HC Deb 21 April 1948 vol 449 cc1880-3
Mr. Woodburn

I beg to move, in page 55, line 12, to leave out "or town," and to insert "town or district."

If it is convenient to the Committee, I should like to refer also to the further Amendment in page 55, line 13, to leave out from the first "Act," to the end of line 17, and to insert: shall not retire from his office until the day of election of county, town or elected district councillors as the case may be next after the day on which he would have so retired if this Act had not been passed. The purpose of the first of these Amendments is to bring the district councils within the meaning of Subsection (6). The purpose of the second Amendment is to enable all these councillors to retain their councillorships until May of next year instead of until November, as is the case with the Bill as it stands at present.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 55, line 13, leave out from first "Act," to end of line 17, and insert: shall not retire from his office until the day of election of county, town or elected district councillors as the case may be next after the day on which he would have so retired if this Act had not been passed."—[Mr. Woodburn.]

Mr. Woodburn

I beg to move, in page 55, line 28, at the end, to add: (8) At an election of town councillors in Scotland, the latest times for publication of the notice of election, for delivery of nomination papers, and for delivery of notices of withdrawals of nominations, shall be the same in relation to the day of election as in the case of an election of county councillors in relation to the day of that election, and accordingly Part II of the Second Schedule to the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1947, shall have effect as if in the heading to the second column the words 'or town' were inserted after the word 'county,' and as if the third column were omitted. The purpose of this Amendment is to provide for town councils in Scotland an extended time which is approximately equal to that which takes place in the county councils, which will cover the time necessary for the printing, despatch and return of postal ballot papers, and the other extra duties which will be involved.

Amendment agreed to.

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

Mr. McKie

I do not seek to be fractious or to cause discord, but I wish to bring to the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the fact that by this Clause we are making a far-reaching alteration in the method of local government in Scotland. It is true that Clause 58 only brings things into line with the situation that will be created in England and Wales when this Bill becomes law. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether there have been the fullest consultations in Scotland with the representatives of the various local authorities concerned.

Although I am interested in all parts in Scotland, I admit that I approach the question more particularly as one who represents two scattered rural county council authorities. There are, in addition, a large number of small burghs within my constituency. I very much hope that the representatives of small burghs have been consulted. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to give an assurance that there have been adequate conversations and consultations, because it should be our one desire that this Clause should include such bodies in local government. Such a step would ensure getting the maximum number of people to the poll whenever local government elections take place, whether in town or country.

As far as the county council elections are concerned, the month of May is likely to be a great improvement upon November in ensuring that the largest possible poll will be obtained. There are many people in Scotland who must travel great distances to the polling stations and they would, of course, experience more difficulty in the autumn or winter months. Such people must be encouraged to attend the polling station if our new democratic system is to work in the way in which we all wish. We want to see Scottish people take an even greater interest in the affairs of their local authority. That is why I hope the right hon. Gentleman has had the fullest conversations and consultations with the representatives of those concerned in order that he may assure me and every other Scottish Member of the Committee that the proposed Clause has been drawn up and arrived at only after the fullest possible investigation.

Mr. McLean Watson (Dunfermline Burghs)

I welcome the changes which have been made and which will enable local government elections to be held under much more favourable conditions than in bygone years. In the discussion a few minutes ago, there was a reference to English parish councils. We in Scotland have our district councils. I would like the Secretary of State to note that, whereas in England the parish councils have considerable duties—

Mr. Ede indicated dissent.

Mr. Watson

The Home Secretary shakes his head. Perhaps I may have made a mistake. In Scotland the district councils are starved of duties. They have very few duties to perform and I am afraid that, so far as local government in Scotland is concerned, we are much behind England. England seems to have a better system of local government than we have in Scotland. I would like to see the district councils or the county councils performing many more duties than they are given under the existing Local Government Act. This may not be the occasion to discuss this matter, but I am merely drawing to the attention of the Secretary of State the fact that in England there are parish councils as well as rural district councils. We have to be content with much inferior local government machinery in Scotland.

Mr. Woodburn

In reply to my hon. Friend, all the duties of local government are covered by one or other of the local authorities. It would be quite improper for me to enter a discussion as to the duties of county councils and district councils. I would not like to take sides. It is not very easy to get agreement amongst local authorities in Scotland to parting with any of their powers to lesser lights in the local government hierarchy. I can give the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie) the assurance—although I cannot guarantee that there was unanimity of view—that there certainly were consultations.

Question put, and agreed to.

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

Clause 59 ordered to stand part of the Bill.