HC Deb 19 February 1948 vol 447 cc1438-40
Mr. Derek Walker-Smith (Hertford)

I beg to move, in page 7, line 12, to leave out from the first "by," to the end of line 30, and to insert: any Act of the present Session. This Amendment refers to the payments to be made to the Metropolitan Boroughs by the London County Council. As the House is aware, and can see from the provisions of the Bill, there is a different procedure under this Bill for London from that which exists for the rest of the country. Under Clause 10 of the Bill, to which this Amendment relates, payments made by the London County Council to the Metropolitan Boroughs are dependent on a scheme to be made by the Minister, after consultation with the various parties prescribed in the terms of the Clause. This, as the House can see by comparing Clause 10 with Clause 9, is in striking contrast to the provisions made for the payments to county districts by county councils in the rest of the country. Those payments, in contradistinction to the Metropolitan payments, are based on the method prescribed in detail in Clause 9, and endorsed, of course, by the will of Parliament.

Therefore, we get the contrast that in the one case, Parliament decides, after open discussion, what shall operate for the country as a whole, whereas in regard to London, the Minister decides after what are really secret conclaves. I think the House should ask itself, as the Committee did, why this difference should exist. No valid consideration of principle has been advanced as to why there should be this striking difference in the method applied to London and the method applied to the rest of the country. In the absence of this argument on principle, the Minister falls back on a narrow precedent to justify what is a very wide difference of treatment. The narrow precedent which he prayed in aid is contained in Section 7 of the Local Government (Financial Provisions) Act, 1937. This Section of the 1937 Act prescribed a scheme only for the further adjustment of the amounts required to be levied by rate for general county purposes, as governed by Section 100 and the Fifth Schedule of the Local Government Act, 1929. That is done because of variations in the poundage of rates due to the operation of Part V of the 1929 Act.

I do not want to go into these matters in detail, but I think it will be apparent from what I have said that the adjustment contained in the 1937 Act, on which the Minister relies for his precedent, is a much narrower thing than the determination of payments to be made in the new circumstances of the radical alteration made in the Exchequer grants by Part I of this Bill. I submit that the precedent on which the Minister relies is as bad as the principle. The right principle is that a matter of this importance should be embodied in an Act of Parliament. This Amendment does not specify that it should be embodied in the Bill, but that it should be incorporated under: any Act of the present Session. I submit that there is no justification for this hole-and-corner treatment of London in regard to these matters. The Minister should embody his scheme in a Bill and submit it to the judgment of Parliament so that it cannot be said that the scheme in regard to London, in contradistinction to the treatment of the rest of the country, is arrived at in consultation behind closed doors, and is not submitted to the will and judgment of Parliament.

Mr. Oliver Poole (Oswestry)

I beg to second the Amendment.

9.0 p.m.

Mr. Bevan

As the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) has said, I have relied upon a precedent which has proved to be convenient. I have not received any protests from London authorities in the matter. In fact, there is perfect agreement about this procedure. It does not deny to the House of Commons an opportunity of considering the matter later on, and, furthermore, when the order is made it must conform with the principles of Part I of this Bill. The authority of the House of Commons in determining those principles has been preserved. London has always been recognised to be in a unique situation. All we have done is to follow the procedure followed in the past.

Amendment negatived.