HC Deb 04 May 1950 vol 474 cc1976-99

Order for Second Reading read.

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, Mr. Speaker. May I ask for your Ruling on the scope of this Debate? It will be within the recollection of hon. Members that there were two kindred Bills. The question of principle was discussed on Wednesday of last week, and the House by a majority came to a certain decision. I should be grateful, Sir, if you would let us know the limits of the Debate on the Second Reading of this Bill tonight.

Mr. Speaker

I hoped that I had made it quite clear on Wednesday of last week that we were discussing the principle which ran through both Bills. Therefore, the principle was pot a matter which we would discuss on the second Bill. There were local points relating to Luton, and those local points ought to be put to the House, but I do not think this Debate ought to run for very long on that account. Dr. Hill.

7.3 p.m.

Dr. Hill (Luton)

Am I to speak on your Ruling, Sir, or shall I proceed with the Bill?

Mr. Speaker

Whichever the hon. Member likes, but preferably on the Bill.

Dr. Hill

I appreciate that the principle underlying the two Bills was dealt with last week, and I will, of course, confine myself to the Luton position, referring to the principle only in so far as it is relevant purely to the Luton situation. I hope that those hon. Members who were hoping to participate in the Debate on education will forgive what may appear to be an intrusion, but perhaps this comparatively non-contentious Bill may provide an opportunity for a cooling process for those who were engaged in the other discussion.

Luton is a busy industrial town with a population of some 110,000. It has grown very rapidly in the last 30 years. It is a town of mixed industries. To the old-established and vigorous hat industry has been added a wide range of industries, particularly in the field of engineering. To the old sturdy stock of Luton there has been an infusion of blood of varying temperatures from Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

If I do not go into greater detail about the scheme of Luton for county borough status as such, it is because the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health made it quite plain in the Debate last week that he regarded Luton as he did Ilford, as a good independent unit of local government, efficient and reasonably ambitious. He said that he was not advising the House to reject these two Bills on the ground that it was not felt that the authorities could carry out county council duties properly. But for the discussion on principle and but for the allegations that to promote Luton would leave Bedfordshire tepid—I think that was the Minister's word—and impoverished, the claim of Luton to have its Bill considered upstairs would be unopposed by the Minister.

The Minister made clear what was his attitude to Luton in November, 1949. He made it clear that he was opposed to such changes as have now been suggested in the case of Luton because the Government view was that they should bring forward their own proposals, that an examination of local government was in being and that to proceed piecemeal would mean that such changes would be assimilated and overtaken by the proposals of the Government. His attitude. in short, was that comprehensive reform was coming soon, so soon as to overtake such applications as might be made by Private Bill procedure. He added that to proceed piecemeal in the light of that prospect was a wrong procedure.

But in the Debate last week the Minister reached the same conclusion by a different process, for his argument last week was that there is no immediate prospect of comprehensive reform. He persisted in the argument that it was wrong to proceed by the piecemeal method, and added that it would be embarrassing, indeed disastrous, to the county of Bedfordshire, for Luton to succeed in its application for promotion.

We now know that local government reform of a general character is not impending. We now know that the Private Bill method is the only one open to boroughs seeking to improve their status, and we now know that the Minister's policy is, by the rejection of Luton's claim, as of Ilford's claim, to make impossible until some indefinite date in the future, any major changes in the function and the boundaries of local government. I suggest that the Government have a chance to redeem their unfortunate record of the rejection of Ilford's Bill. They have a chance to resist this doctrine of freezing until an indefinite date all comprehensive reform. Indeed, they have a chance of repenting by their attitude tonight to the Luton Bill.

One of the stronger arguments used against Ilford's Bill was that Ilford was part of the vast London conurbation, and that the problem of London in the local government sense should be dealt with as a whole and not piecemeal. I make no observations on that except to say that Luton's case is in no way affected by that argument. Thirty miles from London, it is an independent town, and I am sure the Minister will agree that it is not part of the London conurbation. I recognise that I have to meet the argument that to give Luton's Bill a Second Reading will be to proceed piecemeal in this task of local government reform. If Luton is removed in an administrative sense from Bedfordshire, there will, of course, be a fall in the penny product, a fall to some £4,126. That will be Bedfordshire's penny yield without Luton.

Of the 12 counties in East Anglia, there are only two in which the penny yield is greater than that amount. In other words, to add Luton to the county boroughs would not create a new position as far as Bedfordshire is concerned. It would create the position which already obtains in the majority of East Anglian counties. Oxfordshire, for example, has a yield on a penny rate of some £3,600. Oxfordshire may be tepid for all I know. but the position of Bedfordshire resultant on the promotion of Luton would be substantially stronger than that of Oxfordshire.

There are 25 counties in England and Wales with a population of less than 200.000. There are 24 counties in England and Wales with a population of less than 4,000, and this so-called piecemeal proposal which, it is alleged, would prejudice the pattern—

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Blenkinsop)

Would the hon. Gentleman allow me to interrupt just to give him a chance of correcting what he has said? He mentioned a population of less than 4,000.

Dr. Hill

I was referring to the yield of the penny in my reference to 4,000, but I thank the Parliamentary Secretary for his intervention. Bearing in mind, then, that 24 counties in this country already have a penny yield of less than £4,000, is it reasonable to argue that to make an addition in the form of Bedfordshire to that list of authorities, would prejudice the future pattern of local government? Indeed, does it support the argument that such a county is incapable of administrative efficiency because of financial poverty? Does it support the argument used by the Minister that the promotion of Luton would lead to chaos in the local government field by adding Bedfordshire to the list of 24 counties which are in a similar or a worse financial position?

The Minister of Health referred particularly to the financial condition of Bedfordshire and the loss it would sustain. I am advised that the effect on the Bedfordshire County Council of the promotion of Luton after the operation of the Equalisation Fund, would be an increase in rate poundage of 1.8 pence. I am advised, too, that the effect on Luton Borough Council of such promotion would be a decrease in its rate poundage of 0.2 per cent., and I am advised that the total effect in terms of increased Exchequer contribution would be less than £1,000.

I mention these points because I submit to the House that the case of Luton is worthy of examination in Committee, when these details can be examined with the aid of experts. In reply to the argument that to create a county borough in Bedfordshire would mean chaos, I would remind the House that the effect of such promotion would be a return to the pre-1945 position with six qualifications, and only six. It would mean a return to that position for Bedfordshire and for Luton except under the headings of agricultural education; small holdings; secondary, grammar, technical and further education—and on that I would say that those educational services are now administered under delegation by Luton with all the complications of exchanges with Bedford and all the waste of effort involved in that—local taxation; mental health, both care and after care; welfare services and residential accommodation for aged and handicapped persons.

Apart from those services which would be acquired as a direct responsibility, we should be returning to the pre-1945 position except that Luton as a county borough would have the full responsibility for such services. So I submit to this House that if we examine the scheme of Luton, as such, regardless of the general principle and regardless for a moment of Bedfordshire, the case is admitted by the right hon. Gentleman. If we examine the principle in relation to the prospect of local government reform, we find that after promises to the contrary, the position of the Minister is now, as stated last week, that there is to be no local government reform unless there can be found a Minister who desires to go into the wilderness.

In the light of that position, the rejection of Luton, added to the rejection of Ilford, would mean in effect—and this concerns every urban authority—the rejection of the Private Bill method indefinitely, for purposes of promotion of status and substantial extensions of boundary. I ask the House to regard this as perhaps the last opportunity before that situation is created, of saying that the Private Bill method is a proper method to be used by such authorities as Luton, and that it does not accept the position that the rejection of Luton is to be permitted to lead to the situation that local government is frozen.

On the immediate issue of the relationship of Luton with Bedfordshire, it is natural to expect the opposition of Bedfordshire. It is natural to expect those who are closely associated with county councils to rise with their customary dignity to oppose this kind of change. I suggest, however, that in the relationship of Luton with Bedfordshire the facts I have brought before the House are sufficient at least to justify the examination of this Bill in Committee in order that the experts may decide whether such a financial tragedy would come the way of Bedford as a result of the promotion of Luton It is not new for county councils to use the argument of the financial tragedy that awaits them if they lose a substantial urban area by its promotion to county borough status. Although this discussion is limited to the position of Luton, I ask the House to appreciate the implications of the rejection of Luton at this Second Reading; the implication not only for authorities who are hoping one day to achieve promotion, but the implications in relation to those county boroughs at present in existence.

Lastly, whatever the form of the future proposals may be, the Minister has been examining them, I understand, and, following the examination which he was undertaking in November last, he has reached the conclusion announced last week that there is no immediate prospect of comprehensive local government reform. Whatever his examination of the proposals may have led him to believe, the Minister cannot resist the argument that whatever the character of local government reform in the future, there will be promotion for authorities like Luton. To that extent I suggest that the argument that to promote Luton will prejudice these comprehensive proposals. which are not yet in existence, is one which the House cannot reasonably be expected to accept.

I urge hon. Members to remember that this is a non-party issue. It is an issue of importance to local government reform generally. I ask hon. Members to appreciate the implication of the rejection of Luton, following the rejection of Ilford, upon the local government picture generally, and the chilly prospect that it holds out for local government reform of any kind, until that distant and yet unknown day when some Minister will have the courage—or the foolhardiness maybe—to bring to this House proposals for comprehensive local government reform.

7.20 p.m.

Captain Soames (Bedford)

Last Wednesday the House voted against a Bill designed to give county borough status to Ilford. During that Debate there was considerable discussion on the principle of whether such status should be given either to Ilford or to Luton. If the case against Ilford's becoming a county borough was a strong one both in principle and detail, I submit that the case against Luton's becoming a county borough and being taken away from the County of Bedford, is overwhelming.

First of all, Luton is a much smaller town than Ilford. If it is not right that a town of 184,000 should be given county borough status, all the more surely it is not right that a town of 108,000 should be given county borough status at the present time. Secondly, the County of Essex is much larger than the County of Bedford. If Ilford had become a county borough it would have taken only 12 per cent. of the population away from the county, which would still have been left with a population of 1,360,000; but if Luton were taken away from the County of Bedford it would take away 33 per cent. of the county's population and the County of Bedford would be left with a population of less than 200,000. That, as the Boundary Commission stated, is not an economic unit.

There would have to be two entirely separate autonomous authorities, one for 192,000 people and the other for 108,000 people. Clearly, it cannot be right, in the country's present economic circumstances, to have two such authorities existing in an area the size of Bedfordshire—each, for example, with its own chief constable and each with its own fire force commander. Then there is the question of rates. The House considered that it was not right for Ilford to be given county borough status, and Ilford represents only some 141 per cent, of the rateable value of the County of Essex. Luton represents 42 per cent. of that of Bedfordshire. It would be quite impossible for an equalisation grant to make good a loss of 42 per cent. of the rateable value of the county, and a heavy burden would thus be placed upon the taxpayers of the county. Indeed, it is impossible to imagine that the whole administrative machinery would not be placed in jeopardy.

And this, for what? In order to give satisfaction to the Corporation which is promoting this Bill. I really do not think that Luton has been hardly treated by Bedforshire. Since 1927 the town has increased in size by 5,500 acres; the Chair man of the County Council comes from Luton, as also do the chairmen of many of the most important committees of the council. Therefore, I do not really see what grounds they can have in existing circumstances for proposing to disrupt the administration of the whole county.

I certainly would not say that Luton should never be granted county borough status. Indeed, I understand fully the views put forward by the Corporation of Luton, and one must sympathise with its desire to achieve independence, but I do submit that such independence can come about only as part of an overall scheme which takes into consideration the interests not only of the borough but of the whole county. If, under existing legislation, Luton were to be taken away from the county and granted the old form of county borough status, as laid down in 1888 in order to suit the conditions of that era, it would spell disaster for the rest of the County of Bedford which, in many respects, is unique, and which makes so great a contribution to the life of the country as a whole.

7.25 p.m.

Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)

I have very considerable sympathy with the case put forward by the hon. Member for Luton (Dr. Hill), but I hold the view that the time is not opportune for the piecemeal reform of the local government of the country, and therefore, much as I should like to go into the Lobby with him tonight, if he is going to divide the House, I cannot do so. Nevertheless, I do think he has made a very considerable case against the Minister of Health, and he has my whole-hearted support. In the Debates which took place in the last Parliament I was persuaded to accept, very reluctantly, the proposal of the Minister of Health because I thought that the time was not far distant when he would come to the House, after full inquiry, and put forward proposals for the reform of local government.

Now we are told, several months after he announced that decision, and some time after the Local Government Boundary Commission ended its work, that the time is not appropriate. If one wanted any evidence that something ought to be done, and done very quickly, one could find it in the speeches of the hon. Gentlemen opposite. One puts forward facts in support of one view and the other puts forward facts in support of another, on one and the same case; one hon. Gentleman argues for Luton and another argues for the County of Bedford. I am not less guilty than they, but one tends to forget that one is not dealing here with bricks and mortar but with the lives and happiness of the constituents whom one represents. This argument for local government reform is not based upon any local boundary line —any suggestion of a red line here against a blue line there. One is dealing with open spaces, with schools, with houses, with the things that will make a happy and contented Britain.

If the time is not appropriate, I should like the Minister of Health or the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us when it is going to be appropriate. The House was fobbed off, and I do not believe that the Minister of Health would have had such an easy passage as he had, if any of us had reckoned that, six months later, we were going to be told we had to wait indefinitely until getting an election—

Mr. Speaker

That was, of course, discussed the last time. We are now discussing' the Luton Corporation Bill and the special arguments for or against it, and we must confine ourselves to this Bill, and not discuss the general proposition.

Mr. Wigg

I am sorry if I have offended, but I was trying to deal with the arguments put forward by the hon. Member for Luton. I said I thought he had made out a very good case; that I accepted what he had to say on the question that there was a need for something to be done for the borough which he has the honour to represent here, but that I thought he had failed to make out his case, on the ground that this is a piecemeal approach to the question. I hope, therefore—I do not want to transgress your Ruling, Mr. Speaker—that, whatever the fate of this Bill may be tonight, he and I will be allies in continuing our pressure on the Minister of Health to decide that the time is appropriate not only for the reform of the boundaries of the Borough of Luton but also for the reform of the boundaries of the Borough of Dudley

7.30 p.m.

Wing-Commander Bullus (Wembley, North)

I had intended this evening to speak in general terms, but in view of your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, I must imagine myself as one of the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton (Dr. Hill). Indeed, I have something in common with that town. In my younger days I did not wear a hat, but in my later years I find it necessary and desirable; I now find that the people of Luton are also desirous of enhanced dignity, and in that respect I support my hon. Friend. The inhabitants of Luton might well examine the speech of the Minister of Health on 26th April in which he held out no immediate prospect of presenting proposals for the major reform of local government, but in his concluding remarks admitted: Local government … is … ticking over, not as satisfactorily as we would like."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th April, 1950; Vol. 474, c. 1068.] Here I maintain is a real admission that there is room for improvement.

The Minister agreed at the outset that Luton and Ilford are large, efficient and reasonably ambitious local authorities, but he advised the House to reject the Bills on the ground that no major change in the status of local authorities should be made piecemeal. But this is the only legitimate method of approach. What other method is there? Here is a legitimate aspiration of a community which desires enhanced dignity a perfectly natural ambition under our present system of local government. Are we to believe that this system is now completely out of date? If so, was it out of date five years ago? The Government have had four and a half years in which to put forward proposals, and I suggest—

Mr. Blenkinsop

On a point of Order. I should like your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. I understood from what you said earlier that the general principle underlying the claims of Ilford and Luton could not be discussed this evening, as it was discussed last week. As far as I can understand, that is what the hon. and gallant Gentleman is developing in his speech now.

Mr. Speaker

I have interrupted the Debate already to point out that hon. Members must direct their remarks to Luton, and to Luton alone. The House decided the general principle by a decisive Division last Wednesday.

Wing-Commander Bullus

So far from developing my case, I am bringing my remarks to a conclusion, and am pointing out that the Government had five years in which to find reform or an alternative method to the present one, which Luton is legitimately following. The Minister of Health now says that because the House is so closely divided he does not think there is any immediate prospect of any Minister of Health bringing proposals before the House for the radical reorganisation of local government. I am reminded of the indolent Indian—

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

There are no indolent Indians in Luton. Any Asiatics there are very active.

Wing-Commander Bullus

The Minister of Health complained in the last Parliament that he had no time. He complains in this Parliament that the House is so closely divided that he has not a sufficient majority.

I will now bring my remarks to a conclusion. For the future I see no alternative to the present method by which Luton can aspire to county borough status. They have made a legitimate attempt to attain it. If they do not get it, how many years will it be before they do? I do not want to see stagnation of local government; I do not want to see local government merely " ticking over." I want the legitimate aspirations of boroughs such as the borough of Luton to be realised.

7.34 p.m.

Mr. Messer (Tottenham)

I know that I shall find it difficult to confine my remarks to Luton, but I promise to do my best. Some hon. Members may wonder what connection there is between my constituency of Tottenham and Luton. Well, there is a connection because the River Lea runs through both Luton and Tottenham, although I understand that the River Lea is drying up at Luton whereas it is not drying up in Tottenham.

I think the hon. Member for Luton (Dr. Hill) made an excellent case, but if I may say so it was a typically medical case. He examined the patient and he arrived at a diagnosis, but I believe his prognosis to be absolutely wrong. What is the position of Luton? By itself, it has every claim to county borough status. There is not the slightest doubt about it; there is nobody who can deny that.

Dr. Hill

Except the Minister of Health.

Mr. Messer

If we look at Luton in isolation there appears to be no reason why it should not be given county borough status; but looking at it in isolation means that we are taking no notice of the effect that would have on the county of which it forms part. What industrial areas has the county of Bedfordshire? It has the market town of Dunstable, the county town of Bedford, and the one industrial town of Luton.

The speech of the hon. Member for Luton was very convincing in what it said, but a great deal was left unsaid which ought to have been said. What the hon. Member did not say was that there is a grammar school in Luton, a large part of which is populated by children who come from outside areas in the County of Bedfordshire. Now I know that if Luton gets county borough status, it will enter into an arrangement whereby the children from the county districts will come into the grammar school until their own population fills the places, when the children from the villages will have to travel miles to get to a grammar school. This House has no right to look at Luton by itself. It has a duty to see what effect it will have on the larger populations if we give Luton county borough status. The time has arrived when this thing should be examined, but it ought to be examined in relation to the rest of the county.

The hon. Member for Luton gave some very interesting illustrations. He invited the House to look at East Anglia. Well, of course, everybody who wanted to support the case of Luton would bring in East Anglia. They would look at the Isle of Ely, and they would look at that anachronism the Soke of Peterborough. If Cambridge were taken out of Cambridgeshire, what would be left for administrative purposes?

Dr. Hill

Is it not reasonable that I should look by way of illustration, first at the area of counties of which this is a part, and then proceed, as I did, to examine it in relation to the 24 counties in England and Wales? Could I have started and got away with a comparison, say, with the Welsh counties?

Mr. Messer

No, but the hon. Member would have had to be prepared to hear what I had got to say in reply, and what I had to say in reply is this. How far are such illustrations valid? Is it to be said that the 24,000 population of Canterbury justifies every place with a population of 24,000 being a county borough? Let us look, for instance, at the county council which is well known but which is not even big enough to send a Member to this House. I refer to Rutland. The hon. Member for Luton referred to raising £4,000 by a penny rate. Rutland County Council can raise only £500 by a penny rate. Indeed, when a boy from Rutland goes up to the secondary school the ratepayers say " There goes another penny."

These illustrations show that we cannot take one place and say that because that has the title of a county or a county borough, then ipso facto every place with a population of that size should equally have that status. What we have to consider is this: Luton can justifiably claim to be a county borough, but we have the right to ask what is going to happen to the services in the rest of the county if Luton is taken out of it. If we can be satisfied that the people in the rest of the county will not be adversely affected by the change, there is no reason why the change could not take place. Personally. I am not so convinced.

I believe that this fragmentation of local government is the worst thing that can happen at the present time. What is necessary is that Luton, in company with the smaller—what a horrible word it is—conurbations of Luton, the smaller areas of population, should be so adjusted as to be able to deal with the comprehensive field of social service which they are called upon to administer. On its positive basis, Luton is entitled to be a county 'borough, but it cannot be given county borough status without affecting the rest of the county.

7.41 p.m.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd (Mid-Bedfordshire)

The hon. Member for Luton (Dr. Hill) said that the county Members rising in this House always rise with dignity. I do not know whether it is possible to rise with dignity and at the same time to announce that I am going to sit down again in about one and a half minutes. Any dignity that I may show as one of the county Members for Bedfordshire would be no greater than that shown by the hon. Gentleman himself in the speech which he quite properly made on behalf of his constituency and my neighbours. We claim in Bedfordshire that the burgesses from the boroughs and the knights from the shires can be generally associated with dignity with matters concerning the welfare of our county.

How much I agree with what the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Messer) has just said. This must be looked at as a whole. He made reference to the schools in Luton—the two grammar schools created by the county council with the great help of the town of Luton itself; the schools of which right up to the Education Act of 1944, 20 of the 21 governors had come from Luton because the county council realised that the education of the children in the schools there—though, as he rightly said, involving interests from the county outside—is predominantly a matter for the people who live in Luton.

The hon. Member for Luton made some reference to education in general. We are glad to realise that the Chairman of the Bedfordshire Education Committee is himself a man from Luton as, indeed, are his colleagues—the chairman of the highways committee, the chairman of the fire services committee, the chairman of the welfare committee and the Chairman of the County Council itself. The hon. Member for Luton said that if in fact the town of Luton was taken out of Bedfordshire, although it would undoubtedly have effects which he claimed could be put right by the equalisation fund—I will not go into that argument because that may raise other issues which may not be in Order—it would not be a smaller area than many of the counties existing today. But all the counties that he had in mind, save the Isle of Wight, which is part of the county of Hampshire or associated with the county of Hampshire, were deemed at the most recent inquiry held by the Boundary Commission, to be uneconomic units; and should this House tonight, by passing this Bill, create what would in fact be another uneconomic unit?

I will not take up the time of the House because I have already exhausted my minute and a half, but I should like to put this problem: Might we not find ourselves involved in appalling administrative and ethical difficulties if, having rejected the scheme for Ilford for this status, today we allow it for the town of Luton? It would be hard enough to justify if their claims were equal, but their claims are not equal as the hon. and gallant Member for Bedford (Captain Soames) has so clearly shown.

I live not very far from the town of Luton. I have many friends there. I think that it is a great town with an immense future, and certainly all of us who know about the export drive in motor cars and many other industries know how much the welfare of Britain owes to the enterprise of the people of Luton. But I also know that the areas not very far from my own home have been incorporated in the town of Luton in the last 20 odd years in the belief that they would remain part of the administrative county of Bedford. The largest addition of all, I think, was made to the area of Luton in 1926, when the town council sent a formal statement to the County Council of Bedford hoping this would in fact be granted, and saying in effect that they had no intention of attempting to change the borough status of Luton into county borough status.

I have great sympathy with the arguments put forward by my hon. Friend, and I hope very much that we shall have a comprehensive review, and that Luton will feel that in bringing this Bill before the House it has once more demonstrated the need for something to be done. I cannot agree more with hon. Members on both sides who have said that the time is long overdue for a comprehensive review. I do not share the optimism of the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) that a Government, constituted as this one is, is likely to bring in anything which is comprehensive or immediate. However, the problem remains and the town of Luton should realise that the best contribution it can make to a proper consideration of this problem, is to work in with the county as a whole, in which they play such a striking part, in the hope that in future years under a wiser Government the whole problem can be properly looked at again.

7.47 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Hutchinson (Ilford, North)

I shall not detain the House for many minutes tonight, because I had an opportunity last week of putting forward to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health certain propositions of a general character which arose on the Ilford Cor- poration Bill. I received no answer to any of the propositions which I put to him; I notice that he is not in his place tonight. He has sent the Parliamentary Secretary to deal with the matters which arise on the Bill.

I intend tonight to confine myself in accordance with the Ruling of the Chair to the more limited issues which the Luton Corporation Bill raises. The first matter with which I wish to deal is this. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Captain Soames) has said that if the House agrees to the Second Reading of this Bill and it eventually becomes law, the effect will be to disrupt the administration of the County of Bedford. On that ground he advocated that the House should postpone its decision until an over-all scheme was proposed for the reorganisation of local government.

What is going to happen if Luton becomes a county borough? Certain very important services, perhaps the most important services which a local authority undertakes, will become centred in the Borough of Luton. They will become the education authority, the authority for the personal health services, and the planning authority. At present these services in the County of Bedford are being reorganised on the basis that the Bedfordshire County Council is to be the authority.

If some general reorganisation of local government is to come later on, and clearly it must, whatever view the right hon. Gentleman takes of the present situation—I can quite understand his reluctance to embark upon a Measure of that sort in the circumstances of the present Parliament—it is surely better that those services should now be reorganised, not upon the basis of county administration, but upon the basis of administration in the Borough of Luton. No one, in all the discussions which have taken place during the last 10 years, has ever suggested that towns of the size of the Borough of Luton should receive reduced powers in any reorganisation of local government. Of course they would not receive reduced powers.

The problem is to determine what overall services they will administer as a result of the reorganisation of local government. I know of no set of proposals which have been made by any association of local authorities, or by any political parties, which propose that a borough of the size of Luton should be accorded reduced responsibilities. If that is so, surely it is better that we should now allow the major services to which I have referred to be reorganised in the County of Bedford upon the basis that they must eventually follow the pattern of reorganisation which must eventually take place. If these services are allowed to be reorganised now upon a footing which will certainly not be the same footing as the `eventual reorganisation will inevitably take, it must cut across that eventual reorganisation of local government, whenever it comes, much more completely than by allowing these services to be reorganised now on a county basis.

I always listen to the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Messer) with interest. I thought that his argument tonight might have been more fittingly addressed to the County Councils Association than to this House.

Mr. Messer

I did so because I thought Members of this House were as intelligent as members of the County Councils Association.

Mr. Hutchinson

I hope that the county councils will be satisfied with this Debate.

I hope that the House will give a Second Reading to the Bill, in spite of what happened on the Ilford Bill last week. I am afraid that my hopes are destined to disappointment. The combination between the Labour Party, on the one hand, and the County Councils Association, on the other, is almost irresistible. It is my view that the disturbance the passage of this Bill is likely to cause to the eventual over-all reorganisation of local government is likely to be much less serious than the rejection of the Bill would be. We shall render a much more useful service to the eventual reorganisation of local government, whoever undertakes it, if this Bill receives its Second Reading.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. and learned Member is now discussing the general principle. We really must stick to Luton and nothing else.

Mr. Hutchinson

I am endeavouring to relate my remarks to the circumstances of this Bill. I will conclude by saying that the disruption of local government is likely to be much less serious if we allow the important services to which I have already referred to be reorganised on the basis of borough administration, rather than on the lines of county administration.

Mr. Speaker

I hope that the House will now be able to come to a decision.

7.56 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)

Surely the Minister is going to give the House some guidance before we come to a decision. [HON. MEMBERS: " No."] There is the whole evening before us. I trust that the Minister is going to give us some guidance upon this matter. [HON. MEMBERS: " No."] There is plenty of time, and we have no intention whatever of being bullied by interjections from the other side. If the Government wish to get their business through, they will need to get their Members to show courtesy to Members on this side of the House. We are discussing a rather important point upon which the House of Commons is entitled to have a lead from the Minister. The Minister's own supporters have drawn attention to the desirability of this.

Mr. Blenkinsop

It is perfectly clear to everyone who attended the Debate last week and has heard this Debate that no new matter has been raised other than the points dealt with very fully by my right hon. Friend. For that reason, I do not see that there is any point with which I need deal. All the details in the case of Ilford and Luton were fully dealt with by my right hon. Friend and I would advise hon. Members to be guided by the advice he gave.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

We were then debating the case of a city in the midst of a vast conurbation, when it was suggested that Ilford should not have this status because it was very awkward to deal with—

Mr. Blenkinsop

Surely the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has taken the trouble to check on what my right hon. Friend said in that Debate? If he would care to refresh his memory by looking at the HANSARD Report, he will find that my right hon. Friend dealt at some length with Luton as well as Ilford.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

These are two Bills. The House has been repeatedly reminded by Mr. Speaker that this is a separate Bill, and that the arguments we adduce must be addressed to the Bill now before us. The last Debate was conducted on the grounds that Ilford was part of a large conurbation, whereas this Bill deals with a city which is part of a county. It is very desirable that we should understand clearly whether the position is that the Private Bill Procedure is not in any circumstances to operate, because that is a point on which the Minister's own supporters have shown a great deal of uneasiness.

Mr. Blenkinsop

I think that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is now dealing with the general principle, which I understood we were not to discuss.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

If I may say so, I think that Mr. Speaker has shown himself a jealous guardian of our rules as to whether or not a Member is entrenching upon the general principle. I take it that I have not been doing so, or else I would have been called to order. The House is in the position of deciding in favour of the Second Reading, or against the Second Reading, or it can tie.

Mr. Speaker

I would remind the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that I gave a Ruling last Wednesday which I recollect quite well. We discussed both Bills together on the general principle. We left this one for local considerations, and " local considerations " are the words I used. That is what I thought we were going to discuss tonight.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

It is on those local considerations that I am addressing these remarks to the House. I am saying that, in fact, on those local considerations it would be perfectly in order for the House to decide in favour of the Bill or against it or, as was done this month, to tie on the matter, in which event the matter would be decided on the casting vote of Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker's casting vote would be given for the Bill, because it would be necessary to continue its discussion.

Dr. Morgan (Warrington)

That is quite theoretical.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

It is a decision which has not yet been taken by the House, and the House is free—

Mr. Pargiter (Southall)

On a point of Order. Are we discussing the procedure of the House or the Luton Bill?

Mr. Speaker

The Luton Bill, that is what I want.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

The hon. Gentle- man has now been informed what it is we are discussing, and I trust he will apply his intelligence in future to those matters—

Mr. Pargiter

It is not my intelligence which is at fault; it is my inability to dis- tinguish in what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is saying, whether he was dis-cussing what you, Mr. Speaker, might or might not do, or something that had to do with the Luton Bill.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

When the hon. Member has been longer in the House it will dawn upon him what the procedure of the House is.

Mr. Pargiter

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman should also know that it is not for the general good to detain the House on matters with which the House is not particularly concerned at this stage, but he should help us to get on with the business we want to get on with, namely the Luton Bill.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

When the hon. Gentleman is longer in the House he will know that we will be able to come to a decision without necessarily casting aspersions upon the procedure of the House. We are proceeding under the ancient procedure of the House, and under it the House has the power, and ought to have the power, of referring this matter to a Committee for examination, thereby geting on with the business of the House. It is the opposition of some hon. Members opposite which is detaining the House at this moment in the examination of a Bill, for which a perfectly adequate procedure exists. That point of procedure is that the Bill could go up- stairs and be examined by experts, so that those complicated matters which have been broached but by no means exhausted in our discussions this evening should be threshed out. It is not at all the unanimous opinion of hon. Members on the other side of the House that the procedure which has been adopted at present is correct, nor for that matter is it the opinion of hon. Members on this side of the House because this is a nonparty business. The principle that a body of citizens who wish to have their position considered should have the right—

Dr. Morgan

On a point of Order. May I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to give us guidance on whether we are considering the procedure of the House and so preventing discussion on this Bill or some other Bill?

Mr. Speaker

It is only prolonging the proceedings and we want to come to a decision on this Bill.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

Precisely, and the longer these irrelevant points are raised the longer we shall be in coming to a decision. The hon. Members who are slavishly suggesting that the Bill should not receive any further consideration are doing no good either to this House or to the cause of local government, and the well established procedure of an examination upstairs is the procedure which might well be used in this case of the Luton Bill. The points raised on the Luton Bill differ from those decided on the Ilford Bill, and are a proper subject for detailed and not general consideration. The House tonight has been held up for over an hour by an examination, which it is not capable of conducting fully under the present proposal, and which could be dealt with perfectly easily by the well recognised procedure. The Bill should now be given a Second Reading. I am saying this purely as an individual, and I am not committing hon. Members on this side of the House. I am speaking as other hon. Members have spoken from my own point of view, and my principle argument is that we are in danger of a serious and continued freeze-up if this general principle is adopted. Against it I make my protest.

Several Hon.

Members rose

Mr. Speaker

I hope the House will now come to decision. We have spent a lot of time on this matter, and we had three hours on it the other night.

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

The House divided: Ayes. 84 Noes, 259.

Division No. 11. AYES [8.5 p.m
Alport, C. J. M Foster, J. G. Ropner, Col. L
Banks, Col. C. Gridley, Sir A. Russell, R. S.
Bennett, R. F. B. (Gosport) Grimston, Hon. J. (St. Albans) Savory, Prof. D L
Bennett, W. G. (Woodside) Harris, F. W. (Croydon, N.) Scott, Donald
Bishop, F. P. Hay, John Shepherd, W. S. (Cheadle)
Bossom, A. C. Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W. Smith, E. M. (Grantham)
Boyd-Carpenter, J. A Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe) Smithers, Peter (Winchester)
Brockway, A. Fenner Hill, Dr. C. (Luton) Smithers, Sir W. (Orpington)
Browne, J. N. (Govan) Hirst. Geoffrey Smyth, Brig. J. G. (Norwood)
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T. Hornsby-Smith, Miss P Spens, Sir P. (Kensington, S.)
Bullus, Wing-Commander E. E Hutchinson, G. (Illord, N.) Stevens, G. P.
Burden, Squadron-Leader F. A Kaberry, D. Steward, W. A. (Woolwich, W.)
Butcher, H. W. Keeling, E. [...] Storey, S.
Channon, H. Kerr, H. W. (Cambridge) Taylor, W. [...] (Bradford, N.)
Clarke, Brig. T. H. (Portsmouth, W.) Lambert, Hon. G Thompson, K. P. (Walton)
Conant, Maj. R. J. E. Llewellyn, D. Thompson, R. H. M. (Croydon, W)
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Maclay, Hon. J. S. Tilney, J. D.
Crouch, R. F. Maclean, F. H. R. Tweedsmuir, Lady
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley) Vaughan-Morgan, J. K
de Chair, S. Macpherson, N. (Dumfries) Vosper, D. F.
Deedes, W. F. Maude, A. E. U. (Ealing, S) Ward, Miss I (Tynemouth)
Digby, S. Wingfield Nabarro, G. Watkinson, H
Drewe, C. Oakshott, H. D White, J. Baker (Canterbury)
Duncan, Capt. J. A. L Pitman, I. J. Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)
Duthie, W. S. Powell, J. Enoch Wills, G.
Elliot, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Walter Prior-Palmer, Brig. O Wilson. G. (Truro)
Erroll, F. J. Rayner, Brig. R TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Fletcher, W. (Bury) Robinson, J. Roland (Blackpool, S.) Mr. Reader Harris and
Fort. R Roper, Sir H Mr. Garner-Evans.
Acland, Sir Richard Daines, P. Hamilton, W W
Allen, A. C (Bosworth) Dalton, Rt. Hon. H. Hannan, W.
Anderson, A. (Motherwell) Darling. G. (Hillsboro') Hardman, D R
Anderson, F. (Whitehaven) Davidson, Viscountess Hardy, E. A.
Awbery, S. S. Davies, Rt. His. Clement (M'tgomery) Hargreaves, A.
Ayles, W. H. Davies, Edward (Stoke, N.) Hastings, Dr. Somerville
Bacon, Miss A. Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.) Hayman, F. H.
Baird, J. Davies, Harold (Leek) Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Rowley R.)
Balfour, A. de Freitas, Geoffrey Herbison, Miss M.
Barnes, Rt. Hon. A J Deer, G. Hewitson, Capt. M.
Bartley, P Delargy, H. J Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)
Beswick, F Diamond, J. Houghton, Douglas
Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale) Dodds, N. N. Howard, S. G. (Cambridgeshire)
Bing, G. H. C. Donnelly, D. Hoy, J.
Blenkinsop, A. Driberg, T. E. N Hubbard, T.
Blyton, W. R. Dugdale, Rt. Hon. J (W. Bromwich) Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, N.)
Boardman, H. Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr)
Bottomley, A. G Edelman, M. Hughes, R. M. (Islington, N.)
Bowden, H. W. Edwards, Rt. Hon. N. (Caerphilly) Hynd, H. (Accrington)
Bowen, R. Edwards, W. J. (Stepney) Hynd,.J. B. (Attercliffe)
Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton) Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.) Irving, W J (Wood Green)
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. Evans, E. (Lowestoft) Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G A
Brook, D. (Halifax) Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury) Janner, B
Brooks, T. J. (Normanton) Ewart, R. Jay, D. P. T.
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Field, Capt. W. J. Jeger, G. (Goole)
Brown, George (Belper) Finch, H. J. Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S.)
Brown, T. J. (Ince) Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.) Jenkins, R. H.
Burke, W. A. Follick, M Johnson, J. (Rugby)
Burton, Miss E. Foot, M. M. Jones, Frederick Elwyn (West Hans, S)
Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.) Fraser, T. (Hamilton) Jones Jack (Rotherham)
Carmichael, James Freeman, J. (Watford) Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L W
Castle, Mrs. B. A Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H T Keenan, W
Champion, A. J Ganley, Mrs. C. S. Kenyon, C.
Chetwynd, G R. George, Lady M. Lloyd Key, Rt. Hon. C. W
Clunie, J. Gibson, C. W. King, H. M
Cocks, F. S. Gilzean, A Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr E
Coldrick, W. Glanville, J. E. (Consett) Kinley, J.
Colegate, A Gordon-Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C Lang, Rev. G.
Collick, P. Greenwood, A W J. (Rossendale) Leather, E. H. C
Collindridge, F Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Wakefield) Lee, F. (Newton)
Cook, T. F. Grenfell, D. R Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)
Cooper, G. (Middlesbrough, W.) Grey, C F. Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H
Cooper, J. (Deptford) Griffiths, D. (Rather Valley) Lennox-Boyd, A. T.
Corbel, Mrs. F. K. (Peckham) Griffiths, Rt. Hon J. (Llanelly) Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)
Cove, W. C. Grimond, J. Lewis, A. W. J. (West Ham, N.)
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Haire, John E. (Wycombe) Lewis, J. (Bolton, W.)
Crawley, A. Hale, J. (Rochdale) Lindgren, G. S.
Cripps, Rt. Hon. Sir S Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.) Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.
Cullen. Mrs. A. Hall, J. (Gateshead, W.) Lloyd Selwyn (Wirral)
Logan, D. G. Pargiter, G A Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)
Longden, G. J. M (Herts S.W.) Parker, J Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
McAllister, G. Paton, J. Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)
MacColl, J. E Pearson, A Thomas, T. George (Cardiff)
McGovern, J Pearl, T F Thomas, I O (Wrekin)
McInnes, J. Poole, Cac., Thomas, I. R (Rhondda, W)
Mack, J. D. Popplewell, E Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)
McKay, J. (Wallsend) Porter, G Thurtle, Ernest
MoLeavy, F. Proctor, W I. Timmons, J.
MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles) Pryde, D. J Tomlinson, Rt Hon G
MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling) Pursey, Comdr H Tomney, F
Mainwaring, W. H. Rees, Mrs. D Vernon, Maj W. F
Mann, Mrs. J. Reeves. J Viant, S. P
Manuel, A. C. Reid, W. (Camiachie) Wallace, H W
Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A Rhodes, H Watkins, T. E
Marshall, S. H. (Sultan) Robens, A. Webb, Rt. Hon. M (Bradford, C.)
Mathers, Rt. Hon. George Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth) Weitzman, D.
Messer, F. Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire) Wells, P. L (Faversham)
Middleton, Mrs. L Robertson, J. J. (Berwick) Wells, W. T. (Walsall)
Milchison, G. R Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras. N.) Wheatley, Rt. Hon. John (Edinb'gh, E.)
Moeran, E. W Ross, William (Kilmarnock) White, Mrs. E. (E. Flint)
Monslow, W. Royle, C. White, H. (Derbyshire, N.E.)
Moody, A. S. Shackleton, E. A. A. Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W
Morgan, Dr. H. B Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir H Wilcock, Group-Capt. C. A. B.
Morley, R. Shurmer, P. L. E. Wilkins, W. A.
Morris, P. (Swansea, W.) Silverman, J. (Erdingtonl) Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)
Morris, R. Hopkin (Carmarthen) Simmons, C. J Williams, D. J. (Neath)
Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, S.) Slater, J. Williams, Ronald (Wigan)
Mort, D. L. Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.) Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)
Moyle, A. Snow, J. W Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Huyton)
Mulley, F W Sorensen, R. W. Winterbottom, I. (Nottingham, C.)
Nally, W. Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir F Winterbottom, R. E. (Brightside)
Neal, H. Sparks, J. A. Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Oldfield, W. H. Steele, T. Woods, Rev. G. S.
Oliver, G. H. Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.) Wyatt, W. L.
O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir H Stokes, Rt Hon. R R
Padley, W. E. Strauss, Rt. Hon G. R. (Vauxhall) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury) Stross, Dr. B. Captain Soames and Mr. Nugent.
Pannell, T. C Sylvester, G. O
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