HC Deb 02 March 1960 vol 618 cc1335-66

9.28 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Gilmour Leburn)

I beg to move in page 1, line 8, after "persons" to insert "(a)".

I think that it might be for the convenience of the Committee, Sir Gordon, if we could consider, at the same time, the Amendment in page 1, line 9, at the end to insert: (b) who provide such services and are local authorities within the meaning of the Harbours, Piers and Ferries (Scotland) Act, 1937, or (c) who propose to provide such services. and also the Amendment in page 1, line 15, to leave out subsection (3), and the Amendment to the Title, line 1, to leave out "wholly or mainly."

The Chairman

I think that that would be convenient for the Committee.

Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)

Would it be convenient also, Sir Gordon, if we were to take the Amendment to the Secretary of State's Amendment in page 1, line 9, at the same time?

The Chairman

When we have passed the first Amendment, in line 8, after "persons", to insert "(a)", we shall then come to the Amendment in line 9 and take then the Amendment to it standing in the name of the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) and his hon. Friends.

Mr. Leburn

In accepting an Opposition Amendment to Clause 1 (3), in Committee, I undertook to reconsider this subsection and, if necessary, put down an Amendment clarifying its intentions particularly in relation to local authorities. I explained later that any new Amendment would be designed to ensure that local authorities would not be cut out of the Bill. I have also borne in mind the point made by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) that there should be room for assistance to what he described as a holding company if it were desired to give assistance in that way.

9.30 p.m.

I have given effect to these undertakings by this series of Amendments, which propose the deletion of subsection (3) and the substitution of a revised subsection (1). The effect of the revised subsection is that three categories of persons may be assisted under the Bill. The first category is persons (a) who provide, and are wholly or mainly engaged in providing sea transport services serving the Highlands and Islands. These words are already in the Clause and the only change is the addition of "(a)". This provision would also allow for assistance to be given to a company that would be responsible for providing services but would he doing so by making an arrangement with, perhaps, an operating company.

This would be the holding company arrangement that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) had in mind. The holding company would be the principal and the operating company its agent. I am advised that a company which made arrangements of this kind could properly be regarded as providing services, just as a local authority provides houses although it does not necessarily build them.

The second class of person that may be assisted are those described in paragraph (b): persons … who provide such services and are local authorities within the meaning of the Harbours, Piers and Ferries (Scotland) Act. 1937". This clarifies the position of local authorities, first, by mentioning them specifically and, secondly, by making clear that they are persons who may be assisted.

Since paragraph (b) is not now qualified by the words wholly or mainly engaged in providing", any doubt as to the application of the provision to local authorities is removed. Perhaps I should explain that the reason for defining local authorities as I have done is because the local authorities as defined in the 1937 Act—that is, county councils and town councils—are the only local authorities which have power to acquire and operate ferries.

The third class is those described in paragraph (c): persons … who propose to provide such services. This enables assistance to be given to intending operators when help is necessary prior to the start of the service, for example, by means of a grant or loan towards the cost of a ship. With these three Amendments in subsection (1), the existing subsection (3) now becomes unnecessary and can be dropped.

The last of the series of Amendments provides for the deletion of "wholly or mainly" from the Long Title. This is appropriate to the inclusion of local authorities as persons who may be assisted. Clearly, local authorities cannot be described as wholly or mainly engaged in providing such services. The inclusion, therefore, of these words in the Long Title would be an inaccurate description of the range of persons who may be assisted under the Bill. I hope that, with these explanations, hon. Members may feel disposed to accept the Amendment.

The Chairman

It might be for the convenience of the Committee to pass the first Amendment and then formally to propose the Minister's second Amendment, when the Amendment to it by the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) can be discussed.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment proposed: In page 1, line 9, at end insert: (b)who provide such services and are local authorities within the meaning of the Harbours, Piers and Ferries (Scotland) Act, 1937, or (c)who propose to provide such services.—[Mr. Leburn.]

Mr. T. Fraser

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, in line 2, after "1937", to insert: (c) any district council which provides such services. The Amendment proposed by the Joint Under-Secretary gives effect to his undertaking in Committee that he would make it abundantly clear in the Statute that local authorities could be assisted under the Bill. It was necessary to do more than make it abundantly clear. It was necessary, of course, to amend the Bill to make it possible at all for local authorities to be assisted under the Bill.

Under the Bill as drafted, however, the Joint Under-Secretary was at pains to tell us that "persons" in subsection (1) included local authorities. Now he states "local authorities" without any qualification. The assumption was that any local authority which provided a service ancillary to a sea transport service might qualify for assistance under the Bill. I put it like that because we must never assume that anyone who provides such a service will always receive assistance. Each application must be considered on its merits.

Since the Joint Under-Secretary brought forward his Amendment he has shown to us that the local authorities he had in mind were those within the meaning of the Harbours, Piers and Ferries (Scotland) Act, 1937, and these are the local authorities which normally provide the services mentioned. The hon. Gentleman will not deny, however, that some of those authorities having powers under the 1937 Act have declined to exercise their powers and have delegated them to the district councils.

Has not Argyll County Council passed the whole responsibility for piers to the district councils? I well remember it doing this many years ago when there were many piers in Argyllshire which the county council was invited to take over and manage. The job of taking them all over was so great that the county council felt it could not undertake the task and as it did not want to incur the odium of selecting which piers it would take it gave the whole responsibility for piers to the district councils.

There are some people concerned with the well-being of district councils in Scotland who think that the Argyll County Council did this out of a desire to help the district councils in their work. In fact, it did this out of a desire to relieve itself of a responsibility, and the district councils were given the responsibility of managing those piers. Are not those the very piers that will be required for use by vessels that would qualify for assistance under the Bill?

It may be that at any time any of the other Highland county councils will delegate their powers under the 1937 Act to the district councils. If the demand for the provision of a local service arises, as is possible, it is equally possible that the county council, rather than spread the burden over the whole county, will allow the district council for the area to provide the service. In other words, it will delegate its responsibility under the 1937 Act to the district council.

If the district council can come in in that way, as it has already done, it seems to those of us who have looked at the work undertaken by the district councils that if the Joint Under-Secretary gives effect to what he said during the discussion of the principle of the Bill in the Scottish Grand Committee about assisting local authorities as well as persons who are willing to provide such essential services in the Highlands, it will be necessary for him to accept our Amendment.

I have said enough to show that there is justification for bringing the district councils in as suggested. I realise that the district councils were not written into the 1937 Act, but then the district councils were written into very few Acts at that time. We have become increasingly aware of the need to fertilise local government in Scotland, to give it more power than was given in the 1930s, bearing in mind that district councils were born only in 1939 and had a very uneasy birth after the demise of the county councils. We are doing our best, we hope, to help our local government bodies in Scotland to do the work. We are anxious to encourage more people to take an interest in local government and there is, particularly in the Highlands and Islands, much to be said for giving some encouragement to the smallest of the local authorities, namely, the district councils.

It seems to be the position that some of the piers that may be used, or ought to be used, for an improved service at the present time, are, in fact, owned by the district councils. It also seems that others of these services which the county councils have power to provide under the 1937 Act—and in some cases are not providing at present—should be provided if we are to improve services in the Highlands and Islands. It seems to me likely that they would give these duties to the district councils.

I hope that the joint Under-Secretary of State will accept this Amendment and give the Secretary of State power to give to the district councils the job we believe they should do.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

If the district councils are to be encouraged to do the kind of thing which the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) envisages—with which I agree—then at some point the Government will have to look at their financial powers. I am grateful to the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Government Amendment which proposes to remove the words "wholly or mainly" from the Title of the Bill and ensures that the Bill covers holding companies and local authorities.

If I read that Amendment aright it does relax the bonds on the Secretary of State. I am glad to see that the Secretary of State is here—that that wild man has been let out of the Scottish Office. I see that he is escorted by the Lord Advocate on the one side and by the Joint Under-Secretary of State on the other.

As far as I understand it, the controversial words "wholly or mainly" will not apply to subsection (1, c)—that is to say, it will not apply to people who propose to provide such services in the future. The Secretary of State, under this Clause at any rate, would be enabled, if he were so minded and could escape from the Lord Advocate and the Joint Under-Secretary of State for an afternoon, to give assistance to a company which is not at present providing services but which proposed to provide them, even if that company was not "wholly or mainly" engaged in the area. That is how I read it.

I do not quite know what the effect of Clause 2 (2) is, but presumably "wholly or mainly" add something to the Amendment we have passed to Clause 1 (1, a). If they do add something to that, there is presumably some reason for leaving them out of subsection (1, c).

I welcome this Amendment which gives effect to many of the points made in Committee. I hope it means that there will be no question of holding companies and councils not being included in the Bill.

9.45 p.m.

Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)

I welcomed the undertaking given by the Minister in Committee. In addressing myself to these Amendments, I think that the point about district councils should be discussed a little further. I am not quite certain how many district councils would in practice be able to exercise these powers. I cannot see much argument against making it permissive for them to do so. A district council area like Bellshill, in Lanarkshire, has a population of perhaps 20,000. I am told the whole area has 60,000.

A district council in the Outer Hebrides might have a population of 2,000. Perhaps the biggest of them, Lewis, say, would have a population of 24,000 or thereabouts, but one could get down to islands like Uist and Eriskay with a few hundred. There is no comparison between one district council and another, between, say, Bellshill and a small island in the Outer Hebrides. Even if the populations are similar, a district council with a population of 20,000 in the heart of industrial Lanarkshire and a district council with a population of 20,000 in one of the Scottish Highlands, on the North-East or North-West, are completely different when it comes to rateable values and what they are able to contribute from their rates.

In a heavily industrialised area, there is any amount of highly rateable subjects and very considerable rating revenue, while in the other case, although the population might be the same, it would be scattered over a much wider area and there would be a very small revenue from a heavily derated area. To make comparisons on any fiat basis of population or area is very difficult.

On the other hand, there seems to be no argument against allowing district councils to operate these services provided that county councils are prepared to delegate the necessary power. I think that that must involve from the start delegating financial powers to district councils, and I know that that is a step which Highland local authorities at least are extremely unwilling to take. They are very jealous of their financial control, perhaps quite rightly so.

Another difficulty is to find district councils with the staff, or able to get the staff, to operate the services, particularly the ferries.

However, allowing for all that—and I think that I have fairly reasonably stated the difficulties, which we recognise, in case the Secretary of State intended to throw them out in one heap—I cannot see any argument against permitting district councils to operate the services if they are able and willing to do so. In practice, it will largely remain with the county councils to decide whether they are to delegate financial responsibility and power to the district councils from the county council centres.

Argyll is more generous than most other counties in that respect, but Ross and Cromarty has refused time after time to trust district councils. I do not think that that county council trusts district councils on the mainland let alone on the islands. I do not see Inverness County Council or Ross and Cromarty delegating financial responsibility to district councils. I wish they would do so more. That would give district councils a sense of participating in local democracy and in the life and administration of the areas for which they are responsible. That is highly important, and we all want to see that. Merely to offer the new opportunities when in practice everything would have to come from the county council would not take them very far, and the Secretary of State will have to be very forthcoming about the financial aspect of any change such as is proposed.

On the other hand, I do not see why he should not be so forthcoming. If a district council is permitted to provide these services, there is no reason why, as from the passing of the Bill, it should not be able to go direct to the Secretary of State, instead of having to worry about the county council, to ask whether it can qualify to receive a grant or loan.

Is there any reason why we should not encourage local authorities, county councils, or the authorities defined under the 1937 Act, private firms and various other people to come along? Is there any reason why we should not also allow the district councils to ask the Secretary of State for Scotland for a grant or a loan?

If the Amendment were accepted they would not have to go through the county council. They would be enabled to go direct to the Secretary of State for Scotland in the same way as any other person defined in the Bill. I do not see any argument against giving them this power.

I support the Amendment and I hope that it will be accepted.

Mr. Forbes Hendry (Aberdeenshire, West)

I am impressed by the arguments put forward by hon. Gentlemen opposite for the inclusion of district councils because I regard these bodies as potentially important, especially in the North of Scotland. The importance of these bodies is not appreciated in the South, where a county council can act as an executive local authority. In the vast areas of the North, one finds decent men who have little or no interest in what happens at the other end of the country and who are not prepared to go down and take part in the county council's discussions.

These bodies are frustrated because the 1929 Act—not the 1939 Act as the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) said—was intended to give these small bodies extensive executive powers in their own areas, but, for some reason which I do not understand, that was not done.

I know that in my constituency district councils have little or nothing to do. They are frustrated. Men of substance, good will, and ability who go on to the district councils find themselves without a job because the county councils will not allow them to do anything. I ask the Secretary of State for Scotland to consider very carefully whether the whole set-up of local government in Scotland should not be looked at to give some reasonable responsibility to district councils.

In this case, I do not think it is appropriate to write in district councils because, as the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) said, very considerable thought would need to be given to the financial powers of these bodies. To write them into the Bill would be nugatory, but the potential importance of these bodies is such that the Secretary of State for Scotland should give careful thought to giving them reasonable powers in the future.

Mr. A. C. Manuel (Central Ayrshire)

I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will consider the Amendment favourably. On this occasion it would be wrong to advance the argument that district councils throughout Scotland as a whole should get more powers, although I am in favour of that. The Secretary of State for Scotland would have a strong argument against accepting the Amendment if we advanced an argument along those lines tonight, because in the southern counties where there are large aggregations of populations among a geographically smaller county council area one would find that the county council as such would be the appropriate authority to do work of this kind.

That argument does not hold good in far flung areas of the crofter counties. I am thinking of Argyllshire. I hope that anyone who has any responsibility for Argyllshire will realise the importance of the Amendment in trying to achieve the objectives outlined in the Bill. It would be very difficult to carry out, as they ought to be carried out, the principles outlined in the Bill for ferry services and piers if the conduct of these businesses was carried out from the county council's main offices. But if it were operated in the district council areas, where the local people know of suitable persons to operate the ferry and do the necessary work in connection with the pier, it would be a success.

I hope that we are not going to rely upon the power of delegation possessed by county councils. They have been very loth to use that power. I have been amazed at the attitude of some county councilors, who are also members of district councils by virtue of their being county councilors, who have attended meetings of district councils and have listened to their problems without realising that those problems could easily be solved through some delegation of county council powers. If district councils were allowed to regard themselves as local authorities in their own right, there would be no financial difficulty because they would receive a grant from the Secretary of State, and if they did not have sufficient rating to augment it the amount of grant could be reconsidered in that light.

I understand that we are also dealing with the Amendment to leave out the words "wholly or mainly" from the Title. If they were being left out of Clause 1 (1) it would suit me much better. We should then be reaching the situation we argued for in Committee.

I hope that we shall have some consideration for the geographical areas providing these services. We should try to do something to make district councils feel that they are more than mere bodies to provide playing fields in the Highlands, and perhaps not even that in some of the very scattered communities. Very often there is no question even of street lighting, which is the other main responsibility they have, so that they are left with virtually nothing. I hope that we can use the Bill to put some life and vigour into district councils which, in many areas, are dying for want of a real interest.

Sir David Robertson (Caithness and Sutherland)

There is considerable merit in the Amendment. It has been supported by almost every hon. Member who has spoken so far, including my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry). I could well have made the same speech as he made. I realise that we have many very fine district councils. I had the honour of meeting the headquarters delegation to a conference held in Wick last summer, where I got the impression that they were all very frustrated. They are willing and anxious to do a local authority job.

They are the very beginning of democracy—the first stage in local government—yet we seem to keep them impoverished. They are subject to the orders of the county council. That may be desirable, but I should like to see them given greater freedom. No persons could be better equipped to do the necessary job in a county like Sutherland, which is similar to Argyll. Since, in that county, the county council devolve responsibility for piers on to the district councils, I do not see why the same should not be done in Sutherland and Caithness.

I do not think that we should be hindered from doing something which is right because of some Amendments which may have to be made to the Local Government Act, 1929. All kinds of changes have taken place in the world since then. It seems to me a simple matter. Take the piers—

It being Ten o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.

Committee report Progress.

Proceedings on the Highlands and Islands Shipping Services Bill exempted, at this day's Sitting, from the provisions of Standing Order No. 1 (Sittings of the House).—[Mr Maclay.]

Committee to sit again forthwith.

Bill accordingly again considered in Committee.

Sir D. Robertson

I was referring to the willingness and ability of local councillors to do the job, as envisaged by the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) and other hon. Members, and which, I think, they are well qualified to do. Apparently, under the 1925 Act the responsibility and the financial provisions are designed to go to the county councils and not to the local authorities. I was saying that if this is a right thing to do, I see no reason why the local authority regulations should not be altered if that be the will of the Committee.

I do not suppose that that can be done under the provisions of this Bill, although the thought occurs to me that as they would be entirely grants, for example, for piers—piers were specifically mentioned—for which none of these county councils could find the money for repairs, that might be dealt with under this Bill or under the Congested Districts (Scotland) Act. If it were a question of grants there would be no difficulty at all, because the total cost of restoring these piers to meet the needs of the Bill would be made. For that reason, I strongly urge my hon. Friend, who has piloted the Bill so well through its various stages, to tell us that he is favourable to the main changes being made, even if he cannot bring that matter within the ambit of this Bill.

Mr. James Dempsey (Coatbridge and Airdrie)

I support the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) who, I believe has been actuated by considerations of geography. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to travel in some parts of the West of Scotland, in the North and in the Islands on local authority business, know of the special problem which exists in that part of the country which does not obtain in the industrial belt. I recall that in one part in which I found myself it was necessary to travel by chartered aeroplane if one wished to attend a meeting of the county council. Therefore, I think, we should pay special regard to the geographical considerations.

We should do our utmost to avoid being drawn into controversy regarding delegated functions, because that could be a contentious subject in many parts of the country. It might even result in the explosion of a political bombshell in some corners of Scotland. It seems to me that if a large county authority is willing to delegate functions of this kind voluntarily, we should make provision in the Bill for such an arrangement. We must be careful and remember that we are talking about district councils in remote parts of the country. We should avoid dealing with any situation which would result in a lack of uniformity, duplication of services and economic wastage, which could happen in the industrial parts were we to say that functions could be delegated from county councils from district councils. It is for that reason that I contend that there are special circumstances in this case which make the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton a practical proposition worthy of consideration.

Great stress has been laid on the question of finance. It should not be difficult to apply the financial provisions if the Secretary of State is willing to accept the Amendment. The county council could easily delegate that administration to the district council. It could delegate other particular services to the district for which it is financially responsible and for which it receives in return some contribution, either by way of Exchequer block grant, or by a directly approved grant. I hope that the Secretary of State will consider introducing a direct grant for services of this nature, which are essential to the country if modern transport facilities are to be maintained in an efficient fashion.

From the point of view of geography and co-operation with the county council, and the financial influences which are bound to arise, I cannot see any valid reason why the right hon. Gentleman should not accept the Amendment so ably moved by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Leburn

Perhaps I ought to have intervened a little earlier, but as one who has had a great interest in district councils and served on them for a great many years, I thought it would be interesting to hear all that had to be said on this subject.

Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)

We have not said it all.

Mr. Leburn

All that has been said meantime on this subject. Before I turn to the Amendment, I will reply to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), who referred to paragraph (c) in regard to those who propose to provide services. That applies only to the question of the Secretary of State giving assistance. Once they start to provide the services, they will come under subsection (1, a) or (1, b), as the case may be. I think the hon. Member will understand from what I have said that it does not necessarily mean that the words "wholly or mainly" are cut out.

Turning to the question which the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) put when moving his Amendment, we all understand that the Amendment is directed to adding district councils to the local authorities to whom the Secretary of State may give assistance under the Bill. At present, local authorities whom the Secretary of State may assist are town councils and county councils. This is the effect of the definition by reference to the Harbours, Piers and Ferries (Scotland) Act, 1937, which defines local authorities in that way. The definition includes a combination, if necessary, of county councils and town councils. That Act confers on those authorities power, among other things, to acquire and operate ferries, and suitable ferries operated by a local authority could well be sea transport services under the Bill.

It has been the Government's intention that the Secretary of State should be able to assist local authorities to provide such services, but here we come to the rub: district councils do not have power to provide sea transport services serving the Highlands and Islands or, indeed, sea transport services of any kind. The Amendment therefore would be of no effect. If a local authority has no power, there is no point in providing that the Minister should be able to assist it.

The hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan) is quite right that, strictly speaking, a district council is "a person" in respect of this Act. The other point which he made and which was raised by two other hon. Members concerns the question of delegating powers from local authorities to county councils. That could be done, because the county council would be the provider of the service. This is also true of the point which I made to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland about what he called the establishment of a holding company. It could be the provider of the service, delegating to the district council as agents. Piers are not sea transport services but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) said, district councils can be assisted in the provision of piers under the Congested Districts (Scotland) Act.

In view of the fact that district councils do not have powers to provide sea transport services, I ask the hon. Member for Hamilton not to press the Amendment. The question of giving district councils powers to provide these services goes beyond the scope of the Bill, which is to enable the Secretary of State to give assistance, not to bring in other bodies and to give them additional powers. I therefore very much hope that the hon. Member will not press the Amendment.

Mr. T. Fraser

The Joint Under-Secretary of State has tried to be helpful throughout the consideration of the Bill, but he has done himself less than justice in that speech. He impressed on the Committee the proposition that district councils have no power to provide sea transport services. Hon. Members agree that that is so. Would not he equally agree if I say that the county councils and town councils have not the power to provide sea transport services? Hon. Members will echo that, too.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State says that the provision of a ferry might be construed as a sea transport service, but I invite him to look back to what he said on Second Reading about the words in brackets in Clause 1 (2). I will read the subsection: In the foregoing subsection 'sea transport services' means public transport services (including such services ancillary thereto as are necessary for the proper functioning thereof)… That is, any services on the land which are ancillary to a sea transport service. It includes a bus service and it includes a road haulage service, as long as it is ancillary to the sea transport service. It includes all the harbour and pier facilities, which are all ancillary.

It is only because of this wide definition of sea transport services that the Joint Under-Secretary of State can bring in the local authorities at all. What I said was that some of these services which are ancillary to sea transport services are at present provided by district councils in the Highlands and Islands. The powers have been delegated; they could not have performed the function otherwise. All that my Amendment mentions is district councils which provide services. Under the Amendment they would not get assistance if they were not providing the service.

10.15 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary did not deny that there are district councils providing these services at present. He said that they can obtain grants under the Congested Districts (Scotland) Act. That is not good enough. If we are willing to give the county council or the town council, as the case may be, financial assistance under the terms of the Bill when enacted for the provision of those land facilities ancillary to a sea transport service, exactly the same facilities should be provided for the district council. Why should the Government tell the district council that it must go to some other quarter for assistance to improve the facilities it provides? Is there any reason why the district council should not come to the same door as the county council or the town council for assistance for providing exactly the same service?

The Argyll County Council has delegated responsibility for piers to the district councils because it could not face up to the responsibilities in a county having so many piers. Does the Joint Under-Secretary say that when a district council asks for assistance to improve a pier so as to improve sea transport services recognised by the Bill, the district council will have to go to the county council which will then assume responsibility and make application to the Secretary of State? I do not think that the county council will. It has already washed its hands of the whole affair.

District councils have inadequate powers, but no one should assume that they have no rating powers at all. They have rating powers. District councils are allowed to rate up to 1s. in the £ of the rateable value. Under all the Statutes since 1929 by which they have been given statutory powers they are able to rate above that level. There are many district councils in Scotland providing services costing up to about 3s. in the £. If this is a service which is much more likely to be provided by the authority on the spot than by an outside authority, I do not see why Parliament should not assist the authority on the spot.

I do not want to talk about the local authority serving the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan). What are the county towns of the two counties—Inverness and Dingwall, on the east coast of Scotland serving those islands out in the Atlantic. If a local authority is to provide a service under the Bill in those islands in the Atlantic, which authority is it to be—the council in the area or the county council with its headquarters at Dingwall or Inverness? It will clearly not be the authority situated on the eastern seaboard on the mainland of Scotland. It will be the district council.

In any case, the Joint Under-Secretary has not replied to this proposition. The district councils in Argyllshire provide the service at present. If the hon. Gentleman is not willing to accept the district councils as proposed in the Amendment, he is saying that of all the local authorities providing these services in the Highlands and Islands the only ones that will be excluded from any benefit are the district councils in Argyllshire.

I see that the Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble), has departed from the scene, I believe temporarily. He has been here for most of the evening, but as soon as the Joint Under-Secretary made his speech the Parliamentary Private Secretary departed. I do not know if it is another resignation. The district councils in his constituency are providing these services. Why? Will not the Under-Secretary accept the Amendment and enable the Secretary of State to accept an application for assistance from these district councils?

Mr. Leburn

On the various points put to me by the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) perhaps I might try to clear up first the one about powers of rating. At no time did I suggest that district councils did not have powers of rating.

I will turn now to the hon. Gentleman's question about the provision of certain facilities. The facilities which I think that he had particularly in mind were piers. If we are to widen the Bill to give assistance to everyone who in any way provides any kind of facility, it will become very wide indeed.

Quite frankly, I think that where the hon. Gentleman has gone slightly wrong in this is that he has linked his proposals to the words in subsection (2) of Clause 1: … (including such services ancillary thereto as are necessary for the proper functioning thereof) … It may partly have been my fault, in that many times in Committee I referred to these ancillaries as things like piers and harbours, but if the hon. Gentleman will read on in subsection (2) he will see that it says: … provided in an undertaking which consists of, or includes to a substantial extent, the provision of public transport by sea. Coming back from that, I suggest that the trouble is that the district councils do not have the powers to provide sea transport services and, therefore, as I said before, the Amendment would have no effect. It is not that I am unsympathetic towards the hon. Gentleman's remarks. It is just that the district councils do not have powers to provide sea transport services. If we link that to Clause 1 (2), the ancillaries to which the hon. Gentleman referred are qualified by the words: … provided in an undertaking which consists of, or includes to a substantial extent, the provision of public transport by sea. The hon. Gentleman may say, of course, that the time might come when the district councils should be allowed to provide such services as sea transport services, but I think that that is a matter for general policy at some later date. Should the district councils, at a later date, be given that power, the necessary enabling legislation would no doubt take into account the question of assistance being given by the Secretary of State. At present, however, they do not have that power.

Mr. T. Fraser

Then give it to them.

Mr. Leburn

I have tried to make it clear that it would be going quite beyond the scope of the Bill to use it as a means of giving district councils power to operate sea services or shipping services. This is an enabling Bill, to enable the Secretary of State to give assistance. It is not a Bill to widen the power of district councils. I am sorry, but I must resist the Amendment.

Mr. T. Fraser

I regret very much that I have not the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Second Reading debate with me, because the hon. Gentleman is now contradicting what he then said. He did not admit then that the words: … (including such services ancillary thereto as are necessary for the proper functioning thereof) … were qualified or restricted by the words that follow: … provided in an undertaking which consists of, or includes to a substantial extent, the provision of public transport by sea. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman is now construing those words wrongly.

I wonder whether the Lord Advocate would look at this? I read subsection (2) as follows: In the foregoing subsection 'sea transport services' means public transport services"— and then, to make clear that the Government do not mean only transport services, … (including such services ancillary thereto as are necessary for the proper functioning thereof). On Second Reading, the Under-Secretary made clear that these words were put in to cover all those land services ancillary to sea transport—

Mr. Leburn

I agree with that, but going on to say: … provided in an undertaking which consists of, or includes to a substantial extent, the provision of public transport by sea.

Mr. Fraser

May I read these words from the text? If we leave out the words in brackets which, we were led to believe, were put in to include those services that are not sea transport services but are ancillary services on land, the subsection would read: … 'sea transport services' means public transport services"— with this qualification— provided in an undertaking which consists of, or includes to a substantial extent, the provision of public transport by sea. That is what is meant by sea transport services. That does not refer to the ancillaries. There is not one hon. Member who sat through the Second Reading debate or the Committee stage of the Bill who will not agree that we were clearly given the impression by the Joint Under-Secretary of State that these words in brackets meant the provision of services other than sea transport services, but services on land that were ancillary to the sea transport services.

What the Joint Under-Secretary is saying now is that he has brought in the local authorities—meaning the local authorities which provide a ferry service—to qualify for assistance under the Bill. That is not what we expected to emerge from the consideration of the Bill both in the Committee stage and now. What we had a right to expect was that the Under-Secretary would make clear that the local authorities would be entitled to provide services that would qualify for assistance under the Bill free from the restriction that they must be wholly or mainly engaged in running a sea transport service.

If the Under-Secretary sticks to his guns we are having much less than we had before. We are now being told that the local authorities that are being brought in by this Amendment are those which will provide a ferry service and nothing else, and all that we said about those services ashore that were ancillary to a sea transport service ought never to have been said at all, because apparently they are no longer applicable. If I am wrong in that there is no reason why the Amendment should not be accepted.

I think the Under-Secretary has been badly advised and that when he looks at what he said during the Second Reading debate and at what he encouraged hon. Members to say both on Second Reading and during the Committee stage, he will see that he is regarding the wording of subsection (2) as being much more restricted than we were led to believe. I shall regret very much if he does not make a concession.

The hon. Gentleman seems to be refusing to tell us—I wonder whether he will yet say—whether a pier in the Orkneys and Shetlands is ancillary to a sea transport service. If it is, and if it is provided by a county council or by the Town Council of Lerwick, will the local authority be entitled to ask for some assistance for the land services in connection with the Northern Isles Shipping Service? Will the local authority be told that it does not come under the Bill, or will it be entitled to consideration? I do not ask whether it will get the grant, but if the Town Council of Lerwick is entitled to consideration, why should not a town council in Argyllshire which is responsible for a pier be equally entitled to consideration?

10.30 p.m.

Mr. Willis

The Joint Under-Secretary is surely going to answer the reasonable question that my hon. Friend has asked. He asked whether a town council that was responsible for a pier would be able to qualify for a grant under the Bill. We have had a long argument about this. It seems to rest on the interpretation of subsection (2), and I should have thought that we might have had the benefit of the wisdom and advice of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate. Surely he can advise us about what this really means. The argument really centres around whether the ancillary services have to be part of the sea services or can be separate, as I understand it. That is really the point, and a very simple one it should be for him.

I cannot understand why, when he is confronted with the perfectly reasonable proposition that the district councils should be given these powers, the Joint Under-Secretary says that this is not a Bill to give powers to local authorities or to district councils. It may not be a Bill to give powers to local authorities. Indeed, we are not asking for that. But what we do say is that we have discovered, during the course of our consideration of the Bill, that it would be an advantage if the Secretary of State availed himself of power to give these grants to district councils.

What difference would it make? We pass many Bills giving powers to local authorities of one kind and another. I am not certain that all such Bills set out to give powers to local authorities, but they certainly succeed in doing so, and it happens all the time. There is nothing very wrong with what we propose. The nation will not collapse as a result of a breach of a rather obscure constitutional practice. I have always thought that it was the proud boast of the British people that our Constitution was democratic and flexible, that it was able to meet any situation, and that it enabled us to tackle problems as they arose with despatch, expediency and efficiency.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

That is the Tory garden fête speech.

Mr. Willis

Yes, we hear a lot to that effect. In lecturing on this subject, as I have done in a great many spheres of life, I have always used this argument and said that we ought to be proud of our Constitution—we were not like the stupid Americans; we did not tie ourselves left, right and centre so that we found ourselves unable to act.

Here all we want to do is to say that if a district council has the initiative, if it has the men with the enterprise to go ahead and provide something which is recognised as necessary, it should be helped. Yet we are told that we cannot help. We recognise that we ought to help such a council and, if we did, we should be forwarding our purpose in the Highlands. But, apparently, some mysterious business of procedure stops us. Really, this is not good enough.

In all seriousness, I put it to the hon. Gentleman that the arguments advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) were very cogent arguments. I confess that I was not at first very enthusiastic about the Amendment, but, after listening to the arguments, I have become very enthusiastic about it. I have been persuaded by the cogency of my hon. Friend's arguments on the matter.

The Minister should be sufficiently flexibly minded to say, "I have made the case. I recognise that the hon. Member for Hamilton has made a number of good points. I will look at this matter. It must go to another place. There is plenty of opportunity to put in this Amendment, or to give it proper consideration." Hon. Members who have spoken on his own side have been in favour of it. If the hon. Gentleman cannot accept it "off the cuff," why cannot he say that he will consider it and introduce it in another place? The aim is a good one and should be encouraged.

Mr. Leburn

In reply to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis), I shall try to make the point a little more clearly. It must be my fault that I have failed to get it across. I can best do it by following the point raised by the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) concerning Lerwick. If that town council is providing the shipping services and qualifies for grant and the Secretary of State deals sympathetically with its application, it can be assisted in regard to the ancillaries—that is, piers. It cannot, however, be assisted unless it is providing the shipping service. That applies not only to local authorities, but to companies and to persons who are providing or who propose to provide the services.

I have been trying to find the Second Reading quotation to which the hon. Member for Hamilton referred. Unfortunately, I cannot find it offhand, but I have found a passage by my right hon. Friend on Second Reading which might be helpful. My right hon. Friend said: This is essentially a Bill to assist Highland shipping services and it is not, save within certain narrow limits, intended to provide for assistance to other forms of public transport. Thus, a person or firm, to qualify for assistance, must first provide what is substantially a sea service".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Scottish Grand Committee, 10th December, 1959; c. 9.] As I see it, if the person or firm is providing the sea transport service, on to that we can link the ancillaries, but under the Bill we cannot link the ancillaries if the person or the local authority does not provide the shipping service.

Mr. Manuel

If the district council provided the ferry from one side of the sea loch to the other, would it qualify within the argument that the hon. Gentleman is now advancing? It would be providing the sea transport and the ancillaries, the pier at either side. Would it, therefore, qualify for grant?

Mr. Leburn

That is purely hypothetical, because the district council does not have power to run that ferry service. Such a case would not arise.

Mr. Manuel

But if it did?

Mr. Leburn

In answer to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East, if I felt that I had misled the Committee I would be prepared to look at the matter again, but I do not think that I have misled the Committee. I hope, however, that it is clearly understood from what I have now said that if the person, local authority or company provides the sea transport, it can qualify for assistance in getting help with ancillaries, including piers. Short of having misled the Committee, however—I was worried when the hon. Member for Hamilton suggested that I had done so—I do not feel inclined to accept the Amendment.

Mr. Malcolm MacMillan

I do not quite follow the full logic of the Under-Secretary of State's argument. In reply to one of my questions a little earlier the hon. Gentleman said that a local authority, a district council, would qualify. He said that a district council which applied for assistance "as a person" might qualify for grant or loan. Is that correct, that it would qualify not as a district council but as a person?

Mr. Leburn

As I see it, a district council could apply as any other person could apply. Even if the Secretary of State dealt with the district council as a person, it has no powers, as I tried to emphasise to the Committee, to run that service.

Mr. MacMillan

May I ask the Minister to elaborate that point a little? If the district council came along as a person and asked for a loan and the Minister said, "You have no power as a district council to run a ferry service and, therefore, cannot be granted a loan," could that district council then come back and say, "Look, we have been in touch with our county council which has asked us to be its agent in running a service on its behalf."? In that case, would the district council qualify and could it get a grant or a loan?

Mr. Leburn

No, the district council would not qualify, but the county council would qualify and would be quite entitled to delegate its agency to the district council.

Mr. MacMillan

I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for answering on the spot, but it is important to get this matter clear. As I understand it, in that case the district council, acting as the agent, would be able to run the service on behalf of the county council. In fact, it would be the operator of the service. Therefore, I am hopeful that as agent of a local authority under the Harbours, Piers and Ferries (Scotland) Act, 1937, its schemes qualify for aid under the usual practice, with a grant of up to 75 per cent. for the purpose of establishing a ferry service.

What, then, is the difficulty? In practice, we are to have the picture of a district council as the agent of the county council, acting as the operator of the county council's sea transport service. Yet the hon. Gentleman has resisted the argument that the district council should be given the power to apply direct on its own behalf. In fact, it would involve only the same amount of money, even if it were accepted directly as the actual operator of the ferry. Why does the hon. Gentleman think that the county council would ask the district council to be its agent in the running of a ferry or ancillary service unless the county council thought that the district council was the most appropriate "person" to run it?

That is all that we are arguing about. In certain cases the district council is by far the most knowledgeable agency and by far the most intimately acquainted with local conditions. In some island areas, especially, the best body for the purpose of running a service of this kind might well be the district council.

If the district council is so acceptable to the county council that it is prepared to appoint it as its agent, why not give power direct to the district council to get on with the job? There is very little in the matter at all. I see no reason at all why the Minister should not accept the Amendment. I hope that he will accept it with the serious intention of having something done not only about the ferry service, but also about the ancillary services, the harbours, the piers and all the rest of it by those most directly concerned, the district councils.

The Joint Under-Secretary seems to think that it is sometimes better to ask a peer to help a pier, and I have no doubt that if the Bill is sent to another place someone would be found capable of moving a suitable Amendment covering our intention. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee think that what we are asking for is reasonable and that if the Minister were to say "Yes" every hon. Member opposite would from force of habit alone echo him and say "Thank you" with us. We have already said it, so he would have the whole Committee with him.

10.45 p.m.

Mr. Leburn

Let us get this clear. I have explained at least twice before why we cannot bring in district councils. The reason is that this is a Bill to enable the Secretary of State to assist. It is not a Bill to give powers to district councils. I would be going wide of the scope of the Bill if I were to start accepting Amendments giving new powers and new scopes to district councils. On that ground, I must resist the Amendment.

Mr. Grimond

I want to clear up one point, having just found the place. I want to refer to some of the remarks which the Under-Secretary has been drawn into making in the course of this controversy. I do not want him to answer this tonight, but if he will look at the OFFICIAL REPORT of our proceedings in Standing Committee he will see that he gave me an answer about the situation in the North Islands of Shetland. He said: I confirm his point"— that is, my point— that if the ferries and the buses are integrated, though they do not necessarily need to be integrated with the shipping service, they qualify."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Scottish Standing Committee, 11th February, 1960; c. 82] I do not think that he has gone back on that tonight, but it is very important that he should not do so.

There have been moments tonight when the hon. Gentleman has been inclined to say that those subsidiary services must be subsidiary to what one might call a full shipping service. However, in the North Islands of Shetland the ferries are subsidiary to the bus services so that it may well be argued from what the hon. Gentleman said in Standing Committee that they would not qualify. I hope that there is no question about that. Perhaps in the cool of the morning the hon. Gentleman might like to look at that again and make sure that the case is as he explained it in Standing Committee.

Mr. T. Fraser

If, earlier in our proceedings on the Bill, the hon. Gentleman had made clear that the ancillary services were only those services which were run by the shipping companies and not the ancillary services provided by the local authority, the Bill would not have had such an easy passage through Standing Committee. We do not accept a position in which the Secretary of State takes power to give a grant to a private enterprise shipping company to maintain a pier or harbour because the company owns it, but not to give a grant to a local authority owning a pier or harbour and serving exactly the same shipping service. I should have thought that there were hon. Members opposite who would not have accepted that position.

However, the Under-Secretary has made it clear that that is the position, so that if the company which operates the service takes over a pier or other land service ancillary to the shipping service, the private enterprise shipping company can apply for assistance from the public purse, but if a local authority provides exactly the same service to run for exactly the same shipping service the local authority has no right to apply. Does any hon. Member on either side of the Committee think that that is right? But that is what is now described to us by the hon. Gentleman as the purpose of the Secretary of State.

It is too late to table an Amendment now. We have always understood that whoever was responsible for running these ancillary services would be entitled to ask for assistance. They might not get it, but they would be entitled to ask for assistance. We believed that that was the proper interpretation to put on this provision. We thought that district councils would come in.

If the Joint Under-Secretary is correct in his interpretation, there is no point in including district councils, because very little will go to the county councils, or town councils, under the provisions of the Amendment with the limitation that the hon. Gentleman has said must be applied to subsection (2).

I ask the Secretary of State for Scotland to consider, between now and the time when the Bill will be considered in another place, such Amendments as will enable him to assist the person, whoever he may be, who provides the ancillary services in exactly the same way as he may assist the provision of an ancillary service when it is part of an undertaking run by the person who runs the sea transport services.

That is a reasonable request because we think that it is the ancillary services which should be supported and not just the company which, for the time being, happens to run the sea transport services and the actual shipping services. We think that district councils should be in along with the other authorities.

For those reasons, I cannot withdraw the Amendment.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. John Maclay)

I have listened very carefully to what has been said. I am sure that there must be some misunderstanding about this. Many hypothetical situations have been discussed, but the simple fact is that if the local authority, whoever it is, is providing the shipping services it becomes eligible for assistance under the Bill for any ancillaries. If it is not providing them, there are other powers under which assistance can be considered, for example, those under the Congested District (Scotland) Act 1897. I cannot see what the confusion is about.

It was made clear in the quotation from my Second Reading speech what ancillaries meant in that context, and it has been developed in the discussions today. If the local authority is providing the shipping services, under the Bill it can come in for consideration in respect of the ancillaries of the kind described. If it is not, and there is need for some assistance, that can be considered under the Congested Districts Act.

I cannot see what the problem is, because we have covered all the points. If we have misled anybody we will look at this again between now and the time when it is considered in another place, and consider how we can put it right.

I have studied what went on in Committee, and I have tried to follow closely what has been said tonight. In answer to the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan), I agree with my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary that it would not be reasonable to use the Bill to deal with the general powers of district councils. There is room for argument and discussion on that subject. I know that this is an important point, but even the most ingenious Secretary of State for Scotland could not try to slip into a Highlands and Islands Shipping Services Bill a complete change in the powers of district councils.

Mr. Manuel

We have not asked for that.

Mr. Maclay

If district councils have powers delegated to them to run these services, they will be able to do so. That was one of the things that was wanted. I do not see how, with the best will in the world, we can go further to meet hon. Gentlemen.

Mr. T. Fraser

I cannot understand the Secretary of State. He says again that he cannot see the justification for accepting an Amendment to add to the powers of district councils. The Amendment does not add to those powers; it merely enables the Secretary of State to assist people providing services. Its words are: Any district council which provides such services. So the district council has to be providing the services before it is eligible to ask for a grant. We are merely asking him to take powers to assist people who are providing services.

What he says about congested districts legislation does not carry much weight, because there are severe limitations on the areas he can assist under that legislation. In any case, is the kind of assistance he would give a local authority providing one of those ancillary services the same as he would give to one providing a shipping service? We think it wrong that he should be asking Parliament for power to give subsidies to private enterprise to maintain piers while declining to give the same kind of subsidy to local authorities.

The right hon. Gentleman keeps saying, "If the local authority is providing a shipping service …"but he knows that local authorities do not do so. We are talking not about shipping services but about local authorities providing the ancillary land services which are essential to the operation of a shipping service. We disapprove of being told this so late in the day.

Mr. Maclay

indicated dissent.

Mr. Fraser

The Secretary of State can shake his head, but we went all through the Committee stage and had a lot of discussion on the matter, when we were told that the ancillary services included helicopters and rotodynes, and all sorts of other aircraft. We shook our heads in disbelief at that, but we were very willing to believe that piers and those other land services which are as essential to the running of a shipping service as a railway station is to a rail service would be included. We regarded those as ancillary services which might be supported under the Bill. We thought that the Bill meant what it said when it referred to persons providing these services benefiting.

We could understand the restriction applied to the words "wholly or mainly" in the Title, and in subsection (1), because local authorities providing ancillary services could not be wholly or mainly engaged in the provision of sea transport services. The right hon. Gentleman said that he would put that right by way of an Amendment on Report, and we thought that he had put it right. But his speech shows that he has not, and that this is just another Bill to provide a subsidy to private enterprise without making it available to public enterprise which is providing exactly the same service.

Amendment to the proposed Amendment negatived.

Proposed words there inserted.

Further Amendment made: In page 1, line 15, leave out subsection (3).—[Mr. Maclay.]

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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