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Baroness Hamwee: I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Young, on his ingenuity in finding not just a hook on which to hang an argument but a substantive point which could enable what many of us have long argued for to come about. We tried to table a more direct amendment on the subject of parishes in London, only to be told that it was not within the Title. I said to those in the Public Bill Office that I should reserve the right to argue that at a later date. However, we are pleased to have the opportunity to support the noble Lord tonight.

It has long been the policy of these Benches, and it was argued in this House and in another place during the course of the 1997 Act, that London should not be excluded from parishing. As I have learnt during the course of the Bill from my noble friend, one should talk about spheres and not tiers of government. That is a good term. Parishes ought not to be regarded as junior; they are important forms of government in themselves.

London is often described as a world city. It is made up of many villages and even smaller entities. I was interested in the guidance issued by the previous government in relation to the 1997 Act, which stated that the larger the town the greater will be the scope for

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the identification of distinct communities within it. That is an interesting point which applies in particular to the biggest of the lot.

The Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells: I spend most of my life trying to help communities to evolve in London. I have been at it for 25 years. The Church has parish church councils throughout London. I have joined the debate only today and it is most refreshing to hear such a proposal rather than dealing with only structural backgrounds. Having been a practitioner, I fully support the noble Lord, Lord Young.

Sadly, propinquity was no longer the people's personal propinquity. In other words, the area idea survives in some parts of North and East London. I was part of a new town and I know that in many places people's neighbourhood was where they worked, where they had interest groups, where they played golf and so forth. Sometimes, people did not know what was in their area. Whereas Bethnal Green might have had a real identity it is now very different. It contains several communities and it would take great subtlety to create a parish council.

Lord Young of Dartington: I beg the right reverend Prelate to recognise that there remains a sense of identity in Bethnal Green, even though the composition of the population has changed.

The Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells: I have based a great deal of my work on that belief, but I am not sure how far we are trying to reimpose the village concept in a city which is extremely mobile and diverse and, it must be said, often apathetic.

The noble Lord's argument would be that his proposal would undermine the apathy and that people would discover their identity and community. Maybe, just maybe, but before one created another level I should like harder evidence that it would work. The apathy found in large estates can be countered by estate battles, but nearly always a battle against an outside body such as an authority. There is a great deal of anonymity and I am weary of going down an idealisation of reality.

The Earl of Sandwich: It has been a pleasure to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Young of Dartington. I hope that he will remain with us for our subsequent debate on international development where he will find similar views expressed.

Lord Tope: I hesitate to delay the debate on international development. However, I cannot let this pass without saying a few words. It is very nearly 26 years since, to my considerable surprise, I was successful in the Private Members' ballot in another place and chose, as my Private Member's Bill, The London Parish Councils Bill, for exactly the reasons expressed so eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Dartington.

The case for parishes has been strongly and eloquently made tonight. I support all that has been said. I feel as strongly on the issue now as I did 25 or 26 years ago, even though in the intervening time I have

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been a London borough councillor, which I was not at that time. I am well aware that some who have been county councillors or even district councillors are not always enthusiastic about parish councils.

However, the issue tonight is not whether we favour parish councils in London; it is for the Minister to explain to us--and to give me an answer to a question which I have not received in 26 years--why in England, London alone is not allowed to have urban parish councils. Even if a community in London clambers and demonstrates 100 per cent support and enthusiasm for a parish council, the law does not permit it. Why are Londoners alone so discriminated against? Why have successive governments refused to provide legislation to enable London to be like the rest of the country? Indeed, would this Bill give us that opportunity?

The Earl of Listowel: Perhaps I may speak briefly about the Walthamstow Housing Action Trust, which I visited recently. Tremendous changes have happened there. Many people say that that is simply because the Government have poured millions into it. However, it all started because a few women went to Horseferry Road with fallen masonry from their housing estate and said, "Look; this housing estate is falling to pieces around our ears. You have to do something about it". So, local action can be vigorous and effective.

Lord Whitty: It has been some considerable time since we had this level of passion for the GLA Bill. I suppose I should thank my noble friend Lord Young for intervening at this stage and giving us something to think about. Perhaps I may make two comments: first, the Government do not agree with him, for a range of reasons, partly related to the comments made by the right reverend Prelate and partly to another aspect of practicality.

Secondly, even if I had been convinced over the last 20 minutes and we did agree with him, the amendment is not appropriate in this Bill. It is certainly not appropriate to link it to this clause. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, stated, it is outside the scope of the Bill which deals with the construction of a Greater London Authority above the level of London boroughs, not with the structure of local government below that level. There may be appropriate Bills which deal with London government in general, but this is not the appropriate Bill. Even if that problem was overcome, this clause, which has been described as containing "sweeping powers", is not. Clause 318 only allows the Minister to make incidental, consequential, transitional or supplemental provisions as appear to him to be necessary or expedient in order to achieve the general purposes of the Bill. It does not allow him to do anything else in London in relation to the structure of local government or London democracy but to deal with the issues covered by the purposes of the Bill.

There is clearly a large number of empathetic arguments for the amendment, as the noble Lord, Lord Young of Dartington, said and others have echoed. However, the Bill is not the appropriate Bill and the clause is not an appropriate clause. I am sorry to be so

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boring and legalistic about this, but that is the fact. I would therefore ask my noble friend not to pursue the amendment at this stage and on this Bill.

Lord Young of Dartington: I thank the Minister for his courtesy, but not for the content of what he said. I did not find it wholly surprising, but sad. I believe that the Government are missing a real opportunity to show that, given a change in structure, considerable energies could be brought forth from people who at present do not think anything of politics and do not see themselves as playing any part in representative institutions.

This is a feeling which, so far as it exists, and it does, we need to combat in every way possible. Admitting that London should have the same rights as the rest of the country would show, as it would in practice, that it really does something when people have a right which has been denied to them.

I agree with the right reverend Prelate that there are many parts of London which are not perhaps in the first line of suitability for having the new kind of council for which we have been urging. However, the beauty of the Act--if an Act which has "Rating" in its title can have any beauty--was that it did not impose anything; it gave the right to people who wanted to have a council of this kind, with enough support to petition the Secretary of State, to be allowed to have it. Obviously if the Secretary of State wished, he or she could turn it down. However, the opportunity was there. A new choice was and is being presented in Leeds and all the other cities of Britain. We will have an opportunity to see whether it really does work to reinvigorate local politics, as I hope it will.

However, I accept the Minister's comments as being telling. I am glad to have had the opportunity, with some support, to have made my points. I intend to pursue this matter with all strength wherever I can. However, I do not intend to do so further tonight.

Clause 318 agreed to.

Clause 319 [Transfers of property, rights or liabilities]:

Lord Dahrendorf moved Amendment No. 455AZAB.


Page 167, line 26, leave out ("Corporation of London") and insert ("Common Council")

The noble Lord said: Amendments Nos. 455AZAB and 455AZAC standing in my name have acquired an almost Old Testament designation, if I may say so with due reverence to the right reverend Prelate. I do not propose to offer anything either as serious or as long as that text. I propose a simple drafting amendment; at least it is unless the Government intend to nationalise the private assets of what is commonly known as the Corporation of London. But so far as I know, that is not a part of government policy.

Clause 319 is about the transfer of property, rights and liabilities of local authorities and other bodies in London by orders of a Minister of the Crown. Subsection (2)(d) mentions specifically local authorities and in Subsection (3)(b) London borough councils. In both cases it adds:


    "or the Corporation of London".

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The amendment standing in my name suggests that a more correct reference would be to the Common Council. I shall not spend time going into the many designations of institutions in the City. However, I would emphasise once again, as I did at Second Reading, that the corporation has a private as well as public element. If the property rights or liabilities of the corporation as a whole were within the ambit of a clause, the result would be that the power of transfer would extend well beyond local authority activities and would take in private interests which have no relevance to and are not funded by the local government finance system. Moreover, the clause would apply to property which is neither required nor held under local government powers. The proposed amendment is in line with local government legislation, and indeed with other parts of the Bill before us; for example, Chapter 13 of Part IV. It would therefore seem appropriate to refer to the Common Council, or even to the Common Council in its capacity as a local authority instead.

I shall not press the amendment tonight. I hope that the Minister will assure me that he will look at and consider these arguments. If so, it may not be necessary to return to this matter at Report stage. I beg to move.


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