HC Deb 07 May 1958 vol 587 cc1319-22

Amendment made: In page 4, line 18, leave out "county" and insert "council".—[Mr. Bevins.]

Mr. Bevins

I beg to move, in page 4, line 28, at the end to insert: (3) Where the provision of any service giving rise to relevant expenditure is a function of a joint board of which the district is wholly or partly comprised in a county borough, subsection (1) of this section shall in relation to the county borough apply to a failure on the part of the joint board to achieve or maintain reasonable standards as it would apply if the failure were that of the county borough council. This Amendment merely remedies an omission. We have made no provision in the Bill as it stands to provide a penalty for a county borough council for the default of a joint board in its area.

8.30 p.m.

Mr. Sparks

Will the hon. Gentleman explain how he proposes to operate this provision, which refers to a failure on the part of the joint board to achieve or maintain reasonable standards? The operative part of the Clause reads: Subject to the provisions of this section, if the appropriate Minister is satisfied that a recipient authority has failed to achieve or maintain reasonable standards in the provision of any of the services giving rise to relevant expenditure. … and this is the important part— …regard being had to the standards maintained in other areas. What does the hon. Gentleman mean by … having regard to the standards maintained in other areas.…"? There may well be an area in which the standards are very low. How will he judge whether the service of an authority is adequate if it is in an area where the standards are low throughout? The wording means absolutely nothing. The phrase I have quoted can have reasonable effect only in an area which has high enough standards to enable one to judge whether an individual authority is or is not maintaining a reasonable standard. If the standards of all the authorities in the area are low, there is no measurement that the Minister can apply in deciding whether or not a joint board is maintaining reasonable standards. This point wants clearing up. As the wording stands, it means absolutely nothing in an area where the standards are below par.

I agree that in another area where the standards are reasonably high the Minister has power to bring a defaulting authority up to the general standard. However, I am sure he will agree that there are areas where the standards are by no means reasonable and are, in some cases, on the low side and there he will have no yardstick to measure the standard of service unless he has some other criterion upon which to make that judgment.

What is the Minister's definition of an area? What geographical conception does he have in mind, especially where joint boards are concerned? Joint boards are not as numerous as, for instance, county district councils. It may be difficult to compare one joint board with another authority of a similar character, because there may not be another joint board of the same type within a considerable radius. How does the Minister propose to assess what is a reasonable standard to be achieved, in view of the variety of the standards of efficiency in the country?

Mr. Bevins

What the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) said was not strictly relevant to the Amendment, which covers a very narrow point, but I will help the hon. Member if I can. Clause 3 (1) is set down as a guide to the appropriate Minister in determining whether a certain local authority has failed to maintain reasonable standards. In deciding whether there had been a failure, the Minister would have regard to the standards maintained in other areas and to any regulations made under that subsection prescribing standards.

I agree that the Clause itself does not lay down any hard and fast criteria. It is difficult to see how it could do so in the circumstances of the case. It is simply a guide. We are here concerned with the relatively narrow point of applying certain penalties to county borough councils which fall within the areas of joint boards. I hope that that will help the hon. Gentleman a little.

Amendment agreed to.