HC Deb 03 June 1957 vol 571 cc1019-22

9.15 p.m.

Mr. T. Fraser

I beg to move, in page 15, line 5, at the end to insert: local authority" has the meaning assigned to it by section one of the principal Act with the addition of the district council. I had hoped that this Amendment would be accepted, but I am beginning to despair after the reply that we had from the Lord Advocate to the last proposed Amendment. We were assured during the Committee stage that consideration would be given to providing in the Bill some recognition of district councils. The Joint Under-Secretary of State has resisted an Amendment which I moved earlier today, and which I and some hon. Members opposite thought was a sensible Amendment. Here is a last chance for the Joint Under-Secretary of State to recognise the existence of the district council.

The way in which the district councils have been treated by the Government in recent years is disgraceful. The Joint Under-Secretary, in reply to Questions and at other times, has pretended that everything in the local government world in Scotland is perfect. He knows perfectly well that the local authority associations have been clamouring for additional powers and that every local authority association in Scotland stated before the Royal Commission on Scottish affairs that they were in favour of an inquiry into the structure and financing of local government. They agreed that there should be no considerable alteration in the functions of local authorities until or unless there had been an inquiry. Yet the Joint Under-Secretary has spoken as though no one had ever suggested that the structure of local authorities in Scotland should be investigated.

The District Councils Association is one of the principal local authority organisations in Scotland, and it has been asking for recognition in this Bill. The Joint Under-Secretary now has an opportunity of acceding to that request. A public authority is responsible for water supplies and sewerage, but local authorities have other functions under this part of the Bill. Perhaps the words in the proposed Amendment are not the correct ones for the purpose, but if this kind of definition of a local authority, recognising the existence of the district councils, is not included in the Bill, the district councils will be convinced that the Secretary of State is determined to liquidate them. I hope, however, that the hon. Gentleman has no such evil intention, and that he will accept this Amendment.

Mr. Willis

I beg to second the Amendment.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept the Amendment, though judging by the size of the hon. Gentleman's brief it appears that he is not going to accept it. I cannot understand why not. Surely he should try to give some assurance to the district councils of their place in the Bill. Every time, whether in Committee or on Report, that we have endeavoured to secure the place of the district councils and their recognition in the Bill, the hon. Gentleman has opposed us. This is the last occasion on which we can try to obtain such recognition. I hope that the Amendment, or at least the spirit of the Amendment, will be accepted, either now or in another place.

Mr. J. N. Browne

I am afraid that I shall have to set the seal on the despair of the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser).

Mr. Willis

The district councils' despair.

Mr. Browne

I do not accept the strictures on the Government. After all, both parties when in office have been concerned with local government, and the hon. Gentleman may say of both Governments, "Handsome is that handsome does".

The principal references to local authorities in Part II are in Clause 8, which defines an exporting authority and a receiving authority; and a district council does not possess the necessary statutory powers to carry out such exporting and receiving functions. Clause 16, in page 13 line 25, refers to local authorities, but only in the context of overspill agreements and town development schemes, which, since district councils cannot be given powers under such operations, cannot apply to them. We have just passed a series of Amendments deleting, for the reasons then given, the other references to local authorities.

We feel that it would be improper to put into the Bill what would really be a meaningless interpretation. I assure the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) that the place of the district council in local government is not affected by the Bill in any way; it has nothing specifically to do with district councils. I hope that the district councils will not feel that the hon. Gentleman's remarks are at all justified; but, for the reasons I have given, we really could not accept the Amendment.

Mr. T. Fraser

This Part of the Bill provides for local authorities providing recreational facilities and many other things for overspill population. The district council in a county would normally provide those services. There is no recognition of the district council's place in local government at all, and I could not possibly withdraw the Amendment. I am just as dissatisfied as I was before; indeed, I am now confirmed in my view that the Government have come to despise what is the smallest but, in many ways, the most democratic forum in local government.

Amendment negatived.

Amendment made: In page 15, line 6, leave out "which is" and insert "who are"—[The Lord Advocate.]