HC Deb 26 April 1950 vol 474 cc1035-93

(By Order)

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

7.1 p.m.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd (Mid-Bedfordshire)

On a point of Order. May I ask for your guidance, Mr. Speaker, as to the form these two Debates will take? We are to have a Debate on the Ilford Corporation Bill followed by a Debate on the Luton Corporation Bill. Both Bills seek to create new county borough authorities, and both raise very largely the same questions of principle. Is it possible that we might have a discussion first on the principles, or is it necessary that we should very frequently, as I am afraid otherwise will happen, have speeches reproducing the same arguments on both Bills?

The Minister of Health (Mr. Aneurin Bevan)

I think there is a considerable amount in the hon. Member's contention. There are, of course, differences between the Bills, as there are differences between Ilford and Luton, but nevertheless the general principles would be the same in both cases. I am not sure whether it would be convenient for the House if we took the general Debate on the principles and then considered the Bills formally. As far as I have any status in the matter, have no objection to that.

Dr. Hill (Luton)

I agree that there is much which is common to the two Bills, but at the same time, as the Minister suggests, there is a field of difference. While it may be useful to have the one common discussion on points of principle, I suggest that that should not exclude a brief discussion, not covering the same ground, on the Luton Bill as such.

Mr. Speaker

If I may say so, that would appear to me to be a commonsense way of looking at the matter. Apparently there is a general principle involved in both Bills. There will, of course, be details applicable to each separate Bill. We can have the main discussion on the first Bill and, if the House agrees, on the second Bill we can discuss any details which may be left over and which are local.

Lieut.-Colonel Lockwood (Romford)

I take it, Mr. Speaker, that that will not prevent anybody who is speaking, from raising at any time any point which may be material to one of the Bills. It will be very difficult to discuss these matters unless we can bring forward any arguments which we possess and any particular points which may probably be incidental only to Luton or to Ilford.

Mr. Speaker

I think we can adjust that. Each Bill must be put separately and we must trust to the common sense of hon. Members. I think those points can be met.

Mr. Geoffrey Hutchinson

(Ilford, North): The Ilford Bill raises a question of general principle which is common to both Bills. but it also raises certain questions of detail which are not the same as those for the Luton Bill. I understand that your Ruling is that we may discuss the first Bill, both on the general question of principle and on matters of detail which particularly affect the Ilford Bill. and that we shall then confine the discus. sion on the Luton Bill to the immediate circumstances and details of that Bill.

Mr. Speaker

Yes. Of course, I am in the hands of the House on this matter and if, when we are discussing the second Bill, hon. Members want to go over the ground again, I cannot very well rule them out of Order, but I think the common sense of the House will make the position quite clear.

7.6 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Hutchinson (Ilford, North)

This Bill has been promoted by the Ilford Borough Council for one purpose only to advance the status of the Borough of Ilford to that of a county borough. We are not asking that there shall be any extension of our boundaries. The Bill does not seek that. We have no aggressive ambitions to acquire the territory from our neighbours. All we ask is that we shall be masters in our own home.

Judged by any standard by which matters of this nature are normally judged, the claim of Ilford to be made a county borough is overwhelming and unanswerable. The population of the borough is 185,000—more than twice the present statutory minimum population for a county borough. Of the 83 county boroughs in England and Wales, only 17 have a population greater than Ilford In fact, only 19 county boroughs have a higher rateable value. Of the administrative counties in England and Wales only 23 have a greater population than the Borough of Ilford. The borough is, in fact, one of the major units of local government in this country, judged by any normal standard of population or financial resources.

Yet Ilford is still a non-county borough with the responsibility for many of its major services—for education, for planning, for personal health services—vested in a county authority which is still largely rural in its outlook, and whose centre of administration is the county town more than 20 miles away from Ilford. In fact, Ilford is one of the anomalies which our local government system has produced. I do not propose to dwell for long on this aspect of the matter, partly because, apart from other considerations, the case of Ilford for county borough powers is really unanswerable; and partly because my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. A. E. Cooper), will, if he is able to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, deal with these matters much more effectively than I can. He has for many years been a member of the local authority and at present he is the leader of the council. He will be able to speak with much more intimate knowledge than that which I possess of the inconvenience, expense and delay which is involved in the administration of the major services of the borough as a result of its present status.

This is a Bill to which the House might be expected, in normal circumstances, to give an unchallenged Second Reading; I turn now to the reasons why it will be opposed tonight. I understand that we have to anticipate opposition from two quarters. First, some of my hon. Friends representing different parts of the County of Essex, and I believe some of my hon. Friends who represent other counties, have been instigated to oppose this Bill. So far as concerns my hon. Friends who represent the County of Essex, all that I wish to say to them is this. Ilford has no quarrel with the County of Essex; all that we desire to do is to bid it a grateful and affectionate but final farewell; we consider we have reached a stage when we can manage our own affairs.

There are two other observations that I desire to address to my hon. Friends who are going to express the point of view of county councils. First, I suggest to them that questions of the sort which they desire to raise upon this Bill—about the convenience or otherwise of county administration, the effect upon county finances, and so forth—cannot conveniently be discussed upon the Second Reading of a Private Bill. They are questions which are more suited for decision by a Committee upstairs. And that is all that we are asking.

If the county councils feel that they have a case against this Bill then a committee of this House, considering the matter with the advantage of having advisers on both sides and expert witnesses, is a much more appropriate tribunal to determine these matters; and they can be determined better there than on Second Reading of the Bill in this House. Secondly, I want to put this question to my hon. Friends. Is it not time that this sort of antagonism between different classes of local authorities was brought to an end? It is precisely this sort of thing that has done so much to bring local authorities into discredit.

Here is a case where some change must obviously eventually come. If this condition of things in this part of the county, which everybody admits is certainly not conducive to the efficient administration of the services upon which the welfare of our population so much depends, if this state of affairs, which everybody concedes must eventually be changed, must be prolonged for a further unnecessary period, what advantage will be gained?

That is, as I say, not the only quarter from which we have to anticipate that we have to meet opposition. I understand that the Minister of Health, whom I see in his place, ready to fall upon me, is going to advise the House to oppose this Bill. I am glad to say that I understand we are to have a free vote. I am not going to anticipate anything that the right hon. Gentleman is going to say. He would be a bold Member of this House who attempted to anticipate anything that the right hon. Gentleman is likely to say.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Even his own Cabinet.

Mr. Hutchinson

I want to say certain things to the House upon which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman, when his turn comes to speak, will feel tempted to comment. The first thing is this. This is not the first occasion upon which the Ilford Borough Council has attempted to secure county borough status. Thirteen years ago, when I was first honoured to represent the borough in this House, the whole matter was under active consideration, and a Bill would undoubtedly have been presented to Parliament but that the war intervened, and for the time being Ilford Borough Council was concerned with other matters, some of them of a very tragic character.

Then in 1944 the council took up the matter again, and a Bill, identical in its purposes to the present Bill, was then promoted in Parliament. The next thing that happened was that, before the Bill had made any progress, the Government of that day announced that the Boundary Commission was to be set up. Clearly the Boundary Commission provided a method of arriving at a solution of Ilford's difficulties, and accordingly, upon an assurance which was given to us by the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor that special priority would be accorded to Ilford's proposal, the Bill was withdrawn. That was followed by an exhaustive inquiry by the Boundary Commissioners, and it was, in fact, one of the first inquiries which they undertook. We make no complaint that we were not accorded special priority in the hearing of our claim, but not unnaturally we assumed that the priority in opportunity to state our case would eventually lead to some action. In fact, it has produced no result, and now the right hon. Gentleman has swept the Boundary Commission away altogether, and we are no nearer a result than we were before. In fact, we are back again at precisely the point from which we started in 1939.

The right hon. Gentleman has not only destroyed the Boundary Commission: he has at the same time restored to the local authorities the powers which they previously enjoyed to seek solution of their troubles by their own action by promoting Private Bills in Parliament, such as the Bill which the House is considering now. Now, I understand that, having restored to the local authorities their power to promote Bills and to find a solution on their own of their difficulties, the right hon. Gentleman is going to advise the House to reject this Bill—and also, I understand, to reject the Luton Bill which is to follow.

What are the local authorities to do in those circumstances? The right hon. Gentleman is really acting very unreasonably in this matter. During the Debate on the Bill to dissolve the Boundary Commission, he spoke of proposals for the general reorganisation of local government, and went as far as saying that the Government had those proposals in mind. His Parliamentary Secretary said in the same Debate that a review of these proposals was then taking place. So far, there has been no indication of what those proposals are likely to be, and —perhaps even more important—there has been no indication of when those proposals are likely to be made public. There is no indication in the Gracious Speech that these proposals which the Government had in mind in the last Parliament are to be the subject of legislation in this Parliament. They are evidently not going to materialise in the present Session.

Everybody knows that there is no more controversial topic than the re-organisation of local government. It has been a subject of controversy ever since I had anything to do with it, and for a very long time before that. The Government have declared their intention in the present Parliament of avoiding, so far as possible, controversial legislation, and I suggest that it is most unlikely that the Government's proposals will make their appearance at any time in the present Parliament. After all, as we all know, this Parliament is very closely balanced, and I can well understand that any Government would refrain, so far as possible, from introducing legislation on a topic so highly controversial and explosive as the re-organisation of local government is likely to prove.

What, then, are the local authorities to do? Are they to wait indefinitely, until the Parliamentary situation changes, until some Government at some future time finds itself in a strong enough position to make proposals? If that is the proposal the Minister intends to put to the House, then I suggest that the time has come when a Bill of this sort ought to be given at least a Second Reading. If local authorities who feel that they can make a case to a Committee are deprived of the opportunity of doing so, and are to be invited to wait for an indefinite and uncertain period until the materialisation of some proposals, the character of which is at present unknown to us all—except, I suppose, the Minister and his colleagues on the Government Front Bench—they will have to wait a very long time. In the meantime, the administration of the servives for which they and other authorities are responsible will necessarily deteriorate.

Surely in a case of this nature, where there is a local authority whose claims for an alteration of status are beyond challenge judged by any—

Mr. Bevan

indicated dissent.

Mr. Hutchinson

The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but I am sure he would not disagree with the view that an authority with a population approaching 200,000, larger than many of the administrative counties in the country, was a suitable subject for county borough status. If authorities in this class are to be expected to wait, they may have to wait a very long time. In cases of this character, where the authority has, as I submit, outstanding claims for special consideration, we ought now to give this Bill a Second Reading and allow it to go to the Committee upstairs.

There is one other observation which I desire to make, and I should like the Minister's attention because I want to make this observation particularly to him. Can the right hon. Gentleman or any other hon. Member suppose that, whatever proposals may eventually be made for the reorganisation of local government, some greater measure of autonomy is not likely to be given to local government units possessing the size and resources of places like Ilford and Luton? Why should the granting of county borough status cut across any proposals which are likely to be made hereafter? No one has ever suggested that places of the status and financial strength of these two towns will have reduced powers under any set of proposals.

The right hon. Gentleman knows that during the last 10 years innumerable sets of proposals have been made by innumerable people and bodies. I think I am familiar with most of the proposals, as I have no doubt he is, but I cannot recall any set of proposals in which it was suggested that local government units of this size were to receive reduced powers. I suggest to him that it may well be that to preserve the status quo will cut across the eventual reorganisation of local government much more completely than the changes this Bill proposes to make. It may well be that if services such as the local health service, planning and education are allowed to settle down on a basis of administration by the county council, the result will be that new proposals, when they are eventually brought forward, will cut across the existing and established methods of administration much more completely than if a greater measure of local autonomy were given now to those places to whom it will ultimately clearly have to be given.

In conclusion, I hope the House will give Ilford, and later on Luton, at least an opportunity to make their case before a Committee upstairs. If we have not got a case, the Committee will turn us down. But at least give us an opportunity, by giving this Bill a Second Reading, of going upstairs to make a case for county borough powers. Let us at least have a run for our money.

7.30 p.m.

Mr. Pargiter (Southall)

I oppose the Second Reading of this Bill not because I have any ill-feeling toward Ilford or Luton, but upon the general principles accepted by the House for the withdrawal of the Boundary Commission Act. I do so because it was generally accepted at that time, as will be within the recollection of us all, that tile Boundary Commission reported that they were unable to fully carry out their duties or to fulfil their real terms of reference as they were then drawn. In other words, they could not materially alter the structure of local Government satisfactorily under the then terms of reference. On those grounds, very largely, it was withdrawn.

It will also be remembered that the 1947 Report of the Boundary Commission set out to deal with a number of difficulties with which the Commission were faced. There is no clear political division in this matter in which various vested interests are represented in the form of varying types of local Government units. It is also true that the associations of local authorities have been unable themselves up-to-date, at any rate, to resolve this problem of what is a reasonable structure of local Government, having regard to the complexities of the services which it has to render. So it is no easy problem.

I submit that it will not be made any easier by taking one or two authorities out of the context of the general problem, as it were, and then endeavouring to settle it. In my submission, it will settle nothing but merely create further difficulties. It must be borne in mind that various Acts of Parliament have been passed which influenced this matter. One, a Coalition Measure, was the Education Act, followed by the Health Act and the Fire Brigade Act which returned the fire brigades to the local authorities. They set to some extent a new pattern.

I do not want to argue that it is necessarily the right pattern, but it is at least a pattern, and if someone were to punch a few more holes in that particular pattern that would not help us at all. I feel that we must, at this stage, adhere to the decision generally accepted by the House on the statement of the Minister that there should be no major changes in the structure of local government until such time as there is an opportunity for full review of its whole structure. I believe that the House will adhere to the decision of the Government notwithstanding the change in the structure of the House.

This particular attempt may be the forerunner of many more. Not only can Ilford and Luton argue their cases. I can mention within my own county of Middlesex ten authorities out of 26 with considerably more than 100,000 population who could come here and justifiably say, " Right, Parliament approves the principles of major changes in the structure of local government; we will promote our cases." In the case of two urban districts, Harrow has a population in excess of 200,000 and Enfield over 100,000 apart from the boroughs such as Ealing, Willesden, Tottenham and many others. In fact, the Government recognised what might possibly happen and specifically excluded Middlesex from the consideration of the Boundary Commission so far as the county borough status was concerned.

That safeguard is gone, and one can well imagine what may happen if these Bills receive the assent of the House. I am certain that the problem of local government has to be tackled as a whole. I am associated with the County Council's Association, and I know that they are anxious—extremely anxious—to get the local authority associations together again in an endeavour to provide a solution. At least they appreciate that unless a solution is found by the associations themselves a Government of some kind is going to find a solution, and that as usually happens, it will be one that is unpopular with all of them. So there is a real urgency, I know, behind the meetings of at least some of the associations that they should have an opportunity to get together again to give some further consideration to trying to resolve their difficulties. I hope in the meantime we shall not go further with regard to the promotion of, or permitting the promotion of Bills which will create a further problem.

Let us have regard to one or two of the things that this means. It is easy to talk about a local authority as being this or that, but in many cases it has attained its position as a result of drawing on the surrounding countryside. It has some responsibility for the surrounding countryside, and I think that must be recognised. We cannot take a great chunk out of an existing county which has built up an administrative structure to provide for the whole of it and then expect that it will be able to carry on, probably with one of the largest areas of rateable value taken away from it.

That is the problem with which the Boundary Commission were faced and a problem with which the Government are faced. The House will be faced ultimately with trying to sort out what is the proper balance and how a community can be divided so that democracy can be maintained and the resources of local Government maintained to reasonably meet the services which it has to provide. This will not be resolved by anything that is done in the way of promoting Bills for county borough status.

I feel very strongly about this matter and I am not saying this purely from a point of view of a county council. I have been a member of a borough council and a county council, and I see many faults in the structure of county administration and in many other types of municipal administration The perfect system has not yet been devised. It will be long before it is. I hope that we shall consider this whole problem and we shall not on this occasion, which will be the first time, depart from the decision which the House gave that there should be no major changes in the structure of local Government until such time as it is possible to consider the whole structure.

7.38 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Lockwood (Romford)

I feel that it is my duty to say something on this matter because I have rather divided loyalties as a representative of the Essex County Council and of a constituency which borders upon Ilford. I would hesitate to say anything detrimental about Ilford because I live in a village not many miles from it. I am certain that everyone sympathises with what those who are promoting this Bill are doing, and we appreciate the facts put forward in support of it.

It is not my intention to deal with a specific point, but to make one or two general observations. It seems to me that this Bill is premature because, apparently, the Government are at some time, we do not know when, going to consider the structure and status of local Government, and there is no doubt that it would be advisable to deal with the county of Essex as a whole. The result of this Debate may be that the Government will come along and say that they have made up their minds, which is unlikely, and that it is their intention to let us know the date when they can give us the results of their deliberations.

I know that a Government Departmental committee is sitting on this question of London government. I am sorry to have to agree with the right hon. Gentleman, but I think he might have been right when he said that if the deliberations of that committee were to be complete, they would have to take into consideration the question of greater London.

Mr. Hutchinson

Can my hon. and gallant Friend say to which committee he is referring? There was a body, the Boundary Commission, but I understand that the right hon. Gentleman brought it to an end.

Lieut.-Colonel Lockwood

I may be wrong in my facts, but I understood that there was a Departmental Committee inquiring into the question of London government. I was certainly under the impression that that was so, but if I am wrong I will withdraw it.

It has been suggested that if the Ilford Corporation Bill were to go through and Ilford were to get the county status they seek, it might make it easier for others to get county status. It may well be that Romford in due course may come forward and ask for county status, and no doubt the facts and arguments which can be put forward will be stronger than in the case of Ilford. The point is that I do not believe the fact that Ilford has been given county status will help Rom-ford at all. It is essential that the County of Essex should be treated as a whole, and the granting of county status to Ilford would be prejudicial to any other borough that might seek these powers. It is for this reason, although I desire to do everything I can to help in the matter, because the granting of county status to Ilford will not help Romford in any future efforts which I hope she will make to obtain county status, that I am unable to support this Bill.

7.44 p.m.

Mr. MacColl (Widnes)

I wish to make it clear that I am in no way connected with the County of Essex, or with the Borough of Ilford. I am very glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) made it clear that what we are discussing is not a private difference between Essex and Ilford but a matter which affects the whole of the London region. As a solution to the problems of the London region is essential to the welfare of the country, this is a matter of national importance. The hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Hutchinson) alluded to the Boundary Commission and mentioned that it had been dissolved. The Boundary Commission does not help him at all, because it made it quite clear that the problems of the London region must be considered apart from the general problems of local government reform.

A committee under the chairmanship of the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) dealt with the problem of London planning administration. I think it was in answer to the hon. Member for Ilford, North, that the Minister of Town and Country Planning stated he was consulting the London local authorities on the future organisation of planning in the London region. It seems to me quite clear that in the middle of discussions of this kind it would have the most deplorable repercussions to set up a new planning authority in the region.

I hope that the House will not give this Bill a Second Reading. It must inevitably open the door to many other applications of a similar kind. It must scramble the eggs from the point of view of any properly worked out solution for the problems of London government, which are unique and cannot be considered in the same way as the problems of the rest of the country. I am not a member of any county council, and I am therefore not advancing their point of view; nor am I a member of an all-purposes authority. I am merely saying that the solution to London government must be different, and certainly we cannot help by establishing what are bound to become isolated pockets of resistance to any properly worked out scheme.

7.47 p.m.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd (Mid-Bedfordshire)

Members will agree that this is an extremely interesting Debate. It is a good thing that consideration of great issues of national importance should be abruptly interrupted at seven o'clock to deal with more local problems, because it is upon good government by local administrations that our national strength eventually depends. We on this side have watched the disappearance in the last few years of many of the powers held by local authorities, losses which we consider to be a national disadvantage. Tonight, the issues we are considering cut right across party considerations. I must immediately confess a personal interest in this matter, because I am speaking not as a representative of the Opposition Front Bench but as one of the county members for Bedfordshire, whose affairs are deeply involved with the affairs of the big town of Luton.

As I have said, this is not a party matter. I find myself in agreement with the remarks of the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) and at complete variance with the views expressed by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Hutchinson), whose return to the House is welcomed by most disinterested Members on both sides; with the views that I understand are held by his colleague, the hon. and gallant Member for Ilford, South (Squadron-Leader A. E. Cooper); and with the views I know to be held by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton (Dr. Hill), whose victory in that division was certainly one of the high water marks of the last General Election. No one can say, therefore, that in this matter we are following traditional party lines; nor can it be said that in opposing Bills of this kind we are casting any reflection on the great towns which have quite properly invoked the only machinery open to them at the moment and brought their claims forward in the House of Commons.

I know something about Ilford and its great history, and a good deal more about Luton. I know that without the town of Luton the County of Bedford would suffer severely, although it is also true to say that Luton would suffer very badly without the County of Bedford—it is the marriage of town and country in counties such as mine which have led to our health and prosperity. I look to the future of Luton, in partnership with the County of Bedford, adding increased honour to its already honourable past.

There are one or two general considerations which I should like to advance to the House. Members on this side of the House and some on the other side will deplore the ending of the Boundary Commission with all the possibilities of useful work that lay before it. I am glad to get an approving nod from the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood), because I am about to quote his distinguished father the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Arthur Greenwood). whose views on this matter most of us agree with. The view he expressed some five years ago was quoted only last year in this House—that in any changes of this kind discussions should best take place outside Parliament and outside Private Bill Committees.

Many of us also regret that the Government, having created a void—I do not think the Minister of Health would deny that—have done nothing whatever to fill it. This is one of those unusual occasions in which I find myself in agreement with the Minister of Health. I would not, therefore, in any way sharpen the differences that might arise on other occasions. Had the problem arisen when we on this side were the Government of the day with the Minister of Health leading the Opposition, he might again use words he used on 9th November last, that the failure of this side to express a view was an attempt to conceal the poverty of the party about local government problems in general. We are entitled to say that much of the difficulties confronting counties like mine and towns like Luton and Ilford spring from the fact that the Government, having created a void. have done nothing whatever to fill it.

We are back again in the situation which was sketched in the Coalition White Paper in 1945, when reference was made to the problems of counties like Essex and Bedfordshire. which may be called on to reorganise local government units within their counties while, as here, they are under the immediate threat of having the county itself dismembered or at best with no assurance whatever that the county would remain intact. This is a very great problem and one with which we are concerned in both of the counties whose affairs are now being considered.

The next point I should like to make is that the Government alone are in a position to take action in this matter. The Opposition obviously cannot initiate legislation. We do not know all the facts. We do not know all the facts in the international sphere and there are a great many things we do not know even in the domestic sphere. [HON. MEMBERS: " Hear, hear."] It is not through lack of intelligence, but because a great many things, which to national profit could be shared, are not shared between the parties. The Government have given us certain definite asurances of what their intentions are, and we are entitled to pay some regard to those assurances, because, whatever our views may be about the wisdom of Government action, definite statements by Ministers that they intend to do something about something presumably means something.

Though we have had a number of illusions shattered in the past, I still remain hopeful that in this field anyhow they may shortly have some proposals to offer to the House. The right hon. Gentleman and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health have given certain definite statements to the House.

Last November the Parliamentary Secretary warned large authorities not to apply for county borough status, and he used these words: … since obviously any changes might well have to be undone, if indeed, they could take effect within the time available, when the Government come to announce their proposals." [OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd November. 1949; Vol. 469, c. 410.]

Dr. Hill

Would my hon. Friend be good enough to read also the words earlier in that paragraph, which contemplate changes for a few authorities?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I am coming to that, but I do not see why I should be put off making my own speech and advancing my points in my own sequences, which will be better than the way in which the right hon. Gentleman put them. On the same day the Parliamentary Secretary also assured us that if the minimum figure for county borough status was reduced from 100,000 to 75,000 the representatives of the boroughs would not, in fact, promote Bills while the Government review was under way. It was because of that statement that a number of hon. Members gave their support to the Government's proposals, and we know quite definitely that because of that assurance the Government reduced the minimum number of the towns that could apply for this status.

Now we understood that representatives of the boroughs in large part were in favour of a reduction of the minimum figure, because they feared that the figure of 100,000 might otherwise become the standard, which would be followed in the general plan that the Government are known to have in contemplation. A week later we understood from the right hon. Gentleman himself that representatives of various—he did not say all—of the boroughs had assured him that in the meantime they would not appeal to Parliament for any alteration.

This may be where I can deal with a point which the hon. Member for Luton has in mind. The Government did say that if it were an urgent case and it were put forward, they would give facilities for it, but in all our Parliamentary discussions the only situation that was held to be an urgent situation was—and I am speaking subject to correction but I think I am right—the need to get on with housing schemes on land which might not be within the local authority's control. The Minister added—and he was quite right to do so, for even in the County of Bedford we have a great housing problem —that he would give facilities in those cases. I should like to point out in this particular connection that when the Boundary Commission suggested that some 700 acres to the north of Luton, on which housing development had started and was needed, should be added to the territory of the local authority, the county council very gladly agreed to that and it might have been that that would have happened without any recourse to Parliament at all.

Mr. Hutchinson

The hon. Gentleman has spoken about an undertaking given by certain boroughs. He does not suggest that either of the two boroughs under discussion tonight were parties to that?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

No, certainly not. I know the view of many of my friends in Luton, and they were not a party at any time to that agreement, but they agree that the local authorities' association, to which they belong, has from time to time spoken, not absolutely or precisely on their behalf but in general, giving the view of most of the local associations. I do not pretend that either Ilford or Luton have in any way agreed to an action behind which they are now going through the action they are taking in the House today. So much for the argument in regard to future Government action.

I should like to reinforce the view already expressed that an application of this kind might lead to many other applications. Indeed, in Bedford many of the changes proposed, not least the coming of the great aeronautical establishment to the outskirts of Bedford, might lead to a large increase of the town of Bedford itself, which, if the same principle were followed, would leave a large area in the county district without any adequate support or help. The thought that this may be inevitable in the long run, though I deny it, ought not to happen through Bills introduced into the House of Commons for purely local reasons, but ought to be the unwelcomed consequence of national legislation.

I cannot accept the argument of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Hutchinson) that we should give a Second Reading to the Bill in order that the point at issue can be hammered out in Committee. He cannot pose as a new Member of this House, although he has just returned to it. He had a long and distinguished history in the House of Commons before, and I know that he will have a long and distinguished career here in the years that lie ahead. He knows as well as I do that the Second Reading is the stage for considering the general principles and policy of a Measure. If we let these Bills have a Second Reading we should be regarded as having accepted the view that a prima facie case had been made out for them, and the Committee would then be restricted in their scrutiny of the Bills.

I am speaking entirely for myself when I say that we deny that a prima facie case has been made out. The Boundary Commission looked thoroughly at the situation in Luton and thought that the best status for that distinguished town was that of a new county borough, with wide powers within the county. The county council would have welcomed such a solution, with which the ever-growing town of Luton and the great county of Bedford might have faced the future confident of success. No prima facie case whatever has been made out for recommending to this House a solution different from that which the Boundary Commission recommended.

Mr. Messer (Tottenham)

Will the hon. Gentleman point out that it was not the present county borough status?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I am sorry if I did not make that quite plain. The proposal of the Boundary Commission was an intermediate status but one which might well have met the needs of the county authority and of the urban authority as well.

Mr. Bevan

The hon. Gentleman does not point out in his statement that the Boundary Commission did not, in fact, have the power to do it because they had been denied the power by the Government which set them up

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

As many of the colleagues of the right hon. Gentleman were in the Government which set up that Boundary Commission—for it was a Coalition Government—perhaps he will also address his strictures to them in the present Cabinet. Nor can it be said that the towns engaged in the present controversy have been treated unjustly by the county authorities. I would not be so bold as to speak of the situation in Essex, but I do know something about the county ot Bedford. I know that if at any time the borough of Luton had not had adequate representation on the county council, very deep and sympathetic consideration would have been given to their requests for greater representation but I know that, when these proposals were brought before that county, of the 83 who were present —many of whom came from Luton-80 of them voted against the proposals.

The hon. Member for Southall referred to urban authorities taking large chunks of adjoining rural territory and adding them to their townships and then getting county borough status and taking those rural districts out of the county area. It would not be fair to say that that is exactly what has happened in the case of Luton and Bedford, but it would be fair to say that in the last 24 years the acreage of the town of Luton, with the full consent of the County of Bedford, has increased two and a half times. Whereas, just before I became Member for Mid-Bedfordshire, the acreage was some 3,000, it is now nearly 9,000. This large increase in acreage has taken place with the full approval of the County of Bedford in the confident belief that their destinies were involved together.

Finally, the county authorities in Bedford—I imagine this may be equally true of Essex—have always tried to give proper representation to the citizens of the town engaged in county administration. Certainly, in Bedford over the last 30 years, the chairmanship of the majority of the main county committees have been held by distinguished citizens from Luton. Today the education committee, the highways committee and the fire service committee, to name only three, are held by gentlemen from Luton. The chairmanship of the county council as a whole is held also by a distinguished Luton citizen who has had long links with both county administration and with this House itself.

We believe that we have worked out in Bedford a happy blend of town and country life. We are quite prepared to recognise that when a national decision is arrived at we must play our part in making it work, but we do not believe that we should take this action in advance of a national agreement. Therefore, I very much hope that my hon. Friends and hon. Gentlemen on the other side will oppose the Second Reading of these Bills

8.5 p.m.

The Minister of Health (Mr. Aneurin Bevan)

I think it will be for the convenience of the House if I now state the Government's attitude towards these two Bills. I had been waiting, because I thought that the hon. Member for Luton (Dr. Hill) was going to rise to his feet to take part in this general discussion. I gather that he proposes to hold himself until the Luton Bill is before the House. I make no quarrel about that, but I am bound in my statement to make reference to both Ilford and Luton.

The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd)

could not forbear from putting the responsibility for his embarrassment upon the Government. He finds it hard to oppose some of his hon. Friends, so in order to escape from the dilemma he makes the Government the whipping boy. It would have been much better if he had approached the whole matter in an entirely non-party way. I thought as he was speaking that he was doing a very great disservice to his own constituency. If I surrendered to my natural belligerency I should feel inclined to advise the House not to help him to protect his constituents against the loss of rateable value. Having more loyalty to the citizens of Luton than the hon. Gentleman himself appears to have, I do not propose to make them the victims of a party controversy in this House.

I will take another feature of the hon. Gentleman's speech. It has now become characteristic of practically every speech we hear from the Opposition Front Bench that they are unable to tell the House or the country what their policy would be because they do not know all the facts. If there was one subject—

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

May I ask this: If the right bon. Gentleman had known all the facts about the opening of the second front in the war, would he have made some of the speeches that he did?

Mr. Bevan

This is what the hon. Gentleman calls discussing a Private Bill in a non-party fashion. The trouble with him is that his eruptive irresponsibility continually interferes with his duty to his constituents. I hope they will note it. If not, we shall have to point it out to them. No one knows any more about the facts of local government whether they are inside the Government or outside the Government. What is there secret about local government? Does the hon. Gentleman seriously suggest that he is unable to give the benefit of his advice about how local government should be organised because he does not know the facts about it? I will send him a little booklet. Does he not know the function of rural, parish, county borough, non-county borough and county council authorities?

One would think that one had to send an expedition to find out what was happening in this secret territory that he knows nothing about. It really was an awful faux pas, was it not, seriously to suggest that the facts are not available? It was complete nonsense. There is not a single statistical fact about local government which is not accessible to every citizen in Great Britain—the functions, boundaries, finances, details of administration and everything like that. It really was not good enough. It was below even his form to suggest that they are unable to give us the benefit of their advice because they do not know what the facts about local authorities are. It is a curious way in which they intend to conduct democracy in this country. They say, " We do not know what the facts are, but if you send us in we will do something about them. What we will do we will tell you when we get there." Do not let us have that again.

The hon. Member was also quite wrong in his reference to the Boundary Commission. He suggested that this so-called vacuum, this merely restoring the status to where it was for many years, was because we had abolished the Boundary Commission. He himself has just admitted that the Boundary Commission did not even have the power under the Act setting them up to create a new county borough of Luton. So the abolition of the Boundary Commission has created no vacuum because they could not have solved the Luton problem. It was not in their powers. The reason why the Boundary Commission was abolished by this House was because the Boundary Commission said that the powers setting it up were inadequate to carry out the reorganisation which it thought necessary. We know very well, and must again put it on record, that this House of Commons is not going to give any nonelected body the right to determine all the functions and boundaries of local government. Not even the most fanatical supporters of Boundary Commissions would entrust the status of elected bodies to the ipse dixit of non-elected persons. That disposes of the other part of the speech of the hon. Member.

Now we come to the position of Ilford. The position was that a Commission was established under Lord Reading for the purpose of bringing about a re-allocation of functions between the county council and Metropolitan Boroughs. It was a hopeless failure. The county and municipal boroughs would not give evidence before it. It collapsed. It was not so much done to death by me; it was dead and buried before. That was not because the Commission did not consist of exceedingly able men. They were very able men, who did their best to do an impossible job. But it was because it became apparent to everyone, as it should have been apparent from the beginning, that we cannot deal with the Greater London local government problem merely by discussing the relationship between the county council and Metropolitan Boroughs. The conurbation is much vaster than that and we have to consider the matter as a whole.

I must advise the House to vote against the Second Reading of these two Bills. I must do so on a number of grounds, which have already been stated. In the first place, I must say at once that the Government are not unsympathetic to the aspirations lying behind these Bills. The local authorities concerned are large, efficient, and reasonably ambitious. Therefore, we are not advising the House to reject these two Bills on the ground that we do not think they could carry out county council duties properly. That is not the ground at all. We know they are very good, independent, units of local government.

The reason we advise the House to reject these two Bills at present is because of the fact, as has been stated on more than one occasion, that we do not con sider that any major change should take place in the status of local authorities piecemeal. We believe it is desirable that local government should be considered as a whole and that it would be unfortunate in the extreme if it were possible for particular local authorities to be able to obtain from the House of Commons a Statute which made major changes in their status. Therefore, we consider that it would be not only undesirable, but unfortunate in the extreme, if these two Bills got a Second Reading because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) pointed out, Ilford does not stand by itself. There are very large numbers of local authorities in London with claims analogous to those of Ilford. It is not enough to say that Ilford has a population of 180,000. That is not enough by itself. Would 150,000 be too few? If we granted county borough status for a population of 180,000 and said that it was given because there was a population of 180,000, what would be done in the case of Luton, which has a population of only 110,000?

I do not want to cause division between the two aspirants for county borough status, but I am certain that the hon. Member for Luton would quarrel with the figure of 180,000 being sacrosanct because it would leave his borough out in the cold. No one has yet decided what the figure should be. We cannot say there is any sacrosanctity about any particular figure, and therefore we cannot agree that, because Ilford has a population of 180,000, that by itself is the reason why Ilford should be given county borough status. We would not be able to resist a long series of Bills coming from many parts of London. We would have no ground at all on which to stand. One after another would come forward and we would not be able to stand on the figure of 180,000, but would have to come down to 140,000 or 100,000—there is no stopping anywhere.

Squadron-Leader A. E. Cooper (Ilford, South)

The right hon. Gentleman said there is no figure, but surely it is within the knowledge of the House that the Government have already fixed the figure of 75,000, and above, at which local authorities can make application?

Mr. Bevan

The hon. and gallant Member makes a mistake there. All we have said is that there is a minimum figure, but we have not said that there is any sacrosanctity about it. On the contrary, when I put in the figure of 75,000 as against 100,000, before putting it in I extracted from them a promise mat they would not promote Bills because of that fact. The reason I put it in was because they had the fear, which I explained to the House at the time, that if we put in the figure it might carry with it the assumption that in any plans the Government were making that particular figure would be regarded as sacrosanct. That was the only reason why it was done. There would be no reason at all why the House should not yield to a whole series of applications of this sort if we granted this one. That is in regal to Ilford. Apart from minor arguments that could be advanced, it would be rather foolish to give planning powers to one authority in the middle of a large conurbation.

When we come to Luton, the situation is even worse, because to extract Luton from the County of Bedfordshire would mean that the county would not be viable as a local government unit. I have looked at this very carefully. Even after making allowance for the rate equalisation grant, the position of Bedford would still be unfortunate. I do not want to-weary the House with the figures, but it is obvious that we must consider not only the aspirations of Luton but also the life of Bedfordshire. Unless we are prepared, as we are not prepared at the moment, with major proposals for the rescue of Bedfordshire, we would not be entitled to condemn Bedfordshire to a tepid life in order to satisfy the legitimate aspirations of Luton.

We have here two examples of the kind of change that ought not to take place piecemeal, one in the middle of a vast conurbation whose claims must be considered as a whole, and the other an urban population with a large rural county, These are classic illustrations of the unwisdom of putting your hand upon one piece of local government without considering the repercussions, not only on the theory, but on the practice of local government as a whole.

A further reason which must weigh with me in the matter is that other local authorities which have presented Bills have accepted the advice of the Govern ment and have confined their Bills to what we said would be granted, extensions of their boundaries, in order to take in land for building and ancillary purposes. It would be unfair to those other authorities, which had accepted the advice given within the full knowledge of the House, to give to Luton and to Ilford what other authorities have restrained themselves from asking. Therefore, I suggest that it is not quite right in these circumstances for these two authorities to " jump the gun " in this way.

Then it has been suggested that it would be a good thing if this went upstairs so that a Committee could have a look at it. If there is one thing that I can properly say the House must not and ought not to do it is to ask a Committee upstairs to decide a Second Reading principle. That is a matter for the House itself. Then we ought not to encourage expenses, and great expenses, too, for lawyers to argue upstairs a point which ought to be settled by the House. This is not really a matter for lawyers to argue before a Committee; it is a matter for the House itself to settle.

Of course, it is within the province of the House, but I hope it will not be necessary for us, to have a prolonged discussion about this matter, because most of the arguments have already been unfolded. Indeed, I have been compelled to repeat some of them because we are on narrow ground. With regard to the general aspect of the matter, it is perfectly true that I suggested, when the Boundary Commission Bill was before the House, that the Government were giving their minds to the reorganisation of local government. It is clear, however, from the divisions on all sides of the House that there is no common consensus of opinion here as to what the reorganisation of local government should be. The ranks of Tuscany are divided; representatives of the county councils and the urban district councils and the boroughs are on all sides of the House. Therefore, in those circumstances and with the House so closely divided as it is, I do not think there is any immediate prospect of any Minister of Health—unless he is prepared to go into immediate voluntary exile—to bring proposals before the House for the radical reorganisation of local government.

So I am not asking the House—that would be entirely unfair and dishonest—to withdraw or to reject the Second Reading of these two Bills because there is an immediate prospect of presenting proposals for the major reform of local government. I am merely saying that doing it this way would create chaos in local government; having piecemeal alterations here and there would merely cause far more trouble than it would alleviate. At the moment local government is largely viable. In the last Parliament we succeeded in distributing Government grants in such a way as to enable most local authorities to discharge local government functions. Ilford and Luton are not having inefficient services as a consequence of their present position. Local government on the whole is, as it were, ticking over, not as satisfactorily as we would like, but nevertheless there is no urgent, overwhelming reason why we should change it radically at this stage.

Therefore, I hope that the House in its wisdom will reject these two Measures, so that we can look at the whole of local government, when the time is appropriate, in such a fashion as to make the changes necessary to maintain the vitality of local administration.

8.26 p.m.

Captain Soames (Bedford)

Whilst speaking against this Bill, I certainly do not say that the time will never come when any borough should not be granted county borough status in some form or another, but at the same time I say that no section of the community should be permitted to ride roughshod over another and sometimes a larger section, and this is exactly what these two Bills are proposing. They are promoted by borough corporations and are designed solely to meet the needs of those corporations. They do not take into consideration in any way the needs or the requirements of the counties concerned.

I speak with knowledge of the problem where Luton in Bedfordshire, is concerned, though I have no knowledge at all about Ilford in Essex. I submit that no such change of status for a borough as is asked for in this Bill should be brought about before a wide and comprehensive review of the whole situation as it affects the entire country has been made, as it affects the interests of all concerned and not simply the interests of the borough. At the present time the representatives of the associations of all local authorities are conferring together in an attempt to agree upon joint reform proposals for presentation to the Government. Surely, therefore, it cannot be right for this Bill to go through at the present time, in its present form and with its selfish motives. I must say that these corporations who are promoting Bills for county borough status have certain reasons for uneasiness. The Government found it easy to destroy the machinery of the Boundary Commission which had been set up by the Coalition Government but, as the right hon. Gentleman has just told us, they have not found it easy to set up anything to take its place.

The proposals of the Luton Bill involve issues more momentous and ominous than any other event in the history of Bedfordshire. The effect of the constitution of Luton as a county borough would be to bring about the severence of the largest Bedfordshire community from the rest of the county, and Bedfordshire as a whole would have to face insoluble problems, both administrative and financial, which would bring in their wake the most tragic and dire consequences.

Mr. Daises (East Ham, North)

The hon. Gentleman said that the present administration had destroyed the Local Government Boundary Commission and put nothing in its place. Can he suggest what should be put in its place?

Captain Soames

I will come to that later. One cannot have a public council with power and authority unless it represents the interests of both the urban and the rural elements. This Bill asks for a withdrawal, complete and uttter and without any qualification, of the largest urban community in the County of Bedford, of which it has 33 per cent. of the population. The withdrawal would have a serious effect on the local administration and, indeed, on its capacity to hold together the county as an individual and in many sense a unique entity.

The Boundary Commission, in its 1947 Report, put forward recommendations which were likely to remove, or at any rate to lessen, the natural conflict which exists between county councils and county boroughs. These recommendations, as the House knows, dealt not only with the extension of boundaries but also with the creation of what were termed new county boroughs. Luton was one of the boroughs which, if it were given county borough status, would become a new county borough; that is to say, it was to remain within the county, it was to keep representation on the county council, but it was to be autonomous for such services as health and education; but for such services as town and country planning, highways, police and the fire brigade it was to remain within the county administration.

But the Boundary Commission was dissolved, and the repeal of the Local Government Act of 1945 meant that any county borough which was created would not be a new county borough but would be the type of county borough laid down under the Local Government Act of 1888. That is what is being demanded for Luton and for Ilford by these Bills. This is exactly what the Boundary Commission decided was unworkable and had to be avoided at all costs. Are these recommendations made by men of experience, with detailed knowledge of their subjects, to be completely ignored and cast aside? There were certainly many excellent reasons which led the Commission to decide that the form of county which was in existence was unsuitable to present conditions and not conducive to the interests of all concerned.

It would be highly unwise to create a county borough on the old basis which would cause a great deal of disruption, both administratively and financially, for the rest of the counties concerned. The dissolution of the Boundary Commission, as was said by the Minister of Health, who has just left the Chamber, created a vacuum. It is a vacuum which the Government should abhor. It would be very good to follow the precepts of nature from time to time. New machinery should be set up. An hon. Member opposite asked for a solution. The Minister of Health, who has all the facts available to him, says that he does not know, and does not intend to put any suggestion forward. It is asking rather a lot of me to put forward something which the Minister admits that he, in his position, is not capable of putting forward.

New machinery should be set up to find a solution to this admittedly serious problem—a solution which can apply to the country as a whole and which does not bring hardship to the rural areas. The tackling of the problem in a half-hearted piecemeal fashion by the creation of a few county boroughs on a basis which the Boundary Commission reported to be highly unsuitable and against the general interests of the community, would be erroneous, unworthy and unstatesmanlike.

8.35 p.m.

Dr. Hill (Luton)

I will confine my observations to the general principles underlying these Bills and reserve any remarks which I may have on the gloomy and inaccurate references to the Luton-Bedfordshire position until that particular Bill is before the House.

I will not weary the House by reminding it of the arguments for and against the dissolution of the Boundary Commission, but I would like at the outset to stress one point. It is that, whatever may be said about the general principles accepted by the House, to quote the words of the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter), the fact remains that the original Act restored to local authorities over 75,000 in population the right to apply to this House by Private Bill. I am sorry that the Minister of Health is not now in his place. He suggested that the two authorities now coming to the House have " jumped the gun." They were not a party to any informal agreement not to proceed by the method of Private Bill; they were not invited to offer any assurance on the point, and they are coming to this House exercising their legal rights and using the one remaining channel available to them.

I disagree with much that has been said on this side of the House. I disagree that a void has been left, though I will not go into any details of physics or physiology about what that may mean. What has been left is the system of application by Private Bill, and Luton and Ilford are fully entitled to proceed by the use of that method. Secondly, the existence of a figure, be it 75,000 or 100,000, below which local authorities are precluded from using the method of the Private Bill, presents the position that it is a reasonable presumption that those whose populations are in excess of that figure are fully entitled to come to this House for consideration of their case by Private Bill.

In summary, the Minister says—and I hope I do him no injustice—that he opposes the use of this method, that he will not deal with local government in a piecemeal fashion, and, thirdly and associated with the second point, they should wait for a comprehensive plan for local government reform. I think that fairly states his position on the general principles. The right hon. Gentleman was good enough to suggest that, on that general principle, the cases of Luton and Ilford were good, but his attitude tonight means that no authority, whatever its population, will succeed by the method of Private Bill in achieving promotion of status.

The Act dissolving the Boundary Commission might just as well have contained no figure at all, but a general prohibition on all local authorities, if the Minister's attitude as expressed tonight be accepted. The very fact that there were discussions about the figure and that the Minister modified the figure, despite his statement tonight that no sanctity attached to it, at least showed that the figure had some significance. One wonders what would have been the attitude of the House if the dissolution Bill had, in fact, contained a general prohibition which would have covered major extensions of boundaries as well as promotions of status.

The Minister's attitude tonight is one of concern to all kinds of local authorities and to both sides of the House, and for that reason I regret the minor acerbities which stimulated the Minister to some of his rhetorical flourishes. The effect of that attitude is to fix the present position until a comprehensive scheme of reform is available. It is a freezing of the local government position, and, with the exception of minor local boundary changes, to freeze it, as I shall show in a moment, indefinitely. The Minister says it is. wrong to act now. His second argument is that to yield to Luton and Ilford would mean that they would be uncomfortable friends in the future. His third argument —that we must await local government reform on a comprehensive scale—suggests a comparison with the parson who, declined to improve the status of a couple by marrying them, first because there was a crack in the font, and secondly because he had asked for some comprehensive plans from an architect for the reconstruction of his church, meanwhile praying secretly, or not so secretly, that he would be called to another benefice before the plans were available.

Mr. Harrison (Nottingham, East)

Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that if this supposed minister agreed to marry one couple and refused to marry 22 similarly placed couples, it would be most unfair?

Dr. Hill

The hon. Gentleman is leading me into a speculative field infinitely beyond me. But the position then is—when may this House expect to have presented to it some comprehensive plans for local government reform'? The Minister stated that he hoped that the publication of the reports of the Boundary Commission would have lead the associations of local authorities to agree on something, but he knows perfectly well, as do hon. Members, how hopeless is such an expectation. It is clearly not coming from him during this Parliament. It might be possible to argue that one would need a Parliament with a substantial majority on one side or the other, and that the Minister would need to introduce his proposals early in that Parliament in the hope that they would be forgotten in the succeeding few years. But I do not know; others are better able to pronounce on it, and others are also better able to pronounce on the prospects of getting that sort of Government in the foreseeable future. Even if such a change occurs one way or the other, are we really sure that a Government, whatever its complexion, will tackle this thorny problem?

I submit that we all know what will happen when the proposals come out. The counties, no doubt with that dignity which they acquire on these occasions when they are standing in the way of the applications of the urban communities, will have much to say if those proposals include promotion for urban communities anywhere. No doubt if it is a two-tier status that is proposed—something on the new county borough lines—the existing county boroughs will have something to say, and, if anything is done to assault the rural district councils, there will be such an uprising of parochial passions—[Interruption]. Passions, I hope, are not confined to one side of the House. It is no wonder that Sir Trustram Eve said what he did in Scarborough in September. 1947. He said: There is no agreement on the changes desired, and I make so bold as to say that this will be true in 1948 or on any other date, or after whatever inquiry, full-dress or otherwise. Royal Commission, Boundary Commission, or what. No one in this House will deny the case for comprehensive local government reform. But there can be few people, few hon. Members, if any, who will put their hands on their hearts and avow that such proposals will come in the foreseeable future. We pay lip-service to this, but we know that such proposals, for reasons which are obvious to us all, are unlikely to come for a long time.

The Boundary Commission could not do it and, as the Minister himself said. a Royal Commission could not do it: In other words, the attitude of the Minister tonight, in denying to two vigorous and growing authorities even a consideration of their position and problems in Committee, involves in itself an issue of importance to all other local authorities. In particular it involves an end being made to the use of Private Bill machinery which is legally available to the local authorities of this country.

The Minister argued that to take one or two authorities would prejudice the position. To take one or two authorities. of course, would lead to applications by others, but this House and its Committees have discretion in this matter. It does not follow that every application would be approved. Surely it is an argument which has unfortunate implications that every application should be resisted for fear it would lead to others. As for prejudicing the comprehensive solution, I doubt whether the Minister has any idea what the comprehensive solution would be. That being so, I do not think even his imaginative resources could lead him to the conclusion that these proposals would prejudice proposals not yet formulated and of which he has no idea.

I plead with the House to discern the underlying principle behind the opposition to these Bills. What Ilford is asking, and what Luton will be asking, is that the issues between these towns and their counties should be hammered out with the Committee of experts upstairs. What Luton is saying and what Ilford is saying in relation to their counties needs to be examined in Committee. There is much involved here for local authorities. What we ask is that the argument for the indefinite freezing of local government structure should be resisted, and that the local authorities should be permitted to use the method which is their legal right. We ask that these two Bills, admittedly coming with a good case behind them, should be referred to the Committee in order to avoid that general freezing position. In order to concentrate on such a principle I suggest it is incumbent upon hon. Members on all sides of the House to combine on a non-party basis in support, not of Ilford or Luton, but of the principle of the method, and to remit to Committee the Luton and Ilford Bills for the expert investigation they need.

8.50 p.m.

Mr. Pannell (Leeds, West)

I wonder whether the House really knows how long this question of the re-orientation of powers and the reconstruction of local government has been going on. It was first raised in its modern sense about 1940 by the present Lord Chancellor, when he was Postmaster-General. I have been associated since that date with the Association of Municipal Corporations and, to a degree, have been in consultation with the County Councils Association and other bodies on the question of reform of local government. if there is one thing true above all others, it is that one will not secure any agreement from any of them.

There is no possibility of any agreement. Generally speaking, those hon. Members who have addressed the House tonight have spoken with all the prejudices of the type of authority that they represent. I represent a division of Leeds which is an all-purpose authority and possesses all the necessary powers. In my time I have sat on an urban district council, two borough councils and a county council, and therefore I can claim to have a general all round knowledge of the subject.

The hon. and gallant Member for Bedford (Captain Soames) appeared to speak from the brief of a county clerk. I would remind him that if he consults one member of his family he will possibly say that a little imperialism now and again is not out of place. That is what we are concerned with here—the question of local imperialism, the desire to take over other people's territory.

In the few minutes at my disposal I want the House to consider what is the purpose of local government. The purpose is to see that every child born into these islands gets a reasonably fair share of the services provided. Nobody can suggest that that is the position at the present time. In the short time that I have been in this House Motions have been moved on behalf of Hornchurch, Harrow and Enfield for non-county borough status, which would not improve their powers in a constitutional sense. All it would do would be to give them a mayor each—more of an adult status. I cannot for the life of me see why the Government could not have conceded that point. Those places are all going to be county districts under the new Act.

I think it is conceded under the 1948 Act that the functions of rural districts, non-county boroughs and urban districts will approximate. I think that is the general assumption. At any rate, nobody will suggest that the powers of a non-county borough are in advance of those of an urban district, apart from the question of the mayoralty and the creation of aldermen. I do not think anybody is likely to contradict that. But that modest and reasonable aspiration has been turned down. We are now faced with the exact situation which we might have expected when the Boundary Commission was dissolved. We are now told that the position has been restored as it was before the Boundary Commission were appointed. The ball having been thrown back to the local authorities, two of them have now come forward with the request for county borough status.

This matter does not brook further delay. Anybody who has been concerned with local government will know that the position is unfair. I myself was concerned with three authorities Which applied for county borough status, and I very much regret the dissolution of the Local Government Boundary Commission. A form of machinery should have been evolved by which that Commission could have made a report which from time to time could have been laid before the House in specific cases, leaving with Parliament the last word as to whether it would accept or reject the report.

It has been said that this matter must be regarded as the first thing to be considered in a new Parliament. We may agree to that, but if there are to be successive Parliaments with no preponderant majority one way or the other we cannot wait until we have a Parliament with an overall majority. This matter has gone far enough. As has been said, there are a good many views on the question of local government which are shared across the Floor of this House. Hon. Members have themselves shown that. The hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) spoke as did the hon. and gallant Member for Bedford (Captain Soames) purely as a county council representative in this matter.

One must remember that the beginning of all the modern trouble in local government was the Education Act of 1944, which attempted to lay down functions in advance of the normal boundaries and constitutions. That was an Act largely evolved during a period of a Coalition Government and it seems to me that the present Front Benches might at least consider how much common ground there is between both sides of the House on the question of the reform of local government. I do not think it is a normal party political matter. The same sort of trouble affects Governments as that which affects county councils. Because of grants in aid, the Ministry of Health like to look upon themselves as a senior partner with the local authority. Similarly, county councils like to look upon themselves as senior partners with county districts. [An HON. MEMBER: " Managing directors."] An hon. Member says " managing directors "; be that as it may. Whatever the body concerned, they are all equal partners in local government.

Our concern is to bring the great Bills which are passed on the Floor of this House into effective contact with the people who use them. The Bills passed in this House are something like blue prints from the drawing office. What really matters is the bill on the rates. What matters is to see that everybody gets a similarly good service. I hope we shall not wait until the return of an all-powerful Government, but that we shall get on without delay, because the question is urgent and press ing. I have the greatest degree of sympathy with Ilford and Luton, who are smarting, with many other local authorities, under a sense of very great injustice.

8.57 p.m.

Mr. Reader Harris (Heston and Isleworth)

I am grateful for this opportunity to speak for just a few moments in sup port of the Ilford Corporation Bill and, of course, in support of the Luton Corporation Bill which will follow. As far as I can see, many speakers this evening have been trying to deny to these local government areas what I think are their rightful aspirations. Strange though it may appear to hon. Members opposite, I am a person who believes in a certain amount of planning—sensible planning; and I think the experience of the last few years has shown that one of the gravest mistakes which a planner can make is to bite off more than he can chew. The second most grave fault he can make is to bite off something which he cannot even digest. In trying to embark upon a comprehensive review of local government structure I consider that the planners are not only biting off more than they can chew but are filling their mouths with something which can never be digested.

The words of the Minister of Health this evening have confirmed that. Not only did he say that there was no consensus of opinion as to what the revision of local government should be, but he also said that there was no immediate prospect of any comprehensive review. Incidentally, he said, further, that the prospect of an immediate review of local government is made even more remote by reason of the even balance of the parties in this House. But that is not an argument at all. With the parties so evenly balanced there is little likelihood of controversial legislation, such as the nationalisation of the sugar industry or the cement industry or anything like that, so surely the way is now open for some sort of agreed legislation on the subject of local government. [HON. MEMBERS: " No."] Why not? There are no, nationalisation Bills. This is just the sort of thing upon which hon. Members opposite could embark if they really felt like it.

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)

Perhaps the hon. Member will permit me to intervene, for this is an important point. If he means that an agreement on the general revision of local government between the county boroughs and non-county boroughs, between county councils and other local councils, is likely, then I feel he is viewing the situation with modest optimism, although I am quite sure that everybody who follows this subject will be interested to see the results of his efforts.

Mr. Harris

I was not making the point that there is any prospect of agreement. I do not think there is. The point I am trying to make is that now Is as good a moment as any to try. The prospects will never be any better than they are now. They could be worse.

These two areas, Ilford and Luton, want to become county boroughs, and they have come to the House to ask that their Bills should be given a Second Reading. That seems to me eminently reasonable, and I do not consider it an argument against them to say that, if these two Bills receive a Second Reading, or, perhaps, eventually are passed, there will be a spate of further applications. Why should there not be? The House must remember that, on matters of this sort, every Bill must be looked at on its merits. It is a fact that the Ilford Corporation Bill differs slightly from the Luton Corporation Bill. Every case has to be looked at on its merits. I freely confess that I represent a borough which one day may have aspirations to county borough status; but merely because I may one day in two or three or more years' time support a Bill for my borough is no reason for throwing out the Luton and Ilford Bills tonight. All that Luton and Ilford ask at the moment is that their Bills should be given a Second Reading. Why cannot they be given that?

The inference has been that if two county districts are given county borough status it will cause a tremendous upset in the local government world. The hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) said that he was against what he called " isolated pockets of resistance." Is that a fair description of a county borough? Is Croydon an isolated pocket of resistance? [Interruption.] It may be considered a good description of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams). but it is not fair to describe Croydon as such. County borough status is a legitimate aspiration, and I believe that it is a status which commends itself very greatly to the citizens of many county districts—and very rightly so, too.

The Boundary Commission, as we have heard tonight, has proposed " most purposes authorities " not unlike county boroughs, and I think that, in the absence of any prospect of those most purposes authorities ever being set up, the second best thing to do is to allow those county districts which wish to, to become county boroughs and to put forward Private Bills to this House to that end.

Mr. MacColl

Is the hon. Gentleman trying to suggest that the Boundary Commission suggested that Ilford should be a purposes authority? Because in fact they specifically exempted Ilford, because it is part of the London area.

Mr. Harris

I agree, but that does not invalidate the argument I am making. County borough status gives the citizens of county boroughs a thing which is the most important thing in local government, and that is, administration as near as possible to the people for whom it exists. That is a right and proper thing. In the absence of any prospect of those most purposes authorities being set up, why cannot we adhere to the method which. although it may not be very good, is, at least, the method which has obtained for the last 60 years—the Private Bill method. every case being considered individually on its merits? No great harm will be done if for the next 60 years Private Bills are brought forward for county borough status.

I do not think any great harm has been done by this procedure up to now. We can always look at every case on its merits. This procedure means that the structure of local Government is being altered very slowly and in a way in which passions, parochial or otherwise, are not aroused, and the people get just what they want, and that is the right to manage their own affairs. I have, therefore, very much pleasure in supporting this Bill, and in expressing the hope that, now that the Minister of Health has departed. everybody in the House, even hon. Members on the other side, will vote—as their consciences tell them, and not regarding this as a party matter—and go into the Lobby to give the Bill a Second Reading.

9.5 p.m.

Mr. Messer (Tottenham)

I am one of those Members who regret very much that this Debate should have taken a turn which appears to indicate two opposing forces. I am sure that the disinterested Members—I mean those Members who are not committed to either county councils or the Association of Municipal Corporations—must have seen that in the majority of cases the argument has been based not on reason but on prejudice. I am sorry for that, because over a period of years I have made it plain that I believe the time is long overdue when somebody should be courageous enough to recognise that to achieve efficient social services we must create an efficient instrument for the purpose of that administration.

Because of that, I cannot agree with the Minister that this problem should not be tackled. Indeed, I think the fact that the problem is such a formidable one is a challenge to the Members of this House to solve the problem. I should like to remind the House of what is happening because we are making no attempt to solve that problem. What has been said by the hon. Member for Heston and Isleworth (Mr. R. Harris) is quite true, to the extent that efficient local government will not be found merely in the mechanism of local government. There can be an efficient machine, but unless that machine is so designed as not merely to achieve mechanical efficiency but to enable those qualities which are so necessary when rendering public service to find correct expression, then the best results will not be obtained.

For that reason it is therefore obvious that there are certain services which can be better administered by a large authority. For instance, the hon. Member for Heston and Isleworth is a member of a very progressive borough, but it is benefiting because a county authority was able to get agreement between local authorities and to launch the finest drainage scheme in the world—the West Middlesex drainage scheme. Those services which depend merely upon what may be called mechanistic forces can be better administered by a large authority, but they are impersonal; they are the type of service that does not matter so much to the individual. Land drainage, the provision of water, gas and electricity are things which affect people in the mass, and not so much the individual. When we come to the personal services such as the health service, education, and maternity and welfare services, it is important that those who administer the services should be as near as possible to the people the services are intended to benefit. If we recognise those principles, the possibility is that we should abolish county boroughs, and county councils, too. What we should have is an authority more fitting to the needs.

There is then this very important point. We cannot go on claiming the need for extended social services unless we create the instrument by which they can be administered. What is happening? We are in an anomalous position. We are pressing for expansion of the social services, and saying that the minor local authorities cannot do the job. As a consequence, we give the work to a larger authority which has to delegate part of its work to the minor authority, and we get such hybrid things as divisional executives, and such completely anachronistic things as area health committees, where county councils plus representatives of a local authority form a committee to do work which could quite easily be done by an independent local committee.

What is fearsome about this is that our failure to face up to this situation means that central Government steps in and does work for which it was never intended, and we are watching a passing from local government to central Government of powers which the central Government is not the best type of instrument to use. I mention this because I hope the House will not accept the idea that we cannot face this problem. It has to be faced, and unless we do, local government is doomed to disappear.

Having said that, it is incumbent upon me to refer to the Bills. I do not think that we can agree that we should recognise only the advantages that come to a borough which wants to become a county borough, without seeing its effect upon its neighbours. I admire Ilford, not because of the Members whom it sends to this House, but for other reasons. We cannot ignore what would happen if Ilford got county borough status. Walthamstow has a big population and produces two good Members of Parliament. If Ilford were entitled to county borough status, so would Walthamstow be, with a population of 112,000 and a rateable value of £887,000.

Mr. Harry Wallace (W alth a msto w East)

And a very good council.

Mr. Messer

Yes, a very good council. Leyton, which is not very far from Ilford, has a population of 106,000 and a rateable value of £775,000. If we come into the London area, then clearly we are faced with the position where county government would go entirely but where county borough government could not render the services that would be required. If we look at Harrow, the population there is—

Mr. Nabarro (Kidderminster)

What about its Members?

Mr. Messer

The Members of Parliament of Middlesex are a cross-section. It has got some good Members, some very indifferent, and some not so good. In Middlesex, if we started to give county borough status, Harrow alone has a rate-value of £1,863,000 with a population of 116,000. Willesden has a rateable value of £1,629,000 with a population of 185,000. Tottenham, which of course is the most important borough, has a rateable value of £1,018,880 with a population of 157,000 and the best Member of Parliament in the county. It could claim to be a county borough.

Mr. Hutchinson

Surely the hon. Member would agree that Tottenham, by virtue at least of its Member, ought to be a county borough.

Mr. Messer

Yes, but only if Ilford is. As a matter of fact, I want to get away from the idea of a county borough and a county council. I want to see this thing examined without the prejudices which arise from the fact that we have been members of certain authorities.

Let us take the case for Luton. Luton certainly has a case for being a county borough, but if we give it county borough status, apart altogether from the fact that there would be some balancing by the equalisation rate, we should take 40 per cent. of the rateable value of the county. Indeed, we should only leave two urban districts—one is Bedford and the other is Dunstable—of any consequence. County government would come to a standstill. I do not think that means that Luton should not become a county borough; what I do think is that Luton is trying to get it both ways. Luton have said that they want to be a county borough but do not want to add to their acreage. That is wrong. Luton would be more justified in claiming county borough status if they would take on the liability for some of the surrounding rural districts.

It is all these inconsistencies and anomalies that need to be ironed out. I should not mind if there were some examining body, but if this Bill gets a Second Reading it will not go before a Committee to be examined in detail. If it gets a Second Reading, it means, in effect, that we are agreeing to it, and if some agreement is reached on the points raised by the petitioners and the opposition in Committee, we cannot vote against the Bill on Third Reading. I hope that this Debate will succeed in impressing on the Government the necessity for taking what steps are open to them to institute an investigation, because it is inevitable that at some time we have to reform local government or local government will be lost.

9.16 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)

It is true, as the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Messer) has said, that the turn this Debate took a little earlier is somewhat to be regretted. We are debating two private Bills, and also a general principle. The general principle is of interest to us all, though the two Bills are of more particular interest to those Members directly concerned. It is on the general principle that I have ventured to intervene, because I think that on Private Members' Bills the Front Bench should retain a decent reticence.

I cannot express my agreement too strongly with what the hon. Member for Tottenham has said, that unless local government is adjusted from time to time it will come to a stop. It has been truly said that local government is working just now, but that is because of these infinite and often painful processes of adjustment which have been carried on over the years. They have been frozen since 1939, which is where the difficulty arises. No major adjustments have been made since 1939. Comparing that with the decade before, we find that between 1929 and 1938 there were 1,300 boundary changes made by local Acts, by Provisional Orders and by county reviews. That constant fitting and adjustment of the garment to the body went on, and by virtue of that local government remains a living thing.

Those who were in the previous Parliament will remember that the argument brought forward for the abolition of the Boundary Commission was that a general review was actually in process, a review which it was hoped would soon come to fruition. It was stated by the Minister that he had come to the conclusion that the correct procedure was for the Government to accept responsibility for examining the whole position and ultimately bringing forward their own proposals. That examination, he said, was now in being. But what the Minister said tonight was that no Minister of Health under present circumstances would bring forward any comprehensive proposals for local government reorganisation. Therefore, a completely new situation has arisen. The Minister told us in the last Parliament that: The reason why we are postponing the use of certain powers until the end of 1951 is because we are hoping that our proposals will have matured, and that, therefore, any attempts on the part of local authorities to change either their functions or the boundaries in the meantime will be assimilated and overtaken by the proposals of the Government, —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd November, 1949; Vol. 469, c. 516.] The Minister has told us tonight that no longer holds. That puts the Government in a serious position, as it does the House, because this is no party matter. It certainly throws a grave responsibility on the House to see if it can come to an agreement upon these matters. If that is not done it is faced with an indefinite postponement of that process which between 1929 and 1938 gave us 1,300 separate adjustments. I see around me many of those who are prominent in local government and who know well the thought and work, and sometimes the frustration, that went into the promotion of these matters. But they were not all frustrated; they did not all end in smoke. They ended in that series of adjustments, which made it possible for local government to continue in this country. In the Act which was passed last year it was provided in paragraph 4 of the Schedule that the county reviews may begin again after the end of 1951. It was on account of that that the Minister asked for and received the assent of the House to the Bill which he then brought forward. It is therefore on account of the reversal of policy now announced that I speak.

I certainly have no intention of speaking upon the two Bills before us tonight, because the two Bills are matters for the Private Members concerned, and the Private Members, without any distinction of party, have put their case for and against. We all know that the interests of the Bills cuts right across all party affiliations and my colleagues—I cannot call them my friends in the Parliamentary sense—from Glasgow will know

Mr. Messer

What about " comrades "?

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

That has a technical meaning in Glasgow which it would be as well for us to avoid here. I will use the word " colleagues." Very often there were occasions when to use a colloquialism, we all " ganged up " against Ministers of any political persuasion to obtain something which we think is good for the city. Long may that continue. Similarly, I have seen members of the county in solid phalanx against what they regarded as an incursion on their rights, without any predilection for the political colour of those with whom they were associated.

If that is all to stop, a great responsibility falls on the Government to bring forward their proposals, and the fact that we are hanging here on an even balance becomes a great evil, not a great advantage to the country. It will not be to the advantage of the country if both sides are so strong that neither side can do anything at all. That is the position to which we are apparently moving. I trust that the Minister has not said his last word, but that it will be possible for him to come forward before very long and, at least, give a lead to the House on this matter.

All that we have heard here tonight is, in the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton (Dr. Hill), that a freeze is now applied to the infinitely delicate process of local government adjustment, a freeze which apparently—horrible thought—like Norse mythology may go on without any spring coming at all to thaw it and a winter of perhaps three years long will come upon us. Those acquainted with Norse mythology know how that led to complete collapse not merely of all human but of divine affairs —the twilight of the gods. I trust that is not the prospect which the Minister holds out to us tonight.

Tonight a very important declaration has been made, and the House should not allow it to pass without taking a note of it—that is, that until some new Government proposals are made neither the new nor the old procedure can operate. That is not a position that the House or country can for long contemplate with equanimity.

9.25 p.m.

Mr. Moeran (Bedfordshire, South)

As Member for South Bedfordshire, I am in a rather special position with regard to the Luton Bill. Part of my constituency is in Luton and part in the administrative county of Bedford. Luton wants the Bill and the county does not, so I can appreciate the arguments both for and against. On both sides it is a matter of self-interest for the citizens. Luton seeks the prestige of county borough status and the greater administration of its own affairs which goes with it. It seeks the financial advantage which it deems would accompany that status. The county pursues the financial advantages of its members also, and its prestige, which it would lose by the loss of Luton from the county.

I am in a more delicate position than the hon. Member for Luton (Dr. Hill). In his case the whole of his body spiritual, political, and corporal, is within the borough boundaries. I have one political foot in Luton and the other in Bedfordshire. Perhaps that puts me in an objective position, or perhaps it only means that I am bound to put my foot in it somewhere. I may be like the man who has one foot on the punt and the other on the bank—bound to come down sooner or later.

I do not propose tonight to detain the House by dealing with the merits or demerits of the case for or against this Bill, but I would observe that if the conflict between county and borough is to be resolved it can be done only if primary consideration is given to the greater national interest involved. That national interest has never been so involved as it is today, because the whole of local government is in a state of flux imposed upon it by the development of our society and because of the ebb and flow and growth of population. For those reasons, local authorities have become both too small and too large for local government. They are too large because, by the growth of population, the individual ciizen has lost his contact with his unit and has lost also that sense of community which prevailed before in the village and the town. They are too small because today, with the shrinkage of the country through the development of communications, and with the development of such welfare services as the hospital service, the local unit does not provide an adequate, effective or efficient population unit.

It is in that situation that these Bills must be judged. In November, 1949, the Government commenced a review of the structure and functions of local government and expressed the wish that the changes in local government should be brought to a standstill for the time being; and the Associations of local authorities are about to confer and formulate proposals to put before the Government for consideration. Weighty though the arguments of Luton for County Borough Status may be, it is against that background that they must be considered. Weighty though they may be within the existing framework of local government, it is reasonable that we should take no step now which might prejudge or prejudice any important and fundamental proposals which are likely to be brought forward for the revision of local government. In view of these larger issues only, I hope that the House will reject the Second Reading of the Bill at this time.

9.30 p.m.

Mr. Ashton (Chelmsford)

While considering local government authorities of one or two tiers, I should like to shed three or four tears on the demise of the Local Government Boundary Commission. I wonder if I might point out what the Local Government Boundary Commission wrote in the last few days of their existence: The setting up of our Commission too, with a procedure which provides a simple method of asking for changes of area and status, has in itself created unrest. The sooner this is dealt with the better it will be for local government One thing has been clear in this very interesting discussion, and that is that both sides of the House have quite clearly in their minds that some form of local government revision is required and required urgently. It was clear from the Debate on 2nd and 9th November last that when the Commission was dissolved the Government had under active consideration some new proposals. We are told today that those proposals are not even under passive consideration, but it should not be beyond the wit of the Government—and we have had evidence that they are the Government today—to produce some proposals so that this very important matter should not be left permanently in a state of suspended animation.

If I may speak about Ilford, I am sorry that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Hutchinson) is not here. He expressed quite friendly views towards the county council of which I am a member. I am grateful for that, because county councillors have very few friends in the world. It is not realised that county authorities—and by that I mean the 61 administrative counties—have since the war had immense additional responsibilities thrust upon them in the way of education, health, town and country planning, fire brigade and police. All these things they have had to try to digest and it may be that we have not fulfilled those functions quite as efficiently as we might. That is true of anything we may look back upon, but taking it by and large I think that the work done, not merely by local councillors but by officials, is immense. Immense burdens have been thrust on them and on many thousands of voluntary people who serve on various committees.

I agree with the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Messer) that there is plenty of room for reorganisation in the case of divisional executives and area health committees. I want to address myself to the principle as it affects the country. Here we have the large county of Essex wth a million acres and a million and a half population, which is increasing daily. We have approached the problem as a whole and I agree with hon. Members on both sides of the House who say that this problem must be considered as a whole throughout the country.

We know the position of Ilford and appreciate the manner in which the proposal has been put forward by my hon. Friends. I am on good terms with the mayor, aldermen and burgesses from Ilford who voted extremely well last year, and at the recent elections in February and, I have no doubt, will do the same next month. One point which needs to be put in its right perspective was brought out in Question and answer, namely, that the Boundary Commission did consider the question of county borough status for Ilford. They were not able to recommend it, although it was dealt with on a priority basis, because the position of Ilford was bound up with the large London area. We have to consider this problem as a question affecting England and Wales, and I am certain we would be well advised to take careful account of what the associations of local authorities—who, I understand, are now considering this problem—have to say.

Obviously it is a problem bristling with difficulties, but a problem of that nature is something which the British are pretty good at tackling. There is unanimity that reform is required and I join my voice with those who want to see some solution. I say that in the belief that the solution brought forward here by the Boroughs of Ilford and Luton, although under considerable provocation, cannot really lead to a proper solution of the problem. if this is done hurriedly, it will be to the disadvantage both of the divorce and the divorcee if I may use these terms in this content.

As Vice-Chairman of the Essex County Council with 43 authorities under us, I am prepared to say that there is room for reform because the authority is too large. Finally, I join with those who feel that this is a problem which ought to be faced. It will not be an easy solution, but it would not get us far in life if, when problems are difficult, we turn our backs and say that there is nothing we can do about it.

9.36 p.m.

Squadron-Leader A. E. Cooper (Ilford, South)

My position in this Debate is somewhat unique, Mr. Speaker. I am Chairman of the Legal and Parliamentary Committee of the Ilford Borough Council which is promoting this Bill. It has been my privilege to pilot it through the Borough Council and now, with the good wishes of the burgesses of South Ilford, I am here tonight to help get this Measure through the House.

We have heard a remarkable statement from the Minister of Health upon which my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) commented. That is, that the Local Government Boundary Corn-mission has been destroyed by the right hon. Gentleman, and that we have been put back into the position of Private Bill legislation which existed before that day. And having been put into that position, we are now to be precluded from taking any advantage of such legislation. In fact, the future of local government is sabotaged at this time by the Minister.

We have been told tonight that this Parliament, precariously balanced as it is, is not one which can carry out the necessary reforms that are so necessary. Have we any indication, or is there any guarantee, that a future election—whether it be fought in the near future or some months ahead—will produce a result very different from that which faces us today? And should we be faced with a similar situation, does it mean that local government reform is to be put back still further until the day arises when we shall have a Government with an overall majority sufficient to carry out these essential and vital reforms? I say that we are not in a position to look into the future that far, that we must deal with the problems as we find them today. And we find serious problems, problems which are aggravating local authorities to a great degree, and it is vital that we should face up to our responsibilities firmly and deal with them.

In my opinion, and in the opinion of many others on these benches, the essence of local government is that it should be local and that it should be government; it should not be a remoteness and a delegation. And it should be both prompt in action and economic of operation; not dilatory or expensive. We were told in the early stages of the Debate that we could not do much about altering things as they are, but I would remind hon. Gentlemen opposite that considerable alterations in the structure of local government have taken place since 1944 —perhaps without our knowing What has happened is that many of the more considerable functions which were previously exercised by borough councils have been transferred to other and bigger authorities, not necessarily to the benefit of the service which was being operated. We are told that we have this freeze, but it is only a freeze on the surface, as far as we are aware. In fact, very considerable changes are already taking place, and we must face that consideration. The three principal changes are, of course, in education, town and country planning and in health.

The specific position of the Ilford Borough Council in regard to education is that, as an excepted district, we are doing today all that we would be required to do if we were granted county borough status. But the work is being done in a far more expensive manner than it would be done if we were doing it ourselves. It is being done far more slowly than it would be if we were doing it ourselves. I will not weary the House with details of the extraordinary delays which take place with the Essex County Council. That is a very good body of people, I have no doubt, but, such is the system which they have to operate, that delays of six months and up to a year are not unknown. At the end of that time, when our plans are finally approved by the Essex County Council, they come back to us for attention. We find that the tenders we previously accepted are no longer valid, and we have to start the process all over again. We have had case after case of higher costs as a result of this slowness and slackness in the operation of the present machinery.

On the subject of planning, the Minister of Health said that nobody could conceive of giving planning authority to the Ilford Borough Council if it were made a county borough. I would remind the House that the Government themselves gave such powers to East Ham, West Ham and Southend, among others. If it did not create any difficulties there, surely it should not be difficult to give similar powers to Ilford.

We have also been told that, in the event of our Bill receiving a Second Reading and Ilford being granted county borough status, this would, of necessity, bring forward a spate of other applications. Would that be a bad thing? I suggest that it would be a good thing If other local authorities were similarly placed and had as strong a case to put before this House, they would be fully entitled to the due consideration of all parties. It is erroneous to suggest that this would cause a lot of other applications and therefore, of necessity, Ilford's application must be rejected.

I am afraid that local authorities are getting somewhat tired of this county council argument which has been the same for many years and, presumably—unless anything is done about local government—will be the same for very many years to come. This is essentially a dogin-the-manger attitude. They say, " We have what we hold; dig in our toes and make jolly sure that nobody else gets any of their powers back again," without any regard whatever to the general well-being.

The great weakness of county council administration at present is, of course, that no two counties are constituted in the same way. The County of Essex is essentially a two-part county. There is a very large urban area and a very large rural area, and the representation of the rural area considerably outweighs the representation of the urban area, notwithstanding the fact that the urban part is considerably greater in population and in rateable value. It should not be difficult for these areas—and I do not exclude Walthamstow, Leyton and all those areas similarly placed to ourselves—to receive county borough status without any loss to the Essex County Council. The equalisation grant takes care of that. Let us forget the idea of the loss of money or rateable value, because the rateable value adjusts itself, since the equalisation grant takes care of it to a very large extent.

We have gone a stage further than that of acrimony between the two sides. There is a considerable amount of unanimity in some quarters. I have here a letter from the Association of Municipal Corporations, which hon. Members will agree is a not inconsiderable body and a somewhat influential one. Its views on local government are of interest, and its views on the two Bills now before the House are peculiarly apt. This letter states: I am therefore writing to you as a Vice-President of this Association to ask you to take such action as you can to ensure that the Bills promoted by members of the Association receive a Second Reading. In doing this, I am not asking you to decide on the merits of any Clause of either Bill. The letter then goes on to detail the complete procedure for Bills of this character.

I have attended many conferences of the Association of Municipal Corporations, and I have found that its interest in and deep concern for the future welfare of local government is shared by all parties. It is not a matter which is confined to one particular party, and I well remember at Llandudno a couple of years ago hearing members of the Socialist Party being very vehement when it was expected that powers would be taken away from them. So it is all over the country. We have got to get down to this question of reform of local government without delay, and this is the type of Parliament which would make it possible for some suitable reform to be brought about. I hope this House will give these Bills a Second Reading in order that, in Committee upstairs, we can thrash out the matter and find out whether we really have a case or not.

9.48 p.m.

Mr. Benson (Chesterfield)

Whatever may be the fate of these two Bills, I think the two non-county boroughs which promoted them have done a public service. I have listened to the whole of this Debate, and, while I am not sufficiently convinced to vote against the advice of the Government, I do feel that what has been emphasised in this Debate is the need for some action. The Minister of Health made a very agreeable speech, though he was not quite so effective in dealing with these Bills. He himself said that there was a great danger in putting one's hands on one piece of local government without consideration for the rest, but that is what the Government have been doing consistently for the last five years. Five Government Departments--and the Home Secretary has had two bites —have introduced legislation which has stripped the non-county boroughs of very important functions. That is a very vital change.

I am not suggesting that that is going to destroy the non-county boroughs. It is not. But it has, to a very great extent. taken away those particular services which they are far more capable of rendering than are the county boroughs. The hon. and gallant Member for Ilford, South (Squadron-Leader Cooper) referred to the trouble that Ilford is having with regard to its county. All I can say is that in Chesterfield we are having exactly the same trouble—unlimited delay.

We have to face the fact that the county administration is not as efficient as that of a reasonably efficient non-county borough. A lot of the services—personal services of which the citizen is really conscious; the local health services, the education services—are, despite the arrangement made there, the ones which have gone, and local government is going to suffer. We cannot get away from that. Local government is bound to suffer unless something is done. The Minister has held out no hope whatever of any immediate prospect of this nationwide and fundamental reconsideration of local government. We all know the reason why. We have balanced parties, and nobody knows when the balance is going to be materially changed so as to give one side or the other a majority. That means that the whole question of the re-construction of local government is put into cold storage indefinitely.

The question is, can it go on indefinitely? The right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) pointed out that, without any great national reconsideration of local government, there always was a continuous and steady adjustment. That is frozen; everything is frozen at the present time, and will remain so until some Government decides that it is sufficiently strong to raise this highly controversial subject. That must of necessity have a very paralysing effect. What has happened is that one section of local government—the non-county borough—has suffered very seriously during the last five years. But then a freeze is put on.

All I can say is that whatever may happen to these two Bills, they have had the effect of bringing the matter before the House. Whether by arrangement between the parties or by any other method, I do not know, but I think notice has been given that we cannot indefinitely postpone any change, and we cannot indefinitely maintain what is paralysis in the development of local government after a period when haphazard and completely unplanned attrition has been applied to one very important form of government.

There has been at least five years of " Death from a thousand cuts," and this is the very worst time for the right hon. Gentleman to come here and say that nothing can be done at the moment.

I suggest to him that the purely negative attitude cannot be maintained. Something will have to be done, whether by one party or the other, or by agreement between the parties. I am not concerned with what happens with regard to these two Bills. They have performed a most useful function in bringing this matter before the House and in giving a warning to this and future Governments that, sooner or later, the local authorities will get so restless that they cannot be held.

9.54 p.m.

Mr. Hamilton Kerr (Cambridge)

I rise to express my disappointment that the Minister of Health intends to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill. I do so because I feel that the principles contained in these two Bills vitally affect the interests of the constituency which I have the honour to represent, Cambridge Borough. The House will remember that in 1947 the Boundary Commission indicated that 10 non-county boroughs, of which Cambridge was one, would be suitable for inclusion under the category of new type county boroughs. My predecessor in the representation of Cambridge visited the right hon. Gentleman to try and persuade him to reduce the figure of 100,000 to 75,000 as a qualification for county borough status. In return for the right hon. Gentleman accepting that proposition he gave an undertaking that in the life of the last Parliament he would not press for county borough status. My predecessor said on 9th November last year: … we said in return that we would not in any way seek to embarrass the Minister by Private Bill activities during the life of this Parliament, and we shall be quite happy to adhere to that undertaking."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th November, 1949; Vol. 469, c. 1325.] I stress the words " this Parliament."

We had hoped that some Measure might have been introduced in the King's speech which would have dealt in the only satisfactory way with the problem, namely, by a comprehensive Measure reforming local government. But nothing has happened. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton (Dr. Hill) has rightly said that we are in a period of freeze. It was said of one advocate that his tongue was so persuasive that he could even sell a glass of iced water at the North Pole. I am sure that bad he had the opportunity my hon. Friend would have achieved that miracle. But it seems to me that our situation resembles that of the Irish lady who begged money from a certain judge and said. " May the blessings of God follow you all your life " but, seeing that nothing was forthcoming, quickly added. " but may they never overtake you."

We have little or no hope of improving our position so long as the Government refuse to bring forward a comprehensive Measure dealing with local government reform. This Debate has given me the opportunity of voicing my disappointment that my hon. Friend the Member for Luton has merely resorted to a " Hobson's choice " in presenting this Bill to the House

9.57 p.m.

Mr. Mack (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

The Debate has shown that whatever point of view hon. Members take, everybody here at least appreciates the excellent service local councillors are giving and the deep sense of civic pride which is common to every part of the country. The Minister himself seemed to appreciate that. He added that he was not unmindful that Ilford and Luton were large centres and reasonably ambitions, but he could not accept this procedure in a piecemeal way. There was something in the force of his contention that we would have all kinds of authorities coming after

each other and that there might be bargains made in the spirit of " You vote for me I will vote for you." Everybody will agree that that would not be a desirable approach to a very important problem.

In Newcastle-under-Lyme, where we have a population of over 70,000, we do not like the idea of remote control. As my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Messer) said, it is very desirable that local government should not only be efficient but should be carried out by men who know and have practical experience of local conditions and have local associations. It is desirable that central government should not supersede what were, and should be, the functions of the borough. I am sure we all agree with that. We do not want this House to become more than an overriding authority. We do not want it to take over the legitimate and proper functions of the local authorities and to make people responsible for these councils feel that their efforts are being frustrated.

The Minister said quite frankly and honestly that he was not prepared to give an assurance that there should be—

Mr. Lennox-Boyd rose in his place and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."

Question put accordingly, " That the Bill be now read a Second time."

The House divided: Ayes, 80 Noes. 278.

Division No. 9. AYES [10.6 p.m.
Aitken, W T. Garner-Evans, E. H. (Denbigh) Prior-Palmer, Brig O
Alport, C. J. M Grimston, Hon. J. (St. Albans) Rayner, Brig. R.
Banks, Col. C. Harris, F. W. (Croydon, N.) Remnant, Hon. P
Bennett, R. F. B. (Gosport) Harris, R. R. (Heston) Robinson, J. Roland (Blackpool. S.)
Bennett, W. G. (Woodside) Heath, Colonel E G R Russell, R. S.
Boyd-Carpenter, J. A. Henderson, John (Cathcart) Scott, Donald-
Brooke, H. (Hampstead) Hicks-Beach, Maj. W- W Smithers, Peter (Winohester)
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T. Higgs, J. M. C. Studholme, H C.
Burden, Squadron-Leader F. A Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe) Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)
Butcher, H. W Hill, Dr. C. (Luton) Taylor, W. J (Bradford, N.)
Channon, H. Hirst, G. A N Thompson, R. H. M. (Croydon, W.)
Clarke, Brig. T. H. (Portsmouth. W.) Hornsby-Smith, Miss P Thornton-Kemsley. C N
Colegate, A. Howard, G R. (St Ives) Tilney, J. D
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Hudson, Sir A. U M (Lewisham, N.) Vaughan-Morgan, J. K
Crouch, R. F. Kaberry, D Vosper, D. F.
Crowder, F. P (Ruislip, N'thwood) Keeling, E. H Wade, D. M.
Cuthbert, W. N. Kerr, H. W (Cambridge) Wakefield, E. B. (Derbyshire, W.)
Darling, Sir W. Y. (Edinburgh, S.) Low. A. R W Wakefield, Sir W W (St Marylebone)
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Mackeson, Brig. H. R. Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)
de Chair, S. Maclay, Hon. J. S. Wheatley, Major M. J. (Poole)
Deedea, W F Maolean, F. H. R. Williams, Sir H. G. (Croydon, E.)
Digby, S. Wingfietd MacLeod, I. (Enfield, W.) Wilson, G. (Truro)
Draws. C Marshall, D. (Balmin) Yates, V. F.
Duncan, Capt. J. A. L Medlicott, Brigadier F York, C.
Dunglass, Lord Nabarro, G.
Duthie, W. S. Oakshott, H. D. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Fort, R. Orr, Capt. L. P. S Mr. Geoffrey Hutchinson and
Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead) Powell, J. Enoch Squadron-Leader A. E. Cooper.
Acland, Sir Richard Freeman, J. (Watford) Mallalieu, E. L. (Grigg)
Adams, Richard Freeman, Peter (Newport) Mafialieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)
Allen, A. C. (Bosworth) Gonley, Mrs. C. S. Mann, Mrs. J.
Allen, Soholefield (Crewe) Gibson, C. W. Manuel, A. C.
Awbery, S. S Gilzean, A. Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.
Ayles, W. H. Glanville, J. E. (Consett) Marshall, S. H. (Sutton)
Bacon, Miss A Gooch, E. G. Mothers, Rt. Hon. George
Baird, J. Gordon-Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C Mellish, R. J.
Baker, P. Greenwood, A W. J. (Rossendale) Messer, F.
Balfour, A. Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Wakefield) Middleton, Mrs. L
Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J Grenfell, D. R. Mikardo, Ian
Bartley, P. Grey, C. F. Moeran, E. W.
Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale) Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley) Monslow, W.
Bing, G. H. C. Griffiths, Rt Hon. J. (Lionelly) Moody, A. S.
Blackburn, A. R. Griffiths, W. D. (Exchange) Morley, R.
Blenkinsop, A. Gunter, R. J. Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)
Blyton, W. R. Haire, John E. (Wycombe) Mort, D. L.
Boardman, H. Hale, J. (Rochdale) Moyle, A.
Booth, A. Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.) Mutley, F. W.
Bottomley, A. G. Hall, J. (Gateshead, W.) Murray, J. D.
Bowden, H. W Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley) Nally, W.
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. Hamilton, W. W. Neal, H.
Brains, B. Hannan, W. Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J.
Brockway, A. Fenner Hardman, D. R. O'Brien, T.
Brook, D. (Halifax) Hardy, E. A. Oldfield, W. H.
Brooks, T.J. (Normanton) Hargreaves, A. Oliver, G. H.
Broughton, Or. A. D. D. Harrison, J. Orbach, M.
Brown, George (Belpre) Hastings, Dr. Somerville Padley, W. E
Brown, T. J. (Ines) Hayman, F. H. Paget, R. T.
Burke, W. A. Herbison, Miss M. Paling, Rt. Hn. Wilfred (Boerne V'lly)
Burton, Miss E. Hewitson, Capt. M. Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)
Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.) Hobson, C R. Pargiter, G. A.
Callaghan, James Holman, P. Parker, J.
Carmichael, James Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth) Paton, J.
Castle, Mrs. B. A. Houghton, Douglas Pearson, A.
Champion, A. J. Hoy, J. Pearl, T. F.
Chetwynd, G. R. Hubbard, T. Poole, Cecil
Cocks, F. S. Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, N.) Popplewell, E.
Coldrick, W. Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr) Porter, G.
Collick, P. Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Price, M. Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)
Collindridge, F. Hurd, A. R. Proctor, W. T.
Conant, Maj. R. J. E. Hynd, H. (Accrington) Pursey, Comdr H.
Cooper, G. (Middlesbrough, W.) Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe) Rankin, J.
Cooper, J. (Deptford) Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Redmayne, M.
Corbel, Mrs. F. K. (Peckham) Irving, W. J. (Wood Green) Rees, Mrs. D.
Cove, W. G. Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A. Reeves, J.
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Janner, B. Reid, T. (Swindon)
Crawley, A. Jay, D. P. T. Reid, W. (Camlachie)
Cripps, Rt. Hon. Sir S. Jeger, G. (Goole) Rhodes, H.
Crosland, C. A R Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S.) Robens, A.
Cullen, Mrs. A. Jenkins, R. H. Roberts, Goronwy (Caemarvonshire)
Dairies, P. Johnson, J. (Rugby) Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)
Dalton, Rt. Hon. H. Johnston, Douglas (Paisley) Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Darling, G. (Hillsboro') Jones, Elwyn (West Ham, S.) Rogers, G. H. R. (Kensington, N.)
Davies, Edward (Stoke, N.) Jones, lack (Rotherham) Ross, William (Kilmarnock)
Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.) Jones, W. E. (Conway) Royle, C.
Davies, Harold (Leek) Keenan, W. Shackleton, E. A. A.
Davies, Nigel (Epping) Kenyon, C. Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir
Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton) King, H. M. Shurmer, P. L. E.
de Freitas, Geoffrey Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E Silverman, J. (Erdington)
Deer, G. Kinley, J. Simmons, C. J.
Delargy, H. J Lang, Rev, G. Slater, J.
Diamond, J. Lee, F. (Newton) Snow, J. W.
Dodds, N. N. Lee, Miss J. (Cannock) Sorensen, R. W
Donnelly, D. Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H. Soskice, Rt. Hon Sir F
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord M. Lennox-Boyd, A. T. Sparks, J. A.
Driberg, T. E. N. Lever, L. M. (Ardwick) Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)
Dugdale, Rt. Hon. J. (W. Bromwich) Lewis, A. W. J. (West Ham, N.) Strachey, Rt. Hon. J
Dye, S. Lindgren, G. S Strauss, Rt. Hon R (Vauxhalls)
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Lipton, Lt.-Col. M. Stress, Dr. B
Edwards, Rt. Hon. N. (Caerphilly) Lloyd, Selwyn (Wiry''; Sutcliffe, H.
Edwards, W.(Stepney) Logan, D. G Sylvester, G. O
Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.) Longden, F. (Small Heath) Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)
Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury) Longden. G. J. M. (Herts. S.W.) Taylor, R J. (Morpeth)
Ewart, R. McAllister, G. Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)
Fernyhough, E. MacColl, J. E. Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)
Field, Capt. W. J. McGovern, J. Thomas, I. R. (Rhondda, W.)
Finch, H. J. McInnes, J. Thomas, T. George (Cardiff)
Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.) McKay, J. (WalIsend) Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)
Follick, M. McLeavy, F. Thurtle Ernest
Foot, M. M. MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles) Timmons, J.
Forman, J. C. MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling) Tomlinson, Rt Hon G
Fraser, T. (Hamilton) Mainwaring, W. H. Tomney, F.
Turton, R. H. Whiteley, RI. Hon. W Winterbottom, I. (Nottingham, C.)
Vernon, Maj W. F Wilcock, Group-Capt. C. A. B Winterbottom, R. E. (Brightside)
Viant, S P Wilkes, L. Wise, Major F. J.
Wallace, H. W Wilkins, W. A. Wood, Hon. R.
Watkins, T. E Willey, F. T. (Sunderland) Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Webb, M. Hon M (Bradford, C.) Willey, 0. G. (Cleveland) Woods, Rev. G. S.
Weitzman, D. Williams, D. J. (Heath) Wyatt, W. L.
Wells, W T (Walsall) Williams, Ronald (Wigan) Younger, Hon. Kenneth
West, D. G Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)
White, Mrs. E. (E. Flint) Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
White, H. (Derbyshire, N.E.) Wilson, Rt. Hen. J. H. (Huyton) Mr. Ashton and Captain Soames

Question, " That the Question be now put," put, and agreed to.