HC Deb 21 March 1962 vol 656 cc391-3

3.33 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to enable a local authority to contribute towards the expense of bodies carrying on activities outside its area. My proposed Bill would be entitled the Local Government Act, 1948 (Amendment) Bill. Its object is to make it possible for a local authority, with the consent of the Minister, to contribute towards the expenses of an organisation which is carried on for the benefit of the residents of that local authority, but which is physically outside the geographical limits of the local authority concerned.

At present, by Section 136 of the Local Government Act, 1948, it is not possible for the local authority to do this. It is true that there are specific Acts which allow local authorities to contribute to various activities outside their areas. Examples can be found in the Education Act, 1944, and the National Health Service Act, 1946. But in each Act permission to contribute to these outside activities is strictly limited to the purposes laid down in those Acts.

There are, however, a large number of miscellaneous cases in which a power to contribute is desired. Some of the cases interest a large number of authorities and thus a large public interest is aroused. In such cases it has sometimes been possible to promote a Bill in the House to allow the local authorities to make this contribution. An example of this is that of the Eisteddfod Act, 1959, which was specially promoted to forward the interests of Welsh culture and song. Usually, however, the cases are much more modest and much more parochial than that, and a specific case which has arisen in my constituency is perhaps a typical example.

In Stroud, there is an old people's workshop which provides activity and part-time employment for elderly people and gives them not only the companionship which elderly people often miss, but also the sense of doing something and being wanted which is even more important. The workshop is located within the area, geographically speaking, of the Stroud Urban District Council, but those who attend axe also drawn from the areas of the surrounding councils, including the Stroud Rural District Council. They have wished to contribute to the upkeep of this old people's workshop, but have found to their surprise and dismay that it is not possible for them to do so because Section 136 of the Local Government Act, 1948, forbids it.

It would be absurd in each case of this rather minor local character to promote a special Bill to allow it to be done as was done in the case of the Eisteddfod Act, 1949. It would equally be unnecessarily expensive and perhaps even impossible to arrange that the organisations should be physically erected in each rural district council. When one considers that some of these things are of the nature of theatrical performances and when the skilled and devoted personnel who always have to attend to these local affairs, it becomes clear that small councils cannot duplicate over and over again the activities in which they would like to indulge.

By my Bill, therefore, I seek a general power which will cover cases such as I have mentioned. It might be thought that a general power of this sort might open the floodgates to local expenditure almost too wide, but to those who think so I would point out that the consent of the Minister will still be necessary, that the test to be applied will be a strict test under the main Act of 1948, and that the benefit to be expected to residents from any contribution by their council to outside bodies must, under that Act, not be too remote.

I hope that the House thinks that the Bill, although modest in its extent, will, nevertheless, enable local authorities to discharge their duties in sustaining enterprises which local sentiment and sympathy wished to see sustained. I hope that the House will give me permission to bring in the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Antony Kershaw, Lord Balniel, Mr. Deedes, Mr. Arthur Holt, Mr. Denis Howell, Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth, Mr. Robert Mathew, Mr. Reynolds, Mr. Ronald Russell, Mr. Arthur Skeffington, Mr. John M. Temple, and Mr. George Thomas.