§ 4.30 p.m.
It might be convenient to the Committee also to take the Amendment in page 39, line 43, at end insert:or(ii) not later than 30th June, 1964, the council of any rural district make representations in writing to the Board and to the council of the county in which the district is situated that the council of the district should become the local weights and measures authority therefor ".and the Amendment in page 40, line 27, at end insert "or rural".
I think, Sir Robert, that it would be for the convenience of the Committee to take the three Amendments simultaneously.
Hon. Members who were members of the Standing Committee will recollect that 1380 in that Committee I moved a number of Amendments to bring rural district councils into line with urban district councils in the matter of weights and measures authority powers. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, on 24th January, as will be seen from column 449 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of Standing Committee B, undertook to consider sympathetically a number of Amendments to implement one of me Amendments which I then moved. I should like to thank him for the care and courtesy with which he considered this matter.
Hon. Members will remember that Clause 34 (5) as drafted gives urban district councils and non-county boroughs with a population of less than 60,000 the right to represent to the Board of Trade and to the county council that they should have weights and measures authority powers. The Board of Trade, in consultation with the county council, may feel that special circumstances exist and may grant such powers to the smaller urban districts and to the non-county boroughs. Discretion as to whether such powers are granted or not rests completely in the hands of the Board of Trade.
These three Amendments are designed to give exactly similar powers to rural district councils. The Committee will remember that the Hodgson Committee on Weights and Measures Regulation recommended that there should be no cutting across different types of local government. I am sure that there will be a general feeling among those who are interested in the well-being of local government that it would be unwise to discriminate between one type of district council and another.
The Amendments are solely designed to put the smaller rural district councils in exactly the same position as the smaller urban district councils. They do not give an automatic right to rural district councils to become weights and measures authorities. All they do is to give them the right to apply to the President of the Board of Trade to give them the power in special circumstances if he so wishes.
I hope, therefore, that the Amendments commend themselves to the Committee as a whole.
§ Mr. George Darling (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
In Standing Committee we made it perfectly clear that we on this 1381 side of the Committee would treat the Bill as a non-party Measure and that hon. Members on both sides could vote and say anything they liked. Therefore, on this question of which local authorities should be weights and measures authorities we each expressed our own point of view.
I will express mine briefly. The duties which the Bi11 proposes to impose on weights and measures inspectors and authorities will make it difficult for those duties to be carried out by even urban district authorities with populations of 60,000. I think that the scope of the work is not quite sufficiently appreciated by the Committee. On Third Reading, when it will be proper to do so, we shall have more to say about the administrative problems that will be involved. My view is that weights and measures authorities should be restricted to county boroughs and county councils. I understand, and though I have not looked it up I think that the noble Lord the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) stated it in Standing Committee, that there are perhaps only six rural district councils which will come within the population figures laid down in the Amendment.
§ Lord Balniel
There were only six or seven rural district councils with a population of over 60,000. The hon. Member will appreciate that these Amendments deal with rural district councils with a population of below 60,000, not those which are given an automatic right but only those which would be given the right to apply to my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Darling
I am sorry, I was hurrying along.
I understand that one of the rural district councils referred to in Standing Committee was Chesterfield Rural District Council and that Derby County Council is opposed to even that council being a weights and measures authority, for the good reason that the county council had its administrative machinery working very successfully and there would be fragmentation of that machinery if the rural district councils took that power, as they would do if the Amendments were carried, and provided that the Board of Trade agreed.
§ Lord Balniel
With great respect, the hon. Member is mistaken. These Amendments do not apply to rural district councils with a population of over 60,000. There is no intention to give them an automatic right, but solely the right to apply to my right hon. Friend for weights and measures authority.
§ Mr. Darling
I do not think that there is any quarrel between us. I am assuming that application is made to the Board of Trade and the application is considered. I do not think that it should even be considered. The difficulty is that the administration of Derby County Council, for instance, would be fragmented. This would mean that in future, as the county council says, and I thoroughly agree with it, that council would have great difficulty in carrying out its administrative duties in many parts of the county if the proposition was accepted by the Board of Trade.
Because there will be further fragmentation if applications to the Board of Trade are approved, and because the wider scope of duties under the Bill will make it inevitable that the Bill as an Act can be properly administrated only by large weights and measures authorities, I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will agree that the Amendment should be opposed and that the noble Lord the Member for Hertford should be asked to withdraw it.
§ Mr. D. Price
During the debate in Standing Committee on Clause 34, my noble Friend the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) moved two Amendments which, had they been accepted, would have enabled, first, a rural district council having a population over 60,000 to resolve as of right to be a weights and measures authority, and, secondly, a rural district council having a population of less than 60,000 to make representations to the Board of Trade that because of special circumstances in their area they should be given the weights and measures function.
Hon. Members will recall that in Standing Committee the Government were unable to accept the Amendments, but I did indicate that they would be prepared to consider sympathetically the possibility of amending the Clause 1383 so that rural district councils, irrespective of their population, would be included within the scope of the procedure set out in Clause 34 (5) for non-county boroughs and urban district councils with populations of less than 60,000.
These three Amendments would have that effect, if they were accepted by the Committee. They would give any rural district, no matter what its population, the right to make representations to the Board of Trade by June, 1964, that it should be a local weights and measures authority. The Board—and I draw the attention of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) to this—after consulting the county council concerned, and being itself satisfied that the special circumstances claimed by the rural district council in question warranted it. would then be able to direct that that council should be a weights and measures authority. I believe that those two qualifications should go some way to meeting the hon. Gentleman's fear that there would be excessive fragmentation.
I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that if urban district councils and non-county boroughs should have the right to become weights and measures authorities—with a population over60,000 as of right, and with a population under 60,000 by applying—there is little justification, in principle, for not allowing the rural district councils the same right. Of course, some rural district councils have a very scattered area and, therefore, would not qualify under the two conditions, namely, the views of the county council and the satisfaction of the Board of Trade that there were special circumstances.
The Amendments would provide a procedure comparable with that under the Local Government Act, 1958 for the delegation to rural district councils of the health and education functions. There is, therefore, a consistency here in the treatment of rural district councils. I recommend the Committee to accept the Amendments.
§ Mr. A. J. Irvine
The Parliamentary Secretary used the expression "special circumstances", referring to this as a factor which would carry some weight in deciding the outcome of an applica- 1384 tion by a rural district council. It may be rather late to suggest it, but would it not be desirable to incorporate that expression in the Clause? It is a hallowed form of words, as the Parliamentary Secretary knows. If the existence of special circumstances is to be the justification for acceptance of the Amendment, it would be better, I suggest, to insert the expression in proper form.
§ Mr. Price
It is there. I draw the hon. and learned Gentleman's attention to the last few lines of the opening paragraph of subsection (5). The words "special circumstances" already appear in the Bill with reference to the right of urban district councils and non-county boroughs to claim to be weights and measures authorities.
§ Mr. Irvine
I thank the Parliamentary Secretary for directing my attention to that. It seems to meet the point. I was simply observing that the words were not used in the Amendment itself, and I am grateful to have that information.
§ Amendment agreed to.
Further Amendments made: In page 39, line 43, at end insert:
(ii) not later than 30th June 1964 the council of any rural district make representations in writing to the Board and to the council of the county in which the district is situated that the council of the district should become the local weights and measures authority therefor ".
§ In page 40, line 27, at end insert "or rural".—[Lord Balniel.]
§ Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.