London Transport Executive
The Minister of Transport (Mr. Richard Marsh)
I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 3, line 33, leave out ‘eight’ and insert ‘ten’.
This Amendment meets a request made by the Opposition in Committee. It seemed to us, on reflection, that there was no great argument against it. It gives a little more flexibility, and it seemed to us reasonable to make the change asked for.
Mr. Anthony Berry (Southgate)
I am grateful to the Minister for making a change which I sought in Committee. It does not bind the Transport Executive to any particular size, but as it provides some extra flexibility it might be useful.
Amendment agreed to.
I beg to move Amendment No. 2, in page 3, line 41, leave out subsection (3).
This is an Amendment of some substance. Its purpose is to leave out the provisions in the Clause relating to disqualification of members, officers or servants of the London Transport Executive from membership of the Greater London Council. We have thought about this matter a great deal, and the reason for the Amendment, quite simply, is that we have reached the conclusion that formal disqualification of the kind proposed in the Bill as drafted would be inappropriate.
About 60,000 people may well be employed by the London Transport Executive. They will not be employees of the Greater London Council, as such, but employees of the Executive. It seemed [column 99]to me—and it is a view about which the Greater London Council has some doubts and apprehensions, but I hope that events will show those apprehensions to be unjustified—that it was unreasonable to exclude this very large number of people from membership of the Greater London Council.
Mrs. Margaret Thatcher (Finchley)
I agree that this is an Amendment of some substance, and we should like Richard Marshthe Minister to tell us more about it before coming to a decision on it. We are transferring control of a very large undertaking from the House to a very substantial body of regional government. It is not just a small local council but another body of regional government. The person's position is parallel to that of a person working with a nationalised industry and the possibility of his entering this House. If a person works for and draws a salary from British Rail, or London Transport, or the National Coal Board or any other nationalised undertaking, he cannot at the same time become a Member of Parliament. There are very good reasons for that rule.
If that is the position, he could not at the moment be an employee of London Transport and be a Member of Parliament, but it seems that by transferring the ownership of the undertaking across the road to the Greater London Council we are making a very fundamental change; that is to say, a person can be an employee of the Transport Executive and, at one and the same time, a member of the Council which has jurisdiction over that Executive.
In Committee, I asked the Minister what happens if a union negotiator negotiating an increase in salary for the people whom he represents with the London Transport Executive is also a councillor on the G.L.C. which ultimately will have to say whether that increase should go through. There is, basically, a conflict of interest there which is not covered by the union official having a pecuniary interest—he may have none What would be the position in such a case?
I wonder why, if we preclude people from coming to this place while holding an office of profit either under the Crown or under one of the big nationalised [column 100]industries, we should not observe the same rule when the undertaking is transferred to another body of regional government.
The analogy, if I may say so, is fairly dubious. Members of nationalised boards could not serve in this House, but they could be members of another place—some of them are. I am not absolutely certain about the detailed provisions for the staffs of nationalised industries, but I do not believe that there is any statutory debarment of the staff of the nationalised industries standing for Parliament. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary is a shining example of the advantages gained for the nation by persons leaving nationalised industries and coming to this place.
They could stand for Parliament and they could stand for the G.L.C. What the Minister proposes in this Amendment is that at the same time as a person is a councillor, he could also be an employee of the Executive. Even R.C. Brownthe excellent Parliamentary Secretary is not at one and the same time a Member of Parliament and drawing an emolument from a nationalised industry.
There is a difference from the situation where my hon. Friend, of whose financial circumstances I have no knowledge but who probably earned £6,000, £7,000, or £8,000 before coming here from a nationalised industry, now finds himself working full time in the House. We are talking of the Greater London Council and of people who are not to be paid at all. This is voluntary work. There is nothing new at all in the case raised by the hon. Lady of the trade union negotiator negotiating with the Greater London Council.
I recall that the chairman of the Greater London Council was an officer of my trade union, the National Union of Public Employees, which is probably the biggest and quickest growing union in the country. He was chairman and was, at the same time, responsible for negotiations relating to many of the staff of the council.
There is no conflict here at all. What we are talking about is a group of people who are not employed by the Greater London Council. Their salaries are not negotiated by the council. The council [column 101]is responsible for policy in agreement with the executive on this matter. It seems to me to be wrong to debar about 60,000 people from serving in a voluntary capacity on a local authority just because it is possible that there might be some sort of conflict of interest for lay trade union officials—because there is nothing to prevent a full time trade union official being a member of the Greater London Council.
The only problem is that the man might be a bus conductor and a branch official of the Transport and General Workers' Union. It is possible that this may happen, but if the electors want him as a member of the Greater London Council, I see no reason for preventing him standing for the council if he so wishes.
We are making rather heavy weather of this Amendment. There will not be vast numbers of employees of the executive wanting to serve on the Greater London Council. I can imagine that the problem could arise if members of the executive itself were allowed to serve on the council. That is not allowed. I can imagine that, in certain cases, it would be highly undesirable for a senior official of the executive to be a member of the council, but I should have thought that this was something which the executive itself could deal with by its own staff methods. Indeed, the senior executive wanting to place himself in such a highly compromising position would cast doubts on his suitability for his job.
We are concerned with an unique situation related to a group of people who, if the Bill went through in its present form, would be debarred from serving as voluntary members of their own local authority.
The right hon. Gentleman is laying great stress on the word “voluntary” . Would he take a different view if G.L.C. councillors were paid, as in due course they might have to be?
I certainly would not take a different view. I cannot see why 60,000 people should be debarred from standing for election to the Greater London Council. I do not believe that if the electors of Greenwich or any other place in Greater London decided that they wanted to elect a bus conductor or a clerk em[column 102]ployed by the executive to the council that that would cause any problem. The only argument is that there might be a clash in negotiations, but that falls down because over the years there have been many eminent trade union officials at national, local and regional level who have held office on the council.
It may be invidious to mention names, but Mr. Sidney Barton was for many years an eminent member of the London County Council and served on many of its committees and was eventually chairman. He was an official of a union which had a large membership employed by the council. One could not apply this to the man who was negotiating at regional level, but it is suggested that there would be great difficulty if he were a part-time official. We are talking only about part-time officials. Many trade union branch officials do very good work on local authorities.
Before excluding tens of thousands from the right—which they might never exercise—even to seek election to their own local authority, the House should think very carefully. It should be moved only by strong argument and I do not think that there are strong arguments against this Amendment.
Amendment agreed to.