HC Deb 22 July 1958 vol 592 cc363-7

(1) No change of area or status affected ender this Part of this Act or under section one hundred and forty-one of the Act of 1933 shall affect the continuance of the Confederation of the Cinque Ports.

(2) An Order under this Part of this Act or the said section one hundred and forty-one affecting any port or ancient town of the Confederation may make provision for securing the continued discharge of functions in relation to the Confederation (including, but without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing, provision for the preservation so far as necessary for the purposes of this section, and with or without modifications, of any existing corporation), for appropriating property or providing funds for the discharge of functions as aforesaid, and otherwise for securing that anything required or authorised to be done by, to, or in relation to the Confederation or any Court thereof may continue to be done.

(3) Subsection (5) of section thirty-eight of this Act shall apply in relation to the foregoing provisions of this section as it applies in relation to sulbsections (1) to (4) of that section.

Read a Second time.

Mr. H. Brooke

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

In some ways, this is the most substantial of the Amendments made in another place, and yet, curiously enough, it has no effect on local government reorganisation as such. It leaves the way free for any local government reorganisation to take place in the counties concerned, Kent and Sussex. All that it does is to make sure that the reorganisation, if any, which may be carried out will not affect or undermine the Confederation of the Cinque Ports. The House may remember that this was a subject to which I made reference on Third Reading, after it had been briefly discussed in Standing Committee.

The purpose of the new Clause is to ensure that any changes of area or status which may be found necessary in the interests of effective and convenient local government in the Cinque Ports or in the ancient town of Rye, which is associated with the Cinque Ports, can be put into effect without impairing the continued existence or the dignities or the traditions of the Confederation of the Cinque Ports.

Without going in great detail into these fascinating matters, perhaps I can give a hypothetical example of what it is desired to achieve. Those hon. Members who served on the Standing Committee will recollect that we heard a lot about hypothetical examples at that time. This is purely hypothetical. Suppose it were to happen—I do not for one moment say that it will—that in the course of local government reorganisation in South-East England, a recommendation were to come forward, and to be approved by the Minister and this House, that two of the Cinque Port local authorities were to be joined in one.

That might mean that where there had been two boroughs formerly, there would be only one in the future. That would destroy inadvertently one of the corporations which form part of the Confederation of the Cinque Ports. Whatever anybody believes about the traditions of this country, I am sure that nobody wants the Cinque Ports to be arbitrarily affected by the Measure which we are now passing for local government reorganisation.

The Cinque Ports were not originally created as local government units, although they now possess, having obtained them much more recently, certain local government powers. If we did not make any change of this kind, it might be that the county council, or Minister, or Parliament might feel almost debarred from making a change that was in the interests of effective and convenient local government simply because, if the change were made, it might break up the Confederation of the Cinque Ports.

What this new Clause does is to cater for the kind of hypothetical possibility which I mentioned by enabling the Minister, in an Order which effects an amalgamation of that sort, to incorporate provisions that will preserve a special and separate Cinque Port corporation, as distinct from a municipal corporation, for the appropriate part of the new enlarged borough. This special Cinque Port corporation would exist, and would have functions and rights, solely for the purpose of enabling that part of the enlarged borough to continue enjoying and bearing the responsibility of being a Cinque Port and helping to maintain the Cinque Ports Confederation.

The Order would make any necessary provision for the constitution and governance of the corporation, for earmarking any corporate property and for the raising of any rate moneys needed for the performance of its essential Cinque Port functions; and for purposes related to these. For local government purposes, on the other hand, the area would be administered by the council of the new enlarged municipal borough into which it had been merged.

Mr. Mitchison

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will tell us what are the functions of a Cinque Port as a Cinque Port; in short, what it does.

Mr. Brooke

The Cinque Ports have a certain Admiralty jurisdiction. I am speaking now of the Confederation of Cinque Ports. I am not sure that I would be capable of stating precisely what are the differences between the individual and the collective privileges, but the Confederation of the Cinque Ports has its Admiralty jurisdiction, has its privileges at Coronations, and has its power, as the House well knows, to appoint a Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. I am quite sure that, whatever other faults there may be in the Bill, the House would not wish, by any act of its own, to cast any doubt or to throw any shadow over the undoubted power of the Confederation of the Cinque Ports to appoint its Lord Warden in a remarkable ceremony which some of us have had the great honour of watching.

Mr. Mitchison

The Bill already provides for the maintenance of ancient boroughs, with mayors but without functions. We are now going one further. An Order may be made for preserving the functions of the Cinque Ports, and, even in spite of the Tory economy campaign, producing some money for the purpose.

We asked what the functions were, and the first answer was that a Cinque Port has an Admiralty jurisdiction. There are many courts in this country which have jurisdictions but which have not sat for centuries, and I would recommend the right hon. Gentleman to study the constitution and history of the Intrinsical Court of Haverfordwest, which is an excellent example. If he wishes to find a list of them, I can show him where it is afterwards. I cannot believe that the existence of an Admiralty jurisdiction which is never exercised is a good and sufficient reason for being so tender to the Cinque Ports.

Next, we are told that they have a beautiful ceremony and elect a Warden. It would be much simpler to provide for the permanent survival of the Warden than to keep all the Cinque Ports going for that purpose, but no doubt the right hon. Gentleman will have consulted the tourist industry and the authorities who attend to these things, and they will have told him that the Cinque Ports will have some dollar value, so I suppose that we must do our best to keep this remarkable survival going.

All I hope and pray is that the Orders provided for in this Clause are not to be extended to anything larger or more important than the Cinque Ports, because if ever a Government took power to do things by Order by one subsection this is the case in question. I feel that we ought to let the right hon. Gentleman preserve his Cinque Ports with their functions, if any, and certainly with the good wishes of all of us to the present Warden.

Question put and agreed to.