HC Deb 26 May 1919 vol 116 cc896-901

(1)Where the Local Government Board are satisfied that a local authority have failed or are not prepared to fulfil their obligations as to the preparation of schemes under this Act, or their obligations under any such scheme, or that for any other reason it is desirable that any such obligation should be performed by the county council instead of by the local authority, the Board, after considering the circumstances of the case and giving the local authority and the county council an opportunity of being heard, may, if they think fit, by order, transfer to the council of the county in which the district of the local authority is comprised the obligation to pre pare and carry out a scheme, or to carry out in whole or in part the provisions of a scheme pre pared by the local authority.

(2)Where the Board make an order under this Section the order may, for the purpose of enabling the county council to give effect to the order, apply any of the provisions of the Housing Acts or Section sixty-three of the Local Government Act,1894, with such modifications and adaptations as appear necessary or expedient.

Colonel BURN

I beg to move, in Subsection (1), to leave out the words or that for any other reason it is desirable that any such obligation should be performed by the county council instead of by the local authority. I move this Amendment on behalf of the urban district councils and the rural district concils, because they object to the powers regarding housing being transferred to the county council unless they fail to fulfil their obligations under the Act, or they are not prepared to fulfil their obligations. The provision, which I move to delete, would enable the Local Government Board to transfer the powers of the council of a county borough or of a populous urban district to the county council, if for any reason the Local Government Board thought it desirable that the obligations should be transferred. In the Debate upstairs in Committee this question was touched upon by my right hon. Friend, and I suppose the reply that was given then will be given again—that it is not intended to transfer this power; but the fact is that it is in the scheme, and there is no guarantee that it will not be used. In the Land Settlement Bill, Clause 11, there is a provision that will enable the county council to erect dwelling-houses on land acquired by them under the Small Holdings and Allotments Act. and if this Bill passes there would seem to be no need for the words, to which the local authorities object, in Clause 3. It was my right hon. Friend who suggested that those words were absolutely necessary. He paid great tribute to the work that had been done by some of the urban district councils and the rural district councils. I think the majority of them are very keen on this scheme, and are doing all in their power to make it work, and work in the right way. I do not think, therefore, that these words are necessary, and I hope my right hon. Friend will agree to their being cut out.

Lieut.-Colonel WEIGALL

I beg to second the Amendment on behalf of the Urban District Councils' Association and the Rural District Councils' Association. They look on this Amendment as one of vital interest to themselves. There are only really two main points of argument. One is the broad point that you are going to allow the small local authorities under the Bill to be placed in the position, without their making any default, that the Local Government Board can, if it thinks fit, go clean over their heads and go to the larger authority of the county council. I cannot help feeling that that cannot make for good. After all, the life of the country depends to a very large extent on the life of the county, and the life of the county on the life of the city. We have heard a tremendous lot during the last few months of the desire of the Government to stimulate and galvanise the local authorities into a keener sense of their obligations. As one who has been on every local authority in my part of the world for eighteen years, I cannot help feeling that if you ask us now to go down—I am speaking now of the purely rural authorities—and ask those authorities to place themselves in this position, it is certain to take the gilt off the gingerbread so far as this Bill is concerned. No doubt my right hon. Friend will turn round and say, "It is all perfectly true. I realise the importance of these local authorities. I know I cannot get on without them, but in this case I want to retain in my hands the power to use county councils for rural housing schemes, because I am not certain that I shall get the work through." But I do not want him to stabilise and standardise this power as he does in the Clause. As on the last Amendment I made so bold as to suggest a halfway house, may I suggest a half-way house on this? It is that the local authority should have the power of being heard by the Local Government Board simultaneously with the county council. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is in the Bill!"] If it is in the Bill, that is all I have to say.


The hon. and gallant Member surmised accurately that I feel myself unable to accept this Amendment. We had a discussion on this point in Committee upstairs, and practically, I think, the Committee were unanimous as to the form of the Bill as it stands. It will be seen in Clause 3 that in these cases the local authority has an opportunity of being heard, if it desires to be heard, in respect of any Order we may make under this Section. My hon. and gallant Friend knows perfectly well that if any local authority wants to get on with the business we are going to support them, but, at the same time, we must be free. If people display a disinclination to get on with the business, or if there are other good reasons relevant to the proper provision of houses, I think we ought to have power of this kind. In the acquisition of land it would be more convenient, for various reasons, perhaps, to use a larger authority; but there are various cases, apart altogether from the case of the provision of cottage gardens under the Board of Agriculture scheme, where the county council authority is the authority, and, therefore, it would be necessary to utilise that machinery, and these words are expressly put in for that purpose. There are other contingencies. We had a case, which came up a few days ago at the Board, where there was a proposal, in connection with a very big industrial undertaking, to erect a large number of houses in the area of a quite impecunious rural authority who were utterly unable to tackle a proposition of that kind, and which it would be unreasonable to ask them to do. In a case of that kind we wish to exercise such a discretion. We want to help people to get on with the work, but, for all that, I am quite sure the general sense of the Committee was—and I hope that of the House on Report will be—that we ought not to spend too much time in hearing explanations, but that we should have power to get on with the business as speedily as possible. This Amendment and the next two Amendments on the Paper are really on the same subject. I hope, therefore, that we may get rid of them in this one discussion. I am sure we spent long enough in discussing the last manuscript Amendment. There is an Amendment further on the Paper which relates to the imposition of the charge on a small authority where we call upon a county council or other larger authority to do the work. That, I think, is a fair proposal, and I should be prepared to accept that Amendment. But this Amendment cuts out the whole principle, which I regard as very vital, and I am sorry to say I cannot accept it.


I am very sorry the President cannot accept this Amendment. I do not think he quite realises the great feeling there is in connection with our local authorities in this matter. I had a similar Amendment down; and I do not know anyone more desirous, or keen about this matter, or who feels more than I do that the work should be got on with. We are quite prepared to give the Local Government Board power to deal with any local authority that defaults. I personally supported that principle in the Select Committee on Housing in 1908. These words, to which objection is taken, takes the power out of the hands of, not only the small rural authority but also the urban councils, many of which are as important to-day as are our municipal corporations. They are that to all intents and purposes, although they have not been turned into municipal corporations. They feel that if you take from them the power to carry out the work they desire without being in default, that you are taking away from them their local authority in a way which is totally unnecessary. You have these huge bodies fully prepared to carry out the work. My contention is: leaving out the small rural authorities, in many cases which I have in my mind's eye, North and South of this great city, are urban councils which are much more conversant with the requirements of their districts than is a county council of the towns in a county. The county council does not go to work in these industrial parts. I was most astounded at the illustration which the President of the Local Government Board gave in regard to the rural councils, where he mentioned that an industry was going to be put down in a certain district, and those concerned wanted to build a number of houses there. That illustration is not quite fair. The arguments are clear. You have a new situation created by a new industry. The large town could tackle it. A rural council is unable to cope with the situation. It is a case of involuntary default, for the rural council might be wishful to grapple with the difficulty. While I am strongly in favour of my right hon. Friend's measure and everything being done to deal with defaulting local authorities, I do feel there is rather a tendency to ignore the largo local authorities, which, I think, is not a course beneficial to the life of the country. The great thing that has been done in this country has been the evolution of municipal life. To take away from it would be detrimental to the well-being of the country. Therefore I deeply regret that the Minister in charge cannot see his way to accept the Amendment.

Amendment negatived.


I beg to move, at the end of the Clause, to add the words: Provided that the local authority shall be entitled to appeal to the Local Government Board if, in their opinion, the amount of the expenses which the county council require them to defray or propose to charge against their district is excessive or unreasonable, or against any refusal by a county council to make an order under the said Section sixty-three vesting in the local authority all or any of the powers, duties, property, debts, and liabilities of the county council in relation to the powers transferred to them, and upon any such appeal the Board may make such order as they may deem just, and an order so made shall be binding on the county council and the local authority. I move this Amendment in the absence of my hon. Friend (Sir J. Harmood-Banner). I think the right hon. Gentleman said he would accept this.


I beg to second the Amendment.


As I suggested a few minutes ago, I shall accept this Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.