HC Deb 13 March 1946 vol 420 cc1171-3
Mr. Ede

I beg to move, in page 13, to leave out lines 8 to 16, and to insert: (6) In relation to the determination of a consolidation agreement under this section the provisions of the Third Schedule to this Act shall have effect as if references therein to a transferred area included references to the county police area as well as to the borough police area, and as if references therein to an amalgamation scheme and to a scheme under this Act revoking an amalgamation scheme included respectively references to a consolidation agreement and to a scheme of agreement under this section; and provision may be made—

  1. where the consolidation agreement is determined by an amalgamation scheme or by an agreement under this section, by that scheme or agreement;
  2. in any other case, by an order made by the Secretary of State after consultation with the authorities concerned or by an agreement made between those authorities with the approval of the Secretary of State."
This is a somewhat more difficult and really highly technical Amendment that deals with a matter first brought to my notice by the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Orr-Ewing) in the Standing Committee. It was discovered at that time that there were certain non-county boroughs, some of which, as in the case of the borough which gives its name to the hon. Members constituency, had never had police powers but had in fact entered into arrangements with the county police authority with regard to certain matters relating to the police. It first appeared, in the case of Weston-super-Mare, that the borough, for some reason which was difficult to discover, enjoyed a great financial privilege and is in fact at the moment enjoying a rate of some 4.4 pence in the £ less than the county police rate. It was suggested that we should make some arrangement by which a sudden rise in the rate to that extent should be minimised, and I introduced a complicated escalator clause which appeared to meet the point. Then it transpired that while they had a rebate of 4.4 pence in the £ on the rate, they were under an obligation to pay to the county for 30 years the sum of £2,718 annually in respect of police expenses. It seems to me a very complicated way of running rival swings and roundabouts enterprises, but undoubtedly it would be very unfair to put Weston-super-Mare on the escalator clause and relieve them of the £2,718 simultaneously, or to say that after all hope of police powers had vanished they should continue to pay £2,718 per annum.

There are similar agreements of the most amazing complexity—I would almost say irrationality—in different parts of the country, and this Amendment will enable the Secretary of State, when amalgamations take place, to deal with these matters by a scheme so that he will be able to take into account the figures on both sides of the balance sheet and arrive at an equitable arrangement between the borough and the county. Some of these arrangements are the result of consolidation agreements entered into many years ago when a non-county borough that had a police force agreed to that force being consolidated in the county voluntarily. I desire to have the necessary powers so that when the new arrangement comes into operation on 1st April, 1947, I may be able to deal fairly with both sets of ratepayers, those of the borough and those of the county involved.

Mr. Orr-Ewing (Weston-super-Mare)

I should like to thank the right hon. Gentleman for this Amendment. I very much appreciate what he has done. It was a very difficult and highly technical problem and one which only matured in our minds at the very last stages of the discussion of this Bill upstairs. I cannot help feeling that this is an example of how dangerous it is to try to legislate too fast. There was not very much opportunity for local authorities who had been bound in the past by these extraordinary regulations—and I agree that many of them are extraordinary—to consider the effect of the proposals under the Bill, and in fact unless the words now on the Order Paper had been inserted, I think many of them would have suffered considerable loss. The right hon. Gentleman has met the need and I express my gratitude. At the same time I should like to say that the fact that this was raised at the very latest stages was no fault of mine and I think he appreciates that.

Amendment agreed to.

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

Bill reported, with Amendments; as amended (in the Standing Committee and on re-committal) considered.