HC Deb 15 November 1939 vol 353 cc743-9

4.17 p.m.

The Attorney-General (Sir Donald Somervell)

I beg to move, in page 2, line 3, to leave out "make with respect to," and to insert "on an application made on behalf of."

This Amendment and the other Amendment in my name—in page 2, line 7, after "Act," insert "make,"—which is consequential, carry out an undertaking which I gave yesterday on the Second Reading, and ensures that Orders-in-Council under Sub-section (1,a)will be made only on an application made on behalf of the particular corporation or body. I think that the suggestion was considered acceptable yesterday.

Sir Herbert Williams

I should like to thank my right hon. and learned Friend for the Amendment. This was a matter of some anxiety for quite a number of people, who thought that, by Order-in-Council, the directorate of statutory councils might be altered without their being consulted.

4.19 p.m.

Mr. Ede

This Amendment fully carries out the pledge which the right hon. and learned Gentleman gave yesterday. I should like to ask you one question, Sir Dennis, with regard to the form of the Amendment. We are now leaving out the word "make," and the right hon. and learned Gentleman proposes to insert it by a later Amendment. I understand that there is some difficulty about that Amendment and an Amendment in the names of my hon. Friends the Members for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) and Mile End (Mr. Frankel)—in page 2, line 7, after "Act," insert: and after consultation with any interests entitled to nominate or appoint any person as a member of such corporation or body.

The Chairman

We have not come to that yet, but my attention has been drawn to the matter. It may be necessary to take those two Amendments in reverse order from that in which they appear on the Paper.

Mr. Ede

Thank you very much for that announcement. We accept the words which the Attorney-General has proposed for dealing with this point.

The Chairman

I think that it will perhaps be less objectionable than altering the order of these Amendments. and that it will make the wording rather better, if in the Amendment in the names of the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) and the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Frankel) we leave out the word "and," at the beginning of the words which it is proposed to insert.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 2, line 7, after "Act," insert "make."—[The Attorney-General.]

4.21 p.m.

Mr. Frankel

I beg to move, in page 2, line 7, after the word last inserted, to insert: after consultation with any interests entitled to nominate or appoint any person as a member of such corporation or body. My hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), in the Second Reading Debate yesterday, made the suggestion which is now embodied in the Amendment before the Committee. Many of these organisations are composed mainly, and some are composed entirely, of nominees of local authorities. We feel that that alters the conditions which affect local elections, in so far as it is then easily possible to carry out elections in a normal manner. I am quite sure that, although we realise it is necessary in these times to give up certain privileges and democratic methods of election, nobody wants to use the war situation in order to get rid of more of these rights and privileges than are necessary. In the view of Members on this side, if local authorities were not consulted with regard to these orders it would be most unfair, and quite unnecessary.

The Attorney-General was good enough to recognise the importance of the point made yesterday, to the effect that the authorities concerned should make application before Orders-in-Council are made; but if a chartered or other body is made up of members of local authorities, the House, I believe, will agree with me, it would not be right for those individuals to be able to ask the Lord President of the Council to make an application with a view to continuing their own membership, without application being made first of all to the authority which they represent on that body. I believe the point was made very clearly yesterday, and I expected to see an Amendment in the name of the Attorney-General on the Order Paper to-day. In that case, it would not have been necessary for me to move this Amendment. I hope that, after consideration, the Attorney-General will assure the Committee that, wherever possible, consultations, not merely theoretical but of the fullest nature, will be held with these local authorities before even an application is made to the Lord President of the Council on behalf of the bodies concerned.

4.25 p.m.

The Attorney-General

May I say, in the first instance, that it seems to me unlikely that where a body is constituted by simple nomination that body would make an application under Sub-section (1, a)of this Clause? In normal circumstances— and I see hon. Gentlemen facing me who are much more familiar than I am with local government—I should have thought that there would be little difficulty in carrying out the process of a local authority renominating existing members or nominating new ones because of the war. Therefore, although one is dealing in this Clause with a large variety of bodies, I should have thought that one might have said that it was not very probable that, where the case was one of simple nomination by a local authority, the body would not apply for a suspension of nomination; and if, indeed, it did apply it would then, of course, have to satisfy the authorities that it was necessary or expedient for the purposes of securing economy or efficiency in the carrying on of the work of the corporation. I can certainly give the most unqualified assurance that in the sort of case which was put forward in the Debate yesterday, in regard to bodies which can easily be got at, in many cases not very large in number, steps will be taken to see that they are consulted. I find it difficult to believe that a body such as the Lea Conservancy Board, which was referred to yesterday, would put forward a proposal of this kind—

Mr. Herbert Morrison

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman know that the Lea Conservancy Board, in anticipation of this Bill, is already on the job?

The Attorney-General

The right hon. Gentleman knows that, too, though he may not have been officially consulted. In all cases those that should be consulted will be consulted, and the case put to them. Clearly, the nominating authorities ought to be consulted.

Mr. Frankel

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has said that a local authority could renominate or remove a member. In fact, that is not the case. Many members are elected for a term of years to a certain body; but if that body gets power to go on for a further term of years, the nominating body has no power to remove the person whom it nominated three, four or five years ago.

The Attorney-General

I do not think that that is inconsistent with what I have said. The distinction I was endeavouring to draw was this. There is the case where members are elected by a body of ratepayers or something of that sort. In that case, there may be difficulties arising out of the war. But I should have thought that if the way of getting a member was nomination by a local authority at intervals of time, it would be very difficult to say that the ordinary process should not go on, and that the particular member's term of office should be prolonged because it was necessary for the purposes of securing economy or efficiency in the carrying on of the work of the … body. I have given an assurance that it is the intention, in working this Clause, to take steps to see that all proper bodies are consulted; and in the case of nominated local authorities, I do not think that any difficulty will arise. The objections which I suggest to the hon. Gentleman who moved this Amendment, and to the Committee, are these. There are, for instance, some cases—the General Medical Council is one—where there would be a very large number of interests who would have to be consulted under this Clause for what might be purely technical and minor alterations. There is the further point that statutory consultation is not a very satisfactory provision when you are dealing with Bills of this kind, where all sorts of varied instances and methods of appointment exist. There is the difficulty, when appointment is made after , consultation with the Lord Chancellor, that you might get—and it is very desirable that we should not produce any unnecessarily long technicalities—an argument as to what precisely constituted consultation within the meaning of the Act. I think that that is an objection which has a little force.

The Amendment—and I appreciate the reasons for it—have been so drafted as to attempt to confine itself to cases of nomination or appointment as distinct from election. The hon. Gentleman, when he intervened just now, used the word "election," and I think there might well be cases where there would be ambiguity as to whether it was an election or nomination or appointment. It may be that a chamber of commerce or a board or an actual body might hold an election. It might not be an election in the ordinary sense, and there might be some doubt as to whether it was a nomination or an appointment. With these instances, and in view of my assurance, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not press the Amendment, and may I, by way of anticipation, say—and I think it will meet some of the objections—that I am proposing to ask the Committee to accept a new Clause providing that Orders-in-Council should be laid before Parliament. That will provide an additional safeguard, if anything should be done without proper consultation. It will, at any rate, afford a Parliamentary occasion when objection can be taken. I, therefore, hope that the hon. Gentleman will not press the Amendment.

4.33 P.m.

Mr. Ede

I am obliged to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for the care with which he has elucidated the matters raised by this Amendment. I understand that his undertaking is that, where local authorities are involved in the event of some corporate body making application, the constituent local authorities would be consulted before an Order was made. I want to know exactly how far that pledge goes. May I give him the kind of case I have in mind? Take a body like the Thames Conservancy or the London and Home Counties Joint Electricity Authority, or the Metropolitan Water Board. Groups of local authorities have the right of appointment of a less number of members than there are local authorities in the electoral college. For instance, in the case of the London and Home Counties Joint Electricity Authority, the local authorities owning electricity undertakings in greater London have the right of appointing six members although there are far more than six local authorities concerned. In consequence, the electoral college is constituted on a certain basis in which local authorities have voting powers varying with their electrical and not electoral importance, and an election takes place. I take it that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would, in a case like that, consult each of the local authorities in the electoral college concerned. Unless he does so, I do not see how he can be assured that he had in fact got the views of the local authorities who were entitled to appointment. We are very considerably helped by the statement of the right hon. and learned Gentleman that he proposes to accept the new Clause, and in view of that fact, if he can assure us on the point I have just raised, my hon. Friend will, I understand, not press his Amendment.

4 35 P.m.

The Attorney-General

I do not want to be pressed to be too specific. In the case which the hon. Gentleman put, I gather that there is an electoral college which represents the constituent local authorities.

Mr. Ede

Yes, and it is only constituted when an election is on.

The Attorney-General

If there were in existence some representative committee which could be regarded as representing the constituents behind, I think it would be reasonable if an approcah were made to the representative committee, but in the absence of a committee, clearly the only alternative would be to notify the various local authorities concerned.

Mr. Frankel

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.