HC Deb 08 June 1964 vol 696 cc50-66

The Secretary of State may hold an inquiry into any matter relating to the functions of a local authority under this Act.—[Sir E. Boyle.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

4.4 p.m.

The Minister of State for Education and Science (Sir Edward Boyle)

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

The Clause gives effect to an undertaking given in Committee in connection with an Amendment put down by my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Denzil Freeth). It is true that he put down the Amendment in a narrower context, specifically related to the operation of Clause 6. None the less, I believe it right to have in the Bill a general power to hold an inquiry into any matter relating to the functions of a local authority.

An inquiry of the kind to which the Clause relates would be in addition to the normal Departmental investigation which will be necessary in every case, for example, before a small library authority can lose its powers under Clause 6, and the purpose of such an inquiry would be to supplement, where necessary, evidence obtained in the ordinary way by allowing members of the public to state their views. The inquiry would be a local inquiry as required by Section 290 of the 1933 Local Government Act.

I need make only one more point. My hon. Friend's Amendment in Committee referred specifically to public inquiries. It is my intention that inquiries held under the terms of the Clause should be held in public, but if that were prescribed the provisions of Section 290 of the 1933 Act would not fit. Normally, inquiries are held in public, but one can just imagine that one or two inquiries might be needed that had to be held in camera—for example, if an officer or a councillor were accused of misconduct, or if it was thought inexpedient that allegations which had been made should be given undue publicity. But that would be the exceptional case. I merely mention the matter to show why the Clause refers to an inquiry and not specifically to a public inquiry.

I hope that with that explanation the House will agree to give the Clause a Second Reading.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

We are obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his explanation. Perhaps I may say something which will help to expedite our proceedings. In Committee, there was a reference to this Report stage, when the right hon. Gentleman was reported as saying: It will not be impossible to have two days, if we need them, to consider a later stage of the Bill. Then we can consider museums at greater leisure."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 30th April, 1964; c. 485.] We have corresponded on the matter, and the right hon. Gentleman has accepted my assurance that he did not say that at all, but that he said we would have a full opportunity to debate the Bill at this stage. I hope that notwithstanding the other Government business we shall have that full opportunity.

I am in some difficulties about the Clause. At first, I thought that it must have come from the pen of the Secretary of State, because it seems a flamboyant provision to make by way of a new Clause. I do not want to discourage the right hon. Gentleman's responding to his hon. Friend, who was a very conscientious and helpful Member in Committee, but I think that he has responded too fully. I do not know whether there is any precedent for such a provision being made in the Bill to provide for an inquiry in these circumstances.

The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the circumstances that he has in mind in taking advantage of this new provision, but I should have thought that the new Clause adds nothing to the powers of the Secretary of State. Unless we have definition—and the Clause is without definition—it would appear to me that the Secretary of State already has power to hold an inquiry into a matter if he so wishes. What we are concerned about is the form of the inquiry, and I would have thought that the Clause, as drafted, would be disturbing to local authorities.

The Minister asks for powers to hold an inquiry, but we are not told what will be the form of inquiry. Although the right hon. Gentleman has said that he envisages a public inquiry he qualifies that statement by saying that he can envisage circumstances in which there would not be a public inquiry. That is thoroughly unsatisfactory. If we are providing powers for a Minister to have an inquiry we should define the form of inquiry. This is an inquiry into any matter relating to the functions of the local authority under the Bill. It seems an extraordinarily wide power for the right hon. Gentleman to seek. That is why I was surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should move its Second Reading. I had expected the Secretary of State himself to move the Clause and explain its necessity.

We all supported the hon. Member's argument that under Clause 6 there is a case for an inquiry, but, oddly enough, the right hon. Gentleman who is now so keen to have these powers would not provide for them in the original Clause 6. It seems that the right hon. Gentleman is seeking exceptional powers in writing into legislation a new Clause expressly providing for the power to hold an inquiry, when, first, the form of inquiry is not to be defined as it usually is defined in this sort of legislation which affects local authorities and their relationship with the central Government, and, secondly, there is no limitation as to the matter which would be the subject of inquiry. It can be into any matter relating to the functions of a local authority under the Act.

This seems an extraordinary power to take. I am sure that the Minister does not mean to exercise powers in this sense, but it seems strange when we have a Bill on which we criticise the Government for not making financial provision to assist local authorities. At the end of our consideration of the Bill in Committee the right hon. Gentleman, having previously not specifically provided for an inquiry in the provisions of Clause 6, says, "I shall now seek a general power to have an inquiry into any matters relating to the functions of a local authority under the Bill".

In other words, the Minister says that we are passing a Measure the purpose of which is appreciated, understood and supported, but when the Government are criticised for not providing financial assistance, they claim the right to have an inquiry on any matter expressly recognised by the Bill. This seems likely to prejudice good relations between the right hon. Gentleman and the local authorities. I should have thought we would support the right hon. Gentleman that provision for an inquiry could be made where that provision is necessary, but I do not know of any precedent for the Secretary of State to seek this power.

It would not be right to accord a general power to hold an inquiry into any matter arising from the operation of the Act. I am certain that hon. Members opposite who took an active part in our consideration of the Bill in Committee were very much alive to the position and the status of local authorities. If we recognise that status as we properly should, it seems very odd to provide a general provision that the Minister can have an inquiry into the exercise of any function a local authority may exercise.

This arose in a specific context. The Roberts Committee had recommended that the Minister of Education should have powers comparable to those conferred by Section 322 of the Public Health Act, 1936, to enforce a statutory duty by the public authority which may be considered in default. In the exercise of that power there should be the right to institute an inquiry. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider the general claim to an inquiry on any matters arising and that he will be willing to take this matter back to reconsider it between now and the time when the Bill is considered in another place.

4.15 p.m.

Mr. Denzil Freeth (Basingstoke)

I wish to thank my right hon. Friend for so fully—indeed, more than fully—fulfilling the promise made by the Under-Secretary in our discussions in Committee. I must confess to him and to the House that in the list of Amendments I received a few days ago new Clause 1 was missing. For that reason I put down to the Government Amendment No. 24, to Clause 6, page 5, line 1, an Amendment to line 12, after "matters", to insert: including the wishes, in so far as he can ascertain them by public enquiry or other means of the residents of the borough or urban district". I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving the substance of that for which I asked in Standing Committee.

Having listened with great care to the speech of the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), I must say that I do not have exactly the same fears as he has. The Bill seeks to make local authorities run library services which are thought by the Minister to be adequate. In Clause 5, the Minister has powers to make and unmake joint boards. In Clause 6, he has powers to make or unmake library authorities in relation to smaller non-county boroughs and urban district councils. In Clause 10, the Minister will have power to remove library powers from any local authority. Under Clauses 12 and 13, and Amendments that we shall discuss later, if the Bill goes through, my right hon. Friend will have power with respect to museums and art galleries in relation to funds put up by local authorities to maintain them and charges to enter them.

These are very real and specific powers which Parliament is being asked to give to the Secretary of State. I do not have the fear about local authorities, particularly the smaller ones, and that the Secretary of State of the day will start holding too many inquiries but that he will not, before acting, hold sufficient inquiries in which the views of the ratepayer and user of the library or art gallery can be made known and brought to his attention. Therefore, I rejoice that my right hon. Friends have come to the conclusion that a general Clause of this nature is the best answer to the problem.

It will give the Secretary of State power to hold inquiries into any aspect which relates to the functions of a local authority under the Act. There is no better safeguard for ensuring that a Minister acts with circumspection and prudence and that before he acts a public inquiry shall be held at which the ordinary person can give his views publicly, and from the evidence at which Parliament can question the Minister on the rightness of his decision and support or oppose him for having made it.

Therefore, I reiterate my thanks to my right hon. Friends and part company with the hon. Member for Sunderland, North. My right hon. Friends have taken the best way out of this problem.

Mr. Willey

Would not the hon. Member rather make this an obligation in the circumstances to which he referred than generally empowering the Minister to hold an inquiry?

Mr. Freeth

I think that this is the best part of a loaf I have been able to vote for. Therefore, I am thankful that I have now received it.

Mr. James Boyden (Bishop Auckland)

In Committee, I thought the intention of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Denzil Freeth) was that justice should not only be done to smaller local authorities, but should be seen to be done. Now it appears that the Minister is asking for power to hold an inquiry, not necessarily a public one, and that some of the value of trying to get the smaller authorities satisfied with the action of the Minister is liable to be lost.

I should have thought it necessary to be very much more specific about the nature of the inquiry, of the circumstances in which it should be held and about the people who would act as inspectors or inquirers in the interests of the Department itself, so that the whole business should not be cluttered with a mass of inquiries. When dealing with the hon. Gentleman's Amendment in Committee, the Under-Secretary said that It is not envisaged that a public inquiry would be necessary for every case, but it is agreed that in principle this is a reasonable Amendment "—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 14th April, 1964, c. 41.] It should be stated clearly in the Bill what are the sort of reasonable conditions and circumstances in which an inquiry is to be held. There is a marked contrast between the details in the new Schedule about management and funds for the purchase of exhibits, which is a relatively simple matter, and this matter of an inquiry, on which many small authorities will take a very serious view. There should be a great deal more explanation and more specific definition in this Clause before we lightly pass what is to be a major library Act which is to last for 15, or 20 or more years.

Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)

My right hon. Friend will recall that immediately prior to the Bill being introduced, and following the Roberts Report, I had considerable correspondence with him on this matter. It is most important from the small local authority point of view that it has the opportunity of knowing that an inquiry will be held and that the Secretary of State will not make his decision without being fully cognisant of the effects of the scheme by the local authority. That being so, I should like to thank my right hon. Friend and welcome the Clause.

Sir Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

The Minister will remember that some of us, including myself, were nervous that there might not be enough inquiries or that action might be taken by him without an inquiry. I pleaded—I think that he has taken note of it under Clause 10—that he should not take action without an inquiry. It is, therefore, very difficult for me not to find this new Clause agreeable. Although it is a blanket Clause, very wide indeed, it paves the way for a later Amendment which the Minister has put down under Clause 10 and in which he promises that he will not take action against a local authority without a local inquiry.

The Parliamentary Secretary dealt with this matter in Standing Committee. He made it clear that the Minister was prepared to accept the substance of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Denzil Freeth), but he did not envisage that in every case it need be a public inquiry. He felt that the principle was correct and that it was reasonable. I think that this is correct and, therefore, I find myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Basingstoke and with the Minister for giving way and bringing this Clause forward.

I must admit, however, that the form in which it is brought forward and the words used seem to me to be unusual. I have never quite seen anything like this before—that a new Clause should simply say, what I would have thought the Minister had power to do in any event, that he should have the power to hold an inquiry. I would have thought that was always within the Minister's right, and I hope that he will tell us exactly why he had to use this form of words and whether there was any way in which he would have been prevented from using his powers if those words had not been introduced in the new Clause.

Mr. Brian O'Malley (Rotherham)

It would seem to me that hon. Members on both sides of the House would want to see effective central Government supervision over the library service. During the Committee stage of the Bill, it quickly became apparent that there was no real measure of disagreement here. I was, however, surprised to see this new Clause. Frankly, I do not fully understand it, but that may well be because I was not easily able to hear what the Minister said when introducing the new Clause because of the time at which it was introduced.

It seems to me that, already, under Clause 10(1), the Minister has power to hold an inquiry into matters arising from failures by local authorities to implement and carry out efficient library services. We are told in subsection (1,a and b) that if a complaint is made to the Minister that any library authority has failed to carry out duties relating to the public library service imposed on it by or under this Act; or (b) the Minister is of opinion that an investigation should be made as to whether any such failure by a library authority has occurred. the Minister may hold an inquiry into the matter ". I may have missed something said earlier, but I am not clear in what way this Clause is necessary for extending power to the Minister which he apparently already has.

Sir B. Stross

My hon. Friend has quoted from Clause 10 (1,a and b), but when we come to subsection (2) we note that there the Minister has taken powers to take action without an inquiry and there are the words, "or in any other case". He has put this right now as a result of the debate that we had with him, and I, too, find myself wondering why, as he put that right in that case, he now needs to bring a new Clause before us for powers which I thought that he had in any event.

Mr. O'Malley

Perhaps my hon. Friend will correct me if I misinterpreted what he said. I think that the point of what he said was that in a later Amendment connected with the subject matter of the new Clause, the Minister now will hold an inquiry before using his default powers, but this does not affect the basic question which we are asking on this new Clause.

In dealing with this kind of Clause that, of course, I welcome central Government supervision and inquiry over the library service. The lack of any reasonable uniform minimum standard throughout the country revealed in the Blue Books which are available has clearly demonstrated the need for this kind of supervision. At the same time, I feel that the Minister has taken upon himself extremely wide powers. I should like to ask him: what would be the situation that arises if a local authority decides to avail itself of its powers under Clause 12, where a local authority, whether a library authority or not, may decide to provide and maintain museums and art galleries?

We have an interesting situation, one which, I think, underlies the whole of the Bill, that with this Clause we shall have presumably v/hat is, as far as I know, a new constitutional position, where a local authority will be subject to a considerable degree of supervision by the central Government and the Government will be making no financial contribution whatever to this service of museums or art galleries, or, for that matter, to the library service as a whole. I should like the Minister to give much more explanation of this blanket type Clause before I would be prepared to consider it favourably.

I want to make one last comment which, if anything, is against the type of power which the Minister is giving himself in this Clause. In Committee, there was discussion about the need for an adequate inspectorate, perhaps on the lines of inspectors of schools, to exercise a useful and continuous degree of supervision and to give advice to the library authorities. We were told by the Under-Secretary that the Government did not feel able to accept this kind of Clause, and it seemed to some of us at the time that what the Government were trying to do was to run the library service and a central Government supervision of the library service on the cheap. It seems to me that it would have been much more useful if the right hon. Gentleman had introduced a new Clause which would have provided an adequate inspectorate to give the kind of supervision which we want without frequent recourse to this kind of inquiry.

I am not sure that the new Clause adds anything to the Minister's powers. If it does, no doubt he will tell us what it adds. But he is introducing the Clause as a substitute for proper Government supervision by an inspection of libraries. I should like to envisage that in future there will be a full-time inspectorate with the duties of going round libraries to exercise a proper degree of supervision and to give the advice which inspectors of schools give to the schools.

In introducing such a Clause the Minister is doing a disservice to himself and to the Bill. It would have been much more useful to have made proper provision for an inspectorate. Unless the Minister gives a full and satisfactory explanation why he is taking this blanket power in the Clause, I shall feel obliged to oppose it.

4.30 p.m.

Mrs. Eirene White (Flint, East)

The speeches which we have heard have indicated that there is a considerable degree of disquiet on this side of the House about putting into the Bill a Clause of this nature. It gives the Minister extremely wide powers.

There were two places in the Bill in which, it was generally agreed in Committee, some kind of inquiry might be desirable. The first concerned the matter mentioned by the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Denzil Freeth) where a small local authority felt that it was in some danger of extinction, it was right and proper that there should be a complete opportunity for it to set out its case and for the arguments to be fully examined by public opinion. There would be an inquiry in public so that the citizens concerned would be completely appraised of the issues.

In that case we are in entire agreement, and we have no objection to an inquiry of that type. Within my own constituency, for example, there is a small non-county borough which is a library authority. I am sure that the ancient Borough of Flint would feel deeply aggrieved if it wished to keep its library and if it were told that it would be deprived of this function without any opportunity of the fullest possible discussion. We are completely at one with the Minister in the need for an inquiry in such cases. When the Joint Under-Secretary of State said that his right hon. Friend was prepared to support an Amendment on the lines suggested by the hon. Member for Basingstoke, we made no objection.

My hon. Friends have pointed out that Clause 10 provides the Minister with power to hold an inquiry. By a later Amendment he proposes to make it clear that he recognises that in the circumstances envisaged in Clause 10 an inquiry is desirable. He proposes to amend the Bill in that sense to make it clear beyond peradventure that the kind of action which might be taken under Clause 10 would not be taken without some inquiry.

It is not in order to discuss Clause 10 in detail at this stage, but, as I have shown, we have two sets of circumstances. The first is where the library is in default in carrying out its duties and the second is where a library authority might be deprived of its powers of running a library. In those circumstances an inquiry is clearly desirable.

But what are the other circumstances? We have not been told. Why are there some other circumstances, unspecified beyond those two, in which the Minister thinks that he should hold an inquiry—other than the other kind of supervision which, as my hon. Friends have suggested, we thought ought to be done by means of an inspectorate?

I very much hope that by taking powers under the Clause the Minister will not put himself in the position, for example, in which he or a successor thinks that he ought to exercise some censorship of the local authority's selection of books. This is a function of the local authority under the Act. It would be highly undesirable for the Minister to be open to petition from the public that he should hold an inquiry into the selection of books by such-and-such a library authority. He might then be setting himself as an arbiter of taste or morals over and above the elected representatives of the people who are running the library. By taking powers of this kind the Secretary of State might easily be put into that position.

We might have some opposition who, for one reason or another, objected to the policy of the local librarian and possibly were unable to obtain satisfaction from the library committee of the local authority. They would say, ''Under the Act the Secretary of State may hold an inquiry into any matter relating to the functions of a local authority under this Act." They might say, "Let us therefore organise a petition. We can all see how it can be done. We will petition the Secretary of State to hold an inquiry". They would be entitled to do so.

Furthermore, unless we have a better explanation of the purpose of the new Clause, it seems to me that they would be almost encouraged to do so, because if the Minister feels that he ought to hold an inquiry into any matter relating to the functions of a local authority under this Act", surely the selection of books might be such a matter.

The fact that I am not just conjuring this up out of my imagination is shown by a document which I have here—a note sent to the members of one of the outer London authorities by its town clerk, in which he remarks, in part of his comments for the guidance of members in their consideration of the Bill: It is of fundamental importance that the nature of book selection should as hitherto should be in the hands of local authorities. If this right is forfeited in any degree one of the greatest social advantages of the public library system might well be lost. The fear is already there that the powers which the Minister is taking under the Bill might conceivably be extended in such a way as to interfere with the free choice of librarians, subject to the guidance of the members of the local authorities' committee on the type of book selection and the nature of the selection. It seems to me, therefore, that it is most inadvisable to put the new Clause into the Bill. It does not seem in the least necessary, having regard to the more circumscribed functions for which we recognise that inquiries are needed. The Clause gives limitless power within the broad terms of the Act to hold an inquiry.

The Minister of State also made another remark which worried me considerably in considering whether such inquiries might be in public or in camera, when he referred to the possibilities of misconduct. What does this mean? Does it mean that the Secretary of State may be contemplating intervention between the employing authority and one of its servants? Will the Minister make quite clear what his reference to "possible misconduct" means? He does not intend to pay even part of the salaries of the staffs of the library. I shall be glad of a fuller explanation of the meaning of that remark, which was made in parenthesis. I am certain that library authorities, who are none too happy about the Bill as it is., will feel themselves considerably affronted if under a new Clause of this type the Secretary of State may take powers under himself to inquire possibly into disciplinary matters between themselves and one of their servants. If it is not that kind of misconduct, I am not clear whose misconduct the Minister has in mind. Is he to act as a sort of court of appeal? It is a very serious matter if that is what he intends to do. If powers are taken in terms that an inquiry can be held into any matter relating to the functions of a local authority under this Act there might be all kinds of hullabaloo about someone in the library service having taken some action which was perhaps distasteful to some section of the public. There might be meetings, petitions, and so forth, to induce the Secretary of State to exercise his powers to hold an inquiry into some function of local authority under the Bill when enacted.

In some excess of zeal the Secretary of State is laying himself open to every kind of possible objection. The right hon. Gentleman is well aware of the difficulties of principle about the Bill, namely, that the Secretary of State is taking powers to order local authorities around without making any contribution towards the expense, something which nobody in this country is very fond of Having done all that, it is possible that under the new Clause he may appear to be adding insult to injury.

We are at least entitled to know in much clearer terms why it was necessary to table the new Clause, instead of making specific provision for inquiries in those parts of the Bill where it seems to us that such powers might be requisite and where, in those properly described and circumscribed circumstances, we would have no objection.

Sir E. Boyle

By leave of the House—I remind hon. Members that we are on Report, so we can speak again only by leave of the House—I will reply briefly to some of the points which have been raised. The hon. Member for Rother-ham (Mr. O'Malley) said that he found this a difficult Clause to understand. Perhaps I, having been responsible for a certain amount of legislation, may be allowed to say that I should have thought that the Clause was easier to understand than most.

Mr. O'Malley

I said that I found it difficult to understand because I could not hear the right hon. Gentleman at the beginning of his speech.

Sir E. Boyle

I hope that the hon. Gentleman can hear me now. We have not had any criticisms of the Clause from the local authority associations. That, in a way, is hardly surprising, because it is a slightly doubtful use of language, or slightly misleading, to refer to the Secretary of State taking very strong powers under the Clause. In a sense, the right to hold an inquiry into any matter relating to the functions of a local authority under this Act could be fairly regarded as a moderation of the Secretary of State's powers—that is to say, in one or two important administrative respects it means that before the Secretary of State exercises his powers he is in a position, not merely to make a departmental investigation, but also to allow members of the public to state their views.

I agree that the case we are thinking of most here is the case under Clause 6 which was raised by my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary in Committee—namely, the case of a small library authority which might be in danger of losing its powers. However, on reflection, I think that it would not have been right to limit the new Clause strictly to that case, which was so fully canvassed in Committee.

Here, I would mention what was said, very fairly, by the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden). We have not had a libraries Bill for about 70 years. We may well not have another libraries Measure for about 20 or 40 years, and I am doubtful how far it would have been wise in the Bill to circumscribe too precisely the circumstances in which the Secretary of State could hold an inquiry. It seems to me to be reasonable to make a general provision that he can hold an inquiry into any matter relating to the functions of a local authority under this Act.

Mr. Boyden

One of the matters which would be most useful to smaller authorities and, indeed, to take-over authorities would be to know precisely the circumstances and conditions in which an inquiry would take place about the facts involved in a take-over. This could be set out better in the new Clause than in any other Clause. The other parts of the Bill are vague about this.

Sir E. Boyle

I am thinking of the future and of the fact that, after all, under the Bill we are giving the Secretary of State, for the first time, the power to superintend and promote the development of the public library service provided by local authorities. We have an Amendment to secure the latter object later. Looking ahead, it seems to me to be wrong to circumscribe the circumstances in which an inquiry could be held.

4.45 p.m.

The hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) raised the most substantial point—I should like to meet her on this—when she said that there might be a danger of the Secretary of State responding too easily to pressures to hold a public inquiry. It was precisely with that point in view that my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary, when making his very brief intervention in Committee, said that even with regard to Clause 6 it was not envisaged that a public inquiry would be necessary for every case. I should like to make it clear to the House today that my right hon. and learned Friend and I regard the public inquiry as, so to speak, the exceptional case rather than as the regular rule, even as regards Clause 6.

I certainly agree with the hon. Lady that the Clause should not be thought of as in any sense conferring a sort of presumption that my right hon. and learned Friend will agree to hold a public inquiry on any and every matter about which local opinion is roused. This should be thought of as a reserve power, to be used in cases where there may be particular doubts as to what the facts are regarding, for example, the merits of a county service or a borough service, and so on. It would not be my right hon. and learned Friend's intention to lay himself open to every conceivable pressure in relation to the Clause.

Mr. Willey

No one would have any qualms about the right hon. and learned Gentleman's exercise of the power, but does he not recognise that if the initiative lies with the Secretary of State to hold such an inquiry it can be a derogation of representative government? If we recognise local authorities, we recognise them as local government. For the Secretary of State to have the power to say, "We may differ about something. I shall hold a local inquiry" is a matter which ought to be defined.

Sir E. Boyle

The hon. Member's question leads me to my last point. Hon. Members have asked whether there is any precedent for this in other services. The answer is that there is a precedent in Section 93 of the Education Act, 1944. It is quite true that the Clause differs, because it refers to the functions of a local authority and not to those of the Secretary of State. However, I think that the significance of this can be exaggerated, because the library service is wholly provided by the local authorities and the Secretary of State here, unlike his relations with the education service, has no direct library functions. I believe that Section 93 of the 1944 Act is a fairly close analogy to the new Clause. I think that the House must read the new Clause together with Section 290 of the Local Government Act, 1933. To use a figure of speech which the hon. Lady will recognise, Section 290 in a sense puts flesh on the skeleton.

I hope that with this explanation in answer to the points raised by hon. Members opposite we can now pass the Clause.

Mr. O'Malley

Would the right hon. Gentleman answer the query I raised about the power of the Secretary of State which would arise from local authorities providing museums and art galleries under Clause 12? Does the Minister of State envisage that, as a result of the new Clause, the central Government might well play an active part in, or interfere with, these two functions, which are optional powers at the discretion of the local authority?

Sir E. Boyle

The hon. Gentleman will know that, when a Clause of this kind is being passed, he is a very unwise member of the Government who answers hypothetical questions on the detailed administration. Whether or not the Secretary of State decided to do so, whatever decision was taken, this is a point which could reasonably arise, though I would not like to be pressed further than that this afternoon.

Mrs. White

What did the right hon. Gentleman mean by his reference to "misconduct"? Has he consulted the local authority associations on the new Clause?

Sir E. Boyle

The local authority associations have had every opportunity to comment on the new Clause. We have received no representations on this point.

As to the question I raised about misconduct, I gave that only as an example to show exactly why it might be conceivable that an inquiry would not be a public inquiry. I did not mean to suggest that the Secretary of State would wish to make a regular practice of interfering in disciplinary matters, but simply that, as the hon. Lady will be aware, in the millionth case, as it were, a personal issue of this character can arise, and, clearly, that might not be a suitable issue for a public inquiry.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.