Clause 1 [ Relaxation of Ministerial control of authorities]:
moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 3, line 4, leave out from ("them") to end of line 10 and insert ("and rates of interest to which local authorities may be entitled.
(7) The amendments specified in Part I of Schedule 7 to this Act shall have effect for the purpose of limiting the powers of Ministers to supervise local authorities in the discharge of their functions relating to highways.
(8) The amendments specified in Part II of that Schedule shall have effect in relation to the functions of local authorities relating to road traffic and to matters connected with those functions.").
The noble Earl said: My Lords, this is a technical amendment and it makes minor corrections to the drafting of Clause 1(6) and subsection (2) and adds subsection (8) so as more accurately to reflect the contents of Schedules 6 and 7. I beg to move.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
moved Amendment No. 1A:
Page 3, line 10, at end insert—
("(8) So much of the provisions in section 1 and the First Schedule to the Acquisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) Act 1946 as requires a compulsory purchase order authorising a compulsory purchase by a local authority to be submitted and confirmed by the confirming authority shall cease to have effect if no objections to the order are made by the owner, lessee or occupier or if all objections so made are withdrawn, and any such order, instead of requiring the confirmation of the confirming authority, may be confirmed (but without any modification), as an unopposed order, by the local authority who made it.")
The noble Earl said: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Sandford, who is unable to be here today on account of business connected with the Association of District Councils, I beg to move this amendment and propose to move some other amendments that he has put down on the Marshalled List. This amendment has largely been dealt with by the Minister and it appears that we cannot pursue it very much further at this stage, but I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, for the trouble he has taken in trying to find a formula to meet the point of the Association of District Councils. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, may wish to add something before I formally ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, at the Committee stage we put down an amendment similar to this from these Benches. The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, undertook to write to me afterwards because we had not got it in quite the right form and had stretched it far too wide. His courteous and long letter has convinced me that he was right and we were asking too much in the amendment as it stood. I am happy not to have put my amendment down now, and I hope that the noble Earl will withdraw the one he is dealing with on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Sandford.
My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
moved Amendment No. 2:
Page 3, line 10, at end insert—
("( ) The amendment specified in Schedule [Police] to this Act shall have effect for the purpose of limiting the power of the Secretary of State to control the provision, maintenance and alteration of buildings, structures and premises by police authorities.")
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment, together with Amendments Nos. 16 and 17, which I hope I may be allowed to discuss at the same time, amounts to a small but important point. They save tedious and unnecessary administration, which I believe is one of the main purposes in the Government's mind in bringing forward this large Bill. The provisions I am suggesting will be welcomed by those who are responsible for administering our police forces, while in no way will they weaken the Secretary of State's essential overall responsibility for maintaining the Queen's peace.
Similar but more widely drawn amendments appeared on the Committee stage and proposed the abolition of further of the Secretary of State's powers. This was criticised in the Committee, and frankly I would not have supported them had I been here. But in drafting this amendment today I have omitted all such provisions as caused objection to be raised during the Committee stage, and have included only such provisions as amount to the removal of very minor controls. They attracted the support of noble Lords from both sides of the Committee, and hence I hope that the Government will look favourably on this amendment today. Because of that hope I shall try to make my speech as brief as I can.
Noble Lords are now fully aware, following the debates during Committee stage, of the tedious provision in the Police Act 1964 whereby police authorities, who are responsible bodies, county councillors and magistrates, must of necessity seek the Secretary of State's approval for the most trivial expenditure. These submissions include preparation of plans, bills of quantities, estimates of costs, and of course take a lot of time, and I should have thought occupy the time of civil servants who might be better employed doing something else. What I am suggesting today in no way deprives the Secretary of State of the sort of powers he needs in order to achieve his overall responsibility, which none of us in this House would like to see interfered with.
Bearing in mind that there are often more ways of doing a good thing than one, I am offering the House alternative ways of achieving this purpose. Either one releases the Minister from the need to seek approval for the expenditure of sums below, say, £25,000—that is an arbitrary figure; if the Minister accepts the principle he could always at Third Reading insert a different figure by amendment, but my suggestion is approximately the cost of building one police house in a village—or, if it is thought better to be less definite in times of inflation, the Minister is given power to prescribe a sum which he can vary from time to time; or, again, to prescribe the classes of expenditure.
It may be said today that permission to go ahead with small works is often given in practice under some administrative arrangements without the need for this formal submission of plans, et cetera. But I would submit that if the Secretary of State has succeeded in finding some way whereby he may relieve police authorities of part of this burden, it is done without the knowledge of this House, and in a way so that this House is unable to comment on the level of expenditure or the particular procedure. What I suggest now is a far more responsible way of achieving this very simple end.
At the end of Lord Belstead's speech during the Committee stage, and also in a letter which I have had from the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, not so long ago, there was reference to a working party made up of Home Office and local authority association members who, among other things, are said to be discussing this very point about which I have put down these amendments. It was said that it would be wrong to insert a single amendment in this Bill before the working party came to some agreement.
What neither noble Lord said, either in the speech or in the letter to me, was when this working party last met. I have made inquiries, and to the best of my knowledge—in his reply no doubt the noble Lord will correct me if I am wrong—this working party, which was set up some time in 1979, last met before Christmas last year. That hardly gives the impression that there is great urgency. I should like to ask the noble Lord when it will next meet, when he expects that some such agreement as he referred to will be reached and what plans he may then have for translating their recommendations into law. If my amendments are accepted we can achieve something now, and judging from the Committee debates there was no difference of view on either side of your Lordships' House.
If we follow the advice that the Minister gave your Lordships at the end of his speech on the Committee stage, clearly there cannot be any action this year. I would submit further that it is most unlikely it would happen next year: sometime perhaps, if one is very hopeful, but most likely never. Sometime or never is the best for which we can hope. I do not want to take up any more of your Lordships' time on this matter. Some may say it is a small point, but I think it is an important one; it would make a great saving in trivial administration which, as I said at the beginning, was one of the things foremost in the Government's mind when they brought forward this formidable Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, it would appear that acceptance of my noble friend's amendments would involve some saving in the Home Office staff. I very much hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench is going to accept the amendments, but in any event it would be helpful if he could quantify this. Incidentally, it would appear that technical and professional staff are involved. As it is the declared policy of the Government, wherever possible, to reduce governmental staffs, surely this is a point which should commend itself to my noble friend on the Front Bench. Perhaps also he would satisfy at least my curiosity by telling me when is the next occasion that the so-called working party is going to stir in its sleep.
I should like to give general support in principle to the noble Lord opposite, but I can see that there are some difficulties. As an ex-member of a police authority, I share his frustration about the time it takes to get decisions and the avenues one has to follow before one can get any decision when one is dealing with the Home Office. But I can see difficulties when the noble Lord, in a later amendment to the schedule, puts his limit at £25,000. I can see the sense of it, but I can also see the danger, if there is going to be a lot of jobs which will cost up to £25,000, in the effect it might have on the department's allocation for capital spending. With those doubts, we give the amendment somewhat qualified support and I should like to hear further from the noble Lord, Lord Belstead. I think that one of the major frustrations which fire authorities and police authorities have to face is the time it takes to get any decisions out of the Home Office, who perhaps undeservedly have a reputation for being one of the tardiest departments in coming to any decision. If this proposal would help in that, then I should certainly give it support, but I do have some reservations as to how it is going to affect the capital expenditure of the department.
My Lords, in general terms I should like to support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood. I recall that during the Committee stage I was willing to support the more radical amendment put down by the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, but I accept that the extent of that amendment would have been unacceptable to any Government. The only point I would make is that this relaxation would help in a way that I do not think has been mentioned so far. I am a member of a police committee and I think there is a widespread feeling among members of police committees that the importance of those committees has become considerably less since the passing of the Police Act. Very often they are little more than paper tigers going through the motions of receiving reports and not having much to do. To the extent that the amendment might give police authorities a little more direct responsibility it would be helpful and healthy for local democracy. In general terms, I support the amendment.
My Lords, I should like to support my noble friend on this amendment. It goes some of the way to satisfying my noble friend Lord Ridley, who introduced a similar amendment at Committee stage. I wish to emphasise two points. This will help the administration of local police authorities and it fits in with the Government's wish to reduce controls but does not conflict with their wish to control total capital expenditure.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter has pointed out that this proposal will mean no increase of staff in the Home Office—I am sure that is so—but will mean a reduction of staff. I would make the point that it might even lead to a reduction of staff on the part of the police authorities. A good deal of time is spent by the police authorities in doing the ground work in the form of estimates and so on which is necessary for this kind of expenditure. Also they have to occupy a good deal of their administrative time and attention in to-ing and fro-ing with the central Government over these estimates and approvals. To that extent it may even lead to a reduction of staff and expenditure on the part of the police and local authorities. Therefore I would support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Inglewood, subject to the condition that it is technically sound. As to that, I cannot be an expert, but no doubt my noble friend the Minister will be able to tell us whether that is so. If it is so, I can see no reason for not having this amendment accepted.
My Lords, I wish to support the amendment which my noble friend Lord Inglewood has proposed. It seems a sensible step to take and it is directly in line with the Government's wishes to reduce unnecessary control. I thought that my noble friend Lord Digby put his finger on the thing when he said that the Government wish to reduce the detailed controls but of course must maintain control in the aggregate. I agree that that should be the policy; it must be the right strategic policy. Finally, I should like to support what the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, said—that the Home Office has a reputation for being extremely deliberative. It must be infuriating for keen members of police authorities when they have to wait for detailed control of just the kind that the Government have set their heart on reducing. It seems to me that the proposal of my noble friend Lord Inglewood is a very sensible one indeed, and I look forward to hearing what my noble friend on the Front Bench has to say about its practicability.
My Lords, I should like to reveal to your Lordships that recently the thinking and, indeed, the action of the Home Office has been running very much in the same direction as obviously the thinking of all your Lordships. I say that after the speeches which I have just heard made on this amendment. For that reason, I do not think that these amendments would remove tedious administration. May I explain exactly why I say that?First, one must bear in mind that especially at a time of financial stringency it is right that there should be some control over scarce capital resources to see they are deployed in accordance with operational needs, and that is the basic reason for maintaining the effects of Section 4(3) of the Police Act 1964 in being. Having said that, I should point out that it has not for quite a time, running into years, been the case that Section 4(3) extends to the control of routine repair and maintenance, which properly counts as current expenditure. Police authorities do not—and they have not had to for some years—seek approval for any of that kind of thing. Secondly, it is true that there are what are called—your Lordships will be familiar with it—minor works schemes, which of course extend across all sorts of building schemes in central and local government. At present there is no detailed scrutiny of individual minor schemes costing up to £50,000, unless they relate to specialist provision like the provision of police cells or police communications, and I believe the local authorities would wish that consideration of those with the Home Office should continue. At the previous stage of the Bill, as my noble friend Lord Inglewood reminded the House, I referred to the working party on which the Home Office and local authorities have been meeting to discuss controls over building matters in the field of policing. As a result of those meetings, trying for some time to find ways and means of lessening the controls, it has been agreed that the minor works limit should be raised to £120,000 as from 1st April of next year, and a significant step—I think it was discussed in the spring, not before last Christmas—is that power is also to be taken to apply very much modified controls to what I would call the middle range of big schemes. I mean by that that it has been agreed that there is to be a new delegated limit of £1 million for major works within which detailed project control will no longer be applied, though such schemes up to El million will still need to be vetted for operational need for their scale and content. Those two steps—the increase in the minor works ceiling by over double and the setting of an entirely new £1 million ceiling within which there will be much less detailed scrutiny of major works—are, as my noble friends Lord Boyd-Carpenter and Lord Renton said, the sort of ways in which we should move if we are to reduce staff in central Government. It is fair to say that these proposals were brought forward to the working party by the Home Office in pursuance of the general Government objective to see whether we can remove burdens on civil servants in Government departments and thereby reduce the size of the Civil Service. Of course, if one continually reduces the size of a department but does not necessarily always continue to reduce the burdens falling on the hard-worked members of those departments, one sometimes gets a certain amount of delay. I must therefore remind the House in passing that my right honourable friend's department has an almost bewildering range of responsibilities which fall on the hard-worked members of that department. I recall in the last few weeks that when a young member of the Home Office took up a position where it was his responsibility to provide replies to letters about animals, the first incident which fell on this young member of the department was that Hercules escaped in Benbecula and several hundred letters fell on his desk, and only a week or so later, tragically John Aspinall's tiger Zeya killed for the second time, and once again he was flooded with mail. I say seriously to your Lordships that any delays which occur in the Home Office are not intended and we try to speed things up as much as we can. I hope my noble friend Lord Inglewood will take it from me that we are genuinely trying to move in the direction in which he is wishing to urge me, but if I were literally to accept the amendments he has tabled, Nos. 2, 16 and 17, we should be in danger of running into the sort of problems which the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, fairly put to the House. We must keep, particularly at the present time, a degree of control over total capital expenditure, and if one cannot look to some extent at the individual schemes one will lose control of the whole. What we have decided to do and in fact are doing, in response to the local authorities and prompted by what we believe is right, is to make much more flexible the detailed control over individual schemes, and I hope my noble friend will feel that that is the right way for the Home Office to proceed.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for having explained much more clearly than he did in Committee not only what is actually happening now but what he hopes will happen in the future. I still think it would be very much better if he accepted this series of amendments and, if the drafting were found to be imperfect, that could be put right by Third Reading. However, in the light of what he said, it would be ungenerous of me to ask the House to divide today. Nevertheless, I urge my noble friend to draw the attention of his right honourable friend to the fact that of the speeches here today there has not been one other than in support of my amendment, although there were some reservations on the part of the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman.From the alternative drafts of the new schedules I have tabled, I hope he will give me credit that I appreciate as much as anybody else this question of capital control and the overall need to conserve rare resources. But I think it strange that, at a time when the Government are relieving all sides of our public life from this sort of detailed control, the police authorities should be singled out as the one example where these detailed procedures are to continue. I hope the Minister will remain in the closest contact with the local authority associations. At present they are far from happy about the benefits which ought to arise from the fact that the figure of £50,000 has been raised to £120,000. One might have understood the Minister to say he believes that he had relieved all concerned from detailed control; in fact that is not so. I believe plans and estimates may still have to be submitted even if they are not gone through in the same detail.
My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend will take comfort from the fact that the working party has not met since last Christmas is one more proof that they also serve who only stand and wait.
I am obliged to my noble friend, my Lords. I feel, finally, that I must reply to the Minister on the question of certain classes of expenditure over which it would be right for the Secretary of State to retain control. He will have seen that in one of the two new draft schedules which I have tabled I have said that classes of expenditure could be prescribed, and that would exactly allow communications or other equipment to be exempted from any general relief. As I said, in the light of the Minister's declared intentions, I will seek leave to withdraw the amendment. However, I must say that, if in practice things do not work out as he has indicated, I shall return to this point at the first opportunity, and next time I will not withdraw.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Schedule 2 [ Relaxation of controls over functions relating to clean air and pollution]:
moved Amendment No. 3:
Page 151, line 33, leave out from ("11") to end of line 36 and insert ("(smoke control), except in its application—
(a) to orders made but not confirmed before the passing of this Act; and (b) to orders made after the passing of this Act which revoke or vary orders made before its passing;the following words— (i) in subsection (1), "confirmed by the Minister"; (ii) in subsection (5), "and confirmed", in both places; where they occur; (iii) in subsection (6), "confirmation and", shall cease to have effect; and accordingly, in section 12(1) and 15(1), except in their applications to such orders, the words "making of an order" shall be substituted for the words "confirmation of an order made".").
The noble Earl said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I should like at the same time to speak to Amendment No. 4. These two amendments deal with the removal of the requirements for the Secretary of State to confirm orders creating smoke control areas. Confirmation will no longer be necessary for orders made in the future, but there are two exceptions for which provision is necessary. First, there is a transitional exception. There are a number of smoke control orders already made and awaiting confirmation. Some of these cannot be dealt with before this Bill might become law, because of the need to arrange and hold public inquiries. These amendments provide for those situations to be dealt with under the existing procedures and a decision made on confirmation.
The second exception concerns future orders that might vary, or revoke, existing smoke control orders. Undertakings were given in another place that the removal of controls would not lead to a lowering of national environmental standards. In these amendments we are ensuring that in the unlikely event of a local authority's wishing to revoke smoke control, the decision would be subject to confirmation by the Secretary of State. We regard this ultimate safeguard as important in the implementation of our agreement within the European Community to an air quality standard on smoke and sulphur dioxide. I beg to move.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
moved Amendment No. 4:
Page 152, line 3, at end insert ("(smoke control orders) except in relation—
(a) to orders made but not confirmed before the passing of this Act; and (b) to orders made after the passing of this Act which revoke or vary orders made before its passing.").
On Question, amendment agreed to.
moved Amendment No. 6:
Page 154, line 4, leave out from beginning to ("of") in line 37 and insert—
("10.—(1) The following subsections shall be substituted for subsection (1) of section 13 (dustbins etc.):—
"(1) Where a collection authority has a duty by virtue of subsection (1)(a) of the preceding section to arrange for the collection of household waste from any premises, the authority may, by a notice served on the occupier of the premises, require him to place the waste for collection in receptacles which are of a kind and number reasonably specified in the notice.
(1A) A person who fails to comply with any of the requirements of such a notice shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine of an amount not exceeding £100."
(2) In subsection (3) of that section—
(3) The following subsections shall he substituted for subsection (5):—
"(5) If it appears to a collection authority that there is likely to be situated, on any premises in its area, commercial waste or industrial waste of a kind which, if the waste is not stored in receptacles of a particular kind, is likely to cause a nuisance or to be detrimental to the amenities of the locality in which the premises are situated, the authority may, by a notice served on the occupier of the premises, require him to provide at the premises receptacles for the storage of such waste which are of a kind and number reasonably specified in the notice.
(5A) A person who fails to comply with any requirement specified in a notice shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine of an amount not exceeding £100.".
(4) In subsection (6), for the words "the kind or number of receptacles" there shall be substituted the words "any requirement".
(5) The following subsections shall be substituted for subsection (7):—
"(7) A notice under subsection (1) or (5) of this section may make provision with respect to—
(a) the size, construction and maintenance of receptacles for controlled waste; (b) the placing of the receptacles on premises for the purpose of facilitating the emptying of them, and access to the receptacles for that purpose; (c) the placing of the receptacles for that purpose on highways; (d) the substances which may and may not be put into the receptacles and the precautions to be taken where particular substances are put into them; and (e) the steps to be taken by occupiers of premises for the purposes of facilitating the collection of waste from receptacles for controlled waste which are provided in connection with the premises.
(7A) A notice under subsection (1) or (5).".").
The noble Earl said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 6 I should at the same time like to speak to Amendments Nos. 7 and 10A. At the Committee stage my noble friend Lord Mottistone moved an amendment which the Committee accepted on a right of appeal in respect of notices given in regard to dustbins. I said then that some further tidying up would be necessary, and these amendments seek to do that. I think that they are wholly uncontroversial and have the considerable merit, among other things, of preventing two notices being served in respect of one dustbin. On the face of it, Amendments Nos. 6, 7 and 10A seem to be vast amendments, but Amendment No. 6 is really the rewriting of paragraph 10 in more suitable language and including in it the words of the amendment that my noble friend Lord Mottistone moved at the Committee stage. I beg to move.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
moved Amendment No. 7:
Page 154, leave out lines 43 to 47.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
had given Notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 7A:
Page 154, line 47, at end insert:—
("(7D) Until such time as section 12(1) comes into force, a local authority undertaking the removal of house refuse under section 72 of the Public Health Act 1936 may by a notice served on the occupier of premises require him to place receptacles used for the receipt of such refuse on highways to facilitate the emptying of them and access to them for that purpose and an appeal to a court of summary jurisdiction shall lie against any such notice and the provisions of subsections (7A) and (7C) above and of sections 300 to 302 of the said Act of 1936 shall apply in respect of it.").
My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 7A that stands in the name of my noble friend Lord Sandford. As a result of the amendments to which your Lordships have just agreed, reference in my noble friend's amendment to subsections (7A) and (7C) should now read subsections (1A) and (7A), following the rewording of the schedule.The object of this amendment is to urge that Her Majesty's Government now bring into force this provision contained in the Control of Pollution Act. They have said that they are not able to do this at this stage because of the restriction on public expenditure. Therefore only limited Parts of that Act are as yet in force. This amendment provides for the revised Section 13(7) of the Control of Pollution Act to come into force as soon as possible in respect of kerbside collections of house refuse. This would not be possible without the amendment because Section 12(1) is not yet in force. If this section came into force, local authorities would have a duty to arrange for the collection of controlled waste and would be able to require bins to be placed on the pavement for collection under the revised Section 13(7). This power is written into the Bill by the Government, and the principle is not in issue. It is however a question of timing. Refuse collection authorities should have the undisputed powerto undertake kerbside collections. It would be a valuable option to them in trying to make savings in the very expensive, though important, service of refuse collection. Some authorities have had difficulties in undertaking collection because of the present law. When this matter was considered at the Committee stage the Government said that they were unable to accept the amendment to which my noble friend had then spoken because it was defective in drafting. I hope that in this amendment the drafting has been put right and that the noble Earl may be able to accept it. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Gainsborough, for explaining that the amendment as it appears on the Marshalled List would not in fact be operative as now printed, but that it could be operative if it has made to it the alterations that the noble Earl proposes as a result of the earlier amendments being agreed to.The amendment would enable collection authorities to serve a notice requiring dustbins to be placed on the kerbside for collection. In effect it would extend on to the public highway the current arrangements for front gate collection. I am bound to say that I can see the advantages for collection authorities, and I can understand fully their wish to be able to operate a system which they expect will secure real advantages and increased efficiency. However I must point out to the noble Earl that there are some disadvantages to this system. Kerbside collection would not necessarily lead to an improved service to occupiers. It could lead to a reduction in environmental standards. I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, who, at the Committee stage, mentioned that there would be problems arising from children or animals tampering with dustbins or plastic bags which were set out on the pavement to await collection. Furthermore, not everyone can shift a dustbin to the kerb all that easily. One has in mind—these, too, were points that the noble Baroness made—the elderly, infirm and handicapped. There are also disadvantages when bins remain on the highway for any period of time after being emptied. For instance, they may be taken as an indication that the house is unoccupied, and that could have its own set of problems. Therefore, while I understand the reasons why the noble Earl moved the amendment, I hope that for the reasons that I have given he will see fit not to press it, since there are real disadvantages in regard to the other side of the matter.
My Lords, it is with great joy that I rise to support the spokesman of the Government. It is perhaps hardly to be expected that on the question of refuse collection and refuse disposal I should rise to speak in your Lordships' House, but it so happens that over half a century ago I was the chief cost accountant of the refuse disposal department of one of the biggest cities in this country, and in those days I learned quite a lot about rubbish, which has served me in good stead since taking up political activity.I feel that this proposal by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, is rather unfair, in particular to elderly people. An elderly person's dustbin on a Monday or Tuesday morning may be quite heavy, or quite dilapidated. To try to move it out to the pavement could be beyond the capability of a good number of elderly people. Of course, if there were a requirement to place dustbins on the pavement, that would save considerably on the cost of collection, but at the same time it would be very unfair to old people. There is a further disadvantage of the system. What we in the refuse disposal profession used to call "tatting", by which I mean people picking out spicy items from dustbins, would become a very profitable undertaking for rag and bone men. That might not be conducive to disposing of our refuse in a sanitary way. On the whole, therefore, I think we ought to reject this amendment.
My Lords, if I may speak personally, I entirely agree with everything that the noble Earl has said and also with what the noble Lord on the next Bench has had to say. I am doing my duty putting this amendment forward because it is the wish of the Association of District Councils to enable their members to have this additional power, but I do not personally agree with it and therefore it gives me great pleasure to ask leave to withdraw it.
My Lords, before the noble Earl withdraws the amendment perhaps I might, with the leave of the House, make a comment, because he has put us in some confusion having moved an amendment and then having said that he does not agree with it at all but that he did it on behalf of somebody else. I would not wish to be unkind to the noble Earl but, of course, he will remember, will he not, that when he speaks in your Lordships' House he speaks for himself and not on behalf of anyone? It really does confuse the House somewhat when a noble Earl, in all honesty, actually says, "I move this but I do not agree with a word of it". Having said that, I am so glad the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, has agreed with me. I hope this great change of habit will not be foreign to him.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for putting me right on procedure.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
moved Amendment No. 9:
Page 155, line 8, at end insert—
("(2A) The effect of the giving of such a notice and of the service and display of copies of it as required by subsection (2) of this section shall be to suspend during the hours of the relevant day specified in the notice the operation of any provision which is contained in an order under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967 or a local enactment and which authorises, designates or regulates the use of a street parking place in the relevant area.
(2B) The authority giving the notice shall cover up traffic signs and parking meters in the relevant area during the hours of the relevant day specified in the notice, but without prejudice to the effect of the notice.".").
The noble Earl said: My Lords, perhaps I may speak to Amendments Nos. 9, 10 and 181. These amendments are, I think, fairly simple. They refer to street cleaning, and they are intended to clarify the position under Section 23 of the Control of Pollution Act now that all but one of the regulation-making powers are to be repealed. I think that they are sensible, straightforward and non-controversial. What they really do is to permit local authorities to cover up parking meters and to cover up parking notices when they wish to undertake street cleaning. I beg to move.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
moved Amendment No. 10:
Page 155, leave out lines 10 and 11 and insert—
("(3) For subsection (5) substitute:—
"(5) lf, either before or during the hours on the relevant day which are specified in a notice given by an authority as mentioned in subsection (1) of this section, the authority displays notices in the relevant area stating that the prohibition on parking is not to come into force or is to cease to be in force, the effect of the notices under this subsection shall be to prevent the prohibition coming into force or, as the case may be, to terminate it.".
(4) After subsection (6) insert:—
"(6A) No authority shall issue a notice under this section whose effect would be to suspend the operation of provisions of an order not made by the highway authority without first consulting the authority who made the order."
(5) After subsection (8) insert:—
"(9) In this section "parking meter", "street parking place" and "traffic sign" have the meanings respectively assigned to them by sections 36(2)(a), 104(1) and 54 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967.".").
The noble Earl said: My Lords, this amendment is consequential on Amendment No. 9. I beg to move.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
moved Amendment No. 10A:
Page 155, line 12, leave out ("for "regulations made by virtue of" substitute "a notice under" ") and insert ("(interference with receptacles for waste) for "regulations made by virtue of section 13(7)" substitute "a notice under section 13(1) or (5)" ").
The noble Earl said: My Lords, this amendment is consequential on Amendment No. 6. I beg to move.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
moved Amendment No. 10B:
Page 155, line 16, leave out from ("63") to end of line 17 and insert ("(designation of noise abatement zones), except in its application to orders made but not confirmed before the passing of this Act, omit the following words:—
(a) in subsection (1), "confirmed by the Secretary of State's": (b) in subsection (3), "and confirmed", in both places where they occur; and (c) in subsection (4),"confirmation and".").
The noble Earl said: My Lords, this amendment provides for a smooth transition in the removal of the Secretary of State's power of confirmation of noise abatement orders. It is identical in intention with the first part of the previous amendment on smoke control orders, and it allows noise abatement orders which have been already made to be completed under the existing procedures. I beg to move.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Schedule 5 [ Allotments]:
moved Amendment No. 11:
Page 161, line 22, leave out paragraph 2.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, with the permission of the House, and evermore in my wish to help the noble Lord opposite, if it is not confusing to him may we not, in the case of most of these amendments (which, despite the fact that they are only simple words, are important in the ultimate reality) speak to them together and be allowed to make general comments? It will help quite a lot, and I am sure the noble Lord would agree if he knew how it would help me.
Now, why do we ask to leave out paragraph 2 in line 22? In all these amendments we are asking that attention should be paid to the ultimate importance of allotments—and I have to repeat this—particularly in this period of depression, to our economic growth. This point was particularly and carefully made during the Committee stage in another place, and it was not a flippant expression just to taunt the Minister. It was an acknowledgment of the reality of the importance of the allotment-holding system to the British economy, particularly at a time when it could lead to a saving on our balance of payments and overseas expenditure.
Here I must pay a tribute to the Minister, who, like Horatius on the bridge while the ranks of Tuscany attack him, is protecting his Government with a loyalty I have never seen before. Sometimes he gets a little irritable when he is overworked, but I thank him for the kind letter he sent me on 9th September saying:
"During the Debate on the Second Reading", et cetera,
et cetera. I have read that letter very carefully."you expressed your concern about the proposed repeal of … the Small Holdings and Allotments Act",
My Lords, would the noble Lord read the whole letter? Because not every noble Lord will have received a copy of it.
Yes, my Lords, I will read it. If the noble Lord proposes to come in on this debate, it is essential he should know how careful the Minister was to try to assuage those of us on this side who are putting this point, because he believes this argument to be, as he always does, truly put. I will paraphrase it, not to worry the House too much:
the noble Lord did that, and we are grateful. The next paragraph reads—I am omitting the verbiage and trying to get the gist of it:"During the Debate on … the proposed repeal of section 32(2) and section 54 of the Small Holdings and Allotments Act … I promised to write to all noble Lords "—
this was the bull point—"The proposed repeal of section 54 goes some way towards meeting a recommendation of the Thorpe Committee which expressed the opinion"—
Then the Minister adds—and this is important:"that any expenditure on allotments should fall on the general rate fund in the same way as expenditure on other recreational provision".
I do not like that, but never mind."Local authorities will still be able to keep separate allotment accounts if they wish—indeed under the provisions of clause 2 of the Bill they may well decide they must—but we nevertheless see no need for this to be a specific statutory obligation".
"Their accountability to their ratepayers will in no way be lessened any more than it is in respect of those other services for which they are not obliged to keep separate accounts.
That is important, because I am going to make a point about it later on. I am not going to be too long, so your Lordships need not worry."We are not proposing to alter the requirement in section 32(2) of the Act that the proceeds from the sale of allotment land shall be used in discharging any duties or liabilities incurred by the Council in respect of land acquired for allotments or in acquiring, adapting or improving other land …".
That, I think, is very important, because some of the amendments which we are proposing here are talking about the acquisition of land and what may be needed to make that land suitable for allotments. Some of us have known the use of allotments and the joy it brought to the unemployed in the rough and tough days of the first depression, or the great depression, of the 'thirties. Allotments saved many a person's stability—let us put it in that kindly way—as did the clubs they had on the allotments. In fact, I myself was a bit of a factotum in one of those clubs, and it really was wonderful how the possession of an allotment assuaged and modified the terror and despair of massive long-term unemployment. This is not a pathetic appeal; it is a reality in the life of human individuals. Getting back to the land enables people to place themselves somewhere in the scale of civilisation. In fact, it is one of the sadnesses of the materialistic world in which we are living today that we have escaped from much of this. Consequently, I hope that the power will remain. People will be applying more and more for allotments. Water mains may need to be laid and it may cost a few thousands of pounds to do it. Will the Minister make it clear that that power ought to be there without any diktat from central Government in this case? Does the noble Lord want me to read more of this letter?"All we are seeking to do is to remove the requirement that local authorities shall obtain the Secretary of State's consent to the use for other purposes of any such money considered surplus to allotment requirements".
Pass it to him!
Well, my Lords, I will pass it to him, but it would be better for me to read it so that other noble Lords may hear it as well.
My Lords, I am sorry to burden the noble Lord with reading so much of the letter, but I think that what is happening illustrates the undesirability of the practice, to which I have drawn attention in the past, of Ministers writing to certain noble Lords with information about matters discussed at Committee stages when the rest of the House is in ignorance of what those letters contain.
My Lords, if I may say so, the alternative is really impossible. One could not send a letter to every Member of the House on every point. It is totally impracticable. When a Minister undertakes to write, he does so as a courtesy and to give information, and there is no reason why others should not see what is in the letter, but it is a practical impossibility to write to everyone.
My Lords, may I finish this point because there will be the opportunity for somebody else to enter into the debate. I support the Minister in what he says. He does say to me that he promised to write a letter to all noble Lords; but it would be a big job to send a letter to a thousand Members of the House giving details of every topic on which doubt has been expressed. We exonerate the noble Lord with alacrity from any blame. I think it shows also that my noble friend has a point. The Government, he says, support the principle of people helping themselves by growing their own food. That is the sixty-four thousand dollar point. I have done my best to cover the whole subject.Sometimes the Minister and the Government have said, "Look, we can leave it to local councillors and authorities, for they know the local area best." If they say that at one moment and then, at the next, bring in coercive powers from the centre in London against the local authorities and limit them, then there is a certain contradictory logic about that. With Mr. Graham, who spoke in the other place, I think that to push things to this limit is betraying a great many little people who are not organised and not able to protect themselves. The Friends of the Earth gave an example. They say there were 560,000-odd allotments existing in 1969. I want to pay a tribute to a nationalised industry—or to be fair, to one when it was under private enterprise—for some of the loveliest allotments in Britain are found on railway sidings. It was a very intelligent use of this private enterprise land then and it was carried on when the railways became nationalised. All of this is a great asset to Britain. Therefore, without wishing to delay the House—and I have made a general speech—I believe that the Minister should try to persuade the powers-that-be to take a new look at the allotments problem in view of the estimate of the Treasury economic model, worked out by the boffins, that one-sixth of manufacturing industry will have disappeared by 1981–82. If that be true, then our depression—and I am not laughing about this or making a party political point about it—will last for more than the next four or five years. Food will be needed and allotments could help to modify and assuage the miseries of unemployment. I beg to move.
My Lords, I assume that we are covering Amendments Nos. 11 to 15. I am grateful to the noble Lord for covering the topic in general. He is quite right when he says that we are talking about the principle. There is only one amendment with which I shall deal in detail. May 1 say that there is absolutely no difference between us on this. I take the point that the noble Lord made about the importance of allotments, what they have meant and what they might still mean and what they coud mean in the future. With that I am in full agreement in every respect so far as that goes.What we have embarked upon in dealing with this removal of restrictions (and not just for allotments) is to try to take away in some cases some things which are fatuous, long run out of time in terms of years, some of which have hardly been used at all, or never used and which are there but are not serving any purpose. In some cases, there are those which will relieve a burden on local government. They have asked for all of these. At the same time we have had to be careful not to impose upon individuals problems of the kind that the noble Lord was concerned about, regarding allotments. It is not always easy to get the balance. I was involved in the exercise and we looked at over a thousand such proposals. One might be criticised—we were criticised—that not enough provisions have been removed: and we promised to have another look and come back. In that context we come to the allotments point. The Government appreciate the value and importance of allotments as a source of recreation and of fresh food. They would not wish to harm the allotments movement in any way. But they are anxious to get rid of unnecessary controls over the exercise by local authorities of their statutory functions. The provisions, for example, relating to the need to keep separate allotment accounts, the need for obtaining the consent of the Secretary of State on the use of surpluses and the preparation and submission of annual reports—these can be relinquished without ill effect to the allotments movement while, at the same time, getting rid of unnecessary pieces of bureaucracy. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, would not quarrel with that. Specifically on Amendment No. 14. for I think that this touches on the nub of the subject, the Government accepted in another place the argument that Section 8 of the 1925 Allotment Act, which is seen in many quarters as the key safeguard for allotment holders against arbitrary action which some fear from local authorities, should be retained. Section 8 provides that the consent of the Secretary of State is required before an authority may sell, appropriate, use or dispose of for other purposes land which has been purchased for or appropriated to allotment use. This amendment would extend that control to cover allotment land which had been acquried by a deed of gift. Let me say that the amendment is not drafted satisfactorily. It purports to introduce a new control over land acquired by transfer of property order. My understanding is that where such land has been purchased or appropriated by the previous authority it will be already caught by Section 8. Moreover, the amendment is inconsistent in seeking to cover land acquired by deed of gift but not land acquired by legacy which would seem to be in a similar category. I do not want to imply that the Government are antipathetic to the principle of this amendment. On the contrary, it is one which we should want to look at with much sympathy. It is not something that we should rush at because, quite apart from the drafting problems which the present amendment displays, it deals with an issue which should properly be discussed with the local authority associations and which should not be rushed into a Bill either at Report or Third Reading in your Lordships' House. On the understanding—and I give this clearly—that we will take this point very much on board as and when future legislation on allotments come forward—and I cannot say when that will be but I have indicated our general concern—I hope, in view of the general assurances I have given as to our intentions and wishes, that the noble Lord will not pursue this matter.
My Lords, before we part with these amendments, may I say this. First of all, on the question of letters, I agree with the Minister that it would be impracticable for him to send some thousand or so letters to every single Member of the House on a matter which is clearly of interest to a few of them. But I believe that those who took part at the Committee stage in the debate on the question of allotments were entitled to receive copies of the letter in possession of the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek. It might have been courteous if that had been done by the Department.Since it may happen that not every noble Lord who is interested in the matter can be present for every stage of the Bill, a few spare copies of any letters sent might be made available in the Printed Paper Office. Therefore, when we come to the next stage of the Bill, whether it be Report or Third Reading, if the matter is still being pursued by the noble Lord who originated it he can suggest to his noble friends or noble Lords in other parts of the House that if they want to catch up with what has been done behind the scenes since the previous stage of the Bill the letters available in the Printed Paper Office will enable them to do so. As to the merits of this amendment, I want to say very little indeed. If local authorities have not been obliged to keep separate accounts in relation to allotments, then it will be difficult for the ordinary ratepayer to see what happens to the monies acquired from disposals, and there will always be the fear that the proceeds have not gone back into allotments or other recreational purposes. One realises that the local authorities have to obtain the Secretary of State's consent, as the noble Lord explained, for the use for any other purpose of moneys derived from the sale of allotments. But I imagine that the individual consents that the Minister may give to a particular local authority will not be published in the local press or otherwise made known to the ratepayers in the area. I am not making any concrete suggestions here but asking the noble Lord to take this matter into consideration. Where such a consent is given to a local authority to put what might be a comparatively large sum into some other "kitty", some way of notifying the people in the area should be found. I am afraid that there is nowadays an enormous temptation for local authorities to dispose of land in high value urban areas at present used for allotments and to "flog" it off to property developers. The authority could use the money for some other purpose, thus reducing not only the facilities available for recreation for the ratepayers in the area — and, for the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek has given, we should increase rather than reduce the number of allotments—but also to reduce the amount of public open space in all our large cities. It is to prevent these evil consequences flowing from any changes in the legislation dealing with allotments that we burdened your Lordships on Committee stage and do so now with rather longer discussions than we should otherwise have wished.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, may I say that the concern which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, expressed about what might be done in the situation he outlined really should not be a problem, because as he knows, the way that local authorities deal with their estimates, and the committee procedures, are a tremendous safeguard. Nothing of the kind that he mentions can be done without the approval of the elected members in committee, and indeed of the council which has to verify and debate the matter in public. In any case, most committees now operate in public. Even where they do not, everything is written and has to be approved by the council. There should not be much, if any, danger of people not knowing what happens. It is also the wish of Government—and we have tried to express this in the Bill, and we are very anxious about this issue of accountability—that people should know exactly what is happening. Therefore we approve of anything that makes that more evident. We know that discussions are going on about codes of practice regarding the provision of information and the way it should be presented to people.While I recognise the point that the noble Lord makes, I do not think that in practice it ought to be a problem—not least at the present time but also in the future. I think that we are going to see much more accountability and openness regarding estimates, accounts and activities than we may have seen before. I think that we all applaud that.
My Lords, the noble Lord mentioned that at some future date there might be legislation about allotments. He suggested that the points that we have been discussing here would be better dealt with when that time came, whenever it might be. He added that there will be consultation with the local authority associations. I hope that there will also be consultation with those up and down the country who have allotments. We sometimes assume too readily that if central government relaxes control and puts more power in the hands of local government, this is bound to result in more democracy and responsiveness to the needs of people. That will not always be so. Allotment holders are likely to be in the minority in any locality. One can think of other minorities. An unimaginative council might decide that it would not bother about them very much. To some extent the central government can be the protector of particular groups of individuals against that kind of local neglect. I hope that when we next legislate on allotments—whenever that may be—the allotment holders, as well as the local authorities, will get their word in.
My Lords, before we leave this matter, as I understand it the noble Lord was speaking to all these amendments. In a spirit of pure inquiry, regarding Amendment No. 13, I want to ask him whether he thinks that this would be to some extent an improvement on the existing Act on the grounds of the concern that I raised on Committee stage. Some people in an area with which I am familiar were very concerned about the rise in the parish rate which was required to provide allotments. These were provided on such a scale that they were being used for commercial exploitation. In other words, people were getting allotments for (let us say) £5 a year and they were turning them into a business. When I saw this amendment on the Marshalled List it occurred to me that it might conceivably alleviate this concern, and I should like to hear from the Minister whether he has any thoughts on this matter.
My Lords, I am in a slight difficulty. I will cover the point that the noble Lord raises but I do so only by leave of the House, in that I have spoken twice—
My Lords, may I interrupt? I do not think that the House ought to give permission on Report stage. It has been the custom of the House—and I have been here for over 30 years—for noble Lords to make a point after the Minister has spoken twice; but we cannot go on raising points and expect the Minister to get up for a third, fourth or fifth time. I suggest that we are out of order unless the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, who is entitled to speak, now speaks.
My Lords, may I just speak for one moment, not having spoken previously, to say that I entirely concur with my noble friend Lord Derwent? I know that my noble friend Lord Bellwin was going to get up only to try to answer the point that was made, but we are in danger of turning the Report stage into a Committee stage. The correct thing normally would be for noble Lords to make such points as they wish to make in advance of the Minister speaking, so that he can get up once and cover the points that have been made. To do otherwise prolongs the proceedings and it makes disorder out of something which ought to be more orderly than a Committee stage.
My Lords, in view of the helpful reply we have had from the Minister and in view of the value of this debate and also taking into consideration that the size of an allotment is given in rods, poles and perches instead of in metric, I am rather delighted, as well as moderately pleased by the Minister's reply. In view of that, I beg to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[ Amendments Nos. 12 to 17 not moved.]
Schedule 7 [ Highways]:
moved Amendment No. 18:
Page 166, line 13, at end insert—
("(3A) In section III of that Act (diversion of footpaths and bridleways) after paragraph (c) of subsection (4) there shall be inserted the words—
"provided that this subsection shall apply only where the authority is satisfied that the owner, lessee, or occupier would enjoy significant economic benefit from the making of the order.".").
The noble Earl said: My Lords, this amendment is designed to protect the owner or occupier of land which is crossed by a footpath or bridleway from being charged on an arbitrary basis by a local authority which agrees to make an order diverting the footpath or bridleway or—
"securing the efficient use of the land or providing a shorter or more commodious path."
At present, many authorities charge the farmer for their administrative costs and even the costs of an inquiry into objections. There is doubt about the legality of this
and it is very haphazard, as some owners are charged perhaps £40 or more while others escape a charge altogether. The amendment allows charges to be made only if the authority is satisfied that the farmer would derive significant economic benefit from the diversion.
Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if I spoke also to Amendment No. 19, which contains exactly the same argument but relates to the situation where the Minister, rather than the local authority, is acting for the farmer in making a diversion order. Noble Lords may imagine the situation that if a footpath runs adjacent to an owner's house and is diverted, it increases substantially the capital value of that house and a payment there might be justified. However, moving a footpath three yards into the side of a hedge rather than across a field will not substantially increase the value of the holding, and therefore the farmer or occupier should not be charged for the removal. I beg to move.
My Lords, if I may, I should like to rise briefly to support my noble friend on this. If my noble friend Lord Bellwin cannot accept this amendment now, I wonder whether he could consider the matter in connection with the proposed Countryside and Wild Life Bill and perhaps consideration could then be given to the vexed question of footpaths and in particular to the point raised by my noble friend regarding charging arrangements and their possible standardisation. I think that would help in the sensible alteration by farmers of footpaths to suit not only farmers but the public as well.
My Lords, the Strutt Committee considered this problem of footpaths in relation to the running of bulls in fields, and the diversion concept was mooted because it would be easier and better for a farmer to divert his footpath around a field or into another field, at least temporarily, in order to avoid the responsibility for any harm which might happen to a pedestrian or rambler who walked across the field. In that sense there is an advantage to both sides and I am not arguing for one side or the other, but simply pointing out that the Strutt Committee considered this matter very carefully and decided that it would be a very beneficial idea for diversions to be made and perhaps made by requirement—in which case the farmer might possibly be helped.
My Lords, may I just say, dealing with Amendments No. 18 and No. 19 together, that we have here amendments—at least so far as No. 18 is concerned—that would prevent a local authority, when presented by a landowner—and I use the term loosely to describe the owner, the occupier or the lessee of land—with an application for the diversion of a footpath or bridleway that crosses his land, from entering into an agreement requiring that person to defray some or all of the costs that might be incurred in the payment of compensation under the order and to bring the new path into eligible condition unless they were first satisfied that the landowner would secure significant economic benefits from the diversion. In other words, the authority would be called upon, without any facts or information, to make a commercial judgment on the economic benefits to another person of the diversion of a right of way. I would suggest that this is not a function the local authorities should be expected to undertake when determining in particular circumstances whether or not the making of an order should be conditional upon the reimbursement of their costs. It is surely for the landowner, in the full knowledge that he may be required to reimburse the authority, to take account of all the relevant factors, including economic benefits, before deciding to apply for an order.As regards No. 19, this amendment is, as my noble friend said, analogous to the previous one except that it would prevent the Secretary of State, whenever he exercises his reserve powers to make orders, from requiring the landowner to enter into an agreement with the appropriate local authority regarding the reimbursement of costs. The same considerations really apply. Before I finish on this, perhaps I may just say that I heard with interest what my noble friend Lord Stanley said. I readily confess t hat I face the approach of the Countryside and Wild Life Bill with trepidation far greater than any I have experienced so far in this House—for reasons which will be obvious to most! Nevertheless, I promise my noble friend that I shall certainly have this point very carefully considered during the preparation of that Bill. I wonder whether, in view of what I have said in regard to the amendments, at least in the context of this Bill, my noble friend may feel able not to pursue them for the time being.
My Lords, I was disappointed and then was made suddenly rather happier by what the Minister said. Certainly I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[ Amendment No. 19 not moved.]
moved Amendment No. 20:
Page 166, line 39, leave out sub-paragraph (6).
The noble Earl said: My Lords, this amendment relates to paragraph 2(6) of the Schedule and it removes the procedure whereby the Minister of Agriculture has to be consulted by a highway authority over the refusal of an application by a farmer or an extension of time for the restoration of a bridleway or ploughed footpath and for the authorisation of a temporary diversion in the meantime.
The test which the authority must apply is whether the granting of the application would be expedient in the interests of good farming. Highway authorities do not have agricultural expertise and though this safeguard does not appear to be exercised frequently, we believe it should continue to be available. In effect it is not really a central Government control, as an issue of this sort would be dealt with at the local divisional office level of the ministry.
May I just stress the fact that it has not been used frequently in the past and remind your Lordships of a somewhat similar situation yesterday concerning the Civil Aviation Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, I should like to support my noble friend and in so doing I must say I cannot quite understand why my noble friend Lord Bellwin does not look forward with relish to the forthcoming Wild Life Bill. The whole problem completely escapes me, but what does not escape me over this is the fact that here we are again back with the same old trouble with—dare I mention it?—the Department of the Environment, the Minister being told to judge on an agricultural matter, whereas, with respect to the Department of the Environment, I do not think they have a great deal of expertise there. This is a serious worry that goes through my mind, and through the mind of the farming community, very strongly. But I am sure that my noble friend Lord Bellwin will take this on hoard.
My Lords, I wholeheartedly acknowledge the lack of expertise on farming matters, so far as this Minister is concerned. I hope that that statement will not be held against me when we come to the Bill. Section 119 of the Highways Act 1959, as amended by Section 29 of the Countryside Act 1968, permits a footpath or bridleway that crosses agricultural land to be ploughed up along with adjoining land, if it is convenient to do so in the interests of good husbandry. The surface of the path must be made good within three weeks or, if prior notice of the intention to plough was served on the highway authority, within six weeks. In addition, the occupier of land may apply to the highway authority for an order temporarily to divert a path for a period not exceeding three months, thereby extending the period within which restoration must take place.At present, by virtue of Section 29 (4) of the 1968 Act, the highway authority cannot refuse to make such an order without first consulting the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. If the amendment is accepted, that will remain the position. However, paragraph 2(6) of Schedule 7 is in line with the Government's policy of relaxing ministerial control of local authorities. It is considered that highway authorities will be in a position to decide applications for orders under Section 29(4), without needing to consult the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Furthermore, specific cases concerning the restoration of ploughed paths do not impinge on the national agricultural interest and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food need not be involved. Moreover, as far as can be ascertained—and this is a point on which my noble friend touched—the Minister has never been consulted under Section 29(4) of the 1968 Act. I understand that county councils invariably employ surveyors in their estate departments who are able to give expert advice on such matters. This is one of the factors that I mentioned before, when I said, looking at the whole range of controls, that there are some which have never been used and others which have hardly ever been used. On the basis, that this power can also be exercised by others without any loss of effectiveness, the Government feel that this is one reason why they do not want to accept this amendment. All I say as to that—and this may well apply to other points raised by my noble friends Lord Caithness and Lord Stanley, with their very considerable knowledge and expertise in this field, which I readily acknowledge—is that when we come to reading the nuts and bolts of the Wildlife and Countryside Bill, we shall see whether it has an application there and, if it does, we shall consider it then. But we are now speaking in the context of what this Bill is seeking to do, and I am afraid that we cannot accept the amendment.
My Lords, of course I support the relaxation of central Government controls, to a certain extent. These will be dealt with locally, up to a point. Looking back, one can say that there have been no cases, but the farming community is worried about the exceptional case. However, in view of what my noble friend the Minister has said, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[ Amendment No. 21 not moved.]
moved Amendment No. 22:
Page 170, line 24, at end insert—
(". In section 127 of the Highways Act 1959 the words "a hawker or other itinerant trader or a gipsy" shall be left out and the words "a person" shall he inserted.").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Avon, was good enough to say in response to a question of mine
on 6th October, that although it was not the policy of the Government to repeal the whole of Section 127 of the Highways Act, 1959 they were prepared in principle to see Section 127( c) of that Act amended by the deletion of the words "or a gipsy", which had caused great offence to the gipsy community over the whole of the 20 years since the 1959 Act came into force. That is because gipsies do not see why they should be singled out as committing an offence which is lawful when done by any other person.
It is a very unusual provision in our law, that we should make something an offence when it is committed by a particular category or group of persons, and deem it to be within the law when done by anybody else. So I was very grateful to the noble Earl for agreeing to have a look at this and, in principle, to delete those words when this legislative opportunity, which has now arisen, occurred.
But when I came to examine Section 127( c) more thoroughly, in the light of his assurances and with that encouragement, I came to the conclusion that it would be preferable to do a little more tidying up, because when one looks at the section as a whole it creates three offences. If I may just quote them, it says:
"If, without lawful authority or excuse—
(a) a person deposits on a made-up carriageway"
Then it lists what a person may not deposit.
"(b) a person deposits any thing whatsoever on a highway"
"(c) a hawker or other itinerant trader or a gipsy".
So that in paragraphs ( a) and ( b) it is a person who does these things who renders himself liable to prosecution, but in paragraph ( c) it is only these three categories of person,
"a hawker or other itinerant trader or a gipsy".
It seems to me that it would be more consistent and symmetrical if this clause were modified, now that we have the opportunity of doing so, by making it an offence for a person to do the things which are specified in paragraph ( c), just as it is an offence for a person to do the things which are specified in paragraphs ( a) and ( b). I am afraid that if we leave the
words "hawker or itinerant trader" in paragraph ( c), then gipsies will still continue to be prosecuted under Section 127 of the Act, under some other name. But I realise that I broached this on the Minister at very short notice, and that he may not have been able to consult with all the interests affected, to see whether there are any implications to the deletion of the further words which I have mentioned that may need to be further examined.
So I have put down two alternatives and, if we may take Amendments Nos. 22 and 27A together, No. 27A simply deletes the words "or a gipsy" and No. 22 deletes all the other words and replaces them by "a person". So we have the two alternatives before us, of which I prefer the deletion of all three categories and the replacement by "a person". But for the time being, having had the assurance of the noble Earl, Lord Avon, in answer to a question, I shall be happy if we can go as far as deleting the words "or a gipsy". I beg to move.
My Lords, I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, on this amendment, I prefer Amendment No. 22, which would delete the words "a hawker or other itinerant trader or a gipsy" and replace them with the words "a person", because that seems in line with paragraphs (a) and (b) in Section 127. It is just as bad for anybody to pitch a booth, stall or stand or to encamp on a highway as it is for a hawker, an itinerant trader or a gipsy. So it seems logical to accept that amendment.
My Lords, while the Government were at one time inclined to support an amendment on the lines of Amendment No. 22, further consideration has given rise to doubts as to whether the offence, as amended, would not cover too wide a range of circumstances. It might, for example, catch relatively trivial actions, such as a lorry driver or other long distance traveller stopping in a layby for a sleep. Again, it could conceivably cover people who had stopped to picnic on a highway verge. That is why I cannot recommend acceptance of the amendment. However, speaking as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, did to a very similar amendment, No. 27A, I should be happy to commend that amendment to your Lordships, with one reservation. Excellent though Amendment No. 27A is, I do not believe that it should be added to this part of the Bill which deals with controls. If the noble Lord will be prepared to table again Amendment No. 27A as a new clause to follow Clause 177, the Government will then be very happy to accept it. This is an administrative point. I am sure that the noble Lord will not mind. When that happens we shall be glad to accept it.
My Lords, I am most grateful, if I may speak again, for the assurance which the noble Lord has given that he would accept the amendment if it were tabled at another part of the Bill. I shall certainly do that. With regard to Amendment No. 22, the preamble to these offences in Section 127 reads:
The person who stops because he wishes to have a picnic on the roadside or to mend his lorry and who is therefore temporarily encamped on the verge would certainly have an adequate defence in the courts against the charge under Section 127. The magistrates would make short work of the police if they attempted to bring actions on such frivolous grounds. As I said before, I accept that I have not given the department adequate time to look at this wording, so I certainly will not insist upon it at this stage. I am grateful that the noble Lord has said that he will look favourably on the other amendment if it is tabled in the appropriate place. With that, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 22."If without lawful authority or excuse …".
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
moved Amendment No. 23:
Page 170, line 24, at end insert—
(". After section 59(7) of the Highways Act 1959, there shall be inserted the following words ",and the respondent shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding five hundred pounds".")
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I wonder whether I might save the time of your Lordships' House by asking it to consider together Amendments Nos. 23,
24, 25, 26 and 27, bearing in mind that they all deal with the question of cycling and the benefits which might be conferred on the community and on cyclists in particular by a more active policy for the encouragement of cycling. If I may quote the words of Mr. Norman Fowler, the Secretary of State for Transport in another place, speaking in Standing Committee B on the Transport Bill at col. 1018 of 13th April 1978 he said:
"is a healthy and economic mode of transport and has all kinds of environmental advantages."
So anything which Parliament can do to encourage cycling must be for the benefit of the community as a whole. I believe that the Local Government, Planning and Land (No. 1) Bill which was withdrawn contained sections on transport which would have afforded the highway planning authorities greater scope for initiating traffic management schemes without reference to the Department of Transport. Those clauses were to have been welcomed and it is to be regretted that they were dropped. Traffic problems, particularly in urban areas, are becoming so intractable in many instances that local authorities are having to try a variety of traffic management schemes to reduce congestion and to improve the environment. The delay which is sometimes caused by the necessity to seek departmental approval is often a deterrent to local authorities and is unnecessary. So I think that further relaxations are called for. In particular, the highway authorities still have remarkably little discretion in planning facilities for cycle use.
This provides an opportunity for mentioning en passant some aspects of the law on cycling. First, in the transport policy programmes local authorities draw up their plans for the transport programme over the next five years and then they update those plans annually. These plans sometimes include a consideration of the ways of improving the facilities for bicyclists. Local Transport Note 1/78, which is entitled, Ways of Helping Cyclists in Built up-Areas, gave some encouragement to local planners to consider cycling, but I am sorry to say that the majority of authorities omit to consider cycling altogether. A circular from the Department of Transport advising authorities
that they should include a consideration for improving facilities for cyclists as part of the programme would be most helpful in ensuring that the opportunity for improvement was not overlooked. Perhaps this is a matter which the noble Lord would take into consideration.
Secondly, may I turn to the question of signs and road markings for cyclists. The Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions, 1975/1536, might possibly be amended so as to include the signs and road markings for cycle facilities which are set out in that Local Transport Note 1/78. A highway authority has the power to use traffic signs and markings set out in those 1975 regulations without reference to the Department of Transport, but—this is a point which I am sure will appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin—a highway authority still has to receive departmental approval before placing any traffic signs and road markings appertaining to road cycle facilities which are not specified in the main regulations. If the noble Lord wants to extend the freedom of local authorities, then the inclusion of the 1/78 cycle signs and markings in the main body of the regulations would enable local authorities to use such signs and markings if and when the local need arises without reference to central Government. This would be an additional removal of control which the noble Lord says that he is in the process of considering.
Finally, may I deal with traffic lights with a cycle aspect. It would be possible to make regulations under Section 54 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967 empowering highway authorities to erect traffic signals with a cycle aspect on one or all lenses. That is done in some European countries without causing any difficulty and it is something which we in Great Britain might look at.
If I may turn to the details of these amendments and run through them very briefly, Amendments Nos. 23 and 24 will make stricter the duty of those who are obliged by law to maintain or to restore the highways; that is, the local authorities and statutory undertakers. Most noble Lords will agree that the appalling state of the roads in some areas resulting from bad weather, financial restrictions and often very poor standards of repair has led to an increasing danger to all road users and particularly to pedal cyclists. One highway engineer, who is quoted by the AA, described the British road system as "a collection of holes held together by bits of tarmac".
That is so, even in parts of central London. On most days I happen to cycle to your Lordships' House from Victoria. I come round the corner by Church House into Millbank, and for months and months, literally, there was an enormous pothole on the left hand side of Millbank, just as you came around that corner, which virtually caused one to fall off one's bicycle if one was not used to it. This was left unattended for months and months. On the other side of the coin, however, many local authorities seem to have totally unthinking programmes of road repair, which cause them to resurface roads that do not need it on a predetermined programme, when the money which is used in that way might be far better allocated for repairing defects which arise from time to time and which may be really dangerous.
Amendment No. 25 deals with parking for cycles. If we are to encourage cycle use, then we must include the provision of adequate and safe parking facilities at the cyclists' destination. Section 12 of the Transport Act 1978 went some way towards solving the problem. It enabled local authorities to erect cycle racks on the highway. The provision of cycle racks on the highway is however only one small step. In addition, there is a very large potential amount of cycle parking space already available in car parks. The compulsory provision of some cycle parking space would relieve pressure on car parking space since it would act as an encouragement for people to switch from car to cycle use. The amount of space taken up by cyclists would of course be negligible, since one car-parking space suffices for up to 15 bicycles. Also if one is thinking about the revenue, any loss could be made up by charging for the cycles in proportion to the space they require as compared with cars.
One particular instance of this is that, so far as I am aware, certainly neither Victoria nor Charing Cross nor, I believe, any of the railway termini in London has any facilities for the parking of bicycles. I know this is not a matter for the law, but it is something which Ministers might take into consideration when they are holding informal discussions with British Rail which, since Sir Peter Parker became chairman, has been far more sympathetic to cyclists. If there were facilities at the railway termini it would be easy for people commuting into London to leave their bicycles at the station overnight and then use them morning and evening for travelling backwards and forwards to their offices.
Amendment No. 26 covers travel allowance for bicycle use. At first sight that would appear to commit public bodies to further expenditure, but in practice I submit that it is likely to save money by attracting employees away from expensive car mileage allowances. It would also have the effect of reducing the number of short-distance car trips undertaken, reducing urban congestion as a result, reducing petrol consumption and, not least, improving the health of the employees working in the undertakings mentioned in Schedule 15. The example could lead to the encouragement of bicycles for short distance use in the private sector, and I would hope also in central Government, where there is enormous scope, particularly central London. One thinks, for example, of someone travelling from the department of the Environment in Marsham Street to the Home Office, which would take him only a minute on a bicycle, or from the Central Computer Agency in Riverwalk House on Vauxhall Bridge to any of the departments in Whitehall, which would take only five minutes by bicycle, whereas, knowing the frequency of the No. 77A bus, it might take 20 or 25 minutes by public transport. So it would be healthy, it would be cheap and it would save the time of staff if more employees of public authorities could be persuaded to use bicycles instead of other means of transport, and it could be an economy if they were using those bicycles instead of their own motor cars.
Finally, on Amendment No. 27, I think it would be agreed that there has been an enormous renewal of interest in bicycles over the last decade. I myself returned to cycling on the day the Yom Kippur War broke out. One of the first things I did was to go and buy a bicycle. It was the only one left in the shop I went to; it cost me £26 and, when it was stolen last December and I had to replace it, an identical model cost me £104. However, I still look on that as excellent value for money. When one bears in mind that for me to come here from my office in Victoria costs 14p on the bus, one can work out easily that I do not have to do that many times in order to recover the cost of the bicycle. Most people have gradually realised that this is an economical, healthy and quick way of getting around our cities and it is a matter of common observation that there are many more people in central London, and indeed in other cities, using bicycles but there is very little information of a statistical character on the overall volume of cycle use.
It is difficult for highway authorities to plan for bicycles if they lack accurate information on the volume of use in their areas. In many areas the only information available comes from surveys that have been undertaken by the cycling organisations themselves. Many traffic counts still fail to list cycles as a separate category. This amendment will not necessarily ensure that fuller information on cycling use is made available, but it will at least see that one opportunity for collecting data is not overlooked. I beg to move.
My Lords, I should like to say a word on Amendment No. 26 and before I do so, to express a regret that the enthusiastic speech of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, in favour of pedal cycling was not listened to by the noble and learned Lord who normally occupies the Woolsack and who is perhaps the most eminent of all our pedal cyclists, with the possible exception of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, himself.However, I feel that Amendment No. 26 could open the way to considerable abuse. If, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, suggests, travel allowance is paid to someone who travels officially by bicycle, which, as he himself has said, is an enjoyable and healthy way of travelling, where does one stop? Logically, it should then be paid to the person who walks. That is even healthier and, in central London, somewhat quicker. Perhaps the noble Lord has not appreciated the possibilities of abuse and I am sure he is well aware of the fact that there is abuse in respect of travel allowances, not only in local authorities but perhaps more generally. Therefore I should be very nervous if my noble friend showed any signs of accepting this amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, did not refer to the fact that his amendment not only suggests the payment of this allowance but proposes that it should be paid at a rate not less than half that payable in respect of a motor car. The travel allowance in most organisations in respect of travel by car takes into account both the present cost of the car itself and the depreciation on it and also the present cost of fuel. With very great respect, if local authorities or other bodies concerned have got the figure even roughly right in respect of a motor car, to put the allowance in respect of a bicycle at a level not less than half that must be quite absurdly generous to cyclists. Therefore I hope that my noble friend will look at this particular amendment with his habitual caution and even with a measure of suspicion.
My Lords, I think the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for what is really a cyclists' charter. In a debate the other day I referred to the fact that I was at one time the captain of a cycling club; I must confess that in later years my cycling has been negligible but, as one who used to cycle ten miles each way to work in Westminster, I can appreciate the point which the noble Lord has made.On Amendments Nos. 23 and 24, I generally agree with the points made by the noble Lord, but I would not wish it to be thought that there has been any great general deterioration in our roads. When I compare the state of the countryside roads with those on which I used to cycle 20 or 30 years ago, there is now a considerable improvement in the smoothness for all the people who travel on them. The noble Lord referred to the position of cyclists when they encounter potholes, but it is not only cyclists, it is also dangerous for motorcyclists when they encounter potholes. Indeed it is even more dangerous for them than it is for cyclists. It is on some of the town roads that the problem occurs. I travel up by car (I regret to say) every day and I noticed a pothole for week after week after week in what is a relatively main road and, if I had been doing my public duty, I telephoned to the highways department and complained about it. It was on a corner and was thoroughly dangerous for cyclists and motorcyclists, and in fact for car drivers as well, because of the possibility of skidding on that particular corner. I support what the noble Lord has said in his Amendment No. 25 in regard to parking facilities for cyclists. All your Lordships will have seen shopping areas, and cyclists trying to find a place to park their cycles in order to go shopping, or places like public libraries and so on. It ought to be a condition laid on local authorities that they provide cycle parking places. It need not be a costly thing. Where they have ordinary car parks it need only be an ancillary area allocated for cycles. It is a point which I hope the noble Lord will find it possible to accept. With regard to Amendment No. 26, I must say I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. I believe there ought to be an adequate allowance for cycles, but I am certain we could not have a situation where in effect we are giving a generous subsidy. I know that might encourage people like myself to go back to cycling—heaven forbid at my age!—but on this scale it would be giving a generous subsidy to people travelling by cycle. I do not think the House could possibly agree to that. But I hope we might find the Government accepting the principle of including in traffic censuses cycle traffic. It would be very helpful if we could know precisely how many people use particular roads by cycle.
My Lords, may I make just one point on Amendment No. 26. I am entirely in sympathy with the principle, but I am a little concerned with the economies of it. Take the countryside; one can easily in the course of duty travel 10 miles to carry out an assignment or keep an appointment. If you take the economics of going 10 miles by car or 10 miles by cycle—and remember it is in the employers' time and you are being paid for the time as well—it seems to me that the case which is argued for the centre of a city could hardly be applicable generally throughout the country; it would be completely uneconomic. It would be very nice to start off a journey on a nice day and just about complete the journey by lunchtime, and get back in the evening, and perhaps do the job in the meantime. I put that as an extreme case, but it could easily happen under this amendment as drafted. So, while I think that some adequate payment should be made—whether or not half the car payment, I would not argue about—I would argue that the authorities concerned should be left to determine whether the journey should be taken by car or by cycle; obviously they would agree that the shorter journeys might well be taken by cycle, but for the longer journeys it would obviously be completely uneconomic for the person to use his bicycle. If the amendment is to be accepted, I think it should be with a proviso giving the authorities certain powers to determine under what circumstances the allowance would be paid and whether a car or cycle would be appropriate in the circumstances.
My Lords, as a keen cyclist, I should like to support strongly Amendments Nos. 25 and 27. I think we really ought to encourage cycling. It is healthy and it is clean. It is frightfully difficult in a great many places to find somewhere to park a bicycle when shopping or going to the library and so on, as the noble Lord, Lord Underhill said. I do think that, with the increasing cost of petrol and the increasing cost of running a car, if there were a census maybe adequate arrangements would then be made for the cycling community.
My Lords, while expressing, along with other noble Lords, much the same reservations as the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, expressed on Amendment No. 26, I should also like to add my support to Amendments Nos. 25 and 27, and to No. 27 in particular. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has pointed out, cycling is obviously on the increase. It is a matter of common observation. It is likely to increase further with rising fuel costs. I cannot see how we can devise a logical and imaginative policy for cycles, for the planning of highways or provision of parking places, unless we have the figures. It is suggested here that cycles should be included in the census of traffic, and I think it also worth suggesting to the Government that there might be a census on the sales of cycles, which would also give some indication of the direction that the volume of cycle use is taking.
My Lords, of course I am very much aware of my right honourable friend Mr. Fowler's enthusiasm for cycling and his desire to encourage it, and, as I have noted from what has been said today, there is obviously much support for that and I would not differ at all. But I am not in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that the best way to encourage it is to place new liabilities and duties on local authorities by statute. My right honourable friend is considering a consultation paper on cycling which will follow up a number of the issues that the noble Lord raised and others have touched upon. I would have thought that was a very good thing to do, because it will bring the whole thing into the open and we shall get some constructive comments on it.I will not speak about the generality of the issue today. I will confine myself to some of the amendments. Turning first to Amendment No. 23, local highway authorities in my experience do take a responsible attitude in planning their maintenance programmes. I do not know whether that is what the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, meant, but I suspect it probably is. Certainly the condition of roads is monitored regularly, with help from my department. However, local authority associations seek to reduce the element of judicial procedure in their duties, and they argue that councillors are elected to determine priorities and are directly accountable to ratepayers for the cost and standard of services provided. Therefore, they argue, it makes no sense for these priorities to be overturned by the courts. The department has accepted this argument and in due course we will be repealing Section 59. Any move now to strengthen the provision, I think, would be resented by local government. Local transport expenditure is ultimately determined by the authorities themselves, and they are having to accept their share of the economies, and that it is why it is all the more important that they should plan their own programmes. Ultimately, local highway authorities are answerable to the courts. I hope and trust that Section 59 orders will not often be sought. Where, exceptionally, the courts require a road to be made good, the important thing is to complete the repair as quickly and as economically as possible. To introduce a financial punishment is both unnecessary and not helpful. As to Amendment No. 24, undoubtedly there are poor reinstatements and these can and do cause considerable inconvenience to road users, particularly cyclists and pedestrians. However, I think it would be a mistake to put all the blame on statutory undertakers. Poor reinstatements are often a product of lack of cooperation between both highway authorities and undertakers. The Department of Transport, I know, is doing all it can to increase co-operation with regular meetings of all those concerned with this problem. They have published a guide to the legislation and produced a nationally agreed model agreement with a standard specification for reinstatements. To increase the fines the courts can impose on statutory undertakers in breach of their duties, I submit, would not be helpful. What is really needed here is co-operation, an understanding of who is responsible for what, and agreed procedures. That is what the department is encouraging, with, I understand, some success, at its regular meetings. As regards Amendment No. 25, I suggest this, too, is not desirable, because power already exists under Section 31 of the 1967 Act to reserve parking places for bicycles where it is thought desirable to do so. To go beyond this, I think, would be wrong, for inevitably there will be cases where there is no demand for bicycle parking places or where it would be inappropriate to provide them. Consequently, I am sure we should continue to rely on the discretionary power as at present rather than stipulate a requirement for which there may be no justification in a particular situation. I am quite sure that if demand is there and pressures are brought, responsible authorities and all those involved would want to take account of them. I turn to Amendment No. 26 to which a number of your Lordships have spoken. I should like in particular to thank my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter for his contribution to the discussion. I quite understand the wish of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, to encourage a greater use of the bicycle, but I do not think that the Government could accept that this clause is the way to do it. Under the clause all the various bodies listed in Schedule 15 which pay travelling allowances would be obliged to pay travelling allowances to cyclists, and the clause would make it a statutory requirement that the rate should be—well, to say an extraordinarily generous one is probably an understatement in relation to the costs incurred. Travelling allowances are not paid in a uniform way. Depending upon the particular case, there will doubtless be different arrangements for members of the various bodies and for their staff, and in each case the allowances will be paid in accordance with the scheme which applies. Certainly so far as my own department's field of responsibility is concerned, I am not aware of any case where it would not be possible for a travelling allowance scheme to be extended to cycle users if it were agreed by the negotiating bodies concerned that such an allowance was called for and justifiable. I could elaborate on the matter because I have a great deal of information before me, but, frankly, I do not think it is necessary. Perhaps I should make a few comments as regards Amendment No. 27 which deals with traffic censuses and the data recorded. I suppose that the type of traffic census is dependent on the use for which the data are required. There are accepted good practices for carrying out different censuses, but there is no statutory duty on any local authority to record any particular class of vehicle. I entirely accept that records of cycle flows could be very useful to local authorities in deciding on the provision they should make for cyclists. I understand that often cycle traffic is recorded separately, as in the department's annual transport statistics. But in view of the absence of a statutory requirement to record other classes of traffic, it is not reasonable to require by law that cycle traffic should be recorded in every census that a local authority conducts. I should have thought that that point in particular was a good one that might come out in the consultation paper to which I referred previously. Therefore, perhaps quickly, but I hope responsibly, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, may feel that I have covered the points that he made. I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister, who certainly covered the points raised in the amendments extremely thoroughly, and we shall have to look carefully at the points that he has made. I am sure he would agree that, notwithstanding the fact that he would not agree to increase the penalties as provided in Amendments Nos. 23 and 24, a person who suffers any damage in consequence of a highway authority failing to maintain the highway, or the statutory undertaker failing to restore the highway after works have been undertaken, would have a remedy in civil law. If it can be proved that the highway has not been maintained to a proper standard because of the negligence of the highway authority or the statutory undertaker then, of course, the person who suffers damage would be able to recover substantial amounts of money in the courts. So, in effect, there is a built-in fine for authorities who negligently fail to maintain the highway or to restore it after works have been undertaken.I am grateful to the noble Lord for drawing attention to Section 37 of the 1967 Act which contains the power to provide parking facilities for cycles. Perhaps one of the points for consideration in the consultation paper would be how this could be made more widely known to local authorities which are not already exercising that power. With regard to the allowances which were proposed for cyclists employed by the bodies mentioned in Schedule 15, the noble Lord called the allowances "extraordinarily generous". I might go some way towards agreeing with him in that respect. But they were intended to be extraordinarily generous for the purpose of encouraging people to use bicycles when they would otherwise be in their motor-cars. I think that an element of subsidy is desirable for that purpose. When we come to consider how this can be done within the framework of the consultation document then I believe that some of the objections that have been raised by noble Lords could be taken care of. For instance, we could confine it to journeys of less than a certain distance so that we need not have, as the noble Lord has suggested, people cycling 10 miles and taking half the day to do so, thus wasting the authority's time, as opposed to the other extreme that I quoted, where someone who needs to travel a short distance between two offices in London may actually save a considerable amount of time by using a bicycle compared with using any other transport. Finally, I am also grateful to the noble Lord for what he said about the censuses. He remarked that the records of such traffic could be very useful. But I accept his argument that one should not necessarily write in a particular requirement in relation to cycles, when other means of transport are not so specified. I think that that is something that we may have to exercise by persuasion rather than by statute. In relation to the allowances, the noble Lord said that in his department there is no difficulty as regards agreeing them with the staff concerned. I was very glad to hear that. I think that as a result of the debate which has taken place in your Lordships' House this afternoon, it may be for the trade unions to consider how far we can go along the lines of increasing payments to cyclists as a deliberate means of encouraging them to move away from motor cars. Those who are responsible for negotiations with the authorities mentioned in Schedule 15 may very well want to look at what has been said in your Lordships' House and see whether this is something which they will take up in their own negotiations with local authorities. I am grateful to all those noble Lords who have expressed support in principle for the idea of encouraging cycling, and I very much look forward to seeing the consultation paper which the noble Lord has promised. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 23.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[ Amendments Nos. 24 to 28 not moved.]
moved Amendment No. 29:
Page 172, line 4, leave out (" less") and insert ("more").
The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 29. This amendment corrects what we consider to be an error in paragraph 9 of Schedule 7 which was tabled by my noble friend Lord Ridley as an amendment in Committee and accepted by the Government. As presently drafted the paragraph provides that an experimental traffic order shall run for a minimum period of 18 months with no maximum. That is mistaken as 18 months gives ample time in which to conduct an experiment in traffic management and, if an experiment is successful, the proper course is to make a permanent traffic regulation order. The amendment accordingly provides that such an order shall have a maximum life of 18 months. I beg to move.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 2 [ Duty of local authorities to publish information]:
moved Amendment No. 29A:
Page 3, line 18, at end insert ("as local authority as police authority and as port health authority.").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment, and the others standing in my name, seek to resolve the proper definition of the Common Council of the City of London in the context of this Bill. This is a matter of great importance to the City Corporation and it is brought to your Lordships' attention at this late stage because to date, despite representations made over many months, a decision has not been forthcoming and the issue is still at large.
The amendments are drafted in the alternative in that a new clause proposed for insertion after Clause 182 would obviate the necessity of repetition in the separate parts of the Bill. I should therefore be grateful for guidance from the noble Minister as regards how best to deal with this matter for the convenience of the House. It may be thought preferable that the point should be resolved when the present new clause is reached, and if that is so I would beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, may I say to my noble friend that, having discussed this matter, I feel that it would be better to leave it until a later stage, because I understand that there are some consultations taking place and this matter has come up at a very late stage indeed. Yet the matter is a very important one. I think that if we can do it in that way, it might be preferable; and perhaps in those circumstances my noble friend may feel able not to pursue the matter at this time.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for what he has said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
My Lords, I should remind your Lordships that if Amendment No. 30 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 31.
moved Amendment No. 30:
Page 4, line 38, leave out subsections (11) to (16).
The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, this is merely a paving amendment for the new clause which we are proposing in a following amendment. It has been thought better to make the amendments by taking Amendments Nos. 11 to 16 out and putting them in a new clause. I beg to move.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
[ Amendment No. 31 not moved.]
moved Amendment No. 32:
After Clause 2, insert the following new clause:
("Supplementary provisions relating to codes of practice on publication of information
The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, this amendment is intended to be the Government's response to the undertaking which we gave in Committee to consider the manuscript amendment which was then tabled by my noble friend Lord Ridley. The purpose of his amendment was to ensure that there should not be too wide an extension of requirements on authorities to publish information at short intervals without reference back to Parliament. Before going into the detail of the new clause, it may be helpful to the House to remind noble Lords briefly of the different codes of practice that are at present being developed in accordance with the proposals in Clause 2. There is, first, a code of practice on information suitable to be published with rate demand notes. This code has been agreed with the local authority associations and has already been published so far as England and Wales are concerned. Secondly, there is a code of practice for annual reports on local authorities' activities. This too has been developed a long way in agreement with the associations and should be finalised shortly.
Thirdly, there is the question of so-called "short-period indicators". The Government believe that it is desirable that certain key indicators of local authority performance should be published more frequently than once a year. In the case of manpower, for example, annual publication would not be sufficient for authorities and the public to keep track of progress. The Government have therefore proposed that authorities should publish manpower figures quarterly. Similarly, we believe that it is vitally important to speed up the planning process so as to avoid unnecessary delays in development. To this end we are asking authorities to publish quarterly information about their progress in dealing with planning applications. The use of land by local authorities, and the cost of housing projects are two other important areas on which regular up-to-date public information is also desirable.
I believe that these specific proposals for short period indicators are widely understood, and are in principle acceptable to the local authority associations. The Government have, moreover, made clear that these are the only proposals in this field which they are pursuing at present. The local authority associations remain concerned, however, that if a future Government multiplied the number of short-period indicators on a large scale, there could be a very heavy administrative burden on authorities, and that the impact of publication might be diluted. My noble friend's amendment at Committee stage was therefore designed to ensure that no code of practice on short-period indicators should go beyond the four topics I have mentioned without the specific approval of Parliament through Affirmative Resolution in both Houses.
The Government have now considered this subject further and have accepted the spirit of my noble friend's amendment. The new clause which I have tabled will achieve the objective which my noble friend sought. I am afraid that it looks a little more complicated than my noble friend's amendment. But I think noble Lords will appreciate that most of the clause is not in fact new, but is simply a matter of transposing what is at present in subsections (11) to (16) of the present Clause 2 to the new clause. The only difference of substance is that we are proposing that Affirmative Resolutions should only be necessary to sanction regulations enforcing a code of practice on short-period indicators rather than the issue of the code itself. I hope that your Lordships will accept this amendment as a reasonable safeguard for the legitimate concern of the local authorities in this aspect of our proposals.
My Lords, I shall now call Amendment No. 32ZA as an amendment to Amendment No. 32.
moved, as an amendment to the amendment, Amendment No. 32ZA.
Subsection (11), 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 Trades Union Congress.").
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am moving the same amendment as I moved at Committee stage because at that time the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate told me that they awaited any further views that the unions might have on the draft code of practice and consultation document which had been published, and on the issues of short-period indicators of performance, which were discussed at a meeting between the Secretary of State and local government union representatives. The noble and learned Lord said that the TUC had also been invited by his right honourable friend to meet with officials of his department to discuss possible arrangements for the publication of information, and that he understood that the meeting was to take place at the end of that week. That was the week ending 11th October.
Therefore, the situation at that point was not at a conclusion which could be regarded as totally satisfactory. Nor, indeed, was the conclusion in Scotland, as my noble friend Lord Ross of Marnock will no doubt be pointing out. Therefore, I should like the Minister to tell me the outcome of those meetings before I decide what to do with the amendment, repeating that good relations with the people most closely involved in the work of producing the information required are vital. I beg to move.
My Lords, when we discussed this matter in Committee I asked a question about codes of practice in relation to Scotland because we had been informed that certain progress had been made and there had been publication of certain information—an actual code of practice in respect of some sections in England and Wales—but we had absolutely no information at all about what was happening in Scotland. I may say that everything that has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, in respect of these new amended clauses to my mind enhances the need for an assurance that there will be full consultation with those not only responsible for the information but also responsible for carrying out the functions which will be informed about. Those people can be very sensitive indeed.We have been informed that there will be short-period indicators in respect of manpower. There is nothing more important to the trade unions concerned than what forecasts are being made by the authorities. Surely this cannot be done without consultation with the negotiating bodies and the trade unions; and from the point of view of the whole principle, there must be consultation with the TUC. This is a very important amendment; it just cannot be brushed aside. I know that the Government want to focus public opinion upon recalcitrant local authorities, and the rest. Oh, Yes, the direction can tell them what they have to publish; the form it has to take; the subject; and how often a year it must be published. Is it not far better to appreciate the sensitive nature of the subject right now, rather than get into a row later on? Let us face it now and give the right of consultation. I am perfectly sure that from a local authority point of view it will be far better. I am sure that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate will appreciate this; certainly the Secretary of State for Scotland would appreciate it. I know that it does not apply to them, but I am sure he would rather see the civil servants inside St. Andrew's House rather than on the steps of St. Andrew's House with mass lobbies over their work. Therefore I sincerely hope that the noble and learned Lord can give us some assurances about this matter.
My Lords, on behalf of the Association of County Councils I should like to thank the Minister for this amendment, which goes a long way towards relieving—
My Lords, the noble Lord is speaking to the wrong amendment.
My Lords, I was speaking to the main amendment, and I apologise.
My Lords, the Government are firmly of the view that consultation with all those involved who have something to contribute is an extremely useful exercise to engage in, and not only do they have that as a view but they have sought to practise it in connection with this matter. We have had, so far as England and Wales are concerned first of all, two formal rounds of public consultation on this initiative, and an initial consultation paper, to which one at least of the local Government unions responded, and a second publication in the form of a draft code of practice. Before the latter code was issued in draft, however, the TUC and a number of other interested and experienced bodies were asked for their views at a formative stage both on this code of practice and on a possible further code. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment also met the TUC local government committee at which the issues were aired.We are now in the process of finalising the codes based on this first round of consultations, and a further meeting has been held with the TUC since the Committee stage debate, in accordance with the programme which I indicated then. That meeting was, I think, held on 10th October. At that meeting it was agreed not only to hold more detailed talks about the way in which certain aspects of the code might operate, but also to enlist the trade unions' assistance in drawing up technical definitions for authorities to follow in publishing statistics specified in the code. We have also undertaken to involve the TUC at a formative stage in the preparation of a further code of practice covering manpower and other statistics for relatively frequent publications. We are committed to the view that full consultation with everyone who has anything to contribute in this area is desirable, and we have put that view into practice. I hope that, so far as England and Wales are concerned, that will reassure the noble Baroness on the matter. So far as Scotland is concerned, I am happy to say that, for reasons which I mentioned when we spoke to this in Committee, matters are not as advanced in Scotland as they are in England and Wales. The Secretary of State hopes to have a joint meeting with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Scottish TUC in early December, at which issues such as this can be considered. No doubt a number of other issues will also be raised at that meeting, but this will form part of the matters to be considered. When the stage is reached of preparing codes of practice for Scottish local authorities, the Scottish TUC will of course be consulted on the details while they are still at a formative stage. I hope, therefore, that the House will accept my assurances on these matters. I should perhaps mention briefly that this seems to be a practice which it is most easy to develop without formal obligation to do so. There is a formal obligation to consult the local authorities themselves, given their formal position under this part of the Bill whereby they are subject to codes of practice and possibly secondary legislation. But so far as the others are concerned there is a vast range of unions and other bodies who have something to contribute in this area, and we think it best that the Secretaries of State both for Scotland and for the Environment should be free to consult whoever is willing to offer views in this matter without the necesssity for a formal legal obligation on them to do so.
My Lords, so far as England and Wales are concerned, if I may speak for them, I think that there have been some rather reassuring sounds from the Minister. I shall read carefully what he has said in Hansard. For the moment and so far as England and Wales are concerned, I am prepared to withdraw, but I leave it to my noble friend Lord Ross to speak now.
My Lords, we have not progressed so far along the road in respect of Scotland. There is only one general point I want to make with the Lord Advocate. He says he does not want any statutory obligation, but the statutory obligation is there. It is there in respect of the associations of local authorities, or any single authority. It is not about the code of practice but when, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, he has to require them to publish regulations in a particular way. It was at this point that our amendment came in.It covers not just the drawing up of the codes of practice, which has concerned the main body of the reply we have had, but also the question of when the Secretary of State issues, or makes, any such regulations which are mentioned. This is the important point. This is the point at which the Secretary of State directs the local authorities to give certain information—the kind of information; the form, and how. We shall come to the importance of that on clause stand part. I am not entirely satisfied with what the Lord Advocate said—that you do not need at that point to consult the trade unions and the negotiating bodies.
My Lords, will the noble Lord give way? I do not think I said that. I said that it is not necessary to provide for it in the statute. The Secretary of State would in fact consult at every relevant stage. I did not say that it was not necessary to do so. He would in fact consult at every relevant stage. It is not necessary to provide for it.
My Lords, he might, or he might not. I have known Secretaries of State who never consulted anybody about what they did. I wonder how much consultation there was yesterday by the Secretary of State for the Environment before he put out that circular. So far as I could understand, he did not even consult some of his own Ministers, judging by the lack of information that was available. When we are talking about information that has to be given by the local authorities, I might have something to say, when we come to clause stand part, about extending it to ensure that information is provided by Governments as well in respect of some of the subjects that are mentioned specifically in the clause.I know that the Lord Advocate would like not to have this statutory obligation to consult with the trade union representative of the workers, when drawing up these regulations, but I suggest that it would be better still to have it there, because it is at the point when these regulations are made requiring them to publish information when the trouble will arise. I give him due warning. If my noble friend is satisfied that everything is going so well in England and Wales, then who am I, from this neglected part of the United Kingdom, to stand in the way? Mind you, after last night when Scotland was denied its justice by a majority of 10, I am not all that willing to be co-operative in respect of England and Wales. If I feel that something is necessary for Scotland I shall dig in my heels and say it is necessary. You have no reason to complain. You wanted us to be here. You did not want devolution. Well, here I am. If I am an obstructive voice, you wanted it, because that was the general feeling of this noble House in the last Session of Parliament. I shall have an opportunity later on to press this, and I shall bow only to the pulchritude of our own Front Bench.
Amendment to the amendment, by leave, withdrawn
I should now like to speak to the new clause. As I said about the new clause introduced at Committee stage by the Government. the clause that is now Clause 3, I think it odd that, a whole year after the first Local Government Bill was introduced, the Government are still having second and third thoughts about what they want in the Bill. It smacks of instant legislation. I realise that this amendment is in some way a response to the amendment in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, that was moved by the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, at Committee stage.It seems to me that the Government are asking for the publication of information more frequently than annually. I believe the production of manpower statistics on a quarterly basis is now generally agreed by all the associations, and there has been co-operation in setting up a system of dealing with information on planning applications. But I understand that to date there has been no discussion on land holdings and land transactions and progress on housing construction projects. The production of short period information on a frequent, probably quarterly, basis is costly, and to extend this to publication of information, in particular on land holdings, could be seen to be extremely wasteful and unproductive. The Government give as their reasons for requiring such information on a uniform basis their concern to promote national economic recovery through stimulating investment and development and making more effective use of national resources, and to reflect their concern that there should be increased public awareness of two further aspects of local government activity. In making such statements it appears that the Government have failed to recognise the local democratic process whereby local authority members have to satisfy their electorate that they are performing at least satisfactorily. It should be no part of Whitehall central direction to prescribe exactly what and when local authorities should publish, other than essential information. The codes of practice have already been published, dealing, first of all, with rate demands and supporting information, and a code of practice for annual reports and financial statements is well on the way; and discussions are continuing on short period indicators for manpower and planning. Taking these together, surely they are enough for keeping the public informed on the essential indicators of local authority activity. But we cannot accept the extension of the Secretary of State's role in the production of information on land holdings, land transactions and housing construction projects. It may be, of course, that the ACC, which does not have the housing responsibilities, is more ready to go along with the Government in this way, but the Secretary of State now seeks to go even further and in subsection (6) he can ask for information on other subjects which at the moment are quite unspecified, although I admit he would have to come to Parliament for approval. So we do have great reservations on this new clause and cannot support it.
My Lords, I should like to support what the noble Baroness, Lady David, has said on this matter. The Association of District Councils is very concerned about the proposals whereby the Secretary of State requires the publication of indicators more frequently than annually. Local government generally is especially concerned about the indicators relating to land and housing. I am sure the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate will be telling us in a few minutes about the Government's intentions, which so far do not appear to be very clear, in regard to the matters mentioned by the noble Baroness.
My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, on his second and third thoughts. We have heard so often from the Benches opposite that the Government are intransigent and will not listen. It surprises me that noble Lords opposite then criticise the Government when they do have second and third thoughts. On behalf of my noble friend Lord Ridley, I should like to say how grateful we are that at least some of our points have been taken on board, and we commend this clause.
My Lords, speaking in general I suppose one could say that the new amended Clause 2 we are considering is an improvement on the original clause in the Bill. I can understand why the Association of County Councils is satisfied with it but, like the noble Baroness, Lady David, I am still far from happy that the Government feel it necessary to impose compulsion on local authorities. I should have thought it would be very much better if the voluntary codes of practice could be agreed on all the subjects. As I mentioned on Committee stage, one of the things I have found is that while the provision of information is very valuable there is a point at which the public is provided with so much information that it ceases to listen to it or to take any notice of it. I fear that so much information may have to be pushed out on a quarterly basis, with the extra administrative cost involved, that the Government, in their very commendable wish to improve the information provided by local authorities, may find it being counter-productive.
My Lords, this is my main concern about it. We have already got information that certain agreements have been reached with the local authorities in England about quarterly publication in respect of certain aspects. I do not know what has been agreed in Scotland. I can assure your Lordships that the Government are very chary about giving local authorities in Scotland powers to publish information, because the great majority of local authorities in Scotland are socialist. They are anxious to give information to their ratepayers about the activities of the Government and the effect upon their functions of what the Government are doing. But when it comes to requiring the local authorities to publish certain things, I do not believe for a minute that the Government are going to allow that kind of thing. It is the Government who are going to determine. Of course it is a permissive power. They do not need to introduce regulations if in their opinion everyone behaves himself, but evidently they have made up their minds. They are having certain troubles in Scotland and they are going to ensure that the Scottish local authorities toe the line.One of the points is information about the discharge of an authority's functions relating to housing. I hope the local authorities go ahead with that one, because they are not going to have very much in the way of housing functions during the next month or so. I am perfectly sure that that first quarterly report would make interesting reading. Then there is the number of employees; we know what they are after there. Another point is information about applications for planning permission. I suppose they will give us the amount that has been gathered in fees and then they will proceed to tell us about the progress. I hope they also tell us about how the planning appeals are being held up by the central Government. I know the Lord Advocate has no responsibility for this, but one of the biggest delays in respect of planning permission, where there is an appeal, is by the central authority, by the Secretary of State's own department. Once again it is a question of manpower. Of course, if one asks the Civil Service they will say, "Oh, but we're waiting on the local authorities because they've got to make their submission to us in respect of their attitude to it". The local authorities reply by saying, "We haven't got the manpower either". Will the information include who is really responsible for the hold-up, the denial by the Government of the right to employ the requisite manpower in the local authorities and the failure of the Government to supply the requisite number of civil servants to deal with it from their particular point of view? Is this all going to be reported if the public have got to know about the progress of planning permissions? I know a little about this because I was Secretary of State for eight years and I used to have them report to me.
My Lords, will the noble Lord give way?
Yes; delighted, my Lords.
My Lords, if the noble Lord was a Secretary of State for eight years and was dealing with matters like planning appeals I wonder how he explains the appalling situation that pertained under his Government in view of the time it took to get planning appeals. This Government have taken this fact on board and have reduced the time for appeals and are reducing it in a way that I say is very commendable. But I do not think we should be harangued by the noble Lord opposite about the time it takes for appeals when the abysmal record of his Government is there for everybody to see.
My Lords, it was there for me to see when I took over in 1964.
What did the noble Lord do about it?
We talk about moratoriums, my Lords; we inherited those too. I do not want any partial history from the noble Lord about what anybody took over. I took over twice and I know the mess we inherited on those two occasions in relation to what we are discussing and I know the improvements we made and the new planning procedures we introduced. The point here is that all this work will land on the local authorities. It is they who must produce all this information—the kind of information the Government want, not what they may want—and in my view it cannot be called much of an improvement. Subsection (6) of the new clause reads:
We have not been given any information about what those others might be. It could go way beyond the list in subsection (5); and at a time when local authorities are being pressed not to spend money, for them to be given this additional duty and to be told how they are to carry it out is a bit much coming from a Government of the complexion of the present Administration." The Secretary of State may by order direct that subsection (4) above shall apply to descriptions of information other than those specified ".
My Lords, we have heard throughout the debates on the Bill from this side of the House about the lack of consultation with the local authority associations. To start with, we tried to tell the Government that for once in their lives all the local authority associations were united in opposing the main financial principles of the Bill. Today we are told that the ACC are happy with the proposals that are before us, but it is equally obvious that the AMA and ADC are not happy with them, and I should have thought that that would have given the Government some cause for concern.As I understand it, the rate demand notes, support statements and annual reports that are already requested are likely to cost district councils between £3 million and £4 million, and then there will be the additional cost of the short-term indicators which are being asked for. Is this not a case where there is such deliberate disagreement between the associations that the Government should go back to the associations and ask them whether they can get together and undertake a survey of their existing practices in relation to how they will produce these short-term indicators to see if they can prepare their own voluntary code which they can recommend to their authorities? It is no good asking local authorities to cut back and cut into their services and then place on them duties like this which encourage them into more expense and the employment of more staff. Why cannot the Government work with the local authority associations, get them together round the table to sort out a voluntary code of practice and then accept that?
My Lords, I was surprised to hear what the ACC had said because part of their documentation states:
Perhaps in the past the county councils have not done that; many people say that one does not know what a county council is doing. When I read about this code of conduct I felt almost that I had come from outer space, for the local authority on which I served for a long time stated on the back of their rate demand notes, I should have said at least a decade ago, what they were spending their money on and the way in which the penny rate was divided. As the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, said, all the committees nowadays are open to the public and press. When I was on my local authority every committee of the council had to report twice a year to the general public, which meant that the public were listening in the gallery. Their agendas had to be printed a week before their meetings and in all cases they had to state the number of staff each department was employing, the number of houses it had built, the number of loans it had been given and so on. When I read this I thought that perhaps the ACC had never done those things, while the AMA, coming from large local authorities whose electorates demanded a great deal more, had done them. For those reasons it seems strange that we need a code of practice, but perhaps I say that because I do not come from the backwoods of the shires and accept what the large local authorities do. Be that as it may, could not the code of practice which the large local authorities have built up over the last 20 or so years be the code of practice? Nothing could be more public than a printed report sent out every month containing the activities of the council, the resolutions to be discussed and so on. Will that system have to be altered by those local authorities which do not need a Government department to tell them how to inform their electorate?" The Association support the basic principle that authorities should publish suitable information to inform their electorates about their activities ".
My Lords. I do not think I need detain the House by going over ground which has already been covered. The purpose of these provisions is to make general the good practice to which the noble
|Abinger, L.||Freyberg, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Gainford, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Amory, V.||Glendevon, L.||Netherthorpe, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Gowrie, E.||Newall, L.|
|Avon, E.||Greenway, L.||Northchurch, B.|
|Bellwin, L.||Grimston of Westbury, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Boardman, L.||Radnor, E.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Hanworth, V.||St. Germans, E.|
|Caithness, E.||Hill of Luton, L.||Sandys, L. [Teller.]|
|Cathcart, E.||Kemsley, V.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Chelwood, L.||Kinnaird, L.||Soames, L. (L. President.)|
|Cockfield, L.||Long, V.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Lyell, L.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Cottesloe, L.||McFadzean, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|De Freyne, L.||Marley, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Minto, E.||Trumpington, B.|
|Digby, L.||Monk Bretton, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Monson, L.||Vickers, B.|
|Duncan-Sandys, L.||Morris, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Ebbisham, L.||Mottistone, L.||Wise, L.|
Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, just referred, and of course the purpose of the consultations in relation to the codes is to try to get by agreement the best possible method of obtaining this information. The work has gone fairly far in England and Wales. With regard to housing and land, a public consultation document has been issued on housing projects, while the land proposals will have to be developed. The whole object is to develop, by agreement between the various interests concerned, a reasonably uniform practice which is good practice and is attained to a great extent already by those who are giving such information.
I do not want to start reviewing the history of the Scottish Office during the term of office of the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock. It was my privilege in private practice to be involved in some of the appeal procedures and I have no doubt that they could be improved. But we are not concerned with that at this juncture. We are concerned with what information should be published at local authority level. What information requires to be published at central Government level is of course another important matter. I submit that this amendment should be approved.
On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 32) shall be agreed to?
Their Lordships divided: Contents, 66; Not-Contents, 46.
|Avebury, L.||Gaitskell, B.||McCarthy, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Galpern, L.||Mishcon, L.|
|Balogh, L.||Gardiner, L.||Oram, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Gosford, E.||Pargiter, L.|
|Blease, L. [Teller.]||Hale, L.||Peart, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Hall, V.||Phillips, B.|
|Bowden, L.||Henderson, L.||Ritchie-Calder, L.|
|Brockway, L.||Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Ilchester, E.||Stedman, B.|
|Collison, L.||Jeger, B.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Kahn, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|David, B. [Teller.]||Kilmarnock, L.||Stone, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Leatherland, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Evans of Claughton, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Underhill, L.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Lovell-Davis, L.||Wigoder, L.|
Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.
Clause 8 [ Regulation of functional work]:
[ Amendments Nos. 32A and 32B not moved.]
moved Amendment No. 33:
Page 10, line 1, leave out (" other ").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I believe the House will welcome this amendment, which we are bringing forward as a result of our consideration of the order-making powers in this clause and in Clause 5, which were the subject of a lengthy discussion in Committee. I undertook then to examine these powers to see whether they were of a nature which might warrant their being made subject to the Affirmative Resolution procedure. I said at the time that I doubted whether they were, but I nevertheless thought it important that we should be thoroughly satisfied on the point. I am glad that we had that opportunity to examine them, for we found that there was indeed an opportunity to reduce the executive discretion which was the subject of your Lordships' criticisms. Without going into further detail, I therefore beg to move.
My Lords, I am a little mystified to learn from the noble Lord's explanation of this amendment just how the deletion of the word "other" in paragraph (b) of subsection (3) is going to affect the other conditions of the clause. In the clause as originally drafted it says:
All that the noble Lord has done is to eliminate the word "other", which seems to me to extend his powers rather than to reduce them. Since Clause 8 is rather an important clause, I am anxious to obtain from the Government a further elucidation. Your Lordships will recall that Clause 8(2) of the Bill says:" The Secretary of State may by regulations … (b) specify other conditions with which a local authority or development body must comply …".
" A local authority or development body may not undertake functional work of any description unless they have first prepared a written statement—
This paragraph is of the utmost importance, because it is by the operation of this paragraph that in effect the local authority determines what I will call "the selling price" to it of the work which is going to be done. Of course, this is a very important paragraph, because if the amount is in any way wrong it means that the end result financially—the difference on the notional sale, because a notional sale is all the local authority can have when it is selling in effect something to itself—will affect the profitability and is going to have a fundamental effect on the accounts themselves. I am anxious to ensure that subsection (3)(b) does not in any way empower the Secretary of State to tamper with the results of that written statement: because otherwise what happens is that the local authority, before it undertakes functional work, is required to produce a written statement of the amount that it is going to credit to its accounts as the sale. So be it! The local authority, after all, is in the best position to be able to estimate the notional selling price on which the profitability of the various sections are going to be determined. If it is to be left to the local authority, neither I nor anyone on this side should cavil about it. But if the Secretary of State is going to retain the power to alter the total arrived at by the local authority for crediting to its DLO account, that is a different situation altogether. I should be grateful if the noble Lord could inform us whether by this amendment in which the word" other" has been deleted or in any other way—and I have to ask the noble Lord that—the Secretary of State can interfere with the totality arrived at by the written statement required at Clause 8(2)(a) and (2)(b).(a) of the amount which they will credit to their DLO revenue account in respect of carrying out the work or of carrying out work of that description which they intend or expect to carry out ".
My Lords, the amendment has no effect on subsection (2), the need to prepare prior written statements of price. The amendment restricts the conditions which may be imposed on an authority's allocation of work to its DLO to the simple competitive conditions which are fully detailed in subsection 8(4)—the requirement that tender invitations be invited from three other contractors, and that they publish the results of that competition. That had always been our intention, but we found on close examination that we had given ourselves power to impose other conditions—of an unspecified sort—on the allocation of work which did not fall into the categories for which tendering will be compulsory. We do not want that power, and in moving this amendment I am inviting the House to take it away from us. The discretion that will remain to us will then be limited to the prescription of the categories of work for which competitive tendering will be required, and to variation of the number of competing offers to be invited if experience shows that the present three is the wrong figure.
My Lords, will the noble Lord kindly reply to that part of my question which asked specifically whether in respect of the written statement required in Clause 8(2)(a) and (2)(b) the Secretary of State proposes to retain to himself any power to alter the total figure arrived at by the local authority in complying with subsections (2)(a) and (2)(b).
My Lords, I thought I had touched on that point. I said that the amendment had no effect on subsection (2) which is the one that refers to the need to prepare prior written notice of statements of price. The other point the noble Lord raises I find puzzling. We tried hard to follow down the points that were made when we discussed this matter. I think the noble Lord himself brought this forth. We tried to come forward with amendments which would cover in the main the points he has made. I think that they do so and he has no need to fear. There are many areas where we disagree and I suppose that we shall have to go on doing so, but I should not have thought that that was one of them.On Question, amendment agreed to.
moved Amendment No. 34:
Page 10, line 4, 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: My Lords, this is the same amendment that was put down at Committee stage, and I make no apology for putting it back now. I want to repeat what I said, that the DLOs have to prove their competitiveness: they have to prove that they do a good job of work. That has already been proved in the past documentation that has been received by the DoE. As DLOs working in the free enterprise system that must be their job. I do not disagree with that—in fact I would emphasise it. Their competitiveness must be not only on building works, but also, as the amendment says, on maintenance activities. That competitiveness can easily be achieved if one accepts the point in the amendment about the figure of 10 per cent.
I want to reiterate that when we are looking at the figures—and other members have also reminded the House of the figures that we have and which the Government have put in their Bill—they are the tendering proposals which were originally suggested in 1975. They do not take account of any inflation whatsoever. It would have been sensible, I should have thought, for the Government to have accepted that there is inflation, because it is their avowed intention that they will bring it down. The only way we can accept that argument of the Government, that they intend to bring down the high inflation, is to accept that in 1975 those figures were a lot lower than they are today. Therefore, surely it should be put right, if only to help local authorities. All the local authority associations, including the ADC and the AMA, have said that if we accept the Government's recommendations this will cause them to engage extra staff because of the tendering procedure. This is not in line with the Government's intention on manpower restraint.
When I spoke on DLOs last time, the noble Lord said that there was a philosophical argument about it. I am trying to put the point over today that it is not the philosophical argument that my noble friends on this side of the House have some kind of opinion that DLOs are better and far superior than anything else. What I am trying to put over is that DLOs are important to local authorities. In Committee my noble friend Lady Denington expressed clearly how DLOs perform such a fine function in times of stress and emergency.
What I am concerned about—and I need to have an assurance on this point—is that the bite of this part of the Bill regarding the DLOs is something that we are speaking airily about. We are waiting for the subsidiary legislation of the Government to be put forward. This makes it extremely difficult for us to argue the case coherently. This Bill is giving unprecedented powers to the Secretary of State, and I should like an assurance from the Minister that the regulations that he is bringing in are not regulations that are going to be imposed on DLOs in their tendering and which would therefore be an automatic cutback of their annual workload. That would then give favours to those firms in the private sector. What I am really asking the Minister is, are these the regulations? Will they contain a backdoor method for the closing down of the DLOs?
I fear that the intention behind the unusual step taken by the Secretary of State to fix these limits simply by regulation is merely a ploy to facilitate any change that he might wish to make at any given time, when he decides that those firms and undertakings which are having their work cut back up and down the country through the Government cutbacks will be trying to cash in, to a certain extent, on the maintenance work which DLOs are now doing.
On maintenance work, the DLOs, have to be complimented. They are a workforce which normally knows the town, the village and the building they are maintaining and therefore are able to do the work most efficiently, in the same way as in this Palace of Westminster there are people employed on maintenance who, if they did not work here regularly, would not be able to move around the place, because it is such a complicated building.
DLOs employed by local authorities are in exactly the same category. They know their authority, the towns and the types of property they have to look after. Therefore, they are efficient. I want to reiterate that the report of the working party set up under the previous Minister, when this whole idea of competitiveness and the efficiency of the DLOs was looked into, was brought out by the DO and it was confirmed that they were an efficient organisation. So I would ask the Minister to think again very seriously that the Government are not showing a partiality to private enterprise and an impartiality to the DLOs.
My Lords, the Government have gone through a lengthy process of consultation on a possible régime for regulating DLO tendering. We have listened to the arguments from various quarters for both relaxation and indeed, tightening of the proposals, before my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State announced our final decisions in another place on 3rd July.This amendment seeks once again to relax the requirements he then proposed. We believe that efficient authorities with effective DLOs will be able to face competition of the sort we envisage. We are satisfied that the arrangements we shall make will spare authorities the burden of excessive tendering on small, essentially repetitive work, while at the same time ensuring that the prices of substantial projects are properly tested in competition. The field of building maintenance is one in which many small local builders have an interest and would be prepared to carry out the work if only they were given the opportunity. In many areas they are all too often not given the opportunity because local authorities in fact hoard work for their DLOs. All the while this is the case, there is no way of telling whether a council is receiving value for money from its DLO. Our proposal is designed to ensure that a reasonable proportion of building maintenance work is tested in competition. Under our proposals a council will be free to award all maintenance work below £10,000 to its DLO without the need to test their prices in competition, and this amendment would add to that 90 per cent. of work up to £50,000. The vast majority of housing maintenance work would thereby escape the competition requirements and this is not acceptable. In addition, I believe a good many authorities would find the proportional tendering requirement for maintenance to be a difficult one to operate. That is another reason why we chose the single, easily understood and operated limit of £10,000. The amendment is very permissive and would be very difficult to operate. As to the other points which the noble Baroness made about the Government's attitude to DLOs, I really do not know on what she bases her observations. She talks about cashing in on maintenance work which DLOs are currently doing. She said that DLOs are efficient, because they know their areas. I do not see how that makes them efficient. She asked whether there was an automatic cutback on workloads. She also asked whether it was the intention to favour firms in the private sector. Was this a backdoor way to the closing down of DLOs? I fail to see how an intention to call for competitive tendering can, in any way, be looked upon in those terms. I understand the suspicion that noble Lords opposite have about what is intended. But, in turn, I can only ask those same noble Lords to look from where the Government sit at this wish to ensure only that there will be proper competitive tendering, to see that there is value for money to the ratepayers concerned. In my view—and I know many efficient DLOs—the efficient DLOs have no concern about competing. They are proud of their own abilities and feel well able to measure up to competition from anyone else. I am sure that those which the noble Baroness herself knows are in that category; I have no reason to say other than that. But there has been enough evidence in recent years to indicate that it is not every DLO that can say that. I think it is eminently reasonable to fix a ceiling of £10,000, below which there need be no tendering, and there should be none of the fears which the noble Baroness expressed. Therefore, while I do not expect her to accept the Government's position, I hope she may feel able not to press the amendment.
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, he referred to the comments of my noble friend about the attitude of the Government towards direct labour organisations. I wonder whether I may draw the attention of the Minister to the statement by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter—I am sorry to have to raise this in his absence—in cols. 149 and 150 of the Official Report, when he said that he welcomed:
He went on to say," 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 ".
that is, my noble friend Lady Fisher—" If the noble Baroness "—
Does that not indicate the Government's general opposition to the principle of direct labour organisations?" 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 is a good thing.—[6/10/80.]
My Lords, when I was in the Army as a Royal Engineer, I was concerned with works and buildings. The arrangement there was that we had a certain amount of directly employed labour, which was extremely convenient. We also had what was known as a term contractor, who worked on the War Department's schedule for prices and tendered, originally, with an on cost for the various trades. In my experience, there never was an occasion when the directly employed labour could touch the term contractor on costs overall. There were a number of reasons for that, one of course being that the priorities were wrong. If the general's wife wanted something done, that took priority, regardless of whether it was an efficient way or an efficient time to do it. One also has to remember that most contractors take on far too much work and, in consequence, even if the stores do not arrive or it rains, they always have a job for their people to do, and they try to operate on geographical and other bases. Unless you have this competition and a constant review of your directly employed labour, it will very easily become less efficient.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I ought to comment on what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. He quoted the observations of my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter. If he had gone on to quote the rest of that particular debate he would have found that when I responded to it I indicated—I think I indicated this even before I responded—that from my own experience of DLOs I was not so far-reaching in my observations about them and that there were circumstances when they were very necessary. As I am speaking for the Government, I think I ought to say that if the noble Lord is referring to a Government attitude I shall have to stand by what I said then.
My Lords, this is not a point of principle; I leave that to my noble friends who are much more knowledgeable. However, this seems to be an unusual Bill in several ways. It is peppered with initials. I see that there is a reference to direct labour organisations in one of the subsections. I am not clear why we should use initials in an Act of Parliament. The next thing will be for the Secretary of State to be referred to as "SOS". The mind boggles at how many titles we could shorten. If we are referring to direct labour organisations in the Bill, which has been reprinted about three times, it would be reasonable and much more dignified to spell out exactly what it is we are talking about.
My Lords, we on this side of the House are sorry that the noble Lord does not see fit to accept the very sensible amendment which has been moved by my noble friend Lady Fisher of Rednal. However, it is no part of the responsibilities of your Lordships' House to frustrate the political will of the Government as expressed in another place, although we shall always seek to point out what we conceive to be the error of their ways.I am bound to say to the noble Lord that it would be a little different if we were dealing directly with him as the Secretary of State, as distinct from having to deal with the right honourable gentleman the Secretary of State for the Environment. In the context of the Bill, and in particular the detailed provisions contained in Part III, it is quite clear to all reasonable men and women and to all noble Lords, on whichever side of the House they sit, that the noble Lord's right honourable friend is not merely seeking to make direct labour organisations more efficient but that he is seeking to wreak his spite upon them. We have laid these considerations fairly before the House and with its leave we beg to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
moved Amendment No. 35:
Page 10, line 4, 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: My Lords, I could use many of the same arguments on this amendment as I used in moving the previous one. I emphasise once again that direct labour organisations ought to be efficient. Private builders ought also to be efficient. As for the noble Viscount who has just left the Chamber, the Army Department ought also to be efficient. Although this is by the way, I have never known the wife of the general manager of a direct labour organisation have any odd jobs done before the other jobs which needed to be done in the city.
In a typical metropolitan authority, contracts to the value of £16 million per annum will be over the £250,000 mark, compared with their overall budget of £20 million per annum. Therefore the limit of £250,000 clearly allows sufficient work to go out to competitive tender to prove the competitiveness of direct labour organisations. I should have said that was ample.
The Secretary of State is always repeating, through the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, in this Chamber, that we want value for money. Sometimes I wonder who the Secretary of State thinks sits on local authorities. The men and women who give so freely of their time in local authorities do that task day in and day out, week in and week out, seeing that they get value for money from their officers and the services that they provide. Are they not able more easily to question their officers even than Members of Parliament to question Ministers? Round the committee table it is tough bargaining, as the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, clearly knows. Therefore it upsets me a little when the Secretary of State says that he wants to see value for money and competitiveness, as though all the local authorities who have direct labour organisations are inefficient. If we have inefficient ones, it means that we have inefficient officers and inefficient councillors, and I do not accept that.
I feel that we must constantly make quite sure that the independence of the local authorities will be upheld, and it will only be upheld if we give them that confidence that we think they are doing a good job of work. If they become puppets of the Government, which is what this Bill is making them, we shall not get men and women of the right calibre serving on local authorities. For that reason, I feel that the independence of the local authorities must be upheld and, in saying that, I am acknowledging the integrity, the common sense, the diligence and the vigilance of the local authority representatives who serve us so faithfully. I beg to move.
My Lords, before I respond to the noble Baroness, commenting upon the observation made by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, may I say that had I had any aspirations of the kind to which he has referred, I fear that his observations, well-intentioned though they might have been, would have been the kiss of death, coming from where they did. However, as I have no such aspirations, I am afraid I cannot help him on that.This amendment also seeks to relax the requirements proposed for tendering by DLOs. We believe that efficient authorities with effective DLOs—and I do apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, for saying DLOs "I hope she will forgive me, at least in the interests of brevity—will be able to face competition of the sort we envisage. We are satisfied that the arrangements we shall make will spare authorities the burden of excessive tendering on small, essentially repetitive work, while at the same time ensuring that the prices of substantial projects are properly tested in competition. They will also—and this is very important—give private building firms, particularly the small and medium sized firms, a fair opportunity to compete for public sector work. I am quite sure that the noble Baroness has no more feelings of principle against them than I hope she will accept that I have against DLOs. To exempt all new work up to £250,000 from the need to be tested in competition would not give private building firms a fair opportunity to compete for public sector work. Many DLOs would indeed escape from the competition requirements altogether—not that I like the word "escape", but I think your Lordships know what I mean—if this amendment was accepted. Without this vital test of their ability to compete it would be quite possible for an inefficient DLO—and, it has to be said, there are inefficient DLOs; I am sure the noble Baroness would not say there were no inefficient DLOs—to make the required rate of return by putting in estimates high enough to more than meet the rate of return but without the necessity to worry about also being the lowest tenderer. It would permit such inefficient as well as efficient DLOs to flourish, and we cannot accept the possible waste of resources which the amendment would encourage. The noble Baroness said that private builders ought to be efficient. Of course, they ought to be efficient. But the sanction upon them is that if they are not efficient either they do not stay in business or they do not get this work. That is a very important sanction against them. As for value for money, the impliction that because the Secretary of State constantly refers to the need to get value for money that is to denigrate all locally elected members, I think is not a fair one. They, too, constantly express their concern that there should be value for money, as indeed the noble Baroness said. But that the need is there is undisputed, as is the fact that everybody, Government or local authority or whoever, should be concerned, and, if you like, should be talking about it more than ever before. I hate to use the expression that those upon whom the cap fits should wear it. That would perhaps be more unkind than I wish to be, because I am frankly only concerned to ensure that we get what we want, that local government gets the best value for what it spends, that it does not do what it does not need to do, and thereby does not waste resources which today are so scarce. I hope the noble Baroness will at least understand, if not agree with, the points I am making, and possibly not press the amendment.
My Lords, I am afraid that the noble Lord the Minister pushes me to my feet, and I am perfectly sure that while I might welcome that physical gesture other Members might not be so happy about it. Really, one cannot let the Minister's reply to my noble friend go unnoticed, that there is no offence to local authorities and that this is just the Government acting as a financial caretaker. We are literally within a matter of 24 hours of the Government telling local authorities that they will not be allowed to continue with their house building programmes, telling them that whatever the situation may be that is one fetter that is to be put upon their powers. We spent hours at Committee stage trying to persuade the Government to lift some of the restrictions on capital spending and on maintenance spending, with fixed limits, and taking preventive powers and punitive powers; we have seen all these provisions going through, and the Government really cannot get away with it.This Bill and these clauses, which again do not allow local authorities to have discretion in regard to their maintenance contracts and so on, are, all of them, not just imposing an unutterable and undignified burden on local authorities and imposing restrictions upon them; as I ventured to say at the Committee stage, by the Bill and the sort of provisions we are talking about the Government have reduced local authorities to the role of little children being given spending money, in a way which is absolutely criminal from the point of view of the growth of local authorities in this country and the pride which they had in their work.
My Lords, perhaps I may say that the Government in no circumstances give the local authorities any money whatsoever; it is the taxpayer who does. The Government do not own money except as trustee of the taxpayer, just as local authorities should be the trustees of the ratepayer.
On Question, amendment negatived.
moved Amendment No. 36:
Page 10, line 13, at end insert—
(" ( ) no regulations made under this Part of this Act shall prevent a local authority from carrying out emergency works.").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 36. I had hoped, after the debate in Committee, that it would have been unnecessary for me to table this amendment at the Report stage. In the interests of time, I do not want to regurgitate the arguments that were raised in Committee. But I am bound to point out to the noble Lord that the provisions of Clause 8(2) specifically provide that:
"A local authority or development body may not undertake functional work of any description unless they have first prepared a written statement".
The clause then goes on to say what must be done.
What happens, for example, if late one night there is a fractured sewer which
requires immediate attention? Are we to say that the local authority is not empowered to take immediate action through its DLO in order to start work upon it until and unless—that is what Clause 8 says—it has gone through all the paraphernalia that the Government have set out? What are we expected to do? What do we do if a sewer is fractured at 10 o'clock at night? Do we send out despatch riders to fish out the clerks in order to prepare a written statement? Do we send for the engineer in order that he can take a quick look at the work and put down a figure? This makes a complete nonsense of the Bill. Surely, in all circumstances where there is an emergency any local authority should be empowered to take action immediately—a power which they cannot exercise so long as subsection (2) of Clause 8 is in force. It says that they:
"may not undertake functional work of any description unless they have first prepared a written statement".
The mind boggles at the restriction that will be placed on the local authority in that way.
I should have thought that it would be a matter of common sense—no matter what political reservations his right honourable friend the Minister for the Environment may have concerning the future status of the DLOs—indeed, I should have thought that it would be axiomatic that a local authority, which, after all, is elected by the local ratepayers and is subject to the political disciplines inherent in reports in the local press and indeed in subsequent elections, should be allowed to do this work. I hope, even at this late stage, that the noble Lord will accept the amendment, which is inspired not by any party political considerations but simply by plain common sense. If the noble Lord accepts the amendment or one similar to it, I shall be greatly obliged. However, if the noble Lord feels otherwise constrained, I must tell him now that we shall take the House to a Division upon this amendment.
My Lords, I should like to support my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington—
I wonder whether the noble Lord would give way? I know the way in which procedure works on Report, but it might be helpful to the House if I were to say now what I would say later, and then it would be possible for noble Lords to speak if they wished and for me, by leave, to come back to the matter if necessary. Indeed, it may not be necessary, but I do not know. This amendment seems to be seeking the same end as Amendment No. 37A which, in fact, the Government can accept in principle. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, however, has difficulties within it. In declaring that emergency work shall not be prevented it addresses itself to a non-existent difficulty. There is nothing in the clause to prevent any work of any sort: there is merely a power to impose conditions on its being undertaken.We have no quarrel with the purpose of the noble Lord's amendment. The Government have no intention of putting obstacles in the way of authorities faced with the need to undertake genuine emergency works. However, as I have just indicated, this amendment by itself is defective and would not meet its proposed objective. There is nothing in the clause, or possible in regulations made under it, which could prevent authorities from carrying out emergency works. I offer the noble Lord a categorical assurance as to that and, indeed, I offer him the assurance that the regulations we make under this clause will specifically exclude emergency works from the categories of operation which authorities have to put out to tender. Perhaps the noble Lord may feel able to accept that.
My Lords, I am very happy to accept the assurance of the noble Lord. I only wish that it could have been given in Committee, because then it would have saved me the trouble of examining the Bill again and putting down the same amendment on Report. On the undertaking that the noble Lord is prepared to accept Amendment No. 37, moved by my noble friend Lord Underhill, I shall be very happy indeed to withdraw the amendment. I regret to say that it is not possible to accept purely the assurance that it will be incorporated in regulations. After all, it ought to be in the Bill.
My Lords, with permission of the House, I cannot accept that amendment as it stands for the reason I gave. We entirely accept it in principle. As I am given to understand, it is technically defective for the reasons I have given; that is why I put the point as I did—as strongly as I did and as clearly as I did—especially so that it should not be possible for anyone to say later, "It was not quite what I meant". I put it that way on purpose.
My Lords, the noble Lord has addressed the House and me in particular in such amiable terms that it would be churlish of me in any way to question his honour and integrity in this matter. Therefore, I shall happily withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, before the amendment is technically withdrawn, I wonder whether I could make an observation which I hope will be useful to the Minister. I obviously follow my noble friend in his expressions of absolute faith in the Minister's integrity. I do not think that that has ever been called into question and I venture to prophesy that it never will be.However, there is one difficulty which I should like him to consider. I appreciate his point in regard to Amendment No. 36 that there is no prevention as such in the Bill; but when he said that he would be accepting Amendment No. 37A, in order that we do not have two debates, may I simply refer the House to the fact that in Amendment No. 37A—and, indeed, I must say in frankness in Amendment No. 37—the words are added right at the end:
Before the House agrees those words, and bearing in mind that we are dealing with emergencies, is it really necessary for there to be such cautionary words which can create doubt in nearly every case? It has not only to be an emergency, but the work has to be such that the authority could not reasonably have foreseen the necessity of it. We in this very Chamber have had an opportunity of considering a similar situation. We are sitting below what was a very dangerous ceiling in this building by virtue of maintenance and which has now been rendered very much safer for ourselves and those who may follow us. But I remember asking a question of the Minister at the time, to which I received the answer that it was possibly true that this great ceiling of ours had never been looked at since the time it was installed. That happens to go over a very great number of years. I would have hated the fact that if we were in the position of a local authority, we should have been prevented from doing the emergency work, because it could very well be argued that if only we had carried out proper maintenance supervision and inspections, we could reasonably have foreseen that a piece of the ceiling would fall very near to your Lordships as you were seated peacefully in your seats. In those circumstances—and I am being perfectly serious, bearing in mind that we are dealing with an emergency properly described and defined within the limits of Amendments Nos. 37 and 37A—may I ask the Minister and the House to pause before they add on the words which could create so much debate and doubt, "which could not reasonably have been foreseen by the authority or body"?"… could not reasonably have been foreseen by the authority or body".
My Lords, before we finally withdraw the amendment I should like to ask the Minister whether he is in a position to give me any more assurance than he did when we discussed this question of disastrous collapses of main sewers. Since I spoke a week ago another large hole has appeared in Deansgate in Manchester. The size, I should suspect, is about half the size of this Chamber. It is an enormous piece of work. The problem is not so much that it is an emergency, not so much that the work must be done if the city is to survive, but that the total cost of the work may grotesquely exceed any reasonable provision the city may have made to carry it out.I said the last time I spoke that the city of Manchester had spent half a million pounds on the maintenance of its sewers last year. Had it been making reasonable provision, it ought to have been spending about one hundred times as much. This begins to be comparable to its total budget for all purposes. It is not merely a small addition; it is an enormous addition. I raise with grave misgivings the purpose of a Bill to provide for local government if it begins to be possible that there may not be any local government in future because the cities cease to be viable as working environments. It is as serious as that. The Minister, when replying before, said that the mind boggled at it. It does boggle at it, but it is not enough that we should pass this extremely complicated Bill and merely boggle at what seems to me to be the most serious problem which will ever confront local government in our lifetime. I should like the Minister to give some sort of assurance on what he hopes to do when we finally come to the conclusion of this matter.
My Lords, by leave of the House, may I just quickly say—although how could one quickly dispose of a problem of the enormity of that to which the noble Lord referred—that when I said "mind boggling" I meant precisely that. I do not come along a week later and say, "Eureka!, I have the solution". I indicated when we discussed this subject in Committee my personal recognisance of the situation, and in no way was I willing simply to shrug it off and say, "Well, it is just another problem for local authorities". I accept that it is arguably potentially the greatest single problem that could face not just local government but everyone, because I have some idea of the enormity of the matter to which the noble Lord refers.
We had it at Aberfan.
Yes, indeed. I do not have an answer, but the noble Lord might he interested to know that I have discussed the problem even in the time since we spoke (and it is only a few days) at the highest possible level in the country—and you know where that might be—because I consider it so important. I really do not think that in the context of this Bill we have a solution to it at all. It goes way beyond anything that is in this Bill and must be looked upon on its own. I just assure the noble Lord again, as I thought I had done previously, that this problem is something we cannot turn away from, nor do we intend to. I do not have ready solutions, but I promise him that we are well aware of what he is talking about.
My Lords, before we dispose of the matter, may I say that the noble Lord the Minister referred to Amendment No. 37, and in the light of the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Mishcon I wonder whether the Minister could comment upon Amendment No. 37A. My noble friend Lord Mishcon has drawn attention to the words "whose necessity could not reasonably have been foreseen" in relation to construction or maintenance work. On the Committee stage the Minister rightly questioned the wording of Amendment No. 37, which is somewhat changed now, because of the words "similar occurrences". The words which my noble friend Lord Mishcon referred to are related to "occurrences" and not to "work". Would that be more appropriate than Amendment No. 37A?
My Lords, before the noble Lord replies, and as in a minute I shall have formally to propose Amendment No. 37A, may I suggest that it might be convenient if he could speak to a point on it? I understand that in principle the Government are prepared to accept my noble friend's amendment but that there is some technical defect in the wording. It might save the time of your Lordships' House if the noble Lord could do that.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
moved Amendment No. 37:
Page 10, line 45, at end insert—
("( ) For the purposes of this section, functional work shall exclude all necessary work arising from coastal protection and sea defence, flooding and storm damage, subsidence, fire and similar occurrences which could not reasonably have been foreseen by the authority or body.").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, in the light of what I have just said, I move this amendment formally.
My Lords, let me say straight away that the Government are happy to accept the spirit and intention of this amendment. However, again we have doubts about its drafting, as I indicated on Committee stage. On the substance, let me repeat that we agree entirely that no hindrance must be put in the way of local authorities choosing 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. I repeat my unqualified assurance that in the regulations we shall provide such an exemption and emergency work will not be subject to compulsory tendering.
My Lords, I want to bring to the Minister's attention a situation where this may be completely impossible for a local authority. Aberfan is the example par excellence. I am sure common sense prevails in a disaster of that magnitude.
I wonder if the Minister will be kind enough to deal with the point raised by my noble friend Lord Underhill in extension of the submission I made to the House. The House's attention must be drawn to this. I apologise, but it is a very important matter for local authorities, as I know the Minister himself will concede. Amendment No. 37, which was moved by my noble friend Lord Underhill, refers to the types of emergency work and then limits them to those which could not reasonably have been foreseen.The House might think that is a sensible definition of an emergency, because if one can reasonably foresee it, as a rule it is not an emergency. But Amendment No. 37A—I am only saving the time of the House by referring to the next amendment—does not refer to the happening as one which could not reasonably be foreseen but to the necessity to do the maintenance work which could not reasonably be foreseen. The difference, which I know will commend itself to the very lively mind of the Minister, is that this means that every time, in order to comply with an Act of Parliament as drawn, somebody has to advise the local authority as to whether or not the specific maintenance work that is required because of the emergency could have been foreseen. Without labouring the point, I tried to give the House the obvious example we ourselves had in regard to maintenance work, where it could very easily be argued that the maintenance work could have been foreseen if only we had had sensible inspections. I am not criticising anybody in that parenthetical remark; I am merely trying to give the House an example which is very much alive to this House. It is this wording which worries me and I think it should worry the House and the Minister.
My Lords, I entirely understand the point which the noble Lord, Lord MiShcon, is making. I do not know that I can say any more than I have done about our intentions. I can only say to him and to the noble Lord who would have moved Amendment No. 37A that for the moment I think we must leave it as it is. We will take this point away and think about it to see if we could not cover it in some way, perhaps within regulations. I should have thought it was possible. I understand why this was put in. My dilemma is that the point is a fair point, but in practice it would not be a problem. It could happen, but I cannot see that it would. Taking the example to which the noble Lord referred, if an emergency arose and if somebody immediately embarked upon doing something to put it right, it is unlikely that later someone would turn round and say, "You might have foreseen that that was so; therefore you should have gone out to tender". I am sure it Would not happen in practice. I can see where it could happen in theory and I hope we can cover it entirely by the wording of regulations. If there is any doubt about that, I shall want to think about it again.
With the leave of the House, my Lords, I would only add that the Minister has been most generous. He appreciates the ultra vires provisions of this provision and therefore how seriously a local authority would have to look at its duties under the measure.
My Lords, I readily accept the Ministers' assurance. The reason for bringing forward the amendment in rather a different form is that in Committee the noble Lord said he agreed with the spirit and intention and would like to see something on the face of the Bill as well as in regulations. However, in view of his assurance I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
moved Amendment No. 37A:
Page 11, line 3, at end insert—
("(11) The provisions of subsections (2) and (3) above shall not apply where a local authority or development body carry out urgent construction or maintenance work whose necessity could not reasonably have been foreseen by the authority or body.").
The noble Earl said: My Lords, I shall be brief in moving this amendment almost formally in view of what has been said. We have heard that the Minister will look at the matter again. Having listened carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, who has great experience legally in these matters, said, I would suggest only that the Minister might find it possible to introduce an amendment on Third Reading which would be technically correct so that the worry of the local authority associations in this respect is dealt with in the Bill rather than being left to regulations.
My Lords, as one who often has had the impertinence to question drafting, I suggest that this is a most elegant piece of drafting and, with respect, suggest that the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, is a quibble. Considering that the amendment refers to
if that is not a most elegant description of an emergency, I should like to know what is. It would cover all the points raised in the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill—namely, specific emergencies—by the use of the word "urgent" and would therefore make such work a necessity. If an emergency arises, the urgency is apparent."urgent construction or maintenance work whose necessity could not reasonably have been foreseen",
My Lords, with the leave of the House—
My Lords, may I remind the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, that it is a custom of this House to speak only once on Report? I think the noble Lord has stretched the tolerance of the House on this group of amendments.
My Lords, my respect for the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, is such that I shall immediately take my seat, having said to the noble Lord, Lord Morris, that I was dealing with the sense of the amendment and not its elegance. I regard him as distinctly elegant. That does not necessarily mean I always think he is sensible.
My Lords, when considering the problem of "reasonably foreseeing", surely all these things could be reasonably foreseen but the problem is always one of priorities. Some works have to be neglected because others have to be done, and it is never possible to discover which should be done first until long after the event. So I do not believe that the phrase, "reasonably have been foreseen", is a sensible criterion, bearing in mind that so much could be foreseen but so much has to be neglected for lack of available resources.
With the leave of the House, my Lords, I rise again to say that I really do not want to get involved in this any further. We are talking about situations which arise in an emergency. I did not say in connection with Amendment No. 37A that I would introduce an amendment at Third Reading. I could not undertake to do that. I have gone as far as anyone could go in assuring the House as to what our intentions are about competing in emergencies and I have been absolutely clear in that respect. I said—this must be my final word on the subject—that I would look at what the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, had said and that if I felt that what we were proposing would not cover all the possibilities, we should then have to decide what to do about it; but beyond that I cannot go at this stage.
My Lords, in view of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
moved Amendment No. 38:
After Clause 9, insert the following new clause:
( "Exemption from requirement to keep separate accounts under section 9
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I offer the House this new clause in discharge of my undertaking in Committee to consider the possibility of allowing some simplification of the accounts that authorities have to keep in respect of activities which are effectively de minimis. It is a logical extension of the de minimis principle enshrined in Clause 19, and I believe that it represents a useful opportunity for economy in administration. I know that it will be welcomed by the local authorities. I beg to move.
My Lords, we on this side of the House welcome the new clause introduced by the noble Lord. In the interests of saving time there is no point in elaborating on this. We are very grateful for the new clause, and we shall support it.
My Lords, had my noble friend Lord Sandford been here I am sure he would have wished to thank the noble Lord.
My Lords, I can thank the noble Lord in person, since I am here, and may I say from these Benches how very much we welcome the new clause.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 10 [ Contents of accounts relating to construction or maintenance work]:
moved Amendment No. 39:
Page 12, line 25, at end insert—
(" ( ) Expenditure on the employment of indentured apprentices shall be excluded from any account prepared under this Section provided that the expenditure so excluded shall not exceed one-fifth of the total expenditure on employees otherwise chargeable to that account ").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a tired, though diligent, House, approaching a weekend, and consequently I promise not to regurgitate the entire arguments previously stated. However, once again, in a couple of sentences, I wish to make obvious the paramount importance, especially in these days of growing unemployment among youngsters, of local authorities being allowed to have an apprenticeship system and that all the expenses of this should not in any way put the authorities in default so far as their accounts are concerned. Much more important than these accounts is the need to ensure that we build a group of excellent British craftsmen. The public may not know that often the training of craftsmen takes as long as the training of surgeons. This is especially so in some engineering skills and in some of the higher crafts. It would be a tragedy if masses of unemployed youths cannot get indentures and apprenticeships. As I said in the previous debate on this question, academic skill is needed, craftsmanship is needed, to keep England great, to keep the country in the stream in regard to contribution to civilisation. I shall not speak on this point again, but I hope that some attention will be given to this matter of apprenticeship in relation to local authorities. I beg to move.
My Lords, when the noble Lord moved this amendment in Committee I indicated that, although we understand the motives behind it, and indeed share the concern that training levels in the construction industry should be maintained, the Government do not believe that the amendment as such should be accepted. I wrote to the noble Lord explaining our reasons further.In brief, we believe that a provision such as this, excluding training costs from DLO accounts, would be undesirable both for its effect on our policy of achieving fair competition between direct labour and private contractors, and for its effect on training in the construction industry. The distorting effects on competition are obvious. You cannot relieve one participant in a competition of a proportion of his cost burden without putting the other participants at an unfair disadvantage. Equally worrying perhaps—I think that the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, would very much take this point, at least I hope he would—is the danger that by singling out the costs of training as though they were exceptional burdens in some way or other, we would undermine the basic presumption that apprentice training is a normal part of the obligations of any responsible employer. These obligations have so far been willingly accepted by the construction industry as a whole—public and private—and the record of training has so far been good. The Government hope that this will continue, but we believe that the best way to ensure that it does is to continue our support to training through the established machinery: the Construction Industry Training Board and the Local Government Training Board. Were the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, present, he would probably add a loud "Hear, hear! "to that latter point. Certainly we are committed to that, and I hope that we shall go on being so committed. In view of that, perhaps the noble Lord may feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Yes, my Lords. Not to delay the House, I thank the Minister. At least there is some appreciation of the need. I should have liked it to go further; nevertheless, I am grateful for the note that has been taken of the amendment, and consequently I beg leave to withdraw it.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
moved Amendment No. 40:
Page 13, line 14, leave out from beginning to ("statement") in line 19 and insert—
(" (4) Subject to subsection (4A) below, a revenue account must show a true and fair view of the financial result of the local authority or development body having undertaken, in the financial year to which it relates, each description of construction or maintenance work to which it relates.
(4A) Where by virtue of section [Exemption from requirement to keep separate accounts under section 9] above a revenue account relates to more than one description of construction or maintenance work, subsection (4) above shall have effect as if it required the account to show a true and fair view of the combined financial result of the local authority or development body having undertaken, in the financial year to which the account relates, all the descriptions of construction or maintenance work to which it relates.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I spoke to this amendment previously, and I beg to move it formally.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
My Lords. I should inform the House that if Amendment No. 41 is accepted then Amendment No. 41A cannot be moved.
moved Amendment No. 41:
Page 14, line 16, leave out subsection (1) and insert—
(" (1) Not later than 1st January of each year the Secretary of State shall determine in respect of construction and maintenance work to be undertaken by every local authority or development body during the next financial year commencing on the 1st April of that year, a rate of return on the capital employed for the purposes of carrying out such work and shall communicate it to them.").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, Clause 14 is one of the most extraordinary clauses in this Bill, because it lays, down:
"Every local authority or development body who undertake construction or maintenance work … whether under works contracts or by way of functional work or both, shall secure that, in respect of each financial year, their revenue from work of that description shows such positive rate of return on the capital employed for the purpose of carrying out the work as the Secretary of State may direct".
My Lords, there may well be reasons—because it is emergency work, or for a variety of reasons—why, in any one year, the work will not yield a positive return. Indeed, if your Lordships turn to page 15, in subsections (1) and (4) of Clause 15 your Lordships will find that the Secretary of State himself envisages that in certain circumstances the rate of return achieved by DLOs in respect of certain descriptions of work will not be a positive rate.
There really is no point in putting into a Bill a direct order that a local authority shall do something which, in certain circumstances which are envisaged at a later stage of the Bill, it will not be able to do. If I may compare the right honourable gentleman the Minister for the Environment with King Canute, it is really like his sitting close by the sea and ordering the tide to go out again; because even in the context of the Bill itself there are bound to be certain circumstances within one year (not necessarily over a period of three, four or five years) in which a negative rate of return will eventuate for reasons entirely beyond the control of the DLO and entirely beyond that of the local authority.
My amendment seeks to take out subsection (1) altogether, which, for the reasons I have addressed to the House, is something which it is quite ridiculous to have there. What I have suggested is that three months before the commencement of the DLO's financial year the Secretary of State should notify the local authority of the rate of return which is referred to at the later stages of the Bill and which has considerable significance in regard to the Secretary of State's calling for reports, and also is of importance when the Secretary of State may, by direction and without notice, close down all direct labour work in respect of a particular category. My amendment seeks to lay upon him the responsibility to notify the local authority, three months in advance, just what kind of rate of return is required. It also serves the purpose of deleting that part of Clause 14 which refers to a positive return from each description of work.
As I believe I demonstrated—I hope successfully—on the last occasion, it is quite impossible to determine the rate of return on the capital employed in each particular description of work because there is no way of dividing out the assets of the direct labour organisation over the specific descriptions of work. In purely accounting terms, it makes nonsense. I thought the noble Lord fully understood that on the last occasion, when, as I recall, I had the support of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, from the Liberal Benches.
Therefore, without vitiating the political purposes of the Bill (which are only too obvious in later clauses), I thought that the Government might be able to accept this amendment, which, on the assumption that Her Majesty's Government feel that local authorities are bodies which are responsible and sensitive to their electorates, ought to be accepted. I beg to move.
My Lords, if I may make a small point, the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, cannot have it both ways. He made it plain that it was almost an impossible task for the local authorities to perform their duties as stated in Clause 14(1). In his amendment, he proposes to pass that duty back to the Secretary of State. If it is such a difficult duty, I cannot see why he should try to attempt to have it both ways.
My Lords, if, with the leave of the House, I may answer the noble Lord, I am not responsible for drafting the Bill. All I wish to do is to pass back to the noble Lord the responsibility for determining something on the basis of his own illogicality.
My Lords, the noble Lord was responsible for drafting the amendment.
My Lords, let me say straight away that we fully accept the importance of giving authorities adequate advance notice of the rate of return we have in mind they should earn, and of any changes we might be planning to make from time to time to that rate. I can give an unqualified assurance that it is not our intention suddenly to spring changes to the rate on authorities without reasonable notice. On the contrary, we believe that authorities need certainty above all, and we think the rate should remain as stable as possible for as long as possible. We shall announce our intention for the first year of operation as soon as possible after the passing of this Bill, and certainly well before 1st January; so that as far as the noble Lord's amendment provides for advance notice, we are entirely in favour of doing that and would seek to do so.The amendment, however, would have another, less acceptable, effect. It would make it unnecessary for an authority to ensure that its DLO earned the required rate of return for each description of work undertaken. By removing the requirement to calculate a separate rate of return for each of the four broad categories of construction work set out in Clause 9, this amendment would allow authorities to conceal inefficiencies and to ignore the true costs of continuing to maintain direct labour establishments in areas of activity where their involvement is uneconomic. As my noble friend explained in Committee, we could imagine, for example, an ineffective new housebuilding section and an efficient maintenance organisation within the same authority. Such a thing is possible. Let us assume that the new housebuilding section is faced with keen competition from private contractors. Unless we require that new building section to justify itself in relation to its own real costs, including the costs of its capital assets—and, by making some assessment of these, this will be possible—it is easy to see the temptation to allow some of the capital burden to be assumed by the authority's maintenance section, which might be under less pressure, and then to permit the new building prices to be lowered to what are fundamentally uneconomic levels. In those circumstances, everyone would lose—the contractors, who were unable to match unrealistically low charges and lost the job, and the council whose ratepayers would be paying more than they need both for their new housing and for repairs to their existing stock. The Bill's requirement for the separate calculation of the rate of return is designed to prevent such covert cross-subsidisation, and to provide the means for a critical analysis of the effectiveness of each broad category of direct labour activity, together with a rational assessment of the benefit to be derived from it. It was suggested in Committee that separate calculations of this nature would present insuperable practical difficulties, and my noble friend undertook to examine that risk. That is the main point that the noble Lord is making on this branch of his amendment today. The department have looked at the matter very closely, and have consulted experts in the local authorities and in the professional accounting institutes. They are in no doubt that these calculations are quite possible. There has been no suggestion from either the Institute of Chartered Accountants or from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy that they cannot be done. We therefore feel that we must stick to this approach. The four categories set out in Clause 9 reflect real distinctions in type of activity, and it is essential that authorities should be able to justify their involvement in each of these broad types of activity separately, and should be able to assess their performance in each of them separately. The rate of return test—the essential yardstick the Bill provides for their measurement—must therefore be applied to them separately. In my submission, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is in no respect like King Canute in this particular exercise.
My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord's explanation. He referred to the Institute of Chartered Accountants' attitude towards this. If he will refer to the correspondence that has taken place between the Institute of Chartered Accountants, to which I belong, and his department, he will find that the institute indicated to them that there would have to be a degree of approximation and assumption which it did not regard with any particular favour since of course the business of an accountant is the ascertainment, marshalling and presentation of facts.I therefore once again say that it may be the Government's political will that this particular division should take place. I assert—and I am quite convinced that the events will justify what I say—first of all that they cannot possibly determine with any degree of reasonable accuracy what the rate of capital return would be in respect of the four divisions of work for the reasons which I discussed at some length in Committee, and which I do not desire to repeat. It is a completely artificial way of going about it; it is going to introduce a degree of political astrology in local authorities as compared with plain, ordinary factual accountancy. The Government may wish to have it this way, and it is no part of your Lordships' House to frustrate their political will as expressed in another place. But I warn them that they have made their own bed in this respect and they must lie on it, and with the consequences. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[ Amendment No. 41A not moved.]
moved Amendment No. 42:
Page 14, line 30, leave out ("on a current cost accounting basis") and insert ("on both an historic cost and a current cost accounting basis").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am hopeful that the Government will accept this amendment. The particular clause of the Bill requires a rate of return on capital employed which I say can only be done on the basis of the ownership of the assets as a whole, and therefore can only be done for the work taken in its totality. They say that it should be done on the basis of current cost accounting. I ventured to point out at the Committee stage—and I will not repeat the arguments—that this was again unrealistic to do if the sole purpose of the clause, and these particular accounting sections, was to produce fairly competitive conditions as between private industry, private builders, and the DLOs.
I pointed out to the House that current cost accounting was nowhere defined in the Bill and it is nowhere defined in any other Act of Parliament. It is defined in SSAP 16 (Statement of Standard Accounting Practice) issued under the auspices of the six leading accounting bodies, and this has no binding force in law. It merely binds those members of the profession who are responsible for the preparation and auditing of accounts to adopt these particular standards. It is quite safe to say, since this particular statement of accounting practice applies only to very large public companies in the main, and certainly not over the vast spectrum of small builders, to whom the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, paid an extremely fulsome tribute.
But even on the noble Lord's own argument that notwithstanding the fact that current cost accounting did not apply over the considerable spectrum of the firms with whom DLOs are in competition, I am bound to point out to him that the amendment I put in is precisely in conformity with the Statement of Standard Accounting Practice which he wishes to apply, because it is not possible to find out the current accounting cost, and the current cost accounting basis, without first having determined the historic cost.
Indeed, if the noble Lord will look at the Statement of Standard Accounting Practice, in paragraph 47 he will find the responsibility laid upon members of the professional institutes who have set this particular standard. There he will find the following words:
"… annual financial statement of entries … within the scope of the standard should include in addition to historic cost accounts or historical cost information current cost accounts prepared in accordance with this standard".
In other words, the professional responsibility is already to state both. In default of agreeing with my original argument, in which I suggested we should delete current cost accounting, I have endeavoured to confine myself within the standards laid down by the professions, and I invite the Government to accept the amendment, which is fully in accordance with the standard accounting practice they affect to support. I beg to move.
My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Bellwin explained at Committee stage, we are seeking to provide a method of measuring a direct labour organisation's performance to see whether the resources it is consuming might be put to better use elsewhere. This means examining all the assets employed by the organisation and comparing the return on those assets, with the returns available generally across the whole range of economic activity in the country. Accordingly, we need to look at the real value of assets and, for this purpose, taking their historic cost is not good enough.At this stage of the argument, I think the noble Lord accepts that for the purposes of this amendment, because his new amendment seeks to require authorities to calculate both the historic and the current cost rate of return. I quite appreciate, as he said, that in arriving at the current cost it may be necessary to look at historic cost information, but what we cannot see any merit in is imposing a duty on the authority not only to have historic cost information, which undoubtedly they would have, but also to derive a rate of return on that basis. We can see no merit in this, but we can see many problems. The historic cost base rate of return would not eliminate any facet of a DLO's activity that a current cost calculation would not do more clearly. It certainly would complicate the choice of rates and, perhaps most important, according to the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, it would create enormous difficulties for authorities. So from the purely practical point of view, we take our stand on requiring the current cost account rate of return to be calculated as the only rate of return which is necessary. The noble Lord said that a degree of estimation, of assumption, is required in this kind of calculation, and of course I accept that. Indeed, I am sure the noble Lord also accepts that it is part of the job of a chartered accountant from time to time to make estimates where these are necessary; to make professional judgments on how costs should be divided and so on. Apportionments are a standard tool of the trade. Accordingly, it does not seem to me that this is in any way a departure from practice. Some reference was made to political astrology and making a bed to lie on. I suppose that if you are going to look at the stars, it is convenient to have a bed. I am not suggesting that this Government are doing either.
My Lords, I am sorry that the Government do not see fit to answer the arguments that I have put forward, because the fact is that the statement of historic cost has to be prepared prior to any adjustments being made. There can, therefore, be no objection to stating both the historic cost basis return and the current cost basis return at the same time. There is no conceivable objection. No extra calculation is required, and, indeed, you cannot do the second until you have done the first. I am most reluctant to suggest this, but it seems to me that, owing to the Government economies which, I believe, are biting deeply into all departments, the advice on this point is rather below that which I would normally have expected.I sincerely hope that note will be taken of what I have said, because in due course I shall inevitably return to it. More particularly, since, I take it, the Government propose to publish these various schedules of rates of return for each description of business, based upon notional allocation of assets, based upon notional selling prices in accordance with earlier clauses, I assure the noble and learned Lord that I shall devote a considerable amount of ordinary and professional interest to what eventuates. But, as I said, it is no part of the duty of this House to seek to frustrate the determination of the Government in embarking on the course that they have. We on this side of the House have discharged our duty, as we shall always seek to do, but I have no doubt that we shall be returning to the same question again. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
My Lords, at the conclusion of Clause 14, there appears to be a natural break, and I think it has been agreed through the usual channels that it would be for the convenience of your Lordships if we adjourned the Report stage.I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.