Question again proposed,
That this House welcomes the intention of the Government to preserve the existing framework of the county and county borough system of local government and the proposals for the establishment of a Local Government Boundary Commission outlined in the White Paper presented to Parliament.
§ Mr. Marshall
I was referring to the intimate relationship between the elector and the elected in local government. It keeps the one on his toes, and it gives the other a sense of being nearer to the seat of power, and a belief that he himself is really influencing the course of events. That, to me, is the core of local government, and in so far as we depart from that principle, we lose in the practice of democracy, and I believe in many other senses too. I do not argue that this intimacy is equal or uniform over the whole field of local government. It is not, but it certainly operates over a great part of it, and in my estimation it is the touchstone by which we should judge this White Paper. I am bound to say, as I look through its pages, that I am convinced the Minister has done his best to retain that intimate practice of democracy.
I have already said that local government in this country is not very old, and certain inevitable anomalies have grown up with it. These have been due to the progress of our national life—inequalities in area, rateable value, power, finance strain and efficiency. Also many thorny 459 problems have grown up over the boundary question. One admits all this kind of thing but even the critics of local government will admit that its achievements are immense. In one way or another, local government touches our life at all stages, from the cradle to the grave. It provides us with maternity hospitals, in which many of our citizens first see the light. It provides us with hospitals for the treatment of infectious diseases and sickness of all kinds. It takes the citizen at a very early age and begins to educate him. It provides him with roads on which to travel, houses in which to live, parks in which to play, transport on which to ride. It provides him with halls for his entertainment, and with wholesome water, and also takes away his waste products. It supplies him with light and heat, succours him in adversity, and when he passes away provides him with a sacred plot of land, where his relatives can pay their silent tributes to him. It also provides him with crematoriums from which his ashes can be scattered to the four winds of heaven.
Local government has made a gigantic contribution to our social life. It is all the more remarkable when one considers that it inherited the ugly and almost insoluble problems of the Industrial Revolution, in which what have been described as "the rookeries of the poor" were crowded together, 70 to the acre, the streets were open sewers, there was no water laid on for the houses, no amenities of any description. That was the legacy inherited by local government in this country. In these places diseases were rife, and consumption was taking its horrible toll of the population. In my own city of Sheffield, for example, we have, in my lifetime, cleared away 25,000 back to back houses and provided their inhabitants with houses, baths and gardens. No one can compute the change in our health conditions that this has brought about. It has been one titanic struggle to bring air and light into our industrial cities, and it has not yet finished. But we have reached a stage when we can already see the beginnings of this betterment, in which spacious open thoroughfares, seemly architecture and good planning are now making their appearance, and behind it all is a growing public opinion.
I think that the great creative period of local government is in front of us, and 460 with proper guidance from the central authority, and, may I say, financial help, I feel that local government will rise to it. I have described all this because I think this House should be very careful before it agrees to anything that would damage or injure something that has grown up in this country, of which we are very proud. If we consider what are regarded as the defects, we find that certain services, which were originally within the compass of local government, have expanded to such an extent, that we are compelled to take a national view of them. In short, we need a much larger unit of administration; these questions are too big to be confined to any of the local government unit boundaries of to-day.
Many people have said that we ought to abolish the whole machine, and create a local government structure in this country based on much wider areas. I do not intend to discuss the merits or demerits of what has come to be known as regionalism. It would be a fundamental change, needing a major Bill, and it would meet with the bitter hostility of the local government bodies of this country, both individually and collectively. There can be no possible doubt about that—and the Minister made it quite plain that the introduction of such a Measure—[Interruption]—I would say to my hon. Friend that that does not dispose of whether the question is right or wrong. On this particular matter the local authorities may be perfectly right. The introduction of such a Measure, I say, would necessarily have to be preceded by long inquiry in an un-favourable atmosphere. In the present mood of local authorities, any Bill on regional lines would be intensely controversial, and I hazard the opinion that it would not have a chance of passing through this House. We cannot wait for that solution, that is quite evident.
Let us look at one or two problems that are facing us. Education has been mentioned, so has water, and quite a number of other important local government services have also been mentioned during this Debate. We cannot wait for a great, fundamental change in local government structure before we deal with town planning. If we have 20 years' development in this country similar to that which took place after the last war no town planning Bills will be of any use at all, because the country will be irretrievably ruined. The idea that we 461 can wait so that we can base town planning administration and operation on a wide regional basis is too absurd. In the circumstances, therefore, whether we like it or not, we have to adumbrate some kind of immediate policy, and I think that this is the only policy we can have at the moment. I know we do not like joint boards, and curiously enough not many speakers have referred to this aspect of the White Paper, but it is an exceedingly important one. I say to the Minister that if he is to make this solution of joint boards work, he will have to be very careful how he draws up their constitution, and what powers he gives to these joint boards. There has been a good deal of dissatisfaction in local government circles about the constitution and operation of joint boards.
Let me give one illustration to show to what absurd uses they can be put. I know a certain water board, the finances of which are contributed by three county boroughs, in proportion to their rateable value and other factors. This water board on one occasion wished to extend its gathering grounds so as to build a new reservoir, and it promoted a Bill in Parliament. One of the constituent authorities on the board did not like the Bill and opposed it, and this was the Gilbertian position that resulted: a big county borough which provided part of the funds to promote the Bill also provided other money to oppose it. I do not want these boards to operate on those lines.
Then, again, to take the case of catchment boards, there was an instance in which the county boroughs in the area of a certain catchment board contributed the greater part of its finances. Yet the county councils on that particular board had the right and power to outvote them in matters of finance. Here again, great care requires to be exercised to see that we do not arrange the constitution and powers of these boards which will create positions like that, because that will only create bitterness, hostility and difficulty. Having said that, I think that joint boards must be the exception rather than the rule. The great structure of local government will be there, with modifications of course—I will say a word about the Boundary Commission in a moment—but the structure will be left intact to a large extent, with the addition that the ad- 462 ministration of some services will be exercised by a system of joint boards, which I think might do very well indeed, if the Government are very careful about their constitution. In any case, the joint boards will be operating for important functions. They will be dealing with very important services—education, town planning, water, and other things—and it may be that the very importance of the functions will generate in local government, and in joint boards generally, a more enthusiastic interest than has hitherto been displayed by joint boards.
§ Mr. Messer (Tottenham, South)
If it is true that a population of 500 will be the minimum for a public health service, will not nearly all the authorities have to be joint boards for the public health services? Consequently, they will not be the exception, but the general rule.
§ Mr. Marshall
They may be the general rule for health services only, but I am considering the general services, of course. The Boundary Commission seems to me to have the makings of a very valuable instrument. We know the difficulties, the hostilities, and the rows that have been caused by attempts to enlarge boundaries. The local government structure has been crying out for a very long time for a boundary commission of this character. It will appease the hostility, and it may be that as time goes on it will bring about a more symmetrical structure in local government. At any rate, it will bind up the loose ends and remedy the defects that the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) has talked about. I think it is one of the best suggestions in the White Paper.
I notice that there are special powers to deal with London. I am very pleased about that, because London is not local government, as I understand local government. London is a State within a State. You cannot have great power, such as London possesses, operated over one-fifth of the population of the land, and call it local government. The London problem seems to me to be almost insoluble, and I do not think there is anything in this White Paper which will solve it. My hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) may get a vista so that one may see the towering majesty of St. Paul's from the Thames; he may get wide thoroughfares, he may get circu- 463 lar roads, but these are all decorative things. His chief problems will remain unsolved. In the last 20 years we could have created 10 towns of 200,000 inhabitants each out of the additional population that has come to London. I cannot see any kind of local government solution for a problem like that. If development is allowed to go on as it has gone on, during the last generation, we shall see London sprawling down to the coast, and there is no help for it. London is not town planning, it is not local government. It is a special problem, and I am glad the Minister is taking steps to deal with it as a special problem.
The Minister may be charged with taking the line of least resistance, with refusing to face the implications of the vital social changes foreshadowed in the reconstruction period, and with neglecting to perfect his machinery to carry the stress and strain of these changes. We shall look at this matter from different aspects, but I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman has produced a workable scheme, which will retain all that is best in the present structure and provide for the gradual improvement of its less efficient parts. There will rest upon the local authorities of this country a huge responsibility to live up to the great trust and make the scheme work. The opportunity will be in their strong hands to do a great work for this country, a work which will immeasurably enhance their long roll of achievements.
§ 3.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Ralph Etherton (Stretford)
I am glad of this opportunity of making a few observations on this very important topic of local government. I welcome the White Paper, both for the manner in which the proposals are presented and for the proposals, in general, themselves. I listened with very great interest to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Brightside (Mr. Marshall), because I believe that what he said reflected the feelings on this matter of those on this side of the House, in much the same way as I hope that what is being said on this subject on this side of the House reflects opinion on the other side. There is a unanimity about the feelings of Members on this White Paper which I find very pleasing. There are in the White Paper sound proposals, dealing with what is, admittedly, a complex problem, and I 464 believe that you can make progress in local government only if you carry with you the local authorities concerned. That is what I believe this White Paper has successfully done. Certainly, I know that, in general, the proposals find acceptance with the Association of Non-County Boroughs, and also with the Association of Urban District Councils, of both of which associations I happen to be a vice-president.
I am glad that the Government have decided to make no fundamental alteration in the structure of local government at present, and that they have come to the conclusion that at the present stage that is not necessary. But I hope that that does not exclude the necessity for drastic and major developments in proper time. I am glad that the Minister said that, in his view, the tendency towards regionalisation had gone. After all, that would have only put a buffer, or an additional tier, between the local authorities and Whitehall. The advantages which local government in its present structure have been able to enjoy have been illustrated by the advantage which they have had in the direct approach to the Civil Service in Whitehall and in particular to members of my right hon. Friend's Department. I know that local authorities are unanimous in their dislike of regionalisation. As the White Paper points out, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Bright-side has said, there are ample provisions in the White Paper proposals for action by local authorities through joint boards. I believe that there is useful work for joint boards to do in future. I know that in some quarters they have not always been popular authorities, but I believe that if the Boundary Commission makes the right type of recommendation, perhaps for all-purpose joint boards, and if it has the power to make recommendations which can be implemented, a great deal can be done through joint boards.
I want to ask the Minister who is to reply to the Debate, whether it is contemplated that the Commission will be able to take some step which will be effective to ensure that, where it is advisable, an effective joint board if necessary of an all-purpose type can be set up, and just what is contemplated in that regard. And I would like to ask a second question on this matter of joint boards for the larger authorities. What is it contemplated the Commission can do to effect 465 some progressive step in areas such as Merseyside, Tyneside and the Black Country? I know Merseyside well; indeed, I once contested a constituency in that part of the country, and I believe that some type of authority for all Merseyside is overdue. I know all the difficulties, but I still believe that it is an area where an all-embracing authority of some kind, not necessarily like the London County Council, but of that sort of nature, could do useful, progressive and effective work.
There is one tendency in the White Paper which I hope will be curbed. That is the tendency towards decentralisation of the Civil Service, and the setting up of branch or regional offices. That is referred to on page 5. I hope that that tendency is not of a very serious nature. I fully realise the necessity for a regional or branch office, say, of the Ministry of Labour or for an authority such as that, but I hope the tendency, if there is such a tendency, to decentralise my right hon. and learned Friend's Department will be resisted. I would like, if there is time, to receive in the reply which is to be given an indication of what is intended in regard to what is referred to in the White Paper as the future reorganisation of the fire service and of public utility services.
I want to say a word or two about the difficult problem of finance. I know that all local authorities will welcome the statement in the White Paper that a general overhaul of the financial relations between the Exchequer and the local authorities will be undertaken as soon as possible. Frankly, the present situation is both unfair and unsatisfactory to a great many local authorities. The balance of local finance has been wholly upset of recent years, and it has been upset in particular by re-rating. I do not think that the block grant, in its present set-up, is satisfactory either, and I know that my right hon. and learned Friend indicated that view in his speech. I believe that, if there is to be relief, as, no doubt, is necessary for agriculture, though I do not believe it is at the present time necessary for industry—and, while I am on that, may I say that it is most unfair that the relief from rates given to industry is not enjoyed by the local authority but passes to the Exchequer—it should be a national charge, and not a burden on the local authority. There is another matter 466 which I hope the Minister may be able to touch upon later, and that is the improvements which are contemplated by the adjustment of the machinery of assessment referred to in the White Paper.
Now a few words on the Boundary Commission itself. We all know that there is valuable work for it to do in correlating adjustments between counties and county areas on the one hand, and county boroughs on the other. It is a problem which we have never been able effectively to solve. There has always been expansion of county boroughs, on the one side, and the general resistance of the counties to any encroachment, on the other. This Boundary Commission can do most effective work in correlating the functions of these two authorities. I am not sure whether it is intended to have inspectors or assistant commissioners holding local government inquiries. If it is so intended, I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend's Department will think again about that. As a lawyer, it is repugnant to what I believe to be right, namely, that the person who holds the inquiry shall make the decision, and not that decisions shall be made by persons, who have not heard the evidence or seen the witnesses, merely on a Report. Therefore, I hope it will not be necessary for local government inquiries to be held by inspectors or by assistant commissioners.
I was glad to hear what my right hon. and learned Friend said in regard to the proposals for the general directions to the Boundary Commission. I would like to see those general directions embodied in the Bill. I know all the difficulties in regard to that. I know the arguments, or most of them, which could be put by my right hon. and learned Friend's Department against it. I know, for example, that these are matters which will take some time to consider. I know, too, that the general directions may neeed modification from time to time, but I still believe that it would be good, if it is practicable, to have the principal one in the Bill. I believe that the difficulties could be overcome, because I believe that this House will not, by the affirmative Resolution, have the control which I think it should have. The affirmative Resolution for dealing with these general directions will not, in my view, be satisfactory, for the reason that the House will not have any opportunity of altering 467 or modifying them; they will be put in a form in which we have to accept or reject them in toto, and I do not believe that, in most cases, the House will desire to do that. The House may desire to make some adjustments. I hope that a procedure will be devised which will enable the directions, or the broad ones, to be put in the Bill in such a way as will not preclude the House from being able to make adjustments from time to time.
There is one suggestion in the White Paper which I want to see dropped. I want to preserve the right of non-county boroughs to appeal to Parliament, as they have the right to-day by Section 146 (6) of the Local Government Act, 1933, and I do not believe that this Bill will be any the less a good Bill if that safeguard is continued. I was glad to hear what my right hon. and learned Friend said about his desire to preserve Royal Charters. If it is necessary to take away powers from authorities at present enjoying Royal Charters, I hope that that will only be done with the sanction of this House. I appreciate fully that there are cases where that is necessary, but I hope it will be done only with the approval of this House. There is one thing which the Minister said which I know will receive universal approval, and that was when he made clear what had been in doubt, in the minds of many local authorities, about the White Paper's reference to what would happen if alteration either in their status or boundaries is contemplated. I know that they will welcome the statement of my right hon. and learned Friend that it is not intended to alter the boundaries or status of any local authority without their consent save after a local inquiry. That will bring universal satisfaction.
A final word with regard to the directions to the Commission. I hope that effect will continue to be given to the recommendation of the Royal Commission which sat in 1922 and 1923 and made three reports, which covered several hundreds, indeed between them I think over a thousand pages, namely, that great regard should continue to be had to the wishes of the inhabitants of any particular area before an adjustment was made. I feel, too, that the old tendency which was always accepted—the tendency to regard it as the right of a 468 local authority to follow its overspill, will in future be regarded as obsolete. I welcome the White Paper and I look forward to the introduction of a Bill to give its proposals effect in due course.
§ 3.22 p.m.
§ Sir Stanley Holmes (Harwich)
I think that a good many Members of this House served on a local body before they came here. I was one of those who, like my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, had many years on the London County Council, and very valuable experience it was, too. Those of us who have served on a local body have found, in the first place, that for ever afterwards we were students of local government and have realised from time to time that, with the expanding and altering duties, change must take place in the structure. The White Paper has given us a lead. Previously reports embodying proposals for the reform of local government were published by the County Councils Association, the Association of Municipal Corporations, the Associations representing rural district councils and urban district councils and many others. Rarely has a public question been so thoroughly canvassed. The Labour Party has published its proposals and a committee of the Liberal National Party, under the chairmanship of Mr. J. B. Leaver, has issued a pamphlet styled "Local Government and its Future." I stress this because I shall make copious use of it in what I am going to say.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bright-side (Mr. Marshall) referred to the fact that we had had fifty years of local government. Local government in this country in its present form is the result of at least 100 years of evolution and adaptation. In many departments the growth has been one resulting from trial and error, but all the time new duties have been imposed, either by Parliament or by the local authority itself, in order to meet new needs. The result has been a structure which in many respects might be called untidy and even illogical. Nevertheless, while fully recognising that certain modifications designed to meet changing conditions are necessary, the present system, judged by results, is one of which it can be said that on the whole it is adequate for the tasks which it is called upon to perform and that it takes a proper place in our national life. Any local government 469 officer will bear testimony that within his own lifetime the character of local government functions has changed almost beyond recognition. The duties have changed. They have increased and become elaborated. Parliament has sometimes made financial contributions towards new duties imposed, and sometimes not. The result, although illogical, is British, and, like much else in British life, including the Constitution itself, is thoroughly flexible, plastic and workable, and one which has responded to increasing local public needs.
I will put forward an evident truth which, because it is so evident, is sometimes neglected. It is that local government, if it is worth while, must be local government and not government from Whitehall or from any other point so remote from the influence of the people in matters where local government most intimately touches the lives of the people. If fundamental changes are brought about in the structure of local government their only effect would be to remove from the people the control over their own affairs. Whatever gain there might be in efficiency—and that is a debatable point—is discounted by other and more far-reaching consequences. The services which local bodies administer must at all times and at all points be sensitive and responsive to the needs of the people of any particular locality, and such sensitiveness and responsiveness can only be secured by adhering to the localisation of those services; and by encouraging, because the work is responsible, the best men and women to take part in local affairs. The only qualification which should be added to that principle is that the country as a whole is rightly concerned to see that a relatively high service standard is maintained, that Exchequer grants are well spent, and that due co-ordination between authorities exists for the benefit of all. But these points can almost all be secured by a paternal and advisory attitude on the part of the central Government without any question of intervention in the local government field in a coercive or dictatorial way. It must also be agreed, in view of the many new and comprehensive services announced or under consideration by the Government, that our local government system must provide sufficient elasticity for expansion. It is satisfactory, therefore, to observe that the White Paper suggests no uprooting. Those 470 of us who do any gardening—and I suppose more of us do than was formerly the case—know that it is very dangerous to try to uproot tares for fear of uprooting very valuable fruit and flowers at the same time.
§ Sir S. Holmes
I think that I might very well add that to what I am going to say. I am very much obliged to my hon. Friend for the suggestion. The White Paper, while suggesting no uprooting, certainly does not say that there is no need for some change, but not a fundamental change. Do all parties agree to this? There seems to have been a great deal of unanimity to-day with regard to this proposal, but it would not do us any harm if we considered for a few moments the proposals of the Labour Party embodied in a document entitled "The Future of Local Government," published in 1943. It would certainly seem, from what has been said to-day, that they have changed their opinion since 1943.
§ Sir S. Holmes
Then I am on good ground in discussing it. It appears from the pamphlet that the Labour Party realises the amount of feeling which exists against any tampering with local government in any way, unless a greater end is to be served, and this may account for some of the inconsistencies and confusion in this pamphlet which try to give a democratic veneer to proposals which are essentially authoritarian. Let me read what it says:The Report says that the democratic position in local government must be preserved; yet it declares that there are too many local authorities. It does not, however, state by what number local authorities should be reduced, or in what types reduction should be made. If the reductions are to be drastic, they must result in weakening in many areas the control exercised by citizens over their local affairs.The Report appears to take the view that there is too much permissive legislation. It may be pointed out that permissive legislation allows variations between one area and another; furthermore, the alternative to permissive legislation is mandatory legislation, which allows no voice to the locality as to operating the legislation or not.The Report condemns regionalism, and yet proposes the setting up of regional authorities 471 with powers of delegation to smaller authorities. …The Report envisages a set-up of local government in which one authority (the 'Major Authority') will be a precepting authority and another (the 'Area Authority') will be a rating authority. Thus one authority would have every inducement to be spendthrift and the other to be parsimonious.This scheme shows that the Labour Party desire that local government should not be local government at all, but Whitehall government, either by means of nationalisation of services now performed by localities or by the central Government, in the name of uniformity and efficiency, making local authorities their agents to a far greater extent than has obtained in the past. Local authorities would then become only the local executive of whatever Government was in power, to the sapping of local initiative and responsibility, and would take their political complexion necessarily from such a Government. With an authoritarian central Government, its domination would extend immediately over every local authority in the country, and its will would be imposed universally, whatever local desires might be. If this is thought to be a fanciful picture, reference may be made to a book entitled "Problems of a Socialist Government" published a few years before the war.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
This Debate is about the Government's White Paper on Local Government. The hon. Gentleman is quoting from other documents which appear to have little or no relation to the Government White Paper.
§ Sir S. Holmes
I was going to quote the Minister of Aircraft Production, and the Deputy Prime Minister's writings on this particular subject, particularly on the subject of regionalism, which I thought was in Order.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
If the hon. Gentleman brings what he has to say into relation to the Government's White Paper he may be in Order, otherwise I am very doubtful whether he is.
§ Sir S. Holmes
I think I can do it in this particular way, that one would assume that a White Paper placed before the House by the Government had the consent of all the Ministers. What I 472 want to quote quite briefly is something that has been said, first by the Minister of Aircraft Production and secondly by the Deputy Prime Minister, on the question of regional government, which the White Paper throws over, and I want to ask if all the Ministers agree to that, because the Minister of Aircraft Production said this:Another means that has been adopted for getting rid of congestion in Parliament is the delegation of power to local authorities. This method is satisfactory provided the local authorities are willing and capable, but it is necessary to retain some measure of central control to ensure that the delegated powers are fully and properly exercised, more especially while the political complexion of certain local authorities is different from that of the Central Government. … It is, however, of the first importance that the whole conception of Local Government responsibility should be revised. A larger unit will be required, acting in more direct consultation with the central authority and with the widest administrative powers in its own area. Regional councils having such powers and functions must form a most important link in the Socialist scheme if Socialism is to be more than a name. It will not only be necessary for the Central Government to pass Socialist measures, but it will be necessary to have Socialist Region Councils to see that they are carried through promptly and efficiently.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
Could my hon. Friend give us the date of that quotation and say whether it was written before the Minister joined the Government? It is just possible that he may have changed his views since then.
§ Sir S. Holmes
My hon. Friend behind me objects to my giving it advertisement, but I do not think it matters. The Deputy Prime Minister put forward a scheme which may be read in full by my hon. Friend opposite. His scheme includes not only regional commissioners but also district commissioners.
§ Sir S. Holmes
Just before the war. The Deputy Prime Minister, describing the district commissioner, says:He is the local energiser and interpreter of the will of the Government. He is not impartial. He is a Socialist, and therefore in touch with the Socialists in the region, who are his colleagues in his campaign.It may be, as has been suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson), that the Socialist Ministers who are now in the Government have entirely changed the views they held prior to the war, and that all this idea of regionalism and so on has been given up.
§ Sir S. Holmes
If what I have said is so, I would like to hear more about it. Although I cannot hold the Home Secretary responsible for the views of the Minister of Aircraft Production perhaps he will tell us something about it. Can he tell us what is to be the future of the National Fire Service?
§ Mr. H. Morrison
Can my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Sir S. Holmes) say whether his question is intended to be helpful?
§ Sir S. Holmes
I am quite sure that if, in 1937 or 1938, a proposal had been put forward to take over the London Fire Brigade—
§ Mr. Speaker
The London Fire Brigade and the National Fire Service are not concerned with the White Paper we are discussing, and the hon. Member is, therefore, out of Order in referring to them.
§ Sir S. Holmes
With great respect, Sir, the National Fire Service must come within the provisions of the White Paper.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am sorry. I understand that there is a passing reference to it, but, even so, this is not the occasion on which to discuss the National Fire Service.
§ Sir S. Holmes
Then all I have to say in conclusion is that Burke once wrote:A disposition to preserve, and ability to improve, taken together, must be my standard of a statesman.474 I think that that can well apply to local authorities, and that if, as a result of this White Paper, they are able so to improve themselves as to be able to take their proper place in the life of this country, with the best men and women serving upon them, this House will have done good work.
§ 3.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Messer (Tottenham, South)
The Minister of Health must be a very happy man to-day, because he has heard from every side, from representatives of all parties, nothing but praise of his White Paper. I am not surprised. A long time ago various associations discussed the reform of local government. The County Councils' Association produced a report, as did the Rural Councils' Association and the Association of Municipal Corporations, and all said, in effect: "Let us have reform of local government, but for goodness' sake do not touch us." We have heard that in the House to-day. Everybody realises that there is need for improvement in the machinery of local government, but nobody wants to surrender any power.
§ Sir Percy Hurd (Devizes)
May I remind my hon. Friend that the Rural District Councils' Association advocated the appointment of just such a Commission as is described in the White Paper?
§ Mr. Messer
Yes, but not because they wanted to surrender any power. I am referring to the reform of local government. All the White Paper does is to say that there shall be set up a Boundary Commission, but that will not reform local government. It will touch the fringe of the problem, but it will not face up to it altogether. I am not blaming the Minister for that, because I realise that one must be a courageous Minister to tackle the job, and, further, I am not so sure that one ought not to aim at getting as much as possible by agreement at the present time and then embark on the big plan. How should we approach this matter? First, we should recognise that there are certain services which have to be administered. Broadly speaking, those services can be divided into two types. There is the type of service which might be termed impersonal, in that it affects the community in the aggregate rather than individually. It includes the mechanistic services, such as the supply of electricity. I do not care who administers electricity 475 so long as it can be carried into every house in the country. It does not matter very much to me whether it is administered by a specially appointed ad hoc body or the State itself; providing it is efficiently managed and carried through with economy there is no need for it to be a matter of local administration. The same applies to gas, water, land drainage and things of that kind that do not touch the individual as such.
Then we come to what might be termed the purely human services—education, health, maternity, child welfare and care of the mentally afflicted. Here we face a problem that must be resolved. We must recognise that to get efficiency it may be necessary to have a large unit, but if we do then there is the danger that that unit may be too far removed from the people. I submit that it is not what we do that matters, but the way in which we do it. Local administration of all these human services is better because of the way they are administered. I have seen boards of guardians in the old days, which were responsible for the administration of outdoor relief, doing their job in such a way that it was humiliating to the recipient. I have seen others who have been humane and have done their job in such a way that the recipient has not felt any humiliation at having to claim poor relief. It is important that we should secure that in the administration of these services there shall be some means whereby part of the administration shall be vested in the hands of those nearest to the recipients of the services.
How are we to administer health services? If we are to have health services which are to be efficient, and deal with every aspect of health matters, we must not only place emphasis on the remedial side but on the restorative and rehabilitation sides. Take the present powers of local authorities. At the moment they can spend millions of pounds on building sanatoria for tuberculosis, and draw their patients from the slums, but they have no power to build houses for those patients afterwards; they have to send them back to the slums. Attention must be paid to that. How are we to resolve the apparent contradiction of the large unit, a unit with a population ranging between 500,000 and 2,000,000, which could administer all the health service required for those people? We cannot get a unit covering a popula- 476 tion of 500,000 close enough to the people to ensure that the service will be administered not merely efficiently but humanely, but it can decide the general policy. It can plan the service for that area. It can decide that there shall be a standard of service which must be observed and it can both delegate, and can be compelled by Statute to delegate, certain powers of administration to a smaller unit within the area. That is going to resolve the problem. It is going to give to a large enough body power to lay down the policy and give those nearest the health centre the job of administration. When hon. Members refer to the divorcing of elected representatives from the people who elect them, that is not necessarily the case. This thing has to be regarded first from the standpoint of science. We want a little more study in sociology. This has to be considered from the human aspect.
Look at the position to-day. The hon. Member who preceded me was wide of the mark in much that he said. Everyone has been patting himself on the back. Rural district councils do their job well and efficiently, but county borough councils are the ideal. They are an all-purpose authority. The county councils speak in glowing terms of what they do. The truth is that probably each does its best within the limits of its capacity. Middlesex, with a population of 2,000,000, can raise £84,000 with a penny rate. The administrative county of Lancashire, with approximately a population of 2,000,000, raises £40,000 by a penny rate. The amount produced per head of the population is half as much in Lancashire as in Middlesex. Can we expect the same standard of service in Lancashire as in Middlesex? Clearly not, and it is as well for us to understand that, when the Government have placed duties and responsibilities on the shoulders of local authorities, they have not always been accompanied by the means to carry out those duties. I am making all allowance for the block grant. What is wrong is that there has been such wide variation in the administration of it. It is wrong that there should be counties which have no tuberculosis service. Our job surely is to determine the service that has to be administered and then to create an efficient machine to administer it.
Anyone can see that we shall not be able to have these expanded social services that we want unless we do one of 477 two things: reform local government so that it will be able to carry it out, or have a number of joint bodies. These are not good, and not popular. People speak in praise of them because, if a local authority can prevent itself going out of existence by having a joint board, it will be in favour of a joint board. But some of us remember the fight over the abolition of the Metropolitan Asylums Board and we saw that, when the London County Council took it over, it was administered not merely as efficiently but with greater efficiency and with a greater degree of humanity. Joint boards are unrepresentative. What is more totalitarian than a joint board elected from a number of local authorities? It never reports back to the local authorities. When does a local authority ever get a report from the Metropolitan Water Board or the delegates it sends to it? What voice do they have in the determination of policy? Joint boards spend money and lay the burden of finding it on their constituent parts. The old Liberal principle of no taxation without representation does not apply to them.
I look with some fear on the possibility of finally having a system of local government which will consist of a series of unilateral, special ad hoc bodies, and that would not be a good thing. One can look round and see the need for this Boundary Commission. It will have a very important job to do, but it will not do for us who are pleading for improved social services to imagine that this is the last word. Clearly finance, too, will have to receive consideration. If I am the only one who is not following the example that has been set me of praising the present local authorities, if I appear to have been critical, let me say that they have done their best within the limits of their capacity, but they have not all had the same opportunity. Those who have had the opportunity have done better work, because the chance has been there for them to do it. I hope we shall see, as a result of this Boundary Commission, reports which will indicate the need for the reform of local government.
§ Sir Harold Webbe (Westminster Abbey)
It is a privilege and, indeed, a great responsibility to follow the hon. Member for South Tottenham (Mr. Messer) in the speech which he has just 478 made. He speaks, as we all know, with deep knowledge and wide experience, but, what is more important, he brings to discussions of this kind a realism and a human approach which make his speeches even more interesting and more important than they might be simply from his knowledge and experience. I listened with great interest and with much approval to what the hon. Member said, and I shall inevitably find myself referring to him and enlisting his support in much that I have to say. I want at the outset to join all those who, except the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), have welcomed the White Paper and congratulated my right hon. and learned Friend on the very clear and common sense speech with which he introduced it.
The White Paper is certainly by no means premature. For many years past the burden upon the local authorities has changed in character and grown in size so much that we have obviously to consider whether the machinery as it now exists, and has existed for years, is still the best we can have to face the new conditions. This is made all the more essential by the fact that the reconstruction programme which is being unfolded in White Papers and new legislation must inevitably bring about further profound changes in the job which the local authorities have to do, and greatly add to the heavy burden with which they are already charged. We are, therefore, glad to know from the White Paper that the Government have under serious consideration the need for adapting, modifying and examining the local government machinery in the light of the work which faces it in the next few years. It is true that, judging from the White Paper, the consideration that has been given has not so far led to very much in the way of positive proposals. I do not think there is any reason to complain on that score. The whole problem is so complex and, indeed, is so vital to the future administration of the great social and other services of this country, that it is obviously better—and we are grateful to the Government that they should, as we know they have, consult the local authorities themselves, and, as they are doing to-day, consult this House before they introduce drastic changes in the structure of the local government machine.
479 There is one proposal on which I should like to say a word or two—the proposal to set up a Boundary Commission. I have no doubt of the need for a piece of machinery of this kind. Movements of population and changing conditions during the last 30 and 40 years have already made changes in the boundaries and status of many local authorities not only justifiable but essential for the efficient management of their affairs. With increased activity in the fields of town planning, location of industry, the planned spreading of employment, and so on, these changes will become more marked and the need for adjustment will become more obvious. Therefore, I welcome the appointment of the Boundary Commission. At the same time, I would like to comment a little on the way in which it is intended the Commission should work. It is to work under general directions issued by the Minister, and those directions are to be laid before Parliament. Among those directions is one on page 13 under the heading of "Linking town and country." Quite frankly, I do not like those proposals at all. It would be well and good if they were limited to the kind of case to which my right hon. and learned Friend referred—Welshpool, Leominster, Tiverton and towns which are so small that they are little more than villages and which have all the characteristics of the countryside and all the interests and understanding of the countryside. Nothing but good can come of extending the authority of towns such as that.
But the proposal appears to go much further, and I am certain that any suggestion that, as a matter of policy, the urbanised areas within the rural counties should be encouraged to seek to spread into the surrounding country will raise a pretty considerable storm in the countryside. I am very doubtful as to its wisdom. I am not concerned with the immediate and obvious difficulty that, if the towns encroach too much on the country, the counties themselves may become unworkable units. I am more concerned with the kind of difficulty which is hinted at in the White Paper. The Paper refers to the difficulty of obtaining a suitable composition for the local authority which should manage the affairs of this kind of two-piece area. I believe that it is much more than a question of adjust- 480 ing the times of meeting, as is suggested in the White Paper. Is it not a fact that, in nearly all these urban areas in rural counties, the local authorities, the town councils or borough councils tend to be dominated by the townsman trader and business man, and even the town professional man, who has not a very great understanding of the countryman's point of view, and often very little sympathy with it? I cannot believe that to place the affairs of the countryside in the hands of authorities of that kind will be in the interests of either.
The normal story of extensions of this kind has been one of rising rates to pay for improvements in the town which the countryman can never enjoy. My right hon. and learned Friend gave some figures of rates in rural areas and country towns, but I am sure he knows better than anyone in the House how fallacious it is to deal with averages. I am certain that, if one takes actual cases, one finds that the countryside is milked to provide town improvements. Moreover, the townsman insists on the countryman having all sorts of things which he regards as desirable amenities, but which the countryman does not want, and certainly does not need. I have seen within my own experience a perfect outbreak on ordinary country roads of curbed and paved sidewalks, and road signs, and proposals for quite unnecessary drainage schemes, street lighting and all sorts of things which the countryman not only does not need, but strongly objects to having but which the townsman in his wisdom has provided for him. The countryman does not mind whether he has mud on his boots. There is a danger that the country will be swamped by the townsman's point of view. The countryman is much safer in the hands of the county council than in the hands of the county town.
The second thing in regard to the Boundary Commission to which no one has so far referred, I think, is the control or oversight which Parliament is to have over their work, As I understand the White Paper, it is intended that proposals which affect the boundaries of counties and county boroughs shall require the approval of Parliament, but that in every other case a recommendation or decision of a Boundary Commission shall be binding. Both in principle and in practice that is bad. We appoint far too many of these 481 outside bodies—and we have done so particularly in the last few years—with absolute power, not answerable to the control of Parliament or to the courts of justice. We should not add to their number. If there is to be any alteration, I hope it will be in the direction of giving greater control by Parliament over the work of bodies like these, rather than less. So much for the Boundary Commission.
Now I would like to make one or two remarks on the earlier part of the White Paper, on what one might fairly call the general observations on the whole subject of the structure of local government. It is true that those observations do not lead to any specific conclusion, but they do at least indicate the attitude of mind of the Government in relation to these problems. I do not think that anyone, except perhaps the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery: not even the hon. Member for South Tottenham (Mr. Messer), will disagree with the principle which the Government enunciated that a fundamental alteration of the structure of local government is not at the present time either necessary or desirable. I accept much of what the hon. Member for South Tottenham said about the need for looking at the basic structure of local government and of considering whether it requires modification, but I would remind him that the Minister himself has made it perfectly clear that the White Paper is concerned not with the whole future but with the immediate post-war years. It is concerned with what we should do to enable the machine we have to meet the sudden strains of the reconstruction period. It does not, in any sense, bar out basic changes in the structure of local government at a later stage.
As to the wisdom of doing the best we can with the machinery we have, there can, I think, be no doubt. I am not at all sure that the analogy of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery of putting the cart before the horse is sound. I would rather think in terms of creating a new product in an industrial establishment. I think a manufacturer would be wise first to get clear in his own mind the nature of the product he wants to produce and then to try it out with such machinery as he has in his factory. When he is satisfied as to exactly what he wants, then he can build the special purpose machinery to do the job. I conceive that 482 it is much that attitude of mind which the White Paper represents. This is, in a sense, a temporary arrangement of an experimental character in order to gain experience and find out what is ultimately necessary.
Nor, I am sure, would anyone disagree with the purpose of the Government to strengthen the framework of local government to bear greater responsibilities and fulfil new tasks, and to secure an organisation which, by its fitness for its purpose, will attract administrators of the right type and give them proper scope. There has been considerable reference to the great importance of securing the right personnel in local government. I suggest that that question is very closely linked with the structure and the allocation of functions between local government bodies. If we overload the major authorities with administrative work, as there is a temptation to do in these days, a position is created in which we can only look for administrators of the ideal type among, at any rate so far as young people are concerned, the leisured or professional classes the ordering of whose time is very largely within their control. If we give the great authorities too much to do we shall not get the right type of recruit. Equally, if we give the smaller authorities too little to do, we shall not make them attractive to the right type of people. There is no doubt whatever, although I can only speak with personal experience of London, that while the county councils find difficulty in getting the right type of persons to become members because there is too much to do, the borough councils are finding equal difficulty in attracting the right type because they have too little to do that is worth while. Therefore, I. submit that the question of personnel cannot be thought out without relation to the allocation of functions as between the various authorities.
There is common ground also, I am sure, as to the necessity of co-ordinating many of the things which are already the responsibility of the local authorities, in view of the likelihood that many other responsibilities will be placed upon those authorities in the future. No doubt we shall have to plan, to co-ordinate and to standardise quality in a number of services over areas substantially bigger than those which the present major local authorities control. It is when we come to the suggestions in the White Paper for 483 a solution of that problem that I confess myself a little worried. There are three solutions discussed. The first is the creation of the great all-purpose, directly-elected, regional authority. I am glad to say that that suggestion is dismissed. I am convinced that authorities of that kind are far too big for effective administration. They become purely bureaucratic machines, the members of which are able to do very little more than rubber stamp the recommendations of their officials. Moreover, I am sure that we have quite enough elections, and that the electors do not want the business of electing yet another type of authority every two or three years.
The other suggestions which are seriously considered are joint boards and joint committees, the distinction between which has not been made very clear in to-day's Debate. They are both to be indirectly elected bodies, but the joint board is to be armed with executive powers, precepting on its constituent authorities for the wherewithal to discharge its functions, whereas the joint committee would have the function of planning, co-ordinating, and standardising but would have no executive authority or responsibility whatever. I am sorry to see, on reading the White Paper dispassionately, that it looks as though the mind of the Government goes very much in the direction of the joint boards. I am glad that the hon. Member for South Tottenham spoke as strongly as he did about them. I do not like them at all. Indeed, I believe that to set out on a policy of creating a large number of single-purpose, indirectly elected—which makes it even worse—precepting authorities, to administer individual services, is definitely a step quite in the wrong direction. It is undoing all that we have tried to do in the last 50 years. The whole effort in the field of local government has been to get rid of these single-purpose authorities, to get rid of the school boards, the guardians, the Metropolitan Asylums Board, and any number of others, and it is just to the extent that we have succeeded in bringing all the services within the ambit and purview of one elected body, that we have had success in the business of local government. I believe that the case for the compendious—a horrid but common name —all-purpose local authority is unanswerable. In no other way can we secure the 484 proper balanced development Of the various services for which local government is responsible.
But these all-purpose authorities must not be too big. Otherwise, we get to the regional authority, which the Government have, I think rightly, rejected. It seems to me that we are driven back for our coordination on the joint committee. We cannot discuss that arrangement, as the White Paper does, by saying that it is unsatisfactory—I think the words are that it is unsatisfactory to divorce planning of this type from executive authority. Surely that is manifestly untrue. Indeed, I hope it is. Some months ago this House spent a considerable time in passing a great Education Act. What is that Act but a plan for the national education service, a laying-down of lines of organisation, a prescribing of standards of educational provision? Is it unsatisfactory that that great plan should be administered, not by the Ministry of Education, but by the local education authorities; surely not? That has never been suggested, but if this principle is satisfactory at the highest level, why should it suddenly become unsatisfactory a little lower down?
Why could not joint committees plan, lay down standards, co-ordinate and prepare a scheme for a large area, which, after submission to the appropriate Minister, would become the official scheme and would be carried out by the ordinary executive authorities who are already within that area? If it is necessary that a big stick should be used to compel these constituent authorities to do their job according to the plan, is it not better that that big stick should be in the hands of a Minister of the Crown, responsible to Parliament, rather than in the hands of a joint board which, as the hon. Member for South Tottenham said, is responsible to no one at all? It seems to me it is along those lines we can most hopefully look for this co-ordination and planning which has become necessary, and which will become increasingly necessary in the future. This can be done without disturbing that fundamental relationship between local authorities and Whitehall which is sacrosanct to all local authorities, the direct responsibility of the executive authority to Whitehall, without the intervention of anyone between them. That has been the complaint against the regional authorities—that they intervene between the authority which is 485 doing the job and the appropriate Government Department in Whitehall. The intervention of an advisory and planning committee is quite a different story, and I am certain that that cannot be summarily dismissed as a solution. I venture to submit it is a much more satisfactory solution that the wholesale creation of joint boards with executive powers.
On the matter of finance, which, it has been generally agreed, is fundamental and vital, the White Paper, if I may say so without disrespect, says really nothing at all. I am afraid that my right hon. and learned Friend was not able to lighten our darkness very much on that matter either, but the simple fact, on which I think we are all agreed, is that the whole business of assessment, of rating, of grants, of the allocation of expenditure as between rates and taxes, must be looked at afresh. The whole problem must be examined anew without any prejudice or any preconceived ideas. There is no doubt that, on the provision of adequate money, and still more important, on the proper allocation of that money, the rationing of that money, between various services, will depend, very largely, the success or failure of all these schemes which we pass with such enthusiasm and, as I am afraid I sometimes think, so light-heartedly. Everything must depend on proper arrangements for spreading the burden between the ratepayer and the taxpayer.
I cannot leave this subject without drawing attention to one sentence in the paragraph on local government finance, on page 6, in which it is stated:… the increase in the general level of rates during the war has been small in comparison with the increase in national taxation …My right hon. and learned Friend must have had his tongue very much in his cheek when he wrote that. It is too ingenuous altogether. During the war the Government have been practically the sole customers for the whole of British industry, and have paid direct 100 per cent. grants for a very big part of the activities of local authorities—Civil Defence and other specialised activities. It is not surprising that the taxpayers have had a fat bill to meet. In time of war the level of rates and the level of taxation are not susceptible of any comparison whatever. No argument in regard to local authority finances can be based on 486 what I would venture to call so meaningless a sentence.
I would like to speak briefly about London. As one who has now had some 20 years' experience of local government in London, I welcome the recognition which the Government show in the White Paper that London has problems which are entirely its own. I, therefore, very much welcome the appointment which is foreshadowed of some authoritative body to consider these problems and to try to find a solution. I am more than glad that the question of Greater London is to be excluded from their consideration. I agree with one hon. Member, I think it was the hon. Member for Brightside (Mr. Marshall), that there are enough immediate problems to be dealt with in London—the boundaries of the boroughs, and particularly the allocation of duties between the counties and the boroughs—to keep us occupied for some time to come, without asking for more. That is particularly so in regard to this question of the allocation of duties. For the reason to which I referred a few moments ago, the necessity for attracting the right type of administrator, we must look carefully at this allocation of duties. In my opinion, the general tendency and desire should be to pass more back to the boroughs, away from the county. I congratulate the Minister and wish him success in dealing with this great new burden which has been added to his already heavy load.
§ 4.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Burden (Sheffield, Park)
I welcome this Debate and the White Paper. Everyone will agree that with over 10,000 separate local authorities, ranging from the tiny parish meetings to the great county boroughs and counties, there is a case for reform and adjustment. But I welcome the Government's proposals in the White Paper, because I believe that with the constitution of a permanent Boundary Commission it will be possible to obtain quite a number of these necessary adjustments by agreement. I know there are plenty of people who have produced ideal forms of local government on paper —quite logical, quite tidy, all fitting in one part with another. The only trifling defect of schemes of that kind is that they will not work. It is also necessary to say that we welcome the Government's statement that the financial structure, as between the local authorities and the State, needs adjusting. We welcome the 487 statement of the Minister in that direction. It will want very careful study, and perhaps some development, in view of the duties which are being placed on local authorities.
But, important as those two problems are—and no one can overstate their importance—I welcome the reference which the Minister made to the importance of the personnel of the local government service. In view of the ever-increasing complexity and diversity of services which the State is constantly passing on to local authorities, I suggest that the problem of their recruitment and training, and their salary standards, is of prime importance to us when considering the reform of local government. Local government supplies the nation with a whole range of services, from the essential needs of a civilised life to some of the highest forms of culture. We must very carefully watch their development, and endeavour to improve the local government services. The Royal Commission on Local Government, which reported in 1928, devoted a good deal of time to that question. The published evidence has a wealth of information, and, it is only fair to say, many diverse views from different persons and organisations. But the final Report of the Commission states that it is open to question whether the present methods of recruitment of local government officers are calculated to ensure that local authorities have at their disposal officers of the type needed to assist them in the discharge of the increasing responsibilities which Parliament is year by year laying upon them, and, as the Minister indicated, as a result of a suggestion by the Royal Commission, what is popularly known as the Hadow Committee was appointed, to review the whole problem of recruitment, training, salaries, and other similar matters.
That Committee reported in 1934. It is true that one of the recommendations, that there should be a Central Advisory Committee to deal with these problems, did not commend itself to the organisations responsible, nor does the Phillimore Committee, which is, I presume, still in being, commend itself to those bodies. Two years after the issue of the Hadow Committee's Report the Ministry sent a circular to local authorities, dealing with the recommendations of the Committee.
488 If the House will allow me, I Would like to quote a few sentences from the circular. It says:It will be clear to local authorities that the increasing importance and complexity of their work make it year by year more necessary to increase the efficiency and improve the organisation of their staffs. The authoritative character of the Committee, with which the associations of Local Authorities and the principal associations of their officials were represented, makes it his duty"—that is, the Minister's duty—to urge that the most careful consideration to the Committee's conclusion shall be given.That was in 1936. So far as I know, no action has been taken by the Ministry since that date. I wonder whether the Minister or the Department knows how many local authorities have carried out the suggestions in that Report, or given careful consideration to the findings of the Hadow Committee. Since that date, fortunately for local government, the Association of Local Authorities and the National Association of Local Government Officers, which is the appropriate organisation for dealing with the question of recruitment, pay, and status of local government officers, have taken joint action.
As the Minister stated, the National Joint Council for the clerical, professional and other grades of local authorities has been reconstituted. On the employers' side it is made up of 15 representatives from the provincial Whitley Councils and representatives from the local authorities' associations, in ratio to their strength, and on the employees' side there is a majority of representatives of the National Association of Local Government Officers. For some time this National Joint Council has had before it what might be properly described as a charter for the local government services, and this is now under consideration by the employers' side. But if the work of the National Joint Council and the local Whitley Councils is to have any real value the recommendations of these bodies in relation to local authorities must be placed on a better and a firm foundation. The National Joint Council should be, in the words of its constitution, charged with the supervision of all questions affecting officers of local authorities from a national point of view. Some of the provincial councils have had a very long experience of dealing with these problems of recruitment, 489 status, and so on. One or two so long as 24 years ago produced schemes dealing with those questions.
But, while quite a good deal has been accomplished by the provincial councils, much remains to be done. There are still many local authorities who do not accept and put into operation the findings of the Whitley Councils. Some 14 years ago, Dr. Robson, who gave evidence before the Royal Commission, amplified his evidence and stated that there were still a large number of authorities who failed to correlate entrance into the local government service with the various types of national education or tap the reservoir of mental ability which is, to a great extent, concentrated in the universities. He added that patronage existed, in the main, among the smaller authorities, and that local councils had contributed very little towards the task of building up a municipal civil service and turning that service into a municipal civil service from a mere job or occupation. I agree that, in some respects, the position has improved since that date, but I submit that, while there are a number of councils who do not accept or apply the findings agreed to at Whitley Councils, national and local difficulties are bound to be encountered and that the time is ripe for a co-ordination and extension of the Joint Council and the local Whitley Councils on national lines.
I mentioned a moment or two ago that the staff side of the National Joint Council had submitted a scheme for the consideration of the employing side. This scheme naturally falls into four parts. The first lays down Regulations regarding qualifications, recruitment, training, the appointment of juniors at a minimum age, examination qualifications, combination of authorities for examination purposes, admission of higher age groups, university graduates, articled pupils, mobility within the service, post-entry training facilities and financial assistance. Secondly, it prescribes general conditions of service, such as office hours, annual leave, sickness regulations, security of tenure and similar conditions. The third part is of equal importance. It deals with the relationship which should exist under proper conditions between officers and members of local authorities. It courageously faces the problem of the employment of relatives of councillors, and the canvassing of members of local authori- 490 ties. In short, it lays down a code of conduct for both the councillor and the employee. Fourthly, it formulates a national scale of salaries for juniors, general clerical staffs, and the administrative, professional and technical grades and the operation of the scales and inducements for those in the professional and technical groups to qualify themselves by studying for the appropriate technical and professional examinations.
The National Joint Council has the advantage, not only of the skilled and detailed knowledge brought to it by the employers' representatives, but the accumulated experience of the National Association of Local Government Officers, which, as we all know, includes in its membership people from the town clerk, with his salary of £2,000 to £3,000 per annum, right down to the junior clerk in the office, and, at the present time, I understand that it has a membership of over 120,000. I do, however, submit to the House that the problem of the local government service is a most urgent one and that the recommendations of 'the Royal Commission on Local Government ought to be carried out. I ask the Minister to round off the work of the Wages Councils Bill by giving, in some form or other, legislative sanction to functions of the National Joint Council. There is precedent for this in the Railways Act of 1921, which provided appropriate negotiating machinery for all sections of the railway staffs.
There are also questions arising from the immediate war situation, questions of reinstatement and rehabilitation. Men and women who have been away from the service for five or six years have, naturally, lost touch with current difficulties and problems. The National Joint Council is planning ahead, and I think it is vitally important that there should be facilities for attendance at refresher courses, with leave of absence without loss of pay. Training interrupted by service with the Forces should be taken up and completed, and adequate facilities should be given for it, and, above all, every junior officer in the local government service should be made to feel that it is his duty, in the interests of the service, to obtain the appropriate professional and technical qualifications. Parliament is imposing fresh responsibilities upon local councils. The development of town planning, the reconstruction 491 of blitzed and blighted cities, new roads, the development of education—all these call for the highest forms of service from the local government staffs. For some six years, the intake of universities and technical schools has been greatly reduced, if not entirely suspended, and the National Joint Council, with wisdom and foresight, is endeavouring to induce local authorities to co-operate with the Minister of Labour's Committee on Further Education in order that those who have served in the Forces should make up for time lost while they have been away.
I hope the Minister will take these very urgent problems of the local government service into consideration, either by administrative action now or in the new legislative set-up that should, in due course, arise from the White Paper and this Debate.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ Sir Ralph Glyn (Abingdon)
I am sure that all of us who are in touch with local government in one way or another, support the remarks that have fallen from my hon. Friend who has just spoken. It is absolutely essential that the status of local government officers should be improved, in proportion to the amount of extra work that is now devolving upon them. In connection with that, I do not know whether the Home Secretary could deal with this point, but, as regards the regions with which my right hon. Friend has had something to do in setting up Regional Commissioners, we found that the Whitehall office representatives made the regional headquarters also their own headquarters. Nobody to-day has said much about them. Throughout the war, since they have been established in the local areas, I have found them of the very greatest service. They have been of great assistance to the local authorities, and I should be very sorry indeed to see them disappear when the Regional Commissioners disappear.
The representatives of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Works and of all the other Whitehall Departments were clustered round the right hon. Gentleman's Commissioners. The Commissioners had nothing to do as regards control of the representatives of the Whitehall Departments, but, as they were in a position to convene meetings, in a great many cases, the Commissioners invited Mem- 492 bers of Parliament for the area, and the officers of the various Whitehall Departments, to attend joint conferences which have been of the very greatest value. I do not know whether when the regional commissioners disappear it will be possible for the Minister of Health to convene such conferences but I suggest that the Minister might be asked to consider whether somebody could be appointed to take the place of the regional commissioners so that Members of Parliament and chairmen and clerks of local authorities can have an opportunity of getting into direct touch with representatives of the various Departments concerned with local government. I would like to say how completely I find myself in agreement with the hon. Member for South Tottenham (Mr. Messer), who has done yeoman service in this field of work and to whom the House always listens with the very greatest interest. The best and easiest division to make of local government work is the division that he made between the services that the locality has to provide for its citizens and the more homely and domestic services of hospitals and the rest. That seems to be a very good division.
I wonder whether the Minister who replies will take into account, with regard to the question of personnel, the vital importance of these people having training, in order to keep them up to date. Something has been said about refresher courses. There are many men serving in the Army, the Navy and Air Force who, if they had an opportunity, through the Ministry of Labour, to attend some courses on local government and then to go through the various departments of hospital and preventive treatment, would be potential local government officers. I understand that the training of such individuals has not been contemplated by the Ministry of Labour. An individual will have to go to some authority and ask whether someone can train him for such work. This matter is far too important to be left in that way. It is the duty of this House to see that the right people are employed as local government officers, and that they have every opportunity to learn the work connected with the services that we are continually passing on to them. There ought to be far more women officers employed in the local government service. It is the exception now to find a woman acting as assistant town clerk or in some such capacity. 493 Where women have been employed, especially in regard to billeting and housing questions, they have rendered unique services, and have been of very special value. I do not know whether the Minister would be willing to consider the setting-up of a sort of staff college where women, as well as men, who are anxious to undertake this very important work could be trained.
Something has been said about joint boards and the hon. Member for South Tottenham said that they should not be encouraged, and he was supported by one or two hon. Gentlemen. That might be the view of those who know the conditions of towns better than the conditions of country districts, but the Ministry of Health has probably got in mind certain services that we shall be debating shortly with regard to water and so on, where you cannot get an efficient service unless there is, over a wide area, joint working between the different authorities. A Bill is being introduced to provide water, which is so essential for every social service, and we must adopt such schemes in rural districts.
There is another matter I want to mention, because it affects my constituency. I have, in my constituency in Berkshire, two Charter boroughs. They are both very ancient and very reputable and they are representative of other Charter boroughs. At one time, each of them sent two Members of Parliament to this honourable House, and therefore, the constituency was rather over-represented. At the same time they have their traditions, and they are very proud of their history. I do not think that there has been a speech made by an hon. Member to-day who has not said that the attraction of local government is its tradition and the opportunity of service for the community. Some instruction ought to be given to this Boundary Commission to the effect that the limit of the size of the smallest borough should be that which a workman could reach. I do not want a borough made so big that a man cannot go from where he lives to the place where he works. To take the case of the two ancient boroughs I have in my constituency, one is Abingdon, where the Mother church is older than Westminster Abbey, and the other Wallingford, which is the highest point up the river where the Thames can be crossed, and has a place in English history which is almost unique 494 —a place of passages of arms and of great deeds. Are you going to sweep it all away? The Mace on the Table here at Westminster is modelled from the Mace actually in use at Wallingford and Abingdon, which is more ancient even that the Mace in this honourable Assembly.
When the matter of boundaries is considered, I do not say that the boundaries should necessarily remain as they are, but these boroughs should not merely be told that they could keep their Mayor, with chain, and that he could walk in procession on certain occasions. That is no use. That is only sham. You want to bring into the future the traditions of the past. As the River Thames in each of these places forms the boundary, it is most peculiar that the services of those two boroughs in respect to electricity, sewage and water are taken across the river to the other side. I hope that the Boundary Commission will also take into account in such places the inclusion of a conceivable amount that might be in another county. I do not think that these things should be sacrosanct. The measure of efficiency ought to be the most effective supplies of necessities to the inhabitants. It seems ridiculous that because somebody happens to live on the other side of a bridge, he should not have the amenities that are available a few hundred yards away.
If the position of Charter boroughs is really recognised, I would like to add to the plea already made by one hon. Member that, before the Boundary Commission take any steps against them, they should have the right, as possessing a Charter granted by King and Parliament years ago, of direct appeal to this House. It is a very small thing to ask. Those who give, surely have the right to say that they will not take away, until those to whom they have given it have had a chance to speak. I look forward to a time when the Charter boroughs will form the centre of a new administrative district, carrying forward the traditions of the past, which I think will greatly influence and attract a great many people who wish to give service to their local community.
The Minister of Health said he wanted the House to realise that this White Paper was drafted chiefly with the idea of conveying the importance of personnel to man the councils, and of the officers to carry out the administration. Also he wanted to see greater stability, so that any 495 plans that were being made by the councils would have some chance of being carried through over the period. His third reason was that he wanted to find increased vigour and confidence in the work done by local authorities. I think none of us who live in a county district need feel ashamed of the wonderful public work that has been done throughout the war by local authorities.
There is, however, something in this to which the Minister of Health must direct his attention. Owing to the cessation of elections to local authorities, there are now many instances where a small authority is proposing to carry out something or other, which is strongly objected to by the people in the locality concerned. I have no less than five petitions now in hand with the Ministry of Health, because they say that the proposals are not what the local community desire, but they have the approval of four or five officials of other Departments. I would like the Home Secretary to try to appreciate what happens in a village in the country. He knows all about the London County Council, but take the case of a village in the country, where there is a housing scheme. First the local authority says they are to have a certain number of houses. Nobody knows who decides the number of houses, or on what basis. Many villagers strongly object to having people from another village decanted into new houses in their village, but they are not asked. If there were representation and election on to these local bodies, these mistakes would not arise. Then, before the site or the scheme is finally decided, as the Ministry of Health knows, there must be the approval of a representative of the County Planning Committee and the Ministry of Agriculture, and three or four officials are brought in. In spite of the objection to the local people to the site or whatever it is, the scheme is carried through.
I would also draw the attention of the Minister of Health to this: The chairman of a local authority said that he had received a circular from the Ministry of Health saying that in no circumstance were owners of property to be informed that sites were to be taken for houses, because experience had shown that, if the owner of property were told that that was the use, objection might be 'taken, and delay to the scheme would result. It 496 seems to me most astonishing, if it is true, that any instruction could be sent out to any chairman of a local authority which would be so construed, because in the end it only creates bad feeling, and is no good. What is wanted is to make people cooperate, but if it is possible for the Ministry in London to say that schemes are to be carried out behind the backs of those who may object to them, that is not conducive to co-operation. If such a circular be necessary, I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman will modify its terms or correct the false impression now created. I can give him particulars, including the names of the chairmen and the names of the owners of land who have written strongly objecting that they have never been approached or asked to cooperate in what is required.
I hope the Home Secretary will realise, as I think every Minister must realise, that most people are extremely tired at this stage of the war—including Ministers and Members of Parliament—and the strain imposed on members of the district councils is very great. I know a great many bodies which have been understaffed now for months. The officials have had little opportunity of holiday. Their pay has not been commensurate with the work they have done. In regard to the members of the councils, some are now appallingly old, and I hope steps will be taken in order that younger men and women can get on to councils. Most people are holding on to whatever jobs they have until the war ends, so that younger men and women can take their place. I agree with what the Minister of Health said, that we have to attract more women into the service, both as members of councils and as officials. I hope something will be done through the Ministry of Labour, through A.B.C.A, or any other medium, to draw the attention of people now in the Services to the opportunities that are opening, both as members of councils and as officials administering those councils.
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
As my time is short and I want to leave time for the Minister to reply I hope my hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not pursue the interesting topic he has raised. As one who has had to criticise the Minister of Health I would like to congratulate him on the political wisdom he has shown in 497 his White Paper, and he has the reward for that political wisdom in the general approval with which it has been received. Very wisely he said that he would not make any changes in the structure of local government at this time, for the best of reasons: that those who are now engaged in local government—and therefore the best able to judge of what changes are necessary—cannot agree about it themselves. Until they agree, he very wisely says: "I will not enter that very dangerous and difficult path." It seems to me that the question of a solution of the right structure of local government can be compared to the solution of the Indian constitutional problem. In India there are a great many parties which cannot agree upon what form of constitution they shall have, and the Government say "When you agree, you can have it." So it is with local government; the local associations cannot agree, and the Minister says: "When you can agree, I will bring forward my new proposals."
However, I hope this will not give too much power to Whitehall, because we remember the old Roman motto: "Divide and rule." Personally, I do not think that the structure of local government matters so much as many people are inclined to think. The question of personnel, both as regards the members of councils and the local government officers, is much more important. And, of course, the finance—whether local authorities will have enough money to carry out the very heavy responsibilities that are placed upon them is really of tremendous importance. I think, in fact, that is the crux of the whole problem.
I would ask my right hon. and learned Friend, in any changes that he is making, not to assume that the size of a local government unit is any indication of its efficiency. For that reason I welcome his decision not to continue any longer the regional system. I have not met anyone in local government circles who has had experience of the regional system who wants it to continue. It was created for a special war emergency—happily it never had to function as it was really intended to do—but now we are all glad to hear that it is dead. I would say: "Let it die unwept and unsung." I would like to put in a plea for the non-county borough as a local unit. I believe that in a non-county borough of reasonable size we get local government in as effi- 498 cient a form as anywhere, because there is a keen local interest.
I am concerned about the membership of county councils in the future. One has to remember that a great deal of time is spent in travelling to county council meetings. Also, they meet either in the morning or the afternoon, and we must bear in mind that ex-Servicemen and women, whom we want to see on these local authorities, will have their careers to make. They will not be able to give up time to attend county council meetings in the morning or afternoon. I hope, therefore, that we shall leave in the smaller areas enough responsibilities to attract such men and women into local government. Meetings can be held in their areas in the evenings, and they will find it convenient to attend. If we do not give these bodies sufficient responsibility they will degenerate, and people will go on to them only for opportunities of social advantage or patronage and there will be a danger of introducing jobbery into local government. So I put in a plea for the retention of the real, live non-county borough.
May I say a word or two about finance? I welcome the indication that the block grant system will be much more flexible in the future, and I hope it will be used exclusively for the benefit of the poorer authorities. I think the time has come when the richer authorities can possibly do without the block grant altogether. I believe that all local authorities benefit to the extent of 22½ per cent. of their rateable expenditure. The richer ones do not benefit so much, but at any rate such money as is available ought to be concentrated chiefly on the poorer authorities. I ask the Minister, when contemplating future local government finance, to consider whether the present rating system is the last word. I know the arguments for it. It has always been a very good, Conservative argument that the money is easy to collect and that collection is cheap, but in point of fact the system is ceasing to deliver the goods. Compared with 1913–14 the rateable value of the country has increased by only 50 per cent., whereas the national income has doubled during that time. The rates yield has increased, compared to 1913–14, two and a half times, while Income Tax and Supertax have gone up 8½ times. The present rating system is very hard on the man with a large family.
499 We are asking people to have more children. What is the result? They have to have larger houses and pay more in rates. The system is, based on the needs of the individual, and not on his ability to pay, and, therefore, I hope that consideration will be given to some other sources of revenue.
In conclusion, I welcome the setting up of the Boundary Commission, which is a sensible, practical and inexpensive way of making boundary changes. We are told that the members of that Commission will be carefully chosen. In the course of time they will obviously obtain considerable experience, and their work will tend to become more and more important. For the reasons I have outlined, although I know there are others, I want cordially to welcome the White Paper, and to congratulate the Minister on the reception it has had.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Deportment (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Health is, I think, to be congratulated on the friendly reception which his White Paper on Local Government has had from the House generally. Although there have been one or two speeches of a somewhat critical character, generally speaking Members in all parts of the House, of all parties, have welcomed the White Paper, and on behalf of my right hon. and learned Friend I would like to thank them and the House for that friendly reception. The Debate has, I think, been a very good Debate, well-informed, as so many House of Commons Debates on local government are, and the Government will, of course, take note of all the points which have been raised and give them that consideration and respect to which they are entitled. My purpose in replying is to deal with the more important points which have been made during the discussion, and to do my best to speak in accordance with the light and learning and principles favoured by the Ministry of Health. As, however, I do not live in the Ministry of Health, if I fall astray, no doubt my right hon. and learned Friend will forgive me, and blame it either on my Home Office surroundings, or my late prominent association with the London County Council.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) did not com- 500 plain, but made a point of the fact that, in wording the Motion, we had not quite followed the procedure adopted on some previous occasions. I am afraid that that is so, and I want to say, on behalf of my right hon. and learned Friend, that if an error was made we are sorry about it, and can quite see the advantage of previous unofficial discussions. Of course, it does not mean that the solution of local government problems, other than those favoured by the Government now, are necessarily ruled out for all time. But the Government thought that local authorities were entitled to know how the Government's mind was moving, and what our broad intentions were, in order that they should have some reasonable degree of security for the future in the commitments into which they are entering. My right hon, Friend opposite was good enough to agree that that in itself was not unreasonable and, subject to the points he made, accepted the Motion. He agreed that there was a case for stability, but that we must always be ready to live and learn, and, with that, I agree.
My right hon. Friend referred to the Regional Commissioners and asked that there should be no confusion with regionalism in the local government sense of the term. I agree. In my judgment, for the purposes of the war the Regional Commissioners have done admirable work. They deserve the gratitude and appreciation of the nation, Parliament and the Press, and ought to get it and, on the whole, do get it. But the Government have announced in the White Paper that it is not intended to continue the Regional Commissioners after the war. They have been a great institution during the war, and have done a useful job without being dictators to the local authorities. Their relationship with the authorities has been very close, but they would not easily fit in with peace-time governmental administration, and, moreover, I do not see how they could fit in with our party system. My right hon. Friend referred to the importance of active and intelligent local interest in municipal affairs, and with that I entirely agree.
The hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) made a very able and helpful contribution to the Debate on municipal finance. The White Paper touches upon the point and, not ungenerously, admits that local authorities have certain accumulated claims which will have to be taken 501 into account by the Ministry of Health and the Treasury in due course. I think the House will agree that we cannot get far into this subject across the Floor at present. It is best for it to be discussed as hitherto, in the first instance between the financial advisers of the local authorities and the Minister's financial advisers to see how far they can get by way of agreement and subsequently, of course, there can be Debate in the House.
The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) said we were putting the cart before the horse, that we ought to have made up our minds as to local government areas first and proceeded with the reconstruction measures, such as the Education Bill, afterwards. I do not agree. If we were to do that, all these measures of reconstruction in which local government is involved would have had to be held up. It would take some years to reorganise local government and the machinery of reconstruction would have been delayed. I lived through the application to London of the Local Government Act, 1929, which absorbed the boards of guardians and the Metropolitan Asylums Board. Other Members lived through it on other authorities. It took years to frame the legislation and quite a period to fight it through the House, and more years for the local authorities to absorb and organise the transferred functions. I think the hon. and learned Gentleman was really advocating a course which would simply have checked the march of progress and held up the reconstruction work in which local government is involved.
The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Colegate) raised a number of points of some importance. The first was in relation to the footnote on page 5, which deals with the transfer of services to county councils The allocation of services between the various classes of local authorities would not be a matter for the Boundary Commissioners. They are concerned with boundaries, status and nothing else. It is true that, in recommending or determining boundaries, they must consider the allocation of functions as the law provides, and they may make comments and observations to the Minister from time to time, but any change of function between one class of local authority and another could not be made by the Boundary Commissioners. It would have to be the subject of legislation 502 for which, presumably, the Minister of Health would be responsible. The hon. Member also suggested that someone with either rural local government experience, or identified with rural life, should be a member of the Boundary Commission. My right hon. and learned Friend tells me he is anxious not to give undertakings of a specific character about the composition of the Boundary Commission, and certainly it is not intended that it should be a representative Commission in the sense that it represents various classes of local authorities, and that view is accepted by the local authorities' associations. They ought to be independent, otherwise it would be difficult to get any coherent decisions or judicial temper out of them. Subject to all those reservations, and promising nothing whatever, my right hon. and learned Friend agrees that, other things being convenient, the outlook of a rural mind is a fair point to take into account in appointing the Boundary Commission, but he must remain uncommitted.
The next point was the question of the minor authorities' right to an inquiry. I thought my right hon. and learned Friend had gone a fair way in this matter. He has said that, if there is a prima facie case for an inquiry, it will obviously be given consideration. If a County Council asks for an inquiry it will get it. The Minister himself can order that there shall be an inquiry in a particular case. I do not think a minor authority need fear, in a real prima facie case, that it will not get its inquiry. I hope that will meet the spirit of what the hon. Member said.
§ Sir H. Webbe
Will the right hon. Gentleman repeat the Minister's assurance that, where a decision of the Boundary Commission is objected to by a minor authority, they have a right to an inquiry?
§ Mr. Morrison
My right hon. and learned Friend says that is so. With regard to the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Brightside (Mr. Marshall), I am in a little difficulty, because there are policy declarations about local government Orders. I must pay my hon. Friend the Member for South Tottenham (Mr. Messer) the tribute that he did his best to observe the constitutional and official line, but there have been tendencies the other way. The hon. Member for Brightside said that regionalism would be resisted at all costs, and I think at pre- 503 sent he is probably right in the full-blooded sense of the term. I am talking of regionalism in the sense of elected regional authorities. He may be right at present. He was opposed to joint boards. I do not like them either. They are undemocratic and unrepresentative and are always in danger of going wrong. For the finance committee of a local authority to be precepted upon by a joint authority is too bad. There is often more "joint" than "authority" about it. But there are cases in which one cannot help having a joint authority. I do not like them, and I do not know that my right hon. and learned Friend is enthusiastic about them, but all he says—and I do not see how he can be answered—is that there are particular cases where their creation is the only thing to do and they must be made to work in the best possible way. The alternative would be the regional organisation, which taxes us too far the other way
The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Etherton) asked whether the Commission would be able to recommend joint boards and whether they could make a claim for the local government of Merseyside, I suppose in the way that a Royal Commission made a proposal for the government of Tyneside some time ago. The answer is that they cannot. That is a mater for the Minister and Parliament. I think it will be agreed that this Commission should not be permitted to invent new joint boards and special schemes of local government for this or that area and that it is not a power which should be put into the hands of any Commission. That is a matter of Government policy which Parliament should determine on the advice of the responsible Minister.
§ Mr. Molson (The High Peak)
In cases where there is a great conurbation and there are numerous local authorities which date from earlier times, are we to understand that it is to be beyond the power of the Commission so to alter the boundaries as to make one local authority for the whole area?
§ Mr. Morrison
It can recommend the creation of a county borough, and then Parliament will follow on with all its rights. In that sense the Commission can recommend the absorption of a number of authorities into a county borough, and that, I think, is about the only thing it can do. If my hon. Friend is raising the point, as I thought he was, whether 504 the Commission could create a new type of authority outside the ordinary run of local authorities, the answer is that it cannot.
§ Mr. Etherton
Could it not recommend the creation of an all-purposes joint board, an authority in some way similar to the London County Council?
§ Mr. Morrison
The London County Council is not an all-purpose joint authority. In the first place, it is not all-purposes, and, in the second, it is not a joint authority. It is an elected body.
§ Mr. Morrison
If we get to the point of inventing new methods of local government, or departing from the normal, it must be done on Ministerial authority with Parliamentary assent. [Interruption] I assumed my hon. Friends were agreeing with me, but I gather that they are not.
§ Mr. Molson
My right hon. Friend has referred to the Tyneside Commission. It made two proposals. One was that the whole of Tyneside should be turned into a single local government area. I understand that the proposed Boundary Commission could recommend that it should be created a county borough, subject to the approval of Parliament. It made another proposal which was for a new kind of regional authority and that, I understand, is what is ruled out.
§ Mr. Morrison
The Commission could recommend that the whole of the Tyneside area should be one county borough. I do not know) that they would, but technically they could. They could not, however, recommend a new type of authority. The Royal Commission on Tyneside were appointed, they had a long journey, and their report was presented, but that was the end of it, and I am sorry for the members of the Commission.
The hon. Member for Stretford would like the general directions put in the Bill. There are two good reasons why they should be issued by the Minister. One is that the Bill is of some urgency, and to work them out would delay the preparation of the Bill. There would have to be consultations with local authorities, and that would cause further delay. It would mean a big amount of details in the Bill and a delay over its passage. The second reason—and this is worth remembering, both from the Parliamentary and the local 505 authority point of view—is that in six or 12 months after the Minister has issued the general directions, some new fact may emerge or the Minister may have innocently made some mistake, so that the directions will require to be altered. He can alter them and bring them again to the House for an affirmative Resolution. I do not think the Minister has been inconsiderate to Parliament in proposing to bring them to the House for an affirmative Resolution, and I think that it is a reasonable course to take.
§ Mr. Etherton
May I ask the Minister not to exclude from his mind the desirability of giving Parliament some method of being able to modify the proposals, because on an affirmative Resolution it either has to reject them in toto or affirm them?
§ Mr. Morrison
If Parliament has a feeling about something, whether it is fundamental or on a point of important detail, it will find a way of getting its own way. The procedure must be the affirmative Resolution, which can be rejected or negatived, but I am certain that, if the Minister goes substantially wrong, Parliament will find its way of squeezing him. My hon. Friend and others will take part in it, if they so wish, and will be able to make their pressure felt. I have been amazed during the time I have been a Minister to find how now and again I have been so successfully squeezed by Parliament when it has been determined to get its own way. It is extraordinary how the democratic will of Parliament can make its weight felt. If my hon. Friend consults with his clever associates, or the Whips, or myself, we will give him all the advice we can as to how he can squeeze the Minister of the day.
The next point was about reduction in the size of non-county boroughs. I cannot say anything categorical about that. The request was that they should be able to appeal to Parliament, but I cannot commit the Government or my right hon. and learned Friend. He will, however, look into the point and give it consideration. I thought that the hon. Member for Harwich (Sir S. Holmes) went rather off the rails, and I was glad to see that the Chair thought so too. But I am glad to welcome him to the board, as he was once a member of the London County Council, and I still am, although one would hardly notice it nowadays. He "pulled the leg" 506 of the Labour Party about its policy declaration on regionalism. That was subsequently picked up in a very able speech by my hon. Friend the Member for South Tottenham. The hon. Member for Harwich quoted from a book which, I understand, was written long ago by my right hon. Friends the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Aircraft Production, but if he expects me to comment on that book, I will not do so. I once gave evidence to a Royal Commission on London government. That was 25 years ago, and I do not want to be reminded of that. If the hon. Gentleman had been bright that is the thing he would have got hold of. Then he got on to the future of the National Fire Service, but Mr. Speaker said that was out of Order, and I am content to abide by Mr. Speaker's Ruling.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Tottenham, in what everybody agreed was an admirable and constructive speech, was absolutely right. He said that as a local government man he did not mind what we did with electricity, gas, water and drainage. What he wants to keep in his hands as a local government man are the human services like health, education, and housing. I think he is right. When you come to economic undertakings, you have to find what is the best administrative and managerial set-up for the efficient running of the industry, but when you come to human services, efficiency has to be balanced with humanity. That is where the spirit of my hon. Friend came in, and in that I entirely agree with him. He referred to the Middlesex County rate, and said a penny produces £80,000 or so, while in Lancashire a penny rate produces £40,000; and he asked what is the good of comparing them and said that their services were bound to be affected. On the other hand, it is the case that to a material extent that deficiency in rateable value is met by the Exchequer contributions. I do not know whether it is so met wholly or not, and I would not expect Lancashire to admit it even if it were. The percentage of Exchequer grant to income from grant plus rates is, in the case of Middlesex, 32.9. In Lancashire it is 50.2. So my hon. Friend will see that to some material extent, at any rate, it is taken care of.
§ Mr. Morrison
He also had things to say about the joint board, and he is quite 507 right. I have seldom heard of the proceedings of such a board being reported upon by their representatives to the council. I give this credit to the Thames Conservancy Board, that the representatives used to send an annual report to the council, although I think it was rather laboriously written out by the Clerk to the Thames Conservancy Board; but it came to us as a report to the council by representatives of the L.C.C. on the Thames Conservancy Board. It really came from the clerk, which was an easy way of doing it but it was not exactly the action of the members.
The hon. Member for the Abbey Division (Sir H. Webbe) referred to the directions to the Boundary Commissioners and particularly to the point about town and country While it was a matter of difficulty to express in the White Paper what we felt about this town and country element without being misunderstood, and indeed without opening ourselves to legitimate criticism, I quite appreciate the point that my hon. Friend made. This is worth thinking about. I do not know what we are to do with the great cities. I doubt whether you can do it, but if you could have units of local authority councils where they had responsibility for built-up areas and green areas; where the spirit of the countryside was blended with the spirit of the town; where the townsman had to take notice of the problems of the countryside and the countryman had to take notice of the problems of the town; if you could see to it that the local authority, having once got a green area round their town did not, out of pure conceit, proceed to get it built upon, in order to add to their rateable value and their population; I say that there is much to be said for that conception. There is, however, force in the practical difficulty. My hon. Friend said that you may be forcing upon the countryman services which he does not want. Sometimes he does not want them because he is a little bit unprogressive in his ideas. Sometimes, I must admit, he does not want them because he does not need them, but nevertheless you have to make him have them, and he has to help to pay for them.
I wish it had been possible years and years ago, before we committed this vast mistake of Greater London, to have had a 508 central urban authority, to have had a green belt area; to have said: "That green belt shall not be built upon and anyone who wants to build must go farther off because there is going to be God's countryside within reach of a town and the green belt is going to be preserved"; that would have been right. It is, however, the case that a very high number of small urban communities already, under the review of county districts under the Local Government Act of 1929, were shown to have considerable rural territory round them. I agree about the difficulties, but this is the spirit in which the Government have put these ideas into the White Paper. We have no illusions; we do not think that life is as simple as we would like it to be.
Staff training and recruitment were referred to by the hon. Member for the Park Division of Sheffield (Mr. Burden) and I agree generally with him. We have not come to the end of this story yet. There is a problem of local government staffing, recruitment, training and promotion. I remember the late Sir Kingsley Wood asking me to give him a little help by taking the chair at an informal conference with the local authority associations at the Ministry of Health years ago. I did what I could. We certainly got on well, till one association remembered something. I suspect it was an element in regard to local appointments and local patronage—nothing corrupt, of course. They suddenly remembered it and said, "Ha, ha, Whitehall is trying to get hold of something." Whitehall was not trying to do anything of the kind. Sir Kingsley Wood was not. I know there is a problem here about proper recruitment and training, and as far as can be done by examination, of giving promotion in local government offices, of the interchangeability of pension rights and all that sort of thing.
I would like to see a good municipal civil service, in which the officers were the officers of the local authority but in which there was a channel of promotion, training and selection and so on, under which I am certain that, high as is the quality of our local government service officials, it could become very much higher. If it is to be done, local authorities really must believe that the Ministry of Health is not plotting to take things out of their hands. The Ministry of Health is concerned with the quality of 509 the service and must take account, and will take account, of the problems of the local authorities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) got into a curious sort of state about the regions. He said "I am most anxious to get rid of the Regional Commissioners." Well, they are going all right. When the hon. Member was not here, I paid a tribute to their work, which I am always happy to do in war time. [HON. MEMBERS: "He was here "] I beg his pardon. I am sorry. When my hon. Friend had got rid of the Regional Commissioners after the war, he looked round and asked: "Who am I going to talk to? The dear Regional Commissioners have gone." He remembered that there were the regional offices of the Departments—the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Health, and others—and he asked whether we could arrange for an official, instead of a Regional Commissioner, to convene meetings of Members of Parliament and representatives of local authorities. It is a fair point. I think the hon. Member has a real point. I was only a little alarmed at his being so anxious to get away from the civilian non-official Commissioner and wanting to be summoned into the presence of one of these regional officials. I think regional officers of the appropriate State Departments will go on. There may be a tendency for the number of State Departments who have regional officers to increase. There is a lot to be said for it. A good many things can be settled on the spot without the delay of worrying Whitehall. It is a fair point. It is a good way for the Departments to keep in touch with representatives of the local authorities, and indeed members of Parliament, if that should be desired.
The hon. Member also referred to the training of local government officers, and the possibility of a staff college. I cannot say anything about that, but the point has been noted by my right hon. Friend The Minister has also noted what my hon. Friend said about housing sites and he will be in communication with my hon. Friend. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) referred to the rating system and asked: "Is it the last word in wisdom?" I do not know. I only say this: Once upon a time I plastered the walls of London with the slogan: "Vote for the Labour Party and a municipal Income Tax." A few weeks after the 510 election—which we did not win, but in which we had made considerable progress as usual—the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Ms. Key), who was then prominently associated, as he still is, with local government work in Poplar, came to my office and asked "How much income do you think Poplar will get out of this municipal Income Tax of yours?" It was rather a shock, and I must confess I was rather doubtful about it myself. Since then the walls of London have not seen any posters about a municipal income Tax.
I could make a considerable speech against the rating system, but the trouble is to find something that is better. What we have done as the years have gone on, is to merge the rating system, which started in 1601 under Queen Elizabeth, with the device of the grant-in-aid, so that you have a fusion of national taxation and all its elasticity, with the rating system and its admitted lack of elasticity. I do not say that that is perfect, but I think there is more to be said for it than, perhaps, one would think at first sight. I cannot think of anything better myself and I would only say to my hon. Friend: "Let us all go on thinking, and if we think of something better, we will tell the Minister of Health about it, and he can set his learned officers about it, and let us hope something will survive when they have had a cut at it."
May I say, by way of conclusion, that it is perfectly true that the tendency of local government is towards the exercise of local government functions by county boroughs and county councils. That is the undoubted tendency of the last 25 years or even longer. As to what the reason for that is, there is a conflict between the arguments we have heard to-day on behalf of large scale administration, coupled with certain devices to check them, that were put forward by the hon. Member for South Tottenham, and the arguments for the small authority which have been put by various other hon. Members. In the course of my regional Civil Defence tours in the South-West of England, I went to a lovely old town hall, I think in Dartmouth. It is full of history and all sorts of relics, but the population of that place is quite limited now, and it would not stand a chance today of being made a borough. I felt that I could not be a party to destroying this 511 sort of little local authority, with a long history behind it. But the tendency of all administrations, whether Government, local authority or commercial, is towards a somewhat larger unit of administration. Then, of course, there is the case for the consolidation of the various local government services, and, in one way or another, the tendency has undoubtedly been towards the county and county borough authority. I do not intend to argue the point—there is not time—but that is the tendency, and whatever reasons there are against it, there must be reasons of substance for it.
On the other hand, the county districts, that is, the urban and rural districts, and the non-county boroughs, are vigorous local authorities that have rendered considerable local service to the community, and have existed a long time. The urban and rural districts were brought into existence by the Local Government Act, 1894, and they have done good work. As between scrapping them, and merging them all in the county council, I am sure the general opinion of Parliament would at present be that the county districts should be preserved. It has always been a question whether their areas do not require review, and this machinery of the Boundary Commission, which follows upon the county review under the Act of 1929, is designed to secure an adjustment of the county districts, and I should think the tendency will be, broadly, for them to become somewhat larger in territory as time goes on. That we shall see.
What was the real case for regionalism? It was the case that a number of services were beyond the capacity of the average local authority, even the county borough council, even the county council. But these services were largely economic in character—municipal passenger transport, electricity, gas, water, drainage. There I stop for the time being. I suggest to the House that these economic questions of transport, electricity and gas, whatever may be said about water, are tending more and more to be settled on some sort of national basis. I say "some sort" because I am speaking for all parties. I think that is inevitable, and there does emerge a class of subjects formerly within the field of local government which may be dealt with as a national problem. We are not trying to invent that. The number of cases in 512 which the State has taken services from the local authorities for itself are very limited. One was unemployment assistance, or outdoor relief, which was taken from the local authorities, at the urgent request of the local authorities themselves, because they wanted to get rid of the financial burden, and I think they were right. In so far as we come to deal with them nationally, in some way or other, as economic problems it ceases to be an issue in favour of the regional local government idea. Water is mid-way between the two, and we are moving towards the joint board, and the same applies to drainage. Both of these, as the hon. Member for South Tottenham said, are engineers' questions rather than human questions. Fundamentally it does not matter so much in relation to local government.
The other service is hospitals. There the view of the Minister of Health and the Government was that it would not be right to take the hospitals over into a national concern. I think that is quite right, but it is the case that hospital administration is beyond the administrative ability of a large number of county boroughs. It is even beyond a large number of county councils. Therefore the Minister was driven, and I was dragged with him, to swallow the joint board doctrine, because we did not see what else we could do with that problem. That is why that question is being dealt with under the joint board doctrine. The only other subject I can remember where the case for the big regional idea exists is town and country planning. Quite an argument can be made in regard to this subject. But we now have the Minister of Town and Country Planning. That Minister has regional offices. If the Ministry of Town and Country Planning has its broad national ideas of development, if its regional officers, with the concurrence of the Minister, have their ideas how the region should develop, all the machinery is there to give effective regional co-ordination in town planning as between local authorities and the Ministry. I think that is the way that question will have to be solved, and thereby the national interest will be kept in mind.
The case for the big regional local government idea is not as great as it was some years ago, I think it is weaker, but I think there is a case. There are the 513 pros and cons of the matter, and it is a matter for the future to decide. As far as this Government are concerned and as far as they can see, this White Paper points the best way to proceed, and we accordingly commend it to the House.
Finally, I join with everybody who has paid a tribute to British local government. Our democracy, Parliamentary democracy itself, owes a lot to local government. The local authorities generally, their officers and members, have served the country well over the years. They have certainly served the country well during the war period. They have been called upon—and in this I include all of them, counties, county boroughs, county districts, Metropolitan boroughs—to administer a large number of strange, new services, some of which were not particularly natural to local government. They have undertaken them and adapted themselves, and taking them by and large they have been a first-class success in the administration of these war-time Civil Defence services and other services. Our belief as a Government is that the record of British local government is a great one. We appreciate what they have done in the war, and our only anxiety is that the future of British local government may be as brilliant and worthy as its past.
§ Ouestion put, and agreed to.
That this House welcomes the intention of the Government to preserve the existing framework of the county and county borough system of local government and the proposals for the establishment of a Local Government Boundary Commission outlined in the White Paper presented to Parliament.