§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This Bill is not about Sunday observance, or abortion, or even simplified spelling. It is, I hope, less controversial than those matters, though perhaps a little more dull. But when one comes as late in the Private Members' Bills season as this, the time for controversy has rather passed and one has to hope that one can find something that may be some little use to somebody and may get through before the shooting season ends.
This Bill contains, as its title indicates, some minor matters—odds and ends I might call them—about local government. The machinery of local government nowadays, of course, is so complicated and so important in its complications that it is inevitable that, from time to time, as the machinery goes on functioning, one finds that additional pieces 1696 are required and that others may have become too complicated or in some form or another have gone wrong.
I should have liked very much to have introduced into this Bill a great many other matters, but they might have imported an element of controversy and for that reason I have left them out. I have also had to limit the number of things that at this stage in a Private Member's Bill one can introduce. I have left out with particular reluctance one very troublesome matter which I hope that some day some Government will deal with, and that is the question of disused graveyards. They are a troublesome business to both the ecclesiastical authorities and the local authorities, and they are a matter that obviously has to be handled with proper respect for the feelings of those concerned but, at the same time, in the hope that one can use such open space as can be made available in our towns.
There are at present 13 separate Burial Acts in force and all going back to the middle of the last century. If one wants to complete the subject even further, one has to go back to a Mortuaries Act of 1529, which is still in force and which goes out of its way to provide that whatever one does about mortuaries one shall not do it in Calais, which was then a part of the King's Realm.
There are other matters on which I must not dwell, but this is my last chance just to mention them. Another thing which I dropped with great reluctance was the subject of movable dwellings. They are becoming a very difficult matter for local authorities nowadays. The most improbable things are controversial. Apparently hairdressers provide a hot-bed of controversy. I have had to leave them alone to be dirty in their own way if they so choose. I feel sure that the majority of them are not only clean but anxious that all the others should be clean, too. So they have been left out.
I hope that I have succeeded in this Bill in introducing something which may contain bits here and there to which people will object during the Committee stage but which, as a whole, may appeal sufficiently to the House for the Bill to be allowed a Second Reading, perhaps without much controversy and perhaps even in time to allow us to follow the roaming dogs later in the day.
1697 The short title, Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, is a rather uninviting one. I would much prefer to call it, if I might borrow the title, "A paradise of dainty devices" which was an Elizabethan song book composed principally by a gentleman who was employed in one of Her Majesty's chapels, and for the rest, so the title goes, "by sundry learned gentlemen of honour and worship."
That, too, is true of this Bill, and I should like to take the opportunity of saying how grateful I am to the sundry gentlemen of honour and worship—some of them technically learned, others not—who have given the very obvious help that appears in the terms of this Bill. In this country, of course, people do their public duty; we believe that they do it singularly well, but I might add that there are two ways of doing it. One is very gracefully and kindly; the other is with some sense of burden. I think it is not out of place to mention the kindly way in which it was done in this case. If people prefer to remain anonymous it is right that they should be, but I hope that those concerned will take as individuals the little tribute that one necessarily pays collectively.
So much for the short title. The long title is rather worse. It is misleading. It refers to amendments which the Bill does not, in fact, contain, but we can see to that perhaps at a later stage.
The first four Clauses of the Bill are concerned with the finances of local authorities, and they contain provisions which are becoming, I was going to say, common form in local Acts; at any rate, they are certainly becoming more and more frequent. They are to provide for matters of internal accounting. The first two Clauses relate to a capital fund, and, to put the matter very shortly, they facilitate the task of the local authority by allowing it to save and to keep its savings and its proceeds from capital sales apart, so that if an emergency arises it may draw on them. It is, like all these other Clauses, subject to a fairly tight Ministerial control, into which I do not think the House will expect me to go in detail at this stage.
Clause 3 deals with renewal and repairs funds. They, again, are a help 1698 towards good housekeeping by local authorities. There are already some matters in respect of which they have to keep and do keep similar funds. This is a general provision which they find useful and which allows them, if one takes a very small case, to put aside funds for the renewal and repairs of the vehicles they use and, of course, of other council property.
I feel certain that no one would object to those Clauses, and that most hon. Members would accept the contention that if the local authorities persistently ask for them and habitually get them in local Acts, in a matter of that sort they are fair judges of what they require and those who deal with the local Acts are fair judges of what they may reasonably be allowed.
Clause 4 relates to insurance funds, and I ought to say at once that I have heard, somewhat to my surprise, the distant rumblings of controversy about this matter. I would only say to those who object to it: let us leave the matter, if we can, to the Committee stage. There is much in this Bill to which no one is likely to object. I shall not go into any controversy in any bitter spirit or carry it on beyond a certain point, and I hope that a matter of this sort can be discussed without too much regard to our philosophic differences.
I should like to allow myself one short observation. I am not very good at music, but I have been to "Don Giovanni," and I remember his valet Leporello who, at one point, produced a catalogue of Don Giovanni's indiscretions. I am going to produce a catalogue, too, and I hope hon. Members opposite will not regard what I have to say as merely representing the indiscretions of local authorities. They are habitually more restrained and more sensible than Don Giovanni used to be.
In 1949 insurance funds were provided by the Corporations of Slough, Oldbury, Crewe, Halifax and West Bromwich, in 1950 by those of Doncaster, Leyton and Wolverhampton, accompanied—hon. Members will particularly note—by the Eton Rural District Council. They had insurance funds.
In 1951 matters got a little further. Two large county councils, Lancashire and the West Riding—and who am I to say that they are wrong when they 1699 agree?—it is certainly not for London to say so—provided that there should be insurance funds available for such county districts as chose to avail themselves of the provisions of the County Council Acts. I cannot say what is largest or what is smallest in the North, but that was a rather sweeping provision, and if there is anything very wrong in this enabling power I would hardly expect two very prominent, responsible and large county councils to take the lead in promoting that sort of thing.
There followed the Corporations of Sutton and Cheam and Worcester, and in 1952, if Leporello may continue, the Essex County Council and the Glamorgan County Council did what the two North Country councils had done the previous year, followed by the Corporations of Winchester, Leamington and Preston and the Fareham Urban District Council. This was not an entirely new path. The really enterprising councils had already established insurance funds, and I was pleased to notice that I suppose a particularly progressive council, Ilford, established its insurance fund as early as 1937. Indeed, by the financial year 1943–44, £5½ million had already been put aside by local authorities in these insurance funds.
§ Sir Geoffrey Hutchinson (Ilford, North)
The hon. and learned Member will no doubt bear in mind that the Ilford Corporation are a very large authority, notwithstanding their status in local government.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I would not for one moment say a word one way or the other about the particular status which Ilford enjoys or seeks to enjoy. I quite recognise that they are a large local authority.
It is for that reason that the establishment of these insurance funds is, in every local Act and certainly in this Bill, subject to Ministerial control. Allowing a measure of good sense among local authorities as to what sort of risks they insure themselves and what sort they insure elsewhere, and allowing a tight Ministerial control in the matter, there is nothing wrong in letting them start insurance funds if they wish.
This Clause provides, as does every relevant Section in these numerous local 1700 Acts, that nothing shall prevent them from insuring elsewhere. They can insure entirely or partly with outside companies. They can insure with any company that carries on mutual insurance in the municipal field.
I do not want to take up more time on what I hope we shall be able to discuss more fully in Committee, but I do not think that any question of principle is involved here, although different people take different views of what should be considered questions of principle. But if this Clause is rejected a number of local authorities will continue to receive these powers—as they have done for years past —in local Acts, and they will be put to additional expense in the process. I cannot think that is right, particularly when we consider that county councils are providing these enabling powers for every district council within their area.
After these financial Clauses, I come to what is really the backbone of the Bill, because it deals with something which, though perhaps not so at first sight, is a matter of considerable importance to the people. I suppose that at one time we all used to walk; then we rode, and took to travelling about in various types of carriage; but nowadays the countryside is very largely dependent on 'bus services. Sometimes it is cold and wet; foreigners are quite rude about our climate. At present, the fantastic position is that no local authority can put up a 'bus shelter. They can do all sorts of things that get fairly near to it. Under byelaw procedure they can call it a queue barrier and put a roof on top, or they can call it a bench, put the bench where the 'bus stops and then put something on top. All that is not only rather silly but, in practice, rather tedious, and it does not really meet the case. From the unusually amiable appearance of hon. Members opposite I feel certain that in this respect at least I shall have their wholehearted support.
As long ago as the autumn of 1950, when we were in power, the appropriate Ministry were circularising local authorities and 'bus operators on the lines now proposed in this Clause—and who am I to apportion the blame for delay? This has been a rather difficult matter, because some local authorities have said, "You must make the 'bus operators pay." I see their point of view, but I also see very considerable difficulties in doing it, and in 1701 many cases it would result in villages which were already somewhat under-serviced being more under-serviced or perhaps not serviced at all.
I do not want to be controversial about this any more than about anything else. I have therefore looked at the terms of that circular and also at one of the model Clauses, and I have followed both very closely in principle. If the language is a little longer it is simply due to the fact that this is a general provision, whereas the model Clause is a local provision. There is no substantial difference.
By way of local authorities it is proposed to include not only the larger authorities, but also parish councils. I confess to having a very soft spot for parish councils. I once got one or two Amendments into a Local Government Act, to give them a little more to do. On one occasion I found that I was the only hon. Member of the House who attended one of the association meetings, though other hon. Members may have attended other meetings. I feel certain that parish councils are a useful and sometimes highly picturesque part of our local government. They will be wanting to put up 'bus shelters, not only because they represent at very close quarters those who otherwise stand and shiver in the rain, but also because they may wish to celebrate the Coronation in a useful way.
I hope, therefore, that this part of the Bill at any rate will get through in time to allow them to do that. It is only an enabling power and they are enabled not only to put up 'bus shelters but to make agreements as to the cost of erection and maintenance. Though the Clause mentions specifically only neighbouring local authorities who may wish to come in with them, I understand that there is no difficulty in their making agreement—also or alternatively—with other people who would be willing to contribute. In that connection, one can think of a voluntary committee in a village or, in a rather larger place, a factory owner who may be glad to contribute towards the cost of putting up a 'bus shelter outside his works.
If this provision is accepted by the 'bus operators and others in the spirit in which it is intended, and if those people play their part and pay a bit towards the cost, looking about to see where there is a real need which would otherwise be difficult to satisfy, we shall get some useful con- 1702 tributions from them. We cannot legislate about it, but that does not prevent us from appealing to people to do what they can for the benefit of those who live in the country and, for that matter, those who live in the towns.
Some time ago the Government of the day discovered that illegal cattle grids had been constructed all over the West of England, and these monstrous informalities had to be cured by special legislation. Tucked away in this Bill there is a similar provision concerning illegal bus shelters. Mr. Thomas Cobley, returning home after closing hours, might perhaps collide with such an illegal structure on the highway and put the local authority in a somewhat greater difficulty than they would be in had it been erected under statutory authority. I am all for wiping out little bits of illegalities which have been done for good purposes, and this is a case in which we might contrive to do so.
I do not want to malign Mr. Cobley in any way. I hope that he will have no occasion to collide with any 'bus shelter, legal or illegal, and that he will not collide with it, but to assist him further we not only hope to provide that there will be 'bus shelters on the highway, subject to the consent of the highway authority—which is the Ministry itself for trunk roads, which in most cases will be the county council but in some cases will be another local authority—but also for their erection on land abutting the highway. I hope hon. Members will not be too suspicious about that. They will remember that there may be a 'bus shelter half on and half off the highway. We can look at this matter in Committee and see that everybody who should be protected is, in fact, protected.
These consents by highway authorities are not to be unreasonably withheld and there is a provision, again corresponding to the model Clause, to deal with that point. In the case of the Ministry of Transport it would be dealt with by arbitration and in the case of a local authority by the Minister acting, in effect, as if he were a court of appeal or arbitrator. I should not like to leave this question of 'bus shelters without saying how much I regret the absence, for a reason which comes to all of us, of an hon. Member whose name appears on the Bill and who was particularly con- 1703 cerned in this matter—the former hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Ewart).
After 'bus shelters, I turn to a highly controversial matter, although not controversial in a party sense. Dustbins have been giving a great deal of trouble to local authorities. The difficulty, very shortly, is this. At present a local authority can enforce the provision of a dustbin against either the owner or the occupier of a house. It can call upon either the owner or the occupier to provide the dustbin and, if he does not do so, can provide it for him and then charge the owner or occupier.
The difficulty is that, by one of these little legislative accidents, the Public Health Act does not say which. What happens is that the local authority sue the owner, who exercises his right to go to the police court and, when he gets there, establishes that it ought to be the occupier. Consequently, in this comparatively small matter, the local authority have to start over again. One must not exaggerate theoretical difficulties, but there is no theoretical reason why the next time the police court or the magistrates, perhaps differently composed on this occasion, should not reach the contrary decision and leave the local authority completely high and dry, if that is an appropriate metaphor for dustbins.
I have not tried to alter the incidence of the burden of providing a dustbin. If it were on the owner before, it will be on him still, when the Bill has been passed. If it were on the occupier, it will be on him still, if the Bill is passed. The Clause has the very limited effect of merely enabling the local authority to get them both to the court by the machinery here provided and to have it decided as between them. The machinery is that if either of them—the owner or the occupier —wants to appeal on the ground that the responsibility belongs to the other, then he has to serve a notice on the other, and the court will decide between them. If he omits to do so on the first occasion, I imagine that he would be precluded from appealing again on that ground.
Not only does the Clause leave the incidence of the burden completely undisturbed, as far as my intention goes and I believe as far as the language of the Bill goes, but it also leaves completely 1704 undisturbed the question of other grounds upon which the person charged may appeal. There may be no need for a dustbin at all. If so, that is not affected by the Bill. This is a very minor machinery reform.
Linked with it and looking rather conspicuous, but not meaning as much as it seems, is what looks like an increase in the maximum annual charge for dustbins from 2s. 6d. to 5s. It is not an increase. The maximum is now 5s. but it is under the Defence of the Realm Regulations and an order made in pursuance of them. The Bill is intended to fix the matter more definitely. The figure is always a maximum and no more, and nobody will be charged more, by virtue of the Bill, than he is being charged at present for the annual provision of a dustbin.
Another small legislative accident—for that is what I believe it was—is dealt with in the next provision. The Wigan Corporation had six houses in a row, mutually supporting one another, and in their municipal wisdom they decided that three were unfit to live in and three were fit to live in. I have never seen the houses and I am not in a position to judge. The Corporation made a closing order in respect of three of the houses—the three unfit houses—and the owner, as he was entitled to do, took them to court. The Court of Appeal recently decided that, in those circumstances, since the preliminary conditions—which are the same for closing orders as for demolition —had been fulfilled, the Wigan Corporation were not entitled to make a closing order and were not only entitled but bound to make a demolition order; that is to say, the three unfit houses had to be pulled down, and, of course, there was the possibility that the other three might have fallen into the hole.
I have no doubt that the decision was quite right, if I may respectfully say so, on the language of Sections 11 and 12 of the Housing Act. Indeed, the dissenting judgment in the Court of Appeal proceeded mainly, I think, on one ground —I should have thought a somewhat uncertain ground—that Parliament could never have intended to enact anything so absurd. That is a very uncertain ground, I feel, but it is not for me to comment on it any further.
1705 I hope to get this little matter put right in the Bill by enabling local authorities to make closing orders instead of demolition orders for houses when, in their opinion, there is some risk to neighbouring houses. The language of the Bill is:Having regard to the effect of the demolition of that house upon any other house or building.Obviously that is primarily a question of support. There may be questions of language involved here but I think, with confidence, that hon. Members will agree that we ought to correct this little accident.
I am sorry to take so long but one has to try to explain the Bill. I now come to some horrible-looking provisions about water. The present difficulty is that a great many local authorities supply water under the Public Health Act, and if they do so they are entitled to do things about stopping leaks rather in a hurry, doing emergency repairs, and generally preventing avoidable waste of water, which, I should have thought, were obviously necessary. But an even larger number of local authorities supply water under local Acts. They may, of course, have similar powers under the local Acts, but it is not by any means always that they have, and there is a very considerable number of local authorities who, quite incongruously, have not got these powers.
Of course, in the short title of a Bill dealing with local authorities one cannot deal with anything but local authorities; one cannot deal with other water undertakings: but, so far as it goes, it seems only sensible to allow local authorities who have not got these powers to have them, because it is really an accident in the history of minor legislation that they have not got them. We have taken great care in the Bill to try to give them no more than they really need, and we modify the provisions in a Schedule of the Water Act, 1945; we modify one of them, omit another, in general to give them no more than is really needed—and, I was going to say uncontroversially needed.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams (Droylsden)
Is it fair to assume that this relates to everything in connection with water taps—except that there is no water in them?
§ Mr. Mitchison
I do not think it provides the water, and if I had to deal with that I should indeed be embarking on a much more sweeping Measure and a much more difficult one. I might even get into trouble by raising nationalist issues, upon the ground that England used too much water from Wales, or something of that sort. I certainly have not tried to deal with anything more than a very small matter about taps and that kind of thing.
There are two provisions about connecting up. I mean connecting up, on the one hand, from the water supply into the house and, on the other hand, from the house out to the sewer. At present in the one case there is doubt, and in the other there is comparative certainty. It is doubtful whether, as regards connecting up from the water supply, the local authority can pay for it if it chooses; and it is certain, as regards connecting up to the sewer, that it cannot pay for it whether it wants to or not.
What happens in practice is that rural authorities particularly lay down mains over considerable distances from one village to another, then bring one into a village, and in a very great many cases there is no particular difficulty and the owners of the houses pay for connecting up; but it may very well be—in fact, it often is the case—that the local authority would sooner pay for connecting up itself rather than call on the owner to do it, either for some personal or local reason or as a matter of general policy; and it is a real difficulty, I understand, now that local authorities cannot properly pay these not very large charges even where they would wish to do so.
I cannot see that this involves any controversial matter. Again, perhaps, I am being too hopeful, but it does not so strike me. The Bill provides in Clause 10 (4), and as to the question of sewerage in Clause 11, that the local authorities may pay if they wish.
The last provision that I have to deal with is one which, I hope, will commend itself as wholly fair to hon. Members on both sides of the House. In the Local Government Act, 1948, an opportunity was taken to amend an earlier Local Government Act and to remove from statutory disqualification as regards discussing and voting councillors who held shares in a company or other body up 1707 to a total of £200 or one-hundredth of the capital. That provision was put in specially for co-operators, and £200 was then the maximum limit for a shareholding in a co-operative society.
Hon. Members will not need to be told that, of course, a shareholding in a co-operative society is really a form of saving. It is not like a shareholding in an ordinary company. It does not give the same control, and so on. It is much nearer to, and closely resembles in fact, a shareholding in a building society. That was done and sought to be done at the time by hon. Members of both parties particularly for the co-operators, but it did apply generally to any company or other body. That was only fair.
Then, quite recently, the shareholding limit for co-operators was raised to £500, and no alteration could be made in that Measure—though I personally moved an Amendment to try to make it, but it did not come within the purview of that Measure—by way of a corresponding increase in the qualification or disqualification provisions. The result is that at present a co-operator, assuming that he does not hold more than one-hundredth of the capital, may hold up to £200 and vote in the council on some matter affecting that co-op., but the moment he gets above £200 he becomes disqualified.
Of course, if one is using it as a savings bank one may be a thoughtless person and pay in a couple of pounds one day and suddenly find one is disqualified. One can get dispensation in these cases, but I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government would agree that one does not want to rely on dispensation for anything that ought to be a universal provision, and I feel sure that hon. Members will feel that that is no more than fair, having regard to the change that has recently been made in the maximum shareholding in co-operative societies.
Though, no doubt, it will affect a number—I think quite a small number—of co-operators, it will have a corresponding effect as regards other companies or bodies, too. I feel that it is exceedingly important that we should not in any way encourage or allow people to turn their business into a limited company and then vote when they ought not to vote on a council, but that is really safeguarded by 1708 the provision that the holding must not in either case exceed one-hundredth of the share capital. That will considerably limit its effect as regards co-ops. but will also safeguard the position as regards the amount of interest that, I feel sure all hon. Members will feel, ought to disqualify councillors.
I am sorry to have taken so long, but there is a lot in this Bill. One has to, try to persuade people that it really is much more interesting than it appears; that it does mean something to people and that it will do a little good. I should not like to sit down without saying a word about some of the people to whom it may do a little good.
Anything we do about local authorities. is in one sense quite disinterested, because they have no votes. But in another sense I would regard them as one of the institutions of which we ought to be particularly proud. Foreigners visiting this House are always anxious to look round. I say to them, "Do look around. It is very interesting. It is very good and it works very well. This is a wonderful place, but do not forget the local authorities, because they are something of which we are particularly proud in this country."
There is a much smaller number of us here in this House devoting a lot of time and getting our salary as Members of Parliament and, I suppose, enjoying a certain pride in our position. But I do not think we ought ever to forget the thousands of people who are doing entirely unpaid work in their spare time and often finding it hard to make that time. These members of local authorities come from both parties and sometimes from no party at all—there are sometimes even Liberals.
We owe them a very great deal, and anything we can do, by this Bill or in any other way, to help them in their difficulties—I am thinking now about private Members—I feel sure we should not regard as a waste of time or anything like that. They deserve the best that we can do for them. Being a councillor means that one gets all the kicks and none of the ha'pence. One does not receive much thanks and if one has a little bit of honour locally one really deserves it.
I should like to couple with them the local government officers and employees of all kinds. We should be very proud 1709 of the majority of them. As we in this place surely know, it takes all sorts to make a world. They are doing difficult work very successfully in dealing with councillors, ratepayers, Ministers, with the great big bogy of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government sitting up in London issuing directions to them. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary does it very well and will not think that I am carping at him. I feel sure that he will agree that the officials as well as members of councils are really worth doing something for.
In that spirit I have moved the Second Reading of this Bill. I hope that if there are things about it to which people object, they may so far as possible be left to the Committee stage, and that we can "give the dogs a chance" later in the day.
§ 11.55 a.m.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
I beg to second the Motion.
One must first pay a tribute to the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) for the way in which he has moved the Second Reading of this Bill. I have listened to a great many speeches on the subject of local government, and I have done a good deal of lecturing on the subject over a period of some 25 years; but I do not think I have ever listened to a more persuasive or a more graceful speech upon what I would call the secondary issues of local government—and that is no discredit to the Bill—the kind of amending things which need to be done.
If the hon. and learned Gentleman spoke at length, he has made my task very much easier. I do not intend to deal in great detail with all the aspects of the Bill but rather to say a word about the financial Clauses. It is a truism of the rights of the citizen that anyone has a right to do anything so long as he keeps within the law. A local authority on the other hand has not the right to do anything, unless there is a law giving express sanction for it. That is the difficulty which has brought about this Bill. The financial provisions will be welcome to most local authorities and that would seem to me a fairly good reason for its introduction.
There are powers in many Private Acts or Provisional Orders to establish funds such as are provided for in Clauses 1 1710 and 4 of the Bill. A number of them go far beyond the powers asked for in this Bill. In the absence of a general power to set up such funds the number of local authorities seeking their own powers to do so would grow continually as opportunity occurred. It would, therefore, seem that this Bill might be recommended as a time saver.
There has been inherent in trading undertakings administered by local authorities the power envisaged in this Bill. The great transport undertakings such as that owned by the city of Leeds have powers to set up capital and repairs and renewals funds. These powers are particularly important, having regard to the fluctuation of rate poundages levied at the present time, and the endeavours which are made to stabilise rates. The larger authorities may not be particularly affected, but in the case of smaller authorities a breakdown of expensive plant, which may have to be met by estimates during the current financial year, may result in a serious burden being placed upon the ratepayers.
Reference was made by one of my hon. Friends in the flood debate to the case of Barmouth, where it was found necessary to impose a rate of about 8s. in the £ to meet the cost of coast protection; and further inroads by the sea may increase that figure. Even a sinking fund for coast erosion might be met in this way.
In Scotland there has been for years a common good fund, which covers a wider field than the provisions of this Bill. As I understand it, the fund incorporates, among other things, the income from lands publicly owned, even before the existence of the corporations. Incidentally in Scotland the common good fund can be used for any purpose for which there are no legal powers. We do not ask for that, and the funds referred to in this Bill will be circumscribed.
The idea is for the local authority to contribute annual sums either of a fixed amount or up to a ceiling as provided in the Bill itself. When capital development is to be carried out, a local authority may look some years ahead, five or 10 years as the case may be, to something which is desirable, and can put by provision for it. In effect, this will make a lesser call upon the Public Works 1711 Loan Fund, as may be argued by orthodox gentlemen who do not believe inflation to be a method of saving for a rainy day. It seems to me that for a local authority to make a five-year plan or a 10-year plan and to sink so much capital for it is a praiseworthy thing in itself. One of the difficulties of a local authority is that it has to deal with the unpredictable figure of the penny rate.
One of the silliest things done in the life of the Labour Government, in my opinion, was when they decided that they would have municipal elections in May instead of November. Municipal elections have nothing to do with May Day or fairy queens; they seem to have more to do with Guy Fawkes, and I think that the nearer we get them to November the better.
One of the main things which affects municipal elections is what the local rate is likely to be, which is a bad thing in itself. Everyone knows what happened in 1949 to the Labour Party in the municipal elections following Sir Stafford Cripp's Budget, and to the Tory Party last year. We have municipal considerations bedevilled by national considerations, and that is a bad thing. Therefore, we cannot judge local government purely by the ld. in the £.
I think that an election date half-way in the financial year, so that people could look back and separate local Government expenditure from that of the national Exchequer, would be a good thing if we are to make our people into a responsible electorate. I would be prepared to go into the Lobby, even against my own party, to have the municipal election date put back to where it was. I know that May Day is traditionally associated with the Labour Party, but I think that the change was an unfortunate one.
Anything that would allow local authorities to have sinking funds in the future would be a good thing. I take it that local authorities are to be allowed to carry to the capital fund certain surplus moneys accruing from time to time, such as the proceeds of sale of capital equipment, land and other property, up to the appropriate multiple, and that the use of such moneys in the fund to finance approved capital expenditure without reference to any Government Department 1712 is to be permitted. If there is one fault about the Bill it is that local authorities are still tied too much to Government Departments.
With regard to Clause 5, which empowers the setting up of insurance funds, I do not want to be drawn into an argument as to whether this provision relates to insurance or assurance. I would only join in the plea which has been made by my right hon. and learned Friend, to give the Clause a chance. This, however, has led me into some study as to the difference between insurance and assurance. I find that the divergence between those two words has a history of some seven centuries in our language. I will not read out all the definitions which I have gathered, but it seems to me that "assurance" has come to be regarded as meaning payment on the happening of an event which sooner or later must happen, while "insurance" is payment of a benefit stipulated in the policy when an event, which may not necessarily be anticipated but which may happen, occurs. Insurance is a contract of indemnity against a probable contingency and possibly a legal liability. It seems to me that generally assurance is concerned with life and insurance with property. It will, however, be noticed that the local authority must by resolution specify the risk it wishes to cover.
There is nothing new, of course, in providing a common fund for insurance purposes—even the medieval guilds made payments towards a common fund as an assurance against fire, water and other such perils. Fire assurance is a highly technical subject, and many pitfalls may arise for those without specialised knowledge when embarking upon the covering of a fire risk. I have had a letter from a gentleman who calls attention to the Municipal Mutual Insurance Company. which he saysconfines its activities to municipal insurance, has no shareholders, and was founded 50 years ago in order to save all possible for the local authorities by mutually sharing their risks. It is non-profiting and has been of inestimable value to local bodies, whether insured with us or otherwise.Public liability affecting local authorities is generally governed by common law principle. A good deal of money is spent in litigation, usually in connection with failure to carry out a legal responsibility or the carrying out of an unlawful act, or the failure in the performance of a legal 1713 act. A highly-trained staff is required by local authorities not possessing powers to establish insurance funds. But they have had plenty of experience in negotiating with insurance companies in the past. They have to ensure that, as far as possible, the authority is adequately covered against risk which it cannot afford to take itself.
I should have thought that the recent floods were a first-class example of the need for these powers. Broadly speaking, I understand that the insurance companies have admitted claims north of the Humber for flood and tempest and south of the Humber for only flood. There is a great deal of hardship which will have to be brought to the notice of the House. I do not want to go into that because I mentioned it in a speech which I made on the floods, but it is one of the things which local authorities have to stand up against today, in connection with expenses which will have to be borne as a result of damage to roads, sewerage, pumping stations and council plant in the flooded areas.
In view of all that has happened, and now that the Home Secretary has told us of loss in excess of £50 million, if the Government cannot consider any resuscitation of war damage claims, or something of that sort, the local authorities themselves should be allowed a financial structure to stand up to risks such as these which they have to run, and losses such as have been recently incurred. Generally speaking, no insurance companies have undertaken flooding risk except in areas like the top of Mount Snowdon.
§ Mr. Ian Horobin (Oldham, East)
I have known of a claim in respect of flooding at sea level being paid absolutely on the date it was made, as is usual with British insurance.
§ Mr. Pannell
I give way on that point, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will have conversations with my right hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes), who is very much exercised in his mind over this matter.
1714 I should have liked more freedom of action for the local authorities themselves within the ambit of the Bill, but I recognise that the Bill is a contribution towards the general freedom which we want them to have. Local authorities have had a raw deal for a great many years. The general reform of local government did not precede—it has not even started—the dismemberment of local government, including that resulting from the Education Act. During the 11 years that I was the chairman of the finance committee of a non-county borough the expenditure controlled by the authority diminished from 54 per cent. to 26 per cent. That is not a good thing. We should return to local authorities all the powers we can in order to make that form of public service worth while for the honourable people now serving in it.
I do not propose to wander far into the question of dustbins. Leeds gives everybody a dustbin. I see hon. Gentlemen opposite nodding in approval. I have generally found that those who represent the Conservative Party on the Leeds City Council seem to think that that is the only thing that the city does for the people. Statistics show that it costs Leeds 8d. every time a dustbin is emptied.
We all wish local government to be strengthened, and I hope the Bill will be a small step towards the fulfilment of that desirable objective. We should never forget that local government is not the junior partner of central government but an equal partner with it. We must remember that the Measures which we bring forward in this House are nothing, to use an engineering metaphor, but the blueprints coming off the drawing board. Their ultimate test depends on what happens when they reach the local authorities and answer the question, "Will it work?" Administrative measures taken to combat the recent floods will be judged not by pontifications from the Dispatch Box but by the sympathetic actions of people in small towns and tiny hamlets who have turned out to do a good job. Those people are nearer the scene of action, and that is where democracy will be finally judged.
§ 12.13 p.m.
§ Sir Geoffrey Hutchinson (Ilford, North)
I am sure we all wish to join the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Pannell) in expressing our congratulations to the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), not only for introducing this Bill but also upon the very happy speech which he made. We shall all agree with the tribute which he paid in such felicitous terms to the work of the local authorities and on the need to give them the encouragement of which those who devote their time to the service of local authorities stand so badly in need. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Squadron Leader Cooper) and I have special reasons for hoping that those sentiments will not fade from the minds of hon. Members during the course of the next few weeks.
Perhaps we might go a step further and say that we all admire the self-sacrifice and modesty which the hon. and learned Gentleman has shown in devoting the opportunity which the fortunes of the Ballot have given him to such a subject, at first sight somewhat uncongenial, as "local government miscellaneous provisions." We all know the glamour of publicity which the fortunes of the Ballot may open up to any of us. We have seen in recent weeks the bright light that shines upon an hon. Member who proposes to reform the Lord's Day—or to birch small boys. But the hon. and learned Gentleman has forsworn those opportunities and has chosen the more modest, more prosaic, path of putting right the numerous matters with which the Bill seeks to deal.
I assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that, if he is challenged I shall follow him resolutely into the Division Lobby in support of dustbins—at least, as at present advised. He will have my support in the course which he proposes to take about bus shelters. There, I hope the hon. and learned Gentleman will enjoy his reward. It was said of a certain celebrated general who was responsible for constructing the roads, in, I think, the Highlands of Scotland:If you had seen these roads before they were madeYou would lift up your hands and bless General Wade.I am sure we shall all join in hoping that future generations of citizens who 1716 have recourse to these bus shelters against the severity of the elements will be able to say, "If you had seen these 'bus shelters before they were erected"—or, at any rate, before they were legally erected— "you would lift up your hands and bless the hon. and learned Member for Kettering." I hope that the hon. and learned Member will eventually be rewarded by knowing—if I may borrow an expression which he himself used—that "a bit of what you fancy does you good."
As the hon. and learned Member very rightly said, what is contained in the Clauses relating to the power of local authorities to establish a capital fund and a repairs and renewals fund has been commonly contained in Private Bills for a long time. I should think that most authorities who have had to come to Parliament for special powers already have these powers. I do not think any of my hon. Friends will see any objection in these powers being extended to all local authorities.
What is true of the capital fund and the repairs and renewal funds is, as the hon. and learned Gentleman pointed out, equally true of the insurance fund, but hitherto the formation of an insurance fund has, in the main, been undertaken only by the larger authorities. I am doubtful whether an insurance fund is of very great value to the smaller authorities. Urban district councils are, on the whole, comparatively small authorities. The rate product of urban district councils in England and Wales averages not more than £800, and it may, in many cases, be a great deal less. If the product of a 1d. rate in these small authorities is to be devoted to the building up of an insurance fund, it will be a very long time indeed before the fund is of very much value to the local authority.
§ Mr. Pannell
I suppose that the hon. and learned Gentleman would consider an authority of up to 40,000 or 45,000 inhabitants to be a small one. I was recently told by the treasurer of such an authority that over a number of years he had paid out more in insurance premiums than his authority had received in return.
§ Sir G. Hutchinson
I do not think the hon. Member has quite followed what I was saying. All of us who are insured for anything probably have paid a good 1717 deal more in premiums than we will ever receive; but the point that I was making was that a local authority with a small rate product, such as most urban authorities have, will take a very long time before they can form an insurance fund which will be of any real value or prevent them from having to insure or re-insure the bulk of their risks in exactly the same way as they are insuring them now.
If a local authority of the size of which I was speaking accept their own risks without re-insuring, I am sure the consequences of their action might be fraught with very grave consequences to their ratepayers. Supposing, for example, that before the insurance fund has reached a sufficient sum their offices are seriously damaged by fire. The loss might run into £100,000 or even more, which would have to be met by borrowing. I am sure that hon. Members will not wish local authorities to enter into such an arrangement as that. So the result will inevitably be, in the case of the smaller authorities, that they will have to continue to insure against most of their risks in exactly the same way as they do now, until, years hence, an adequate insurance fund has been created.
That will mean that many of the present ratepayers will be contributing to an insurance fund from which they will never receive any substantial benefit at all. Many of them will contribute to it for the rest of their lives, or for the rest of the time that they live in the district, but the fund will never be of any value to them. Therefore, I think we should. at a later stage, look again at Clause 4 and see whether it is really wise to extend these powers to the smaller authorities; or whether it might not, perhaps, be the wiser course to allow the larger authorities to ask for these powers if they desire to exercise them.
Let me say a word about Clause 9, which, as the hon. and learned Gentleman has told us, is intended to remedy the defect, if it is a defect, in the existing housing legislation disclosed in the case of Birch v. Wigan Corporation, which was recently decided by the courts. The purpose which the hon. and learned Gentleman has in mind, is that where it is not possible to make a demolition order because of the structural condition of the adjoining property, the local autho- 1718 rity should be able to make a closing order instead, and at some later stage, if it becomes possible to make a demolition order. That, as I understand it, is the purpose which the hon. and learned Gentleman has in mind.
We want to be sure that the language which the hon. and learned Gentleman uses does lead to a closing order only in those cases where the local authority would have been entitled to make a demolition order. We want to be sure that we are not extending the power of the local authority to make demolition orders in respect of houses which are still fit for human habitation. The language used in this Bill will, I think, bring about that result, but I am sure the hon. and learned Gentleman will not wish me to pledge myself about it at the moment. We shall have to look at it, and it may be we will want to suggest some amendment at a later stage. I can assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that we shall probably all wish to join with him in bringing about the result which he has in mind.
I want to say something about the Clause dealing with the water provisions. I do not think they call for any great comment at this stage. There might, however, be some difficulty in extending too wide a discretion to local authorities to pay for some house collections and to refuse to pay for others. It is a power which I think will have to be exercised carefully. On the other hand, as the hon. Member for Leeds, West said, we have got to learn to trust the local authorities. That is the best way to encourage a sense of responsibility, and it may be that some local authorities are ready to take this decision, which might have, in some cases, put them in rather an embarrassing position, if we give them the power to do so.
I now come to the Clause that deals with the subject of the disability of members of local authorities on account of self-interest contracts. There the hon. and learned Member is seeking to put right what is really in itself a very small matter. The difficulty, as I see it, about this proposal—and I want if I can to separate what I am going to say altogether from party considerations—is that it is desirable that the decisions that local authorities take, whether the ratepayers agree with them or whether they do not, 1719 should at least be accepted with the respect which disinterested persons taking the best decision that they can ought to be able to command.
The difficulty about this as I see it is that if we begin to make some change in the existing law, which may be too strict and may even not always be very successful, we shall begin to arouse in the minds of the ratepayers a certain sense of suspicion about the decisions which their local authorities take.
§ Mr. Mitchison indicated dissent.
§ Sir G. Hutchinson
The hon. and learned Gentleman shakes his head, but one knows that it has happened, and I think we have got to be very careful not only to ensure that the decisions taken by local authorities are entirely free from that self-interest, but that they appear to their own ratepayers to be free from self-interest, too. I am not at all sure whether we shall effectively produce that result if we allow this provision to remain in the Bill.
I am not saying that the hon. and learned Member is wrong. We have not had very long to consider this matter—this is the main criticism I make against the Bill—because the text was only available a week ago. It contains a great many complicated provisions, and I am sure that the hon. and learned Member will not take it in any sense amiss if I say that I and some of my hon. Friends will wish to reserve our position on this provision until the Bill reaches a later stage.
There are a number of other hon. Members who wish to speak, and I will conclude my observations as I began, by expressing to the hon. and learned Gentleman our appreciation at his action in devoting the opportunity which the Ballot has given to him to this very interesting Bill.
§ 12.30 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
It is a long time since I was a member of a local authority and I may, therefore, not be altogether competent to enter into a discussion on these technical considerations. My reason for intervening very briefly is that I am specially interested in the provision of 'bus shelters. I should first like to say how much I enjoyed the 1720 able and witty speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), although subsequent speeches have been equally enjoyable.
For many years we, in the administrative county of Durham, have been concerned about the absence of 'bus shelter provisions. If there is any part of the country that requires 'bus shelters on the North-East Coast, it is in the County of Durham, where the weather is severe at all times. I have sometimes gone to my constituency in the summer and found it almost as cold as it occasionally is in the winter in the South, and I must say that I deplore that fact. We are very much concerned about the need for adequate 'bus shelters. It is possible for local authorities to provide 'bus shelters which in our judgment, might be inadequate. My hon. and learned Friend referred to the illegality by which local authorities at present erect benches or put up a couple of posts with a corrugated iron roof. That sort of thing will not do, and I hope, if it is decided to proceed with the Bill, that the Government will provide facilities so that local authorities eventually acquire powers for the right type of 'bus shelter.
More will be saved by the provision of adequate 'bus shelters to protect people from the severity of the weather than the cost incurred. I should not be at all surprised if it were found that in wintertime people who suffer from colds, influenza, probably pneumonia, and other ailments due to weather conditions, incur an expenditure as a result of waiting for 'buses in the cold without any shelter which is far greater than the expenditure which would be involved to local authorities by the provision of bus shelters.
My late colleague Mr. R. Ewart, who was the Member for Sunderland, South, was associated with myself and others in endeavouring to promote greater activity in the provision of 'bus shelters. Recently, and before my late colleague was ill, we had a conference of rural district councils in Durham. Those who were present urged upon us the desirability of urgent action in this matter. There was talk of drastic action, but I did my best to produce a more composed frame of mind, which is to my credit and is something unusual.
I am very anxious, because I represent the views of rural authorities in that 1721 area and do not doubt that I express the views of rural authorities elsewhere, that the Government should do everything possible to further this legislation so that local authorities can provide 'bus shelters. I hope there will be no delay.
§ 12.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Horobin (Oldham, East)
This has been a very good-tempered debate. I hope that I shall not say anything to alter it. I share the view that the one serious blemish in it is that the promoter did not deal with the question of disused burial grounds. I have always been under the impression that if one started using a burial ground one was expected to do so almost indefinitely. If he can find any way of altering that situation, I should think he would have support in all parts of the House.
I will confine my remarks to Clause 4. I do not want to be unduly controversial, but some of my colleagues on this side of the House feel with me that this part of the Bill should not be proceeded with. It has already been pointed out that, through no fault of the promoters of the Bill I am sure, we have had very little time to consider the Bill in its present form. Even the long title is distinctly misleading. My own eye is fairly acute in discovering Socialistic finance in unexpected quarters, but I confess that I did not at first observe Clause 4 dealing with insurance, in a Bill which sets out toamend the law relating to local authorities and to amend Section seventy-two of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, as regards the provision of omnibus sheltersetc. There is no reference to insurance provisions in that.
The observations of the seconder of the Motion strengthened my view, if it needed strengthening, that this provision is undesirable. The hon. Member referred to the floods. I am sorry he is not here at the moment and I hope he will not feel that these remarks are improper in his absence. I could not have imagined a more unfortunate illustration from the point of view of those who support an incursion by local authorities into the insurance field.
All insurance tends to be much more technical than it looks. I understood the hon. Member to be arguing that he wished that the Bill had already been law so that it could give power to local authori- 1722 ties to enter into insurance against almost unlimited flood risks which fall specially upon certain limited and often small areas. I could not imagine a more weak and dangerous argument in support of the Bill. If ever there was an insurance risk which ought to be spread over the widest possible area, it is a risk of that nature. If Canvey had endeavoured. without the full knowledge of the ratepayers, to insure against all the flood risks descending upon it, the mind boggles at the rates which Canvey ratepayers would be likely to have to pay for a period long after all the existing ratepayers are dead.
I am not personally impressed with the evidence that was given, but I say at once that undue emphasis was not laid upon it by the mover and the seconder of the Motion. It is true that a number of authorities, mostly large, have taken powers direct from Parliament in this matter of recent years, but the figure which the hon. and learned Gentleman quoted showed that those powers have not been widely used and that the sum involved is very small; quite negligible, in fact, compared with the vast insurance risks covered automatically by the insurance interests.
§ Mr. Horobin
I do not want to go too deeply into the figure, since that can be done in Committee, but it bears no relation to the vast sums covered not only by the municipal field but by the insurance industry. It is perfectly true that authorities, not all Socialist authorities, have in the past taken these powers with the consent of Parliament, but they have not so far been used on a scale which prejudges the issue, and I regret that they have taken those powers.
Having got that preliminary point out of the way and dealt with the illustration which damages the case made for these provisions, I come to two straightforward, points on the proposal that local authorities should be encouraged to go into the insurance business. First, the essence of insurance is the spreading of risk. It is essential, and in principle undesirable, that even a large authority, let alone a small authority, should take upon its own shoulders all the properly insurable risks of that area.
1723 If the powers proposed to be given and to be extended by this Bill are granted, there will be this quandary: either the risk is not spread as it should be—which is fundamentally unsound and is imposing a grave risk on the ratepayers of the area—or an attempt is made to spread the risk by taking advantage of Clause 1 (4) which I think the hon. Gentleman will agree is a new power. I have not had a chance to check it, but while powers for insuring their own risks have been taken, I do not think that powers corresponding to Clause 1 (4), which enable local authorities to "swop" risks among themselves, have been taken.
At any rate, my point is that either there is no spreading of risk, which is unsound from the very basis of insurance, or they take advantage under Clause 1 (4) to spread risk, in which case they are going into the insurance business, and that is a form of municipal trading which is bad in itself. It is not the business of local authorities to use the ratepayers' money to enter the general insurance business with, say, Lancashire taking the risks of Essex, or Slough using the ratepayers' money and credit to insure the risks of Blackburn.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I cannot pretend to have searched diligently through all the local Acts, but I can say that both Slough and the Eton Rural District Council have separate insurance funds. May I ask the hon. Gentleman to bear two things in mind? There is such a thing as the Municipal Mutual and, under that, this is exactly what the local authorities are doing. The hon. Gentleman may say that is enough, but it is a question with which we can deal in Committee. Will he also bear in mind that no local authority could be hauled up if it omitted to insure all these risks?
§ Mr. Horobin
Surely the hon. and learned Gentleman is not suggesting that that is a desirable thing to do or, still less, that anything we do in this House by new legislation should be taken to encourage it. I do not see the relevance of his argument. He is proposing to give powers to insure. How can it be relevant, therefore, to say that we cannot prosecute a local authority if it does not take the trouble to insure one way or another?
1724 However, I will leave that point and come to my second and even more important objection to these powers being given at this time. I am sorry that no representative of the Treasury is here. Again we come to an alternative, either side of which is bad. The basis of any insurance fund, especially in its early stages, must be that it cannot in essence be solvent unless there are substantial capital funds behind it.
I have a number of figures here from municipal risks to illustrate the point. Last year, 1952, there were at least two cases of schools being burned down, one of which cost £50,000 and another £100,000. No conceivable insurance fund built up in this way in its early stages could have faced a risk of that kind. Why is it that those insurances are always paid without the slightest embarrassment by the great insurance industry of this country? Because there are enormous capital and accumulated funds as the basis of the security of the insurance contract.
Here we have again an alternative which I invite the House, and particularly the Parliamentary Secretary, to consider. Especially in the early stages of these funds—it still remains true even in the later stages—either there will not be a sufficient capital and accumulated funds available—which will mean that either little insurance of this kind is done, in which case we are doing very little good, or that they are not fully covered, which I am sure hon. Members would feel to be undersirable—or the local authorities will have to put aside a substantial amount of capital for a new purpose.
Without giving a lot of figures, I think hon. Members, especially those interested in local government, must address their minds to the large sums involved. The total insurable risks of local authorities are enormous and they are now practically all covered, and only covered, by enforceable contracts because of the large capital sums and accumulated funds available in the insurance industry. If this type of self-insurance is to be encouraged and allowed to grow, and if it is not to be quite nugatory because it is on a small scale or does not cover the risk, we shall be embarking on a State policy of encouraging local authorities to set aside large new capital sums for this purpose at a time when the capital 1725 demands on local authorities under what is known as "below the line" expenditure are a major embarrassment to the whole financial policy of the country.
While we all applaud and are grateful for the great progress which is being made in housing, it is common knowledge that the great success of my hon. Friend and his right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government is one of the gravest preoccupations of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. This is not the occasion to go into the question of whether this policy of "below the line" expenditure coming out of the Budget is correct, whether it ever was correct and, still more, whether it is correct now, but we can all take it as a matter of fact that at present all of it, and for any period of time with which we are immediately concerned a substantial proportion of it, is being met out of the Exchequer, to the grave detriment of the taxpayer.
At a moment when that is the situation I cannot see that we can possibly justify anything which encourages local authorities to make yet another large demand upon their capital resources. If they have any free capital resources available to be put aside for a fund like this, they ought to be being used to reduce the capital demands which they are making on the Budget. That is a major objection at present to any proposal which encourages an increase in self-insurance by local authorities.
I go so far as to say that when my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary replies to a debate on a Bill about which, without committing ourselves, we are for a great part in general agreement, I very much hope he will give some indication that if further facilities are to be granted, it should be on the basis that Clause 4 should be struck out.
§ 12.51 p.m.
§ Mrs. Eirene White (Flint, East)
I speak with some diffidence in the presence of so many Members who have vast experience of local government finance, insurance and other matters. I wish to say a few words of welcome to the Bill as one who is a laywoman but who represents an area in which we have no very large or powerful authorities, but a number of small authorities, including some who are very enterprising.
1726 We have no great county boroughs in North Wales, and compared with many parts of the country even our county councils are reckoned, perhaps, to be among the smaller and certainly, among the poorer ones. But as far as I have been able to gather opinions in the short time that the Bill has been available, it is generally welcomed and I hope very much that it will receive a smooth passage.
I should like to say one or two words more particularly about what is, according to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), the central matter of the Bill: that is, Clause 5, which deals with the provision of 'bus shelters. It is not only in County Durham that there is inclement weather. In North Wales we have the difficulty that we are very largely a tourist area, but also have a considerable rainfall. Therefore, the provision of 'bus shelters is of considerable interest.
We have one major 'bus company—the Crosville Motor Company—which has not been very enterprising in this matter, and over many years past we have had complaints from the public and efforts by the local authorities concerned to obtain proper shelter for passengers. In 1947, there was a special conference of local authorities in North Wales, who passed a strong resolution, but hitherto these authorities have not been in a position to do anything to help themselves or the public. I repeat that they are for the most part small authorities who would not wish to go to the trouble and expense of entering into Private Bill procedure for a matter of this kind, but they are extremely anxious to be able to go ahead. I hope, therefore, that this part of the Bill will be allowed to pass.
I have, however, had representations upon the financial arrangements suggested in the Bill, because there is a good deal of feeling that the main financial obligation should fall not upon the local authorities, but upon those who provide the transport; in other words, that those who provide the transport should provide this service for their passengers. After all, it is not the local authorities who have to provide waiting rooms at railway stations, and why should the bus undertakings, who profit by the business, not take proper steps to provide adequate services for their passengers?
1727 It is possible under the Bill as it is drafted that bus undertakings may do this, but there is no obligation upon them. It might be quite possible that where, as in North Wales, the company concerned has shown itself peculiarly reluctant to take any steps in the matter, the local authorities may find themselves in a position where, if the public are to be properly served, they will have to meet the cost. Possibly, at a later stage, my hon. and learned Friend or others who speak may make some further comments upon this aspect. I know there is quite strong feeling among our local authorities that the people providing the service should also provide the shelters, or, at any rate, contribute a major part of the cost.
It has been suggested to me by some of the local authorities in my area that third parties might wish to enter into this arrangement. Apparently, persons concerned with advertising have already offered to erect 'bus shelters or to pay part of the cost of erection if they are allowed certain advertising facilities in return. That may be all right, but I should be rather hesitant about it.
I do not care for unregulated, or even slightly regulated, advertising in public places. One can see the possibilities of abuse, but one also sees very well the temptation for a small and not very wealthy authority to accept such an offer with the minimum of restriction if the only alternative is that the authority themselves, rather than the 'bus undertaking, would have to pay the full cost of the shelter. I hope that these relatively minor points may be discussed in Committee, but that the main principle—that the public should have their 'bus shelters —will go forward with the help of Members in all parts of the House.
When this matter was first brought to my attention as a Member of Parliament, I was astonished to find that local authorities did not possess this power to provide shelters. It was a revelation to discover that they were truly powerless and that they were not merely putting up an excuse for not taking action to provide shelters at places, of which all of us have the most vivid recollections, in various parts of the country, where we have had to wait while changing or waiting for 1728 'buses, and sometimes getting soaked to the skin in consequence.
I am hardly competent to speak on the other matters in the Bill, but I welcome the fact that under the water provisions it may be possible for such authorities as wish to do so in certain circumstances to pay the charges for connecting water supplies or sewerage services. Whether or not authorities take advantage of these provisions depends, of course, on the viewpoint of their members, but I am glad that such provisions should be made in the Bill so that the authorities may, if they wish, undertake this work.
I know that in some rural areas it will be a very desirable provision. These matters sometimes bear very hardly on people whose physical location happens to be peculiarly difficult if they cannot have the advantage of these services. I think that this power should be included in the Bill and that, as the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North (Sir G. Hutchinson) said, local authorities should be trusted to use such a power in a sensible and responsible way.
The question of insurance funds is, clearly, the controversial element in the Bill. My own feeling is that where authorities have already, by other forms of legislation, been able in fairly considerable numbers to take this power to themselves—I am thinking of the smaller authorities—it is in a sense more democratic that they should be allowed to have these powers, to be used, after all, under very strict safeguards.
Clause 1 makes it clear that no authority could establish an insurance fund except with the consent of the Minister. I am not certain how far the control of the Minister extends in such matters, but I presume that the Minister would not consent to the establishment of an insurance fund in conditions which made it doubtful whether it was, in fact, for the benefit of the authority concerned.
I have not been able to collect very much information, but I happened to learn of an insurance fund of a relatively small authority — Weston-super-Mare, which is not violently Socialist—which has been in existence since 1933. That authority began in a modest way for limited risks. By stages they have built up this little fund and find that it has been to their advantage so to do.
1729 After all, the establishment of an insurance fund by a local authority does not mean—and it is expressly stated in the Bill that it does not mean—that the authority must thereby seek to insure everything against all risk. I would be inclined to agree that in the otherwise excellent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Pannell), who seconded the Motion, he was a little unfortunate in choosing an example of a risk, namely, flood risk, which, to a small authority, would be most unsuitable; but the fact that certain risks might be unsuitable for certain authorities is no reason for suggesting that authorities therefore should not seek to establish insurance funds for suitable risks.
I am pleading for the democratic principle for the local authorities that they should not be obliged to come to the House of Commons and go through the cumbrous and expensive business of Private Bill legislation to acquire powers which have been available for many years to other local authorities in the country. That is as much a matter of principle as the principle adduced against this Clause by hon. Members in other parts of the House. The provisions in the Bill concerning dustbins, the power of making closing orders, and so forth, seem to be uncontroversial and extremely useful.
I should like to congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering for having pursued one of the two possible courses for successful Private Bills. Either one has an extremely controversial Bill which raises a great deal of public interest and may or may not lead to the establishment of the Royal Commission, as I have discovered, or there is the other course, which my hon. and learned Friend has chosen, of being less controversial but doing many small and extremely useful things and things for which so many people in so many parts of the country will be grateful. Although we have such a very small attendance in the House today, as is apt to happen when we have relatively uncontroversial legislation, I hope that the number of people outside the House who will have cause to bless my hon. and learned Friend will be very considerable indeed.
§ 1.3 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Ernest Marples)
It might be for the convenience of the House if I intervened at this stage of the debate although today is Private Members' day. On these occasions on a Friday it is the duty of a Member of the Government Front Bench to talk as little as possible consistent with giving the Government's views. I remember when I was in opposition that I had a baleful eye for any Member of the Government Front Bench who took up too much time, so I will be brief.
I should like to congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) on his live, entertaining speech, which was witty, lucid and cogent. He explained the provisions of the Bill with great clarity. It was a gracious speech. I should like to congratulate him also on the time and trouble which he has taken to go into some of the intricate and complex provisions in the Bill. I join with him too in expressing my personal sorrow at the death of Mr. Ewart, the former Member for Sunderland, South, whose name is on the back of this Bill. I should like to be associated with those remarks of the hon. and learned Member.
This is a Private Members' day and it is not for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government or the Government to answer the detailed points raised, except in so far as the views of the Government are concerned. This is the Bill of the hon. and learned Member, and it is his job to answer the queries and to pilot it through. He has been at great pains to try to avoid controversy. Like all of us who try to do that in this House, he will find that we do not always achieve success. He has prepared the Bill in that spirit, but human nature being what it is he will find, as I sometimes find at this Box, that it is unpredictable. One does not know who is on one's own side on any given Measure at any given time. I think that he will find on the Committee stage that at some times he has not a friend in the world and at others that everyone is with him.
1731 The Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government have had the opportunity of discussing some of the details of this Measure with the hon. and learned Member, and broadly speaking they have assisted him with some of its provisions. Broadly speaking, they will give him every support that they possibly can. That does not mean that there is an agreement on every detail. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Horobin) produced some powerful arguments, and he has had great experience in political as well as in business affairs in connection with insurance. It is obvious that in this instance the hon. and learned Member for Kettering has not succeeded in avoiding controversy.
The arguments which my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East has produced are arguments which could be well discussed on the Committee stage. The Government are certainly not committed to the provisions of the Bill in every way, but one should listen to all the arguments in its favour, and I should not have thought that the powerful arguments of the hon. Member for Oldham, East would be sufficient to justify our saying that the Bill should not be given a Second Reading.
For what it is worth, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government would advise the House to give the Bill a Second Reading and to examine it upstairs in detail. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East will then perhaps bring forward his arguments again, and his Amendments, which I think will seek to omit the Clause relating to insurance. But other people might say something else on that Clause.
On the subject of bus shelters, the hon. and learned Member for Kettering has entirely accepted the view that compulsion is impracticable and undesirable. That provision is the backbone of the Bill, because on some of the exposed and bleak places in this country we really need bus shelters. As I get older I find that I look forward to the spring and summer much more keenly than when I was a young man. Those who suffer from the lack of bus shelters are the older people, first, because they have to get to the bus stop earlier than anyone else because their movement is slower and they 1732 have to allow a greater margin of time; and, second, because their blood gets thinner as they get older.
Reference has been made to the bleak winds on the North-East Coast. I never thought that the day would come when I should ever agree with the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan); and now today I am agreeing with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell).
§ Mr. Marples
The right hon. Member for Easington said he was performing the agreeable and rather unusual task for him of being a peacemaker. So we have both come on to that extent.
During the Committee stage the Government will give all the help they can to the hon. and learned Member for Kettering. They do not commit themselves to every point, but in my right hon. Friend's opinion there are certain valuable and non-controversial provisions in the Bill, and it is with pleasure that I advise the House to give it a Second Reading. It is with even greater pleasure that I congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Kettering on his success both in the preparation of the Measure and in the delivery of his speech.
§ 1.9 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
Hon. Members will have heard with great satisfaction the valuable and stirring declaration made by the Parliamentary Secretary in advising us to give an unopposed Second Reading to this Bill. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) will not want any more congratulations from hon. Members. I do not want him to be submerged entirely by a cascade of congratulations because I want him to emerge in time for the Committee stage to pilot this useful Bill through its remaining stages. I feel that even the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Horobin), although he had one or two qualms about the Bill, nevertheless is not going to force a Division on the Second Reading.
The great advantage of this Bill is that it does what it seeks to do and tidies up a number of matters in connection with local government administration which 1733 have needed attention for some time. It is nevertheless possible to add two other miscellaneous provisions which I should like to bring to the notice of my hon. and learned Friend—two little additions which will go a long way to improve the Bill and make it even more useful than it is at the moment. They relate to problems which have arisen since the pre-war Local Government Acts and other Acts affecting local government came on the Statute Book.
The first matter to which I want to refer is the problem arising out of bomb-damaged sites in large towns and cities such as London. I hope it will help my hon. and learned Friend if I give him the various legislative references because that will enable him to consider whether or not it will be possible for him, on the Committee stage, to add another miscellaneous provision to this excellent Bill.
It is provided by Section 31 of the Public Health Acts Amendment Act, 1907, that the local authority may require the owner or occupier of any land to repair a fence if the land, owing to the inadequacy of the fence, is a source of danger or is used for any immoral or indecent purpose or for any purpose causing inconvenience or annoyance to the public. If that request is not complied with by the owner, then the local authority may recover summarily as a civil debt the costs incurred in doing the work itself.
There is also the Towns Improvement Clauses Act, 1847, which requires a fence to be put round any building or wall which is in a ruinous state or is dangerous to passengers or to the occupiers of neighbouring buildings. The application of those two provisions to the Metropolis is to be found in Section 33 of the London County Council (General Powers) Act, 1925. That gives a metropolitan borough council the powers to which I have just referred.
The procedure under these Sections to which I have referred is very cumbersome. Notice is required to be served on the owner calling upon him to carry out the necessary fencing works. He then has 14 days in which to appeal to a Metropolitan police magistrate, who may vary or annul the council's requirement. It is by no means an easy matter to prove to 1734 the satisfaction of the magistrate that inconvenience or annoyance is caused to the public by the lack of fencing. That might not always be easy to establish, and even if the requirement is confirmed and the magistrate gives the order required, a further 28 days must elapse to give the owner an opportunity to carry out the works himself before the council can do so in his default
A further difficulty arises in recovering from the owner the reasonable expenses incurred by the council in all these rather involved operations, especially in the case of small property owners. Of course, no claim would arise against the War Damage Commission in respect of the cost of fencing. Unfortunately, the position is even more complicated by reason of the passing of the War Damaged Sites Act, 1949, for which we on this side of the House were responsible, being the Government of the day, and which, if my memory serves me right, went through the House without too much opposition. That Act, provided that the cost of fencing these vacant bombed sites would fall upon the borough council, with a possible claim for compensation by the owners against the local authority.
This is a kind of post-war addition to the burdens of local authorities in respect of bombed sites, which were already a little difficult in respect of pre-war sites under the old legislation to which I have referred. Take, for example, the Metropolitan Borough of Lambeth, which is the Metropolitan Borough I know best. We have between 500 and 600 vacant bombed sites—they are not very large—where perhaps two or three houses have been demolished.
I serve on the Lambeth Borough Council, the local authority concerned, and when we went into the matter it was discovered that to clear all these small bombed sites and to erect adequate fencing round all of them would cost between £80,000 and £90,000. Lambeth is not one of the poorest of Metropolitan Boroughs, but that would involve anything from a 10d. to 1s. rate. It was considered that this would be such a heavy burden that the council could not agree to incurring such a large expenditure.
All the local authorities are doing at the moment is to persuade the owners of sites in respect of which complaints 1735 have been received to fence them. But if the council merely ask an owner of a site, supposing he can be traced, to fence the site, the prospects of a successful or friendly and sympathetic reply are not very great.
I do not know whether other hon. Members have met the problem of the constant stream of letters coming in from people who unfortunately live very near these small bombed sites, complaining of the filthy garbage, rotting mattresses, dead cats and all sorts of other things which are deposited on those sites. They also complain of the misuse to which these bombed sites are put at night by people whose standard of behaviour is not all that it should be. All that the local authorities can do is, when the heap of garbage becomes too big and too offensive any longer to be tolerated, to clear it away; and when it is cleared away before very long rubbish is again deposited on the sites. They are, therefore, faced with a hopeless task.
I appeal to my hon. and learned Friend to see whether, by an additional provision in this Bill, he can do something to cope with this problem. The suggestion that I would respectfully make to him is that local authorities should be empowered to fence in these sites at the cost of the owners, and if the cost cannot be recovered from the owners it should be a charge upon the site concerned, in exactly the same way as local authorities take out a charge on property in respect of the cost of repairs carried out on that property when such cost cannot be recovered from the owner. The amount becomes a charge against the property.
Some such provision would help local authorities in blitzed towns, particularly in London, to deal with what is a real nuisance from that point of view. Although it may not be a legal nuisance within the terms of local government legislation, it does cause grave and very justifiable dissatisfaction in the minds of those who live adjacent to those small bombed sites.
The second point is one upon which I have already touched in referring to the difficulties of local authorities in getting in touch with owners of property. That difficulty has become even more accentuated during recent years, particularly in 1736 my constituency and in other parts of South London, for reasons which are fairly well known but, being linked up with a criminal prosecution, are not open to me to refer to without being out of order. Local authorities are in a very considerable difficulty in tracking down owners who make it their business to be elusive and unidentifiable.
It is true that under Section 168 of the Housing Act, 1936, a local authority may require any person who receives rent to state in writing the nature of his interest and the name and address of any other person known to him as having an interest, and anyone who fails to give that information or gives false information is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £5. That penalty is so small that even if it is imposed it can be regarded by an unscrupulous owner who wants to avoid being identified as almost a petty cash overhead expenditure in the running of his business.
There is a similar provision in Section 7 of the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act. 1938. When a local authority have to take action against an owner of the type I have endeavoured to describe they usually do so under the Public Health Acts because the premises have got into such a horrible condition that some action is necessary. The curious thing is that under the Public Health Acts there is no provision similar to those contained in the Housing Act or the 1938 Rent Act.
Under the Public Health Acts the local authority are empowered to serve notices on the owner, care of the occupier, without having to identify the owner. Some peculiar things happen. The tenant may stop paying the rent; the landlord may not send his agent round to collect it. The matter is left in a state of uncertainty. All kinds of difficulties are placed in the way of the unfortunate occupant or the local authority in carrying out whatever needs to be done.
I suggest that in relation to these very elusive owners, some of who now operate outside the jurisdiction—from addresses in Dublin, which provides an additional complication—my hon. and learned Friend should consider the introduction of some provision which would empower local authorities to demand to know the real name and address of the owner, or 1737 authorise them to keep a register consisting of the names and addresses of the actual owners of every rateable hereditament within their area.
That is not an unreasonable request. It would not add very much to the burdens of local authorities. They already have to keep a register of those who are liable to pay rates and there is no earthly reason why anyone owning property should be unwilling to record his name with the local authority as the real owner of that property, or to register the name and address of a responsible person as his agent on whom, if necessary, various notices could be served as and when the situation required it.
I am sorry to have taken up the time of the House for so long, but these two matters are ones on which I have been wanting to speak for a long time, and this Bill provides me with a suitable opportunity which may not recur for I do not know how long. I submit them to the sympathetic and, I hope, favourable consideration of my hon. and learned Friend. I promise him that whether or not he finds it possible to incorporate them in his Bill I shall support the Bill; but I shall support it with even greater pleasure if, on the Committee stage, he finds it possible to make what I think would constitute two very useful improvements.
§ 1.27 p.m.
§ Squadron Leader A. E. Cooper (Ilford, South)
We all congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) upon the fact that he has at long last succeeded in getting all that off his chest. In the three years that I have been a Member of this House I have been astonished at the cascade of words which fall from his lips on almost every conceivable subject. The proposals he has made this morning have some merit and I am sure his hon. and learned Friend will consider them when the time is ripe.
Apart from the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman (the Member for Kettering), to which I listened with very great care and a great deal of pleasure, I was very impressed with the closing phrases of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Horobin). What he was seeking to tell the House, and what the House should realise, is that the relevance of the earlier Clauses of this Bill is made more urgent because of the pressing need for a com- 1738 plete reform of the entire local government finance structure.
At present the rate burden everywhere is becoming unbearable. Unlike Parliament, which has many sources of revenue, local authorities have only the rates and such other small revenues which they may be able to get from trading services of one sort or another. However urgent is the desire for the reform of local government, as such, there is an even more urgent need for the reform of the whole financial structure of local government. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East deserves the thanks of the House for drawing attention to this point.
This Bill proposes to give to all local authorities the general powers which at present are held only by such authorities as have come to Parliament from time to time to ask for them. There will be general approval for the principle of the Bill, but there are features which are open to differences of opinion and to a certain amount of criticism.
I want to make my own position quite clear. I shall support the Bill both here and upstairs in its entirety, with the exception of Clause 4. I am not entirely satisfied that Clauses 2 and 3 are necessary, because under the budgetary system of local authorities it is possible to provide the money annually for such purposes. For example, in the case of housing, repairs and renewals are an annual charge. The maintenance of schools or roads, too, is provided for annually by the rates, and if more money is required it should be found by an increase in rates and not by the creation of special funds.
The Ilford Corporation promoted a Private Bill—a General Powers Bill—in 1938. On that occasion these three Clauses were the subject of great controversy within the Borough of Ilford. At the time the council consisted of 32 Conservatives and six Labour members, and they were deeply divided on the subject. The decision to include each of these Clauses had only a nominal majority. It was felt then that the rate fund was the proper method whereby repairs and renewals should be covered year by year.
I do not think that Clause 4, on insurance, can be justified in any way. I have made a study of this problem, and, in fact, we have tried to do this. The borough of Ilford has a population of nearly 200,000, and if we can save money 1739 for the ratepayer, obviously we want to do so. We are not tied by any doctrinaire reasons in considering whether we should take a certain course of action. We are concerned solely as to whether the action will benefit the ratepayers, and we have never been able to prove that the creation of an insurance fund would be of such benefit. In fact, the odds against it, particularly in highly populated areas, are very great, particularly bearing in mind current costs of replacement.
We all know that a fire can easily break out in a school, which can be gutted in a matter of minutes. The cost of a school today is a minimum of about £100,000. There are other substantial buildings, such as a town hall or any big public hall, which could be destroyed in the same way, and the cost of replacement would be so great that the burden upon the ratepayers would be intolerable. In Ilford, where the penny rate produces a little over £6,000, it would cost a 1s. 4d. or 1s. 6d. rate to replace a school.
In view of the fact that the machinery exists in the industrial and financial institutions of this country whereby that cost can be spread without any burden on the ratepayers, other than the premiums, are we entitled to throw this contingent liability upon the ratepayers? I submit that there can be only one answer.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I do not want to argue the point now, but may I ask the hon. Gentleman a question, merely for information? Ilford have an insurance fund. Do they put all their municipal risks in it, or do they leave some uncovered, or do they also insure with the Municipal Mutual or other commercial concerns?
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
Ilford have the power under their Act to create an insurance fund, but they have never done so. We have argued the case year by year and always reached the same conclusion—that the risks involved are so great that it is not worth while. The number of local authorities which have this power in the country and which take advantage of it is very small. I shall support my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East, in Committee—and I hope the hon. and learned Member for Kettering will not take steps to ensure that I do not get 1740 on to the Committee—in order to see that this part of the Bill is omitted, for the reasons I have given.
I wish the Bill well. It provides certain facilities to local authorities which are of great value. The situation in which every individual authority has to come to the House and use the Private Bill procedure, which is very expensive, to get these sort of provisions—which all local authorities ought to have—is unfortunate. Once more, I congratulate the hon. and learned Gentleman on the matter in which he presented his Bill and his luck in getting first place in the Ballot.
§ 1.38 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Hargreaves (Carlisle)
I want to urge the House to welcome all Clauses of the Bill. I do not want to introduce any criticism or controversy at this stage, although it seems that we shall meet it later if the House gives the Bill a Second Reading, as I hope it will. Nevertheless, I must point out that the hon and gallant Member for Ilford, South (Squadron Leader Cooper) answered his own argument. The Bill does not compel a local authority to set up a special insurance fund—and that is the precise position of Ilford. They have the power but they do not use it. The hon. and gallant Gentleman said a number of local authorities have the power and do not exercise it. I think he is in error there, but we can discuss that later.
I have taken a personal interest in one of these subjects over many months—the power dealing with the provision of bus shelters. The former hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Ewart), whose death was so untimely, was secretary of a geographical group of hon. Members which spent a good deal of time on the subject. Most hon. Members of the group feel that the provision of 'bus shelters falls into two quite separate parts. The local authorities in country areas have a particular problem, and the problem is quite different where services are run through a city of any size.
The provision of shelters in those two instances is on an entirely different basis. In the country areas, services run over the roads of local authorities whole areas are sparsely populated, who very often cannot afford even to help in the provision of these shelters and who are 1741 unable to convince the owners of transport undertakings that these shelters are essential. It is a much easier job for borough authorities with fairly large populations, yet in the past it has not always been easy to negotiate the kind of agreement which would enable the transport authority and the local authority to bear the cost of such a provision. However, it has been done with a fair amount of success throughout the country.
While I welcome these provisions as far as they go, I want to ask my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) if he would consider a new Clause especially to provide for authorities in fairly large towns, because I think the Bill would be improved if powers were specifically given to enable a third partner to be brought into the business of the provision of shelters—not only the local authority and the transport undertaking: the provider of passenger services—but also the owners of the shops adjacent to a 'bus stop.
I think that a useful service would be performed in many cases if the local authority, the transport undertaker and the owners of shop premises in busy shopping streets could co-operate to avoid the provision of crush barriers or shelters of the ordinary type which very often are obstructions to pedestrian traffic along the pavement—obstructions that often can be dangerous. We could avoid that kind of provision and still serve exactly the same purpose by providing a canopy at first-floor level over the pavement instead of upon the pavement. In the centre of the City of Carlisle we have an excellent example of that kind of thing. I would point to its advantages in the hope that my hon. and learned Friend will look at them at a later stage.
As I have said, that kind of provision brings in a third partner and lessens the expense falling upon the other two, naturally. There is no question of unsightly advertisements. The canopy extends over the pavement. It does away with the necessity for crush barriers, and does not obstruct the pavement along which the pedestrians walk.
I call attention to an example quite near this House. In Oxford Street, at 1742 the premises of Messrs. Bourne and Hollingsworth, there is a form of canopy which, while not quite as good as the Carlisle example, indicates the kind of thing I mean. It is a shelter canopy extending over the pavement. It does not interfere with the pedestrian traffic along the pavement. It attracts the passer-by to view the shop window display. That is the advantage to the owner of the frontage. It provides a 'bus shelter; it suits the purpose of the local authority and of the transport undertaker. So I think my hon. and learned Friend might examine this possibility and vary the Clause slightly in order that a third partner may be brought usefully into this business.
I want to deal for a moment or two with a question to which I know my hon. and learned Friend directed his attention in drawing up the Bill. There have been complaints here this morning that the Bill has not been very long in the hands of hon. Members. I have a suspicion that the reason for that is that the Bill was so patiently drafted as to be non-controversial, or as non-controversial as possible. My hon. and learned Friend dropped out of the Bill a number of matters which might usefully have been included in it because he could not find complete agreement upon them in all parts of the House.
I ask my hon. and learned Friend whether he will consider including in the Bill a Clause which would be of very great use to local authorities in connection with burial grounds. He mentioned the matter himself, and I am emboldened to mention it also because I have the support of some hon. Members on the other side of the House in desiring to make a provision that will be helpful to local authorities in this matter.
The legislation in connection with burial grounds is quite obviously not especially helpful to local authorities at the present time. The last local Bill which reached the House, the L.C.C. one, deals with this particular question and I think that a very great many of the local Acts promoted by the L.C.C. have somewhere in them provisions dealing with disused burial grounds. There are dozens of local Acts which have sought to deal with this particular problem. I know of at least four from Liverpool which attempt to deal with this problem.
1743 The present situation is that if a local authority wants to use a burial ground for a purpose other than that of an open space, then the regulations made under the Town and Country Planning Act, dated 1950, come into effect, and development by a local authority would mean an enormous expense, because those regulations provide for quite satisfactory arrangements for public notice to owners of graves, quite naturally and satisfactorily, but they provide also for disinterring and re-interring elsewhere at simply enormous expense.
I want to give the instance of a burial ground which has been disused for precisely 100 years. There was a church on that site until less than three months ago. I am speaking of Christ Church, Carlisle. I identify it for any hon. Members who are interested in the case. The burial ground there has not been used for 99 years nine months. It is a ground, undoubtedly, of some expense to the diocesan authorities. They are not able to transfer their responsibility and expense in connection with it to the local authority, because the local authority has power to take over the ground and to use it as an open space, but in that event the expense falls upon the local authority. In many such cases local authorities are not able to bear such an expense, and it seems to me that the legislation on this particular subject needs examination and to be brought more into line with modern ideas on the subject.
A short time ago I put a Question to the Minister of Housing and Local Government on the matter and I invite attention to his reply. He said that he was aware of the need for simplification of the law relating to burials and all the difficulties in connection with disused burial grounds, but that he could not say when it would be possible to introduce legislation on the subject. In my view, this Bill provides an opportunity for easing the situation for many local authorities.
No one can object to the present legislation whereby, when a burial ground is developed commercially, there is a responsibility for taking the utmost care. People concerned in developing a burial ground should be prepared to safeguard the interests and the feelings of the relatives of those buried. I have in mind 1744 the case of a local authority which does not wish to develop a burial ground commercially; which cannot afford to take over a number of burial grounds from a diocesan authority and make use of them under the Open Spaces Act, but which would like to care for and make some use of disused burial grounds within a city.
There are uses to which such places may be put without in the slightest degree offending the feelings of the relatives of those interred there. I ask my hon. and learned Friend to give favourable consideration to this matter. He may feel inclined to add an additional Clause to the Bill providing an opportunity for local authorities, in co-operation with all the other interests involved, to prepare a scheme for the use of such areas which, after proper inquiry, might be adopted.
I would refer to the question of closing orders on certain buildings dealt with in Clause 9, which I consider an exceptionally helpful Clause. I have experienced the harmful effect of existing legislation concerning old houses which have been declared unfit for human habitation. As was made clear by my hon. and learned Friend, medical officers and many local authorities have been slow to move in this matter, especially where the problem also affects rehousing. Many local authorities will not proceed with demolition orders except in conjunction with the provision of new housing facilities. This Clause will enable local authorities to issue closing orders affecting parts of a street of such houses without fear of past legal consequences.
I commend this Bill, which I consider will be of considerable use to local authorities. We may all point to local Acts containing the very provisions to be found in this Bill. If my hon. and learned Friend would consider including in the Bill a Clause relating to the use of disused burial grounds, I am sure that local authorities would be grateful.
§ 1.55 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hay (Henley)
I hope that the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Hargreaves) will forgive me if I do not follow him into the anatomy of 'bus shelters or the legal labyrinths affecting disused burial grounds. On neither subject am I qualified to speak, and the latter I do not find particularly attractive. But I am sure that the hon. and learned Mem- 1745 ber for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) will take account of everything which has been said by his hon. Friend.
Congratulations have been showered upon the hon. and learned Member for Kettering. I would congratulate him also upon his temerity, his audacity. It must not have escaped his notice that he comes forward on this particular day—Friday the 13th—with a Private Member's Bill, when our experience of such Bills so far this Session has not been encouraging.
In common with some of my hon. Friends, I found it unfortunate that the Bill was not published until so late as it has been. It has given us little time to make a detailed examination of the provisions, and we are, therefore, quite right in saying that we must reserve our position until we have had an opportunity to examine the various Clauses. There is the further difficulty that local authorities, whom we are told are asking for this Bill and are grateful for its provisions, also have not had an opportunity of making a full examination. If, therefore, we put down, as we are bound to do, a certain number of Amendments on Committee stage, I hope that the hon. and learned Member will not take it as an attempt to delay, or obstruct or even to wreck his Bill, but rather as an endeavour to elucidate certain matters which at the moment are not clear.
The hon. and learned Member said the Bill was non-controversial. I agree, with a qualification about Clause 4, which has already been discussed in detail. He said that the Bill might be described as "a Paradise of dainty devices." I would not go as far as that, but I do not think that the later Clauses of the Bill are particularly dangerous. All have a good object behind them. I am anxious, however, on the quick consideration which I have given to the Bill, as to whether or not they do what they seek to do in the best possible way.
This is a miscellaneous provisions Bill, and any speech on Second Reading must be in the nature of taking note of preliminary points which will be considered in greater detail in Committee. The financial provisions relate to subjects about which I know very little, but I have listened with very great care to what hon. Members have said about the insurance funds, and I think that we shall have to look into that matter very carefully.
1746 I want to give the hon. and learned Gentleman notice in my remarks of points which occur to me now on some of the other Clauses. I think that it was a great pity that the Parliamentary Secretary did not wait a little longer before making his intervention. That is a habit which Ministers are getting into—breaking into debates on Private Members' Bills before many speeches have been made—and I think it would be far better if they listened to some of the points made subsequent to the time when they seek to intervene.
With regard to the Clause relating to 'bus shelters, I did not hear from the hon. and learned Gentleman any explanation as to what powers it seeks to take to acquire land. The model Clause upon which Clause 5 is based does specifically refer to the power vested in local authorities to erect these shelters on the highway or to erect them on land belonging to the authority itself. I wonder whether it is proposed to provide some scheme of acquisition procedure, with proper provision for compensation if a local authority wants to take over land abutting the highway which it does not itself own, for the purpose of the provision of a 'bus shelter. We shall have to have a look at that matter in Committee. I do not think that it is a power which we should give to bodies like parish councils, much as I admire them for the work which they do, to acquire land for this purpose absolutely wholesale.
§ Mr. Mitchison
It may help the hon. Gentleman if I suggest to him that the Clause in the Bill does not, of course, give any additional power of acquisition. I quite agree that one has to look at it very carefully, and I think that the hon. Gentleman may find it useful to look at the Town and Country Planning Acts in which there is a very limited power; but perhaps that is a Committee point.
§ Mr. Hay
It certainly is. All these points must inevitably be Committee points.
I want to turn, not to the "dustbin" Clause which has been discussed in some detail, but to Clause 9, relating to closing orders. I am not at all happy that that provision, much as I appreciate the reason why the hon. and learned Mem- 1747 ber brings it forward, is absolutely justified. I doubt whether closing orders, which under Section 12 of the Housing Act, 1936, can relate only to part of the building and not to the whole building—and that is the position he wants to overturn—are really the best way of dealing with this problem of unfit houses.
I would rather see a wider use made of demolition orders, for several reasons. To begin with, when a closing order is made in respect of a house, the house is shut up; no one is allowed to live there, and it speedily becomes even more derelict than it was before it was shut up. Windows become broken by young children throwing stones, and sometimes children get inside. Floor boards may be damaged and deteriorate and give way, and traps may so be laid for these young children.
The main walls and structure of the house itself deteriorate more quickly when a house is completely unoccupied and left to become derelict; and, therefore, it becomes an even greater danger to adjoining property as well as to human life and limb. Therefore, I say that it would be far better to give local authorities, if additional powers are needed, greater power to make demolition orders or clearance orders, and not so much power to make closing orders, as the hon. and learned Gentleman seeks to do.
Secondly, I am not happy as to the way in which certain rights of the owners are taken away under this Clause. Under the existing Housing Act, 1936, Sections 11 and 12, the local authority, if it seeks to make a demolition order, must carry out a certain prescribed procedure laid down in subsections (1–3) of those Sections. Looking at Clause 9 (3) of this Bill, I see that where a closing order has been made by the local authority under this Section and they subsequently decide to change their minds and make a demolition order instead, they are not to go through that procedure.
I think that we shall need to look at that rather carefully in Committee. I take the view that it cuts out completely the right of an owner, and certain rights of a mortgagee dependent upon him, to put the property in order rather than to 1748 see it pulled down. When it comes to a question of complete demolition he may wish to take rather belated action, but action that will, nevertheless, save the house.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I agree that these are Committee points and that time is getting on; but may I point out to the hon. Member that the preliminaries of what he calls the owners' rights are exactly the same under Sections 11 and 12 of the Housing Act, and the only reason for the subsections to which he referred is that these preliminaries will have been gone through once already, and, therefore, it is really all right.
§ Mr. Hay
I am not so sure. Perhaps when my speech appears in HANSARD the hon. and learned Gentleman may appreciate my point more clearly.
My last point—and I appreciate the difficulties of other hon. Members who want to speak—relates to Clause 10. We have not had much explanation from the promoter of the Bill as to the meaning of this Clause. As it is drawn. I think that it is open to a fundamental objection. I, therefore, give notice about it at this point. The present orders which have to be made by the Minister to extend the provisions of the Third Schedule of the Water Act to the area of a local authority are subject to special Parliamentary procedure. Also, the First Schedule of the Water Act, I think, gives certain rights of objection. It may well be that people will want to object to the extension of this power given under that Schedule of the Water Act to an area of a local authority. That is why the Act brought in in 1945 provides for this procedure for lodging objections.
I see no reason why, by this particular Clause and the related Schedule to the Bill, this new procedure should be introduced which takes away altogether the right of people to object. This is not simply a technical point; it is, I think, a matter of substance. The effect of all our legislation where a local authority is given the power, and often the duty, of requiring the enforcement of certain rights, is to make sure that there should be reasonable opportunity for appeal or objection. That is implicit in the Water Act which the last Government passed, and I think that we should look very carefully at the matter before 1749 we agree entirely to Clause 10 and the Schedule to which it relates.
That is all I wish to say about the Bill, and I apologise for being so long, but I hope that I have given advance notice that there are a few points of substance which I can see in this Bill. With that, I wish the Bill well and congratulate again the hon. and learned Gentleman on his success in the Ballot and on introducing this Bill.
§ 2.10 p.m.
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)
The Bill has run a long course, and many of the subjects dealt with by its Clauses have been covered in the debate, including bombed sites, burial grounds, demolitions and 'bus shelters, all important matters dealt with in the Bill in a manner with which I heartily agree. I have nothing but commendation to offer about those matters.
On the question of insurance, the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Horobin) discovered some signs of Socialist bias in the financial arrangements which might be made, and found himself in a mare's nest as a result of the discovery. I am sorry that he is not at the moment in his place because I wished to comment on what he said about the application of the system of insurance to the problem which was presented by the floods.
If it be true, as he seemed to imply, that we could not possibly think of placing on the rates of the country such a horrible burden as would follow ineffective insurance against that sort of thing, I hope that information will seep through to the ears of the Prime Minister, who is making very unsatisfactory arrangements in place of the lack of the insurance, or whatever it might have been, that was necessary to meet the crisis which the flood disaster has created for local government of various sorts.
I want to deal with one problem which every hon. Member seems to have avoided. It arises on Clause 8, which deals with the delectable dustbin. The dustbin confronts the House with an interesting problem. In the old days the landlords of houses provided means by which dust could be kept and ultimately, usually after long periods, carted away either by private contractors or by the developing local authorities. In my childhood days, at the house in which I lived there was a dust pit at the end of 1750 a long garden, and it was my task each morning to carry out the bucket of dust from the cleared fireplace to save my mother a journey. The dust was then stored with other refuse, which became an awful pest, as did all the other dust pits, and usually large supplies of disinfectants were available in order to make the system possible.
In those days there was no doubt about the matter. The dust receptacle, the brick building, the dust pit or whatever it was at the end of the yard or garden, was part of the premises, and the landlord had to provide it. It was taken into account in the cost of the house and that was perhaps worked into the rent of the premises; at all events, it was the landlord's responsibility. It is a great improvement now to have a receptacle which can be taken away weekly or twice a week. It ought to be, as the old dust-pit was, part of the cost of the premises, and there ought to be no doubt about it. The issue must be faced in legislation. Although Clause 8 deals at length with the possibility of disputes about responsibility for the provision of the dustbin and the clearance of it, it does not make any clearer than did earlier legislation whether the responsibility is that of the landlord or the tenant.
The local authority with which I am associated—all the time I have been a Member of the House of Commons it has had a majority of Conservative members—made up its mind a number of years ago, in dealing with disputes between landlords and tenants about the provision and renewal of dustbins, that the responsibility should definitely be placed on some person. My authority appealed to the magistrates' court in its efforts to make the landlord responsible and was turned down; then it went to the quarter sessions and won its appeal. Now, in my authority's area, at any rate for the time being, the landlord is required to accept responsibility for the provision of the dustbin. These squabbles and appeals to the courts have received considerable attention in the public health committee, and I have with me a long record of the recommendations which it has made for consideration by the Minister of Housing and Local Government.
Like the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) I feel that it is a pity that the Minister is not here. If he has gone for 1751 a meal, it must be a good long one and by now he should be well fortified by it. I liked the look of him, for he looked debonair and week-endish, and it may be that the sunshine has called him elsewhere, but he need not have said that, as a Private Member, he looked with a baleful eye on any Front Bencher who intervened in Friday discussions. In these Friday discussions we expect some guidance from Ministers, especially on Bills of this sort, and there are still a number of interesting issues arising out of the Bill in respect of which only the Minister can tell us what ought to be the situation.
I urge upon my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) that there ought to be some Amendment to the Bill which would enable us to face the problem of who should bear the responsibility for the provision and removal of dustbins.
§ Mr. Hay
If the hon. Gentleman proposes to put down an Amendment to that effect, will he link with it an Amendment to the Rent Restrictions Act to entitle the landlord to increase the rent for that purpose?
Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hopkin Morris)
We cannot go at length into proposed Amendments on Second Reading.
§ Mr. Hudson
In view of your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I cannot follow the hon. Member on that subject, much as I should like to do so.
The Ealing Borough Council have urged that the matter should be settled by the Ministry, and that the Government should amend the Public Health Act, 1935, under which this question and similar questions were dealt with. The Minister indicated in a recent communication that, in the view of the Ministry, this was a subject suitable for a Private Member's Bill. We now have the Private Member's Bill and it contains a Clause dealing with the question, and I wish to complain that the Minister is not now present, and that in his speech he said nothing about this important point.
It will be better, if I am fortunate enough to be a Member of the Standing Committee which deals with the Bill, to go more lengthily into the matter at that stage. I should be glad if my hon. and 1752 learned Friend, when he comes to pilot the Bill through the Committee stage, would give favourable consideration to the point, and also, with his legal knowledge, help me, as a mere layman in these matters, to hammer out an Amendment to enable the Bill to lay down that where there has been no contractual arrangement in the terms of the tenancy, the responsibility for providing the dustbin should rest on the person who was responsible for the provision of the house.
A dustbin is a necessity for any house and should be provided as part of it. That being so, I think my local authority is right in continuing to insist that legislation should now put beyond all doubt that the responsibility for the provision and maintenance of this receptacle should lie on the landlord, except in those cases where there are contractual arrangements to the contrary.
§ 2.20 p.m.
§ Mr. G. Lindgren (Wellingborough)
This has been a most interesting debate, and I should have liked to take up a number of points which have been raised, but the hour is late and we want to give those who have an interest in the next Bill some time for its discussion. I shall therefore be brief, but that does not mean that we on this side of the House have not got a very great interest in the points that have been raised.
I should like, first of all, to join with all those who have preceded me in congratulating my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) on his introduction of this Bill. It gives me particular pleasure to do so as a neighbour of his in the county of Northamptonshire. Rarely have I listened with more pleasure to a Private Member's Bill being introduced into the House, and seldom has it been submitted with such ability and such eloquence. That is all the more remarkable in view of the fact that local government, vital and important as it is to the community, has not the glamour and appeal about it that many other subjects have.
I think we all appreciate the remarks of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. Although he got into some trouble with his hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson), we ought to appreciate that 1753 this is a Private Member's Bill and that the Parliamentary Secretary's intervention was, therefore, all the more welcome. We accept the reservations which he made about the Bill. He stated that in general terms the Government were asking the House to give the Bill a Second Reading in order that some of the issues about which the Government are concerned can be discussed during the Committee stage. We on this side of the House welcome his pronouncement and his reservations, and we ask the House to follow the advice that he has given.
On a Bill such as this there are many points which one would like to raise. Certainly, there are some with which I should like to deal in great detail had I the time. Before I entered this House I was a railwayman. The railways provide their own stations, goods yards, permanent way, signalling apparatus, facilities for breakdown and all the rest, the cost of which is borne by the railways. This is of interest to railwaymen generally, because often that cost is reflected in our wages. We look with envious eyes at road transport which gets its stations, signalling system, permanent way and all the rest of it provided by the taxpayer or the ratepayer. Many of us have the feeling, which may be prejudiced, that the provision of these facilities should be made by those who receive their revenue from the customer.
Over and above all these issues, however, we have to remember that the person who suffers from the want of a 'bus shelter is he, or she, who is waiting to catch the 'bus, and that it falls particularly hard on the older people in our community. It is the responsibility of all of us to see that those who are suffering from exposure because of long waits in the open for various forms of transport should have some form of protection. For that reason I accept the Clause in this Bill which deals with this matter, and provides an opportunity for that protection to be given.
There has been much reference to the insurance proposals under this Bill, and there have been some objections and reservations by hon. Members opposite. I notice, however, that of all those Members who objected to the power being given to local authorities to provide their own insurance, no reference was made to the many industrial undertakings which. 1754 because of their size and the nature of the risk they have to take, carry their own insurance. I had a feeling—we can go into this in more detail in Committee —that hon. Members opposite were more concerned in putting in a special plea for the insurance companies and those associated with insurance in the City than they were for the general welfare of the ratepayers.
That brings me to what must be my last point. The hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Horobin) suggested that there should be a reconstruction of local government finance. He seemed to think that it should be done almost at once. I agree that there should be some reconstruction, but even in the debate on this Bill, wide as its scope is, one can hardly go into that in detail, particularly when my hon. and learned Friend has gone out of his way to be non-contentious in his Bill.
Hon. Members must remember that there can be no reconstruction of local government finances without, at the same time, an attempt to deal with the functions and structure of local government. There has been a lot of talk about high rates, particularly over the last few weeks, but in my opinion that subject has got completely out of focus. I am associated with a comparatively large local government, whose rates have been increased by 1s. 10d. in the £. No less than £200,000 of that increase was required because the teachers were given an increase of salary under the Burnham scale—that came to £137,000—and local government employees were also granted advances of salary.
The policy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in increasing the Bank rate was another cause for that increase, and we had to allow £40,000 because of that. Thus it can be seen that the increase of 1s. 10d. has largely been caused by increases in wages and salaries arising from the increased cost of living which in turn resulted from the Government's policy. The increase in our rate did not include the provision for any additional service nor did it cover any additional cost from items such as paper and printing.
I promised in opening to be brief and I am in danger of not keeping to that promise. I should like, in conclusion, to express my appreciation of the general 1755 acceptance of the Bill by the Parliamentary Secretary, coupled with the reservations which he made. I would ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading so that in Committee we can go into the more detailed consideration of its various provisions.
§ 2.30 p.m.
§ Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)
I realise that the only thing that could possibly destroy the chances of this Bill getting a Second Reading would be a long speech in winding up the debate from this side of the House. I am already conscious of the barking of dogs and the lowing of herds coming towards us, and I do not want to take up the time of the House other than to deal with one or two points that have arisen during the course of this interesting and lengthy debate.
I hope that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) will have realised how well deserved and sincere were the compliments paid to him. It is a tremendous thing for local government that someone with his great Parliamentary gifts is prepared to devote time to a Bill as useful but unromantic as this. He may rest assured that thousands of local councillors all over the country whenever they see a dustbin will think of my hon. and learned Friend.
§ Mr. MacColl
Most of the points that remain are Committee details and it would be most imprudent of me to be drawn into them at any length. It is clear that those who succeed in attracting the attention of the Committee of Selection and find themselves on the Standing Committee, will have a whale of a time. By the time they have finished dealing with Part XIII of the Third Schedule to the Water Act, 1945, the closing order procedure under the Housing Act, 1936, and other matters they will have had a most interesting discussion in the Committee. Those are not points to be dealt with on the Second Reading.
I hope that some of my hon. Friends who really appreciate what my hon. and learned Friend has done in the Bill will be careful not to allow their enthusiasm to run away with them. One way to kill the Bill would be to have too many new 1756 Clauses completely covering the field of local government. We all have our pet schemes that we have waited for years to get into law, but the way to achieve that object is to win the Ballot and not to tack too much on to my hon. and learned Friend's Bill. For example, it would be easy to get so enthusiastic about disused burial grounds as to make a burial ground for the Bill. We must take these things cautiously and carefully.
The hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Horobin) seemed to have an inflamed imagination. It is out of keeping with the general level of the debate and the substance of the Bill to talk about encouraging local authorities to go into the insurance business. Local authorities are not under an obligation to insure, but prudent local authorities insure the big risks. Most local authorities carry their own insurance to some extent and substantial ones can do so on their revenue.
A small authority may find it prudent to accumulate a reserve fund against some of the risks, and this is all that the Bill allows. The knowledge that the Minister of Housing and Local Government would have to approve insurance proposals of that sort should be sufficient to ensure that a local authority with a 1d. rate bringing in £500 will not insure all its schools, the town hall and things of that sort.
Points about 'bus shelters, like those raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White), can be dealt with in Committee, but I should like to mention a point raised by the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North (Sir G. Hutchinson) on Clause 12, which deals with the disability of members of local authorities on account of interests in contracts. The speech of the hon. and learned Member would have been a very weighty one had it been made in 1933 and it would have been relevant. I have no doubt that it was made in 1933 on the Local Government Bill at that time, but it is not at all relevant to the position at the moment.
The principle has already been accepted. We recognise that people with a small financial interest should not be excluded from taking part in deliberations. All that the Bill does is to extend the financial limits in accordance with the change in the level of prices since 1757 1933. That does not seem an unreasonable arrangement and should not cause any resurgence of discussion on the general principle which has been settled for 20 years.
My final word would be to apologise to the House, on behalf of my hon. and learned Friend, for the quite justifiable criticisms that the Bill had not been off the stocks very long. It is a Bill with many different Clauses, dealing with many weighty subjects. The difficult problem was to decide what to put in and what to leave out. My hon. and learned Friend desired to make the Bill as non-controversial as possible and to stop up as many holes as he could before the Bill came up for its Second Reading. He wanted to consult as many people as possible before the Bill was finally drafted. All that has meant delay, but I do not think any damage has been suffered from the delay. There are differences upon Committee points, but on the general principle there has been very little disagreement. I therefore commend the Bill to the House and ask that it be given a Second Reading.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.