§ Mr. Colegate
I beg to move, in page 2, line 6, after "borough," insert:or a non-county borough in an urban or rural district.This is a matter on which, I must frankly admit, there is some difference of opinion. I would draw attention to the fact that the Clause as it stands limits the power of the Commission to the inclusion of an urban or rural district in a non-county borough, but gives no power to include a non-county borough in an urban or rural district. Some people may think that that implies absorption of the less by the greater, but that is not necessarily so. There are remarkable instances to the contrary. I would like to give one or two cases which were referred to by the Minister of Health in the Debate on the White Paper on 15th February this year. He mentioned the cases of Leominster, Tiverton and Welshpool. The figures in those three cases are very remarkable. Leominster Borough has a population of 5,700, a rateable value of £33,382 and an area of 8,728 acres. The rural district of Leominster, which surrounds that small and ancient borough, has a population of 10,633, very nearly double, and a rateable value of £44,435 and an area of 94,000 acres. 7.30 p.m.
We must not anticipate the decisions of the Commission, of course, but it might very well be that the Boundary Commission would regard that as a case where, in view of the heavy services placed on local authorities to-day, it might be desirable to amalgamate the two districts to get 792 a bigger rateable value upon which rates can be levied for housing and the other services which are demanded from local authorities. Surely, in that case, if that is done it ought to be within the power of the Boundary Commission to let a rural district, which is a bigger authority, absorb the smaller authority, rather than the other way round, particularly as a large area in which there are local agricultural interests might be swallowed by a small borough, however ancient it might be, where the interests are of a somewhat different character. I cannot see that there would be any objection to giving this power.
The fears of what are called, in a circular issued by the borough of Richmond, Yorkshire, on this subject "Small towns with ancient charters"—I have in my own constituency the ancient borough of Wenlock, one of the most ancient boroughs in this country, and I am afraid that borough would not support me in the appeal I make to-day—over this Amendment are exaggerated. It does not mean they are to be amalgamated. All these considerations will be taken into consideration by the Boundary Commission, who will certainly not do anything which is inimical to the public interest in that particular area. But, if we are really to trust the Boundary Commission, and we shall have to trust it—it will have a very serious task, the completion of which will make a good deal of difference to certain localities—if we are to limit these powers, why limit them in one direction? It looks as though on that particular point, we suddenly withdraw our confidence from the Boundary Commission. If the Commission is to be given power to say that a small town with an ancient-charter should absorb a rural district, surely it must equally be said that they shall have the power to say that the rural district shall absorb the small town. I think this is an admirable Bill. I like the suggestions of the Boundary Commission. I am so much in favour of them that I am moving this Amendment to give the Boundary Commission full power to consider the matter.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
I do not quite understand this Amendment. It says:or a non-county borough in an urban or rural district.Is there any non-county borough in the British Isles in an urban district?
§ Sir J. Lamb
I support the Amendment. As my hon. Friend says, it is designed to improve the Bill and give greater powers to the Commissioners. The County Councils' Association have considered this Bill, and have passed two resolutions. One was in favour of the Bill, and the other was a reservation. The reservation was:That the Committee greatly regret the absence of any provision enabling the Boundary Commission to direct that a non-county borough shall become part of an urban or rural district, and that an amendment be sought for this purpose.It is clear that this Bill is to give power to the Boundary Commission to consider all kinds of districts, with one exception, that is, non-county boroughs. Why leave them out? Let the Commission have full power. The result of the Bill as at present drafted is that non-county boroughs cannot be included in a rural or urban district, if desired, or, to put it the other way round, a rural district council or urban district council can be included in a non-county borough if desired.
Certain figures have been given. Let me add to them briefly. There are 19 non-county boroughs with a population of less than 2,500. There are also 33 non-county boroughs with a population of more than 2,500 and less than 5,000, showing that there are quite a number which ought to come under the consideration of the Boundary Commission. I will give the names of two. Montgomery has a population of 918, and a rateable value of £3,114. A penny rate brings in £13. Cawbridge in Glamorgan has a population of 1,027, and a rateable value of £5,250. There again, I think consideration should be given. I do not intend to make a long speech, or to ask the Committee at this stage to consider any individual non-county borough or rural or urban district. I am asking the Minister to make it possible for the Commission, when it is desirable, in their view, to have this power. I cannot see why they should be deprived of this power, which they have in regard to other authorities.
§ Mr. T. J. Brooks (Rothwell)
Are some of these non-county boroughs mentioned by the hon. Member, charter boroughs?
§ Mr. G. Hutchinson
My hon. Friend was asked whether these boroughs have Charters. His answer was that some have and some have not.
§ Sir Joseph Nall (Manchester, Hulme)
I think my hon. Friend, in moving an Amendment of this kind, is splitting hairs. What we are dealing with in this case is the question of whether two areas should be merged, whether it be that an urban or rural area absorbs a borough, or a borough absorbs an urban or rural area. The process is the same; the two are brought into one unit. To suggest that a town, however small, which for many years, in the case of Royal Charter boroughs, has been a borough, and has some paraphernalia of civic dignity, etc., should disappear from the map as a municipal unit and name, and be absorbed in a rural district, is offering an affront to civic pride, which will only embarrass the Boundary Commission when they come to deal with these matters. I should be out of Order in elaborating what I think is the real remedy for this, but I will put it shortly. Where these very small boroughs are surrounded by rural districts, and it is obvious that the two should be merged, we ought to have a new name, and call the merged unit a rural borough. In that way civic pride would not be affronted, civic paraphernalia would be retained, the town would still be a borough and the countryside would not be offended by being called an urban borough or a municipal district. I loathe the name of non-county borough. It is a stupid phrase. It would be better to call these boroughs urban boroughs. So far as this particular Amendment is concerned, I hope it will not be carried. Civic dignity should not be affronted. The real remedy is to call such units rural boroughs.
§ Lieut.-Commander Gurney Braithwaite (Holderness)
I have listened with surprise and pain to the speeches of my hon. Friends the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Colegate) and the Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb). That such speeches 795 should be made by members of the Conservative Party is a surprise.
§ Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite
I rise to urge my right hon. and learned Friend and the Committee to give the shortest possible shrift to this Amendment. When all is said and done, what is its effect? I listened with modified pain to the speech of the hon. Member for Hulme (Sir J. Nall). Its effect is to cut clean across local patriotism and historical traditions. I have received communications from two non-county boroughs in my constituency, the borough of Hedon which received its Charter in 1170, and the borough of Beverley, which received its Charter a little later, long before this country was afflicted by the municipal megalomania which has made itself so prominent in the course of these proceedings. I am instructed to resist—[Interruption]—urge, requested, anything that would be suitable to my hon. and gallant Friend, commanded, instructed by the electors of Holderness to resist this Amendment, which is an example of the ham-fisted methods of the planners who are so anxious to take over control of this country, and who desire to ride roughshod over all these ancient and historical traditions.
§ Mr. Colegate
Why is it more roughshod to incorporate A with B than B with A? Surely that can apply to any decision given by the Boundary Commission?
§ Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite
I would ask my hon. Friend to wait for the concluding sentences of this very brief speech. The difference between B and A and A and B is that between the two sides of this House. It was said a little earlier in the Debate that the present Minister may not always sit in his present place. There might conceivably be a change of Government.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
I did not say that. I said there would be a change of Minister. I never said anything about a change of Government.
§ Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite
Nor did I make any reference to the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths). I do not know why he should suddenly jump up—
§ Lieut-Commander Braithwaite
—unless it is a desire to engage in his usual verbal exercise. I was about to commend to my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin, the broadcast to the nation made last night by the Prime Minister. He made it quite clear that we are in some danger of sliding into a form of totalitarian organisation. If that be so the first victims of such totalitarianism are, of course, the ancient boroughs. Hon. Members opposite are anxious to sweep away our ancient traditions at the earliest available opportunity. I suggest in all good temper to my hon. Friends who have supported this Amendment that the suggestion that Charters granted by the Crown—and all these Charters have been granted by the Crown, whether the boroughs are county boroughs or non-county boroughs—should be superseded by some bureaucratic Commission, is to me a most lamentable doctrine to come from members of the Tory Party.
§ Mr. Colegate
There is nothing about these ancient boroughs being superseded by the Commission. All that is in question is entirely whether it is more convenient to combine two districts or not.
§ Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite
I am not anxious to take up the time of the Committee, but I must express my surprise at the innocence of my hon. Friend. In present circumstances his or my suspicions are ill-grounded. But let him look into the awful future portrayed last night by the Prime Minister. We have to look at these possibilities. Should hon. Members opposite at some very far distant date succeed in achieving a majority in this House there will be bureaucratic Commissions nominated from Transport House.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)
I do not think that is in Order on this Amendment.
§ Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite
But, when we are engaged in placing on the Statute Book an Act which may remain there for many years, I thought I was in Order in pointing out certain possibilities. If that is not in Order, may I appeal to Members to uphold the charters 797 of non-county boroughs, and urge my hon. Friend not to be led into error by this extremely specious and dangerous Amendment.
§ 7.45 P.m.
§ Mr. Willink
My intervention will not prevent any other Member from addressing the Committee, but I thought it my duty to make my position clear. It would be the greatest embarrassment to me if the majority of the Committee were to support this Amendment. I gave a clear pledge in introducing this Bill. I said:Except in the case of the amalgamation of two boroughs, no alteration of area or status will involve the loss by a borough of its charter."—[Official Report, 9th May, 1945: Vol. 410, c. 1951.]By these new words, my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Colegate), in a speech of great frankness, suggests that a non-county borough may be included in an urban or rural district. That is a very remarkable suggestion. He suggests that this Commission shall have power, by its order alone, without the control of Parliament, as the Bill is drafted, to take away an ancient charter from a Borough, however small, or however large. We have taken the view, and I believe it is the view of the Committee as a whole, that it is not proper in what is, after all, temporary policy to ask Parliament to take such a step as that. When my hon. Friend suggests that the situation is parallel, and that it is just as right to include a rural district or part of a rural district in an ancient borough as to include an ancient borough in a rural district, the argument is more plausible on the surface than in reality. Rural districts are very much more creations of a recent date than are ancient boroughs, with their charters. I could not possibly accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
I apologise for intervening in this internecine conflict of the Conservative Party, but I regret the answer given by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. If we take the case that was produced in detail by the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Colegate), what happens is this. If the right thing is to be done in the Leominster district, the Leominster non-county borough is to be expanded to cover a very much larger area, with three times the population. It will have ceased to have any of the characteristics of the borough, but will be called a borough, and those parts of the added 798 area may find themselves called on to discharge duties that will fall on them as a borough that will not fall on them as a rural district. The whole trouble is that we have got to face up to the fact that, since these non-county boroughs originally received their charters, the whole face of the country has been changed. There is the borough of Hedon, in the constituency of the hon. and gallant Member for Holder-ness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite). I once met the Mayor of Hedon when I was the guest of the Lord Mayor of Hull. The mayor was very careful to explain to me that his borough was a charter borough long before Kingston-upon-Hull was ever considered, and that, therefore, this lord mayor was a very inferior person in dignity to his Worship the Mayor of Hedon. The local government of this country should be designed to deal with the problems of to-day. Undoubtedly administrative inconvenience follows from the kind of difficulties that we are going to preclude ourselves from considering. I know of one non-county borough which at one time was a police authority. It had a chief constable, a sergeant and five constables. How can you have an efficient police force with that composition? I know another non-county borough which was a Food and Drugs Act authority. It had a population of 903. The local village storekeeper only needed to get on the council, and then he need not take the trouble to mix any sugar with the sand. The time has gone by when we should regard these ancient charters as precluding us from doing the right thing by the people who are living in these boroughs and the adjoining districts.
§ Mr. Ede
It stops them from merging except by expansion of the non-county borough. The difference between the non-county borough, in its statutory position and responsibilities, and the rural districts is very considerable. It will involve the point so well made by the hon. Member for The Wrekin. You can have an enlarged borough of Leominster, with people living far away from the centre, hot enjoying any of the amenities of the centre, having to pay the lighting rate, the sewerage rate, and the other rates that will have to be levied for the new borough, whereas if the borough was absorbed in 799 the rural district the special expenses for the various parts could be properly charged on the parts getting the benefits. We are told that this is a temporary Measure. We must face up to the fact that, While we may get some temporary measure of reconstruction out of this Bill, we shall not be able to settle the permanent lines of English local government if we are confronted with the restrictions that we are being asked to continue, by the right hon. and learned Gentleman's refusal to accept the Amendment.
§ Colonel Clarke (East Grinstead)
As a county councillor, I regret the decision of the Minister. To put it bluntly, if the Bill is passed as it stands there will be a tendency to bolster up weak boroughs by adding land from rural district councils near by. That will be to the prejudice of the people living, in those rural areas. They think differently, and their lives are different from those of people in a small town; and they will be prejudiced. I am not afraid of boroughs losing their charters, though I agree with a great deal of what was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) about there 'being some limit to what you can keep in the way of charters. This Bill may prejudice a rural district council if part of its territory is taken into a borough, in order to bolster up the borough.
§ Mr. David Eccles (Chippenham)
I cannot see that this is such a serious matter as the Committee is making of it. If we are to contemplate the amalgamation of, let us say, Malmesbury—whose charter is over 1,000 years old and was given to it by King Athelstane—with the surrounding district—which, in my opinion, ought to take place—it is obvious that the population of the country areas will swamp the population of the towns. They will get more members on the new and bigger authority. Where will those members meet? In the town of Malmesbury. It is surely much better that the charter should continue, and that various villages in the country area around should from time to time have the honour of supplying the mayor, and the chances are that the benefits would go to both populations, who are now being linked up by motor transport and conveniences of that sort. If we were to support the Amendment, we should be saying that no amalgamation 800 ought to take place between the small country towns and the country districts which surround them. That would be bad for administration. We need these larger areas and a broader financial basis for some of these local government areas. If we are to have amalgamation, where is the seat of administration to be? Clearly, in one of these towns. In that case, it does not make much difference calling it an expansion of the town, and it is a very good thing to preserve the tradition of the town, and to link up the interests of the surrounding countryside with those of the small borough.
§ Mr. G. Hutchinson
I hope that the Minister will be persuaded to recede from the attitude that he has adopted towards this Amendment. This is one of those cases where the Committee has to choose between the value of tradition in local government, on the one hand, and the value of what is regarded at the moment, at any rate, as efficiency in local government on the other. I am astonished at my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Colegate) moving this Amendment. I have always looked upon him as an upholder of tradition. For some reason, which I am not able to guess, he appears to have been seduced from that very proper and upright approach to public matters which he has displayed.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) said that the difficulty which this situation presents to us is really a difficulty of rating. I agree that that is the real justification for this Amendment. Is there any substance in it? It may very well be that, in the course of their operations, the Boundary Commission would have to unite many districts which are still rural in character with districts that are urban in character. If they have to do that, it will, of course, result in the inhabitants in the rural part of the area being called upon to pay a rate which will include some urban services. One of the things which hon. Members on all sides of the House have supported is that one of the purposes of our local government changes is that urban services should be extended, so far as they can be extended, into the rural areas.801
§ Mr. Hutchinson
Of course, if you are going to look at the penny rate of the boroughs in their present circumstances, it is obvious that they cannot afford to extend urban services into a great rural district, but I am envisaging extensions of the boroughs and improvement in their rateable value. It will be for the Boundary Commission to determine whether an area, which may be urban in character, although part of a rural district on the boundaries of the borough, ought to be included in an existing borough. If they come to that conclusion in the right way, then they will, no doubt, proceed to make the appropriate Order. Is this difficulty of rating really one which ought to induce the Committee to sweep away these ancient charters? There is one thing which is very valuable in municipal life, and that is the sense of tradition which these little ancient boroughs maintain. I think that is a really valuable thing in rural life, and I think we ought not to sweep it away. We ought to get over what is a temporary difficulty. If it is proved that we ought to combine these ancient boroughs with the adjoining rural districts, surely the right course for us to take is to alter our rating law, and that requires only a very simple alteration in order to make differential rating possible in the boroughs. We ought not to sweep away these ancient charters, 800 and 900 years old, with all the pride and authority which they bring to these small towns, for the sake of what is but a temporary and transitory position, and the Minister would be doing what would prove to be a great injury to local government traditions if he did that. It is true that the future administration of these little boroughs is going to prove a formidable obstacle to the rearrangement of local government, but I hope the Minister will allow them to continue in those traditions which they have so honourably maintained, in spite of what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields has said.
§ Mr. Hutchinson
I am very glad to hear that observation, and I am glad to 802 know that I misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman. He made some observation about sugar.
§ Mr. Colegate
I must confess disappointment at the attitude of the Minister. The argument, if I may say so, has been wholly on the side of my Amendment. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) put a really forcible case. As to these charges, let us be clear about it. I am accused of being an unrepentant Tory, but my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite) accused me of being innocent. Even the Minister fell into this trap about tradition. Where there are two things and one is older than the other, the older is not necessarily the better. I like tradition, but I like still better the making of tradition. I am reminded of the story of one of Napoleon's field-marshals who was talking to two degenerate Austrian aristocrats, one of whom claimed 51 quarterings on his shield and the other claimed 64. When one said, "What about your ancestors, Field-Marshal?" he replied "Ancestors? I am an ancestor." That is what the rural district councils may well say to the charter boroughs. I know of a borough which was given its charter because the mistress of some king applied for a charter to be given to it. To ignore the traditions of the last 50 years and all the splendid work that the rural district councils have done is utterly to mistake the value of tradition.
§ Sir J. Lamb
I want to answer a question which was put to me about the non-county boroughs. I was asked whether they all had royal charters. They are all boroughs, because places become boroughs by royal charter, but they are not all royal boroughs. With regard to the charge of sweeping away the royal boroughs, I do not think that either the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Colegate) or I have suggested that they should be swept away. All we asked was that the Commission should be given power to give consideration to their cases, and I cannot see that those who have spoken so vigorously—
§ Mr. G. Hutchinson
What my hon. Friend is asking is that the Commission should not have power to unite these ancient boroughs with a rural district.
§ Sir J. Lamb
If they think fit. I come now to the point I was going to make before I was interrupted. I cannot think that these people who have been supporting so vigorously the royal boroughs have done anything but a disservice to the royal boroughs in the statements made yesterday. It would lead people to believe that they have put in a claim for special treatment. All I have asked is that what claim they have should be placed before the Commissioners, and that the Commissioners should have the right of dealing with them as they would with any other local authority.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Rostron Duckworth (Manchester, Moss Side)
I beg to move, in page 2, to leave out lines 28 and 29.
The object of the Amendment, which also stands in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Sir A. Maitland) and of other hon. Members, is to increase the powers of the Boundary Commission so as to include the administrative county of Middlesex. The White Paper states that there are 15 non-county boroughs in the County of Middlesex and of these nine have a population of more than 75,000. These non-county boroughs have great amenities, financial resources and residential qualifications of one kind or another second to none in any part of the Kingdom, and they should not be precluded from rising to the status of county boroughs. The fear was expressed in the White Paper that if more county boroughs were created it would react rather seriously on the county administration and considerably weaken it. I feel, however, that these non-county boroughs should have an opportunity of being brought in and advanced to the position of county boroughs. There is no reason why the Boundary Commissioners should not include this county in their investigations of county boroughs and report on the matter. They could then consider the position of the county according to the result of their investigations. I hope that the Amendment will receive due consideration from the Minister and from the Committee.
§ Mr. Ede
I oppose this Amendment. The effect of leaving out these lines would be to throw the future of the local government of the county of Middlesex into the 804 melting pot which this Commission has to bring to the boil and then turn out in some new form of local government for a great part of the country. There are two parts which are excluded—the county of London and the county of Middlesex. At the present time Middlesex has a population of over 2,000,000. Its various county districts are so interwoven that only people with the most expert local knowledge know when they are in the area of one borough or urban district or another. I would have preferred to see the whole of the Metropolitan Police District withdrawn from the scope of the Commission, because the Metropolitan part of Essex and the Metropolitan parts of Surrey and of Kent are not very dissimilar in their composition from the county of Middlesex.
There will have to be a Commission, undoubtedly, dealing with the problem of the government of London and its immediate environs, and I suggest that a Commission for that purpose might be differently constituted from another Commission that deals with other parts of the country. It would have to deal with entirely different problems, and it would be a mistake, in my view, to embark upon the problem of reconstructing Middlesex government apart from the problems associated with the reconstruction of London government. It is true that there are some very populous places in Middlesex. The curious thing is that one of the most populous is not a borough at all. The urban district of Harrow, which has a population of 120,000, is one of the districts with which we should be concerned if the Amendment were passed. I hope that the Committee will leave the Bill, in this respect, as it has been drafted and that Middlesex and its very difficult local government problems will be tackled separately.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr)
What I cannot understand is why, seeing that the Commission will have tremendously wide powers, it cannot inquire into the problem of Middlesex. It will be called upon to inquire into most problems where the questions of boundaries, population and rateable values will arise. Perhaps I may be mistaken, but if I were living in one of these populous towns of Middlesex I should want to have far stronger reasons 805 than have been given why my borough was to be deprived of county borough powers.
§ Mr. G. Hutchinson
The only matter which the Boundary Commission are precluded from dealing with is the constitution of a county borough. As I understand it, it is in their jurisdiction to inquire into boundaries but they cannot constitute new county boroughs.
§ Mr. Davies
I am taking exception to it. If one of these populous towns wishes to make representations to the Minister that it should become a county borough, why cannot it be allowed to do so? Why exclude Middlesex? The idea is that these towns in Middlesex shall not have powers granted to them to apply for the position of a county borough. Personally I feel very keenly on this, because, notwithstanding all that has been said about local government in this country, I am satisfied that, subject to conditions, the ideal local government unit up to now has been a county borough. I hesitate to support an exclusion of this kind without having far more information than we have had up to now. I hope that that information will be forthcoming or I shall be compelled to support the Amendment.
§ Mr. Hamilton Kerr
My hon. Friend who moved the Amendment advanced eloquent contentions in its support, but I hope he will not press them. As the hon. Gentleman opposite rightly stressed, the problems of the County of Middlesex are peculiar to themselves. In fact, it is one of the most densely populated parts of the country and consists of a real county of houses. Were numerous county boroughs to be created within the County of Middlesex, we are very much 'afraid that Middlesex would be destroyed as an administrative unit. My hon. Friend opposite asked why the Commission should not consider, in particular, some of the problems of Middlesex. I would answer this to him. During the first few years of the Commission's operations it is essential, so we feel, that the powers of the Commission in Middlesex should not extend beyond minor adjustments. The problems are so tremendous and peculiar to themselves, and they feel that very strongly.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies
Will not the Commission be asked to inquire into problems of major dimension and major importance in 806 other parts of the country? Why, then, exclude the Commission from having the necessary powers at least to observe the problems of Middlesex? I must repeat that I consider that it is absolutely wrong of this Committee to deprive any aggregation of people in any densely populated part of this country of making an application and of putting up all the fight they can for county borough powers. The answer given by the Parliamentary Secretary is far from being satisfactory and, were I a Middlesex man, I would take very strong exception to it.
§ Mr. Kerr
I am afraid I cannot satisfy the hon. Member any further in his wish. All I can say is that the Commission has a vast task ahead of it. It has many items that are more urgent problems than the consideration of Middlesex and therefore perhaps it would be wise to start on those and go back to that later.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.