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Local Government, Planning And Land (No 2) Bill

Volume 413: debated on Monday 6 October 1980

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

Committee stage resumed.

moved Amendment No. 23:

Page 3, line 31, at end insert ("or the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973").

The noble and learned Lord said: While moving Amendment No. 23 I will also speak to Amendments Nos. 24 and 25. These are technical amendments necessary for the application of this clause to Scotland, as I explained to your Lordships earlier. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

moved Amendments Nos. 24 and 25:

Page 3, line 35, after ("1972") insert ("or section 105 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973").
Page 4, line 16, after ("England") insert (", authorities in Scotland").

On Question, amendments agreed to

[ Amendment No. 25A not moved.]

8.2 p.m.

Page 4, line 27, at end insert—

("In addition, the Secretary of State shall consult those trade unions represented on the various negotiating bodies for local authority workers, and shall consult the T.U.C").

The noble Baroness said: We appreciate the improvements to this clause that were made at Report stage in another place in that a code of practice has been produced and that local authority associations have been consulted on it, even though they may not be entirely happy about it, as was clear from what happened earlier today. We feel that the unions representing those who work for local authorities and the TUC Local Government Committee should in all fairness be consulted. I know that there have been consultations but we should like this to be written into the Bill.

If good industrial relations are to be fostered—and surely the Government would wish for that—this would seem to be one way to do it. It is the men and women who work for local authorities who will be preparing the statistics and explanatory information which is being demanded. There is bound to be more work for them, so surely it is only common sense to seek their views. There has already been anxiety and misgiving over the joint manpower watch figures. The TUC want to be involved in getting the facts before the electorate, but they want to be sure that the electorate is getting sophisticated information that reveals the level and above all the quality of service provided. The workload on local authority staff is bound to increase because of the demands of this clause and jobs may well be at risk.

It seems to us to be good sense and good industrial practice to have consultations with the unions involved written into the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Thorneycroft, was reported yesterday as saying that the policy of the Cabinet is one of moderation and conciliation, I hope the Minister will be prepared to accept the amendment. I beg to move.

Following the Government's original consultation document issued last October, a substantial number of organisations and individuals contributed views, including NALGO. Since then a draft code of practice has been prepared, upon which we invited the comments of selected bodies, including the trade unions, while it was still at the formative stage. The unions' initial comments were constructive and we await any further views they may have on the draft code of practice and consultation document which has now been published, and on the issue of short period indicators of performance, which were discussed in a meeting between the Secretary of State and local government union representatives. The TUC have also been invited by my right honourable friend to meet with officials of his Department to discuss possible arrangements for the publication of information, and I understand this meeting is to take place at the end of this week.

As has been said all along, we intend to seek and take full account of the views not only of the trade unions but also of the many other organisations which have sent us their views—some of the submissions being very substantial. There are a great many individuals and bodies that have views of substance on this matter, but it would not be appropriate to mention the interest groups in general nor to single out the particular interest group in this statute, nor is it necessary to do so.

As the noble Baroness said, good industrial relations are an aim of this Government and everything possible is being done to achieve them. One of the ways in which it is being done is by consulting the unions, as I have already said. We do not think that it would further that in any way to write any particular union or set of unions into the Bill. Accordingly, I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw this amendment; but if she is not prepared to do that, I would invite your Lordships not to accept it.

I listened with considerable interest to what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate had to say about the draft codes of practice that had been submitted to this or that person, but he will not be surprised if I ask him what has happened in Scotland. Originally when this Bill was produced, so far as I know, Scottish local authorities were not in the Bill; so I presume that there were no discussions with interested bodies other than the so far unfruitful discussions with the Scottish local authorities. Has the Secretary of State for Scotland produced any codes of practice and discussed them with the trade unions in Scotland, or does he intend to do so? If I had known about the amendments which were eventually tabled, not only would I have supported this amendment but probably I should have added the Scottish Trade Union Congress as well.

Before we take leave of Clause 2 in the Committee stage it may well help me in respect of what I say at that particular point if I can get this information from the Lord Advocate. What has happened in Scotland in regard to this? Have the two codes of practice that have been mentioned in relation to England and Wales actually been produced?

The other point that worries me in relation to this amendment and from what the Government have said through the Lord Advocate, as I understand it the concern of the Government in Scotland is on the question of manpower; that there has been a very considerable increase in manpower in the Scottish local authority field. I think it is about 4,000 since the Government took office. Of course the figure has also been used that in the past two and a half years it has been very much higher than that, and for two and a half years before that probably as well. So here the Government say that they are going to make the local authorities produce information about manpower for the purposes of getting public pressure upon them to reduce manpower, as the Government want. I cannot think of any sphere of Government that is going to be of more concern to the people employed than this kind of activity. It is absolutely essential that if the Government are going to be successful in this they must get it right with the local authorities and with the trade unions.

So far as I can understand from the position that the Secretary of State for Scotland has got himself into, he has been forced into the position of discarding any question of a voluntary acceptance of codes of practice, and once one asks for power to enforce it is whimsical to suggest that it is voluntary. This becomes very important from the point of view of the people employed and those who represent them in the trade unions. I sincerely hope that the Lord Advocate can enlighten me as to what has happened in Scotland in respect of these discussions and what he intends to happen. Certainly I want that information before we can withdraw this amendment.

I had understood that the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, was supporting this amendment; I think it is down in his name. I had explained earlier that the Secretary of State for Scotland had consulted with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) in the hope of reaching agreement on arrangements for the publication of this information, which would not require any code except the agreement. Unfortunately, so far at least, it has not been possible to reach complete agreement in relation to these matters. That does not at all mean that the Secretary of State for Scotland is not hoping still that a voluntary code will be possible, and that is what he certainly does hope for. It is at that stage, the stage of issuing a draft code, that consultation would normally arise. That is certainly what would happen here.

No draft code has yet been published in Scotland, but certainly consultation on the draft code, if and when it is published, will take place with all interested parties, including the trade unions. I understand that the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Scottish Trades Union Congress would expect shortly to have a meeting about this very matter. I think the noble Lord can be assured that the Secretary of State for Scotland has no intention of going ahead here without very adequate consultation, and as I said earlier his real objective is to try to reach agreement without the necessity for these powers. It is only because it appeared that this agreement may not be obtainable that these powers are sought. It does not by any means rule out voluntary action on the basis of these powers.

That means that there have been no codes of practice because there has not been agreement. If there is agreement there will be consultation, and if there is no agreement there also will be consultation?

I am not entirely satisfied with the Lord Advocate's answer, but he has said that negotiations are still going on and there will be another meeting at the end of this week. He said something that seemed to me rather strange, that it is bad to single out special groups to consult. I am not sure that I got the phrase exactly right. It seems to me that the unions representing the work force of local government are a very special group and they certainly should be consulted very specially.

I should like to read in Hansard what the noble Lord actually said. As negotiations are still going on and there are to be further consultations I will with the agreement of my noble friend, withdraw the amendment at the moment, but I certainly reserve the right to come back with a similar amendment or something fairly similar at Report stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[ Amendments Nos. 26A and 27 not moved.]

moved Amendment No. 28:

Page 4, line 31, leave out subsection (16).

The noble and learned Lord said: This amendment is also necessary for the application of this clause to Scotland. It deletes the subsection that said it did not apply to Scotland in effect.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

On Question, Whether Clause 2, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?

8.15 p.m.

I have already said that the new Clause 2 is an improvement on the original one, but there are still reservations. I think everyone will agree that to provide more and more intelligible information to ratepayers about their local authority's expenditure and services is admirable and to be desired. What local authorities and those who work for them are anxious about is the purpose that the information demanded by the Secretary of State will be put to. The Secretary of State himself said, speaking to the Society of Local Chief Executives:

"I shall seek to promote comparison tests, and, dare I say it, competition between authorities".
It seems to me no wonder they are anxious. There is naturally suspicion that figures will be used to equate undermanning and efficiency. Is the Secretary of State trying to get council against council? That is what it would seem to be.

I think it is generally agreed that implementation of the code of practice will increase the workload on the staff. Even the draft code says in paragraph 1.3:
"The code draws together information which is generally available in most local authorities at present. Presentation in a new form may cause some problems and costs".
Some £3 to £4 million has been suggested nationally. If extra staff are needed to produce this information and the explanations that must go with it, will the Government make provision for the extra costs involved? Printing alone will be very expensive. I understand that the GLC thinks it may have to produce some 3 million copies of whatever document it may be.

The comparison of key service indicators asked for in paragraph 3.3.5 and the annex are intended, presumably, to be indicators of performance, but are in fact crude unit cost statistics which cannot possibly reflect performance. They cannot in themselves tell us anything about efficiency or effectiveness. Low unit costs may not be due to efficiency but to a low level of service, high unit costs to local circumstances or local policies. A high proportion of rural schools may raise unit costs, and one can easily think of other examples. So this whole exercise could be totally misleading and unfair and not take into account a council's policies or, more particularly, the quality of service it is providing. How does the Minister propose to deal with this?

The Secretary of State is still keeping to himself the power to make regulations giving him considerable control over local authorities. There is anxiety over this, which of course can be seen from the manuscript amendment we had this afternoon and also from Lord Sandford's amendment which put the ADC's anxieties. Will there be consultations about these regultations? Is it possible that the Secretary of State may demand more frequent information, perhaps quarterly or even more frequently, on a range of topics? This again is what the local authority associations are very anxious about. We should like to have some statement from the Minister when he replies. Might not the Secretary of State show some generosity and consideration to local authorities, and not force them to extra expense and work immediately but perhaps postpone the deadline until 1982 rather than 1981?

I am pursuing the same point I had before, as to why at this late date we should have Scotland introduced into this clause. I do not think it is good enough for the Secretary of State, or the Lord Advocate on behalf of the Secretary of State, to say, "Well, we had hoped to get voluntary agreement as a result of our discussions with the local authorities". This makes a bit of a mockery of the claim that the whole thing is voluntary. If he had got voluntary agreement there would be no need for legislation at all. So he is now taking the fall-back position of inviting us into this position where the duty is laid upon the Secretary of State, and thereafter having to issue a code of practice in relation to publication of information. Once you get to that particular point and appreciate that it is the duty of the Secretary of State, then the Secretary of State is going to have his way. The duty is laid upon him whether he reaches agreement with local authorities or not and that includes police authorities, fire authorities and the ILEA in this part of the world.

Let us consider exactly the type of matter that must be included, irrespective of the generality of the code of practice —for example, when it is to be published and the form of publication. All that will be in the hands, eventually, of the Secretary of State. There is the question of how the public are to be informed and, if dealing with costs, how those costs are to be calculated. All of that is in the hands of the Secretary of State.

We have already been informed that the Secretary of State for Scotland has not reached agreement with the Scottish local authorities. The reason for that concerns the question of manpower. As I understand it, the justification which the Secretary of State is to use is that he wants publicity given to that kind of information and, of course, that information must be set out in the way in which he lays down because he is the one who publishes the code of practice. The duty is upon him, not the local authority, as regards how the costs are to be laid out and how the information is to be laid out.

One must appreciate that the question at issue in Scotland is manpower. The Government have ways and means of getting all the information they want. If I put a Question down in another place, I used to be able to get all the information that I wanted about manpower. Fairly recently we passed a Bill about Scottish housing which included clauses which put a statutory obligation on local authorities to provide information. So here we are gathering up in this fairly general measure something which is evidently not presently available to the public. It is the Government who will decide the items of information and how they will be laid out. Anyone who thinks that this is voluntary had better read the clause. The Secretary of State says quite clearly that he wants the power and he wants also the power to enforce it. There is nothing voluntary about that. When in the same breath we are talking about the freedom for local authorities and inviting local authorities to accept that freedom, we had better look closely at the small print.

As I understand it there has been an increase in the number of people employed in Scottish local authorities— 4,000 since the Government came into power. That is totally against everything that the Government have proclaimed—they said that they would make the local authorities publish information so that a public searchlight will be upon them to justify their policies. Will the Government tell me that if information is given by a local authority in respect of this aspect, and information also justifying it, in other words a local authority goes beyond information into argument—and there have been complaints about this previously in Scotland as regards local authorities—the Government will act and say that the local authority is not complying with the code of practice that has been put out by the Secretary of State?

We do not know very much about this code of practice; we do not know anything about it in Scotland. We do not have one, not even a draft which has been mentioned in respect of England. So we are rather suspicious and Scottish local authorities have enormous inbuilt suspicion of St. Andrew's House, no matter who is there. We get wild speeches made about how the Government will do this, that and the next thing, and I certainly know as an ex-Secretary of State that they do not have the power to do it and are taking new powers. I think that the Government should be fairly clear about this.

There is no reason in the world as I see it why Scotland should not have been in this from the start. There is nothing new in what has happened or in saying that they should come in. It has just been a re-think, "Ah, here is something else. We shall bring the searchlight of public opinion on this and get the public to force the local authority to cut services". They do not know very much about the Scottish people as regards that matter and I do not think that they even read the last local authority election results. So, please, what are the Government after? If they are to force local authorities what are the ultimate penalties? There is nothing in the clause about it, but I can assure your Lordships that these words have been used by the Government. The duty is not on the local authority; the duty in the first instance, the only duty here, is on the Secretary of State to produce, and then he produces subordinate legislation placing a duty upon the local authority. It is not the right way to go about the matter and I think the Government should come clean.

Noble Lords in England have had an opportunity to study this because it has been in the Bill. But until the amend- ment was passed, this provision has not been applicable to Scotland at all. So I hope that I shall have some information from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate in respect of the real reason why we are coming in at present. Secondly, will he give further information about the disagreements between the Secretary of State and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities in respect of the codes of practice? Thirdly, what default powers is he going to use in respect of the regulations outlined in, I think, subsection (10)?

The purpose of Clause 2 is that local authorities, and the other bodies to which the clause applies, will give information about their activities to those who require that information in order to assess those activities. There is no intention of requiring information in order that the local authorities may cut services, as the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, put it. The purpose of this clause is that local authorities should provide the basic information about their functions to ratepayers, councillors, local interest groups and the community at large, as appropriate. I must say that I do not see any reason why that principle should not be as equally applicable in Scotland as it is in England and Wales. If the Scottish local authorities, by universal agreement, were prepared to do that, well and good. But at least at present, it looks as though that may not be possible to achieve by agreement.

What we are trying to do in Clause 2 is to bring forward the best possible publication of information through the active co-operation of local authorities themselves and the various professional organisations that have an interest in this field. That is why the Bill puts its principal emphasis on the idea of a code or codes of practice to be adapted by individual local authorities to suit local priorities and circumstances.

Our approach to the preparation of such codes has also been one of enlisting support and advice from those with relevant experience, and I have already illustrated that. Taking advice in that way we hope will enable us to produce codes which reflect the best practice in local government and which allow for local flexibility in their operation. We hope, in that way, to avoid imposing on local government any unnecessary administrative burden, about which there has been proper concern.

The costs involved in dealing with this matter would be subject to the ordinary discussions that take place about local authority expenditure. But our belief is that intelligent comparisons of information of this kind as between one local authority and another will enable local authorities to learn from one another. We cannot think that there is anything in this which local authorities need fear. I cannot see any reason, for example, why the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, should say that the local authorities in Scotland are suspicious of this. All that we are asking in this clause is that information, which is of value to those who have an interest in the local authority, should be made available to them and should be published to them.

On the enforcement of the codes, as I have already said, the intention in Scotland and in England and Wales is that the matter should be entirely voluntary by reference to codes, but there is power, if the practice does not appear to conform to the codes, to embody provisions of the codes in regulations which would then be enforceable in the ordinary way in which regulations are enforced both North and South of the Scottish Border.

Some reference was made to wild speeches. I am not sure that I can accept that characterisation as affecting any speech of mine. I do not really know that I can deal with that more than to say that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is concerned that this kind of information, which is the subject of this clause, should be available to the public in Scotland and the various sections of it just as it will be South of the Border. Accordingly, I would invite your Lordships to take the view that this clause is a very valuable improvement to the existing legislative structure, and I am glad to accept the compliment that the noble Baroness, Lady David, paid to its recent improvements.

Can the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate just answer the simple question: why was it not made applicable to Scotland right from the start?

I think that I have said this once or twice, but I have no real objection to repeating it. It was thought that it would be unnecessary to have recourse to this clause at that stage because it was hoped that we would be able to reach this particular position by agreement with all the local authorities. Unfortunately, so far that has not proved possible, and that is why we are going along this particular road.

Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.

8.32 p.m.

moved Amendment No. 29:

After Clause 2, insert the following new clause:

(" Power to direct other bodies to publish information

"—(1) The relevant Minister may direct that a body or description of bodies specified in any of the paragraphs of subsection (4) below shall publish information about the discharge of their functions and other matters (including forecasts) which he considers to be related.

(2) Different directions may be given to bodies of the same description in different areas.

(3) A direction under this section may specify—

  • (a) the manner in which information is to be published;
  • (b) the occasions on which such publication is to be made; and
  • (c) the form which such publication is to take.
  • (4) The bodies and descriptions of bodies mentioned in subsection (1) above are—

  • (a) development corporations established under the New Towns Act 1965 or the New Towns (Scotland) Act 1968;
  • (b) the Commission for the New Towns;
  • (c) water authorities;
  • (d) urban development corporations within the meaning of Part XVI of this Act;
  • (e) Passenger Transport Executive established by orders under section 9 of the Transport Act 1968 or section 202 of the Local Government Act 1972;
  • (f) the London Transport Executive; and
  • (g) district councils carrying on road passenger transport undertakings.
  • (5) In this section "the relevant Minister" means in relation—

  • (a) to the description of bodies mentioned in subsection (4)(e) above, in the application of that paragraph to England and Wales;
  • (b) to the London Transport Executive; and
  • (c) to the description of bodies mentioned in subsection (4)(g) above, the Minister of Transport.
  • (6) Subject to subsection (5) above, in this section "the relevant Minister" means the Secretary of State.

    (7) A direction given to a district council under this section may only relate to its road passenger transport undertaking.").

    The noble and learned Lord said: The purpose of this new clause is to apply the principles of Clause 2 a little more widely. At an early stage in our consideration of this measure it became clear that the underlying principles, while applying in a particular way to local authorities, which are elected by their own electorate, were also applicable to a wide range of other types of organisation throughout the public sector.

    The Government have therefore taken the opportunity to review very broadly the scope for improvement in existing practices in the public sector, and the measures which might be necessary to bring the various bodies up to the standards of the best in the public and private sectors. We now propose to ensure that the necessary powers exist to achieve our widely-supported objective throughout a wider range of bodies in the public sector. In the course of our review it became clear that, for many public bodies, adequate powers already exist to achieve what is desired. But there remains a collection of bodies—as listed in the new clause and in the amendment which sought to extend Clause 2(1)—where we are doubtful that this would be possible under existing legislation.

    It therefore seems right that, having consulted the various individual organisations concerned, we should take such broad enabling powers as this new clause seeks to provide. In consultation with those bodies it also became clear that the approach provided for in Clause 2—that of a code of practice supported as necessary by statutory regulations—was not appropriate for some types of body, and that it would be more appropriate to achieve the objective by taking powers to issue general directions about their publication of information. This clause accordingly seeks to provide a power for the relevant Minister to direct the bodies concerned as to the type and manner of publication they should produce about the discharge of their functions and related matters.

    I hope that the Committee will assent to the inclusion of this new clause in the Bill, thus reflecting the wishes of many of those who have responded to the Government's consultation documents on this issue. I should like to emphasise at this stage that this new clause does no more than confer enabling powers in order that the Government may consider further, in consultation with the bodies concerned and other interested parties, what further arrangements may be needed to improve upon their present practices concerning the provision of information to the public. I beg to move.

    We now come to Amendment No. 29A as an amendment to Amendment No. 29.

    moved as an amendment to Amendment No. 29, Amendment No. 29A:

    In subsection (4) leave out paragraph (g).

    The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 29A and at the same time to speak to Amendment No. 29B which also is an amendment to Amendment No. 29. The first point I should like to make to my noble and learned friend is that I welcome the general intention behind the new clause that he has just moved. It is certainly appropriate to introduce in respect of the bodies listed in that new clause the requirement to publish information to the public which is just as much needed by them and of interest to them as any of the functions of local authorities.

    However, the need for my amendments is to avoid the district councils being drawn into this clause as they are already subject to the requirement to publish information under Clause 2. In my view it is not appropriate that they should be required to publish information under one clause and then be required under a different clause, grouped with a different list of bodies, to publish similar information in respect of their functions. The district councils in respect of their transport undertakings are still operating as democratically elected bodies and, therefore, are subject to the voluntary code appropriate to other similarly democratically elected local government bodies. The different voluntary codes applicable to bodies such as the water authorities and the urban development corporations, which are not democratically-elected and are not local authorities, are not appropriate to district councils.

    My noble and learned friend may say that this new clause is needed to give the Minister of Transport as opposed to the Secretary of State for the Department of the Environment powers to secure by means of these codes the information that he thinks the public require in respect of transport undertakings run by local authorities, and I can understand him wanting to make that point. But, if that is so, there has to be similar provision for the Secretary of State for Education to require information to be published by, say, the county councils in respect of the way in which they discharge their educational functions; or provision for the Secretary of State for the Department of Health and Social Security to require voluntary codes to be produced in respect of which county councils should publish the way in which they are discharging their functions under health legislation.

    However, it is not appropriate to include in this clause, which is primarily designed to deal with non-elected bodies which are not local authorities, information in respect of their transport undertakings just for the Minister of Transport. I hope that my noble and learned friend will be able to take those thoughts away with him and consider them carefully before the next stage. If he can undertake to do that I shall in the meantime be happy to withdraw these amendments.

    As I see it, "The bodies and descriptions of bodies" mentioned in the new clause proposed by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern are those aspects of local authorities which are fundamentally running a business, and it is for this reason that the road passenger transport undertakings of local authorities should, in my untutored view, certainly be encapsulated in this particular new clause. I do not think that the analogy drawn by my noble friend Lord Sandford of an education service is quite in the same category as that of running, a transport service, which in my view is very much more in the nature of a business.

    I recognise fully the concern that my noble friend Lord Sandford has in tabling this amendment to our proposed new clause that we should try to consider the activities of local authorities as one. But, as I have asked the Committee to accept, it will be appropriate in our view for the Minister of Transport, or the Secretary of State for Scotland in Scotland, to have the power to direct other public sector transport undertakings as to the information they should publish, without of course detracting from the intention to hold full consultations before doing so.

    It was our view therefore that where a district council has a road transport undertaking—and that is a somewhat special matter; it is not a general power of district councils, it is a special power of some—it should be accountable to the public in exactly the same way and to the same degree as any other public sector transport undertaking. I mentioned earlier that one of the purposes of this is to make reasonably straightforward comparisons between one authority and another in the case of local authorities, and one public sector transport undertaking and another in the case of these.

    While wishing therefore to follow the general code of practice approach for the generality of local authority activities—and health and education, as my noble friend mentioned, are of that character; general functions that certain tiers of local authority generally carry out—it is right in our view that all transport activities, which are rather special, should be treated in a common fashion. Accordingly, it is necessary that there should be a special provision for district councils carrying on a transport undertaking of this sort, and, as he pointed out, the Minister of Transport will be the appropriate Minister to exercise this particular function. Of course, as he envisaged, that is another reason for having this clause in this particular form. In the light of these explanations, which are very much in line with what my noble friend Lord Morris said, I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw this amendment.

    I shall certainly withdraw it and consider what my noble and learned friend has said. At the moment I think it is more important that all democratically elected local authorities should be treated on a par in respect of all their functions, even if some of them are commercial and some of them are public services. I think that is more desirable than that the district council which happens to run the bus undertaking should be put into the same category as other bodies like PTEs, which, although they are running transport undertakings, are not by any stretch of the imagination on a par with local authorities. I shall consider what my noble and learned friend has said, and meanwhile beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    I should like to make one comment on this new clause. It seems to me odd, as it is now nearly a year since the first Local Government Bill was introduced in this House, that the Government have really had to do this rush job and produce all these new clauses, amendments and so on at this stage. It seems to me incompetent and really very difficult for the Committee to have all these new things to look at at the last minute.

    Amendment to the amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    [ Amendment No. 29B not moved.]

    There is one question I have to ask the noble Lord before we part with this new clause. Subsection (3) of this new clause empowers a Minister to give directions which specify,

    "the manner in which information is to be published … the occasions on which such publication is to be made; and … the form which such publication is to take".
    It will occur to some of us that this is going to involve some extra cost. Can the Minister inform us whether there has been any estimate made of the extra costs likely to be involved as a result of the giving of these directions and of compliance with them?

    Of course the precise form that the direction will take would affect the cost, and that is still a matter to be considered. I think I can assure the noble Lord that the question of cost will not be lost sight of in considering the form of the directions to be made. Obviously what we shall be trying to achieve is the best possible value for money—in other words, getting the information which is necessary at the smallest possible cost—and the forms will take account of that.

    On Question, Amendment No. 29 agreed to.

    Clause 3 agreed to.

    Clause 4 [ Regulation of works contracts]:

    On Question, Whether Clause 4 shall stand part of the Bill?

    8.46 p.m.

    Before we part with this particular clause it would be a good thing if the Minister were to explain just how these various measures under this particular part of the Bill have developed since they were first considered. As I understand it, when the consultations concerning this part of the Bill originally took place they were on the footing, which I think was agreed by all parties, that it was desirable that the particular accounting requirements for local authorities should be as comprehensive as possible, should if possible again be standardised, and should be aimed at providing the maximum amount of necessary information which it was thought on all sides that the public, and all those others interested, should actually have.

    It now appears, and it will appear when we come to consider later clauses in this particular part of the Bill, that the intention merely to provide for a standardised form of accounts of a more informative nature has progressively degenerated into a desire by Ministers to control the activities under this particular part of the Bill, rather than provide information. I should like to ask the noble Lord, as a prelude to the discussions which we shall shortly be having on other clauses of this Bill, whether he can explain to the Committee when and why it was suddenly decided that this particular part of the Bill should be used not as a means of information and regulation of forms of accounts and control of accounts but so that the Minister could virtually do what he wanted with this particular aspect of local authority activities. If he could explain why this transition took place and how it took place it would form a useful background to the discussions which we shall be having on the remainder of the clauses in this section.

    This clause—and that is what we are talking about now—is a purely technical one which makes transitional arrangements to smooth the changeover to the new tendering and accounting systems. It deals with those relatively rare situations where authorities have entered into long-term maintenance contracts with other bodies using their existing statutory powers. The value of some of these agreements may well be such that, under the new regulations to be made under Clause 5 to control the entry into works contracts, they would have to be put out to competition.

    The present clause gives the authorities concerned 12 months to sort things out and put them out to tender if necessary, otherwise the agreements would lapse even if their original term had not run. Another new requirement which works' authorities will have to consider is the obligation imposed by Clause 13 that they should earn a return on their capital. They will want to ensure that their works' contracts operations make a proper contribution to that return, and they will therefore not want to find themselves locked into agreements whose terms do not allow them to make the changes they will need.

    This clause gives them the key to unlock these shackles, and will allow them to renegotiate appropriate charging arrangements. Without this clause there would be a danger of anomaly and confusion. That is exactly what this clause is about. It is not about anything else. As the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, so rightly says, we are about to embark upon a discussion of much detail in the amendments that are tabled, and as we come to them we shall cover the points which the amendments raise.

    Can the noble Lord explain what happens if the circumstances arise that are described at the end of subsection (3)? Once 12 months have expired it will cease to be lawful for the maintenance agreement to be carried out. What happens to the contractor who is under contract to do something? No doubt he has purchased plant and engaged workpeople, and so on. Does he get any compensation because his contract has been brought to an end?

    In fact, there is no contractor. The local authority is the contractor. As I said, the clause is a technical one and it is to deal with the transitional arrangements. But in a situation such as the noble Viscount describes, there is no contractor as such. It would be the local authority.

    Clause 4 agreed to.

    Clause 5 [ Limitations on power to enter into works contracts]:

    8.52 p.m.

    The noble Lord said: This amendment merely removes an error which remains after other changes were made to this clause in another place. As the clause stands, subsection (4)( a) would allow the Secretary of State to make regulations which could remove entirely the requirement that direct labour organisations should be subject to competition before undertaking contract work, and substitute conditions of quite a different sort. This is far too wide an Executive discretion, which the Government do not want to take, and which I have no doubt the Committee does not want to give them. I beg to move.

    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    moved Amendment No. 31:

    Page 7, line 15, leave out from ("to") to end of line 16 and insert ("an affirmative resolution by both Houses of Parliament").

    The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 31 it may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak also to Amendment No. 38, as the same principle is involved. The regulations under Clauses 5 and 7 are very important. Amendment No. 31 relates to works contracts. The regulations which the Secretary of State would be empowered to table would prescribe the number and value of works contracts; certain conditions to be observed, including the acceptance of tenders; specify the various conditions to be laid down; specify the descriptions of contracts and, if desired, vary the number of persons from whom tenders must be obtained.

    Amendment No. 38 relates to functional works, and here again the regulations would lay down descriptions of various types of work which may be undertaken, conditions to be observed before a local authority may undertake functional works, and, again, vary the number of persons from whom tenders may be obtained. It would also specify the financial limits of work to be kept under separate heading.

    The regulations may also make different provisions in relation to different contracts and different descriptions of contracts. These are all important matters affecting the operation of direct labour organisations and the work of local authorities. They are important matters which are left to be determined by the Secretary of State. In our view it is not sufficient for these regulations to be dealt with only by the annulment procedure. To ensure full and adequate consideration of these very important matters the regulations should require the Affirmative Resolution of both Houses, and that is the purpose of the two amendments.

    The Committee will need to remember what sort of regulations will be made under this clause. There will, first of all, be the regulations made under subsection (2) to specify the descriptions of work which must first be subjected to competition before being undertaken by direct labour. These descriptions will be expressed essentially in terms of monetary limits on the size of construction or maintenance projects. My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State stated in another place what, in the first instance, those limits would be. He also promised, and I repeat that pledge now, that the thresholds would be updated to take account of changing building prices. So the regulations will need to be re-made at intervals simply to preserve the status quo.

    The other regulation-making power under Clause 5 is contained in subsection (4) and is even more technical. We do not expect it ever to be used, but it is there to provide the opportunity to change the minimum number of invitations to be issued to outside contractors to compete against an authority's direct labour organisation. At present, the number stands at three, and we believe it practical and sufficient. If experience suggests it is either too unrealistically high—and I cannot believe that such a modest number can be so—or ineffectively low—and I think competition from three contractors should stretch most DLOs quite satisfactorily—then the number can be changed. But we do not anticipate that a change will be necesssary.

    We do not think that it is necessary to take up scarce parliamentary time to consider such relatively insignificant adjustments to the system whose structure is clearly set out here before us, and whose details have been the subject of full consultation and discussion inside and outside these walls. The Negative Resolution procedure should give Members either here or in another place adequate opportunity to investigate any changes which are not merely routine or are in any way out of the ordinary. I wonder whether, with that information and that view, the noble Lord perhaps may feel able not to pursue his amendment.

    Before the noble Lord responds may I just comment and perhaps make a preliminary remark? I should like, if I may, to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, to the wicket, as it were, and express my admiration for him. I used to be the Minister holding his appointment at the Department of the Environment and had to do most of the work on the Front Bench myself. We have been here for six hours now, and until a moment or two ago he had managed to decentralise everything on the Ministry of Agriculture, the Home Office and the Lord Advocate, which I think was a wonderful performance. I should like to congratulate him on it.

    I should like to go on to say that the Association of District Councils welcomes very much the concessions that the Government have made at this point in the Bill. En the absence of my noble friend Lord Ridley I am pretty sure that I can say the same thing in respect of the county councils. We think the Government have now got it more or less right, and this part of the Bill at any rate meets very much with our approval.

    I want to ask the noble Lord, to whom I offer the same felicitations as those which he has offered to his noble friend, whether even at this stage he could not reconsider this. We are considering it out of the context of the remainder of the Bill. If we consider this Bill as a whole in order to get its total context we find that, out of the total number of clauses, 58 give the Minister power to make regulations in over 100 instances. Most of them are subject to the annulment procedure. Incidentally, they also give him, in the case of 29 clauses, powers in 58 instances to make direct directions without regulation.

    Surely in these two particular instances, which are of considerable importance, and in view of the fact that all the other regulations of a myriad character reflect the mania for power of his right honourable friend in another place, he could concede that these two items which have deen dealt with by my noble friend Lord Underhill could be an isolated exception—a shining example even—and, to show willing and goodwill, he could adopt the Affirmative Resolution procedure. Will the Minister please reconsider the matter?

    9 p.m.

    That was quite a series of requests, but before responding to them I must thank my noble friend Lord Sandford, who I trust has taken careful note of the art of delegation and how it works. I must also thank my noble friends who have been helpful so far, and I am sure I shall be looking for help from them again before this Committee stage is through. I wish the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, had not talked about mania for power. I should have thought that this week, following so closely on what happened last week, that would have been the last thing noble Lords opposite would have wanted to talk about. In any event, this is not a matter of tremendous moment.

    It would not be difficult for me to say, "Very well, let us adopt the Affirmative Resolution procedure". I remember that when we were discussing the Housing Bill certain matters of great importance were raised by some noble Lords opposite and some of my noble friends, who stressed why there were occasions when the Affirmative Resolution procedure was the proper one to adopt. We felt then that the issues in question were right for that, and accordingly we acquiesced. But in this case we are really talking about whether three or four or two invitations should go out to people to contract. To go through the whole Affirmative Resolution procedure in both Houses for that sort of thing seems to me—with my relative inexperience, which I freely acknowledge, of these matters—not to be necessary. I shall listen to what others have to say on the subject. Certainly there will be occasions when it will be the right procedure, but surely this cannot be an occasion of such great moment. Unless noble Lords in all parts of the Committee feel very strongly about it, I suggest we leave matters as proposed in the Bill.

    The Minister is always persuasive and plausible, but to dismiss what I said by saying it is only a question whether three or four or fewer persons are contacted does not cover the point. The two clauses deal with far more than that. The one on works contracts contains a limitation on powers to enter into works contracts, and the Secretary of State has power to lay down conditions; and the conditions are what we believe this House should thoroughly discuss, something which cannot be done by the annulment procedure. I will not weary the Committee, but if one looks at Clause 7, dealing with functional work, one sees that we are not dealing with minor matters. It concerns whether a local authority shall carry out functional work if certain conditions are not observed. That is a matter of great importance. In view of the adamant attitude of the Minister, however pleasant and plausible he may be, I will not divide the Committee, but I feel the matter should be determined by a Negative vote.

    The Minister generously said that if he found on all sides of the Committee a request that this should be altered to an Affirmative Resolution, he would lend his usually willing and courteous ear to that plea, and in that context I have two points to make, the first one of principle. Where one takes away from a democratically elected body a power they otherwise had and one does it by legislation—it may be perfectly proper to do it—is there not then a great onus on those who favour a democratic way of life not to rob the only other democratic tier of government of considering the matter and doing it by Affirmative Resolution, instead of what many of us know to be the possibility of a slip through method which is the Negative Resolution? I think that point would appeal to noble Lords in all parts of the Committee because, despite the Minister's subtle reference to the happenings of last week, I cannot see any political content in the point; it is a point raised by those who like to see democratic government carried out democratically.

    Secondly, if the Committee decides, in view of the Minister's statement as to what he proposes to do on this occasion—and possibly we do not have to leave it until Report—that this should continue to be a Negative Resolution because it is deemed to be technical (I agree with my noble friend Lord Underhill that this would appear to be far from technical), may we have the Minister's clear assurance that where your Lordships' House is satisfied on other clauses of the Bill that it is not solely a technical matter which is at stake, he will readily assent, if that be proved, to the idea of an Affirmative Resolution even though a Negative Resolution is proposed at the moment?

    It may help noble Lords opposite if I were briefly to make two points. First, the Negative Resolution is not just a slip through method. Experience in both Houses has shown that in deciding whether there should be a Prayer against a Negative Resolution, Members on both sides of both Houses have to apply their minds to the matter much more than they do in the case where there is merely an Affirmative Resolution tabled by the Government. Thus, the Negative Resolution is a democratic process just as much in some ways as is an Affirmative Resolution. But there is an even greater difficulty about having too many requirements for Affirmative Resolutions written into the statute book.

    There are so many requirements already, covering so many different kinds of circumstances (some more important than others, I grant) that in another place— and this applies much more there than it does in your Lordships' House—the time for considering these Affirmative Resolutions is often difficult to find, especially in certain stages of a Session. Therefore, I say with respect to my noble friends that they are right to be chary of adding to the many, many occasions when Parliament has to consider Affirmative Resolutions.

    I am deeply grateful to my noble friend for that. The calls on parliamentary time are indeed of major importance and I did know that that was a very important factor in this issue. I certainly could not give to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, the kind of general undertaking he would ask for, but we will take this away and consider it. Again, unless I can see in another way on more careful study the evidence to the contrary, I would not feel inclined to change, not least—in fact, most of all—for the reasons which my noble friend Lord Renton gave. Nevertheless, I have listened to what has been said and we shall consider it.

    I am grateful to the Minister and, in view of the assurance given, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment. May I say also that this will give us the opportunity before the Report stage to compare the importance of these particular clauses with others in which the Government are asking for Affirmative Resolutions.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause 5, as amended, agreed to.

    Clause 6 agreed to.

    Clause 7 [ Regulation of functional work]:

    9.10 p.m.

    Page 8, line 26, at end insert—

    ("( ) No regulations made under this part of this Act shall in respect of works of maintenance require a local authority or a development body to invite offers under subsection 4 of this section in respect of any amount of such works of maintenance where the value of the works is between £10,000 and £50,000, which exceeds 10 per cent. of the total estimated value of such works to be undertaken by, for or on behalf of that local authority or a development body, in any financial year.").

    The noble Baroness said: With your Lordships' permission, I shall be moving this amendment in place of the noble Baroness, Lady Denington. I think it is important that we on this side of the Committee let the Government know that we see that they are not attempting to hide their general opposition to both the principles and the practices of direct labour organisations. We read into the Bill that the Government are placing every obstacle they can think of in the way of DLOs to compete for major tenders. We recognise that it is the Government's decision to try to clip the wings of the direct labour organisations.

    I should like to remind your Lordships that I have a great deal of experience as a member of a direct labour organisation in the City of Birmingham—again no mean city. When I was a representative of that local authority, Birmingham, under previous local government, it was of course the largest all-purpose local authority in the whole of Great Britain. I, as a late member of the direct labour organisation in Birmingham, think it is important to remind your Lordships why so many local authorities decided to set up DLOs. If we cast our minds back, it was during the property boom and the desire of local authorities to do a great deal of work on what we call substandard properties. It was the practice in Birmingham that we felt—and this thought was not only on one side of the Chamber—there was a great deal of concern that perhaps we were being forced to accept the local price rings that were being set up in the city regarding what we would say was the medium size contracts. Here I am not taking into consideration the large contracts that were entered into for rebuilding. Therefore it was recognised that a direct labour organisation would be a check upon price rings which might be operating against the requirements of the local people, and also against the ratepayers generally.

    I wanted to say that because many local authorities decided on DLOs for the reason that they had a cross check against anybody who was doing work for them. It is perhaps unfortunate that the words "direct labour" became the name of the organisation. I think that a phrase with "direct" and "labour" in it has some kind of connotation of "reds under the bed". This is rather unfortunate.

    Perhaps some Members of your Lordships' Committee are more experienced than I in this matter, but I should say that practically every major company that has a large factory establishment has some degree of, or the equivalent of, a direct labour organisation. Many noble Lords sitting in this Chamber have, as directors, direct contact with large organisations and they would agree that the in-service or direct labour organisations in their particular factory establishment s are comparable with the direct labour organisation of a local authority.

    I should like to draw the attention of your Lordships to the Notes on Clauses. Clause 7 is the means of ensuring that in apportioning their building and construction work authorities pit—and there I use the word that appears in the Notes—their direct labour organisations against private contractors in fair competition. I must say, as a former Member of the European Parliament, that I have never understood what fair competition was, and I do not think that any of us do; but that is one of the main planks of the EEC. However, if we are thinking about fair competition, would it not be better for the Government to consider DLOs in comparison with in-plant operations that exist in many of our large factories, and not in terms of the private sector?

    We must remember that the overwhelming bulk of direct labour activity is concerned with maintenance work. The amount of work undertaken in construction and new building is infinitesimal compared to the amount of maintenance work undertaken. Perhaps the noble Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I understand the Government have amended their original proposal that one-third of all maintenance work should be subject to competitive tender. We would accept that that is a move in the right direction. Obviously the Government saw quite clearly the bureaucratic jungle that would have been created had they not altered their proposal.

    However, the proposal for a 100 per cent. tendering in respect of contracts between £10,000 and £50,000 will still present substantial problems for local authorities. I am not suggesting that it is not important for direct labour organisations constantly to prove their competitiveness on this type of contract work—that of maintenance—but I say to your Lordships' Committee that this can be achieved simply by putting out to competitive tender a proportion of the contracts, not all of them. What is proposed in the amendment regarding only 10 per cent. of the work where the value is between £10,000 and £50,000 would, in my view, be a suitable way in which to bring about competition.

    Noble Lords have just been speaking about the Secretary of State and the powers that he is taking in this Bill. In the Bill there are a number of instances where the Secretary of State is attempting to arrogate to himself very wide-ranging and far-reaching powers. The idea behind the amendment is that we spell out the position quite clearly so that local authorities, the general public, everybody, will know what is required.

    Once again, I repeat that the overwhelming amount of work carried out by direct labour organisations is on maintenance. Obviously the purpose of requiring a percentage of such work to be put out to tender is only in order to obtain comparison of prices. The local authority itself takes into account the service that would be given by the tenderer, the quality of the work, and the financial standing of the company. We would have said that for the purposes of a comparison of prices 10 per cent. is sufficient. We state this quite clearly so that there is no uncertainty in this area. We want it to be clear and explicit so that the Secretary of State does not have to bring it in by means of any other regulation. We want the provision to be clearly stated in the Act.

    I hope that at this late hour I have not delayed the Committee for too long, and I hope, too, that the Minister will consider the amendment and will regard it as an improvement for the benefit of local authorities. This is a local government Bill, and here the word "government" has a meaning in the same way as it has in the term "national Government." The word "government" has a certain connotation. I hope therefore that the Minister will consider the amendment as an improvement to the Bill and not at all breaching any underlying philosophies of the Government.

    I do recommend to this Committee the very reasonable speech of my friend Lady Fisher. It is plain from reading this part of the Bill—or shall I say that it seems plain to some of us on this side—that it is the Government's desire so to restrict, curtail, inhibit and weaken direct labour organisations that, in the end, they strangle them unto death. If that were to happen—and it perhaps will not happen 100 per cent.—it would be a great loss to local government and to the service that local government gives to the people through its direct labour organisation.

    It is perfectly true, and it is highlighted in the Press, that from time to time there are authorities that seem occasionally to let things get quite wildly out of control. It does happen, but none of us would condone that for a moment. It is perfectly proper and right that such aberrations should be controlled. By and large, however, the authorities that run direct labour organisations up and down this country run good organisations. They do test them in the market.

    My experience, as I expect most of your Lordships will know, was first of all with the old London County Council and later with the Greater London Council. My experience there was that we reported regularly to the council on how things had gone. We reported roughly annually and in full. We even said that every time our chief executive sneezed it was costed in, we were so thorough.

    Occasionally our tenders were above the average and the outside contractors' were below, and they had the job. Very often, however, our tenders were a little below. They were not greatly below and perhaps some of your Lordships might say: "Why not? If there was no profit motive, they should have been well below". The reason they were not lower than they were was perfectly plain. The Council prided itself on the conditions that it provided for the men who worked in the direct labour organisations: better sick pay regulations than in private enterprise; better welfare facilities—not always, because I admit that some of the big private companies are excellent. But they were excellent conditions which brought loyalty from the men who worked for us. We had a very fine body of workpeople.

    The organisation was invaluable in rehabilitation work. I understand that, particularly in the North of England, it is now very difficult to get tenders at all for that kind of work; I am told so in my capacity as a member of a housing authority in the North. The direct labour organisation came to the rescue time and again (and I imagine that today it may be more often than it used to be, alas!) when the private contractor went bankrupt and the council was left with a building in build and with no builder to continue the building. When that happens it can sometimes be a very long time indeed that the building stands deteriorating at a certain stage of construction unless you have a direct labour organisation that can quickly go in and pick it up and continue with it. That is an invaluable use of a direct labour organisation.

    So I would say that that is what concerns me and my friends very much indeed, and I should like to hear the Minister tell us that it is not the intention of the Government to strangle these organisations out of life and out of existence. If it is not their intention so to do, then perhaps they will listen very carefully to the points that we are making by way of amendment, because our only intention is to see that life continues for the direct labour organisations. They are not like the private builders: they have to have some certainty. A private builder takes his men on, does a job and then puts them off; but that is not the nature of a direct labour organisation, which is quite different. They have to have some continuity in their organisation. These amendments that we are moving are intended, quite frankly, to protect them and to enable them to continue. I would hope that that is the Government's intention, too, but unless they listen to us and to our amendments then I fear that many of these organisations may cease to be able to continue.

    9.25 p.m.

    May I add my support to the amendment moved by the noble Baroness and so well supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Denington? In fact, I had thought to put my name down to this amendment, but by the time I got round to doing it there were already four names on it; so I want to stake out my claim to being a supporter of this amendment.

    I do not have any deep philosophical attachment to the concept of direct labour organisations as the Ark of the Covenant of local authority activity, and I think I understand the philosophical position of the Government in putting this forward because, in areas where a direct labour organisation is carrying out functions which are within the sphere of activity of builders and civil engineering contractors, I think it is right and proper that they should be seen to be competitive with private enterprise, and also cost-effective.

    But I think that in the field of maintenance work we are in a very different position, and the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, is quite right. As a member of the management committee of a housing association in the Merseyside area I can say that it is not easy—it is always very difficult, in fact—to find small contractors to do the kind of work that we are discussing today. So I imagine that on that same basis it would be equally difficult for a local authority to find people to do this work. Maintenance work varies from changing a tap to rebuilding the roof of a house, and maintenance work—and it is maintenance work that we are considering now—is a very different matter from a general civil engineering function, in which I think it is right that local authorities should be willing to compete with the private sector.

    As far as I can see, in the Bill as it stands the degree of estimating required is not specified, and I think that this amendment is an excellent amendment, in that it is an attempt to limit estimating requirements to maintenance work above £50,000 except for 10 per cent. of workload. I think it is important that we should remember that maintenance work has particular problems which do not apply to the other work that direct labour organisations have. I think that 10 per cent. is sufficient to create a comparison between the kind of costs that private enterprise and the public sector would be able to give. I think, therefore, that this amendment is not a wrecking amendment but it is one which I believe should be helpful in making practical the possibility of maintenance work being done by private authority not in competition with but as an adjunct of direct labour organisations and I support the amendment.

    If I had had any doubt in my mind that I should be opposed to this amendment, it would have been removed by some of the concluding observations of the noble Baroness, Lady Denington. She said that to a private builder continuity of work did not matter—he could just dispose of his men—whereas a direct labour organisation was in a different position. In the first place, I think that that is a very unjust approach to the private builder. To suggest that private builders should quite lightheartedly have to dispose of a large number of their men because the work was going to a direct labour organisation, I think is very unfair to them; and all the more unfair when it is remembered that the organisation to which their work apparently is to be diverted is an organisation maintained by the very body which they have to finance through the payment of rates.

    The noble Baroness's approach to the problems of the private builder is, I am afraid, only too characteristic of that of many Labour-controlled authorities in this country. They, like the noble Baroness, are not really very interested in the wellbeing of the private builder. On the other hand, as she indicated—and this is exactly what I dislike about the development of the direct labour organisation—a local authority which has a direct labour organisation is determined to find enough work to keep that direct labour organisation fully employed. They do not want to have to dismiss any of their men. That would cause political problems for the local authority straight away. Therefore, one is in the position that the local authority, as a body concerned with building, has an inevitable bias in favour of the direct labour organisation as against the private builder.

    Your Lordships heard from the noble Baroness, herself a person with great experience in local government, a very clear indication and illustration of that particular bias. For that reason, I welcome restrictions on the development of direct labour organisations. I do not think that the provision of such organisations is a necessary function of local government at all. I think it is a doubtful proposition that local government should use money raised from all its taxpayers, including the building trade and the building employers, in order to maintain an organisation which competes with them. If the noble Baroness is right in suggesting that the Bill as it stands will restrict the operation of direct labour organisations and will discourage local authorities from maintaining them, that seems to me a jolly good argument in its favour.

    I should not have risen but for two points raised in Committee this evening on the subject of direct labour. I had always understood that one of the characteristics of the Welsh, a wonderful characteristic, is that they knew their Bible. But I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Evans, referring to the fact that direct labour had nothing to do with his Ark of the Covenant. It so happens that in the Book of Leviticus very definite regulations are set out as to the direct labour which maintain the Ark of the Covenant and, indeed, it was prohibited to go to any outside contractors for work on the Ark of the Covenant to be done. Your Lordships always welcome an intervention from the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. This is, first, because he really commands our attention by the concise reasoning which he brings to all his remarks. It is a very precise reasoning at times and it is so precise at times because he has such a very definite point of view which does not usually bend before the wind of debate. It is just this attitude—and I say this with all deference—which bedevils local government so often. I decry those who see all merit in direct labour and no merit at all in private contractors. I equally decry those who get up to make speeches which are very sincere but which decry all out direct labour and make speeches only in favour of private contractors.

    The fact is that the public wants both because, as my noble friend Lady Denington said so correctly, those of us who have been involved in these matters have found direct labour organisations so essential when it has come to maintenance work and to the type of situation—which unfortunately local authorities so often meet—of uncompleted work as a result of unreliability of some private contractors. Nobody—least of all my noble friend Lady Denington—said that there were not some private contractors who behaved honourably and did efficient work. She was at pains to point out that they had privileges for their employees which are exemplary. There are others who do not do this. There are direct labour organisations that I say quite frankly are a disgrace to some local authorities. I cannot be more bold than that. There are some direct labour organisations that are a great credit to local authorities.

    All that the amendment seeks to do is to temper the attitude of the Committee not, as I say, to strangle—using again the words of my noble friend Lady Denington—the local authorities in regard to their direct labour organisations, be they good or bad. It is to give the opportunity—and these amendments seek to do that—to local authorities which are honest in their dealings with direct labour organisations, and direct labour organisations which are honest and efficient in their dealings with local authorities. It is this desire to keep alive the useful that is the spirit of this amendment, and no service is done to this country, to local government in this country or the citizens who are governed by the local authorities by delivering extremist speeches against or for.

    9.38 p.m.

    Would the noble Lord be good enough to answer the point which I put and which he did not answer: Whether it is a proper and essential function of local government to use revenue raised from the ratepayers, including among those ratepayers people in the building industry, in order to maintain an activity which is not a basic part of local government in competition with some of its own ratepayers?

    It is really a question of how one sees the duty of local authorities. Some of us regard the duty of local authorities to give the most efficient treatment to their citizens and their ratepayers in regard to the services which are essential to them. One of those essential services is quite obviously that of building houses, maintaining houses and doing other work of an essential nature. Some of us have found—and without anydoctrinaire views—that to have a continuous direct labour organisation efficiently man- aged is of direct benefit to the ratepayers who pay for it.

    Having listened very carefully to the most interesting speeches that have been made on this subject, it seems to me that this is where I came in many years ago. As in all discussions of this kind, there is merit in all the points that have been made, because it is not just this Government that is concerned about direct labour organisations as such. In 1975, CIPFA came out with a report which was accepted by the Labour Government as being sufficiently detailed, and which was making the kind of recommendations that they felt ought to be taken on board to improve the accountability, the accounting, the dissemination of information about what was happening and many other kinds of controls upon direct labour organisations.

    I think noble Lords opposite will have to agree that it is not just one or two organisations which, on occasion, have done badly. There have been far too many for that. If one really sets out to justify the retention of a direct labour organisation, why should one be afraid of going to tender? This amendment is talking about 90 per cent. of all work not going to tender; never mind that 10 per cent. only should. It says that 90 per cent. of all the work done should not be subject to tender. But why should it not be subject to tender? If the organisation is good, then what is it afraid of? Why should it not want to know? If I had an organisation which I thought was as good as anybody's, then I should be very content for it to tender along with anybody else. That really is the crux of what we are talking about.

    My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter said that he did not want any direct labour organisations at all, for reasons which he explained very succinctly and which I need not repeat now. I must say that in my experience there have been times when a direct labour organisation has been vitally necessary for doing maintenance work. In particular, I have to say that sometimes in the winter there has been a special need when the private sector could not cope with work that had to be done and we were very glad to have an organisation. What that organisation is, what its size should be and what its function should be relative to the totality of all the work that a local authority has to have done—it maintenance, building work or whatever—is what we are talking about.

    I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter that the organisation should not be at all bigger than it need be. But to suggest that what the Government are putting into this Bill is, in the terms that have been used, an attempt to strangle, to clip the wings and to do everything to bring them down is not correct. The intention is to see that there is accountability—and there can be nothing wrong in that—to see that it should make a fair return on the capital that it employs on behalf of its ratepayers.

    Again, I say that no good direct labour organisation will complain about that, and many local authorities, and indeed the associations, have not themselves been unduly upset about what we are trying to do. They are anxious only about the details and that is fair enough. But to suggest that 90 per cent. of the work should not go to tender cannot be justified. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, who moved the amendment extremely eloquently, does not really expect that the Government will move further than we have already done, because in another place there was a movement away from the original position which the Government took on what was required. As in most things, it is a question of getting things about right. On this side, the suggestion is that we have not gone far enough, while on the other side the suggestion is that we have gone too far. It is always like that.

    So I think we should ask the noble Baroness whether she feels able to withdraw this amendment in the light of all that has been said. There is no attack at all as such. There is only a wish on the part of the Government that direct labour organisations should be efficient, should be all the other things that I have already said and should be something which every authority which has one will be proud of having, and it will be proud when it can achieve a performance which can be justified to the ratepayers, the public at large and the people who work in the organisations.

    9.45 p.m.

    May I thank my noble friends who have spoken in the debate? Some of the points which were made by my noble friend Lady Denington were taken completely out of context. The noble Lord who has just answered quite clearly accepts that direct labour organisations fulfil a service to the locality in which they are situated. They provide a very considerable service. If a gale blows through a town or a village the first thing that the inhabitants say is, "Where is the local authority? Let us get some tarpaulin on the roofs to make quite sure that people can remain in their houses all night". If there is a bad winter thousands of people find that their pipes freeze, and the first thing that people say is, "What is the local authority doing about this?" There is always some old lady or widow who is freezing to death. Everybody pins down the local authority. This is a social service which is provided in the main by direct labour organisations.

    What was said by my noble friend Lady Denington was completely distorted by noble Lords. We are afraid that if too much competition takes place and direct labour organisations find that they are undercut by a lot of pirates they will go out of business; the service that they provide to local inhabitants in times of flood and freezing weather will not then be there. Where, then, does one look for the help that local residents will be asking for at times of a river flooding, or whatever?

    I accept what noble Lords have said: that there are clearly different levels of efficiency in direct labour organisations. I accept also that there are different levels of efficiency between contractors who do maintenance work for local authorities. May I remind the House that the smaller type of construction firm, which would be the one most likely to try to compete for the bulk of the DLO work—that is, the repairs and the maintenance—has topped the bankruptcy list annually since reports on bankruptcy have been issued by the Department of Industry.

    It is the small contractor who is in the bankruptcy lists. As my noble friend Lady Denington so clearly said, we find that the DLO has to come to the rescue of these firms. It is that type of firm which, in the main, will be competing with the DLOs, and our concern is that the competition will not be fair—that a lot of the people who will be competing will not be competing on a fair basis. Our concern is that if those contracts are lost we shall then lose a DLO which is providing a service to the inhabitants on a very wide range of affairs. I have listened to what the noble Lord has said but I shall not withdraw the amendment.


    Ardwick, L.Hale, L.Ross of Marnock, L.
    Balogh, L.Hatch of Lusby, L.Sefton of Garston, L.
    Beaumont of Whitley, L.Janner, L.Shackleton, L.
    Birk, B.Kaldor, L.Simon, V.
    Bruce of Donington, L.Kilmarnock, L.Stedman, B.
    Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
    Collison, L.McNair, L.Stewart of Fulham, L.
    David, B.[Teller]Mishcon, L.Stone, L.
    Davies of Leek, L.Parry, L.Taylor of Blackburn, L.
    Denington, B.Peart, L.Taylor of Gryfe, L.
    Evans of Claughton, L.Pitt of Hampstead, L.Underhill, L.
    Fisher of Rednal, B.Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller]White, B.
    Greenwood of Rossendale, L.Winstanley, L.
    Gregson, L.


    Airey of Abingdon, B.Fortescue, E.O'Hagan, L.
    Alexander of Tunis, E.Freyberg, L.Onslow, E.
    Ampthill, L.Gainford, L.Orkney, E.
    Avon, E.Gainsborough, E.Orr-Ewing, L.
    Balerno, L.Geddes, L.Pender, L.
    Bellwin, L.Gisborough, L.Radnor, E.
    Belstead, L.Gowrie, E.Rawlinson of Ewell, L.
    Bessborough, E.Grimston of Westbury, L.Redesdale, L.
    Blake, L.Haig, E.Renton, L.
    Boardman, L.Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.)Ridley, V.
    Boyd-Carpenter, L.Rochdale, V.
    Brabazon of Tara, L.Harvington, L.Rollo, L.
    Bradford, E.Hatherton, L.Romney, E.
    Bridgeman, V.Henley, L.Sackville, L.
    Brougham and Vaux, L.Hereford, V.St. Aldwyn, E.
    Caithness, E.Hill of Luton, L.St. Davids, V.
    Cathcart, E.Holderness, L.Saint Oswald, L.
    Chelwood, L.Home of the Hirsel, L.Sandford, L.
    Cockfield, L.Jeffreys, L.Sandys, L. [Teller]
    Colville of Culross, V.Kemsley, V.Savile, L.
    Cork and Orrery, E.Kimberley, E.Selkirk, E.
    Cranbrook, E.Kintore, E.Sharples, B.
    Crathorne, L.Lauderdale, E.Skelmersdale, L.
    Cromartie, E.Liverpool, E.Soames, L. (L. President.)
    Cullen of Ashbourne, L.Long, V.Spens, L.
    de Clifford, L.Lucas of Chilworth, L.Stanely of Alderley, L.
    De La Warr, E.Lyell, L.Strathclyde, L.
    De L'Isle, V.McFadzean, L.Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
    Denham, L. [Teller.]Mackay of Clashfern, L.Sudeley, L.
    Digby, L.Macleod of Borve, B.Swansea, L.
    Dudley, E.Mansfield, E.Swinfen, L.
    Dundee, E.Margadale, L.Trefgarne, L.
    Elgin and Kincardine, E.Marley, L.Trumpington, B.
    Elibank, L.Middleton, L.Vaux of Harrowden, L.
    Elles, B.Monk Bretton, L.Vickers, B.
    Elliot of Harwood, B.Morris, L.Vivian, L.
    Enniskillen, E.Mottistone, L.Waldegrave, E.
    Exeter, M.Murton of Lindisfarne, L.Watkinson, V.
    Faithfull, B.Netherthorpe, L.Westbury, L.
    Ferrers, E.Northchurch, B.Windlesham, L.

    Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

    9.50 p.m.

    On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 32) shall be agreed to?

    Their Lordships divided: Contents, 39; Not-Contents, 119.

    9.59 p.m.

    moved Amendment No. 33:

    Page 8, line 26, at end insert—
    ("( ) No regulations made under this part of this Act shall in respect of general highway works or works of new construction other than general highway works require a local authority or a development body to invite offers under subsection 4 of this section, in respect of any amount of such works, which in the estimation of the authority or development body will not exceed £250,000.").

    The noble Baroness said: With your Lordships' permission, I will move this amendment and I will be quite brief about it. I would draw the notice of the Committee and the Government to the fact that the tendering limits are really completely out of date. These were limits that were contained in the working party document of 1975 under the auspices of the DoE, and we have to take into consideration—and I do not use it as a party political point—that there has been inflation since that time. What we are asking for in this amendment is that the tendering limits should be fixed at a much more realistic level and coupled with indexation. That would be our point, to make the figures much more realistic.

    I would wish perhaps that the Minister was sitting on this side of the Committee where the water is coming in. I am not so sure whether this is a Government direct labour contract or whether it is the work of one of the men of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter; but the noble Lord, Lord Soames, has taken the matter into his hands. I say that as an aside. I hope that the Government will accept that there has been inflation since 1975. There have been increases in prices and this amendment is just to make the figures realistic. I beg to move.

    I hope that your Lordships will accept this amendment. As the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, said, it is merely bringing up to date the position brought about by inflation since 1975. If the Government in another place at Report stage were talking about £100,000 which was the figure suggested in 1975, it seems to me reasonable that £250,000 now would not be out of the way to cover the increase in the cost of living since then. It would also, I suspect, save a considerable amount of local authority money—which I understand the Government are anxious to do—if tenders were limited to £250,000. I ask your Lordships not to believe that this is an amendment put forward by a lot of raw revolutionary reds, but has the support of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities which, until recently, was controlled by the Conservatives, and actually has a Liberal Member and is not made up of a lot of Trotskyite revolutionaries. I ask your Lordships and the Government at least to take this seriously: if £100,000 was right in 1975 then a larger figure must be right now. I ask that the amendment be accepted.

    First, I hope that it will be many, many years, if ever, before I sit on the other side of the Committee. But, as far as this figure is concerned, I think that the Bill prescribes that there can be allowances made for inflation. The figure of £100,000 was agreed after some long discussion in another place. It was a reduced figure. One has to go back to the basic philosophy of what we were talking about when we debated the last clause. Again, I do not see why a right kind of direct labour organisation would object or should object at all. If it is good and efficient it should not mind going out to tender, especially when we are talking of contracts of this kind.

    The argument that pertained to the smaller units doing maintenance work was one thing. When we start talking about the kind of money that we have here on these bigger projects, then I should have thought that it was all the more vital that there be tenders and that the limit be not so high that we limit the number. No, I think that we should have to return to the philosophical debate that we have just had on this, except that I think the case here is even stronger. I think that it should be a consolation to the noble Baroness to know that the Bill says that adjustments will be made for inflation as it goes along, and therefore the figure is not sacrosanct for all time. We could not accept this amendment for the reasons given. I fear that I can go no further with it.

    I do not accept what the Minister has said. I do not think that there is a philosophical argument in it. I should have thought that it was a plain, straightforward figure that was being used, just as a house which cost £8,000 10 years ago now costs £18,000. I suppose that you could use a philosophical argument. The majority of people would say that that was because the cost of materials and labour and everything else had gone up. I do not think that they would use any philosophical arguments. I do not know whether the Government do so when they argue that kind of case.

    So I do not accept that there is a philosophical argument. I should accept it as a straightforward financial transaction, in the same way as have we to recognise that when we fix a pension for someone what it will buy in the market in two or three years' time must be taken into consideration, but initially it was a very much lower figure that was taken into consideration and was automatically indexed. I accept what the Minister has said, that he will index it. I would simply say that I think his starting figure is too low. Having said that, I shall not pursue the amendment to a vote.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    10.7 p.m.

    Page 8, line 26, at end insert—

    ("(c) No regulations made under this Part of this Act shall prevent a local authority from carrying out emergency works.").

    The noble Lord said: I commend this amendment to the Committee. It will be observed that Clause 7(2) provides that:

    "A local authority or development body may not undertake functional work of any description unless they have first prepared a written statement— (a) of the amount which they will credit to their DLO revenue account … or (b) of a method by which they intend that the amount to be so credited shall he calculated".

    All that does is to say that no regulations made under this part of the Bill shall prevent a local authority from carrying out emergency work. I should not have thought that this needed much argument. I cannot believe that it would raise the philosophical or ideological hackles of the noble Lord, 'Lord Boyd-Carpenter, and I certainly do not think that it would ruffle the noble Lord opposite. Let us take for example the case of the Lyndhurst tragedy of many years ago, where flood waters accumulated on the moors above and with one fell swoop formed a head of water that swept down the valley causing tremendous damage in the locality. Would it be expected that a written statement should be prepared before any kind of work of restitution or any other kind of work was carried out? I should have thought not. If the noble Lord replies that it is, of course, his intention that work of this kind should not be included, then our answer to that is that there is no harm in including it in the Bill. I commend the amendment to the Committee.

    In fact, we have no quarrel with the purpose of this amendment, which it appears to share with Amendment No. 37. The Government have no intention of putting obstacles in the way of authorities faced with the need to undertake genuine emergency works. However, this amendment is defective and would not meet its proposed objective. There is nothing in the clause, or possible in regulations made under it, that could absolutely prevent authorities from carrying out emergency works, or a statement to that effect is not necessary. The subject of the noble Lord's concern is presumably the conditions which may be imposed on the undertaking of works by local authorities. Let me assure him that we do not intend to use the power under this clause to hamper authorities' ability to carry out emergency work.

    Can the noble Lord be a little more explicit and extend his remarks to cover, for instance, coastal protection works and sea defence works? There are contracts in both which involve work to be carried out over a long period, and proper tendering would be needed. But in each of those fields—that is to say, making good the breaches in sea defences in the middle of a storm or during a high tide, and dealing with the collapse of cliffs and the imperilling of property near to them—these are times when the work has to be done as a matter of urgency. It is important to be a little bit clearer than we are at the moment how the Government intend to frame regulations which will bring one category of work within the terms of this clause and leave authorities free and clear to deal with emergencies of the kind I have just described.

    Perhaps I could take that away to discuss with colleagues and consider as to how we might do that.

    I am not sure what the Minister is saying, and I say this with great deference because he appears to be being very helpful and that is the last thing in the world I want to stop him from being by an intervention. As I understood it, my noble friend Lord Bruce was moving an amendment, and I think he would be the first to agree that the little (c) contained in his amendment should be omitted, otherwise it would read:

    "The Secretary of State may by regulations "—
    and if you go on to read (c)—
    "No regulations made under this Part of this Act …".
    I am sure he would be the first person to say that what he intends—and of course he was quite clear in the purpose of his amendment—is to put the words "provided that", or something of that kind, and a separate sentence,
    "No regulations made under this Part of this Act shall prevent a local authority from carrying out emergency works".
    As I understood the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, he was suggesting that there were other works which ought to be defined to come within the purview of emergency works, which the Minister was saying that the Secretary of State would not dream of preventing by regulations. We have heard intentions which I am sure were sincerely expressed in regard to what Secretaries of State may wish to do, but Secretaries of State, like noble Lords, vary in their temperament and in their intelligence and in their aims, and this is a Bill which is not just there for the present Secretary of State.

    I am asking the Minister, therefore, whether what he was saying was that he would have no objection to bringing forward, possibly on Report stage, and after consideration of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, and by my noble friend Lord Bruce, a proviso for this part of the Bill which would make it quite clear that the Minister will not make regulations under this part in respect of the matters we have just been discussing.

    What I meant so far as my noble friend Lord Sandford is concerned is that I would want to take away what he said and see if, in fact, there were any reasons why we should not do as he said; that is, include it in any other provisos we might bring back. I was not certain what we might do. I did note, as the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, fairly said, that the amendment was defective, and I said we would take it away and have a look at it and at the same time take into account what my noble friend Lord Sandford said.

    On the basis of what the noble Lord has said, and on the understanding that the matter will be considered by him prior to Report, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    [ Amendments Nos. 34, 35 and 36 not moved.]

    10.14 p.m.

    moved Amendment No. 36A:

    Page 9, leave out lines 13 to 16 and insert ("who is to undertake the work, its estimated cost and all the prices contained in offers submitted to the local authority or development body in consequence of the invitation mentioned in subsection (4)(a) above, in so far as those prices are relevant for the ascertainment of the estimated cost of the work.").

    The noble Lord said: The intention of this amendment is to ensure that when authorities publish results of tender competitions they do not at the same time release commercially sensitive information such as the price of bills of quantities which contractors may submit in support of their tenders. I believe it is vital that commercial confidentiality be preserved if contractors are to continue to be willing to take on public sector work. In single stage tendering only the overall tender price should be revealed and all other figures should remain undisclosed.

    My original amendment did not meet the situation where term contracts were involved, since in those cases there is no overall tender price. Since over 80 per cent. of direct labour work is in the maintenance area, term contracts are most appropriate. It is important to ensure that the Bill's requirements are adequate to secure proper publication of the results of competitions held on this basis.

    I have given my noble friend notice of the point I now wish to make, and I should like for the moment to be a devil's advocate in my own cause. I am a little hit concerned, and I raise this at this stage purely to ask the Government if they would be good enough just to consider this point. I believe that the phrase,

    "in so far as those prices are relevant for the ascertainment of the estimated cost of the work",

    is perfectly adequate to cover my fear of indiscreet disclosures. However, I am a little bit concerned about whether the phrase,

    "are relevant for the ascertainment of the estimated cost of the work",

    is capable of legal test. In other words, will this phrase give the lawyers a field day? I should be very much obliged for some guidance on this point, either now or at any time my noble friend the Minister sees fit. I beg to move.

    I must say that I find myself in sympathy with what my noble friend Lord Morris is trying to achieve by this amendment. I am sure it was never the Government's intention that local authorities should be required to disclose to any person who may demand the information detailed prices which are normally considered to be confidential as between contractor and client. It seems to me quite wrong and a departure from normal practice that the words,

    "or the prices contained in offers",
    which appear in subsection (8)(a) of this clause, might, as they stand, be interpreted in any other way than that the overall tender price should be disclosed by a local authority. I am not too sure whether the wording of this amendment has precisely the effect which is intended by my noble friend. I share with him the feeling that there might very well be room for argument as to what prices are and are not relevant. I shall listen with very great interest to what my noble friend Lord Bellwin has to say.

    I gladly accept my noble friend's amendment. It clarifies a difficult piece of drafting in a delicate area of policy. We all want to be sure that tender competitions are above board, and we therefore need to ensure that their results are open to scrutiny; but at the same time we do not want to expose the sometimes very sensitive details which lie behind many tender offers. We must respect tenderers' commercial confidentiality, or else very soon no one would tender.

    This amendment seeks to make it clear that only the final tender prices are to be published. In lump sum contracts, that means the lump sum price alone. In term contracts, based on schedules of rates, there may be more than one, but the principle is the same—only so much as is necessary to see how the final value of the tender offers look like when compared one with another. This is certainly fully in accord with the Government's intention. We hope that my noble friend's amendment achieves it. I think it is right that we should look carefully at the wording. We shall continue to examine the issues to satisfy ourselves and the contracting industry that it does achieve its object. We shall be looking at this matter carefully, but we accept the amendment.

    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    10.20 p.m.

    Page 9, line 23, at end insert—

    ("( ) For the purposes of this section functional work shall exclude all necessary emergency work arising from flooding, storm damage, subsidence, fire and similar occurrencies.").

    The noble Lord said: This amendment is somewhat different from that moved by my noble friend Lord Bruce in so far as it intends to lay down that functional work shall definitely exclude various aspects of emergency work, and in the amendment I have endeavoured to define certain aspects of emergency work. I need not emphasise to noble Lords experienced in local government that many local authorities, not only those with direct labour organisations, either have special teams of men on standby at weekends and public holidays or have their ordinary staff standing ready to deal with emergencies that may arise.

    On Second Reading I and other noble Lords raised this issue but the Minister was unable to deal with it in his reply. I do not blame him for that because on Second Reading we had five hours of debate and he had to reply to the many issues raised on that occasion. However, in view of what the Minister said in reply to the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Bruce, perhaps he will accept this amendment. This is not a party political issue. Tributes have been paid to the emergency work carried out by local authorities or by their direct labour organisations when emergencies have arisen, and of course it is necessary for such emergencies to be dealt with immediately; there can be no delay because, as a number of noble Lords have said, the public demand instant action.

    The wording of the amendment could perhaps be improved. For instance, the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, referred to coastal protection, and I realise that I have omitted explosions and bomb incidents. Some emergencies of that nature could create colossal damage and may not therefore be minor operations. Be that as it may, the work must be put in hand at once, so I hope the Government will accept the principle of the amendment even if they cannot accept the wording.

    I say at once that the Government are happy to accept the spirit and intention of the amendment. We agree entirely that no hindrance must be put in the way of local authorities to use any means at their disposal to deal with any genuine emergency which threatens life or property. It has always been our intention to draft the regulations under this clause so that emergency work was exempted from any competition requirement. We should be content to see such an exemption provided for on the face of the Bill. However, we have doubts about the drafting of the amendment, which indeed its rather hesitant conclusion "and similar occurrences" seems to suggest its authors share.

    The problem, of course, is the definition of "emergency". The essential features of an emergency are unexpectedness in some degree and an overriding need for speedy action. Our new clause providing for a de minimis exemption tackles the problem by referring to urgent work whose necessity could not be foreseen, and this formula appears to be both more accurate and more comprehensive than the wording of the amendment. In view of what I have said, I would invite the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment at this stage so that something more satisfactory may be done on Report.

    In the light of that generous statement by the Minister I am only too pleased to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    I think it is probably the general feeling of the Committee that while this evening we have not gone perhaps quite so far as I would have hoped, we have covered a reasonable number of amendments, and I therefore beg to move that the House be now resumed.

    Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

    House resumed.