HC Deb 26 June 1940 vol 362 cc513-21

6.53 p.m.

Mr. Peake

I beg to move, in page 9, line 41, at the end, to insert: (b) as respects any county borough, or any non-county borough or urban district which has according to the last published census for the time being a population of fifteen thousand or upwards, be the council of the borough or urban district. This Amendment is the result of some discussions which have taken place since the Second Reading of the Bill. The Bill as originally introduced provided that the registration authorities throughout the country should be the county councils and the county borough councils. That is to say, there would have been 147 registration authorities, apart from the City of London and the council of the Scilly Islands. The point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Sir A. Somerville) and several other Members that the Act of 1916 provided that the registration authorities should be not only those authorities but councils of boroughs and of urban districts. Discussions have taken place with a view to seeing how far we can extend the number of registration authorities and still preserve good administration. Let it be observed that the powers of registration conferred by this Bill will give a charity power to conduct a charitable appeal not only within the boundaries of the registration authority itself, but outside those boundaries and throughout the country. It is therefore very desirable that registration authorities should act more or less consistently in granting or refusing registration. We have examined the question, and as a result we have put down an Amendment on the Paper which extends the number of registration authorities by adding the councils of non-county boroughs and urban districts provided that they have more than 15,000 inhabitants. If we had gone beyond that, we should have added, I think, unreasonably to the number of registration authorities. The Amendment that we propose will make the number of registration authorities 399 in place of 147, and I hope that the Committee will accept this as a reasonable compromise, because I am afraid we cannot go further and add to the number of different registration authorities.

6.57 p.m.

Mr. Rhys Davies (Westhoughton)

I want to utter only one or two sentences on this Amendment. I happen to have been, as the hon. Gentleman knows, in these negotiations which produced a compromise between 20,000 and 10,000. He will know that the urban district councils and the non-county boroughs possess a local patriotism, and we are very anxious that they should be allowed to express their patriotism. One of the forms in which they can do that best is that they shall administer Acts of Parliament which are appropriate to their case, and this is one of them. It is very strange that the hon. Gentleman is unwilling to reduce the figure down to 10,000, because I am told that the Ministry of Supply is to issue an order soon in connection with salvage operations, and when the strong hand of that Ministry comes down it will fall on every urban council with above 10,000 inhabitants. It seems incongruous therefore that one Government Department should stipulate 10,000 and another Government Department 15,000. But then, you can hardly expect anything else from a Coalition Government, I am afraid. It is the essence of Coalition that one Government Department is not sure what the other is doing.

Let me add another word on the subject. The hon. Member for Windsor (Sir A. Somerville) is much more capable of explaining this position than I am, but I will do my best. I am told that the Advertisement Regulation Act, 1907, gives certain powers to urban district councils and non-county boroughs with over 10,000 population, and it is once again anomalous that these several Acts of Parliament should stipulate several population bases for implementing their provisions. Although it is late in the day and the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary has been good enough to compromise between 10,000 and 20,000, I am just wondering whether if the local authorities had asked him for 5,000 we could not have induced him to give 10,000. That is an old game that is played in respect of wages in the trade unions, as the hon. Gentleman opposite knows too well. I am afraid, however, that the hon. Gentleman is immovable, and I am wondering whether any eloquence of mine could move him at this stage to say that he will be willing to consider this problem once again and to put forward the suggestion I am making in another place.

Finally, he knows as well as I know that some local authorities are very proud of their administration. Some small authorities are much more efficient than larger authorities. In fact, I am sure they are, because I have the honour to represent five small authorities. In any figure which is put forward I know there will be borderline cases, but I am making an appeal on behalf of the Urban District Council's Association to put the figure at 10,000. It would add to the number of authorities with which he has to deal by only 97 urban district councils and about 30 borough councils, which would mean just another sheet of paper in the Home Office. I feel sure that when the hon. Member for Windsor has followed me, and pushed the door a little more open than I have done, we shall carry the day.

7.1 p.m.

Sir Annesley Somerville (Windsor)

I rise simply to thank my hon. Friend for the generous way in which he has treated the Amendment which was put down by a number of my hon. Friends and myself on behalf of the smaller councils. Of course, we should have been very pleased if he could do as the hon. Member opposite has just suggested, namely, reduce the figure to 10,000, but seeing that the original limit was fixed at 20,000 and we have had 5,000 taken off, I feel that in all the circumstances the Minister has been generous. The Amendment is similar to the one which was inserted in the War Charities Act, 1916, but, as the Minister pointed out, the scope of this Amendment is much wider. I thank my hon. Friend for his encouragement to local patriotism, which I assure him will be greatly appreciated by the small councils.

7.3 p.m.

Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)

I would like to appeal to the Minister to reconsider this question of numbers. It is perfectly true that there has been a compromise and that the Minister has very graciously brought the figure down from the figure of 20,000, but I would ask him to consider between now and the next stage of the Bill the representations made by the small authorities. We in this country at the present moment are very anxious that democracy should work, and in my view, and in that of most hon. Members, one reason why democracy has taken such a deep and lasting root in this country is because we have for many hundreds of years functioned democratically through local authorities, some of them extremely tiny. Early in the Debate the hon. and gallant Gentleman who sits opposite mentioned that there is a good deal of opening for fraud in regard to war charities, and I think one way of guarding against that is to have a registration authority which is fairly small. In such local authorities' districts people get to know each other well, and consequently there would be less opening for fraud. I would remind the Minister that the Association of Urban District Councils do not accept the figure he has put into this Amendment. They are very anxious to reduce it to 10,000, especially as another Government Department has taken this figure as reasonable for another purpose. In war time, when it is likely that there may be some upset due to war conditions and communications may be more difficult, I ask him to reconsider this matter and meet the small authorities. If he would, it would bring just over 100 at the most into the Bill and give the small authorities equal rights with the larger authorities.

7.7 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Heneage (Louth)

I would like to follow what the hon. Member has just said and say that the 97 urban districts we have cut out will be very dissatisfied. If it was necessary in the last war to have a figure of 10,000 in connection with the War Charities Bill of that time, why make a change now? In this war communications are much more likely to be cut, and we do not want to centralise too much. Surely the Home Office should welcome this chance of decentralisation as a sound argument for modern times. Local authorities have very much improved since the last war; their administration and power in the running of their own affairs are at a much higher standard. I do not think any hon. Member will say that small authorities are not so efficient as they were 20 years ago. This is, I claim, an argument for giving local authorities with 10,000 inhabitants and over power to administer this Bill.

7.9 p.m.

Mr. G. Griffiths

I see there is an Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Windsor (Sir A. Somerville), myself and other hon. Members, but apparently the hon. Member for Windsor is like some of the nations which have been to war. He has left us. He has said that the compromise suits him and has stroked the Minister down the back and said he is a jolly good fellow. But this Amendment which is under his name states at the top: (b) as respects a municipal borough or urban district, be the council of the borough or district. That does not stipulate any population. There are some urban councils with a population of less than 10,000. I know there has been some reconstruction recently, but there are still some with populations of 5,000, 7,000, 8,000 and 9,000, and that is why we are asking the Minister to bring the figure down to 10,000. I think that is a fair compromise.

As between 20,000 and 1,000, 10,000 is the limit. I have had the same correspondence as the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), and he has made the speech which I was going to make. I want to emphasise the point, that if you put the population at 10,000 it will only mean an additional 97 urban district councils. I am speaking for the Executive Committee of Great Britain and also as a member of an emergency committee of five, representing the urban district councils covering the whole country, who feel that the Minister ought to give serious consideration to the proposal of 10,000. On the Second Reading of the Bill, the Minister referred to paragraph 45 and said something about small authorities which had not done the work properly or as well as they could and should have done. But in paragraph 43 there is the statement that there are some county councils who do not do the business at all.

Mr. Peake

Only one.

Mr. Griffiths

As a member of the Executive, I want to say, having gone thoroughly into the work of urban district councils, that an authority with 10,000 population is doing its work with credit. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Windsor, now that he has his desire, says in effect "You can surround my territory with an iron fence; I give in to you." I think he should help these smaller authorities.

7.13 p.m.

Mr. Tomlinson (Farnworth)

I want to say a word on behalf of small authorities. I am glad that the Amendment has been brought forward by the Minister. It is not a question of 15,000 or 20,000 authorities; there are authorities with 10,000 population which are left out of the Bill to the tender mercies of the county council. I want to put in a word for small authorities which can and should do this work in preference to the larger county authorities. It is true that the report of the Royal Commission suggested that there are authorities which do not carry out certain of their duties. With regard to war charities, there are authorities which have not carried out their duties, and I am wondering whether if the same Commission were to make a survey of the whole of this country they would find that the larger authorities were carrying out their duties anything like so efficiently as the smaller authorities. From my experience I say that registration would be better done if it were left to those units which are recognised as local government units, without mentioning numbers at all. The 10,000 unit is now suggested in order to bring in more of these local authorities.

I am a member of a local authority with 7,000 population, and that urban district council is as capable of carrying out its work as any authority in the country. If it were left to that particular authority to make representations or inquiries under the Bill, the work would be done much better than if it is left to the Lancashire County Council, of which also I am a member. I speak from a long experience of both a county and a local authority, and I say that the smaller authority can carry out this work just as efficiently as the larger. The Minister has put in 15,000 as a compromise. It was suggested that only authorities with 20,000 and upwards should be given this power. Then a proposal was made that the figure should be a little lower. I think we should get back to the Act of 1916 and leave it to the local autonomous authorities. If not, then I think that an authority with 10,000 should be a registration authority.

7.17 p.m.

Mr. Peake

I confess that from the tone of the speeches to which I have listened I have been a little discouraged in the endeavour I have made to meet the views of hon. Members on this question. We started with the position that for the sake of good administration under the Bill we should have only 147 registration authorities. Hon. Members took exception to that on the Second Reading, and in due course I met them and representatives of local authorities and put before them a proposal that we should bring in other authorities if they had a population of upwards of 20,000. I hoped that that proposal would have satisfied them. In point of fact, all recent precedents as to limits are in favour of a figure of 20,000. They asked that the figure should be reduced to 10,000. I have examined the question as to the number of authorities which would result from taking this different population limit. I am sorry to say that in moving the Amendment I understated the number of authorities we should have as a result of taking the 15,000 line. I said it would be 399. That is the number of authorities we should have if we kept the figure of 20,000. By bringing it down to 15,000 we add another 85 authorities, making the total of 484; and if we were to come down to the 10,000 limit, we should add a further 130 authorities. Quite frankly, I can see no limit to the slippery slope upon which I shall find myself if I now accept the figure of 10,000. I cannot see any reason in logic why we should not then proceed to the position as it stood under the Act of 1916, which was that all urban district and borough councils were the registration authorities, and I think it would be very difficult to resist an argument for the inclusion of rural district councils under similar circumstances.

The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) said that there was a precedent for this figure of 10,000 under the Advertisements Regulation Act, 1907, but there have, in fact, been some half-dozen Acts of Parliament passed since that time which have all provided for a population limit of 20,000 in this sort of circumstances. All the recent Acts are in favour of the higher figure, and I am, in fact, taking a retrograde step in suggesting 15,000 in the present Measure. The precedents for the population limit of 10,000 are nearly all old Acts, and some of their titles do not encourage me to think that the precedent is one which ought now to be pursued. Two out of the three examples of the 10,000 population limit which I have before me are the Diseases of Animals Act, 1894, and the Destruction of Insects and Pests Act, 1888. I hope hon. Members will accept the proposal which I have put forward and which, I think, goes a very long way towards a reasonable compromise on this difficult question.

Lieut.-Colonel Heneage

Will my hon. Friend deal with the point which I raised concerning decentralisation? I am sure he realises that county councils do not want any additional work at the present time, since they are fully employed.

Mr. Peake

My hon. and gallant Friend has apparently overlooked that Section of the Local Government Act which gives power to all county councils to devolve any administration of this kind upon the smaller authorities if they so desire.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 10, line 3, leave out "or the county borough."—[Mr. Peake.]

7.23 p.m.

Mr. Peake

I beg to move, in page 10, line 4, at the end, to insert: (2) The Common Council of the city of London may act through a committee of the council, which may, if the council think fit, comprise persons who are not members of the council. This Amendment re-enacts for the city of London a provision made in Section 2 of the War Charities Act, 1916, which is no longer necessary elsewhere in view of the provisions made in the Local Government Act, 1933.

Amendment agreed to.

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