§ 12.50 p.m.
§ Mr. G. A. Pargiter (Southall)
I beg to move, in page 2, line 44, to leave out Clause 3.
It is a pity that Clause 3 has been inserted in a Bill which is otherwise generally acceptable as a very beneficial Bill indeed, and which is welcomed by all persons and authorities concerned. It is significant that all the provisions of the Bill, apart from the Clause, are enabling powers for local authorities. The Clause is something of an enabling power in relation to functions other than the precise functions of local authorities. The other functions are more clearly defined as the functions of the authorities. It is rather a pity that in an agreed Measure of this kind, which everybody welcomes, including the Government, I gather, something of a discordant nature is introduced. It is a matter which requires a good deal of discussion before it should be accepted as part of the law.
The Clause deals with associations of members. It does not define them. We know that it is concerned at this stage with a particular association of members and not with associations of members in general, although the Clause as drafted would deal with any sort of association. The fact that it is sponsored by three hon. Members from each of the parties does not necessarily endear itself to me, although that alone does not necessarily invalidate it.
I am not endeared to this form of sponsorship, particularly when one happens to be the founder of the feast, who has a great interest in this matter and has caused the formation of an Association of Councillors. I should not mind my hon. Friend showing his disillusion with the Association of Municipal Corporations and seeking a new forum for discussion of various matters. When it comes to seeking formal Parliamentary recognition, which brings it into the 1714 realm of official recognition, we must consider the matter very carefully.
If the argument is advanced that this is sponsored by the joint chairman of the three bodies, who are Members of Parliament, I should counter by asking: what about the ratepayers and the independents, for example? They might say, "We do not want an association of this kind. We should like a different type of association. We will sponsor one. We will tell the Minister that we can perform these objectives on behalf of our members who give their allegiance to us and we do not want particularly to come in under what might be regarded as a political banner, even if it is a joint political banner".
I am not arguing whether these people would want to do so or not. At any rate, they would have the right to do so. The Minister might be placed in an embarrassing position by having to determine whether such an association carrying on similar objectives would be a proper association to which he should grant recognition. I have no objection to embarrassing the right hon. Gentleman who occupies the position of Minister at present. However, I would hate to add to the possible embarrassment of my right hon. and hon. Friends who may shortly be forming the Government.
I ask hon. Members to consider what the objects of the association are to be. After all, this is the crux of the matter. There is not one of these objectives which cannot be fulfilled by the existing local authority associations. They already have powers to deal with all these matters—educational matters, dissemination of information, matters concerning education for members, and so on. All these matters are already within their powers. They are already done to some extent. I am prepared to admit that much more could be done than is being done at present, but this is no valid argument for setting up a new organisation.
One of the functions of the House is to guard carefully against new organisations being set up purely for the sake of setting them up. The House should look at the existing machinery and ask itself whether that is capable of doing the job. If it does not function properly, the House should inquire why it does not. 1715 The question should be considered from that point of view, before it is agreed that a new body should be set up and officially recognised. The Association to which I belong—the County Councils Association—offered no objection to this body on its formation.
I want to make that perfectly clear. If members of local authorities like to get together for a particular purpose, that is a matter for them. It is within the rules. It is an association of members. It was never intended to be an association of local authorities as such. Nor was it intended originally, as I understand it, that local authorities could contribute towards it. In so far as it is an association of members and they like to contribute to it and pay for it, they are quite entitled to have any association they wish.
I should be the last person to deprive anyone of the right of association, because that is a fundamental right which should exist anyway. Whether the ratepayers at large ought to contribute to it is another matter, especially as they are already authorised to contribute, and do in fact contribute, to bodies which are capable of undertaking this work and do, in fact, undertake this work.
The hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir) accepted the Clause with great reluctance. He said that he thought that what these associations proposed to do would overlap considerably with what is done by the existing associations. One can understand the hon. Member's reluctance to introduce something of this nature into a Bill which is otherwise admirably suited for the purposes for which it was promoted.
I have already said that the existing associations generally have the necessary facilities. I need not detail the things which are done from time to time, things which are done continually, and things which will be done in the future. One of the arguments put forward is that there ought not to be any distinction between associations of officers and associations of members. This may or may not be done. However, the expression "association of local authorities" is capable of very clear definition under the law as it stands. There is no question about this. The expression "associations of officers of local 1716 authorities" is also capable of very clear definition. There is no question about that either. It is a group clearly and easily defined.
The expression "association of members" is an amorphous sort of title. It is not limited to an association of members, although I appreciate that it has that object at the moment. One can imagine all the various bodies under various titles and with various attractive programmes which could come together as associations of members, seek the Minister's approval to their formation, and have local authorities to contribute to them, if the Clause goes through in its present form.
I understand that the Parliamentary Secretary took the view that the Minister already had power under Clause 2, if he was so disposed, to recognise this body or any other body. That is as may be. I do not want to argue the question whether he has or not. That is the Minister's view. If the power is already there, there is no reason for the Clause. One can only assume that the desire to keep it in may be inspired by something beyond that.
For these reasons, the Clause should be more carefully examined. I am rather surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) is so coy about this position. It is usual, when Members have an interest in a matter, especially such a deep interest as my hon. Friend has, at least to inform the Committee or the House, as the case may be, that they have such a specific interest rather than hide under relative anonymity, as appears from the record of the Standing Committee. I am speaking only as it appears from the record.
The fact that this is so, and that we get what I consider to be special pleading on behalf of this organisation, is a reason why the whole matter should be very carefully examined. If the House carefully examines the matter and decides that there is room for an organisation of this kind, or for a number of organisations of this kind, I should be the last person to deny it or to object.
However, I should like to see the case properly argued. The associations which are at present authorised to carry out 1717 these functions should be asked to agree, either that they are not carrying out the functions referred to or that other bodies should be formed which may be able to do better than they are doing at present.
I hope, therefore, that for these reasons the House will accept the Amendment and leave what is otherwise a perfectly good and uncontroversial Bill to go through its remaining stages and be placed on the Statute Book. If the Clause is to remain I shall have to continue to object, and that would be lamentable.
§ 1.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Rupert Speir (Hexham)
I am sorry to see another split developing in the party opposite, but, as I said, when I was speaking on the Clause in Committee. I have no strong feelings on whether the Clause should be included or excluded from the Bill, although I think on balance that the House, when considering the matter further, may think that the Clause is still a little premature or even possibly unnecessary. I say "premature" because the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) informed the Committee that the only association which stands to benefit from the provisions of the Clause at present is an association called the Association of Councillors. I believe that it was clear to the Committee at the time that the hon. Member was personally closely associated with that association. He told us that even if the Clause remained in the Bill the Association had no intention of seeking to take advantage of its provisions at the moment.
I have nothing whatsoever against the Association of Councillors. I wish it well if it can make the grade. I always think that competition in all walks of life is a healthy thing. On the other hand, this association is a very young body. It has not yet proved to the world that it is a necessary body or that it has a useful purpose to perform. Possibly it would be better if one of the existing local government associations were allowed to do the work which this Association is setting out to do. In my view, all these local government associations are doing extremely useful jobs. It may be said that the views of the existing local government associations 1718 are somewhat biassed, but several of these associations have written to me in the last week or two to say that in their view this new association would be largely duplicating a number of things which the existing associations are already doing or intend to do in the near future. As the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) said, there might well be some overlapping.
§ Mr. Dudley Smith (Brentford and Chiswick)
Would my hon. Friend confirm that even so the Minister must still give approval to the granting of these subscriptions?
§ Mr. Speir
Yes. It may be that at a time like this, when there is a great outcry about local government expenditure and complaints about the heavy burden of rates, that we would not be justified in asking the ratepayers to find additional sums for this expenditure and to find money which might well not be necessary. It may be argued that the money involved is small. The subscription to the Association of Councillors is at present only 2s. 6d. per councillor per year. Equally it can be argued that if the amount is so small it is not a great hardship if individual councillors are left to pay the subscription themselves, if they are so minded.
There is a small point to which I should like to draw the attention of the House, and particularly of the hon. Member for Islington, North. I believe that, other things being equal, the hon. Member and his association could get all they want under Clause 2. I am advised that the Minister could give his consent under Section 136 of the Local Government Act, 1948, to a subscription to this Association of Councillors, provided that he was satisfied that it was really proving its worth and rendering a useful service, in that case the Minister would have to give his sanction. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Housing and Local Government will be able to say more about the possible use of Clause 2 and of Section 136 of the 1948 Act for this purpose. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to satisfy the hon. Member for Islington, North that in the right circumstances Section 136 could, should and would serve this purpose. If my hon. Friend can give 1719 that assurance, I hope that the hon. Member will agree that Clause 3 could well be dropped from the Bill.
§ Mr. G. W. Reynolds (Islington, North)
We should be quite clear about our position now after the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter). He has announced to the House—and he said that he was speaking as a member of the County Councils Association—that if this Clause is not taken out of the Bill he will block and kill the Bill. I could not understand from his speech why the Clause was so repugnant to him and the County Councils Association that if it is to be included in the Bill he will kill a Measure which has in it other Clauses which will be of considerable use to local government generally.
The House is at present debating this matter under a threat from my hon. Friend that if we do not do what he wants he will kill a Bill which has been through all its stages, which has had one or two Amendments made to it, and which has had general support on Second Reading and full support in Committee. He will kill it at this stage, on this comparatively minor Clause which will not greatly add to the powers which the Minister already has. Yet my hon. Friend has found it necessary to say that it is so repugnant to the County Councils Association that the whole Bill must be killed if the House does not accept his Amendment and withdraw the Clause.
§ Mr. Pargiter
I did not say that it was sufficiently repugnant to the County Councils Association. I was expressing my view that I would object to the Clause and would carry that objection to its logical conclusion, in the same way presumably as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) is prepared to carry the Clause, even though it is not important, and thus jeopardise the Bill.
§ Mr. Reynolds
My hon. Friend must not assume what I shall do. I am objecting to what he has announced to the House as his intention, and his interjection has not qualified that statement in any form.
This was a Clause which was intro- 1720 duced in Committee. It was discussed fully in accordance with the rules of the House and was put down on the Order Paper more than two days before the Committee met. The normal procedure was followed. This was not a starred Amendment. The procedure gave local authority associations time to write to their numerous vice-presidents in the House of Commons, as many of them did, asking hon. Members on the Committee to oppose the introduction of the Clause.
The Clause was moved and discussed in Committee in the normal way, and it was added to the Bill without any Division. Yet my hon. Friend the Member for Southall has to say that this matter has not been discussed. If a Committee is set up to deal with a Bill, and a new Clause is moved, and the Committee discusses it and decides to add it to the Bill without a Division, how can my hon. Friend expect the House to give more time and more facilities to discuss it? I cannot see why he should expect the House to spend more time in dealing with a matter of this nature than it would spend normally in Committee on a Clause of greater or less importance to a Bill. The full procedures of the House have been gone through in introducing and adding the Clause to the Bill. It is completely wrong to suggest that the matter has not been adequately dealt with.
My hon. Friend also suggested that I was the founder of the Association. This is incorrect; I was not its founder. The original idea and the circular calling a meeting for such an association was sent out by a local government journalist, a member of the Sussex County Council and other local authorities in the Sussex area—a man who, incidentally, is chairman of a Conservative constituency party organisation, which enabled a large number of Labour members on the County Councils Association who hold office by virtue of Conservative votes in that association to accuse me of participating in a Tory plot to govern certain sectors of local government.
I was asked to share the chair at the inaugural meeting with the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Loveys). I gladly accepted that invitation and later, together with the hon. Member, became 1721 joint chairman of the organisation, of which a Liberal Member of the House afterwards became a third sponsor. I was in the organisation from the beginning but was not its originator. When the idea was put to me, I considered it an excellent one and gladly agreed to give what help I could.
My hon. Friend's speech was concerned mostly with the Association of Councillors rather than the powers given to the Minister under the Clause. He said that all the objects of the Association could be carried into effect by the existing local authority organisations, and I do not disagree. The objects of existing local authority associations are widely drawn.
Those organisations, however, have been in being for quite a long time. The Association of Municipal Corporations was formed in 1873, the County Councils Association in 1888, the Urban District Councils' Association in 1890 and the Rural District Councils' Associations in 1895. In addition, there are the Metropolitan Boroughs Standing Joint Committee and the London County Council, so that any Minister of Housing and Local Government has quite a maze of associations with whom to discuss matters.
The truth is, however, that although those other organisations have been in the field for 70 years, they have never tried to do anything about some of the principal matters with which the Association of Councillors was concerned. They have never set their mind to the question of trying to provide educational facilities for elected members of local authorities or to trying to give publicity generally for the benefit of local government.
When the Association's circular was first sent out calling an inaugural meeting to discuss amongst others those two items of educational facilities for members of local authorities and publicity for local government generally, it was amazing how quickly the local authority associations got together. They are usually torn apart right down the line, but when they saw a new member coming into the field they thought that they must do something about it. A few months later, at local authority conferences, one began to see pa3ers on educational facilities for members of local government and also on 1722 publicity for local government. During the past three years, the associations have been working hard and have held a number of meetings. They have reached the stage of agreeing to appoint a publicity adviser. That is not bad going in three years after nothing had been done about it during their 70 years of operation. They are still discussing, and have not yet agreed upon, educational facilities for members of local authorities, but they hope to set up a staff college of some kind for elected members in the not too distant future.
I ask the House to note that proposal of a staff college. It will be a top-level business. The ordinary member of a local authority will not have much chance of getting them. I do not know how many members of local authorities there are, but there must be 50,000 or 60.000 or more throughout the country, and it will be a long time before the benefit of this so-called staff college percolates down to the rural or district council level.
Therefore, despite what my hon. Friend says about the local authority associations having power to provide these facilities, which I do not deny, they have not been provided over the last 70 years. It is only following the emergence of the new association and the suggestion that these things should be done that the associations which have been in existence for 70 years have felt that they should look at the position. If it has done nothing else, the formation of the new association has certainly tended to wake up the existing local authority associations. 1.15 p.m.
My hon. Friend says that they were not opposed to the setting up of the new association. They hurriedly called a meeting of the secretaries of the five major associations to consider the attitude to be taken towards it. I imagine that the steps of the Minister of Housing and Local Government were almost worn out during a period of a couple of months by some of the officers wanting to make sure that everything possible was done to stop assistance of any kind being given to the formation of an association.
The Minister must not give permission to local authorities to incur expense in attending its meetings. Letters were written, visits were carried out and great efforts were made to strangle this infant 1723 at birth. Nevertheless, it was born and it is functioning. I consider that there is need for an association of this kind, but this is not the moment to start arguing that aspect.
Having referred to the action taken at the birth of this organisation, I must say that this is nothing new. When the Association of Education Committees was formed, the associations already representing education authorities did their best to strangle that one. The child is now, perhaps, rather more powerful than its possible assassins in the educational field.
Another organisation was set up four years ago supported primarily by the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Ripon), who is now Minister of Public Building and Works, and my hon. from the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington), called the British Branch of the Council of European Municipalities. This was the first time I had seen the local authority associations in operation when trying to kill something they did not like. It was a fantastic and amusing procedure. Eventually, delegates from the British Branch of the Council of European Municipalities were sent, together with representatives from the existing local authority associations, to a conference at Strasbourg. I was one of those delegates, the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Smithers) being the other from the British section.
The way that people were treated at that conference was amazing. Meetings of all the other delegates were called of which we were never informed. There suddenly appeared on the agenda amendments to the constitution of the organisation which would so alter the constitution of the European Conference that it would have been impossible for the British branch to send delegates. They were directed at an international conference solely to stop an organisation sponsored by hon. Members—again, from both sides—from taking any part in voicing the opinions of local government in the European scene. I know a reasonable amount about local government. The hon. Member for Winchester knew even more about the operations of the Council of Europe at Strasbourg. Needless to say, 1724 every one of those amendments was rejected and eventually the associations had to accept the existence of a British branch of the Council of European Municipalities.
§ Mr. Pargiter
I am sorry that this matter has been introduced. It has nothing to do with the matter which is under discussion. Since, however, it has been introduced with a one-sided implication concerning the associations, I might say that the opposition of the associations to this matter was that the people who there purported to represent British local government were individually chosen and were not representative of any authorities or bodies other than themselves.
§ Mr. Reynolds
My hon. Friend has made the point that I should like to make. He objected then because the individuals were individually chosen. He objects to the Clause because the members would act not as individuals, but would be sponsored by a local authority. Let us have it either one way or the other. My hon. Friend must not try to use the argument both ways.
I quote that instance only to show that the objection of the existing local authority associations to the new organisation is nothing new. It is the same sort of opposition that they have put up to the formation of any additional local government association over a considerable period of years. I do not particularly blame them for that. People who are operating in a certain field naturally have a vested interest in it and are bound to look askance and try to do something to stop what they consider to be interlopers from coming into the field. This is the sort of thing which trade unions are accused of and gets so much publicity—restrictive practices; but I do not think that this will get so much publicity as that. Nevertheless, this is nothing new. It is more or less what I expected when I had the temerity to put down the additional Clause for introduction into the Bill.
The hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir) says that the amount of money concerned at the moment is a very small amount. The membership fee for this association is 5s. for an individual and 2s. 6d. if all the members of the council join in a corporate membership. To be perfectly honest, the subscription was 1725 deliberately fixed at a low level when the association was formed because it was realised at that time that it would be able to offer very little by way of facilities to its members, and so the membership fee was fixed at a nominal rate. There has been the suggestion that this would cost many thousands of pounds for each local authority, but no organisation covering the whole of local government would need a fee of anything like that kind.
The case against this association is that here is a local authority association which makes no distinction between a member of a parish council, or a rural district council, or an urban district council, or of a county borough council, or a borough council, or a county council. It is for the elected members of local authorities, whereas the existing associations are concerned with their particular vested interests in the general local authority field. The existing associations now are rather concerned at the growth of an organisation which they feel may in the long-term affect their own vested interests in the particular field they represent. I can think of no other reason at all for their objection to an association concerned with the welfare of local government by trying to provide for members of local authorities education and information—which is what it boils down to—for elected councillors and aldermen. We have been told in the Press and in other circles—I do not accept all of it by any means—that the general educational standard and standard of knowledge of elected members of local authorities is at a very low level. One of the objects of this association is to try to raise the level, and I find that a wholly worth-while job if it can possibly be done.
When the association was first formed we realised that one of the best fields in which we could make the most useful contribution was by attempting to provide educational facilities for members of local authorities and that we should seek the help of the Ministry to see if there could be any amendment of the 1948 Act exactly in line with what this Clause 3 of this Bill does.
At the same time the Association was having discussions with the Nuffield Foundation with a view to getting financial assistance for educational work. At 1726 that time, in any case, there was no legislation going through. It was agreed that the main thing which should be done before the association could expect to receive any financial support from the ratepayers was that it should prove that there was a case for it and that it was capable of doing the worthwhile job there was for it to do. The association, has received a grant of £1,000 from the Nuffield Foundation and is starting on 29th June a series of weekend and day schools for elected members of local authorities in the West Riding of Yorkshire. It will be attended by members of local authorities in the West Riding of Yorkshire and there will be the secretary to the Rating and Valuation Association who will lecture on rating, the treasurer of Bullingdon Rural District Council on local finance, and there will also be a lecture on the relationships between the Press and local government by a local government journalist. I happen to know that this last lecturer will take a different view of this matter from that which I take. Nevertheless, we want to give members an opportunity to discuss these things because we believe that the relationships with the Press are particularly important in financial matters.
I believe that a weekend of this nature for elected members of local authorities will do an immense amount of good in increasing the knowledge of those members. Many take interest in financial questions but there are other subjects such as the provision of libraries, schools, anything of that nature, and the general standard of facilities, and it seems to me that in providing these courses over two years in twenty schools will do an immense amount of good. At the end we hope to have proved that there is a job to do in this field and that it can be successfully done and that it is not too much to ask that there should be a contribution towards the subscriptions of the members.
A local authority can at the moment, if the Minister gives his consent, pay a subscription of an officer who is employed by the local authority and who is a member of an organisation. Subject to the Minister's consent that subscription can be paid, and the Ministry vets the applications very carefully indeed. What in fact the local authority associations are 1727 now saying is that it is all right for ratepayers' money to be spent on financing contributions on behalf of an employee of a council but completely wrong for the ratepayers' money to be spent on financing the subscription of an elected member of the local authority, one of the people who represent the ratepayers as a councillor or an alderman.
That is something which I just cannot understand. An officer who is doing a paid job for a local authority can have this expense met; but a councillor, giving up his time, who fights elections, who has the support of the ratepayers in his area, who vote for him, otherwise he would not be there, who in all probability incurs financial loss of some degree in doing his voluntary work, must not be supported by the ratepayers by making any contribution at all to any expense he may incur in attending an association which will be able to assist him in the better performance of his duties.
I must say that I cannot understand the attitude of the existing local authority associations in this matter. Nevertheless, that is the attitude which they have taken up, and it is the attitude which the hon. Member for Southall has taken up through his opposition towards this Clause, and it is the attitude he is asking the House to support him in.
So this experimental work is going to be started by the Association of Councillors in the West Riding of Yorkshire and I think and hope it will be a success. I understand from what the hon. Member for Hexham has just said that there is provision already existing whereby it will be possible to meet the requirements of the Clause, but nevertheless, if the Clause is struck out it will mean that the House is taking the view that the elected members of local authorities are not worthy of the same sort of support which the House is prepared to give to the officers whom local authorities employ. That is in fact what my hon. Friend is asking the House to agree to. He is asking the House to say, in effect, that the House has more trust and confidence in the officers of local authorities than it has in the elected members of local authorities.
This attitude is not new. It has been adopted by the local authority associations over a long period of years in 1728 regard to what they consider to be interlopers into their own particular restricted field. I think that perhaps a great deal of the controversy we are having would have been avoided if over the last seventy years the local authorities themselves had realised that it would be better to have one association of local authorities rather than half a dozen local authority associations, half a dozen associations which spend a large proportion of their time disagreeing with one another, but at the same time trying to keep everybody else out of their field. We have seen some recent signs of that for they are beginning to jostle about over who shall represent the proposed new Greater London Councils to be set up. There is a lot of jostling going on in the background.
I hope that the House will agree to leave this Clause in. It will put members of local authorities on to the same status as that of the officers employed by them. If in the future the association to which I have referred proves it has a worth-while job to do and that it is able to do it successfully, the Clause will enable the consent of the Minister to be given to local authorities to incur this expenditure in a direct manner rather than in a roundabout way.
But this is a Friday. I do not know how many Members there are in the House at the present moment but the hon. Member for Southall knows that if there is a count on this matter and fewer than 35 more Members come in it will mean the end of this Bill, certainly for the moment and in all probability for the rest of the Session. It may also be the end of other Bills also set down for today.
The hon. Member and the local authority associations have deliberated and decided that even that risk is well worth while. Is it in fact worth while to make it impossible, or leave it as it is at present, for local authorities to borrow money to meet the interest on capital for central area development work? It is better that that should not be allowed than that this Clause should be included in the Bill. It is better that local authorities should continue to labour under immense financial difficulties than that the Minister in future might enable the ratepayers in the area to pay a financial con- 1729 tribution to an association which comes into the field which these associations have got so nicely sewn up at the present time.
I regret the action that the hon. Gentleman has taken. I do not want to see this Bill killed, but I hope that the House will allow this Clause to remain in the Bill.
§ Mr. Pargiter
Would not my hon. Friend put it the other way? Rather than insist on something going into the Bill which is controversial, would it not be far better to withdraw it at this stage and let the matter be properly discussed elsewhere?
§ Mr. Reynolds
As to controversy, we have to see what other hon. Members have to say. I do not think that it can be said that this is necessarily controversial because the hon. Gentleman has asked for the Clause to be taken out. I have opposed that and the sponsor of the Bill has very neatly sat on the fence.
§ Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)
I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) on a very able exposition of the position. Having read some information sent to me from various types of councils, I think that this Clause ought to stay in with the Bill.
I find it extraordinary that the County Councils Association should suggest to me in a memorandum, as it has done that, on the one hand, members of authorities should vote for a subscription to an association of which they themselves are individual members and in which they could be said to have a pecuniary interest. This implies some dishonesty, or at least negligence, towards public administration which, I think, is wholly unjustified in the circumstances.
I am also astonished to read in another paragraph that this new association is an independent pressure group. What are the other associations but independent pressure groups? If they are not independent they ought to be. A pressure group ought to be independent and able to stand up and be seen to he what it is. They ought not to castigate other people by calling them in the pejorative sense a pressure group. It seems to me that this is a wholly admirable association which the hon. Member for Islington, North 1730 has described and I congratulate him on the very large amount of publicity for the courses which are to be run in the West Riding. I do not know whether he is canvassing for subscriptions from hon. Members so that they may spend part of their holidays there.
I think that this Clause is devoted to an admirable purpose. This appears, perhaps, to be rather an extraordinary discussion because I expect that the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us later on that the Clause is unnecessary because what it does could be done under another Clause, anyway. However that may be, it seems to me that the object of this Association of Councillors is quite innocent. It is not trying to sabotage local government, it is not out for its members own pecuniary interests, and I do not see why we should not vote for 5s. a year for them.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
I am fearful to intervene in a dispute between two Members on the other side of the House, but I think that the House should welcome the fact that there has been a debate on this important subject of the education of elected members in council matters.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) on his tenacity on this subject. It is not only today that he has brought it up. We know that this association has been growing for many years. I congratulate him not only on his tenacity, but on the progress which has been made in making people realise that there is an opportunity here for good work in providing educational facilities in council and local government matters for elected members.
I would hesitate to countenance any increased expenditure by local authorities which would mean increasing the burden on the ratepayer. In fact, would have thought that this was a facility which ought to have been provided nationality. The Nuffield Foundation certainly thought that there was some national good to be gained out of providing such a facility, and I would have thought that the right thing to do would have been for the Parliamentary Secretary to say that he would persuade his right hon. Friend the Chancellor to put this on the taxpayer instead of on 1731 the ratepayer. In any event, this is a very small amount, and I do not think that one can boggle at it being placed, at any rate temporarily, on the ratepayers.
We have always tried, on both sides of the House, to encourage younger people to offer themselves for election as members of councils. The younger people have financial difficulty in carrying on their council work. They are not retired people who can spend any amount of time at it. They have to fit it in with earning their bread and butter. They have little enough compensation for the expenses to which they are put and for the loss of time, which, again, is a loss of money to them.
If this Clause were not included in the Bill, I think that we should be telling them, "Here is another thing for which you have to pay. If you want to learn how to be a councillor and something about local government, you must pay for it, and we are not giving any support to any organisation which will give you facilities for doing this."
My hon. Friend the Member for Hex-ham (Mr. Speir) put forward some points against this new Clause which was introduced in Committee. Then he finished by saying, "It does not really matter at all, because it can be done under another Clause". If it can be done under another Clause, there must be some doubt about this, otherwise the Committee would not have agreed to introduce it in Clause 3.
§ Mr. Page
I understand that the Minister has to approve it under Clause 3 as well. He has to approve the associations to which subscriptions are made, but there seems to be some doubt as to whether it can be done under the other Clause, and, if it can be done, what approvals, consents, and so on, have to be obtained. Let us come out in the open and say that it can be done definitely, as is said in Clause 3.
The other point which my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham made was that he thought that perhaps this was a little premature at the present time. If a baby is premature, one does not starve it; one does the opposite, one nourishes it. If this association which is offering these 1732 facilities for education in local government matters to elected members of councils is in its embryo stage we ought to encourage it. We ought to nourish it and say quite definitely in legislation that this is something of which this House approves. It really has a job to do.
I am not concerned so very much whether this particular association of which we have heard does the job or someone else does it; but there is a job to be done. The Nuffield Foundation has seen that there is such a job to be done and what better recommendation could we have in this House than that this foundation has chosen to make an advance to this association.
The job of the local councillor is growing as we throw more and more duties into his lap. Reading the legislation on local government of the past few years, trying to digest the Local Government Act, 1929, the Local Government Act, 1933, the Local Government Act, 1948, and the Local Government Act, 1958, all with hundreds of Sections and dozens of Schedules, one wonders how the ordinary local councillor, who is a layman, understands what his job can be. Yet all the time we are throwing more and more duties on to him.
With education in this subject, one can be selective. One knows what to read and what not to read. One knows the sort of things to study. I believe that the education in local government matters of elected members of local authorities has now become essential if we are to sustain the standards of local government.
§ Dr, Alan Glyn (Clapham)
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), I hesitate to intervene in what is, virtually, a private war between two hon. Members opposite, but I feel that it would be a very great tragedy if we were to allow this small point, which, I understand, the Parliamentary Secretary will probably tell us can be dealt with adequately under other Clauses or other legislation, to stand in the way of the passage of the Bill.
I was a member of the Standing Committee, and I think it right to say that the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) made quite clear to most of us, even if he did not actually say it in words in Committee, what his personal 1733 position in this matter was. The difficulty here arises over our parliamentary procedure. The hon. Member for Islington, North has said that this question was fully discussed in Committee. That is quite right, but I appreciate the position of the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter); he has a perfect right to introduce an Amendment a t this time, the first opportunity he has to make his point. However, I make a sincere plea to him not to obstruct the Bill.
This question has raised a very large issue. First, it raises the whole subject of how much local authorities and the ratepayers should be called upon to pay in various respects. I am glad that the House has had an oportunity to discuss this. The hon. Member for Islington, North spoke of a staff college for councillors. I hope that the ratepayers will not be called upon to buy brass hats for councillors attending this staff college. The question before us is how we are to look in future upon the amount of money which is spent by the ratepayers, whether for the education of councillors or in other ways.
I think that the particular aspect of the matter raised by the Amendment could fairly be described as a private battle over the half-crown or five "bob" subscription. In my view, we should be sadly lacking in our duty to Parliament, to the ratepayers and to local government if we allowed any form of jealously between organisations which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby said, are all doing a fine job, to interfere with the passage of the Bill or to exclude the Association of Councillors. We do not say that that association is not doing good work even though it has only just been started.
I hope that the House will make sure that the Bill is not spoiled by the Amendment and will look at the wider issues here involved. Perhaps, if my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary can assure us that the same end can be achieved under his wider powers, we may be able to get on with the more important task and give a Third Reading to this excellent Measure.
§ 1.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Dudley Smith (Brentford and Chiswick)
I, too, have no wish to be 1734 involved in a dog-fight between two hon. Members opposite, both of whom have most distinguished records in local government. Nor had I very strong feelings on the matter until I heard the speech of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds). I think that there is a good deal of merit in what he said. I feel that members should have parity with officers in this respect and that, therefore, the Clause should remain in the Bill.
I am not very surprised at the opposition generated by the County Councils Association and various other local government bodies. Admirable as they are in many ways, they do not always entirely reflect the views of people in local government. As a member of a county council, I know that quite a number of things done by the County Councils Association do not always meet with my approval, although, I suppose, I give them tacit support by being a member of a local authority.
There is a tendency on the part of the established local government bodies to try to monopolise the situation and not admit other organisations which wish to break into the field. I know very little about the organisation to which the hon. Member for Islington, North is connected, but it seems to have some admirable aims. I think that it should be encouraged, and I hope that the House will encourage it.
It would be a great pity if this small but important Bill were to be wrecked by this issue, particularly if we can deal with the same point through Clause 2. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will make absolutely clear that the object can be achieved via Clause 2. In those circumstances, perhaps the Amendment could stand. We must do all we can to support these new organisations such as the Association of Councillors, because they can do nothing but good throughout the whole world of local government.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)
f have no wish to intervene in the dispute between the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir) and his hon. Friends. It appears to me that he and my hon. Friend the Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) are the only ones who really want the Amendment, although the hon. Member 1735 for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Dudley Smith) seemed to finish his speech by appealing to us to agree that we might as well give way. I say frankly that, if it is a question of giving way on this or losing the whole Bill, we ought to agree about it and ensure that the Bill is not endangered. Also, I think that discussion ought not to be too prolonged. I intervene only because, having regard to the high spirits of the debate so far, it would have been rather poor spirited not to take part.
It has been suggested that the Clause is unnecessary because the same object can be achieved under Clause 2. I think that the Parliamentary Secretary set the matter out in Committee. One knows that the Government never claim to give authoritative rulings on what the law is, but their view, for what it is worth, is that the same thing can be done but in a rather more laborious way. In my view, if we definitely want something done and believe it ought to be done, it is better to do it in a straightforward way and make the thing perfectly clear. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) is, I think, to be congratulated for wanting this issue brought out fairly instead of having the thing done through a back door.
What are the objections to the Clause? It was suggested that, since the Minister's approval will be required if the power under it is to be used, this would embarrass the Minister in having to decide whether a particular association was one to which he should give approval for the purposes of the Clause. Really, if anyone in any Government would feel embarrassed by having to make up his mind about something like that, he ought not to be a Minister. We pay Ministers to be embarrassed. It is one of the things they are there for.
§ Mr. Stewart
No, but enough to undertake this job.
Then the hon. Member for Hexham thought that there was danger of an added burden on the rates. But if this and other horrors that have been foretold are to follow what the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) has pointed out, then we are in danger of them already because 1736 of the power under Clause 2. But I am convinced that, if there is any way of dealing with the rates problem, it is wrong to try to solve it by restricting local authorities from doing everything one can. We shall never solve the problem by saying that we must never give them power to spend money.
If and when local electors feel that their councils are spending money in silly or extreme ways, they can always turn them out and put other people in, as we have seen them do in the last week or two. I do not think that there is really anything in either of these arguments.
The real issue is not whether a new body should be set up. The body is set up and will go on anyhow. The question is whether it should be given this very moderate measure of official recognition. This is an extraordinarily moderate Measure, hedged round by every kind of safeguard and, moreover, no more than anything that is already given in the case of officers. One of the worst aspects is that, if we removed this Clause, we should be pronouncing that we regard this kind of work for elected members as less important than for officers. That would be deplorable.
§ Mr. Pargiter
I would not wish to imply some sort of invidious position for members. My case is that there are existing powers and organisations to do this job, and our job is to see that they do it. Like every other hon. Member, I want to see as much education as possible, but there are channels through which it should be done.
§ Mr. Stewart
My hon. Friend is resting his argument on the proposition that the job is being done, and presumably can always be done adequately, by existing organisations. He used the phrase. "Our job is to see that they do it". But it is no such thing. It is none of our business to insist on the County Councils' Association and the Association of Municipal Corporations doing their job properly. If they do not do their job properly, that is a matter for their members.
§ Mr. Pargiter
I am not speaking of Members of Parliament in this sense but of members of local authorities.
§ Mr. Stewart
Why should we tie ourselves permanently to the view that the only right channels are channels which are so constructed that they must work 1737 on the principle of what kind of local authority one belongs to? That is the nature of the existing organisations. The C.C.A. speaks for people on the county councils and the A.M.C. speaks for people as members of borough councils. But surely it is an entirely legitimate proposition to say that we might get a new, fresh and useful angle on this matter, so that people would not consider local government from the point of view of how it would affect a county or a borough or a parish but of how it would affect local government as a whole.
This is an aspect of the matter on which I feel very strongly, and it is of great importance at present, when so much is in the air about the reform of local government. Nothing could be more dangerous than to approach local government with the idea that we have some particular loyalty to a county, a borough, a district or a parish or whatever it may be. Over and over again, we shall have to consider the question, "By what kind of body is a particular local government function best performed?" It should be looked at exclusively from the point of view of the citizens as a whole, without any first approach by one particular kind of local authority rather than another.
It is no derogation of the useful work the present associations are doing to say that it is just possible that an organisation formed on a rather different principle might be able to contribute something useful to the process of education, information and public relations among elected representatives. At one moment during the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North I wondered whether the Association of Councillors should not widen its scope still further and include Members of this House and possibly even of another place, so that we could all be assisted in learning our job and about public relations and all the other things we should know. But I do not press that at this stage.
It has been suggested that this is premature. But we do not legislate on this sort of matter every day or even every month. Clause 8, for instance, is very valuable. If I remember rightly, the Permanent Under-Secretary at the Ministry recently told an association of people interested in comprehensive re- 1738 development that the Government were of opinion that what is done in this Clause should be done, and that it was solely a question of waiting for a legislative opportunity.
I do not believe that any case in principle against Clause 3 can be made out, whereas in principle the case for it is good. Therefore, it would be a mistake, when we have a local government Bill before us, to throw away this legislative opportunity for we do not know when the next opportunity will come. If the Clause is struck out, I hope that when the next opportunity comes, whatever Government is in power, they will take the opportunity, with all their authority as the Government, to put something like this into law. If that happens, I wonder whether the C.C.A. and the other organisations concerned will not think that they were unwise to hold up a change which is bound to come sooner or later, and whether they might not have been better advised and more gracious to have dropped their opposition at this stage.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. F. V. Corfield)
Perhaps I can take up what the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) has said in his plea that we should make this provision in a straightforward manner rather than in some more laborious and roundabout way. As he says, the Government do not give authoritative statements of the law. All I can tell the House is the legal advice I have received, and which I believe to be good.
It might be useful if I read to hon. Members the terms of Section 129 of the Local Government Act, 1948, with which Clause 3 is concerned, because I thought that the greater part of the speech of the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) was really off what we are really discussing. Section 129 reads:The council of a county, county borough, metropolitan borough, county district Or rural parish may pay reasonable subscriptions, whether annually or otherwise to the funds—1739 The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) wishes to insert in paragraph (b) the words "or members". What we are really discussing is whether there is a legitimate distinction between officers and members for this purpose. I am bound to say, expressing a negative view, that I have not heard a single argument put forward for making this distinction. I think that the hon. Member for Southall used the words "We are discussing the setting up of a particular organisation". But that is not what we are doing. The only organisation of members is the one he referred to. We are discussing whether this organisation or any other organisation of members that comes forward should, in some way, be put into a totally different category from other organisations. I would put in a plea for the general way, which the hon. Member wants and which my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) advocated, of putting it straightforwardly in the Bill where it can be seen for what it is.
- (a) of any association of local authorities formed for the purpose of consultation as to the common interests of those authorities and the discussion of matters relating to local government, or
- (b) of such associations of officers of local authorities, being associations formed for the purposes aforesaid, as may be approved by the Minister."
With regard to the question of any embarrassment about the approval of these organisations by Ministers, I have a very long list of associations of various local government officers, including a number of very reputable organisations which have not been approved because they do not fall within the general terms of the Section. So far as I know, no recent holder of my right hon. Friend's office has suffered any acute embarrassment in sorting the sheep from the goats and I hope that the hon. Member for Fulham does not believe that, in the unlikely event of that office being held by a member of his party, this will suddenly become an overbearing burden, because that would augur ill for the future of the country—should the first disaster come about in the first place. I endorse what the hon. Member for Fulham and the hon. Member for Islington, North and others have said about the Association of Councillors—that there must be a case for some body which is not divided into rather watertight compartments of urban district and rural district government and so on.
I hope that the hon. Member for Southall will agree to withdraw his Amendment. Like everybody else, par- 1740 ticularly the hon. Member for Fulham, I would not like to see the Bill lost. Like him, I know only too well that when one misses an opportunity to legislate on these matters, it does not easily arise again. I suppose that every Government Department has a long list of relatively minor but useful reforms waiting for Parliamentary time, and often waiting a very long time.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn
I do not know whether I have the position quite clear. Under existing legislation, if the organisation is approved by the Minister, am I right in supposing that there is no difficulty about paying the subscription?
§ Mr. Corfield
I am coming to that. Under Section 129, of the Local Government Act 1948 with which the Clause is concerned, all that is required is that my right hon. Friend has to approve an association as one to which it would be suitable for local authorities to make these contributions. When he has done that, any local authority within the group can make contributions, or pay subscriptions, as the case may be.
The other Section with which we are concerned is Section 136 of the Local Government Act which is to be amended by Clause 2. As amended it reads:A local authority in England or Wales may, with the consent of the Minister give either generally or specially"—so there is the opportunity to cover the whole country; perhaps I misled the Committee when I thought that it had to be special in each case—contribute towards the expenses of any body carrying on activities…for the purposes of furthering the development of trade, industry or commence"—within the area of that authority,or giving advice, information or other assistance to persons resident therein, or otherwise for the benefit of that area or those persons.The last words are clearly very wide. Under that rather wide heading, I am advised, contributions could be paid, and the wide word "contributions" covers "subscriptions", whether regular or only initial.
As I said earlier, I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Fulham and with my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby that it is much better to put this in clear words so that it can be seen for what it is. I would hope that that would be the decision of the House, 1741 although it is not for me on a Private Member's Bill to intervene further than that.
Again I remind the House that we are considering this very narrow issue of the distinction between officers and members and whether it is right to draw this distinction in this context. The merits of the organisation are not before us. It was made clear in Committee that there was no question of this organisation even applying for approval at present and no suggestion that it would be an approved organisation within the next year or two. This is something we have to wait for and we would have to see how it developed.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. Reynolds
I beg to move, in page 2, line 48, to leave out "and" and to insert "or".
This is a purely drafting Amendment. Since the Committee stage I have been advised that the insertion of the word "or" is preferable in every respect to "and". As the Bill is drafted, any organisation approved under this scheme would have to contain both officers and members of local authorities, which would probably make it rather difficult for the officers' associations which have already secured the Minister's approval. This is a purely drafting Amendment to make the Clause say exactly what everyone thought it meant.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ 2.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Speir
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I hope and believe that this Bill, amended and improved as it has been in its passage through the House, will generally be welcomed by those engaged in local government. Its provisions seek to give greater freedom to all local councils in England and Wales, from the London County Council to the Council of the Isles of Scilly, with the one sad exception of the City of London. It was only drafting difficulties which, unfortunately, prevented the City of London from coming within the terms of the Bill.
All too often when Parliament passes a new Bill into law the main object of the Bill is to tell the great British public that there is something more which 1742 it is not allowed to do, something which is forbidden, or as the Germans say, verboten. It is on record that as long ago as during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I Her Majesty protested that Parliament was passing too many laws. A great many more laws have been passed since that clay, despite the efforts of Lord Randolph Churchill with his cry of "Set the people free" and despite the Conservative Party election manifesto of 1951 which was entitled, "Britain—Strong and Free".
Fortunately, it is quite reasonable and compatible for me, while urging the need for a further holiday from restrictive legislation, nevertheless at the same time to commend this Bill to the House, because this Bill will to a large extent set people free to do things which they are not at present allowed to do.
All the way through its provisions the Bill enables councils to do things which, under other legislation, they cannot do at all, or possibly cannot do except with the Minister's consent. I emphasise that the Bill does not seek to lay any new duties on local authorities and that it gives no new powers to local authorities over the public. I think, therefore, it can be truly said that the Bill will help and not hinder both local authorities and the public. In fact, it will cut out a great deal of red tape.
It will cut out much unnecessary correspondence between Whitehall and local authorities, and at a time when it is desirable to make local government both more efficient and more local. I believe that the Bill will go some way in both those directions. It will make local authorities more efficient, because it will allow them to have more initiative and more discretion. It will make them more local, because they will be allowed to be a little more enterprising, and I think that this should stimulate local interest.
In particular, I draw attention to the provisions of Clauses 6, 7 and 8, which, I think, should prove specially useful. It is really rather absurd, but as the law stands local authorities are not allowed to fence off dangerous places such as the banks of canals. They are not allowed to erect warning notices saying that there are dangers about the place, such as disused welts: they are not even allowed to fill in disused wells. Nor are they 1743 allowed to contribute to the cost of providing amenities such as telephone boxes in small villages which might not otherwise be provided with them.
Again, except with the sanction of the Minister, local authorities cannot do many obviously desirable things such as planting trees on commons and open spaces. They are not allowed to undertake the essential first-aid repair works in connection with damage caused by floods or gales. Now, under Clause 6, subject to certain very stringent safeguards, local authorities, without the need for obtaining the consent of the Minister, will be allowed to spend modest sums, limited in most cases to a 1d. rate—in the case of a parish council limited to a 1s. 5d. rate—for any purpose which they consider is for the good of their areas or of their inhabitants. This new provision has been warmly welcomed by all the local authority associations, and they tell me that it will serve a very useful purpose, although in many instances the expenditure in question may be a matter of only a few pounds.
Clause 7 has also been welcomed by many local authorities. It seeks to provide local authorities with a useful additional method of borrowing money by means of the issue and sale of bonds. I again emphasise that, at a time when everyone is concerned about the high rate of local government expenditure, this Clause does not confer any new borrowing powers on local authorities. It merely gives them increased flexibility and provides them with another method of borrowing money.
Bonds are a simple and convenient method of borrowing money. They are easy to issue. They do not require a formal deed, as in connection with a mortgage, and they can be issued so to speak "on tap" across the counter. I think that these bonds are, therefore, likely to attract loans from local investors. Their issue will, quite rightly, be subject to rules and regulations made by the Minister. In this way, I hope that many local authorities will be able to stimulate and excite local interest for some of their ventures.
I also hope that Clause 8 will encourage local authorities, be they corporations of some of our great provincial cities or county boroughs, or some of our smaller 1744 urban district councils, to undertake bold, and eventually remunerative, schemes for the central development of their cities, or for urban renewal—schemes which are so necessary if our city centres are to be properly developed on really sensible and imaginative lines.
It will often be the case that while the land is being cleared in these expensive areas, while the sites are being prepared, and while the new buildings are being erected, the expenditure will be very high and the revenue in the early years will be either negligible or non-existent. Therefore, in the right circumstances, and in circumstances to be prescribed by the Minister, power will be given under this Clause to a local authority to suspend the annual provision for the payment of loan charges, subject, I emphasise, to a maximum period of suspension of five years.
The justification for suspending the provision for the repayment of a loan by a local authority must, I think, be the expectation that after the initial unremunerative period there will be money coming in for repayment of the charges, and that money may come in either in the form of income, or in the form of capital proceeds, such as from the sale of the sites themselves after the land has been prepared. That will be the acid test which the Minister will have to apply, that the scheme will eventually be a paying proposition. I hope that this Clause will enable city centres to be redeveloped and improved—and, I hope, also beautified—without the necessity of imposing an excessively heavy burden on local rata during the initial non-profit-earning stages.
In asking the House to approve the Bill, I conclude by expressing the hope that the Bill will help to make both urban and rural England a better, more pleasant, and more beautiful place in which to live. This objective has been the central aim of all the several Bills, now four in number, which I have had the privilege of sponsoring in this House. That was the central aim of the Litter Act, 1958, the Noise Abatement Act, 1960, the Diesel Fumes Bill of last Session, and it can be said to be the principal aim of this Bill.
The Bill will allow and encourage big cities to redevelop their old and overcrowded centres. It will allow towns to 1745 do such things as floodlighting their memorials and their historic buildings. It will allow parishes to plant trees on their commons and open spaces, and to offer prizes for their best kept gardens. It will enable councils throughout the length and breadth of England and Wales to do all these and a host of other desirable and sensible things.
All too often Governments are penny wise and pound foolish. All too often Government, as I think the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) said on Second Reading, spend 6d. to save 3d This Bill will get rid of some of that kind of nonsense. There is an old saying that a parish clerk ought to be able both to read and to write, and it helps if he can sing! It is my hope that this Bill will encourage many clerks of local authorities to sing!
It simply remains for me to thank my hon. Friend, his Department and all his officials for the great amount of willing assistance which they have given me in the drafting of the Bill and throughout all its stages. They could not have been more helpful to me, and without their help I could not possibly have got the Bill to its present stage. I am most grateful to them all.
§ 2.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Pargiter
I congratulate the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir) upon the remarkable success which he has achieved with his Bills. He has created something of a record in the number of useful Bills that he has brought forward. I welcome the Bill—apart from the point to which I have expressed my objection—and the so-called backward looking local authority associations to which reference has been made, including my own, also welcome its provisions, although many of the powers it provides are already exercisable by them.
Too much is often left to private Members' Bills, and to the chances that a Private Members' Bill has. This was a very chancy one. It is always open to any hon. Member to object, on any question, and on a Friday, due to the attendance of many hon. Members in other places, great difficulty may be caused. It may prove very difficult to get through a Measure that the whole House would generally consider desirable.
1746 My hon. Friend said that he would insist on the retention of the Clause to which I objected, and said that between one or the other of us the Bill might be lost. I did not intend that to be the case through my efforts. Unless there are sufficient Members of the House present to express its true opinion either way I do not think it is right for a Measure to be lost, as may be the case on a Friday, purely as a result of a rule of the House which enables a minority of Members to achieve their object. It is regrettable that so many Measures should be lost because of the operation of that rule, simply because a sufficient number of Members do not happen to be present to support them.
The Bill will do good. The fact that it may do something which I believe to be unwise is of secondary importance. It is because I think that the good things in the Bill far outweigh the one doubtful thing that I welcome it.
§ 2.23 p.m.
§ Sir Cyril Black (Wimbledon)
I am glad to have the opportunity of adding my congratulations to those which have already been addressed to my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir), and to express my conviction that the Bill will serve some useful purposes. I have taken an active interest in local government for a long time, having served for about twenty years both on a county council and on a borough council. My hon. Friend has been successful in achieving a somewhat exceptional feat. He has produced a Bill which is warmly approved of by local authorities and local authority associations which has received the commendation of my right hon. Friend, the Minister of Housing and Local Government, and which has not—with the single exception of the limited point made by the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter)—evoked any substantial measure of opposition. It is quite clear that the proposals of the Bill are in line with the mass of opinion which is interested in and concerned about the future health of local government.
The Bill achieves three very useful purposes. First, it enables local authorities, without the consent of the Minister, to do things for which his consent is required at present. These matters are all ones which can properly and safely 1747 be entrusted to local authorities to settle by their own free will and decision, and I hold the view that is now current both in this House and among local authorities, that if the proper health and independence of local government are to be maintained it is necessary that effective powers should lie in the hands of local authorities and that we should reduce to a minimum the number of matters in respect of which they have to obtain ministerial consent. The Bill is in line with that general principle, and I warmly support that part of its proposals.
Secondly, the Bill enables local authorities to do certain useful and necessary things which they cannot do at present either on their own decision or even with the consent of the Minister.
Thirdly—and this is something which appeals to me very much—the Bill will enormously reduce the volume of correspondence, and going and coming and consultation, between local authorities and the various Ministries which are concerned with different aspects of local government. No one suggests that in the present complex state of government in this country, and the interaction between national and local policy, we can set local authorities entirely free and make them completely laws unto themselves, regardless of what national policy may be. Speaking as a local government man rather than as a Member of Parliament, however, I can say that local authority councillors feel a great deal of frustration at the delays which necessarily occur over comparatively trivial matters, where there has to be a great amount of going and coming between local authorities and the Ministries, and they will welcome gladly and with acclamation anything that is done to reduce the large amount of delay and paper work which is now necessary.
I now turn to the question of the gains which the Bill will provide for local authorities. I support the proposal which enables conference expenses to be paid on a rather wider scale and to a wider range of persons. For the first time it includes co-opted members of committees who are not members of the council. In future, in suitable circumstances, they will be able to 1748 represent a council or a local authority committee at important national conferences held throughout the country.
I am glad that it has been provided that in this connection the Minister shall lay down regulations. This would not be an appropriate matter to leave entirely to the judgment of local authorities. It is necessary that safeguards should be provided, and the fact that the Minister will lay regulations, within which local authorities must act, will prevent local authorities becoming the subject of criticism by people in their areas—criticism which might fall upon them if matters were left entirely to their discretion. I am sure that those regulations which the Minister is to promulgate ought to receive, and will receive, very careful consideration with a view to seeing that what is, I believe, a useful piece of liberty provided in the Bill is not allowed to degenerate into licence.
Speaking for a moment as one who has been chairman of a finance committee both of a county council and of a borough council and who has therefore had something to do with these matters, I am bound to say that my experience has been that where public expenditure is concerned it is usually the small items that occasion public difficulty and public protest rather than the large ones. Some great scheme that involves £1 million or so usually goes through the finance committee and the council and is accepted at the bar of public opinion without any difficulty at all. The figure is so large that people think that it is really no good troubling their minds about it—the whole project seems to them so tremendous. But if there is a question of whether two representatives instead of one should be sent to some rather delectable local government conference which is going to meet at Bournemouth or Blackpool, there may be an amount of public criticism and feeling on the council and among the public which is out of all proportion to the importance of the issue or the amount of money involved.
From that point of view, I think it right that the Minister should lay down regulations not only for the guidance of the local authorities but to which the local authorities shall be subject. There have, of course, been cases in which, I think, there have been legitimate criti- 1749 cisms of the expenditure of public money in the sending of councillors to local authority meetings.
I remember one case, in my own personal experience, of a council on which I served and which was proposing to send two representatives, at public expense, to represent a not very large non-county borough at an international meeting of local authorities to be held in Paris. Nothwithstanding the fact that the proceedings were to be conducted in French, a substantial number of the council felt that it was quite proper to send at public expense two members of the council, neither of whom could speak or understand French, to attend this meeting in Paris. A good many ratepayers, and they had my sympathy, felt that it was not an appropriate use of public funds to send people to an international conference in these circumstances.
My recollection is that I was in the chair at the time, and the settlement of this matter depended on my casting vote. I have a recollection that much to the annoyance of the two persons concerned I recorded my casting vote against their going to Paris at the ratepayers' expense. I think that this is the kind of case which tends to bring local government into very fair criticism on the part of those who pay the rates. I think that with the safeguards of the regulations which the Minister is to promulgate the matter is very fairly dealt with in the terms of the Bill as now before us for Third Reading.
I am wholeheartedly in support of the power now to be given to local authorities to contribute towards the cost of services provided for the benefit of the residents in the area of the local authority by some organisation that may operate over a wider field, that may have its headquarters just over the boundary in some adjoining local authority area but which is, in fact, rendering a very real service to the people living in the areas of more than one authority.
I think that the present position is anomalous and that it could not have been foreseen when the law was passed in its present form. This, I think, is dealing with something, not of a major character but, none the less, of an important character, which has justified the consideration and attention of the House. 1750 When we come to the Clause in the Bill which enables up to a 1d. rate, except in the case of parish councils, to be spent on various projects for which the local authorities have not at present the power to incur expenditure, I am bound to say that this seems to me to be a useful provision. The sponsor of the Bill has pointed out that this will enable the fencing of dangerous places to be carried out, the erection of warning signs to take place and also remedial works following flood or tempest, and, furthermore, that repairs to war memorials can be carried out under this provision.
My hon. Friend referred in this connection to the expenditure of modest sums. But, of course, the sums which will be able to be spent now will be very much less modest than they would have been prior to 1st April this year when the new rating assessments came into force. I hope that local authorities will, in fact, confine expenditure to necessary and modest projects and will not make it an occasion for spending money merely because they have the power, unless there is some compelling reason for the expenditure.
In my own county of Surrey, on checking up the matter this morning I found that the product of a 1d. rate under the new assessments is now £⅓million, so that in the case of the major authorities it would be possible for them to use this power to undertake expenditure which many ratepayers may regard as not being quite so modest as it sounds when one expresses it merely as the product of a 1d. rate.
I wholeheartedly support the power which is now given generally to local authorities to issue bonds in respect of their borrowings. This, after all, is only a simplified form of borrowing; it does not enlarge their right to borrow but merely enables them to borrow in an additional manner to the manner in which they can borrow as the law stands at the moment. I believe it to be a fact that under private Acts, which affect the powers of a great many individual local authorities, some 150 local authorities at the present time possess this power.
It seems to me that if these bonds can be issued in units of £5 it brings this kind of investment within the range of 1751 a vast number of local people who would not be likely to invest in the larger stock market issues of the local authorities, and when we find—
§ Dr. Alan Glyn
Will not my hon. Friend agree that one of the great advantages of this is that local people will feel that they have some stake in their local finance by contributing towards loans?
§ Sir C. Black
I fully agree with that, and I was just coming on to that point.
It will enable people in the locality who are particularly interested in some project, such as the building of a new town hall, a new community centre, a new swimming bath or something of that kind, to feel that they are making their own personal contribution towards providing the money needed to pay for a much needed improvement.
To take the example and experience of only one local authority, when we find that the Derbyshire County Council was apparently successful in borrowing nearly £3 million within a space of one month by the issue of bonds which it was permitted to issue under its own private Act legislation, it seems to me to open up quite a large field of possibilities of borrowing by many of the authorities which do not at the moment possess this power but which will do so when the Bill becomes an Act.
Finally, I wish to give my support to the proposal which, stated quite simply, will enable interest to be capitalised during the period of development in the case of certain major undertakings of a revenue producing character. As the law stands at present there is a very real fear that local authorities may feel themselves inhibited from undertaking major schemes of this kind because of the heavy effect it may have in the short-term on the rate burden that they would have to impose on the public. I think that a bad thing. I agree with my hon. Friend that there is a vast field for the redevelopment and improving of city centres, and for the carrying out of overspill development in the case of areas already fully developed or possibly overcrowded; and if one has to bear, as a charge on the current rate interest charges which are incurred during the period of development when there is no income or only a negligible income from the project, it may very 1752 well deter local authorities from embarking on that kind of scheme at all.
After all, it is common practice in the case of limited companies and private businesses that one capitalises interest during the period of development, and this is merely bringing into local authority finance principles which have been accepted and recognised as right and reasonable over very many years. I wish again to offer my congratulations to my hon. Friend. I am sure I speak for local authorities when I say that in the years ahead they will have very much occasion to be grateful to him.
§ 2.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page
I am sorry that the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) is having an almost lonely vigil on the benches opposite during the welcome which is being given to this Bill. Perhaps he thinks it best, if he is to have unity in support to have only one backbench Member to support him, having regard to what we found in an earlier debate. But I should have thought that there might have been a little more support from the benches opposite on the occasion of the Third Reading of this very valuable Bill.
I sincerely congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir) on piloting his Bill to this stage. It would be a very frustrating life for a backbench Member had he not the opportunity of himself putting something on the Statute Book now and again. My hon. Friend has not been backward in doing this, and I sincerely congratulate him on having once again got as far as this with a Private Member's Bill.
As was said in an earlier debate one would hesitate, if this were a Bill giving more power to local authorities to spend more money and therefore to have to collect more in rates. But I think this Bill may well be a Measure which gives a saving of expenditure by increasing local management. I think the remarks which my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham made during the Second Reading debate have been well justified by the subsequent debates and the Committee stage discussions. He said:The Bill sets out to remove a great deal of red tape and to abolish much to-ing and fro-ing between local authorities and Government Departments in Whitehall."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8d1 March, 1963; Vol. 673, c. 827.]1753 My hon Friend was supported in that by the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) who said:Against this one must set the small but not insignificant point that the Bill will save both local and central government a certain amount of unnecessary time and expenditure on correspondence spending 6d. in order to make sure that 3d. is not improperly spent."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1963; Vol. 673, c. 856.]I think this a vitally important aspect of the Bill. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government has pressed local authorities again and again to look at their administration to see whether expenses can be reduced. Many local authorities have applied work study methods to their organisation and organisation and methods to their work in the council offices, either by employing work study officers or by employing a consultant firm to carry out this work. The sort of provisions contained in this Bill will enable councils still further to improve their administration and to save more money.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government will at some time publish the savings achieved by the application of organisation and methods to local government work, because it runs into millions of pounds. I suppose that before I go further I ought to declare an interest, as am the secretary of a certain organisation which has rather a long name—the Institute of Incorporated Work Study Technologists. Only next week there is a European Work Study Congress meeting very near to this House—in Church House—and I think that we might hold up this Bill as an example of what we are doing to apply proper organisation and methods procedures to local government.
I wish to mention in particular the provisions in the Bill which permit local authorities to expend money on certain obviously desirable things. Under the existing law they are prevented from spending money in that way. My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham mentioned the fencing of canals. There happens to be a very dangerous canal in my constituency and I recollect that on many occasions the local authority has had long conferences with British Transport and lengthy correspondence with the Ministry regarding the fencing of this 1754 canal and who should be responsible for the expense. I believe that the provisions contained in this Bill would have prevented all that waste of time and effort and correspondence and conferences. The local authority would have had a free hand to spend just a little bit of money on saving life. In that case it was, indeed, a question of saving life, because deaths from drowning in that canal occur frequently.
The power now to be given in Clause 1 of the Bill to pay for the attendance of members of local authorities at conferences will be a very useful and valuable power. There have in the past been many occasions when local authorities have desired to send members, or co-opted members, to conferences and the Ministries concerned have refused to permit the expenditure involved to rank for grant. Again I must declare an interest. I have come up against this problem on many occasions in connection with valuable conferences held by the Pedestrian Association for Road Safety. On many occasions Ministries have refused to allow expenses of representatives attending conferences which the local authorities concerned have considered of great value for their road safety committees.
I am sorry that we still see in Clause 1 this peculiar word "political". The conferences to which this Clause applies must not be wholly or partly political. The hon. Member for Fulham on Second Reading said that this was a Committee point and no doubt we should see it tidied up in Committee, but it has come back to us at this stage with the wording unaltered. Obviously what was meant was "party political" not "partly political". I should have liked to have seen the letter "I" dropped from that word. It will be extremely difficult for anyone to define what "political" covers. By a wide definition it would exclude almost every sort of conference, whereas I imagine that the intention is to exclude only those which are party political.
Clause 2 allows the local authority to subscribe to organisations providing certain amenities within their areas. I think particularly of the area with which my constituency is concerned, the conurbation of Merseyside, where cer- 1755 tain authorities concentrate on certain amenities and facilities which they offer not only to their own residents but also to those of neighbouring boroughs and districts in the conurbation. Although this Clause reads at first sight as if it applies to commercial activities only, I assume that it will also apply to cultural activities such as music and drama festivals carried on in one district not only for the benefit of that district but of the neighbouring districts as well.
I do not wish to go through every Clause in the Bill at this stage, because it is such a valuable Bill and we want to see it go through Third Reading and, eventually, on to the Statute Book. I conclude on this note. There are on the Statute Book a very great number of local government Acts. I happened to look them up before coming into the Chamber this morning. That is why I know that they go back to the County Buildings Acts of 1826, 1837 and 1847. Those are still perfectly good statutes. There are Acts like the Liberties Act of 1850 which still control the activities of local authorities. Then we come to the much more massive Acts, the Municipal Corporations Acts of 1882 and 1883, and the Local Government Act, 1888. We still turn back to that and the Local Government Act, 1894. There were further Local Government Acts in 1929, 1933, 1948 and 1958 and many small local government Acts almost yearlyin 1953, two in 1956, one in 1957, in 1958 and in 1960. I believe there are before the House at present three Local Government Bills sponsored by private Members.
Have we not reached the stage at which there ought to be codification of these Acts? When we have before us a Bill such as this, amending a number of existing statutes, not all the same statute, it makes one think that this is the right time to codify the law relating to local government. I hope my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will bear this in mind. I again congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham. He and I now belong to the "Double-Act Club". Before the end of this Session we both will belong to the "Treble-Act Club".
§ 2.55 p.m.
Mr. Arthur Jones (Northants, South)
I wish to follow the excellent example which my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) always sets us and to relate my remarks to two Clauses of this important Bill. I wish to add my praise to the unqualified congratulations which my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir) has received from both sides of the House.
In his remarks, my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham referred to the ability which clerks should have to sing. I am confident that there will be a wide chorus of praise to him and for his hopes for the Bill, which I am sure will be fulfilled. This praise is well deserved and will earn the wide appreciation of those concerned with local government administration and welfare. I am confident that he should have the satisfaction not only of a job well done, but of a job which needed doing.
The Bill is an effort to modernise local government. It goes very properly hand-in-hand with the many changes and reorientations which flow from the boundary revisions and subsequently the reorganisation of district councils by the county council authorities. Substantial administrative savings are possible, but I think that the greatest attribute of the Bill is the greater flexibility it will bring into local government affairs.
I wish to refer only briefly to Clauses 8 and 9. Clause 8 will provide to the local authorities powers which many of them have already gained by local Act legislation, which require to be much more widely used and which should be more readily available. I am sure that this power is safely in the hands of the local authorities. Their activities will be in the context of rising land values. By this means they will be able to enjoy substantially increased land values which follow not only their development but from development by private organisations and private developers. That is accepted commercial practice, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black) emphasised in his contribution to this debate.
In this country we have seen many splendid examples of private development. In this, we may well lead the world. We 1757 are seeing the increasing adoption of joint schemes by local authorities in conjunction with private developers. It is an advantage that both sides should be able to deal with a redevelopment scheme with common practices and linked principles of the application of the financial arrangements which are so necessary.
The limits called for in the Bill are, I think, fair and reasonable. It should be possible to terminate and to bring to fruition a scheme of redevelopment in a five-year period and to produce revenue either by means of ground rents or by means of rents subsequent to the redevelopment. County councils could give district councils considerable help in this field for, with their substantial staff and "know-how", they should be in a position to give far greater help to district councils than has been available hitherto. I hope the county councils will increasingly turn their attention to this matter.
I was, however disappointed to see what was said by my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary on Second Reading. He said that as he saw it at the momentstraight housing projects would not normally be included because usually most housing authorities have already got a programme and the income from a recently completed project in a sense is helping to finance the 'dead' period of the current programme."—[OFFICRL REPORT, 8th March, 1963; Vol. 673, c. 868.]In respect of central redevelopment schemes for residential purposes, he added that enormous costs may be involved.
That is certainly true, but, as I see it a housing development can stand on its own feet in the same way as does a commercial development, and I believe that in our urban renewal it is in residential redevelopment and renewal that substantial schemes will come about if we are to see the redevelopment of our city centres. This applies to the smaller towns, too, and it is here that I wish to emphasise the help which could be available from county councils.
I hope that the Minister will not find it necessary to be restrictive in this matter in respect of housing developments in town centres. He may well find that, in a scheme, housing and commercial development go hand in hand, and it would be unfortunate if we were to find 1758 that it was possible to take advantage of the provisions of the Bill in one part of the scheme but that there were restrictions on another part of the scheme because it had some residential character. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will deal with that point.
Clause 9, which has not been mentioned in the debate, deals with a provision which has been necessary for educational authorities for many years. It will be of particular help to authorities in the purchase of sites in advance of their requirements. They are often in competition with other potential users of central sites and sites on the outskirts of a city.
The Bill brings together many varying strands of local government practice. One often sees this in legislation which passes through the House, in that a Bill brings together the best practices which local authorities have developed as pioneers or pathfinders in the increasing administration of local government affairs. We should keep a closer watch on this matter and find more Parliamentary time, if possible, for legislation affecting local authorities. There may well be a need for a Bill of this character every four or five years. I hope that my hon. Friend in whose name the Bill stands will hold himself in readiness for a future occasion.
§ 3.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Dudley Smith
I join with others in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir) on his remarkable run of success with Private Members' Bills. It seemed earlier this afternoon, at one perilous moment, that the Bill might founder, but owing to the generosity of the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter), that moment passed, and it looks as though the Bill will now get its Third Reading.
I have been a member of a county council for about six years and have been connected with local government in one way or another for most of my adult life. Obviously, therefore, I welcome the Bill and any Measures which improve the administration and conduct of local government. That administration becomes more complex year by year, particularly in its financial aspects.
The Bill is a very useful tidying-up Measure, although I think that some of its provisions might well have been 1759 carried into law before. I have long felt that there was too much paper work in connection with local government, and the Bill does something to cut it out. It is vital, also, that we should not spend more money in trying to save a lesser amount of money. Those of us in the Chamber today, who have had local government experience have seen exactly that sort of thing going on. I therefore welcome this part of the Bill.
I wish briefly to deal chiefly with Clause 1, which removes the existing control over expenses in connection with conferences. while still retaining a very necessary safeguard. Elected members of local authorities are used to being "slated", but they rarely get praised. I am sometimes rather mystified as to why they even go in for local government work. I can understand it where they are young and politically ambitious and members of either of the two main Parties, but when they are not I sometimes wonder why they take an active part in local government, because there is no glory and very little understanding and recognition of their work. An ever-mounting rate of criticism is levelled against them.
Therefore, it is important that there should be a few small departures from the humdrum of the ordinary council routine. This can come with the occasional conferences and gatherings to which local authorities send representatives. No reasonable person would wish to deprive councillors of these occasional trips. Very few of them are at all glamorous. It is absolutely vital that we should keep a constant vigilance over expenditure in this direction, because public money is concerned all the time, and the public sometimes get very upset if that money is used in the wrong direction.
We in the House are particularly conscious at present of the ever growing rate burden. It is, therefore, vital that we should have every possible economy in local government which is consistent with efficiency. I am, therefore, glad that the Bill will, for the most part, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham, not add to local government costs, because I myself am very anxious that the number of trips and outings to local authority conferences 1760 should not grow substantially as a result of the Bill.
In the past, there have been some abuses by councils. I suppose that this is inevitable. However, I am sure that most of them treat this subject with caution and with good sense. I myself am not so worried in some ways about council members as about officials. Many councillors have to spend a good deal of money on hospitality when they go to local authority conferences and they have to get time off from their jobs if they work for a living. As a consequence, they are very much out of pocket at the end of the trip.
But officials are in a different category. They certainly need to attend some of these conferences to keep abreast of up-to-date developments in their spheres of activity. However, I do not think that they should be away from their desks at the county hall or the town hall any longer than is really necessary, because they are being paid by public money.
I am pleased that under the Bill the power given in Clause I will be governed by Regulations which are to be made by my right hon. Friend the Minister. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black) that this is very necessary. This, I understand, will limit the amount of allowances to be paid to people attending conferences and will also restrict the number of members allowed to go to any one conference. I hope that my right hon. Friend will keep a close eye on these developments. I trust that the matter will be watched in the regulations and that, if necessary, they will be amended from time to time.
One often hears ill-informed and slanderous comment from members of the public who talk about councillors feathering their own nests and who allege that they are in local government only for what they can get out of it. I have yet to meet the man who really got anything out of local government in a material respect. If one pins such people down, the reply usually is, "Perhaps they are not getting much out of it, but they are always going off on these jobs at the ratepayers' expense and are spending public money on private entertainment". I do not think that this is true. It is very unworthy.
This afternoon my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon gave us the 1761 example of the two councillors who were going to Paris. He vetoed this suggestion by the casting vote from the chair. In the public mind there is too much of the idea of the traditional story of the Welshmen who every year go across to Paris for the international rugby match. So very many of them, who save up for this trip, never actually get to the match, although they go on the trip. I am sure that the majority of councillors who go to local authority conferences spend a vast amount of the time attending to their duties and they do so loyally and faithfully.
The county council of which I am a member imposed some rigid rules over conferences some years ago and ever since then all these trips have been scrutinised very closely. There have been plenty of arguments on the subject, but only the more essential claims get through. Therefore, administratively these changes can be very helpful and I am sure that most of the councillors and the bodies concerned will carry them out in the right spirit.
The Bill definitely helps to make local government more local, which we should always welcome. Because of my campaigning for rating reform and my wish to have certain expenditure transferred to the national Exchequer, I am sometimes accused of wanting to rule out local government control and of wanting everything transferred to the centre. This is not so. A good case can be made out for transferring large sums of money to the centre, but I have always subscribed to the idea that we should retain as much local control as possible at the town hall and in the county council.
I greatly resent Whitehall domination in local government and that is why I think that the Bill is a useful implemention of what has gone before. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) that we ought soon to have one local government Measure which will bring many of the enactments now on the Statute Book up to date.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)
On a point of order. May I draw your attention, Mr. Speaker, to the fact that there are many hon. Members who are not present today who have promoted some of the Bills named on the Order Paper, 1762 including the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short), who has promoted a Bill of which I am in favour?
§ Mr. Speaker
Would the hon. Member be good enough to indicate what, if anything, is his point of order without reciting names?
§ Mr. Williams
It is only because so many of these hon. Gentlemen are not present that I draw your attention, Mr. Speaker, to the fact that there are fewer than 40 Members present.
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present;
§ House counted, and 40 Members being present—
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn
After that unfortunate incident, I will restrict my remarks to congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir). I have had the privilege of taking part in debates on three out of four of his Bills. He goes from strength to strength. This Bill achieves what we would all like to see, so that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Dudley Smith) has said, local authorities will not only be local but will have more power and more local authority.
§ Mr. Richard Marsh (Greenwich)
On a point of order. Is it not an abuse of the procedure of the House, Mr. Speaker, for an hon. Member to walk in, to interrupt the proceedings deliberately by a stratagem and to walk out immediately after he has done so?
§ Dr. Glyn
The Bill which is before us achieves the object of increasing the power of local authorities. We all want not only efficient local government, but local government with a reasonable degree of economy.
Before leaving the Bill, we should also thank the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) for the generous way in which he made it possible to proceed by withdrawing his Amendment. The Bill improves local government and achieves the objects which it sets out to achieve.
With a Private Member's Bill, it is an incredible success for my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham to have got through a Measure which encompasses 1763 so many important improvements in the powers of local government. I am interested to see that not only has my hon. Friend increased his scope, but that in the Bill he has even increased his geography by including the Isles of Scilly.
§ 3.17 p.m.
§ Mr. M. Stewart
I do not want to prolong the proceedings unnecessarily, but the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) said earlier that not many of my hon. Friends on this side were present. The hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir) will, no doubt, have been delighted that a number of us were here to rescue his Bill from the stratagem of somebody to whom, technically, the hon. Member would refer as one of his hon. Friends. Indeed, it could not reasonably be expected that my hon. Friends would take any notable part in discussion of a Bill which is now universally approved by the House and the contents of which are fully known to us all, since we on this side do not share the enthusiasm for obstructing discussion of a later Bill which has prolonged the Third Reading debate on this one.
It is not necessary, therefore, for me to say more than that. All of us warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Hexham and all those who have been associated with him in advancing this useful Bill to its conclusion in this House.
§ Mr. Reynolds
I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams), who blew in, blew up, blew out again and is no longer present, will be back at about two minutes to four o'clock to do his usual obstruction job at 4 p.m.
I know that other hon. Members wish to speak on the Bills which are to follow and I hope that they will be able to do so. I simply congratulate the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir) on getting through its various stages a Bill which will be of considerable use to local authorities generally. I express thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) for not, as he originally said, pushing to a logical conclusion his objection to the Clause that was inserted in Committee.
§ 3.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Corfield
I certainly do not want to prolong these proceedings, but 1764 I must add my congratulations to the many that my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir) has already received. This is his third or fourth Bill and we can say that of all of them—rivalling in numbers, I should think, the experience of many right hon. Gentlemen as heads of Departments—this is the best. I hope that with these congratulations he will certainly receive, as he certainly deserves, the congratulations of the local authority associations as well, and I hope that they will include those of the County Councils Association along with the others. I do congratulate him.
I hope that my hon. Friends will not think me discourteous if I do not refer to all the specific points to which they referred. I will certainly write to them about them.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.