HC Deb 12 June 1934 vol 290 cc1667-72

10.44 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 26, line 6, to leave out the Clause.

If hon. Members will be good enough to follow this Clause they will find that it is usually termed the Kettering principle, which, as far as I remember, was a Clause inserted in the Kettering Local Authority Bill. The Clause with which we are now dealing is also inserted in some local enactments of the London Gas Light and Coke Company. We are informed that when this Clause was inserted in those two local Acts of Parliament it was never intended that it should be included in a Bill to cover the whole of the country. The Clause, as we find it in this Bill, is, however, in a different form. The hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary, I understand, has put down some Amendments, and he has already been in negotiation with the Urban District Councils Association and the Association of Municipal Corporations. I do not know whether he has satisfied both bodies by his Amendments to the Clause, and before we decide what to do by way of carrying our opposition to the Clause to the Division Lobby, we should like to hear what he has to say with regard to the negotiations he has had with the two bodies most closely concerned with the matter.

10.46 p.m.


I have always been opposed to any local authority attempting to make their tenants take one particular form of contract, and I am glad to see that the Parliamentary Secretary has an Amendment down to safeguard the rights of tenants. At the same time, local authorities took the view that the Clause as drafted went much too far, and that its result would be that no local authority would be able to make a contract with a tenant without the gas company being able to say that it would seriously affect them and, therefore, that no contracts would be made. The Urban District Councils Association have been in communication with the Department, and I have a letter from them to say that they are satisfied with the Amendments which the Government proposes to make.

10.47 p.m.


I agree that the Amendments proposed to be made by the Minister to the Clause do materially improve it, but I should prefer, and local authorities would also prefer, that the Clause should be withdrawn altogether. I agree that it is much better than the original proposal, and that it follows a Clause which has appeared in several private Acts. But in the case of a private Act the local authority and the parties concerned have an opportunity to appear before the court and state their case, Here we are applying to the whole undertaking a Clause which has been restricted to certain districts. That is not a good thing to do. I do not agree with the hon. and gallant Member that the Clause is altogether acceptable to local authorities. They like it much better than the original proposal, but at the same time would prefer that it should be withdrawn, because it goes a long way in making a rule which has so far been limited through private Acts to local application apply to the whole country.

10.48 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE

I agree with the right hon. Member for Ripon (Major Hills) that local authorities do not like this Clause altogether, and they would like it much better if the Parliamentary Secretary does not move the last Government Amendment, to insert the words: and it shall be unlawful to attempt to enforce such a provision

10.49 p.m.


The main object of the Bill is to give effect to the recommendations of a Departmental Committee appointed by the Board of Trade. The particular proposal we are now discussing was not before that Committee. If I am wrong I will withdraw that statement. If that were so, I respectfully suggest to the Government that it is not a proper thing to introduce this provision at this stage. It is perfectly true, as the right hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills) says, that certain improvements have been introduced, but the restriction on local authorities still exists. The only thing the Amendment does is to restrict the matter to houses belonging to the local authority itself. I much hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will not persist in his Amendment to the Clause, introduced at this late stage, and will be willing to withdraw the Clause altogether, and thereby satisfy the Municipal Corporations Association, who, I understand, were not consulted in any way, though they were consulted on other matters in the Bill, giving evidence before the Departmental Committee on the matters the Government seek to introduce in this Bill.


The hon. and gallant Member was completely misinformed. The matter was on the Order Paper, though not much discussed in Committee.


It was put down the night before.


It was put down on 16th May. An understanding has been reached, and the last Amendment will not be moved. The Clause has been amended since it was put on the Paper in Committee, in order to meet a number of criticisms made from various quarters, and from the Association of Municipal Corporations and the Urban District Councils Association. The Board of Trade do not desire to do more than prohibit a local authority taking advantage of this provision, and to have conditions making that prohibition effective. We are advised that the new Amendment in my name meets these criticisms and, as the right hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills) says, it has been accepted by the Urban District Councils Association with the assurance that the Amendment will not be amended, and I think it will satisfy the Municipal Corporations Association.


Is it true that this subject was never before the Departmental Committee? It was before a Committee of this House, but was it ever discussed by the Departmental Committee on whose recommendations the whole of this Bill was founded?


No, it was not.


May I say that the Association of Municipal Corporations prefer the Clause to be withdrawn?


It is not really very satisfactory, in my submission, so far as this Clause is concerned. There was a Departmental Committee to inquire into the right content of this Bill, and, considering the report of that Committee, is it a right or proper thing to introduce a provision such as this in the Bill? During the Committee stage, the matter came up for discussion. The Clause was put down by those who spoke for the gas companies. The Committee were taken by surprise at this Clause which was accepted by the Government, apparently without any consultation with the municipal corporations or the urban councils and without any reference to the departmental committee which, of course, had reported at that time. The municipal corporations take the view, I understand, that a Clause of this sort should not be inserted in this Bill without a thorough inquiry. It is one thing to insert such a Clause in a Bill like the Kettering Bill when a Committee of this House has had before it evidence of local conditions and circumstances and has come to the conclusion that, in the light of those circumstances, a Clause of the kind ought to be put into that particular Bill. But the casual way in which this Clause has been accepted by the Government is shown by the Amendments which the hon. Gentleman has now on the Paper.

The Clause which the hon. Gentleman accepted in Committee was perfectly monstrous. It is difficult to imagine anybody accepting it. It would have prohibited a local authority from entering into any arrangement with anyone in the district as regards lighting any house whatever under contract terms. Apparently there has been no investigation at all. It was not until the matter was brought to the hon. Gentleman's attention shortly before the Report stage that he or his department realised what an extraordinary Clause it was. Clearly they had not taken the trouble to investigate it before they accepted it on the Committee stage. We suggest that a matter of this importance should not be hurriedly pushed into a Bill like this without consideration or consultation, at the request of the gas companies—not on the motion of the Goverment, be it noted, but at the request of an interested party. We ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the Clause and leave the matter to be considered if necessary by some departmental committee before any action is taken. Whatever the merits may be, this is clearly a question upon which municipal corporations and others ought to be heard before judgment is given against them and in favour of the gas companies. There is a clear issue between the two parties. There has been no inquiry; it has received no Committee consideration at all, and on those grounds we ask the hon. Gentleman not to proceed with the Clause. If he does, we shall have to go into the Lobby against it.

10.59 p.m.


The hon. and learned Gentleman based the first part of his argument apparently on the idea that the House should not put this Clause into the Bill because it had not been considered by a specific departmental committee.


I must correct the hon. and gallant Member. I said that this Clause had been put in by one of the interests concerned. I said that all the rest of the Bill had been considered and advised upon by a departmental committee, but that this Clause had never been advised upon and was not put into the Bill on the motion of the Government.


I know that was the hon. and learned Member's other point but I think his first point was that the departmental committee had not considered it and I only wish to safeguard the House from any assumption that we cannot discuss the inclusion of a Clause in a Bill because there has been no recommendation from a departmental committee. I go with the hon. and learned Member on his second point. I have no knowledge of the technicalities of the Bill and, incidentally, as it is almost Eleven o'clock I hope that there will be an opportunity to consider this matter further on another day.

It being Eleven of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed To-morrow.