HC Deb 17 October 1946 vol 427 cc1069-72

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

Mr. Snadden (Perth and Kinross, Western)

I should like to ask the Joint-Under Secretary a question about this Clause. There is some uncertainty in the minds of members of joint county councils about the position that may arise, in regard to their representation upon the County Councils Association, as a result of the Bill. Under the rules of the Association, as I understand them, the joint county councils always have separate membership of the Association. They are, naturally, anxious, as I think hon. Members generally will be anxious, to know whether that position is to continue, so that the individual and smaller county councils may still have their say in the affairs of the Association.

Under the Bill it is the joint county councils who have to meet the subscriptions and expenses in connection with membership of the County Councils Association. They are asked in the first instance to make the actual payment. There is no statutory authority that I am aware of whereby the smaller individual counties can meet such expenses. There is fear, particularly in my area of Kinross, and possibly in Moray and Nairn, that the smaller individual county councils may lose their representation upon the County Councils Association. I realise that it is not possible to insert an Amendment to give effect to our desires. I take the view that the Bill is a finance Measure entirely, and that it would not be possible to legislate in regard to the constitution of the County Councils Association. I quite appreciate that point, but the Minister might be able to meet the fears of the smaller county councils if he would give an assurance.

First, can he give an assurance that there is nothing in the Bill to prevent the existing position continuing of the small county getting a say in the affairs of the Association? Can he say that it is not the desire or intention of the Minister to introduce anything that would lead to such a result? If something was said on that point of the smaller joint county councils we should be very glad.

Mr. T. Fraser

I readily give the assurance. The Bill does not deal with the matter of representation at all, and no change need necessarily be made as a result of the passage of the Bill. I understand that the separate authorities of the joint authority are indeed represented on the County Councils Association at present, and I expect that that position will continue; but it is a matter to be dealt with by the Association by administrative action, if they should, at any time, decide to bring about a change. We have no right of intervention. It is entirely a matter for the Association, and we have no desire to interfere. We expect that representation will continue upon the same basis as at present.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

I should like a little more assurance on that point, about the Government not having the desire to interfere. Can we be quite sure that the Government do not intend that there shall be a change in representation? That is the thing we want to get clear.

Mr. Fraser

The Bill does not contain any provision which we are trying to impose upon the Association at all. It is a Bill to carry out the wishes of the Association and, as the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) stated, it is purely a financial Bill. We are enabling the Association to raise money from its constituent bodies. It needs the money to carry out its work. I give an assurance that the Bill in no way interferes with the present representation of the lesser authorities.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, with Amendments; as amended, considered.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

3.56 p.m.

Mr. McKie (Galloway)

This is a small Measure which may have very far-reach- ing consequences. In the absence of the Secretary of State for Scotland I wish to say how pleased I am that the right hon. Gentleman has seen fit to introduce the Measure. We all regret his absence. No doubt there is some very good reason for it. Before we give our final blessing to the Bill I should like to say how very pleased I am that it has fallen to the lot of the right hon. Gentleman to present such a Measure as this, especially when I remember the very hard things which the right hon. Gentleman has said in the past about county councils. The underlying idea of the Bill is to allow county councils to give bigger contributions to their central association and for the work of the association to be more important than it has been in the past. I feel it my duty to make these comments upon the right hon. Gentleman's past about county councils, even though he has not seen fit, on this one occasion, to be here. I recall in the last Parliament that he made some very unfavourable remarks about the kind of work done by the councils of the two counties which I have had the honour to represent for many years in this ancient House. He criticised them as being reactionary, and as quite unable to fulfil the duty of carrying out the work committed to them.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

I do not think there is any reference to that matter in the Bill. The hon. Member is only entitled to refer to what is contained in the Bill.

Mr. McKie

We want to give a unanimous vote on this Bill, and we are allowed to say why we are glad to see what is contained in the Bill, which has been introduced by a Socialist Secretary of State for Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman, as I said, has rather a bad report with regard to the smaller local authorities. That is all I wish to say. I see by the expression on the face of the Joint Undersecretary of State that he is taking these remarks fully to heart—they were made upon the Second Reading, too—and will no doubt tell his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State what some of us who represent small county local authorities in Scotland feel about the whole position. We are glad that the right hon. Gentleman has made a deathbed repentance in this matter. In the past, the smaller local authorities have had a very uphill fight, but at long last, and after more than 50 years of the existence of this County Councils Association, we have a Bill presented to provide for the expansion, and more efficient working in the future, of this noble Association. When I say that, I am not casting any aspersions upon the great work of that great body. I am glad to see that it is the Socialist Government, which causes such a lot of evil—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order."] Perhaps I may be allowed to say this. I am very glad that this Measure has been promoted by this Government. This will enable the work of the County Councils Association in Scotland to be more effective for the benefit of the northern Kingdom, than it has been in the past.

4.0 p.m.

Mr. Scollan (Renfrew, Western)

I welcome this as the beginning of what may be a most important step in administration for Scotland, and very probably for England too. I see in this the beginnings of a revolutionary scheme. At the moment, this Association has no actual legislative or even administrative powers. It is more in the nature of a consultative body covering the various counties and the burghs within the counties, for the purpose of acting in conjunction with, presumably, at the moment, the Scottish Office. No doubt at some future date it will act in conjunction with some other form of Government representative, for the purpose of dealing with matters that are of common interest to the area covered by the Association. The only good thing I see in it at the moment is that we are giving the Association power to be financed by the various bodies levying one-twelfth of a penny on the rates. That is very important official recognition. I sincerely hope that the day will come when that power will be extended for even greater purposes. At the moment a local authority can promote a Bill for the improvement of its own area and get the consent of Parliament for it, but up to now we have not had this power extended outside these areas. I see in this Bill the beginning of something which is really of importance. I shall be pleased to see the Bill passed, and I hope it will develop on the lines that I have indicated.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.