HC Deb 12 June 1952 vol 502 cc579-90

12.45 a.m.

Mr. Paget

I beg to move, in page 11, line 25, to leave out subsection (5).

This Clause is rather a difficult one. It provides for the formation of a joint body by two exporting councils who wish to work together. Subsection (1) declares: Where it appears to the Minister, on application in that behalf by two or more councils each of them being the council of a county borough or county district, to be expedient, in connection with need of theirs for securing by town development within the meaning of this Act in a locality outside their areas relief for congestion or over-population in their areas, that a joint body consisting of representatives of those councils should be established in order to facilitate participation on their behalf in the development, he may by order provide for the establishment of such a joint body for that purpose. In subsection (1) we have therefore two exporting councils who may agree together. Then, in subsection (2), it provides that they may agree that the joint body they create shall exercise the various powers which they might individually perform under this Act. Subsection (3) provides that they shall be bodies corporate.

Subsection (5)—and it is the purpose of this Amendment to omit this subsection —provides that: Before making an order under this section the Minister shall inform the council of the receiving district, or each of such districts if more than one, and any authorities eligible to participate who did not join in the application but who appear to him to be concerned… I am not certain what "eligible to participate" means. Is it a reference back to Clause 7 which sets out the various bodies, which include the council of a county borough, the council of a county district which is not a receiving district, the council of a county in which development is carried out, or a joint water board or a sewerage board or, I think, a catchment board?

Those bodies, as I understand it, are what is referred to. It seems to me that such bodies may not even exist when this joint body comes into being. For instance, we may have two housing authorities in, say, Middlesex, in an area which must clearly export. They may form a corporate body for the purpose of dealing with their over-population. They will doubtless have a receiving area in mind for the immediate scheme; but that body corporate may be a county and I should have thought they should be included to go on dealing with a sequence of schemes.

It will not be known at the time the Minister's consent is required what will be all the receiving areas of the other authorities which may have to be dealt with. Therefore I should have thought that the Minister might find himself in difficulties by reason of subsection (5) from agreeing to the formation of a joint body owing to the difficulty in ascertaining who the joint body may be that they may have to deal with at a subsequent date.

Under the terms of subsection (5) the existence of the joint body would be invalid, since the conditions of its existence would not have been performed unless all the bodies which it might subsequently have to deal with had been consulted. But, as has been pointed out so often, this is an Act which depends on goodwill. The Minister has his finger in it from the beginning to the end. Whoever may fulfil the office, surely we can give him credit for a little commonsense. Certainly I would credit the present incumbent of the office with commonsense.

When two exporting councils wish to get together to form a joint council to carry out a specific scheme which is immediate to one in a receiving area, any sensible Minister would discuss it with the receiving area and the other people interested. Is there any need to place a statutory obligation upon him to do so; a statutory obligation which, if it were not precisely complied with would invalidate the very existence of the corporate body which had been created, since these consultations are a condition precedent to the corporate body's existence?

I should have thought that by putting these conditions precedent into a statute one was risking considerable legal complications in the future, whereas by leaving out these provisions one will not be losing anything and will be avoiding possible complications. I hope that the Minister will consider dropping subsection (5). I fail to see what compensating advantage one would get from retention of the subsection.

Mr. Benn

I beg to second the Amendment.

I do not know whether it is necessary for me in seconding the Amendment to state that I disagree with almost everything the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) has said in the course of his remarks. The reason I put my name to the Amendment was that I wanted to hear from the Minister how these general provisions are to work. I can well understand the relation between the participating authorities, and a joint body gets its own impetus, even although it represents people from different authorities. So, seeing this Clause which lays down that the Minister must consult everyone before the joint body is set up, I put my name to this Amendment to hear from the Minister how the authorities are going to maintain contact with the joint body.

I disagree entirely with the hon. and learned Member. His is a perfectly fantastic argument. It is as if he complained that a Select Committee of this House had no authority because the- Minister forgot to ask the permission of the House. I do not accept any of his arguments, and I only wanted to hear how the joint body is going to work, and how it is, for instance, to maintain its own public relations.

Mr. Paget

If this House did set up a committee where a consent was required, and it had not been obtained, the committee would not be accepted.

Mr. Benn

It is an extremely good thing that in this case it would not apply. If the hon. and learned Gentleman were elected without consent, he would be unable to take his seat. I think the joint body should not be set up until consent has been obtained. This seems to be an extremely good Clause, and I hope that the Minister will not under any circumstances accept the Amendment.

Mr. Macmillan

I find myself in some difficulty in dealing with an Amendment which has been moved and seconded in such an unorthodox manner. Perhaps I might take it as it stands, which is the point I am trying to answer. As the hon. and learned Gentleman rightly said, the effect would be to free the Minister from the obligation to consult two sets of people, in this case, firstly the receiving council and, secondly, certain other authorities. I think it could be argued on the rigid view that there was no need for the Minister to consult the council of the receiving district because it would have an opportunity of making its views known at a later stage when approached by the joint body.

I think it is still desirable as a matter of courtesy, and to make for a harmonious working to such a plan, that the receiving district should be informed on what is going to happen at the earliest possible stage, and not left to find out, when a participating authority makes some proposal. The hon. and learned Gentleman did not make much play about that part of the Amendment, but he was worried about the danger that we might tie ourselves up in some difficulty in regard to the obligations in the second part of the subsection.

The purpose of this part of the subsection is to see that the interests of other exporting authorities, who may not have been consulted by the authorities applying for the order and who may be concerned to get accommodation in the district, are properly looked after. Supposing Manchester was trying to get a development for its over-spill of population in some other part of Lancashire. Salford might want to know about it and to join in and take a fair share in the scheme.

1.0 a.m.

Therefore I think it is important that that procedure should be followed. That is the purpose of this. The only point is whether it should be made obligatory, rather than to leave it to the Minister. We are perhaps running some risk of getting into a position where we fail to carry out strictly this obligation and thereby invalidate a scheme. That was the part of the hon. and learned Gentleman I think. I will certainly look into that part of it to see if there is any danger of that legal point and, if it is necessary to find some words to avoid it, I will try to do so, but I should have thought that was covered by the phrase: who did not join in the application but who appear to him to be concerned, It is the Minister who is the judge of it, and I should have thought those words would prevent the unhappy result which the hon. and learned Gentleman foresaw. However I will look at it again to see that we do not get into the tangle about which he has tried to warn us.

Mr. Paget

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his reply. It may well be that the words "but who appear to him to be concerned" may be saving words which will be of great value if we get into difficulty. I was not considering so much the question of what might be called the competitive exporting authorities. The people I was a little concerned about were people like drainage boards, water boards and sewerage boards who may come into existence after the joint body has been formed.

If a joint body is formed between the housing authorities in Middlesex who contemplate a series of receiving areas, some of which will not be developed for a good many years hence, it may be found that authorities have come into existence by the time we get to the development stage which did not exist at the time the joint board was formed. Since it is made obligatory that the authorities, as defined in Clause 7, shall be consulted before the joint board is formed, there may be considerable difficulties if authorities come into existence after the joint board is formed, and as to whether the joint board then has existence and applies in the area where a new authority interested has come into existence.

I am grateful for what the right hon. Gentleman has said. I have added that to make it quite clear so that it may be taken, and possibly some saving words may be needed to cover that kind of situation. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Lindgren

I beg to move, "That further consideration of the Bill, as amended, be now adjourned."

I move this Motion, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, in order that the right hon. Gentleman can state his intentions. It is now very late and I see many of his hon. Friends on the opposite side of the House in a distressed condition. I know, too, that the right hon. Gentleman has a heavy and strenuous day ahead of him in Departmental duties. I should be the last to want to make it more difficult for him to carry out those duties which are a valuable part of his function as a Minister in the great. Department which he has the honour to serve.

In view of what may prove to be, perhaps, a very contentious matter to be raised on an Amendment at a later stage, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to accept the adjournment of the debate tonight so that the facilities for his own duties may be granted and also that we may deal with this Bill at a more applicable time and in more appropriate conditions.

Mr. Donnelly

I beg to second the Motion.

Mr. H. Macmillan

I always find it very difficult not to yield to the blandishments of the hon. Gentleman, because he has been so helpful to me throughout this Bill. We had a fairly good debate on Tuesday and I think we have made a good deal of progress in the atmosphere which has developed in the course of the last few hours. I hoped, therefore, that we might have tried to see our way still further. I do not think that there will be a very large number of points which require very prolonged discussion. Indeed, I think the point to which the hon. Gentleman referred might turn out to be less difficult than he thinks. As far as I know, there are only three or four other Amendments, and I think we might see if we could finish the Bill.

Mr. Hale

I have no particular desire, subject to what my hon. Friend says, to adjourn at this stage. Personally, I think this is an important and argent Bill and that the sooner it gets through the better. But, of course, the right hon. Gentleman will have in mind that there are many other items on the Order Paper today, and may I say that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food is wait-to reply to a Prayer referring to fats, cheese and tea which I hope to move.

It does not concern me at all because I shall be here, and if we go on to that Motion I shall move it, but it seems to me that the time has arrived when, as a matter of courtesy to those interested, it would be unreasonable to keep the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food here if the Whips are to move the Adjournment of the House before that matter is reached. The whole of this matter is entirely in the hands of the Front Bench opposite. We are the helpless witnesses; we come and go when we are told.

Mr. Lindgren

My hon. Friend does not go where he is told.

Mr. Hale

I do, and by somebody who has more authority over me than anybody in this House.

There is the Distribution of German Enemy Property Bill on the Order Paper, to which Amendments have been put down exclusively by hon. Members opposite. So far as I know no one on this side has tabled an Amendment to that Bill. There is also the Third Reading of the Bill we are now discussing. I am only expressing my own view, but, on the whole, I think it might be a very good thing if we could dispose of the Report stage and Third Reading of this Bill today. We do not want to hold it up because it is very important and urgent.

That would take up to 5 or 6 a.m., when the tubes and buses would be running again. I should have thought that by now one could have said it was almost impossible that we could continue beyond the point of the Third Reading of this Bill at the most. It would certainly be a matter of courtesy to the House. It is surprising that the Leader of the House has not been here at all. We see as little of him at the moment as we do of the "Abominable Snowman." We have not seen him at all or had any intimation from him. Apparently this matter was put down without his knowledge, because he failed to inform us that it had been put down. As I say, this suggestion does not affect me because I shall be here, but it would help those who are waiting for other matters which might not arise.

Mr. Bing

It seems to me that we have made very great progress. We all appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman has said, and perhaps we shall be able to dispose of this part of the Bill rather more quickly than we thought. It seems that there is a very contentious Amendment coming on, and I would ask the Minister to say whether he thinks it well to break off and not try to get the Third Reading tonight. If he can give some indication, although we have made good progress already, perhaps we could go even faster, and then break off and deal with the Third Reading when everyone is more fresh.

Mr. H. Macmillan

The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) has described himself as one of the "helpless witnesses" and I shall remember that phrase. As for the Prayers, I understand that there is no urgency, in a Parliamentary sense, of course, to pray on any particular night. But I had hoped that we might have got the Third Reading reasonably early. I suggest that we continue, and see what progress is made.

Mr. Lindgren

I do not think that we want, in view of what the Minister has said, to delay the House by discussing whether we are going on, and I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Hale

I beg to move, in page 11, line 34, at the end, to insert: (7) A joint body established under this section shall consist as nearly as possible of representatives of each body in numbers proportionate to the numbers of the local government electors in each of the local government areas forming the area of the representation of the joint body. I want to say, frankly, that this is an exploratory Amendment. This Clause gives power—and it has been discussed before, so I need not weary the House with details—to adjoining county boroughs to arrange a joint scheme for the provision of planning outside their area. My own view is that, so far as Lancashire is concerned, this is one of the most important Clauses of the Bill. For, one can get a much better scheme if the overspill of neighbouring authorities cooperate for a first-class scheme rather than that little individual schemes should be put forward. It means greater economy in terms of land, greater benefits in terms of services, and much more comprehensive steps can be taken in regard to employment.

The Clause provides that the Minister may approve the appointment of a joint committee representing two or more authorities. That, so far, I think all hon. Members will agree, is obviously desirable and necessary. I know enough of affairs in Lancashire to say that there they would ask, "How is the committee likely to be constituted? What representation is to be given, and how is that representation to be based?"

Let us face the fact that there are in Manchester and in Stockport schemes which intend that their overspills be absorbed in "new town" proposals, others in "dormitories" and others, we hope under the terms of this Bill. Manchester is large compared with Stockport, and this is a serious matter. How is the committee to be constituted?

I have ventured to put down an Amendment suggesting one method although I am not tightly committed to it. It may not be the answer, but one has to have an answer, and it is not good enough to say that the Minister will have to "think it over." I do not think that Oldham or Stockport would co-operate with Manchester unless they knew what representation they would have, or what protection they could expect. This is, of course, really a fundamental problem which confronts all of those people who believe in real federation, and the small——

Sir Geoffrey Hutchinson (Ilford North)

Oldham and Chadderton.

1.15 a.m.

Mr. Hale

Yes, Oldham and Chadderton. That is precisely why amalgamation did not take place. It is because the smaller authority concerned, if it is absorbed by the larger, fears that it will be outvoted.

But perhaps the Minister will say I am being tempted to make the case against my own Amendment. I said there was a case against it. It may not be acceptable for Manchester to have six or seven representatives to Oldham's one. But we should know what is in the Minister's mind, and how he proposes to do it. We should know what he envisages is the sort of constitution of the joint body which can successfully operate this scheme. I feel that unless we have some clarification of this, very valuable features of this Clause may be stultified by the fear of the smaller authorities.

Mr. Bing

I beg to second the Amendment.

In view of the pleasant atmosphere, I do not think we wish to delay the House in reaching the Third Reading of this Measure and that other Amendment which we have all been looking forward to—if at the last moment its promoters do not take fright and remove it from the Order Paper. If they still have the courage of their own convictions, I do not think I should stand, between the House and perhaps the most important Amendment.

I agree it is very important we do all possible to encourage local, authorities to get together for this purpose. In Essex, it is always one of the difficulties of getting really effective bodies. Like the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), I am not certain that this is the best method. I think it is an open question how much you should specify exactly what the Minister should do and how much you should leave to his good sense. I hope that we shall get the Minister's views on this matter.

Mr. Marples

The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) said he was seeking information from the Minister, and that he would not press the Amendment to a Division. I am glad he said that because his Amendment, as it stands, might, in certain circumstances, react extremely unfavourably on certain authorities—and Oldham in particular. If Oldham went in with a larger authority it might easily be outvoted, even though Oldham was taking the larger share of the housing scheme and making a larger financial contribution, because it had a smaller number of electors.

Perhaps I can give the hon. Gentleman an example of the schemes possible under this Bill. Salford have already built in Worsley, and Lancashire have made a financial contribution. That is a very good scheme. Manchester and Salford could together arrange to build in another part of Lancashire or Cheshire as a joint authority. So that there would be Manchester, Salford and the receiving district. The county council can come in and give assistance if they so desire. Manchester might have one-tenth of the houses and Salford nine-tenths; there are all sorts of combinations and permutations possible.

My right hon. Friend hopes that advantage will be taken to set up joint bodies in appropriate cases. If we have the right size of unit to carry out these building operations it may be that they will be more efficient and more speedy. Therefore, as the joint bodies can comprise almost any sort of arrangement, it follows that it is difficult, if not impossible, to lay down rigid rules for the composition of the people running the joint bodies. Is it to be governed by the rating valuation of an area, or the democratic numbers, or the housing needs?

Frankly, each case will have to be taken on its merits, but with this safeguard for the local authorities. By subsection (4) of this Clause: An Order under this section may make such provision as the Minister considers expedient with respect to the constitution of the joint body. Since that body can only be set up as a result of an application made jointly by all the local authorities concerned, it follows that the provisions the Minister proposes to include in the order must satisfy all those authorities. If an authority was not satisfied it could withdraw. It means, in principle, that the composition of the body must depend upon the merits of the particular joint body, and that any local authority could withdraw and has the right to withdraw if it so wishes.

They may decide that the composition should be according to the housing needs. If Salford is having nine-tenths of the houses and Manchester is having one-tenth, the composition may consist of nine from Salford and one from Manchester. It may be fifty-fifty. But whatever it is, they can withdraw and make representations to the Minister. Because of the flexible and elastic nature of the arrangements which would be made under this Bill, it follows that the composition of the joint body must itself be flexible and must be decided on the merits of the case. As each local authority has the option to withdraw if it is not satisfied, it means that no small authority will be trampled on. I hope that with that explanation the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the Amendment.

Mr. Hale

I am grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary. He started of charmingly and rather fully, and, I thought, with unnecessary verbosity because he really had not got an answer to give to the question. However, he had an answer, and it is based on the fact that the authority which is not having fair representation can withdraw. We have to do a lot of homework in connection with these matters, and if I have erred and strayed and not fully comprehended the provisions of the Clause I apologise. I think this is a substantial and fair safeguard.

We are, however, only dealing with a simple mathematical problem, and I should have thought that whatever the permutations and combinations, the composition of the joint bodies might be based upon the interest that has been taken or the number of houses allocated to one authority, and so on. However, I accept what the hon. Gentleman has said, and in view of his explanation I shall not press the Amendment.

I do so particularly because we all feel that the next Amendment, in Clause 17, page 14, line 45, is very important. I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) is here, because we know that he will not be bludgeoned into withdrawing his Amendment, and that a matter of this kind will be fully presented and argued, and we are all interested to hear him. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.