HC Deb 27 May 1903 vol 123 cc55-61

As amended (by the Standing Committee) considered.


said that in the absence of his hon. friend the Member for East Somerset he begged to move the omission of Sub-section 3 of Clause 1. This was a very valuable Bill in connection with local self government, but he thought that the sub-section which he wished to see deleted was likely to cause very considerable difficulty in the administration of the Act. In fact he thought it would really render the Act nugatory. The relations between the minor and the superior local authorities were very frequently of a somewhat delicate character, and there was apt to be undue jealousy on the part of the minor local authorities at any increase of power being given to the County Councils. The sub-section provided that— Where the Local Government Board propose to make a Provisional Order under this section transferring any power, duty, or liability to the Council of the County or county borough, the Board shall give notice to all local authorities who, in the opinion of the Board, are likely to be affected by the transfer, and if within such time as the Board prescribes the majority of those authorities notify to the Board that they object to any such proposed transfer, the Order shall not be proceeded with so far as relates to that transfer, but without prejudice to the power of the Board to propose a new Order. It seemed to him that where the Local Government Board and the County Council were agreed that the transference of any power was expedient it should not be in the power of the minor local authorities to obstruct it. He begged to move.

Amendment proposed to the Bill— In page 1, line 15, to leave out Sub-section (3) of Clause 1."—(Mr. Humphreys-Owen.)

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill."


said he would point out to his hon. friend that all that the sub-section provided for was that there must be inquiry before the transfer of the powers, and that the minor authorities should have an opportunity of being heard for or against. It was perfectly well known that, in the past, there had been a great deal of friction between the minor and the superior local authorities, and also between them and the central authority. If an attempt was made by the superior local authority to co-operate with the central authority for the transfer of powers to the former without full inquiry, a blow would be struck at minor local government.


expressed the strong hope that the Government would retain this sub-section. It was arrived at by a compromise in the Grand Committee. The Bill enabled powers of the great State Departments to be transferred by Provisional Order to a single County Council and thus affected the claims and interests of the urban councils, boroughs, and other minor authorities. He had himself considered whether some better Amendment could not be devised to secure their interests than the clause, but must confess that he had failed. The clause would prevent any serious hardships and tend to eliminate friction between the County Council and the minor authorities.

MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)

said that everyone who had studied this question must know that there was a real difficulty. It was all very well to talk about the minor local authorities, but that there was friction between the County Councils and the non-County Boroughs was perfectly well known, and it seemed to him that the sub-section was the only way out of the difficulty, unless hon. Members were prepared to coerce the minor local authorities into arrangements with the superior local authorities.

LORD EDMUND FITZMAURICE (Wiltshire, Cricklade)

said he entirely agreed with the hon. Member for East Northampton, when he said that this sub-section was not only a compromise but the only possible compromise. What were the facts? They had to find a modus vivendi between the Borough Councils and the County Councils. They could not succeed by trying to override the powerful section of opinion represented by the Boroughs and the Urban Councils. For twelve or thirteen years one attempt after another had been made by the County Councils Association and the Municipal Councils Association, and by successive Governments to find some means of decentralisation; but they had always failed. The County Councils had not yet entirely obtained the confidence of the boroughs. Great efforts had been made in late years by the two great associations representing the County Councils and the municipal boroughs to find a modus vivendi; and he was very hopeful that if the Bill passed it would be the beginning of a better state of things. If, however, the County Councils tried to override the minor authorities, they could not possibly make a greater mistake in their own interests. He did not believe that the sub-section which it was proposed to omit would reduce the Bill to a nullity. As chairman of the Standing Committee on Law, he presided over the discussions on the Bill in Committee. An attempt was made to introduce the Parish Councils; but that was going a great deal too far. If they had been introduced, he quite admitted the Bill would not be worth passing. What the Bill proposed was, that where there was a decentralising order affecting a Board of Guardians, or an Urban Council, the majority in each case would have to be consulted. Public opinion was growing in those matters. In his own county, they sometimes got over difficulties by convening a representative meeting of all the minor authorities, in such matters as valuation, for instance; and he found that the minor authorities could be got to accept things in that way much better than if it were sought to force them. The Bill got in the thin end of the wedge; and that wedge would gradually extend, not, however, by compulsion, but by the mutual consent of the two great classes of public opinion which the Bill affected.


said that there was practical agreement in all quarters of the House with reference to the Bill. The hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment of his right hon. friend the Member for East Somerset said that the Amendments put into the Bill upstairs would entirely destroy its effect. He entirely disagreed with the hon. Gentleman He believed that the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken did not in the least exaggerate the effect of the Amendment. Without the sub-section he did not think it would be possible to pass the Bill; and even if, by some fortuitous circumstance, it was passed without that sub-section, it would be impossible to give it effect against the will of the bodies whom the hon. Gentlemen called the minor authorities. The origin of the Bill was a demand made by some of the representatives of Wales that there should be a transfer made of some of those powers. It was pointed out that such a transfer could not be made under the existing law, as at present a transfer could only be general and not particular. The main object of the Bill was to enable a transfer to be made in particular cases. The case presented by Wales was that not only was the transfer desirable, but that there was no opposition among the county boroughs or urban districts. Therefore, the whole foundation of the Bill was not only the desire for a transfer, but the particular unanimity of the local authorities concerned. They could do no more evil turn to the County Councils than to put on them the adminisration of some of the duties of a Government Department against the conviction and desire of the other local authorities. He was, therefore, glad that the Motion of the hon. Gentleman, which would amount to the rejection of the measure, had found such little favour in the House.

*MR. HELME (Lancashire, Lancaster)

said he cordially supported the position which the Government had been pleased to take up to try and meet the feelings expressed on behalf of the local authorities whose position this Bill proposed to alter. When the Local Government Bill came before the House in 1888 the fear was expressed on behalf of many of the urban districts that too great powers were being given to the County Councils, and it was decided in the general interest that the Local Government Board should only have power to make a general transfer, not to transfer in particular cases. The very foundation upon which local government in the country had been developed had been on the basis of consent; and he thought the arrangements which were now before them in this Bill and in the Amendments he had put on the Paper in Committee which the Government were pleased to accept, met the desires of those concerned. There was no doubt whatever that in many cases the Local Government Board should have the power of transferring certain powers; and he thought that by the arrangements contained in the Bill justice would be done to the cases where between the County Council and the smaller districts there was a desire to have those powers transferred, and at the same time protect those where there might be a feeling of hesitancy as to the granting of those powers. On behalf of the non-county boroughs and urban districts he thanked the Government for the spirit they had shown in accepting the Amendments which were proposed in Committee.

MR. EDWARDS (Radnor)

said he desired to associate himself with the remarks of the hon. Member who had just spoken. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board referred to the part which the Welsh Members had taken in bringing this matter before the House. The right hon. Gentleman thought that, if it was desirable that those powers should be transferred, they should be transferred by a Government Bill. It did not, however, much matter who introduced the Bill as long as the powers were transferred. Ha congratulated the right hon. Gentleman who, although he opposed his Bill, because it was a private Member's Bill, showed that he was sincere in the matter by bringing forward this Bill. He was glad to find that the difficulties which stood in the way of the Bill for many years had at last been overcome. When the President of the Local Government Board in 1899 tried to pass a Bill of this kind, he was met by the opposition of the Borough Councils. In his opinion, the omission of the sub-section would destroy the Bill altogether; and he would appeal to his hon. friend to accept the sense of the House, especially as the Bill went through Committee practically unanimously. The position might not be ideal; but it was a distinct advance.

MR. COURTENAY WARNER (Staffordshire, Lichfield)

said he also wished to appeal to his hon. friend to withdraw the Amendment, as there was a great feeling throughout the country, especially on the part of the boroughs and the rural authorities, that those powers should not be rushed upon them without their consent.

MR. J. H. LEWIS (Flint Boroughs)

said he also wished to say how cordially he appreciated the action of the right hon. Gentleman in bringing forward the Bill; and he congratulated the right hon. Gentleman on a very useful measure. He hoped his hon. friend would withdraw his Amendment.


said he was glad to see that the compromise which had been arrived at in the Grand Committee appeared to be satisfactory to all concerned.


said that after the appeals which had been addressed to him, especially the appeal of his hon. friend the Member for Radnor, who was the parent of the Bill, he would ask leave to withdraw the Amendment. The hon. Member for South Islington seemed a little troubled at his having referred to "minor local authorities;" but he had not the least idea of saying anything disparaging. He only borrowed a convenient phrase, used by the Government.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


said he hoped the House would consent to the Third Reading.