HC Deb 30 April 1964 vol 694 cc733-41
Mr. Gresham Cooke

I beg to move, in page 15, line 40, at the end to insert: Provided that one of the assistant lieutenants shall be known as the Lieutenant of Middlesex. Would it be convenient if we also discuss the following Amendment, in Clause 19, page 15, line 45, at end insert: Provided that one of the under-sheriffs shall be known as the Sheriff of Middlesex. which deals with a similar subject?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

If that is convenient to the House, pray do.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

For the purposes of the Bill Middlesex has been judged to be a county. It has a very ancient and honourable history. It was part of the Kingdom of King Offa, who lived from 757 to 796. He was one of the Middle Saxons. Offa had a very important kingdom, which was on a par with that of Charlemagne, who, in fact, suggested that one of his sons should marry Offa's daughter. Offa, in return, suggested that one of his sons should marry Charlemagne's daughter. Unfortunately, that bargain never came off, so even in the eighth century the Common Market negotiations broke down.

Middlesex has a very ancient history, as is shown by the Middlesex arms, which include three Saxon sea axes on top of which is a Saxon crown. Not only has it had an important history as a king's realm, but it has had some famous residents. Pope, Walpole and Garrick would all have been constituents of mine if they had been alive today. It contains many famous houses, including Hampton Court, and it now has many important and well-known institutions. There is the Middlesex Regiment, the Middlesex Territorial and Auxiliary Forces Association, and the Middlesex County Cricket Club. I wonder what Plum Warner, Hendren and Hearne would have said if they had thought that it might one day come to an end. It has two of the greatest football stadiums in London. There is Wembley, in my hon. Friend's constituency, which is the Association foot- ball stadium, and Twickenham, in my constituency, which is the Rugby football stadium.

As well as those institutions, there is London Airport, which is undoubtedly and indubitably in Middlesex. For all these institutions the presence of a lieutenant from time to time is indeed important. It would be wrong were we fobbed off with an assistant lieutenant, a deputy lieutenant of Greater London, who would, perhaps, be sent to us from time to time. When the Queen arrives back at London Airport, the Lord Lieutenant of Middlesex meets her and attends on her. He is also responsible for the auxiliary forces. He attends public functions and great events such as the Football Association Cup Final at Wembley. I suggest that one of these assistant lieutenants of Greater London should be known as the Lieutenant of Middlesex, particularly as there are still 2 million people in the county and it is larger than many other counties.

The second officer of the county is the sheriff, who has responsibilities on ceremonial occasions. Likewise one of the under-sheriffs of the Greater London Area should also be Sheriff of Middlesex. For all these reasons, because of the great and honourable history of Middlesex and its existence as a county; because of the great institutions within it and the need for the attendance of a lieutenant, I urge that there should be a Lieutenant of Middlesex.

Mr. Dudley Smith (Brentford and Chiswick)

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke). By way of explanation, I ought to say that I have never been keen on the idea of this reorganisation of local government in the London area and the consequent reorganisation of the administration of justice. I confess that. I am even less keen after the local government elections of a few weeks ago. But, having got the London Government Act and this Bill, I think that we must try to make it work.

I support the plea of my hon. Friend that something of Middlesex should be allowed to remain. About 2 million people still reside there and they identify themselves very much with the old county. I prophecy that they will still do so for several decades hence. If nothing else is done to preserve Middlesex, it will still be identified by reason of the postal services. Particularly on the outer fringes, the people living in Middlesex will remember that they are members of that county and not necessarily of the Greater London area. We ought to try to remember that it will remain geographically a county whatever other administration may come in, and it is important that there should be something retained from the past.

Middlesex has a long and distinguished history, particularly in the administration of justice, and, as was said by my hon. Friend, it has many associations going back into history. Its lord lieutenant and high sheriff are anything but nominal figureheads. They have extremely arduous jobs to do. With the tremendous use of London Airport, the lord lieutenant finds himself in constant attendance on the Sovereign there, and he has to meet many dignitaries when they arrive from foreign countries. The high sheriff has an arduous job to do in the administration of justice. They work hard and get no pay whatever, and very little thanks.

Those of us who represent Middlesex as Members of Parliament for the old area and those who have been associated with local government down the years in that area would like to see something retained over and above what is already in the Bill. We appreciate that changes have been made, and the other area which was to be known as North-West London is to be the Middlesex area, but we do not think that is enough. We are pleading with my right hon. Friend, who has distinguished local Government associations himself, to agree that it would be a good idea if one of the lieutenants was for Middlesex and also one of the sheriffs.

Therefore, I support what my hon. Friend has said and hope very much that my right hon. Friend will see his way to make this one small concession. We had very few concessions during the battle over this Greater London authority, and perhaps in this case my right hon. Friend could find it possible to pave the way for this one concession which I know would be appreciated not only by hon. Members who may have a vested interest in being Members of Par- liament but also by the population at large throughout the county.

10.30 p.m.

Sir Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)

I wish to support the Amendment for all the reasons given by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) and my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Dudley Smith). I would like to stress one reason which my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick gave. He said that he did not very much like some of the reorganisation produced by the London Government Act. As far as I am concerned, that is a complete understatement.

Both my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wembley, North (Wing Commander Bullus) and myself, together with a large number of our constituents of both political parties, objected so strongly to the Bill that my hon. and gallant Friend and I voted against its Third Reading, and against several of the Amendments to it as well. We were still further annoyed when my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Local Government refused to let the present boroughs of Willesden and Wembley be called the Borough of Willesden and Wembley and insisted on it being called the Borough of Brent.

There is still a lot of ill-feeling about that on top of the ill-feeling about the merger. As my hon. Friend said, it would be some small consolation if this Amendment were allowed and if one of the assistant lieutenants could be known as the Lieutenant of Middlesex so that we can get something of the old structure in our name and can preserve something of Middlesex.

I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department to be more flexible than was his right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Local Government. Some local feeling was generated by the London Government Act, and for that reason I support my hon. Friend who moved the Amendment and hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to accept it.

Mr. John Barter (Ealing, North)

I support the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) and supported by a number of my hon. Friends who represent Middlesex constituencies. I wish to refer particularly to the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Dudley Smith). He mentioned his own reluctance in supporting the Measure dealing with the reorganisation of London government, but there was one point to which he made no reference. It was the movement, in the early stages concerning the alteration of local government, to which Middlesex, with a population of 2¼ million, a completely viable county containing the main airport for London and many other natural resources, apart from the historical connections to which my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham referred, was giving serious consideration, to apply for independent status within the Commonwealth. This would have been more appropriate for Middlesex than for some areas which have received it.

We have now reached a situation where, if this Measure is to go forward as proposed, Middlesex is to be deprived of the traditional offices, stretching back nearly 1,000 years, of both lieutenant and sheriff. I would have thought that a very small Amendment, a flexible approach by the Government, could have accommodated this very natural requirement on behalf of the residents of the county.

Reference has been made principally to the social functions of the lieutenant and sheriff. Perhaps it would be appropriate—or perhaps not inappropriate—to draw attention to the fact that the lieutenant has an extremely important function in connection with the appointment of magistrates. This lies at the root, I would have thought, of the protection of the individual, of the proper administration of justice within a very large county. If it is to be spread over a very much larger area, an area of some 8 million population, I would have thought that it would have received rather more careful attention than it would have received for the smaller population of Middlesex. Consequently it might be reasonable to provide for the offices of under-sheriff and under-lieutenant to have a special designation related to the ancient and traditional area of the County of Middlesex. I support the Amendment.

Mr. Aidan Crawley (Derbyshire, West)

I should like in two sentences, and for a purely personal reason, to support this Amendment. Having taken great pains to have two sons born in Middlesex in the hope that they might one day play cricket for the county, I wish to do everything I can to support the future prestige of the county and I urge my right hon. Friend to be as flexible as he can be in the athletic sense.

Mr. Brooke

I should dearly like to help my hon. Friends from Middlesex who stand four-square behind this Amendment and my hon. Friend from a rival county in the County Championship who showed remarkable and commendable foresight and has come in on their side. I assure all five hon. Friends that all my bias and prejudices are in favour of Middlesex. I have been an unwavering supporter of Middlesex as a cricketing county ever since the age of 7 when I started to frequent Lords in the year 1910, and I could probably more accurately list the Middlesex XI of 1912 than any other hon. Member, but there are difficulties here.

I think my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) was seeking to argue both here and in his earlier speech that under this Bill Middlesex was recognised as a county. I do not want to be harsh, but I must put on record that under Section 3 of the London Government Act the County of Middlesex will cease to exist and nothing we do in this Measure can alter that. It is true that in Clause 2 of this Measure it is stated that a London Commission area shall be deemed to be a county for a variety of judicial purposes, but that does not re-make Middlesex a county in defiance of what the London Government Act has done.

The effect of what my hon. Friends propose is that Middlesex should be treated differently from the other five commission areas.

Mr. Barter

Would my right hon. Friend accept that it is not in fact the case that the suggestion is that Middlesex should be treated differently from the other five? The case is that as the Measure is now before us London appears to have absorbed Middlesex while Essex, Surrey and Kent remain. Therefore, Middlesex is the only county in a special position for the purpose of this argument.

Mr. Brooke

I am afraid that, in the course of my speech, I shall have to invite the attention of the House to the fact that because of various practical considerations in the earlier stages of the drafting of this Bill the Government came to the conclusion that the concept of Greater London as a unity was best recognised by the establishment of a single lieutenancy and a single shrievalty for the whole of Greater London. Special problems are involved in splitting it into five commission areas. This is recognised in the power given for the lieutenant to appoint an assistant lieutenant and for the sheriff to appoint an under-sheriff for each area. The power to appoint assistant lieutenants will ensure that a recognised standing is given to those other than the vice-lieutenant who will have to deputise for the lieutenant on occasions when, ordinarily, the presence of the lieutenant himself rather than a deputy would be expected.

The main ground on which I am bound to advise the House not to accept the first Amendment is that it seeks to describe as a lieutenant someone who is not a lieutenant. That is not the only difficulty, although it is a formidable one and none of my friendly feelings or compassion for Middlesex can enable me to see a way round that difficulty. As I say, there are other difficulties. For one thing, assistant lieutenants need not be appointed for specific Commission areas. It may suit the lieutenant that they should be; and if to the vice-lieutenant one adds four assistants, this could give one officer for each Commission area. But the lieutenant may find it more convenient not to assign them geographically in that way.

Another difficulty is that the Amendment, if accepted, would give a higher status to an assistant lieutenant than to the vice-lieutenant. That would be incongruous, particularly since the vice-lieutenant is intended to be the president of either the County of London Territorial Association or the Middlesex Territorial Association, whichever Association the lieutenant does not assume the presidency of. Although I sympathise with Middlesex and desire to help the people of Middlesex, I cannot see how the difficulty could be overcome of promoting the assistant lieutenant over the vice-lieutenant in the way the Amendment would do.

The arguments are similar in the case of the sheriff. Here, too, the second Amendment would involve calling an under sheriff a sheriff when he is not a sheriff. The sheriff of Greater London is empowered to appoint an under-sheriff in each Commission area. It will be a question for him whether he exercises that power or prefers to have one under-sheriff for the whole of Greater London. If he exercises the power to appoint an under-sheriff, it may be expected that he will appoint the under-sheriff who is currently under-sheriff covering the territory of each area, but one cannot tell.

In a sense, the Amendment relating to the sheriff is more incongruous and more difficult than that relating to the lieutenant, and I have already pointed out the difficulties there. In the case of the sheriff, an under-sheriff does not stand in the same relationship to the sheriff as an assistant lieutenant does to a lieutenant.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

My right hon. Friend talks about an assistant lieutenant but a few sentences earlier he was talking about a vice-lieutenant. Is there a difference between the two in this respect? Does that not come under another Measure?

Mr. Brooke

There is a difference. There will be a vice-lieutenant for Greater London, and there is also special provision for the appointment of assistant lieutenants. As to the sheriff and the under-sheriff, the under-sheriff is normally a solicitor and is concerned with the administrative work of the sheriff. The duties of the sheriff are largely ceremonial and he is normally known as the high sheriff. It is the under-sheriff who, so to speak, does the work. True the sheriff is answerable for all the acts of his under-sheriff, but the two—the sheriff and the under-sheriff—have traditionally quite distinct functions.

I do not believe, for all these reasons, that it is possible to help the people of the present county of Middlesex by preserving the name of Middlesex in these two connections. My two hon. Friends have been ingenious in their suggestion and I assure them that had I seen any means, without creating anomalies and incongruities, to meet their request I would have been delighted to do so. I think that they will recognise that the practical difficulties which I have mentioned, which may not have occurred to them before, create insuperable obstacles in the way of meeting their suggestions. I congratulate them on their ingenuity and on their loyalty. I wish I could help them but I am very sorry to say that I find the difficulties too great.

Sir R. Russell

My right hon. Friend has been most forthcoming—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. I understood that the hon. Member was rising only to ask a question. He has no right to make a second speech.

Sir R. Russell

I am sorry. If the title were made Lieutenant for Middlesex instead of Lieutenant of Middlesex and "for" were substituted also in the case of the sheriff, would that make it easier? If so, would my right hon. Friend consider putting down an Amendment in another place?

Mr. Brooke

If I may be allowed to speak again, the Bill has already been through another place and it would be impossible for the Government to respond to that request.

Mr. Barter

Whilst expressing appreciation of my right hon. Friend's congratulations on our ingenuity, which I do not think applies, I would ask him—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. I am afraid that the hon. Member's right to speak has been exhausted.

Mr. Barter

On a point of Order. May I ask a question?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Yes, surely.

Mr. Barter

Does my right hon. Friend not consider that the exception made for the City of London with its ancient history should equally apply to the county of Middlesex with its equally ancient history?

Amendment negatived.