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Column 752restrictions on the number of people who can be brought into the net. Many people will be brought into it at a later date. Will they be only local government employees or will the employees of the few remaining public utilities be included? How far will the net extend? That is a fundamental issue that should not be pushed through the House.
I support the new clauses because their aim is to ensure proper democratic debate and decision-making, to restrict the numbers involved and to delay implementation of the provision. The Minister will no doubt argue that the new clauses aim to prevent the provision ever being implemented. That is true, and I welcome it. Those hon. Members who believe in the fundamental democratic rights and liberties of the people should do everything possible to oppose such a broad brush, sweeping attack on many thousands of individuals and the many tens of thousands who the Government may say are not included, but who we know potentially will be included in future.
Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West) : What is at the root of the Government's proposal, and why I urge the House to reject the new clause, is the importance of the neutrality of the local government official and the impartiality with which he gives his advice as a servant of the community. I have some knowledge of these matters. My father was chief accountant for Salford corporation for 30 years before he joined the National Health Service in 1948. He always regarded as a prime factor in his service to the local authority the fact that he was essentially politically neutral, taking no part in any political activity, so that the advice that he gave to all parties was equal and fair and seen to be unbiased. That is the role of the local government employee--who, after all, chooses to work in local government--especially those with salaries of more than £13,500 and the designated officers whom my right hon. Friend the Minister has included within the scope of the provision--
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) rose --
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) talked about the rights of the individual and of appealing to the European Court of Human Rights. That is very much going over the top in relation to my hon. Friend's modest recommendation contained in the clause.
If we look at the Civil Service and at local government officials throughout the European Community, we will find that it is expected that they will be neutral, servants of the community providing unbiased political advice to the elected representatives. That, after all, is the role of a local government officer. Considered from that point of view I am sure that we can see the sense and the purpose of the clause.
The proposals contained in these clauses have been introduced because the non-existence of regulations in the immediate past was abused. The fact that we did not have much regulation in this area, so that it was possible to be
Column 753a councillor on one authority and work for another, has been abused in recent years. We have seen it occurring constantly, especially in the south-east. I make it clear that it is not a problem in Lancashire and the north-west, apart from Merseyside. We have seen, however, over and over again in the south-east examples of councillors working for one local authority being given a job in another.
That sort of job-for-the-boys situation must be stopped. New clause 4 is asking for a voluntary code of practice--in effect a series of regulations with no teeth. It is clearly a wrecking amendment that the hon. Member for Brightside has tabled to destroy the intention that is behind my hon. Friend's clause. Secondly, it asks the House to deal with each individual case that is reported to it, through the Secretary of State, so that, effectively, each individual case is resolved by the House. That is a huge waste of the legislative time of the House. It is something that should be dealt with elsewhere.
I respect the tactics of the hon. Member for Brightside, because he is in opposition, but this is a wrecking amendment that will achieve nothing. I say to my hon. Friends that it is just undermining the Bill. I advise them completely to reject the three new clauses. I commend that view to the House.
Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) : I believe that we are debating an important issue. This group of new clauses is relatively modest in its approach. The new clauses recognise that the Government are not likely to recognise the folly of their policy. However, at least they give them the opportunity, if they accept the new clauses, to analyse the implications of their policy. While it would delay the implementation of the relevant parts of the Bill, it would allow them to reconsider. If the Government considered the matter positively, I believe that they would recognise that it is unnecessary to move in that direction.
The hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) appears to believe that a person earning £13,500 could not serve on one local authority and perform his duties in his employing authority in a way that was not reflecting his political view. I am sure that the majority of employees who earn such a salary could not in any way influence the political viewpoint or the direction in which a local authority moves. The arbitrary figure chosen is nonsensical. It penalises those, especially in London and the south-east, who, because of the higher cost of living and property values resulting from the Government's policies, must be paid a salary for a job that would attract a much lower level of salary elsewhere.
I accept that, if a council is being advised by officers on a committee, it wants those officers to give impartial advice and to carry out the decisions of the local authority. That would be expected by any local authority, whether Labour, Conservative or SLD. When we take over government, we shall certainly expect the civil servants to act in the same way and to carry out the wishes of a Labour Government. There are genuine fears that the Government are stacking the Civil Service with senior civil servants who are of their viewpoint. If the Government are concerned about political interference, they should look
Column 754into that matter. I know that a series of questions has been asked about the number of political advisers who have been appointed in many Government Departments. In fact, the Government have more political advisers in the different Departments than any previous Government.
I feel strongly that it is wrong to erode people's rights to stand for local authorities and to remove their political freedom. We see the Government continuously eroding civil liberties, freedom and rights.-- [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) of course rejects that charge. He never speaks in these debates. He fails to recognise that consistently this Government, who talk about freedom, erode freedom by their legislation. Obviously, the constraints of the debate will not allow me to cite examples, but that is very much in accord with their policy of removing rights. We do not know what the regulations will contain and whether they will say that local authority employees cannot display a poster or cannot go canvassing. We have seen examples of the powers given to the Secretary of State. He can make regulations under legislation, and we saw how a few weeks ago seven orders, involving 94 pages of poll tax regulations, were dealt with in an hour and a half. That shows why we are rightly concerned about what the Government are doing. That was a sham of a debate. As I said that night, we are increasingly becoming a sham of a democracy.
If the Government are not prepared to accept the new clause moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), they will make a great mistake. While it may be right that the very senior officers should not be in a position to stand for local authorities, it is nonsense to bring in this arbitrary figure and thereby remove so many people from service on local authorities and participation in political activities. The Government would really like to move a motion that no one takes part in political activities in this country unless they happen to be Conservative activities. They do not like anyone with a different point of view from the one expressed from the Conservative Benches. The Government do not believe in democracy. It is consistent with their policy to erode democracy. If they are not prepared to accept the new clauses, I fear that it will be a further serious erosion of and a restriction on the rights of local government employees, of whatever party, to express their political views and, if they so wish, to serve on local authorities.
I hope that the Minister recognises the importance of what we are debating. I stress that it is a dangerous direction in which the Government are moving. If they want to preserve democracy, freedom and people's rights, they will be prepared to accept the new clauses.
Mr. Rooker : I support the three new clauses. In all honesty, I do not believe that the modern Conservative party believes in local government. The evidence of the past few years is there for all to see, and this is just one further example. They are driving people out of local government. That is their intention, because they do not want any strain of independence or any other form of power in the land other than central Government under Conservative party control. If the Government get their way, by and large the people who really want to contribute to society will not go into local government. They will want nothing to do with
Column 755it. Following the financial changes, local government officers will be bereft of any decision-making powers and their other powers will be greatly restricted.
Over the past decade it has become clear--I shall not cite individuals as that is unfair--that the whole thrust of the Conservative parliamentary party has been against good independent local government. That government is not partisan and it is not political, but independent and good and the Government do not like it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) made it clear that many people in local government believe that their fundamental democratic and human rights are being severely curtailed by the Bill. He said that those people will seek to use their democratic rights to take their case to the European Court of Human Rights. I was amazed when the hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind)--I believe that he is in the legal profession--said that to take such a complaint to the European Court was "going over the top".
Mr. Rooker : Are we to assume that an amendment will be tabled to stop people exercising their right to make such a complaint? Because of our unwritten constitution the Government are able to trammel people's rights. More and more people are forced to go to courts outside the United Kingdom to seek redress. It is expensive and all possible pressure is exerted on people not to do so. To argue that it is over the top to make such a complaint to the European Court--the function of that court is to stop member states trammelling the civil liberties of their citizens--is a disgraceful remark from a parliamentarian.
Mr. Hind rose--
The issue goes much wider because the Government's legislation does not just cover those who give advice
Mr. Hind rose--
Mr. Hind : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Surely it is a matter of courtesy in this House for an hon. Member who criticises another, whether it is justified or not, to give way to the hon. Gentleman criticised so that he may respond.
Mr. Rooker : If the Government's legislation just covered those who gave advice and its scope was that narrow, there would be some merit in the argument that we could debate. The Bill, however, will not just cover
Column 756those who give advice, but manual workers and people who, by and large, have no contact with the public or with councillors. That is the incredible thing about the Bill.
Frankly, we would not be having this debate today if it were not--I say this as a Member representing Birmingham--for a mere handful of isolated cases of gross abuse in London. That is the truth of the matter. Those hon. Members who represent parts of the country outside London deeply resent what has happened. What is more, that abuse could have been put right much more easily than by the introduction of the draconian measure before us today. The Bill will affect thousands of councillors and it is a smear on good local government on both sides of the political divide. All that, just because of a handful of people in certain London boroughs. No one denies that certain chief officers were twin-tracking, but it is disgraceful that this Bill has been introduced because of their actions.
I am also concerned about the definition of political activities. The Government have attacked a range of activities and people's rights and freedoms. People join political parties, but they also join political movements. Not all political movements are political parties and a fine distinction must be drawn. At one time one could have argued that the environmental movement was not a political party, although one party may have claimed to have been more concerned about the environment than others. All parties claim that today. 6.45 pm
Our constitution is unwritten and it allows the Government to do what they want. It allows them to take people's rights away, but it also allows people to complain to the European Court of Human Rights. Charter 88 is a people's movement for constitutional reform and I understand that it is supported by members of all political parties and people of no political party. That group holds meetings around the country--some of which are said to be ordinary public meetings and some of which are fringe meetings held at conferences run by political parties and other organisations. That group is seeking to campaign for wide constitutional reform on a non-party and all-party basis. Under the Bill, will membership of that group constitute political activity? Some signatories to the charter are Conservative--they are few and far between, but honourable nevertheless. It is their constitutional right to campaign, outside of political parties, for constitutional reform. We must not forget that. I plead guilty to not following the Committe proceedings as well as I should have done and I do not know whether what is meant by political activity was discussed.
The Bill is extremely dangerous. New clauses 2, 3 and 4 go some way to mitigate that danger and to meet the main thrust of the abuse that undoubtedly took place. We did not support that abuse and we would have sought to put that matter right.
I accept that the Local Government Act 1972, introduced by a Conservative Government, sought to distinguish between an officer who worked for the council and those people who were officers initially, but then became known as party activists. Pre-1972 it was possible
Column 757to go to local government officers to seek impartial advice. I do not mean to be disparaging about the present officers in local government, but if they are responsible to political masters it is hard for them to give impartial advice.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) referred to the fact that only London councillors were twin-trackers. The Daily Mail of 20 November 1985
Mr. Patnick : The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) has made more speeches from a sedentary position today than anyone else. I have not yet seen him get up to say anything positive ; he merely continues his abuse from a sedentary position-- [Interruption.]
The Daily Mail article stated that a quarter of Glasgow's city councillors were employed by their regional council, Strathclyde. The hon. Member for Brightside and myself had the honour to be members of South Yorkshire county council-- [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Bradford, South wants to intervene, I shall give way.
Mr. Cryer : All I want to say is that I am being constantly pestered by the junior Minister from the Home Office, the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), who keeps shouting questions at me which are entirely irrelevant, and I am merely being courteous.
Both the hon. Member for Brightside and I were members of South Yorkshire county council and Sheffield city council and had a chance to see if friendship across the political divide could blossom because I had the pleasure of transporting him from Barnsley to Sheffield, where we used to slither in to the next meeting. From the four districts--Barnsley, Rotherham, Doncaster and Sheffield--many officers employed by the local authority were also county councillors. I do not say that there was anything wrong in that. I am making the point because the hon. Member for Perry Barr said it was only London people who did this and I have endeavoured to prove that it was not.
The fact is that 16 per cent. of local authority councillors of all parties in Britain are also local authority employees--that is, about 4,000 people.
Mr. Matthew Taylor : The hon. Gentleman makes a point that we have heard before and that features in the Conservative party's brief on the Bill. Can he tell us how many of those to whom he refers as being also local authority employees would come under these restrictions, because clearly many of them would be on much lower salaries and not in positions that would be included in this Bill?
Mr. Patnick : I thank the hon. Member for that wonderful intervention. If he had allowed me to finish the point that I had started to make, I would have answered that. His crystal ball is not as good as it appears to be.
Of those 4,000 people, about 58 per cent. are teachers or lecturers, to whom the twin-tracking provision does not apply-- [Interruption.] I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has read the Bill and it does not apply to teachers or lecturers--wrongly, some may think. This was discussed in Committee and the Minister stated that it did not apply. That leaves about 1,700 people to whom the twin-tracking provision might apply, although not all will be politically restricted. So we are left with the basic number, which could be 400 to 500 councillors, who may be caught by the twin- tracking prohibition. Does any hon. Member say that that is unreasonable? There are only a few people to whom this applies and I cannot see that it is so onerous that it is taking away privilege and making people go to the European Court, although no doubt some Opposition Members will make that case.
The twin-tracking argument has been used to distract attention from the more insidious aspect of this Bill, which is the political restriction on officers earning £13,500. I am not particularly in favour of twin- tracking. When I was a member of the Greater London council--and the sun always shone in those days, as we all know--
Mr. Banks : No, the sun was not shining today ; it was the greenhouse effect today. It was a microwave oven out there. It is all part of the ozone layer breaking down because of Government policies. The sun genuinely shone in GLC days. I was not particularly happy about officers who had heavy council responsibilities being elected members of other local authorities. I accepted the fact, but I was not happy about it.
The point--and we said this to the Minister in Committee--is that we should look at the whole matter of compensation and the way that we remunerate our councillors. We have a crazy system. We still rely very much on people giving up their careers in order to be local councillors. It seems to me that, if we are really worried about the question of twin tracking, rather than just moving in to obliterate the idea we should start talking in terms of fewer councillors perhaps, of looking at the whole structure of local government and of paying local councillors a decent salary for doing a good job.
Mr. Robert G. Hughes : I am sure that the hon. Member will wish history to record that he was an influential and important member of the Greater London council. If he felt as he has just said and was unhappy with councillors twin tracking, being local councillors and members of the GLC staff in high positions, why were there so many of them? Why did it seem to be the policy of the Labour party to promote so many people who were in Labour party positions or were Labour councillors elsewhere to high positions in the GLC? He really cannot have it both ways.
Column 759a difference there. I was not happy, but that unhappiness arose not because people were twin tracking but because the system of local government and remuneration of councillors is all wrong.
I would be much more in favour of seeing whether there was a problem if the Government were prepared to make some serious proposals for looking at the way in which we remunerate local councillors who do a good job. We are not looking at it in that root and branch fashion. We are looking at it at a superficial level, and this symbolises the Government's approach. It is superficial and layered with malice, venom and bigotry. That is the way in which the Government approach local government.
Coming now to the £13,500 cut-off, it is typical of this Government that they attach a price to everything ; they set an economic point at which there will be a cut-off. That is not a qualitative argument ; it is a quantitative argument based on money. The only thing that the Arthur Daleys on the Government Benches who now run this country understand a little bit about is money. That is their level. They know nothing about the qualitative arguments that the Opposition are addressing.
The figure of £13,500 relates back, I suppose, to Widdicombe's point about principal officers. But things have moved on since then. If the figure stays at £13,500, and assuming that the Government are around for a few years yet, in the end, logically, virtually every local government officer will come within the category. Clearly the Minister, when he replies, must tell us what he intends to do about uprating the £13,500 figure because things have moved on even while the Bill has been in Committee. It is difficult now to be precise about the number of officers in local government who will be caught, but it may be as many as 130,000. I urge the Minister to tell us because, although the Government said originally that the ban would affect a mere 3 per cent. of local government employees, that figure has gone up and I want the Minister to give precisely his estimate of the number of local government officers affected.
We also need to know from the Minister what he means by political activity. Will it be so ridiculous as to include canvassing or putting up a poster? That has nothing to do with the impartial advice that local officers are giving ; it has to do with their own civil rights, I would have thought, and therefore cannot be seen as affecting them in terms of the advice they give.
The hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) mentioned his dear old dad, who was a local government officer. I am sure that he gave very good and impartial advice. It is a pity that some of it did not rub off on his son. I understand that the hon. Member used to be a member of the Labour party, so clearly his dad told him some good things. I only wish that his dad would carry on telling him those things because he has clearly gone all wrong since. His dad, being a sufficiently senior officer, would clearly have come within the terms of our clause. That shows that, as ever, we are being wholly reasonable.
We say that there are two good reasons why it is right that senior officers whose purpose is to give advice should not be involved in political activity, certainly of the twin-tracking sort. First, they do not have the time and, secondly, their advice is crucial. But it is nonsense to talk about £13,500 at those sorts of levels. That is the point at
Column 760which it matters. The Government are not concerned with the sort of advice that they are giving ; they are saying that because that is how much they earn they should not be in a position to give advice to elected members because that advice could be called into question. That is nonsense. First, the Minister must tell us how many local government officers will be included in his net and, secondly, what is the scope of political activity. How will he revise those salary levels or levels of political activity?
This is a crude attempt by the Government to smash local authorities into a shape that appeals to Conservative Members. That approach can be seen running through the Bill. There is no finesse about it ; they are simply trying to smash local authorities. That is their philosophy and their approach and that is why we ask all reasonable Members--there are one or two, although I cannot see them at the moment, but no doubt they will be coming in soon--to support us in the Lobby when they realise the appalling nature of the Bill. 7 pm
Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East) : The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick) seemed to be worried by the fact that some Glasgow district councillors also work for Strathclyde regional council. That does not seem to worry the voters in Glasgow who continue to vote in overwhelming numbers for representatives of the parties who oppose this legislation. So dominant is the Labour party in Strathclyde region that the main opposition party on Glasgow district council after Labour is composed of six Labour councillors who have temporarily had the whip withdrawn as a matter of internal discipline. They outnumber the Tory group in the council by almost two to one. Conservative Members should listen to the people of Scotland rather than use them as an example to substantiate their arguments.
While I am on that subject, let me tell the Minister that the only people who are not displaying political posters in Glasgow, Central this week are members of the Conservative party who are so ashamed of being associated with legislation of this kind that they will not display their own party's posters in the by-election.
I support the new clauses, particularly new clause 4 which has a specifically Scottish angle. It proposes that no regulations can be laid until a code of practice has been agreed with the local authority associations. In Scotland, that means with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. It also means the politicians who have been elected by the Scottish people. At the moment, restrictions have been imposed by a Government who in no way represent the views of the Scottish people. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), is present and that he represents a Scottish constituency, but the most recent opinion poll in Scotland which was published this morning shows support for the Conservative party standing at 7 per cent. That shows that the Government do not have a democratic mandate for imposing a new system of local government to serve people who in no way support the views of the Conservative party.
It is particularly important that the Minister should give a definition of what will constitute the kind of political activity that will be restricted. It has been said that there is a difference between political actions and actions which
Column 761become a movement. Scotland has many unique movements. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) is almost completely unique in that respect. Only this week in Glasgow, Central he claimed to be the true inheritor of the Red Clydesider, Jimmy Maxton, who once served well in the House. Yet at the same time he was picking up a fat salary from Rupert Murdoch's son--the same Rupert Murdoch who sacked 6,000 print workers. I would venture to suggest that had Jimmy Maxton been alive today he certainly would not have been a member of the Scottish National party working for the son of Rupert Murdoch and taking the side of the capitalists against the print workers, as the hon. Gentleman has done so unimpressively in Scotland recently. Let us take a campaign such as that for a Scottish assembly. I hope that the Minister is listening because this is an important point which the Scottish people want clarified. Will belonging to such a campaign be a politically restricted activity? Will local government officers who earn more than £13,500 a year be denied the right to go along to the local branch meeting of their campaign for a Scottish Assembly, to go on demonstrations and to put posters in their windows in support of such a campaign?
Will the same thing apply to the new phenomenon in Scotland--the Scottish constitutional convention? Will a local government officer be restricted from expressing support for that convention? Those are important matters that must be clarified by the Minister which to date have not been clarified.
I remember a song when I was at school about a cruel law against the wearing of the green, which was a way of trying to restrict support for Irish home rule. If the Minister does not clarify the position, we shall know that this is a direct attempt to restrict support for Scottish home rule by making it illegal for many thousands of local government officers to express their support for that concept. It is important to have that matter cleared up. Many Scottish people are taking part in non-payment campaigns against the poll tax. Will that become a politically restricted activity under the Act? I am a member of a Scottish committee of 100 who refuse to pay the poll tax and there are also many local government officers who earn more than £13,500 a year. If the Bill is enacted, will they be forbidden from taking such action next year when the poll tax is implemented in Scotland, or will they be allowed to take part in such non-party political activities?
In Committee I asked about local government officers being elected to schools boards in Scotland. Since then, teachers' unions in Scotland have made it clear that they will work with school boards and use them as one of the main engines by which to oppose the Government's privatisation policies in Scottish education. Will local government officers be able to take part in school boards and join in campaigns run by school boards against the Government education policy in Scotland without being restricted from doing so under the Bill? Teaching members of the board will be able to do that, but if they happen to be a parent member who is also a local government officer earning more than £13,500 a year, will they be restricted from openly and publicly attacking Government policy in respect of opting out and privatising Scottish education? That must be sorted out, and I hope that the Minister will make it clear when he replies.
I want to clarify how far the clause will apply to local government officers. In Committee on 7 March I asked the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for
Column 762Cardiff, Central (Mr. Grist), to consider the problem of a technical officer who was a councillor in Strathkelvin and Bearsden district council and who worked for Glasgow city council as a structural engineer. I asked whether technical officers would be exempt from restrictions placed upon politically restricted posts if they earned more than £13,500 a year. The Minister said : "It depends on what they are paid, whether they regularly advise the council, have contact with the media, and whether it can be believed that because of their position on the council they have some influence on the public. There are provisions in the Bill for such cases to be considered on their merits"--[ Official Report, Standing Committee G, 7 March 1989 ; c. 156-7.]
Recently in Dundee there was much political controversy about the safety of Tayside house, the headquarters of Tayside regional council. If that man had been a structural engineer working for Tayside regional council, he could have been earning more than £13, 500 a year and advising the council on matters which affected that building. He certainly could have had contact with the media over that matter and he could have influenced public opinion by what he said in respect of that building. Would such an officer be in a politically restricted post in those circumstances?
It is important that the Minister should clarify such details, because the Government are interfering in matters that they know nothing about. They know nothing about Scottish local government, yet they are imposing this new system on Scotland against the will of the Scottish people, and the Opposition will continue to resist them.
Mr. Pike : Is it not the case that under the Government's competition policy a person may be employed in an identical post in a private company as that of someone working in local government and yet not be subject to restrictions?
Mr. McAllion : My hon. Friend makes a valid point. Recently in Dundee the cleaning contract for Dundee schools was lost to a private contractor because the SNP and the Tories voted for that to happen. As a consequence, Tayside regional council employees are cleaning schools in Angus, Perth and Kinross, whereas private sector employees are cleaning schools in Dundee. The same situation could arise in other sectors of local government service, with people providing the same service in various parts of the region being treated completely differently.
Private sector employees will not be subject to the Bill's provisions but anyone working for the regional council will be. That is a mighty big flaw. The House does not understand or know Scottish local government and has no right to interfere in it. It should be left to the next Labour Government to create a Scottish Parliament to deal with Scottish local government in the way that it should be dealt with.
Mr. Cryer : New clause 2 is a particularly strong indicator of the vindictive nature of the whole Bill. The matter under consideration goes back to the Local Government Act 1972, when there was another act of aggression by a Tory Government against local authorities. It proposed the abolition of a large number of smaller local authorities, all the municipal boroughs, and rural and urban district councils. They were all wiped out by the 1972 Act, and one of the Government's arguments
Column 763for taking that course was that as larger local authorities would involve important decision taking they would attract the right calibre of officers.
Prior to 1974 and the operation of the 1972 Act, the majority of local government work was undertaken entirely by amateurs in their spare time, outside working hours. However, the very large local authorities created by the then Tory Government placed enormous burdens on people and, as a consequence, a small number of them became involved in the business of electing councillors who then had to look round for some way of supplementing their income, and they obtained local authority jobs.
Restrictions are already placed on a local authority employee who is also an elected member, so many councillors have been compelled to look outside their own areas for employment. It sometimes happens that they work for one local authority and live in the area of another, where they represent local people in a perfectly normal and proper way. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) mentioned, the burdens placed on local authority representatives are now so great that councillors in key positions find it almost impossible to sustain a full-time job. There is a marked difference between employees in the public sector and those in the private sector. Company directors are given as much time off as they want by the board. Tory party representation in a local authority often comprises people who have a place in the board room or who are solicitors, who find it easy to get time off. That is not always the case, but it often is. However, wage earners must always obtain permission to get time off, and it is not always given. Employees of large privatised organisations such as British Telecom are given only a certain number of days off each year, which they must allocate very carefully. Such are the difficulties that have precipitated the decision by many councillors to find local authority employment.
How many people find themselves both representing a local authority and working for one? Is the figure 20, 30 or 40? What percentage of the total number of councillors does the Minister seek to embrace in his legislation? He has not mentioned any number. The fact is that the vast majority of local authority committees and full councils are served by councillors who have other jobs, and who believe that they can best do so by advocating certain political views.
It is incumbent on the Minister to provide evidence of the need for the measure he proposes. What evidence is there that there has been damage done by the advocacy of so-called prejudicial information because officers of a certain local authority are Labour or Conservative members of another council? It is an implied term in an employee's contract of employment that he will use his skills and abilities to the full. Is there any recorded case of a member of the public, body or institution suing a local government officer for breach of his contract of employment, in failing to display the required standard of quality advice?