HC Deb 29 November 1917 vol 99 cc2430-8

6. Sub-section 4 of Section 40 of the Local Government Act, 1888 (which makes. the number of county councillors and the boundaries of the county electoral divisions in London depend on the number of. members for Parliamentary boroughs and the boundaries of Parliamentary boroughs, and divisions in London), shall have effect as if the words "for the time being" were substituted for the words "at the passing of this Act"

8. The Local Government Board may, by order, make such further adaptations in the provisions of any Act (including any local Act and any Act to confirm a Provisional Order, and any scheme under the Municipal Corporations Act, 1882, as-amended by any subsequent Act) as may seem to them necessary to make these provisions conform with the provisions of this Act; and any order so made shall operate as if enacted in this Act.

As respects Scotland the Secretary for Scotland, and as respects Ireland the Local Government Board for Ireland, shall be substituted for the Local Government Board in this provision.

Amendment made: At the end of paragraph 6, insert the words, "and in order to meet any difficulty (consequent on the change of boundaries under this provision) in filling casual vacancies by election in the London County Council, any such casual vacancy shall, until the first election of the whole number of councillors takes place after the passing of this Act, be filled by means of the choice by the council of a person to fill the vacancy, and the councillor so chosen shall hold office in such manner and in all respects as if he had been elected to fill the vacancy."— [Sir G. Cave.]


With regard to the next two Amendments, I think the best order is to take that of the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. Burdett-Coutts) first, as that raises the general question.


I beg to move, after the words last inserted, to add the words, Provided that in cases where a Parliamentary borough in London loses one or more county councillors under this Act such borough shall retain its existing number of county councillors. I am only too well aware that this late hour and the state of the House are entirely out of tune with the importance of the matter embodied in this Amendment. I only hope that that will not prejudice it in the eyes of the few Members who are present, because it is not my fault. I do not know whether the Home Secretary intends to finish the Bill to-night.




Then I am afraid I must trespass on the indulgence of the House for a few minutes. I put down this Amendment to relieve the Bill of a very palpable injustice which it does, which is not concerned with the intrinsic merits of the Bill at all, but which has a result that I think was quite unforeseen by those who drafted the Bill and have it in charge. It is, therefore, a result which I venture to submit, because it was unforeseen, is one that they are called upon, if possible, to remedy, particularly if, as I think I can show, that could be done without in any way altering the purpose or structure of the Bill. May I explain the position for the information, at any rate, of non-London Members?

At present each municipal borough in London, coterminous I think in all cases with the corresponding Parliamentary borough, is allotted two county councillors for each Member of Parliament. The loss of a Parliamentary seat under this Act involves, therefore, to the borough concerned the loss of two county councillors. In those circumstances the following boroughs, Shoreditch, Finsbury, St. Pancras, Marylebone, and Westminster, would each lose two, and Stepney would lose four members on the county council. These are the only boroughs, six in number, affected. It is worth while to look for a moment into the history of this curious interdependence between the representation of London to the county council and its representation to Parliament—two things quite different from one another, and between which there is really no logical connection. It was done by the Local Government Act of 1888, Section 4, which the right hon. Gentleman is confirming by his Amendment, to which I am asking him to add this proviso. The reason for it at that time was twofold. First, because in 1888 London was divided for local government purposes into a large number of vestries and district boards, many of which were too small to constitute into an electoral division for county council purposes. Secondly, this sort of rough and ready plan was adopted in order not to delay the passing of that Act, and it has been allowed to remain ever since But, in the meantime, the difficulty of small areas has been got rid of. The large Metropolitan boroughs have been established, and there is no reason or logic in taking the Parliamentary representation as the sole guide to county council representation. That the plan was an ad hoc one, adopted for the convenience of the moment, is shown by the fact that, outside of London, county electoral divisions and representation have no connection with Parliamentary representation. Anyone can see that by examining Section 2, Sub-section (3), of the Act of 1888, which deals with such representation outside of London. But I do not wish to detain the House over that matter.

Confronted with this state of things in London, and naturally not desiring to undertake the reorganisation of London County Council representation in this Bill, the Government have decided by the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment to perpetuate it—for the present at any rate, and in order not to overload the present Bill. I do not know that under the circumstances any other course was open to them. But this course has this inevitable result: That whereas what is called a Reform Bill always consists of two parts, as this Bill does with regard to Parliamentary representation, namely, franchise and redistribution, when it enters into the arena of local government matters it becomes a Franchise Bill (which this Bill certainly is with regard to the local government franchise) without the proper concomitant of a Redistribution Bill.

I am not blaming the Government for this. The Redistribution Bill with regard to local government matters must come in the future. All I ask them to do by this Amendment is to remove the injustice and loss which is incidental to this method of proceeding, and which accrues to the few boroughs in question. I cannot illustrate what it really means better than by taking the case of Westminster. Westminster loses a Parliamentary seat, and therefore loses two of its six representatives on the county council. But Westminster contributes to the Equalisation of Rates Fund £50,000 more per annum than all the other contributing or paying boroughs put together. That is to say, it contributes 62 per cent. of the total charged on the paying boroughs. And yet it has to lose two of its county council representatives. Put in another way, Westminster contributes 15 per cent. of the whole expenditure of the County of London, and its representation on the county council, the spending authority, is reduced to 3.2 per cent. Marylebone, the next largest contributor to the Fund, is prejudiced in the same way.

I hardly think the House will be unwilling to remove such an injustice. It is not like these propositions which we have been listening to to-night of alterations of nomenclature and adding to seats. This is a proposal to remedy an injustice which is consequential to the Bill as it stands. I should like to say a word about one other point. I have beard it objected that there is some technical reason with regard to the registers of the electoral districts why this proviso should not be put in, and the county council representation left just as it is. I have not been able to discover the difficulty. It will certainly not be the case in Westminster, because we can adopt the new Parliamentary register for each of the new divisions and give three, instead of two, county councillors to each, which will leave the total number of county councillors for the City of Westminster at six, as at present. All these constituencies are solid constituencies, so to speak. It is not like the case of Tower Hamlets, where a number of constituencies are being broken up and regrouped. All these constituencies remain as they were, clean-cut and solid, although one Parliamentary Member has been taken away. All they would have to do would be to vote for their existing number of county councillors en bloc. Even if it will necessitate keeping up some of the old registers, I am sure the boroughs involved will gladly put up with that slight inconvenience in order not to lose any of its county council representation.

There is only one other point, and that is with regard to the London County Council. I have good reason to believe that this proposal has the support of the county council, because it is well known that they are very much in want of more members. They cannot fill their committees, and they have not got enough members to do their necessary work. This will prevent them from losing, I think, eight members. The matter is one which I wish I had the time and strength to explain a little more clearly, and which I wish I could explain to a somewhat larger House, because it is a palpable injustice which was never intended by the right hon. Gentleman, and which can easily be remedied in the way I suggest.


I beg to second the Amendment.

The hon. Member who moved the Amendment has gone over the ground so far as rateable value is concerned, but I want to appeal to the Government on quite other grounds. The London County Council is under-manned at the present time. It has not enough members to fill its committees and to do all the enormous amount of its detailed work. Since education has been added to its other work it has been almost impossible to get through all the work, and undoubtedly the work has suffered from the paucity of members. The construction of these new constituencies in Wandsworth and elsewhere will, of course, add a certain number of members to the county council if the existing condition of things obtains in the future, though I am not suggesting that the addition of those two members will make the membership more numerous than is necessary. I do suggest, however, that other districts which have hitherto been fairly represented—other parts of London—will have serious disadvantages. I take the case of the constituency which I represent. The borough of Shoreditch has hitherto had two divisions for the purposes of Parliamentary representation—Haggerston and Hoxton. Each of those divisions has had two members on the London County Council. The borough of Shoreditch is densely populated. It has a large school population-a large number of schools, and there is a great mass of detailed work to be done, especially in connection with the child population—work which now comes under the county council. If you take away two of its members, I suggest to this House that it will be impossible for the other two members remaining to do anything like what is necessary for the population. I cannot, I know, make out the case on the ground of rateable value or upon what it contributes per person to the Equalisation of Rates Fund in the same way as my hon. Friend was able to do in the case he instanced, but I do urge that the county council should not be rendered incapable of doing its work by an accidental oversight in the construction of this Bill, and the hon. Gentleman himself, having been a member of the county council, and knowing a great deal more than I do about the details of its work, will, I am sure, recognise that I am not overstating the case, and I hope will give us a sympathetic reply.


The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Burdett-Coutts) is an authority on the question upon which he has addressed the House, and I do not think he would have been faithful to the duties he has discharged as a member of that constituency for thirty-two years if he had not brought this question to the attention of the House. I only regret for his own sake that it will not be possible for me to accept his Amendment. He rightly described how it was the Act of 1888—Section 4 of the Local Government Act of 1888—which decided that the Parliamentary divisions should be the divisions for the election of members for the London County Council, and that, following those divisions, two members should be elected for the London County Council practically with every member sent to Parliament by every Parliamentary division. Then this Bill comes along, and is so formed that it operates in exactly the way that my hon. Friend has described, so that wherever a Parliamentary division is limited so that one member is taken away from it, it follows that that Parliamentary division loses two members upon the London County Council. That, I agree, is very hard, and it imposes a very great hardship in connection with the constituency of which my hon. Friend is a member—the constituency of Westminster. It works hardships in other cases also, but it is particularly a greater hardship in the case of Westminster, because there are many of us who think that the members of the London County Council ought to be apportioned, to some extent, at all events, from the point of view of the contribution which the constituency makes to the rates, because, after all, members are elected to our county council for very little other purpose than to direct, wisely or unwisely, the expenditure of the rates. Westminster, as my hon. Friend says, is an unusual contributor to the rates, and, while being such a large contributor, is to be deprived of two of the members it has had since 1888 sitting on the county council. It is so also in the case of Marylebone. The Parliamentary Division of Marylebone has been altered by the Bill and as it has been altered by one Member of Parliament being taken away from it, two members of the county council are taken away and yet Marylebone has gained and, if you judge it from the point of view of its contributions to the rates or from the point of view of the population, would be entitled to its full members on the county council, namely, four. I am quite certain of this, that the framers of the Bill had not any idea that this was going to be the result of the Bill, and I may say that, although I pay considerable attention to London matters, that when I first saw this Bill, and for a long time after I had seen this Bill, I had no idea that this would be one of its results. It is an accident and now my hon. Friend comes along with an Amendment and says, "Will you accept an Amendment by which the constituencies, although deprived of the members of Parliament under this Bill, shall not be deprived of members of the county council?" And he argues that that should be done in connection with this Bill. It really could not be done in connection with this particular Bill. My right hon. Friend and I are fully sympathetic with the little hardship which results quite accidentally—not with the intention of the framers of the Bill, not with the intention of those who are conducting the Bill through Parliament, and not with the intention of the House of Commons—but while we are fully sympathetic with the points raised it would be a very improper thing to tear up, as it were, by the roots the Act of 1886, which is the very foundation of the whole system upon which the members are elected on the London County Council. That is not the way in which it could be done. My hon. Friend himself suggests that, whereas now there will be only two members for West-minster instead of three, and there will be two Parliamentary divisions for West-minster instead of three, we should allot to each of those two Parliamentary divisions three members. Well, that would be to tear up, to overthrow, the whole of the structure upon which the election of the London County Council was based under Section 4 of the Local Government Act of 1886. I do not think that the objections of my hon. Friend can be met in that way. I am sure that if palpable injustice be done it will be remedied, and I am quite willing to admit that from the point of view of the administration of the London County Council there is much to say for increasing its members, but let my hon. Friend recollect that the members of the London County Council will be increased from 118 to 124 as it is. I do not say that that is enough, and, although they are increased on the whole, yet I quite agree that a constituency may be deprived of two most useful members and will not be able to have its interests adequately served by the two remaining members, and naturally request that the four members they have had ever since 1888 should still be allowed to them. The best advice I can give to my hon. Friend, who takes such a great interest in local government, is that he and his Friends should approach the London County Council on the whole of this question, fairly put it to the London County Council, suggesting that that body should deliberate upon it—upon the accidental result of this Bill in this respect. The county council, after carefully deliberating upon the whole of this situation, should then approach this House, not as a party, but as a body, and should make unanimous recommendations to this House as to the effect which this Bill has had upon the fortunes of the London County Council, making proposals to this House which this House should consider in the next Session of Parliament. If they can agree fairly unanimously, I do not see why they should not put forward some suggested remedy for the grievance of which my hon. Friend complains, and I cannot help thinking that this House would turn a very willing ear to any request which came from the London County Council to strengthen their administration and remove an injustice, provided that it was based on no party considerations.

Amendment negatived.


I beg to move, in paragraph 8, to leave out the word " provision" [" for the Local Government Board in this provision "] and to insert instead thereof the word " Schedule." This Amendment and the following three Amendments are of a purely consequential character.

Amendment agreed to.