore hope the Committee will approve the amendment.
I strongly support my noble friend. As noble Lords will recall, the associations between them produced a list earlier last year of a total of 1,000 controls, which in their view could be dismantled, governing the relationship between central and local government. The Government in September of last year then produced a White Paper whittling that number down to 300 about which they were in agreement with the associations. The Bill provides an admirable opportunity to enact legislation dismantling those 300, but in fact the number here is far less than that. I strongly agree with my noble friend that we should take this opportunity to dismantle far more of the controls between central and local government than are contained in the Bill, and the amendment would be a useful addition.
I strongly support the amendment from these Benches and confess that I only wish I had thought of it myself because I have been a member of a police authority for many years and what has been said so far on behalf of the amendment is absolutely correct. It is difficult now to get people who seek prestige without power to serve on a police authority because as a body it is virtually toothless; it cannot even choose assistant chief constables, deputy chief constables or chief constables from an approved list drawn up by the Home Office. It can do virtually nothing. We in the Merseyside area have had a lengthy debate about the purposelessness of a police authority which has such extremely limited powers, and therefore if the amendment could do something to return some powers—not quite on the basis of the old watch committees perhaps—which police authorities used to enjoy, that would be welcomed.
I should like to support this amendment. The Bill supposedly relaxes a number of controls, but it is thought by many counties that the controls relaxed have been minimal and that the efforts to reduce expenditure by county councils could well be helped by reducing the controls further and reducing the staff at the Home Office itself. To my mind, there must surely be an enormous difference between maintenance of police houses and so on and the appointment of chief constables. I hope that the Government will look at this point and perhaps come back to it, in particular on Amendment No. 12 which, I gather, is being considered at the moment.The power to provide, maintain and alter buildings, et cetera, is surely something that can be relaxed completely. Where I can see some advantage in having control from the centre, I do not think I personally would go along all the way with relaxing controls on the appointment of chief constables. I hope the Government will provide some good news about perhaps relaxing the power to provide, maintain and alter buildings.
I should like very much to support the noble Viscount and also the noble Lord who has just sat down. It is the view of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities that the Home Office should be involved in the actual management of the police as little as is consistent with the proper discharge of their responsibilities. That is clearly right. I think it is disappointing that, if I am correctly informed, not one single control over local jurisdiction over the police is removed in the current Bill.
I would like very briefly not to support this amendment. If I recall aright the Second Reading of this Bill, many objections were raised to the effect that it was really about six Bills in one. This is a deliberate attempt to extend the scope of the Bill, and I do not think it is the proper vehicle, whatever the merits of the case may be, and upon those grounds I do not think really that this amendment should stand.
Having spent four and a half years—an unconscionably long time—as a junior Minister in the Home Office, I find myself in some difficulty over Amendment No. 12, which is the crux of the matter. Before we surrender the Home Secretary's power to appoint chief constables of all the forces in England and Wales, I think we should bear in mind that although they are separate forces there is really only one career structure. It is in the national interest that there should be some kind of co-ordinating responsibility which only the Home Secretary can exercise to ensure that the best men reach the top, or the tops as it may be, of that career structure. Therefore, I would hope that the Government would not accept that part of Amendment No. 12 which applies to the appointment of chief constables and indeed the determination of the force establishment, because there we have a very large amount of central funds involved.I have some sympathy with what has been said by the supporters of the amendment about the power to provide, maintain and alter buildings because local knowledge there could be regarded as essential. But when it comes to the position of the deputy acting as chief constable, when there is a vacancy either through promotion or retirement or death, I think it would be wrong for the local authority to prejudge the decisions which, as I have suggested, should be made by the Home Secretary. Therefore, I would have a very great doubt about that item in Amendment No. 12. As to the appointment of the deputy and assistant chief constables, however, there is not much in it.
May I ask the Minister whether this particular section—and various Scottish Peers may be speaking to it—applies to the police in Scotland? While I am not in it any more, I have been in local government a very long time, and I have therefore been on police committees and I should like to know, because very often the positions are quite different.
I wonder whether I might intervene at this point. It seemed to me, in listening to your Lordships, that my noble friend Lord Ridley and other noble Lords who spoke, before Lord Morris, were talking about the removal of controls over local authorities. But of course the effect of these amendments which we are speaking to together would not be simply to relax some central controls over local authorities. They would change the constitutional arrangements for the administration of the police embodied in the Police Act 1964, which followed the report of the Royal Commission in 1962. Your Lordships may remember that the Royal Commission set out the responsibilities of the three elements on which our policing arrangements are based; namely, the chief constables, the police authorities and the Home Secretary.The Act of 1964 places each force under the direction and control of its chief constable and in this way his operational independence is set out. Secondly, the chief constable is appointed and his force maintained by his police authority. But that is an independent statutory authority composed of two-thirds county councillors and one-third magistrates. The recipient of expenditure of a police authority is the recipient of a specific grant from the Home Secretary. It is to his police authority that the chief constable is generally accountable. Thirdly, the Home Secretary has an essentially supervisory role which your Lordships know about. May I just add that the Home Secretary's role reflects his responsibility for the maintenance of the Queen's peace—I think I can use that expression—which is one of the prime functions of central Government. This ultimately is the duty of the Home Secretary. I suggest to your Lordships that on this group of amendments it is essential that the Home Secretary should have and should exercise adequate powers to secure the efficiency of the police service. May I very quickly run through them? They are: the powers to approve the appointment of chief constables, to approve the number of police officers in a force, to approve the provision of buildings, to approve a deputy chief constable performing the duties of a chief officer for longer than three months and to approve the appointments of deputy and chief constables. These are only some of the many responsibilities placed on the Home Secretary by the Police Act. May I at this point, in answer to my noble friend Lord Gisborough, say that the Home Office and the local authority associations have in a working party been looking at the scope for modifying or relaxing control over capital expenditure—it is not maintenance—on police buildings. But all those powers which I have just mentioned would be removed—the whole lot—if your Lordships agreed to the amendments which my noble friend Lord Ridley has moved. May I detain the Committee for just a moment to say something specific about the three main powers in these amendments? It is of course quite rightly the responsibility of the police authority to appoint its chief officers and to determine the size of its establishment, but in order to ensure the efficiency of the police service the Home Secretary's approval is necessary. This is what we are arguing about this afternoon. Chief constables and their deputy and assistant chief constables exercise a large measure of independent authority. Neither the Home Secretary nor a police authority can instruct a chief constable on how to deploy his men or whether to institute proceedings. I would add to what my noble friend Lord Renton said, that Parliament expects the Home Secretary, with the professional advice of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Constabulary, to be able to ensure that officers of the right calibre are appointed, and it is a general, supervisory role. Similarly, the determination of the number and rank of officers needed in each force is crucial to the efficient policing of a particular area. I again suggest to the Committee that Parliament expects the Home Secretary to be in a position, with the professional advice of the inspectorate, to influence those decisions. Moreover, I have not yet heard any of your Lordships mention that the duties given to the Home Secretary ensure that the police are finally accountable to Parliament. The balance between the three elements in our policing arrangements—chief constables, police authorities, and the Home Secretary—is a delicate one. It may not be perfect—I am sure that it is not—but it is designed to try to ensure accountability without political control. My noble friend, with all his experience of local government, said in his speech that he affirmed his opposition to political control of the police. It strikes me that the effect of the proposed amendments would be to distort in a way that could be dangerous the balance that we have. May I add a final point, a further reason why I am resisting these amendments. My noble friend knows that the present Government came into office with a commitment to the rule of law and to the morale of the police service, a commitment that I am sure we share on all sides of the Committee. At the moment recruitment to the police service is buoyant. In order to ensure an accountable police service that carries out its duties efficiently, there must be a system of checks and balances, and I am suggesting to the Committee that we have such a system and that it really cannot be tinkered with in a piecemeal fashion, which these amendments would represent. Therefore I hope that, in the light of what I have said, my noble friend Lord Ridley will not press his amendment, and that perhaps all of us can profit by afterwards looking again at what has been said during this debate.
I should like to say a few words following the speech of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary. I very much agree with the general thrust of his argument, and if the noble Viscount were to press his amendment, I should unhesitatingly vote against it. Having had the kind of responsibility that the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has had in the Home Office, I am bound to say that the withdrawal from the Home Secretary of this form of power would in my view be highly disadvantageous to the public interest.The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has pointed out that it is highly desirable to keep a decent distance between political partisanship on local authorities—which is a perfectly proper element within local government, as we all know—and the kind of responsibilities that police authorities have. On the basis of an experience that I had in relation to one particular local authority, where there had been great anxiety relating to the relationship between a chief officer of police and certain members of a police authority—a problem which arose fairly recently, within the last few years—I am bound to say that the idea that a police authority should be able to appoint a chief officer without any approval being given by the Home Secretary would seem to me to be highly undesirable so far as the public interest was concerned. It seems to me quite clear that it is proper that a member of Government who has a clear duty to be responsible for the maintenance of the Queen's peace, should have the right to make a judgment about whether an individual senior officer of police is a fit and appropriate person to be a chief constable. As the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has pointed out, chief constables have very substantial powers—and rightly so. But I must say that the idea that the police authority should be able to appoint a senior officer without the Home Secretary of the day indicating that that officer is a fit and proper person to occupy that particular post seems to me highly undesirable, and I very much hope that as a result of this the noble Viscount will not press the amendment, because I simply do not believe that the passage of such a provision would do other than very substantial damage so far as the morale in the police service is concerned.
I should like to thank those noble Lords who have supported me and I wish to thank, too, my noble friend Lord Belstead for his very full reply. He produced what I thought was a perfectly marvellous case for 100 per cent. specific grant for the police force; in other words, if the Government have such total control over every single aspect of it, then why do they not pay for the whole of the service?—and that would make the block grant that much less necessary in the future.However, I shall not press these amendments, but before we leave this matter I should like to ask the Minister whether perhaps at Report stage he would accept a minor amendment in order to free from controls the building regulations—the detailed interference with matters regarding police stations, police houses and so forth—which I believe most noble Lords would support. I would certainly withdraw the proposal regarding chief constables et cetera, but if what I now mention is acceptable, I should like to return to it on Report.
Of course, anything that my noble friend puts forward will be carefully considered by the Government in their reply at the Report stage, but I cannot give him an undertaking that we would agree to an amendment on Report about police buildings. I say that for the reason that I gave in my speech: namely, that this matter has been the subject of discussions between the Home Office and the local authority associations in a working party, and I feel that we ought to secure agreement from that working party before we insert a single amendment of that kind in a local government Bill. I trust that that is not too unhelpful a reply, and with that I hope that my noble friend will now withdraw this particular first amendment.
I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
moved Amendment No. 2:
Page 2, line 7, leave out from ("to") to second ("to") in line 9 and insert ("a right of appeal").
The noble Earl said: On behalf of my noble friend, may I move this amendment which is really a technical amendment. It is consequential upon amendments that were made to the Bill in another place. As originally drafted, Schedule 1 contained provisions which abolished the rights of complaint to Ministers and requirements for ministerial approval, confirmation or consent, but all these provisions have now been moved elsewhere in order to improve the layout of the Bill. Consequently the words which this amendment seeks to move from Clause 1(1), which governs the schedule, are now redundant. I beg to move.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
[ Amendment No. 3 not moved.]
moved Amendment No. 4:
Page 2, line 14, leave out ("any default powers") and insert ("power to require a local authority to make byelaws").
The noble Earl said: This is another technical drafting amendment which is necessary to effect the repeal in Schedule 1 of the power of the Minister to require a local authority to make byelaws in respect of slaughterhouses under Section 12(1) and Section 16(1)( a) of the Slaughterhouses Act 1974. Since no ministerial default powers are being repealed in Schedule 1, this amendment is necessary to make the position clear. I beg to move.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
moved Amendment No. 5:
Page 2, line 19, leave out from ("limiting") to end of line 21 and insert—
("(a) the powers of the Secretary of State and the Treasury to supervise local authorities, water authorities and river purification authorities in the discharge of their functions relating to clean air and pollution; and (b) the powers of the Treasury to control rates of interest on sums payable to such authorities and to the Secretary of State in respect of expenses incurred by them in the discharge of such functions.").
The noble Earl said: This is another amendment of a similar nature. At present Clause 1(2) does not refer to the supervisory powers of the Secretary of State in relation to river purification authorities in Scotland; nor does it refer to the powers of the Treasury, which are being repealed in Schedule 2, to fix rates of interest by reference to which local and other authorities fix the rates of interest which they may recover in addition to any expenses incurred by them in discharging their functions under the Clean Air Acts and the Control of Pollution Act. This amendment remedies both these omissions. I beg to move.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 6. I have to point out that if this amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 7.
moved Amendment No. 6:
Page 2, line 30, leave out subsection (5).
The noble Lord said: I think that it would be for the convenience of the Committee if we discuss Amendments Nos. 6, 7, and 15 together, since they all relate to allotment garden provision and finance. At a later stage I shall separately move each of the other amendments, and I now formally move Amendment No. 6.
During the Second Reading of the Bill we had two excellent speeches by the noble Lord, Lord Broadbridge, and my noble and very eloquent friend Lord Davies of Leek on the important issue of the effect of the Bill on allotment garden provision. In replying to the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, made no answer on the vexed question of allotment provision. True, the noble Lord said that he would write to the noble Lord, Lord Broadbridge, but the House as a whole was denied the opportunity of hearing the Government's point of view, especially on new allotment legislation. However, I want to be very fair. The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, was under great pressure in trying to reply to the many and varied points made on this monster of a Bill, which could almost be described as "the incredible hulk".
Like the noble Lord, Lord Broadbridge, I have to declare an interest as I am president of the London Society of Recreational Gardeners and, as such, practise what I preach. The amendments before the Committee are, with one exception (Amendment No. 15 which deals with the proposed repeal of Section 54 of the 1908 Act), similar to those dealt with on the Report stage in another place. The purpose of the amendment is to retain the present position of various legislative Acts governing allotment provision, some seven in all, until the Government have completed their review of the Thorpe Report and introduce new legislation consolidating and revising the present law, promised by the previous Labour Government which set up the departmental Committee of Inquiry into Allotments in 1966, chaired by the late Professor Harry Thorpe, and more or less promised by the present Government, in spite of the provisions of this Bill.
If the Government are in earnest in their idea of introducing new legislation based on the Thorpe Report (Cmnd. 4166), why make the changes proposed in this
Bill? It simply does not make sense. Should the Government not accept the amendments designed to preserve the status quo pending their promised legislation, then I trust they will seize the point of the amendment which provides for the holding back of this Bill's provisions on allotments until 1st January 1982, thus giving them time to bring in the proposed consolidating and revising legislation.
In another place during the proceedings of Standing Committee D ( Official Report, Standing Committee D, 12th February 1980, col. 46) the Minister for the Government said:
"At present, we are considering comprehensive legislation to take in the Thorpe report. There has been in the background of the Government's thinking for some time what is called a recreational gardening Bill".
Similar legislation was promised by the previous Government during the debate on my Motion in this House on 17th March 1976, and now we have the hint of a promise from the present Government. May I ask whether the Minister could be a shade more positive tonight and give a categorical statement of intention to legislate? It would be better for the Government to abandon their repeal of the various sections of the allotment Acts, in order to provide, within a reasonable period, new comprehensive legislation which has been urgently needed for years and to which objective both Labour and Conservative Governments have given lip service.
There is an increasing demand for allotment gardens. More people are realising the economic and health values of growing their own fruit and vegetables. Modern housing development—and this is an important point—provides either a pocket handkerchief garden or none at all. Increasing unemployment and inflation are also factors to be taken into account. On a conservative estimate, at least 120,000 people are still waiting for allotment plots. In 1969 it was estimated that there were about 560,000 allotments covering 60,000 acres; by 1977 the number had declined to 498,000, covering 50,000 acres. The decline is still continuing.
This Bill will not increase the amount of land being made available for allotments. It will decrease it further because Government pressures, in this Bill and other measures, will force local authorities to look for sources of additional revenue and sales of land will be tempting. Having sold the land and reduced the acreage available for allotments, the local authority may then decide to use the money for other purposes. This is not new. On the Second Reading of the Bill the noble Lord, Lord Broadbridge, gave the example of Croydon, and there are others using money specified for allotments for other purposes. It is well known that support for allotments among local authorities is very patchy, and there are reluctant providers under the present legislation. Some are reducing need by inflating allotment rents to extortionate rates. The repeal of legislation as outlined in this Bill will play right into their hands.
How can there be a legal obligation within legislation for the provision of allotments when Schedule 5 does away with legislative safeguards? Section 54 of the 1908 Act is to be repealed in Schedule 5. No longer will it be our statutory obligation to keep separate allotment accounts. Yet in Clause 2 the Government insist on local authorities not only keeping accounts but publishing them and making information widely available. In other words, open government—but not for allotments.
I accept that allotment holders are a minority interest. It is the responsibility of Parliament to protect the rights of minorities and not wash its hands of responsibilities by repealing what is protective legislation. It is Parliament's responsibility in the national interest to encourage provision of allotment plots; to ensure environmental interest by laying down standards of provision and maintenance. It is Parliament's responsibility to ensure adequate use of waste land for food production, and to benefit the environment and the nation's economy as a result. It is simply not good enough for the Government to push responsibilities on local authorities, quite a number of whom for various reasons, mainly anti-social, do their best to evade even their present responsibilities.
No one denies that new legislation is needed on allotment provision and maintenance. The present Acts need to be consolidated and brought up to date. Rents should be in line with charges made for other recreational pursuits. No one at present seems able to find what is a reasonable rent. There is, however, a High Court case pending and I will not develop that point further at this stage. There is need to take into account social changes since the inception of allotment garden provision.
I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, to read the contribution of his noble friend Lord Sandys in the debate on 17th March 1976. Dealing with the Thorpe Report ( Official Report, 17th March 1976, cols. 234 to 241) the noble Lord said:
"The allotment authority has a difficult task. It must first refer to the Act of 1908 to learn about its obligations. Then it has to look to the Acts of 1922 and 1950 to discover the extent of their operation. Then it must turn back to the basic Act, the Act of 1908, to understand how it may acquire the land to fulfil those obligations, and then move forward to the Act of 1925 to find the rules relating to the disposal of such land. No wonder there is a problem in managing land in this particular field".
Later, he said this:
"The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, referred in considerable detail to the problems caused to local authorities, and he rightly castigated many of them for indifference. One of the strongest indictments in the whole Report occurs on page 96, when again the same body, the Select Committee, says this:
'The strongest indictment of the attitude of some local authorities came from the students working on our behalf'.
"They give these quotations from their research:
'Allotments are treated in a very cavalier fashion'.
'The local authority takes little interest in allotments'.
'Administration is very haphazard'.
'The local authorities seem out of touch with allotment affairs'."
The noble Lord, Lord Sandys, concluded:
"That is really a clear indictment of local authorities, and I think that the case is made."
Yet, the Government, in repealing measures in Clause 1, are passing responsibilities on to local authorities and evading their own responsibility. The noble Lord, Lord Sandys, in that excellent speech of his in March 1976—and, quite frankly, I could quote the whole of his speech as an argument for my case—made a passionate appeal for new legislation based on the Thorpe Report. I appeal to the Government to heed his words, which are a complete vindication of the purpose of the amendments set down in my name. If the Government are sincere in their desire to bring in new allotment legislation, then they should accept the main amendment and, in so doing—and this is not an unimportant point—reduce the size of this Bill. I beg to move.
I should like very briefly to support my noble friend who has just spoken. As he said, during the Second Reading debate the noble Lord, Lord Broadbridge, raised this matter, and then, when it came to the winding-up, the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, said that because the noble Lord, Lord Broad-bridge, was not present he would write to him. Like my noble friend who has just spoken, I appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, had a great many points to which he had to reply. Nevertheless, a number of us would have been interested to see what was in that letter.Just a few days ago I was opening a vegetable and flower show, most of the produce for which came from allotments, and I want to bring it home to the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, what a great deal of feeling there is about this matter on the part of the allotment associations. The people who spoke to me during the afternoon on which I opened the show were all asking me what the Government's intentions were, but I am afraid I had to say, as I had to say in my speech, that I did not know and I would not know until we got to the Committee stage of this Bill. As my noble friend has said, there are far more allotment holders these days, and a great waiting list of those who wish to become allotment holders. This is due to two or three reasons, perhaps: first, the outdoor life; second, the high cost of vegetables these days; and, third, the increasing use of freezers, which means that those who have allotments or small gardens can freeze the produce to last them for many months ahead. The allotment holders and the associations feel that this Bill takes away something which they have had since 1925, and they would like to know whether anything is going to be put in the place of these powers which are being taken away. My noble friend has mentioned the Thorpe Report. Perhaps the Government are anticipating that they will take some action on this report, but, again, we do not know. Therefore, I would be very pleased indeed if the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, could give us the answer to some of these questions in order to try to allay the fears of the allotment holders, but if he cannot do that then at least to delay action until 1982, as my noble friend has suggested.
I should like briefly to support these amendments. The allure of the development of allotment gardens is very strong, and it happens over and over again. The value of the recreational effect of allotment gardens is well enough known, both from the point of view of growing vegetables and because of the very thriving pigeon clubs which there are throughout the country. They also provide an extremely valuable channel through which people can divert their energies, as well as providing a means by which people can use self-help in times of shortage. Two or three years ago, when there were great shortages, the value of allotments and the value of home-grown vegetables was very obvious. I hope that the Government will really look into this and make certain that this Bill does not do anything to reduce the provision of allotments, which would be disastrous.
I first want to say that I will not delay the Committee very long because the arguments are known on both sides of this Chamber. I sincerely believe that we should remember that twice in my lifetime there has been a rush back to the land so far as allotments are concerned, and that the great posters throughout Britain said, "Dig for Victory". I am sorry; I omitted to thank the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin. During the Recess he was kind enough to write me a long letter putting his point of view. He was, as he always is, courteous, succinct and cogent. Nevertheless, one can be cogent and the argument can be on the wrong hypothesis. One must always remember that. It depends on the hypothesis with which you begin, though the arguments may be absolutely brilliant—in fact par excellence in that respect.As I have said, I will be brief, about three minutes, so do not worry, but I want to point out that during the Recess I have had numerous letters. My study table was about a foot high with letters from local authorities. Never in the history of Parliament has Parliament been so overwhelmed by Left, Right and Centre, non-Trotskyite and ultra-Right Wing councils pleading and begging both sides of your Lordships' Committee to do something to rescue the allotments of Great Britain. During the debate in the other place on 14th February 1980, during the Committee stage of the Bill, with reference to the London Society of Recreational Gardeners, Mr. Tom King, the Minister for Local Government and Environmental Services, said—and I do not want to quote him fully—that it remains a legal responsibility on the councils that their first priority is to use the proceeds of sale of allotment land in the first instance for allotment purposes. In this amendment we are asking that the authority of the Minister should still be paramount in the case of these allotments. It is no good saying, "We are giving a freer hand to local authorities". Beggars have a free hand. You could say, "We cannot help the beggars; they are free to do well for themselves". It is the same with those who are sick and lonely. In other words, freedom can be true freedom only if there is something which will give you comfort and succour during that period of freedom, and one thing is to be fed. That is one of the necessities, despite the massive growth—and here is the 64,000 dollar point. Never mind the party politics; whichever party is in power, during the next four, five, six or seven years, may be, we shall have the shadow of unemployment over this country—and here is something which could help those people to produce their own produce. If people were not so "toffee-nosed" about keeping a pig and a chicken or a cockerel on an allotment it would be a better Britain. There is nothing to be "toffee-nosed" about: it is common sense so far as keeping an allotment is concerned. All I want to say is that there is much more than pinpointing tiny arguments; there is the reality. Digging for victory and producing more food can save money on the overseas balance of trade. Goodness knows why we are loading the country with French apples! I myself can grow better cabbages than they import! Why are we doing this? Probably 40 per cent. of the households of Britain could produce the basic vegetables themselves, and could thus save overwhelming millions for the country. The argument is self-evident. I do not want to drop in my old-fashioned Latin, but there is a tag. The argument is self-evident; and I beg the Minister, who is a kindly Minister and who takes trouble to reply to us, to get back to the rock which is holding him down under the water and to shift from this argument—this sterile argument, lacking in reality—and think about digging for victory and the future of Britain.
After that spendid performance from the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, may I add a few temporate words from the Cross-Benches? I should like, in principle, thoroughly to support the amendment which has been so ably argued by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace. In my opinion, it is of extreme importance at a time of rising unemployment—and I am afraid that none of us can deny that unemployment is rising and is likely to continue to rise—that allotments should be available both for leisure purposes and, indeed, for the purposes of family food production at a time when the incomes of many families are liable to go down. All those propositions are in my view incontestable, and on those grounds I thoroughly support the amendment.There is only one slight reservation that I have. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, referred to extortionate rentals for allotments. This is possibly the crux of the matter. If a fair rental policy for allotments could be found or a code of practice could become established, this might go a long way towards solving the problem. In an area with which I am familiar, half-acre allotments are being let at £5 a year. One of the local ratepayers complained to me this morning that he reckoned that this upped his rates by £36 a year. He was asking why he should subsidise these allotments. The parish council had added a fourpence or fivepence rate in order to make the new allotment development, of which I approve. Five pounds a year is little in the present day and age and I would suggest to most authorities who are interested in this matter that perhaps 50 pence a week would be a reasonable rent for a productive allotment, particularly when you have half an acre which would take you beyond the bounds of family production and bring you into market production. That is the only minor reservation that I have. I think that that should be studied and, with that reservation, I should like to support the amendment.
Since my noble friend Lord Avebury has added his name to this amendment, I should like to say a few words from these Benches. Everything in support of the amendment has been said and we all want to get on with the business. My only disagreement with the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, is that I myself would not think it a good idea to keep pigs on an allotment and I believe that the holders of neighbouring allotments also would not think it a good idea.Apart from that, I am certain that allotments are of an immense value to the country, not only for what they produce but for the opportunities they give to people; and, if, unfortunately, we are going to have a number of unemployed people, that is an added reason to preserve the allotments. If the Government are going to tell us that they are contemplating producing a Bill next Session to put the whole question of allotments on to a new basis, that is a different matter. I should still think, with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Coslany, that in those circumstances it would be better to leave the law as it stands now and to start from there rather than make amendments which in the course of the Session might have to be altered once again.
In what appears to be in conclusion, I should like to support the noble Lord on this amendment. I wish to declare my interest as president of the National Association of Allotment Gardeners and I should like also to reassure the Committee that the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, did write to me; and I thank him for his letter.I spoke at Second Reading on the general context into which fall the eight lines or so in this Bill which affect allotments; and I do not propose to go over that again. In allotment affairs, as in other aspects of our daily lives affected by this Bill, we have been told by the Government that they are motivated by their belief that local people know best. In this case, "local people" are the local authorities and, broadly, excepting the local authorities who are so stupid that they do not know anything—and there are some like that—they do know best. But it does not follow that they will do the best for their electors, particularly those electors who are not organised in such a way as to be able to make a loud and continuing noise if their interests are overlooked. It costs money to make a noise, and most allotment holders are fully occupied with facing the difficulties that nature throws at them. They are not militant in the commonly accepted sense of the word today and most do not have much money to spare. Such people consistently get the thin end of the legislative wedge and it is nonsense to say that every elector has a remedy at election time for the town hall. I should like to reinforce the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Coslany, that when we speak of allotments we are talking about a significant part of the lives of over half a million people of all ages, races, colours and creeds. One of the commonest and most constructive purposes of national law is the protection of the minority, the protection of the weak, the unfashionable and the poor. I would put most allotment-holders into all those categories. As I said on Second Reading—and I see no reason to change my ground even after the letter from Lord Bellwin—I do not believe that the local authorities can be relied on to do what they may well know to be best. The law must provide for that. Such provision as we have is contained in the Allotment Acts, and the Government propose in this Bill to repeal most of them and to replace them with nothing. Clause 1(5) refers to nine repeals and to nothing new. "Repeals" is not a word that I apply subjectively. Reference to Schedule 5 to the Bill will show that the word "omit" is used in every case. The financial implications of the proposed repeals give me most cause for concern. This is the case particularly with the proposal to repeal Section 32(2) of the 1908 Act. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Coslany, very clearly put the case for the retention of that legislation, and I should like to add my agreement. The second principal concern that I have lies in the area which in recent years has come to be called "the desire for open government"—which I support. This concerns, first, the proposed repeal of Section 28(3) of the 1908 Act. Finally, consolidated in my mind with the removal of open government, is the proposal to repeal Sections 54 and 59 of the 1908 Act, which require local authorities respectively to keep separate accounts of receipts and expenditure on allotments and stipulate that they are to make an annual statement of their allotment receipts, expenditures and liabilities (I quote)
and require them to supply information on their activities to enable an annual report to Parliament to be made of proceedings nationally under the Act. If these repeals are made, the local authorities cannot be called on for an account of their stewardship so far as allotments are concerned and no one will be able to give any information as to the allotment situation nationally. It is difficult enough to do it at the moment, but it will become completely impossible. Now that the Minister has made a specific Statement in the other place that he has a new gardeners' Bill in mind, I really feel that gardeners' best interests would be served by holding our hand now. I support this amendment and I hope that many noble Lords here today will be able to do so in what surely is a field above party politics."to be deposited at some convenient place in the borough",
The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, said that my noble friend Lord Bellwin was a kindly Minister who listened to everything that was said. He is right; he does. Unfortunately, it falls to me to answer the noble Lord and I assure him that I am not nearly so kindly as my noble friend Lord Bellwin but that I have tried to listen to every word that has been said. I would say this. I find that to all the contributions which have been made so far it is impossible to take exception; because the main points made are that allotments are vitally essential to the well-being of the country and to the production of food, are essential for leisure and form a centre piece of our society.With all that I am in total agreement. But I think that there is a misconception, and an understandable one. I say that with a great deal of respect, because the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Coslany, is an expert on allotments—as I have had cause to know—as is the noble Lord, Lord Broadbridge; and anything I say would be subject to that respect. The inference is—and I think the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, put this in his usual exciting and well understandable way when he said that we must rescue the allotments of Britain—that the Government are doing something terrible to the allotments of Britain and are actually sinking them. I can assure the noble Lords, Lord Davies of Leek and Lord Broadbridge, that that is not what is being done. All that we are doing is removing what we believe to be unnecessary ministerial powers over the local authorities; because we believe that the local authorities are those who know best how to run the allotments in their areas. I recognise that the noble Lord, Lord Broadbridge, took exception to that. He feels that sometimes the Government know best. But our general philosophy is that, on the whole, the local authorities know best. There is one vital exception: Section 8 of the Allotments Act 1925 was going to be repealed, but in view of the pressure which was brought in another place we decided not to do that. That permits the Secretary of State to retain the power for consent for any dealings with allotment land. If any local authorities wish to dispose of their allotment lands, then they have to get the permission of the Secretary of State to do so.
I beg the noble Earl's pardon for interrupting but this is quite a point. We are delighted with what he has said; but the next thing is, once permission has been given to get rid of some allotment land what happens to the money? I hope the situation is not going to be like in Epsom or somewhere, where it is used to furnish the town hall or something. We want to know that the allotment money will go to further allotment lands.
Any money which is raised by the sale of allotment lands, which has to have the approval of the Secretary of State, then has to go towards paying off any liabilities which the local authority may have on the allotment holdings—not just on that which has been sold but on all their allotment holdings. Thereafter, any balance which is left is for the use of the local authority in such ways as they think fit. This is a cardinal retention which we are keeping in this Bill.The local authorities are still obliged under the Small Holdings and Allotments Act to provide allotments where the local authorities are of the opinion that there is a demand for them, and it says that they shall provide them. So there is no destruction of the provision of allotments. All we are doing in this part of the Bill is to remove the Secretary of State's "interference" over what we believe is the right area for local authorities to deal with. If I may give the Committee one or two examples, Section 28(3) of the Small Holdings and Allotments Act 1908 says that rules which are made by the local authorities for the management of their allotments are to be confirmed by the Secretary of State. We do not think that it is necessary for the Secretary of State to confirm rules which local authorities require to make over the running of their allotments. Section 39(2) refers to the Secretary of State's consent to local authorities making a grant or advance to a co-operative allotment society. At the moment if a local authority wishes to make a grant they have to get the Secretary of State's permission. We do not believe that that is necessary. All these things which are being repealed are relatively small but irritating involvements of the Secretary of State in areas which are best reserved to the local authorities. The proposals in the Bill are designed solely to remove those central Government controls over local authorities' allotment activities which are no longer considered necessary. That does not imply that the Government regard allotment as unimportant or do not believe in people helping themselves by growing their own food. We feel they have an important part to play. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Coslany, asked how one can get more land when one repeals the protective laws relating to allotments. Again, with respect, that is an exaggeration of the situation. We are not repealing the protective laws relating to allotments; all we are doing is repealing the exercise of the power of the Secretary of State over the local authorities. The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, asked whether the Government were going to introduce a Bill incorporating the recommendations of the Thorpe Report. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said that if we were doing this then it is a pity to tinker around with the position at the moment. I can only tell the noble Lord that we believe in the powers of a local authority to remove the "interference" of the Secretary of State, and that is why we are proposing to do this. We are considering, as my right honourable friend the Minister of State for the Department of the Environment and Minister for Local Government said, comprehensive legislation to take in the Thorpe Report. As the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, knows, it has been the background to the Government's thinking for some time to introduce a recreational gardening Bill. We are looking at this position but I cannot give any further commitment on it than that. I think it is correct that at this stage we should remove the Secretary of State's powers; but that does not mean that we are harming, hurting or denigrating one little bit the influence of allotments or allotment holders. I hope that the noble Lord will be satisfied with that assurance.
Naturally we all agree with the Minister that unnecessary ministerial powers over local authorities should be eliminated wherever possible, and that government should reside as close to the people as is practicable. However, we are arguing in this amendment that perhaps some degree of ministerial control beyond what has been conceded by the noble Earl opposite is required, and that perhaps experience shows that local authorities may not be trusted entirely to exercise the powers that provide allotments as the Minister would advocate.We have no figures from him of the waiting lists of people wanting to use allotments. I understand that those have been building up considerably. The standards of provision are not adequate in very many areas of the country. As the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, has just prompted me, the demand is likely to grow because in eras of high unemployment such as we have, unfortunately, today—and we can see no sign of an end to that—there is a considerable worsening in the number of people out of work, and there is a great incentive for people to try to grow their own food. They should be encouraged to do so, not only because it helps them to be self-reliant and gives their families the fresh foods that they would be unable to afford in the shops, but also because in general, and apart from the present economic climate, we want to encourage allotments for the recreational facilities that they provide. We also want to do this from the national point of view, because all sides of the House were agreed some years ago, when we debated the White Paper Food from our Own Resources, that it was a good idea to try to increase agricultural production generally. That includes the very substantial provision which is made by allotments. It has been calculated that the potential of food production from allotments could be as much as £120 million. That money not only is in addition to the gross domestic product but it also means that £120 million worth of food does not have to be imported from overseas. Therefore we should consider very seriously whether we want to go as far down the road as the noble Earl suggested; whether we want in effect to retain the legal obligation on local authorities to provide allotments but to remove from the statute book all available checks. I thought that the speech to which we have just listened was a little disingenuous because the sections from the Small Holdings and Allotments Act which the Minister quoted as being removed were indeed all the trivial ones. He left out those repeals which are of fundamental importance, such as Section 54 (1) under which local authorities have to obtain the authorisation of the Secretary of State before they transfer allotment funds to other purposes. Then there is Section 22(1)(b) of the Land Settlement (Facilities) Act 1919, under which the Secretary of State has to sanction the disposal of allotment land for other purposes. The danger which many of us foresee is that, in the present climate of restrictions on local authority spending, there will be a very serious temptation for local authorities with allotment areas in high-value parts of cities to dispose of them for developments and to use the proceeds to mitigate the effect on the ratepayers of increases in local authority spending in other areas. To give one further example, there is Section 8 of the Allotments Act 1925 where, again, the Secretary of State not only has to give consent to the disposal of allotments, but, in addition, has to ensure that adequate provision will be made for allotment holders displaced by the action of the local authority, or that such provision is unnecessary or not reasonably practicable. So for those reasons, and others which have been advanced, I sincerely hope that the Committee will not accept the inadequate explanation which has been given by the Minister, but will press this matter to a Division.
I wonder whether I may say this to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. I find it very difficult to answer some of the points he has made, because it is rather like a person talking in one language and having a reply in another language. He said that he was concerned to see that there is proper production from allotments, that people are requiring allotments and that there is not enough provision of allotments. All that I agree with but, with the greatest respect to the noble Lord, that has nothing to do with the amendment. All that the amendment does is to remove the Secretary of State's powers in Schedule 5. All the points to which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, referred are still being kept.I said in my original speech that Section 8 of the Allotments Act requires local authorities to get the Secretary of State's permission before they sell any land. So that is a very severe restriction, and that remains. The Small Holdings and Allotments Act 1908 still remains and that puts an obligation on local authorities to provide allotment land where they consider that there is a requirement for it. The noble Lord said that I have not given any figures as to how many allotments there are, how many people are queueing up and so on. I am bound to say I cannot give the noble Lord that information, because I do not happen to have it. I do not happen to have it, not because I have not done my homework, but because the figures are not available as it is not considered the normal kind of statistic which a Government would keep. But I assure the noble Lord that these important provisions for the protection of allotments are being kept.
Under Section 59 of the Small Holdings and Allotments Act 1908, the Secretary of State is supposed to be obliged to report annually to Parliament on the state of allotment provision, and the reason given by the Government for the abolition of this section is that it has not been invoked.
That is right. I think that was last done in about 1940. It has not been done since then, because people thought that they had better get on with fighting the war, as opposed to giving reports to Parliament about the situation of our allotments—
The war is over.
I know that the war is over and that we are 40 years ahead. But I do not see the advantage in the Secretary of State giving reports to Parliament, particularly when that has not been done. Of course, if the noble Lord and the party he represents like to go back 40 years, that is for them, but I cannot suggest that that would be a suitable course of action to take. One of the reasons why this is being repealed is simply that it is not being done now.If your Lordships look at Schedule 5, you will see what is being repealed. I have referred to the management of allotments. We consider that that is a proper thing for local authorities to do, and is not something for the Secretary of State to be involved with. As regards the use of surplus money, I have explained that where a local authority sell their land after having had the permission of the Secretary of State, they have to pay off all their capital requirements with regard to their allotments before they use the money which they have obtained. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Ave-bury, referred to the Land Settlement (Facilities) Act 1919. That has been overtaken by the 1925 Act and therefore, although that part is being repealed, its provisions are retained in Section 8 of the 1925 Act. Further down, the Allotments Act 1922 gives the outer London boroughs the right to have recourse to the Minister. It seems to us that it is perfectly reasonable for the outer London boroughs to be on the same principle as everyone else and to be responsible to the local authorities. Then there is the Allotments Act 1925. That leaves out Section 13 which enjoins local authorities to keep separate records of purchases. Local authorities will keep records of the land which they purchase, and we do not see any reason for telling them to keep additional records. So I hope your Lordships will realise that what we seek to repeal in subsection (5) are only small but, nevertheless irritating restrictions which at the moment the Secretary of State can impose on local authorities. We do not seek to remove the overriding right of the Secretary of State to approve or disapprove of the sale of allotment land.
Could the Minister say to what extent it will be possible for the Secretary of State, on allowing a council to sell allotment land, to demand that it is replaced by an equal amount of land?
That, of course, is a matter for the local authority. Once having sold some land if a local authority, under the Acts to which I have referred, consider that there is a requirement for more land and they desire to buy it, they can do so. They can spend their money as for any other purpose. That is a matter for the local authority.
I ought to try to put the noble Earl out of his misery, because, with all due respect to him, he has waffled—but with his usual charm. I cannot give him greater praise than that.
Try a little harder.
The noble Earl was skirting around first one thing and then another. He said that these are not very important repeals and that the local authorities can be trusted. I say to the noble Earl that I do not trust local authorities. I was almost fed on local authorities in my early days. One of the first committees that I was put on as a young councillor was the cabbages and greens committee, as the local allotments committee was called, and if there was ever a cinderella committee on a local authority it was that. The Minister knows that as well as I do. He had a magnificent record in local government. The allotments people were considered a damned nuisance, and that is why we are very fearful about giving more powers to local authorities.Those of us who have served in local government, and who are keen on the spreading of gardening as a leisure pursuit, and for health and recreation, have had constant battles with local authorities. Yet here is Parliament proposing to give over completely its watching brief, particularly in regard to Section 54 of the old Act which deals with the annual report to Parliament on finance. This is not a small matter and Parliament should keep a watching brief. I am not speaking in a party sense or a Government sense. We have to set a lead and build up the provision in these councils which is urgently needed. There is another point which I should like to make. The noble Earl repeated what was said in another Chamber, that the Government are thinking—that is a tremendous achievement, anyway — of bringing in new legislation. Of course, the noble Earl cannot commit himself completely because there is to be a State Opening on 13th November and we must not anticipate Her Majesty's gracious Speech. But if the Government intend to bring in legislation—and they say that they are—why on earth fiddle about with it in this Bill? Further amendments might be needed when dealing with this vital subject. About seven Acts are already confusing local authorities, the Government and everybody else. It is about time that we had this legislation. In this case, as I have said, it is all right. To drop this subsection would please noble Lords. Anything that would diminish the size of this monster of a Bill would be more than gladly welcomed. I say that almost with tears in my eyes. We are repealing Parliament's watching brief. The Government say that they are to bring in consolidating legislation which has been awaited for at least 10 years, so why fiddle about with it in this Bill? If we give them two years to bring in the new Bill we will do all we possibly can to help the Government. Let us take this subsection out of the Bill. That would give us peace for the time being. Then we could come to the more
|Amherst, E.||Glenamara, L.||Pargiter, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Gordon-Walker, L.||Parry, L.|
|Avebury, L.||Gosford, E.||Peart, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Greenwood of Rossendale, L.||Phillips, B.|
|Bacon, B.||Hale, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Balogh, L.||Halsbury, E.||Plant, L.|
|Banks, L.||Hampton, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]|
|Beswick, L.||Hanworth, V.|
|Birk, B.||Hatch of Lusby, L.||Reilly, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Henderson, L.||Roberthall, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Broadbridge, L. [Teller.]||Hylton-Foster, B.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Brockway, L.||Ilchester, E.||Sefton of Garston, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Irving of Dartford, L.||Simon, V.|
|Byers, L.||Jacques, L.||Stamp, L.|
|Chitnis, L.||Janner, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Jeger, B.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Collison, L.||Kilbracken, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Kilmarnock, L.||Stone, L.|
|Crowther-Hunt, L.||Kinloss, Ly.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Darling of Hillsborough, L.||Leatherland, L.||Strauss, L.|
|David, B.||Listowel, E.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Delacourt-Smith of Alteryn, B.||Lloyd of Hampstead, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Denington, B.||Loudoun, C.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||McCarthy, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Maelor, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Melville, V.||Wigoder, L.|
|Gaitskell, B.||Meston, L.||Wilson of Radcliffe, L.|
|Gardiner, L.||Mishcon, L.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Oram, L.|
|Addison, V.||Cathcart, E.||Ferrers, E.|
|Ailesbury, M.||Clwyd, L.||Fraser of Kilmorack, L.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Cockfield, L.||Freyberg, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Cottesloe, L.||Gage, V.|
|Alport, L.||Cromartie, E.||Gainford, L.|
|Amory, V.||Cross, V.||Gormanston, V.|
|Ampthill, L.||Daventry, V.||Gowrie, E.|
|Armstrong, L.||de Clifford, L.||Haig, E.|
|Auckland, L.||De Freyne, L.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.)|
|Avon, E.||De La War, E.|
|Balerno, L.||De L'Isle, V.||Hankey, L.|
|Bellwin, L.||Denham, L. [Teller.]||Harvington, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Digby, L.||Hatherton, L.|
|Berkeley, B.||Drumalbyn, L.||Henley, L.|
|Birdwood, L.||Dundee, E.||Hereford, V.|
|Blake, L.||Ebbisham, L.||Hill of Luton, L.|
|Boardman, L.||Elgin and Kincardine, E.||Jeffreys, L.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Ellenborough, L.||Jessel, L.|
|Bradford, E.||Elliot of Harwood, B.||Kemsley, V.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Emmet of Amberley, B.||Kimberley, E.|
|Caithness, E.||Enniskillen, E.||Kintore, E.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Evans of Hungershall, L.||Knutsford, V.|
|Carrington, L. (A Principal Secretary of State)||Exeter, M.||Lauderdale, E.|
|Faithfull, B.||Lindsey and Abingdon, E.|
contentious business that we have to face. I am completely dissatisfied and I am going to press this amendment to a Division.
On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 6) shall be agreed to?
Their Lordships divided: Contents, 91; Not-Contents, 133.
|Long, V.||Northchurch, B.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Nugent of Guildofrd, L.||Sharples, B.|
|Lyell, L.||Onslow, E.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|McFadzean, L.||Orkney, E.||Soames, L. (L. President.)|
|Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Orr-Ewing, L.||Spens, L.|
|Macleod of Borve, B.||Penrhyn, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Malmesbury, E.||Porritt, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Mancroft, L.||Radnor, E.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Margadale, L.||Redmayne, L.||Strathspey, L.|
|Marley, L.||Renton, L.||Tenby, V.|
|Meston, L.||Richardson, L.||Tranmire, L.|
|Middleton, L,||Ridley, V.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Minto, E.||Rochdale, V.||Trumpington, B.|
|Monk Bretton, L.||Rollo, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Morris, L.||Romney, E.||Vickers, B.|
|Mottistone, L.||St. Davids, V.||Vivian, L.|
|Mowbray and Stourton, L.||St. Germans, E.||Wakefield of Kendal, L.|
|Moyne, L.||Saint Oswald, L.||Waldegrave, E.|
|Murton of Lindisfarne, L.||Sandford, L.||Watkinson, V.|
|Netherthorpe, L.||Sandys, L. [Teller.]||Westbury, L.|
|Newall, L.||Savile, L.||Willoughby de Broke, L.|
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
moved Amendment No. 7:
Page 2, line 31, after ("effect") insert ("but not before 1st January 1982").
The noble Lord said: This amendment should suit the Government, I hope—I pray almost—because it leaves their precious, rather large legislation untouched but not this particular subsection dealing with allotments. This amendment alters the date to 1st January 1982. I am willing, later on, if the Government so wish, to make it 1983. This would give the Government a reasonable and fair chance to bring in their legislation which has been talked about for so long and which conceivably could incorporate, although some of us would not agree, some of these amendments. This is fair.
I ask the Government to accept this amendment which does not mess about with their legislation. It does not mean a defeat for the Government and possibly the threat of the sack for some poor Minister or other—which goes on, I understand, every time the Government are defeated. I shall not develop that point because a certain conference is taking place this week. I think this amendment is fair and reasonable and I hope the Government will be reasonable and will accept it. I beg to move.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Coslany, is remarkably conciliatory, and I appreciate that very much. I thought as he was speaking that if one wanted to find somebody to sell a blind man a pair of spectacles one could find nobody better than the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, because really his whole argument is in effect "Don't bring it in now, let us bring it in in 1982".
Perhaps I may explain to the noble Earl that he has not quite got the point. This is hoping that the Government will seek salvation; they will bring in their legislation and say, "OK, we shall not need it in this Bill so we will take it out and we will have a new Bill". It gives them time to think. Obviously they have not had time to think over this Bill. I have not had time—I took some of my stuff away on holiday to Malta to write up and other noble Lords have suffered equally.
If I may make a personal observation, I think the noble Lord was very misguided to do such a stupid thing on his holidays. There was no point in going on holiday; he could have sat here. I am not so dumb as the noble Lord thinks, because I realise that the purpose of his amendment is to persuade the Government to come along and produce this amending legislation, but I cannot do more than I told him before and I would correct him in regard to one thing. He said that the Government had promised to bring in amending legislation. What the Government said was that they would consider it. Of course we will consider it and we will carry on considering it.The noble Lord says that in this Bill we have not got it right so we want to make sure that in the next Bill we do get it right, to the satisfaction of the noble Lord. All I can say is that we are considering this and I cannot tell the noble Lord what will be the outcome of it, but I think that it it is right to get rid of these controls, which we believe is the correct thing to do, then we might as well get rid of them now and not in 18 months' time. This is really a delaying tactic, very craftily put by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, but that is all it is and I really suggest that the Committee should not accept it.
This is almost an attack on my character. This is not a crafty move. I am giving the Government time to sort themselves out. They have rushed into so much legislation that they have got themselves into a bit of a tangle. There is no evil intent whatever on my part and this is not a party political issue. All I am saying is, get the new legislation and in the meantime put this in suspense instead of putting
|Amherst, E.||Fisher of Rednal, B.||Mishcon, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Gaitskell, B.||Oram, L.|
|Avebury, L.||Gardiner, L.||Pargiter, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Glenamara, L.||Parry, L.|
|Bacon, B.||Gordon-Walker, L.||Peart, L.|
|Balogh, L.||Gosford, E.||Phillips, B.|
|Banks, L.||Greenwood of Rossendale, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Beswick, L.||Hale, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]|
|Birk, B.||Hampton, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Hanworth, V.||Roberthall, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Hatch of Lusby, L.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Broadbridge, L. [Teller.]||Henderson, L.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Brockway, L.||Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Sefton of Garston, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Hylton-Foster, B.||Simon, V.|
|Byers, L.||Ilchester, E.||Stedman, B.|
|Chitnis, L.||Irving of Dartford, L.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Janner, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Collison, L.||Jeger, B.||Stone, L.|
|Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Kilbracken, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Crowther-Hunt, L.||Kilmarnock, L.||Strauss, L.|
|Darling of Hillsborough, L.||Kinloss, Ly.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|David, B.||Leatherland, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Underhill, L.|
|Delacourt-Smith of Alteryn, B.||Lloyd of Hampstead, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Denington, B.||Loudoun, C.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||McCarthy, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Maelor, L.||Wigoder, L.|
|Evans of Claughton, L.||Melville, V.||Wilson of Radcliffe, L.|
|Addison, V.||Alport, L.||Avon, E.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Ampthill, L.||Balerno, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Armstrong, L.||Bellwin, L.|
|Allen of Abbeydale, L.||Auckland, L.||Belstead, L.|
it into operation. If nobody disagrees, then take it out of suspense and put it in the dustbin. In fact I would put the whole darned Bill in the dustbin, but that is another matter and do not blame me for saying that at this stage.
It occurs to me that if this amendment has come about as a result of the noble Lord's fortnight's holiday in Malta I hope he will be able to have a more refreshing holiday next time because I can assure him that it would be a great pity to accept this amendment and delay this alteration.
I must explain that the work I did in Malta was on another set of more complicated amendments that the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, will be dealing with later on.
On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 7) shall be agreed to?
Their Lordships divided: Contents, 83; Not-Contents, 129.
|Berkeley, B.||Gowrie, E.||Penrhyn, L.|
|Blake, L.||Haig, E.||Radnor, E.|
|Boardman, L.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor,)||Rawlinson of Ewell, L.|
|Bradford, E.||Redmayne, L.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Hankey, L.||Renton, L.|
|Brownlow, L.||Harvington, L.||Ridley, V.|
|Caithness, E.||Hatherton, L.||Rochdale, V.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Henley, L.||Rollo, L.|
|Carrington, L. (A Principal Secretary of State.)||Hereford, V.||Romney, E.|
|Jeffreys, L.||Sackville, L.|
|Cathcart, E.||Jessell, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Cockfield, L.||Kemsley, V.||St. Germans, E.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Kimberley, E.||Sandford, L.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Kintore, E.||Sandys, L. [Teller.]|
|Cranbrook, E.||Knutsford, V.||Savile, L.|
|Cromartie, E.||Lauderdale, E.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Cross, V.||Lindsey and Abingdon, E.||Sharples, B.|
|Daventry, V.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|de Clifford, L.||Lyell, L.||Soames, L. (L. President.)|
|De Freyne, L.||McAlpine of Moffat, L.||Spens, L.|
|De La Warr, E.||McFadzean, L.||Stamp, L.|
|De L'Isle, V.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Macleod of Borve, B.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Digby, L.||Mancroft, L.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Margadale, L.||Strathspey, L.|
|Duncan-Sandys, L.||Marley, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Ebbisham, L.||Middleton, L.||Tenby, V.|
|Elgin and Kincardine, E.||Minto, E.||Tranmire, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Monk Bretton, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Morris, L.||Trenchard, V.|
|Enniskillen, E.||Mottistone, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Exeter, M.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Faithfull, B.||Moyne, L.||Vickers, B.|
|Ferrers, E.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Netherthorpe, L.||Wakefield of Kendal, L.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Newall, L.||Waldegrave, E.|
|Gage, V.||Northchurch, B.||Watkinson, V.|
|Gainford, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.||Westbury, L.|
|Gisborough, L.||Onslow, E.||Willoughby de Broke, L.|
|Gormanston, V.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
moved Amendment No. 8:
Page 2, line 43, at end insert—
("(7) So much of the provisions in section 1 and the First Schedule to the Acquisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) Act 1946 as requires a compulsory purchase order authorising a compulsory purchase by a local authority to be submitted and confirmed by the confirming authority shall cease to have effect if no objections to the order are made by the owner, lessee or occupier or if all such objections so made are withdrawn, and any such order, instead of requiring the confirmation of the confirming authority, may be confirmed (but without any modification), as an unopposed order, by the local authority who made it.").
The noble Baroness said: I do not think this will arouse quite so much passion as allotments, but one never knows. If this amendment is accepted it will dispense with the requirement for ministerial confirmation of compulsory purchases orders that are made by local authorities
where there are no objectors. This was proposed in a joint document published by the local authority associations in February 1979, entitled Review of Central Government Controls over Local Authorities, and which has presumably been used as the basis for Clause 1, for some of the relaxations that are taking place.
Most of the Acts which authorise compulsory purchase of land apply the procedural code as outlined in the Acquisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) Act 1946, and the compulsory acquisition by local authorities is almost universally subject to this code. We do not think there is any need for radical changes in this general form of procedure. It ensures that land is not taken without the owner's knowledge; it provides him with the opportunity to object and the right to state his case, and it obliges the authority to establish to the satisfaction of the Minister that the public need for the land outweighs the owner's wish to retain it.
We think, however, that there is one feature which could be dispensed with without any real detriment to the interests of owners. This is the requirement that, even if there is no valid objection from any owner, lessee or occupier of the land, the order must still be confirmed by a Minister. Surely it would be sensible for unopposed orders to be self-confirming? Nearly half the orders submitted to the Secretary of State are believed to be unopposed, and abolishing the ministerial confirmation on those orders should considerably speed up the procedures and also reduce the cost to the advantage of both the authority and the owners concerned. I do not think that it would in any way prejudice the proper rights of those with a legal interest in the land, and the precedent already exists in respect of revocation orders in the planning field.
I am told that there has been a joint study team from the Department of the Environment and the Department of Transport on the Review of Regional Offices. That review was published only last August, and it recommended the case for abolishing the requirement for ministerial confirmation of local authority compulsory purchase orders, at least those which are not opposed. Clearly, self-confirmation of such unopposed orders would give quite substantial manpower and cost savings for central Government. I hope that the noble Earl will see fit to accept this amendment which has the support of all the local authority associations. I beg to move.
I should like to congratulate the noble Baroness on deploying the case as well as she has done. It is not surprising that it is a good case because it is derived from the brief to the noble Baroness from the Association of District Councils which is exactly the same brief as I have, which more or less clinches the matter. The only additional point that I should like to make—and this is one which surely would commend itself to my noble friend—is that the same proposal was put to the Secretary of State by Sir Derek Rayner and his team as part of the exercise in how to effect economies in public expenditure in central Government departments. That, I should have thought, would clinch the matter if the first argument did not do so. Anyway, I look forward very much to hearing what my noble friend has to say.
Before my noble friend replies, I am sure that the Association of County Councils would like to be associated with this amendment and I should like to support it too.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the way in which she so succinctly deployed a very persuasive case. As my noble friend Lord Sandford has said, he was speaking from the same brief as the noble Baroness, and therefore it is not surprising that they concurred. My problem is that I have a different brief and I shall do my best to explain to your Lordships why I believe that my brief possibly has the edge on theirs, however excellent theirs may be.Of course, within the context of the Bill's very substantial relaxations as regards local authorities, this amendment does identify what appears to be a further suitable candidate for relaxation and therefore all our natural sympathies would be with it. It can, after all, be argued that if nobody objects to an order there is no need for ministerial confirmation. But, of course, most people regard the use of compulsory acquisition powers as a fairly draconian step for a public authority to take and in a very different light from that in which they view the other kinds of orders which local authorities make. Under the present law people, and especially those who are affected by a compulsory purchase order—whether or not they object to it—are assured of an objective and impartial assessment of the reasons which a local authority may advance for taking land. That assurance derives from the fact that the order must be confirmed by a Minister who, in addition to being impartial in the particular case, is also answerable to Parliament. It puts upon local authorities, if one can so put it, a sharper cutting edge. For authorities to be given the power to confirm orders which are not opposed—and that would, of course, include the power to decide whether the objections which have been received have been properly made—would be a very significant step and would arouse all kinds of suspicions and fears. For those reasons I think that it would be inadvisable to accept this amendment, particularly without further consultation and without serious consideration of the question whether the administrative advantages would be outweighed by the loss of protection to the individual. I shall, however, certainly ensure that the proposition on which the amendment is based is carefully considered, and if the results of that examination are favourable changes could be introduced at a later date, when a suitable legislative opportunity arose. But I feel sure that both the noble Baroness and my noble friend would realise that this is a fairly substantial step which at present, from the point of view of protecting the individual, we feel it would be better not to take.
I accept that this is a fairly substantial step to take and I accept that compulsory purchase orders are not very popular. But if the compulsory purchase order is not objected to, if there are no objections at all, why is it necessary to waste ministerial time and to waste staff in going into it with all the costs involved at present? If the noble Earl will say that he will take the matter back, look at it, talk to his advisers and perhaps consult with us before the next stage of the Bill to see whether it is possible to include it in the present Bill, then I think that perhaps we and the associations might be a little happier about it. But to leave it rather in the air and to say that when there is a proper legislative timetable we might do something about it, is really not very much of a promise.
The answer to the noble Baroness is that very often orders can be made when people do not realise that they will be affected. When a local authority knows that if it makes an order it must have the approval of the Minister—even though 50 per cent. of such orders may be unopposed—that makes the local authority certain that what it is doing is correct and proper and will have the scrutiny of the Minister. It also means that those people who may be affected, but who do not know that they may be affected, will know that it will have the scrutiny of the Minister. One can foresee problems whereby local authorities could make orders and if they knew that they would not have the scrutiny of the Minister they may possibly find it a little too easy to make such orders. People could find that certain purchases were made which affected them, but which they had not realised would affect them.That is the reason why we think that it would be wrong to accept the amendment. Certainly I shall take it back and look at it again. I should be delighted to have discussion with the noble Baroness, and my noble friend as well, if they would like it. But I am bound to say that I think that at present it would be a fairly large step to take and we feel that it would be inappropriate. However, if the noble Baroness wishes to speak to me about it, she can, by all means, do so.
Will the noble Earl explain a little further? If there are no objections at all and the order comes to the Minister for confirmation, how will the Minister find out that there might be some people around who might be affected by the order, without going for a public inquiry or something of that kind? If he is to have any grounds for including people who have not objected in the first case, but who might object if it comes to the Minister, how does the Minister find out?
The Minister is, of course, an unaffected third party who can see the position dispassionately. The local authority is, of course, an interested party, and that is the reason why it is desirable to have somebody who is totally disconnected with the matter.
I think that the noble Lord, Lord Pargiter, is on fairly strong ground. These compulsory purchase orders are not made just like "that". They are made under the Acquisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) Act, 1946, and the code regarding the amount of advertising, notification, the intervals of time that must elapse and so on, is all fairly specifically laid down. The right way to deal with the point which my noble friend is making about the danger of orders being slipped through unobtrusively when no one is watching, is best taken care of by looking at that legislation and seeing whether it is firm and watertight—not by requiring orders to be submitted to the Minister if there are no objections. I am most grateful to my noble friend and I hope that he really will have the matter looked at before the next stage.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, I am not completely happy with the Minister's explanation and I cannot quite see the point behind it. I shall certainly read what he said in Hansard. If he will take the matter back and perhaps have some discussions with us before the next stage, then we shall see whether we should come back at the next stage and perhaps press it.
By all means; I am quite happy to do that.
In that case I am happy to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
moved Amendment No. 9:
Page 2, line 43, at end insert—
("(7) The amendments specified in Schedule (Highways) to this Act shall have effect for the purpose of limiting the powers of Ministers to supervise local authorities in the discharge of their functions relating to highways and road traffic matters.").
The noble Viscount said: In moving this amendment I should like to speak also to Amendment Nos. 16A in the Supplementary List and Amendments Nos.314A and 314B. I apologise at once for the enormous length of this amendment which, as some of my noble friends have said, is possibly due to a desire that I have to get into the Guiness Book of Records by moving the longest amendment ever moved in this House. Unfortunately that is not the case and I doubt whether I should achieve it anyway.
The amendment deals with a great many detailed controls in the field of highways and traffic. We are putting it forward today because it was agreed by the Government and it appeared in the original Bill which came before your Lordships last year, which noble Lords will remember vanished like the Cheshire Cat and went to another place just before Christmas. The Bill is now before us having been sent from another place, and it does not include any of the amendments suggested in Amendment No. 16A, which I seriously suggest to the Government will reduce a great deal of very unnecessary and trivial bureaucracy at both local and central levels.
I am certain that noble Lords will not wish me to go through this enormous Schedule at great length. Certainly I am unable to explain a great deal of it, and I have no idea what Section 7 of the Locomotives Act 1898 actually says, or whatever it is. However, this is a genuine effort by local government to meet the Government's stated objectives: to relax controls over local affairs where they are unnecessary, and to cut out unnecessary bureaucracy, paperwork and so forth. This could make quite a significant contribution to a reduction in public expenditure over the years, and will not remove any essential safeguard in the field of traffic and highways. Accordingly, I beg to move Amendment No. 9.
I would find it very difficult—indeed rather disagreeable—to disagree with my noble friend Lord Ridley in this fairly substantial amendment which he has put forward, because it has the effect of restoring parts of the No. 1 Bill which originally started in your Lordships' House. The proposed schedule would implement some of the proposals in the Government's White Paper which was published in September last year, and it would reduce bureaucracy and extend local authority discretion.I am grateful to my noble friend for taking into account not only the White Paper proposals but also some of the proposals which my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport had agreed after considering the representations which were made in response to the White Paper. Because of the pressure of time we had intended to bring these matters forward not in this Bill but in a later Bill. They have been the subject of wide consultation. They are uncontroversial and I accept that they will relieve local authorities of burdens, inconvenience and limitations which they would like to see the back of sooner rather than later. I would be happy to accept the amendment.
I am deeply grateful to my noble friend.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.
Schedule 1 [ Provisions to which section 1(1) refers]:
moved Amendment No. 10:
Page 132, line 3, at end insert—
(" Fire Services Act 1947 ( c. 41)
. Section 2(2), (3), (5) and (9) (arrangements for mutual assistance).
. Section 5 (voluntary schemes for combination of fire authorities).
. Section 6 (powers to make combination schemes).
. Section 7 (appointment of joint committees by fire authorities).
. Section 8 (constitution and powers of fire authorities constituted by combination schemes).
. Section 9 (amendment and revocation of combination schemes).
. Section 12(2), (3), (4) and (5) (discharge of functions of fire authorities through other fire authorities or persons).
. Section 17 (conditions of service).
. Section 18 (procedure and qualifications for appointments and promotions).
. Section 19 (fire brigade establishments to be determined in accordance with approved schemes).
. Section 21 (standards of training and equipment).").
The noble Viscount said: In this amendment I return to the Home Office. As we have heard, the relaxation of controls by the Home Office is not so easy as it has been in the case of highways. I am talking here—and I deal not only with Amendment No. 10 but with Amendment No. 308—of the relaxation of controls over the fire service.
The fire service is basically controlled by the 1947 Act of that name, which gave much detailed control to the Home Secretary and which I submit is now out of date in some respects. Before I go any further I should perhaps stress that the standards of fire cover, about which we should all rightly be concerned and which have been promulgated by the Home Office, are at present advisory only—something which is not I think generally realised—although they are of course broadly accepted throughout the fire service. They are not statutory in nature and do not rely upon any of the provisions
outlined in the amendment to which I am speaking and which I suggest is suitable for repeal. Therefore, we are not in any sense affecting the possible fire cover which may be supplied in the future. The standards are, of course, also under review by the Government in a current discussion on Future Fire Policy.
I should like to spend a little time—and I hope that it will not take as long as the time we spent discussing the allotments—going quickly through some of the details. First, I deal with the repeal of Section 2(2), (3), (5) and (9) of the Fire Services Act 1947, which deal with the arrangements under which local fire brigades provide cover across their boundaries to their neighbours. Of course, that is always done and is very well established, and no doubt will continue to be done. There is no suggestion that this duty should be altered, but only that the Home Secretary's powers to control such arrangements are unnecessary and could be removed.
Next we come to Sections 5, 7, 8 and 9 and Section 12(2), (3), (4) and (5) of the Fire Services Act. This is where the fire authorities can enter voluntarily into schemes for the combination of fire authorities or for the appointment of joint committees. We believe that this part of the Act could safely be repealed as well. The Home Secretary has powers to compel such arrangements in certain circumstances and I understand that under Sections 101 and Sections 111 of the Local Government Act 1972 there is nothing to stop him from doing this. Therefore, it seems unnecessary to keep these controls as well.
The more contentious and difficult matter is Section 17 of the Fire Services Act, which discusses disciplinary arrangements in the fire service. Since the passing of that Act there have been substantial developments in the legal relationships between employers and employees. Therefore, a position has now arisen where the fire service employees are subject not only to a statutory disciplinary code, probably uniquely in the country, but have the advantage also of rights under the Employment Protection Act. At a practical level, this could result in two distinct rights of appeal, one to the Home Secretary and the other to an industrial tribunal. This could result in the industrial tribunal overruling the decision of the Home Secretary. I am sure that he would not welcome that.
The Government appear to accept that firemen are not a sufficiently special case as employees; that they should, for example, be exempt from the Health and Safety at Work Act. It is therefore anomalous that they should be subject both to the general law and to special disciplinary regulations, which is not the case of course for the police or the armed services. The power of the Home Secretary to legislate for firemen's other conditions of service was repealed in 1959, and it is now suggested that his power to make disciplinary regulations should also be repealed.
The next matter is Section 18 of the 1947 Act, and here we have the question of the appointments and promotions, and the appointment of chief fire officers. It is a pity that, although the Government intended to remove controls over this matter, they have not yet done so. Indeed, such regulations are, I understand, likely to be strengthened. I think that the ACC, which is concerned in this matter, feels that the control over appointments and promotions by means of statutory instrument should be dispensed with entirely, and it is assumed that guidance could continue to be issued by the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council.
We come next to Section 19, which is the matter of the fire brigade establishments. This, of course, is perhaps one of the most important parts of the amendment. Section 19 of the 1947 Act provides for the approval, by the Secretary of State, of any scheme for each fire authority governing the numbers of firemen, pumping appliances and fire stations, and so forth. Any of these can, of course, be increased by a fire authority, but they cannot be reduced without the approval of the Secretary of State. In the times in which we find ourselves, when local authorities are making genuine efforts to reduce expenditure and to streamline the services at the request of the present Government—with some success in some cases—this degree of control is not appropriate for local government services at this time. It could very much hamper the efficient management of local authority fire brigades, and any attempt to make brigades more efficient by the closure of stations, the reduction of appliances or even the numbers of firemen should not necessarily require approval.
As I have already said, there are standards of fire cover which are advisory and which are generally accepted, and which no doubt will continue. The requirement, particularly when central Governments are seeking such a reduction, is something with which we could easily dispense.
Finally, Section 21 of the Fire Services Act deals with the standards of training and equipment. The Home Office issues advice on these matters following consultation with all interested parties in the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council. It is considered inappropriate that such matters need to be dealt with by statutory instrument in the absence of any evidence whatever that the fire service is being damaged by widespread disregard of Home Office advice. I move this amendment in the spirit of the title to this part of the Bill, the relaxation of controls over local government. I do not believe that it would do any harm to the fire service and could do considerable good to the autonomy of the local authorities responsible, and I hope that the Government will be able to accept, if not the whole of it, a great deal of it. I beg to move Amendment No. 10.
I am not at all happy with the full details of this amendment. I speak on this not only as an ordinary citizen. For five years during the war I served in the fire service, and although that is 35 years ago I believe that some of the points that arose then are pertinent to this amendment. I was one of those who welcomed the introduction of the National Fire Service. It introduced better training, standardisation, mobilisation, and I was heartily in favour of its introduction. Much as I would like to see as much abolition of bureaucracy from our administration and domination by central Government as possible, this is an issue in which we are looking at fire risk, fire hazards, and the protection of the lives of people.The noble Viscount referred to the arrangements for mutual assistance. Surely this is an important matter, because although the establishment of one local fire authority may be satisfactory, the establishment may be such that it weakens the possibility of giving mutual assistance to an area in which there is considerable fire risk. It would appear to me that the Secretary of State must have some overall powers. There may be some case for relaxing Sections 5 to 9 concerning combination schemes, but surely the Secretary of State here also must see that these do not weaken fire cover. Therefore, he has an interest which must be carried through. Section 12 proposes lifting the Minister's powers to ensure that the discharge of functions through other bodies is satisfactory. There could be false economy by a fire authority using, say, industrial fire services attached to works for general fire cover. It may be that that may be advisable in some areas but it may be that it would considerably weaken the fire cover and the protection of our people, or there may be further development of part-time forces. I shall come to that later. In moving this amendment it was stated that the conditions of service laid down in the 1947 Act had been suspended by an Act of 1959. When we come later to deal with further points on this I should like to know whether this covers all the points laid down in the 1947 Act, which I understand deal with ranks, pay and allowances, hours of duty and leave, as well as the maintenance of discipline and appeals. I should like to know whether the 1959 Act has dealt with all those points. Section 19 deals with the necessity for fire brigade establishments to be approved by the Secretary of State, and it is suggested that this should be taken away. I consider it essential that this power should remain. There must be an assurance that there is adequate fire cover for any area which can not only deal with the fire cover in that local fire service area but also give reinforcement assistance to other areas. We know that there has been agitation in some fire authority areas for weakening the establishment and taking on far more part-timers. It may be that that is not only of concern because it weakens the fire cover in that area; it may have a prejudicial effect on mobilisation in the event of a big fire over that authority area. The 1947 Act provides that the Secretary of State shall make regulations prescribing standards of efficiency and training. I know what happened when the National Fire Service took over the old fire authorities and the improvement there was in training and efficiency all round. He was to make regulation also for the design and performance of equipment. We must keep in mind that in recent years there has been a number of appalling fires. Therefore, we are not just dealing with a simple question of relaxation of controls. If the Committee is to agree to this we must be satisfied that we in no way weaken fire cover or put people at risk in our areas. The oversight of the Secretary of State could, I hope, include not only the number and type of appliances which should go to the various types of incident, because there are different incidents which require different types of pumps and different types of other auxilliary appliances, but also the number of firemen who should ride on the appliances. It should also cover whether or not in a particular area or combination of areas there are adequate turntable ladders, adequate chemical decontamination units, emergency units, and so on. I would urge that this question be given far more serious consideration to ensure that standards of efficiency are not reduced, and that there will not be a move in any area of an economy nature, without the Secretary of State having any power to interfere, which could increase fire danger and fire risk.
I should like to support this amendment in principle. It is probably true that on the formation of the National Fire Service there was a great increase in efficiency over the prewar system, but for 30 years since the reversion of the National Fire Service to local authority control the local fire authorities have responsibly exercised their duties under the 1947 Act. Many of the Home Secretary's controls, many of which have never been exercised, appear still to remain after this Bill, and it is highly questionable whether this continued control is necessary.Advice has been very detailed on occasion. For example, there has been the case of the three separate Home Office circulars advising fire authorities on how to stitch the collars of their uniforms. If the Home Office have time to send out this sort of circular in triplicate it looks as though they have far too many people looking for something to do. I am sorry that the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, has put all this down in one single amendment because I think that some parts would be acceptable whereas other parts might not. I hope that the Government will give consideration to, if not the whole of the amendment, at least parts of it.
I find myself in great agreement with what the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said but I was rather surprised that he broke off when he did. It seems to me that the most essential one of all is Section 21. If there is to be effective co-operation between neighbouring fire brigades it is surely essential that there should be a common standard of training and of equipment. If you do not do that there is a great danger that cooperation will not be effective. I should have thought that there is a strong case for retaining the powers of the Secretary of State to impose common standards of training and common standards of equipment.
Taken as a whole these two amendments to which my noble friend Lord Ridley has spoken propose a fundamental change to the Fire Services Act 1947, which has been the basis of the organisation of fire brigades since the 1939–45 war. If the changes proposed in the two amendments were made they would remove all the powers which the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland have possessed in relation to the fire authorities since the days of the National Fire Service, about which the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, spoke.May I look at these amendments in a little more detail. Three of the changes suggested in Amendment No. 10 have been the subject of discussions between my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and the local authority as- sociations for some time. They are the repeal of Section 17, of Section 18, and of Section 19 of the 1947 Act; those sections dealing with discipline regulations, appointments and promotions, and establishments of fire brigades. If this amendment were made the present regulations on discipline and on appointments and promotions would cease to have effect. May I just make it clear, because I did not think my noble friend was quite clear on that point, that as the White Paper on Local Authority Controls, Command 7634, made clear, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is relinquishing his control of approval for the appointment of chief fire officers. I think it is fair for me to say that the local authority associations are aware already of the view of the Home Office that we do not accept these proposals in their entirety. Many of your Lordships have said that they wish these proposals had been put forward individually, but I quite understand why my noble friend has put them forward en bloc. The objections of my right honourable friend rest on the fact that the fire service is a partnership. It is under local authority control but it is national in character in that, because of the work that the service has to perform and its contribution to public safety, the maintenance of common and acceptable standards is particularly important. I do not think it is really quite enough to say that the fire authorities would themselves maintain a national code of discipline and common entrance and promotion requirements. Because of the special place of the fire service, by reason of the nature of its work, these are matters in which national Government have a responsibility. As to the size of fire brigades—their establishments—I listened very closely to what my noble friend Viscount Ridley said, but I did not feel that a case was made out to the effect that fire authorities are unreasonably restrained by the requirement to obtain approval for reductions in establishments. Indeed, I must say that as I listened to my noble friend I wondered whether fire authorities may not have overlooked the advantage to them of the present procedures. When fire authorities are faced with the need to make reductions, but also with understandable concern about the objections to those reductions, they can point to the fact that their own judgment has to be examined and confirmed by the Home Secretary, who is, of course, assisted by the professional advice of Her Majesty's Inspector of Fire Services. Regarding the other changes suggested in the amendments, that is to say, the changes which are not to be found in Sections 17, 18 and 19 of the 1947 Act—changes which, incidentally, the local authority associations themselves have described as minor—I think I ought to say to your Lordships that these have been put to the Home Secretary, but only very recently; in fact, it was less than a month ago. Within my right honourable friend's department we have not yet fully assessed the validity of the case for doing away with them. Those controls which I am talking about now are not onerous in their effects but I think they are reasonable reserve powers. We will certainly look at each of them more closely, but so far as this Bill is concerned I do not think that this evening I could possibly accept the changes proposed. I should like to give just one example of why I am being so hesitant here in this lot of sections. For instance, my noble friend mentioned Section 101 of the Local Government Act, which enables functions of one local authority to be discharged by another local authority. That is not quite the same thing as forming a true combined fire authority, and it is matters of this kind which need to be looked at with some care. In ending the reply which I am trying to give may I go back to the question of partnership. I really do believe that the Fire Service Acts provide a partnership between the fire authorities and Government. I also believe that the amendment would alter, and indeed could destroy, that balance. I am sure that that is the last thing which is the objective of my noble friend, and I have no doubt that the representatives of fire service organisations would deplore the effects of the amendment if it were made. Through the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council, which is constituted under Section 29 of the 1947 Act, a working relationship is at present achieved between fire authorities, the Secretary of State and the staff interests, and is because of the harmony which is achieved in that body that some of the powers challenged in the amendments do not need to be used at all. Incidentally, it is because the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council exists that advice of a very detailed nature can be given to fire brigades. This was criticised by my noble friend Lord Gisborough as being evidence of too many people working in the Home Office. My noble friend is under a misapprehension there. The detailed advice which comes from the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council is as a result of the three partners in the council getting together and deciding what is best for uniforms, for operations, for training or for something like that and then sending out that advice to individual fire brigades. I do seriously say that I think it is not to be expected that the Central Fire Brigade Advisory Council, in which, as I say, there are the local authorities, the fire brigades organisations and also the Government, would continue to fulfil its present harmonious role of a working relationship if the background against which the council operates would be that the Secretary of State had virtually given up all his powers in relation to the fire service. It is for those reasons that I ask my noble friend to think again about pressing this amendment. We will certainly continue to give consideration to the points which have been put to us by the local authority associations, but I think this amendment goes too far and too fast.
I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. Can I comment briefly on what the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said? I do not think he quite realised what an extremely efficient and skilled fire service we have, what tremendous improvements there have been since the 1947 Act came into operation and how much more sophisticated fire engines, for example, are than they were in those days. This is obvious when one thinks about it. I refuse to call them appliances because to me a fire engine is a fire engine and should be called such and not called an appliance.Nor did the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, appear to trust local government to do what Parliament requires of it. Throughout his speech there was a definite line of not trusting the local authorities. I hope that will not be repeated too often in the nights in front of us. I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Belstead for his careful reply and careful consideration of the issues which I have raised. On the basis of the fact that some of this is still being discussed and in the hope that the points I have made have been taken by the Home Office, I have pleasure in withdrawing this amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
moved Amendment No. 10A:
Page 132, line 14, at end insert—(". Section 131 (incorporation of default provisions of Public Health Act 1936)").
The noble Viscount said: I apologise to the Committee for this terrible monopolisation by myself, which luckily is about to come to an end. This is an extremely small and rather detailed technical amendment. With it I should like to take Amendment No. 308A. This is to do with the Public Health Act 1936. The reason for this is that there are provisions for local inquiries by the Minister in relation to the functions of local authorities which would otherwise he retained in the Food and Drugs Act 1955, whereas in other areas of trading standards legislation the departments concerned have proposed to repeal such provisions. We believe that there is no good reason for this distinction and argue that the inquiry provisions of the Food and Drugs Act should be repealed. I beg to move Amendment No. 10A.
If this amendment were accepted it would remove the default powers from Ministers under the Food and Drugs Act. It is the objective of the Government to lessen ministerial control over local authorities but it is not the intention of the Government in this Bill to remove or repeal the default powers of the Minister. Amendment No. 4, which your Lordships considered earlier and which was accepted, makes it clear in Clause 1 that what is being repealed in Schedule 1 is the power to give local authorities general directions and the power to require local authorities to make certain byelaws. The amendment to Clause 1 specifically removes the repeal of default powers, and having deliberately excluded that in Clause 1, it would not be appropriate to insert it again in Schedule 1.
The amendment is of no great consequence and I therefore beg leave to withdraw it.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
moved Amendment No. 11:
Page 132, line 22, before ("(requirement") insert ("(1)").
The noble Earl said: This is almost a drafting amendment. It makes the relaxation of control concerned more specific in order to avoid a possible ambiguity concerning byelaws. It is complementary to Amendment No. 2 which your Lordships accepted earlier. I beg to move.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
[ Amendment No. 12 not moved.]
Schedule 1, as amended, agreed to.
Schedule 2 [ Relaxation of controls over functionsrelating to clean air and pollution]:
moved Amendment No. 13:
Page 132, line 28, leave out paragraph 1 and insert—
("1. Section 4 (regulations about density meters) shall cease to have effect.").
The noble Lord said: This Amendment seeks to retain the Secretary of State's power under Section 6(3) of the Clean Air Act 1956 to consider applications for approval of plant for arresting grit and dust. A similar amendment was proposed in another place but it is not clear from the Official Report why it was rejected. It would be very rare for the Secretary of State to be called on to exercise this power and the very fact of non-usage may be put forward as a reason for its removal. However, its very existence has in the past encouraged differences of technical opinion between industry and local authorities to be resolved without recourse to the Minister. In future it would be valuable, not only as an inducement to good industry and local authority relations but also where agreement cannot be reached, to allow impartial advice to be
given in relation to technically sophisticated equipment. As new technologies are introduced, the ability of local authorities to judge the suitability of arrestment equipment may not always be accurate.
Probably grit and dust are thought of by your Lordships, and indeed by local authorities, as being so simple as not to require over-riding power from the Secretary of State. But I think the Committee will also recognise that as we progress and more and more technical equipment comes in to do what have hitherto been quite simple tasks, technicalities can overwhelm us in an area which we have always thought was quite simple. It is with that in mind that the amendment has been tabled; namely, so that the problems of grit and dust arrestation, as it is called, or arrestment, can be dealt with on a basis which allows proper technical consideration to be brought to bear on those occasions when that is necessary. I beg to move.
It seems that every amendment so far has required one to get into a different alliance; on this occasion I wish to encourage my noble friend to resist this amendment from the CBI. I say that because I think it can be fairly claimed that the pursuit of smoke control—and, after all, that is what we are talking about—by local authorities under the Clean Air Act 1956 has been one of their signal achievements, not an achievement by local authorities on their own but by local authorities and industry in concert, proceeding by the well-known British practice of achieving the best practical reduction of smoke at the least possible cost. For that to be done and to be sustained, the important thing to concentrate on is the partnership between local government and local industry, and all over the country there are partnerships of various kinds set up to deal with the various forms of pollution that occur.Some forms of air pollution are so complex and the methods of dealing with them involve so much high technology and occur relatively rarely throughout the country that it is appropriate for the Government, in the guise of what was known as the Alkali Inspectorate, now part of the Health and Safety Executive, to be the body with which industry has to deal. But in this field of smoke control—and I fully agree that the technology for arresting smoke, dirt and grit is, and will become more, complicated—it is important for the expertise to reside in the hands of local industry and local government and not with central Government. My submission is that that relationship is served best if the division of responsibility between central and local government in this matter is clarified in the way the Government propose, and I urge my noble friend Lord Mottistone to put his trust in this case in local government.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Mottistone that grit, dust and arrestment are very complicated parts of the Bill, and I confess that most of us were not familiar with them until we came across the Bill. I am glad that, as my noble friend Lord Sandford moves round in a sort of Paul Jones on these amendments, he should find himself on this occasion allied with me. I assure him that is a good stance for him to be in and I suggest he repeats it throughout the remainder of the Bill.The power with which the amendment is concerned has never been used—the Secretary of State has had this power for 25 years and has not used it—which suggests an argument for repealing it; and I am sure that that is an argument which my noble friend Lord Mottistone envisaged. I am sure that the objectives which my noble friend seeks will be adequately attained by the retention of the right of appeal to the Minister, and that right is not affected by the Bill, and thus anybody so affected will still retain a right of appeal to the Minister. I concede that this is not a great point. If the powers were retained, there would be no extra cost to the Government; but as they have not been used for 25 years—the whole of the time the Secretary of State has had those powers—and as it is part of the Government's philosophy to remove unnecessary powers from central Government, and as that is what the local authorities wish for, it seems on balance that it would be better for these powers to be removed in view of the assurance I have given that the right of appeal to the Minister will still be retained.
The fact that powers have not been used for 25 years may not mean that they have not been of value; for the reasons I advanced, it may well be that the fact they are there has made people reach agreement which they otherwise might not have reached. However, this is not a vital point. It is useful to have been reminded by my noble friend that the right of appeal still remains and, with that assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
moved Amendment No. 14:
Page 135, line 5, at end insert—
("( ) In section 13(3) omit "the kind or number of the receptacles required by" and insert "any requirement specified in".").
The noble Lord said: The substitution of Section 13(7) of the Control of Pollution Act 1974 by what is now proposed in paragraph 10 of the schedule broadens the power of collection authorities in respect of household and, where applicable, commercial waste to make requirements by notice concerning not only the provision of receptacles but also other matters including the substances which may or may not be placed in them.
The purpose of this amendment is to widen the grounds of appeal provided by Section 13(3) of the 1974 Act but which currently applies solely to notices concerning household waste so that both domestic and commercial occupiers may contest any requirements specified by the authority. I understand that in another place the Government indicated that they were willing to accept an amendment of this sort, but they do not seem to have done so. I beg to move.
Paragraph 10 of Schedule 2 relaxes the Secretary of State's regulation-making powers in connection with the condition and the use of receptacles for controlled waste. Instead the collection authorities will be able to serve a notice requiring the occupiers of premises to take action in respect of any of the matters that were to have been covered by those regulations. I do not anticipate that there will be many, or indeed any, unreasonable requirements imposed by collection authorities when they serve notices. But I fully accept that the occupier's right of appeal against unreasonable requirements should be protected and that is only natural justice.I welcome my noble friend's amendment and commend it to the Committee. I would only add that in welcoming it I am bound to tell him that at the moment it is absolutely unworkable as drafted. But we shall be putting down some Government amendments in addition to make sure that at the Report stage it will be workable. I am grateful to my noble friend for putting down this amendment.
Before my noble friend behind me accepts that welcome development, I should like to say on behalf of the Association of District Councils that we should of course like to see not only this amendment, which apparently does not work, but the Government's which I hope will. I must reserve my position until we have had discussions on this.
I feel that with the ready acceptance by the Government of the principle behind my amendment and the fact that the Government have undertaken themselves to put down an amendment which I trust will appeal to my noble friend Lord Sandford as well, with pleasure I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
With the greatest respect to my noble friend, I had hoped he would not be too quick in withdrawing his amendment because I have just said I accepted it. What I said was that in addition to that we would put down some other amendments to make the totality workable. I would merely chide my noble friend Lord Sandford in this respect: he said he was speaking on behalf of the Association of District Councils. I would remind him that of course he speaks entirely for himself and that not even the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, speaks on behalf of anybody, even though he may have a brief for the Association of District Councils.
I do beg your Lordships' pardon for having misunderstood the intentions of my noble friend the Minister. I certainly do not wish to withdraw my amendment.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
moved Amendment No. 14A:
Page 135, leave out lines 37 and 38.
The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 14A. While welcoming the general run of the amendments in this schedule, I should like to suggest through the amendment that it is failing to take an opportunity to reduce bureaucracy still further in requiring that district councils should have to consult the highway authority in any arrangements they make about putting dustbins on kerbs. After all, that is what all this is about. Making clear the power of the district councils to speed up, facilitate and make less expensive their refuse collection by requiring dustbins to be placed on kerbs outside premises is obviously a sensible step. It could be made much more sensible if they did not at the same time have to notify highway authorities of what they were doing. I am sure it could be left to their good sense to ensure that traffic was not unnecessarily impeded in this way. In fact, traffic is greatly facilitated if the dustcarts can move more quickly. I beg to move Amendment No. 14A.
We have moved with astonishing rapidity from grit arrestment to dustbin control. I welcome my noble friend's general thesis of trying to reduce bureaucracy, but this amendment would remove the duty on a collection authority to consult and secure the consent of the highway authority to its intention to serve a notice under Section 13 of the Control of Pollution Act 1974 requiring the placing of a receptacle on the public highway.I really cannot think there would be many instances where the placing of a dustbin in a suitable place for collection would be open to serious objection on road traffic grounds. But this is a case where the functions of two sorts of authorities overlap and the collection authority may wish to have a bin placed perhaps on the carriageway itself when, for instance, there is no pavement. This will affect the duties of the highway authority and it seems to me to be only sensible that its consent should be obtained in these kinds of cases. It will not place an onerous burden on the authorities, and I do not believe it represents an unreasonable or unnecessary fetter on the discretion of collection authorities to provide what they consider to be the most efficient service for their circumstances. As the functions of the authorities overlap, I should have thought that they ought both to be involved. I am sure that they will devise suitable arrangements which will keep paperwork to a minimum for securing the consents which are necessary. For these reasons I hope that my noble friend will feel able not to press his amendment.
If I may intervene, before the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, deals with that reply, may I ask the Minister whether he does not consider that local authorities do a great many things as a matter of common sense which they are not obliged to do by statute? It would be quite a simple matter for the refuse disposal officer in the district authority simply to get to the telephone and talk to the person in charge of highways to make sure that whatever he proposes does not create a traffic hazard. This would occur in the normal course of events, whether he was obliged to do it or not. So why must we have a power in the statute compelling him to enter into those consultations and to obtain the formal approval of someone in the highways authority for him to do something which he is going to do anyway?
It is perfectly true that he can pick up the telephone, and no doubt he will do so. The only purpose of this is to say that where there is a conflict of interest between two local authorities it would be right that they should be consulted. That is all this seeks to do.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for his help on this matter. I am sorry that my noble friend is not willing to assist me a little more in reducing bureaucracy, particularly as we could have got it through while my noble friend Lord Ridley was out of the Chamber, but there it is. I shall think about what the noble Earl has had to say and see whether I feel strongly enough about it to move any further amendments, but I rather doubt it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
moved Amendment No. 14B:
Page 135, line 45, at end insert—
("(3) Until such time as section 13(7) comes into force, a local authority undertaking the removal of house refuse under section 72 of the Public Health Act 1936 may by a notice served on the occupier of premises require him to place receptacles used for the receipt of such refuse on highways to facilitate the emptying of them and access to them for that purpose and the provisions of subsections (7A) and (7C) above shall apply in respect of any such notice.").
The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 14B, which is a matter of rather more substance. As the Committee will know, we have had the Control of Pollution Act on the statute book for some five or six years. However, a number of sections of the Bill—Sections 12 to 14, in fact—have not yet been implemented, though it was planned to implement them in the Mark I version of this Bill. Now, because of the extreme importance of curbing and limiting public expenditure, this seems likely to be further delayed; some of the implications of introducing Sections 12 to 14 would involve further public expenditure.
Sandwiched between those sections is Section 13(7), which is the part of the Control of Pollution Act that gives the local authorities proper powers to deal with the removal of refuse from domestic premises by means of kerbside collections—dustbins on the kerbs. This, far from causing any further public expenditure, will make it possible for a number of authorities to reduce public expenditure while maintaining the same service, and, as I have just said in connection with a previous amendment, it will also probably make a contribution towards traffic movement.
I hope that my noble friend will be able to see that there would be nothing lost by allowing this particular section of the Control of Pollution Act—namely, Section 13(7)—to come into force in advance of the other sections of the Act, which must be further deferred because of the need to contain public expenditure. I beg to move.
Under Section 72 of the Public Health Act 1936 a local authority can make bye-laws enabling the authority to serve a notice requiring the occupier of premises to place his house refuse for collection at a point on the premises which can be conveniently reached from the street which is used for access by the collectors. This amendment seeks to enable a local authority to serve a notice requiring the occupier to place his dustbin at a point outside his premises and on the highway.While I understand the reasoning behind the amendment, I am bound to say that I could not advise the Committee to accept it because it is defective in two respects. First, it is proposed that the amendment will lapse once Section 13(7) of the Control of Pollution Act 1974 comes into force. In fact, of course, Section 13(7) was implemented from 1st August 1978. Secondly, the proposed amendment is unsatisfactory because there is no provision for appeal, nor for obtaining the consent of the highway authority. For those reasons I am afraid that I would not find it possible to accept my noble friend's amendment.
Before the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, replies, may I make an appeal to him to consider quite seriously those local authorities now using plastic sack disposal units in their areas. For some people there is quite a burden when it comes to lifting the plastic sack out of the bin in order to place it on the pavement. This is a considerable task for the elderly or for those households without male members. Problems arise with the plastic sacks once they are placed on the highway. Dogs or children may scatter the contents of the sacks around the roads before the refuse collectors arrive on the scene. So I believe that the matter is not quite so simple as the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, makes out, and I support the Minister in the observations that he has made on this particular proposal.
I certainly agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, that this is not a simple matter. However, fortunately it is not for the Committee of this House to work out in detail how each local authority should collect its refuse. Our concern is, I believe, to ensure that the local authorities have open to them as many options as possible in deciding which method is appropriate in each particular case, and that is what my amendment sought to do.However, in view of what my noble friend has said, I shall withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Schedule 2, as amended, agreed to.
Schedules 3 and 4 agreed to.
Schedule 5 [ Allotments]:
had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 15:
Page 142, line 22, leave out paragraph 2.
The noble Lord said: In view of the votes that we have had, and in view of the fact that I have in my mind for the Report stage some further amendments to this schedule, I do not propose to move this amendment.
[ Amendment No. 15 not moved.]
Schedule 5 agreed to.
Schedule 6 agreed to.
[ Amendment No. 16 not moved.]
moved Amendment No. 16A:
After Schedule 6, insert the following new Schedule
Relaxation of Ministerial controls over the provision of ferries 1949 c. 97
1.—(1) So much of section 53 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 (ferries for purposes of long-distance routes)—
shall cease to have effect.
(2) The following subsection shall be substituted for section 26(3) of the Highways Act 1959 (provision and maintenance of new road-ferries):—
"(3) The Minister or a local highway authority may provide and maintain new road-ferries."
Relaxation of Ministerial controls in respect of footpaths and bridleways 1959 c. 25
2.—(1) The following subsection shall be substituted for section 29(3) of the Highways Act 1959 (which gives the Secretary of State power to direct a local authority to make an order for the creation of a footpath or bridle-way):—
"(3) Where it appears to the Secretary of State in a particular case that there is need for a footpath or bridleway as mentioned in subsection (1) of the last foregoing section, and he is satisfied as mentioned in that subsection, he may, after consultation with the appropriate highway authority, make a public path creation order creating the footpath or bridleway."
(2) In section 30 of that Act (which relates to the making up of new footpaths and bridle-ways)—
(3) The following subsections shall be substituted for subsection (5) of that section (which contains further provisions relating to public path creation orders):—
"(5) Where the Secretary of State makes a public path creation order under subsection (3) of the last foregoing section, he may direct that subsection (5A) of this section shall apply.
(5A) Where the Secretary of State gives such a direction—
(a) the local authority who, on the coming into force of the order, became the highway authority for the path or way in question shall survey the path or way and shall certify that work (if any) appears to them to be necessary to bring it into a fit condition for use by the public as a footpath or bridleway, as the case may be, and shall furnish the Secretary of State with a copy of the certificate; (b) if the Secretary of State is not satisfied with a certificate made under the foregoing paragraph, he shall either cause a local inquiry to be held or shall give to the local authority an opportunity of being heard by a person appointed by him for the purpose and, after considering the report of the person appointed to hold the inquiry or the person so appointed as aforesaid, shall make such order either confirming or varying the certificate as he may think fit; and (c) subject to the provisions of the last foregoing paragraph, it shall be the duty of the highway authority to carry out the work specified in a certificate made by them under paragraph (a) of this subsection."
(4) In section 112 of that Act (public path extinguishment and diversion orders)—
"(7) Where under subsection (5) of this section the Secretary of State decides to make a public path diversion order, he may require the owner, lessee or occupier on whose representations he is acting to enter into an agreement with such council as he may specify for the owner, lessee or occupier to defray, or to make such contribution as may be specified in the agreement towards, any such compensation or expenses as are specified in paragraphs ( a), ( b) and ( c) of section 111(4) of this Act."
(5) In section 126 of that Act (authorisation of erection of stiles etc. in footpath or bridleway) subsection (2) which gives the Secretary of State power to determine certain disputes about such authorisations shall cease to have effect.
(6) In section 29(4) of the Countryside Act 1968 (by virtue of which a highway authority are required to consult the Minister of Agriculture. Fisheries and Food before refusing to make an order under that section relating to the making good of the surface of a footpath or bridleway after it has been ploughed up) the words "and the highway authority shall, before refusing to make an order under subsection (2) of this section, consult the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food" shall cease to have effect.
Abolition of Ministerial powers in respect of certain expenses
3.—(1) In section 181(1) of the Highways Act 1959 (under which a street works authority may recover from the owner of premises in respect of which any sum is due for expenses of street works the whole or any portion of that sum together with interest) after the word "interest" there shall be inserted the words "at such reasonable rates as the authority may determine."
(2) The proviso to section 211(2) of that Act (by virtue of which an order may fix the maximum amount to be charged under a charging order in respect of expenditure on street works) shall cease to have effect.
(3) In section 264 of that Act (recovery of expenses)—
Abolition of Ministerial powers in relation to toll highways
4. In section 233 of the Highways Act 1959 (transfer of toll highways to highway authorities)—
Relaxation of requirements of confirmation by Minister for local authority orders stopping up private access to premises causing danger etc. to traffic on highway
5. In section 2 of the Highways Act 1971 (stopping up private access to premises)—
- "(c) for objections to the making of an order by the appropriate Minister received within such period as may be so prescribed and not withdrawn to be considered by him;
- (ca) for objections to the confirmation of an order made by a local highway authority to be considered by the appropriate Minister if any of the objections to the confirmation of the order received within such period as may be so prescribed and not withdrawn was made by an owner, lessee or occupier of any premises with a private means of access which the order would authorise the highway authority to stop up;
- (cb) for objections to the confirmation of an order made by a local highway authority received within such period as may be so prescribed and not with drawn to be considered by the local highway authority if there is no objection received within that period from an owner, lessee or occupier such as is mentioned in paragraph (ca) above or if all such objections so received are withdrawn before the order is referred to the appropriate Minister for confirmation;"; and
"(4) In the case of an order made by a local highway authority under this section—
the local highway authority may themselves confirm the order, with or without modifications.
(5) Before confirming an order with modifications the local highway authority, if they consider that the proposed modifications will make a substantial change in the order, shall inform every such owner, lessee or occupier is mentioned in subsection (4) ( c) above and every other person who appears to them to be likely to be affected by the modifications to the order—
(6) The local highway authority shall give every such person as is mentioned in subsection (5) above an opportunity to make representation with regard to the order, and shall consider any representations with regard to it which any such person makes.
(7) In this section "the appropriate Minister" means, in relation to England, the Minister of Transport and, in relation to Wales, the Secretary of State."
Abolition of certain procedures for settlement of disputes by Minister
6.—(1) This paragraph shall have effect for the purpose of abolishing certain powers of the Secretary of State or the Minister of Transport to determine disputes.
(2) The following subsection shall be substituted for section 5(3) of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1953 (provision of omnibus shelters etc. by local authorities):—
"(3) Where the consent of the Secretary of State or the Minister of Transport is required under this section, disputes between the Minister whose consent is required and the local authority as to whether the consent of that Minister is unreasonably withheld or is given subject to reasonable conditions, or whether the removal of any shelter or other accommodation in accordance with any condition of the consent is reasonably required shall be referred to and determined by an arbitrator to be appointed in default of agreement by the President of the Institution of Civil Engineers."
(3) In section 108(10) of the Highways Act 1959 (which provides that any consent of an authority which is required for the diversion of a highway shall not be unreasonably with- held) the words "and any question arising under this subsection whether the withholding of a consent is unreasonable shall be determined by the Minister" shall cease to have effect.
(4) Section 246(2) of that Act (disputes as to nature of sums paid or recovered under Act) shall cease to have effect.
(5) In Schedule 3 to the Public Health Act 1961 the following paragraph shall be substituted for paragraph 4 (disputes as to consents for execution of works in streets for purposes of safety and of reduction of litter):—
"4. Where the consent of the Secretary of State or the Minister of Transport is required under this Schedule, any dispute between the Minister whose consent is required and the authority as to whether the Minister's consent is unreasonably withheld or is given subject to reasonable conditions, or whether the removal of anything to the provision of which the consent relates in accordance with any condition of the consent is reasonably required shall be referred to and determined by an arbitrator to be appointed in default of agreement by the President of the Institution of Civil Engineers".
(6) Section 29(3) of the Local Government Act 1966 (which gives a lighting authority a right to appeal in case of dispute as to the exercise of their powers for purposes of the lighting of a highway for which they are not the highway authority) shall cease to have effect.
(7) Nothing in this paragraph shall prevent the Secretary of State or the Minister of Transport—
Abolition certain Ministerial controls relating to structure on and near highway
7. The following provisions, namely—
shall cease to have effect.
Miscellaneous amendments of Highway Acts and associated legislation
8.—(1) Section 280(2), (3) and (4) of the Highways Act 1959 (which give powers to prescribe the form of various notices, orders, advertisements, certificates and other documents and provide that, if forms are prescribed in exercise of those powers, those forms or forms to the like effect shall be used in all cases to which those forms are applicable) shall cease to have effect.
(2) The following enactments, namely—
(3) The repeal of the enactments specified in subsection (2) above shall not affect any application made under any of them before the passing of this Act; and any power conferred by any of them may accordingly be exercised after the passing of this Act in pursuance of any such application.
(4) Any order made under an enactment specified in sub-paragraph (2) above shall continue to have effect notwithstanding the repeal of that enactment.