HC Deb 12 June 1953 vol 516 cc649-55

Amendment made: In page 11, line 24, leave out "in relation to England and Wales."—[Mr. Mitchison.]

1.35 p.m.

Mr. Mitchison

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

I am conscious of the farmyard of pigs and dogs behind me, following, I understand, with a great deal of general support, and I will not trouble the House again with a speech about the substance of the Bill. We dropped one provision in Committee; the omission is accepted by me now as it was then. Otherwise, we got through the substance of the additional Bill with some very useful additions in the form of new Clauses, made by general agreement, particularly one which removed an obsolete limit on the financial loss allowance which can be made to councillors, substituting the more elastic and in this case, I think, better method of Ministerial discretion.

There were other matters, too; we removed the difficulty of the towns and the countryside of England being filled with masquerading aldermen who have never been properly elected because the clerk of the council, impatiently but reasonably, omitted a tedious form of statutory procedure in the process of election. We legalised them, as it were; we legitimated them. Those and other changes were made, and I will not talk about them now.

I should like, if I may, to indulge in a positive orgy of thanks. May I begin with the local authorities themselves? I have said it before and I will cut it short, but I am quite certain that all in the House and all in the Committee, when we were going through this rather detailed, in some ways minor, in other ways perhaps not quite so minor, Measure, had in mind those who do this public service up and down the country, including, for this purpose, Scotland, and who do it on the whole out of public spirit and not for any advantage which it may bring to them. I cannot help taking this opportunity of saying that if, by this Bill, we have made their job in any way easier and have given them powers and authorities which they ought to have and which they need, then I am quite certain that all hon. Members will be glad to have done so.

Next I should like to thank the Members here today and the Members of the Committee, including the Ministerial Members of it, for the way in which they have taken an Opposition Private Member's Bill. An Opposition Private Member has to take what he can get and be thankful. I have taken what I could get and I am truly thankful; and I mean that not only about the substance of the matter but also about the fact that everyone on both sides of the Committee and on both sides of the House today has been reasonable. We did not always agree but some very fair arguments were advanced, and I take no exception whatever to anything which has been moved or said today. I much prefer to thank everyone.

Since my baby seems to be getting on so well, I should like to thank its nurses and medical attendants. There have been moments when its health was rather doubtful from one point or another, but they helped me to draft the Bill and in other ways. It would be exceedingly ungracious not to repeat the thanks I tried to give them on Second Reading and which by now have become a much larger package of thanks.

I am glad to say, "Thank you" to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, as well as to their Scottish colleague who sat in silence through the Committee proceedings and made the one comment at the end that he had learned a great deal about the way in which the English transacted their business. I was not quite sure whether it was a complimentary comment or not. It may have been: let us hope so.

1.40 p.m.

Mr. Hay

As one who has been a pretty strong opponent of some parts of the Bill, I congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) on having piloted this baby of his through the very many trials and difficulties which could have beset it. He mentioned earlier that this seems to be animals day. We have pigs and dogs and other livestock to consider later. Therefore, I do not think that it will be altogether out of order or inappropriate to say that at last this Bill is a horse that smells the stable. It has not got very much further to go. I hope that its journey there will be speedy.

I think that this will be a useful Measure when it reaches the Statute Book. We on this side of the House wish it well. There is one point I wish to make. I regret that the financial loss allowances and other financial allowances to local authority members are included. I should have preferred the machinery which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Sir G. Hutchinson) wished to incorporate in the Bill.

Mr. Mitchison

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not wish to create any misunderstanding. These are two quite separate factors. The financial loss allowances are under one Section of the Local Government Act. The subject he refers to. which is not in the Bill—travelling and subsistence allowances—are in a separate Section. I hope that he will not say that he disagrees with what is in the Bill though he might wish to put something more in.

Mr. Hay

I was trying to paraphrase as shortly as I could a rather protracted discussion that we had in Committee. It is about time that somebody looked at the other problem which the new Clause of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford, North would have enabled us to discuss.

I would address a plea to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. It is that when the Ministry comes to deal with local authority Bills of this kind they should draft their Money Resolutions in a wider form, as was promised would be done by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) when he was Lord President of the Council in 1949, so that hon. Members have an opportunity to raise cognate matters which are not necessarily completely outside the scope of the Bill. I am sure that all of us on this side of the House support the hon. and learned Gentleman and wish the Bill a speedy voyage to the Statute Book.

1.45 p.m.

Mr. H. Brooke

The only reason I wish to speak is that only a couple of hours ago I was most unjustly suspected of seeking to impede the progress of this Bill towards its happy end. The fact that it has reached the winning post more than two hours ahead of time will disprove those insinuations against me. I am glad to be one of those who can join in congratulating the hon. and leaped Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) on his success not only today but during the earlier stages of our deliberation. He will be the first to agree that this is not likely to be the last Bill introduced to improve the law relating to local government. Local government law will never be like the law of the Medes and Persians.

As a member of two local authorities I should like to say that, though I do not agree with everything in this Bill, on balance I have no doubt whatever that it improves the law relating to local government. Not only the House but many members of local authorities, including the masquerading aldermen to whom the hon. and learned Gentleman referred, should be grateful to him.

1.46 p.m.

Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)

I cannot let this Bill pass without some measure of congratulation to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) from this side of the House. Like every Bill, this Measure does not satisfy everyone in every detail. There are certain points which I should have liked to change. Contrary to the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay), I would not try so much to restrict the powers of local authorities. I should be prepared to give them even more discretion than they are given now.

This is an important Measure and everyone will agree that my hon. and learned Friend should be congratulated upon his work. I do not know whether the Bill is two hours ahead of time: it might even be weeks ahead. The fact that it has gone through so smoothly is due in large measure not only to the skill and ability of my hon. and learned Friend but also to his charm and the way in which he deals with problems as they arise. I do not want to delay the proceedings, because there are other Measures to be considered today, but it is important that the great contribution of my hon. and learned Friend should be recognised.

1.47 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

In the temporary absence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) I wish to say something which I am sure he would like me to say on behalf of the local authorities in the North-East. We should like our voice to be recorded as congratulating my hon. and learned Friend and his midwives for what they have done in meeting two strongly held points of view of members of local authorities in the North-East. The first was on the provision of bus shelters against the peculiarly inclement weather we endure there, and the second was the introduction of greater elasticity in the system of allowances to members of councils.

As the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) will remember, we obtained every co-operation and assistance from him. Our spokesman was my late hon. Friend, Mr. Ewart, who was then the Member for Sunderland, South. I am sure that all members of local authorities in the North-East, regardless of their political point of view, would like to thank my hon. and learned Friend and, of course, the Parliamentary Secretaries who have given that assistance which is absolutely indispensable if a Bill like this is to get on to the Statute Book.

1.48 p.m.

Mr. Marples

On behalf of my fellow Parliamentary Secretaries—the bevy which has attended this Bill from beginning to end—I should like to thank the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) for his kind remarks. I am not sure who was the doctor and who was the midwife at the birth of the child. Amid good temper from both sides we have managed to get to the Third Reading of the Bill.

On behalf of my right hon. Friend and the Government I wish to say that we consider that this is a small, limited but extremely useful Measure for local government, both for the local authorities and the central administration. We heartily welcome it and are most obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman for the assiduity, the work and the time he has devoted to this Measure. He spent a great deal of time not only in Committee but behind the scenes ascertaining opinions and making approaches. I heartily and sincerely congratulate him for getting on to the Statute Book a Measure bearing his name.

He is also to be congratulated by the local government officials—the aldermen whom he has legalised—because local authorities frequently suffer unjust and adverse criticism in a job which is thankless. In one paper, I think in the North-East of England, it was stated that 50 per cent. of the councillors were crooks. When the paper was asked to amend that statement the following week, it said that it was an error and that 50 per cent. of the councillors were not crooks. However, the hon. and learned Gentleman has gone some way to atoning for the mistakes made by journals in the North-East, and I sincerely congratulate him, not only on the passage of his Bill, but on the honour he recently received.