HC Deb 05 June 1945 vol 411 cc785-91

Considered in Committee.

[Mr. CHARLES WILLIAMS in the Chair]

CLAUSE 1.—(Establishment of Local Government Boundary Commission.)

7.10 p.m.

Mr. Muff (Kingston-upon-Hull, East)

I beg to move, in page 1, line 17, after "may," insert: after consultation with associations representing local authorities. I am moving this Amendment in order to elicit from the Minister what is going to hoppen but I would like the Minister to accept this Amendment which has a fair amount of support. I believe the Association of Municipal Corporations would very much like to have these words inserted in order that nothing shall be done without consultation, and so that there shall not be any encroachment on their liberties and their duties.

Mr. Colegate (The Wrekin)

I support this Amendment. The relations between the Ministry of Health and the associations representing local authorities are very happy and, if I may say so, the parties are equally helpful on both sides. I cannot see that there would be any real objection to inserting these words. It would ensure that the work would be done more smoothly in regard to certain matters which might otherwise cause difficulty. Perhaps the Minister will accept the Amendment; I hope he will. I urge him to accept it, because I feel certain it will be greatly to the benefit of his Department and would be greatly appreciated by the associations concerned.

Sir Joseph Lamb (Stone)

I wish to support this Amendment. I anticipate that we may be told that what is asked for in this Amendment is the general custom. I know it is, but I do not see why it should not be put in the Bill. After all, Governments do change, and it is just as well that it should be in the Bill, so that it would place compulsion upon a Government which was not quite so amenable as some we have had.

Mr. Craik Henderson (Leeds, North-East)

I ask the Minister to give this matter sympathetic consideration. I agree with my hon. Friend that it would relieve anxiety if this Amendment were accepted. I, therefore, ask the Minister to give it sympathetic consideration.

Mr. Silkin (Peckham)

I cannot imagine any Minister making regulations prescribing the general principles upon which the Commission should act, without first consulting the local authorities. Any Minister who attempted to do that would be signing his own death warrant. I moved many Amendments of this kind in connection with the Town and Country Planning Bill and in every case I was given the assurance that, in fact, local authorities would be consulted. I accepted the assurance. It seems to me that if the words were inserted here, the Minister would be under an obligation to consult the local authorities, and where the words were not inserted he would say that he was under no obligation. I am content to leave this to the good sense of the Minister, assuming he will give the assurance that the local authorities shall be consulted. Possibly other legislation might be weakened by the insertion of these words. Therefore, I suggest that if the Minister does give the assurance we can accept it, because I am sure that the present Minister and his successor will give effect to such an assurance.

7.15 P.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Hutchinson (Ilford)

With much of what the hon. Member for Peck-ham (Mr. Silkin) has just said I am in entire agreement. I cannot conceive that the Minister would make or approve such Regulations without consulting the associations of local authorities, as he always does, but there may be some advantage in inserting in the Bill an obligation on him to do what he normally does in the course of his transactions as Minister of Health. If, on the other hand, my right hon. and learned Friend says, as I am sure he will, that he can give us an assurance that those consultations will take place, I agree with the hon. Member that no great advantage would be gained in putting on him such statutory obligations. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will be able to give us that assurance.

Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)

I hope that the Minister will see his way, in view of the friendly associations which have existed for so long between his Ministry and the local authorities, to give us the assurance which is asked for. I cannot conceive a situation in which the Minister would not, in relation to the operation of this Bill, consult local authorities with regard to these difficult and embarrassing boundary questions as they arise from time to time. In the city of Birmingham we have been caused a great deal of embarrassment in dealing with our boundary questions. No doubt my right hon. and learned Friend will see that it will be of great importance, in making the Measure effective, that he should consult local authorities.

The Minister of Health (Mr. Willink)

With the spirit of what has been said by all, I am in complete agreement, but in my view it would be better not to insert the proposed words in the Clause. It is, of course, my intention, as I feel sure it would be the intention of anybody occupying my office, to have consultations on a matter of this kind. Perhaps I may remind the Committee that when first we discussed the White Paper I said, with regard to the framing of the broad principles: This, of course, is a subject which I would wish to discuss with the local government associations before framing and laying before Parliament directions on such an important matter. After ah intervention I made it clear: I should like to discuss the proposals informally with the local government associations, as is so frequently done in these local government matters, in, order to obtain the views of people of experience. No bargains would be made, of course."—[Official Report, 15th February, 1945; Vol. 408, c. 426.] In the Second Reading Debate on 9th May, I said: I am sure that everyone would agree that the framing of these general principles and general directions is a matter on which consultation with the local government associations would be not only proper but necessary."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th May, 1945; Vol. 410, c. 1952.] In substance, I have given, I think, the pledge on two occasions. There is this difficulty, that the actual wording of the Amendment would not be quite satisfactory. All sorts of associations representing local authorities may appear and no doubt London local authorities would have to be excluded from this matter particularly. The Amendment should have some such words as such associations as appear to the Minister to be concerned, or something of that kind. I hope, however, that the Committee will accept the view expressed by the three Members who last spoke that the words on the Order Paper are not necessary.

Mr. Hubert Beaumont (Batley and Morley)

I am rather puzzled at the moment as to accepting the Minister's assurance that he intends to consult the local authorities on every proper occasion. I am also puzzled why he cannot accept the proposed words or wording which will bear the same meaning. Local authorities are apprehensive on this matter. They feel that if the words are not actually in the Measure, a time might come when they would not be consulted in the matter. I hope that the Minister can go so far as to consider the possibility of framing words which will express the desire of the local authorities, and at the same time accord with the assurances of the Minister.

Mr. Willink

The trouble is that we are trying to get the Bill to-day.

Mr. Muff

The reply of the Minister is most disappointing. My hon. Friend on our Front Bench referred to the London County Council, but the L.C.C. is not England. We are speaking for the provincial authorities and it is more necessary for them to have this Amendment than it is for an authority like the L.C.C. I had better not say "a minor authority." I want to impress upon the Committee that we do not want to see the Boundary Commission set up and then to find either that it has been "sold a pup" or that the pass has been sold. I refuse to withdraw the Amendment and I hope that the hon. Member for Moseley (Sir P. Hannon) will join me as one of the Tellers in a Division.

Captain Prescott (Darwen)

I would ask my right hon. and learned Friend if he can give us a more specific assurance than he has given up to now that, when these matters are considered, the local authorities will be consulted fully and will be able to make known their views on the matters. I can assure the Committee that there is widespread concern on this point. I hope my right hon. and learned Friend will find it possible to give a more accommodating answer than he has given. I do not think any of us wish to press the matter to a Division, but we ourselves, and our local authorities, are very much concerned. I ask that he should consider this matter more favourably than he has done up to now.

Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)

The Minister should insert these words in the Bill. He has met local authorities in the past. I have been a member of a deputation from local authorities. I am speaking now for my urban district council; we are very perturbed. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will not always be at the Ministry of Health, and if these words are not inserted in the Bill, any Minister of Health can please himself whether he consults local authorities or not. The Minister has consulted them in the past, so what is there to prevent these few words being added to the Bill? I ask the Minister to think about it. Otherwise it will leave a certain amount of suspicion in the minds of local authorities of what is going to be done in the future. I beg of the Minister to allow the Amendment to be inserted.

Mr. Willink

I was moved in the direction I took by the weighty speeches of two Members, whom I know to be very familiar, as familiar as any of us, with local government matters. But the weight of opinion in the Committee is, I feel, in favour of relieving any anxiety on this point—though I am bound to say I was not aware of any anxiety at present among the local authority associations as to whether they would be properly consulted. I did indicate that there were difficulties about these precise words. What would undoubtedly be a better form would be the form which appears in the Housing Act, 1936: after consultation with such associations of local authorities as appeal to him to be concerned. If my hon. Friend would withdraw his Amendment, perhaps the other form could then be moved, and I should be willing to accept it.

Mr. Muff

I thank the Minister for his accommodating action in this matter. The words he has proposed are better and I should say are an improvement on the Amendment which I proposed. Like many other hon. Members I have served many years' apprenticeship in provincial local government, which has been a stand by to this country. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Willink

I beg to move, in page 1, line 17, after "may" insert: after consultation with such associations of local authorities as appear to him to be concerned.

Sir J. Lamb

May I just say a word as a reminder to my right hon. and learned Friend? He mentioned two Members as representing local authorities, but there are many other Members of the sort who have not been mentioned by him and who are equally interested in this matter. I hope that when the occasion arises that he has to decide who are suitable we shall not be left out.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

Mr. Rhys Davies (Westhoughton)

I should be glad if the Minister would explain one thing to me. I am very glad that he has inserted the Amendment and I trust that those who spoke on it will be satisfied. I have sat on a large local authority for years and I represent here five small urban district councils. Clause 1 says: such regulations shall be of no effect until approved by resolution of each House of Parliament. Am I to understand that when the Regulations are laid on the Table of the House they will be subject to Amendment, or are we only in a position to accept or reject the Regulations? I should like that point to be cleared up.

Mr. Willink

The Regulations will be submitted for affirmative approval by the House and if it becomes apparent that the House does not like the Regulations, then they will have to be reconsidered. But they will not be subject to detailed Amendment.

Question put, and agreed to.

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

  1. CLAUSE 2.—(Power of commission to alter areas.) 5,790 words
  2. cc806-26
  3. CLAUSE 3.—(Exercise of powers of Commission.) 7,618 words
  4. cc826-8
  5. New Clause.,—(Saving for municipal corporations.) 817 words