HC Deb 12 March 1964 vol 691 cc770-5

1. In relation to a combined police authority constituted as a committee of the council of a county or county borough the provisions of this Act shall have effect subject to the following provisions of this Schedule.

2. Subsections (5) and (6) of section 2 shall apply to the combined police authority as if it were a committee appointed under that section and section 3(3) shall not apply.

3. Notwithstanding anything in section 21(3) and Schedule 7, there shall be no combined police fund but the police fund for the combined area shall he the local fund of the county or county borough and the amalgamation scheme shall make provision for the payment into that fund, out of the local funds of the other areas comprised in the combined' area, of contributions assessed in accordance with the provisions of the scheme.

4. Section; 8(2) and 9(3) shall not apply, and subsections (3) and (4) of section 8 and subsections (1), (2) and (4) of section 9 shall apply as if the police area consisted only of the county or county borough.

5. The council of the county or county section 10 ([...]) as if the combined police force borough shall have the same power under were maintained only for the county or county borough.

6. Any provision made under section 21 (3) (e) may be for transfer to the council of the county or county borough instead of to the combined police authority, and for the use of any transferred property by that council instead of, or as well as, that authority.

7. In relation to an amalgamation scheme to be approved or made by virtue of section of this Act—

  1. (a) the reference in subsection (4) of section 3 of this Act to a committee of one of the constituent councils shall include a reference to a committee of the new or altered county or county borough; and
  2. (b) the request required by that subsection shall include the request of each of the following councils, that is to say—
    1. (i) in the case of a new county, the councils of any counties or county boroughs of which the whole or part is to be included in the new county;
    2. (ii) in the case of a new county borough, the council of any county borough or county district of which the whole or part is to be so included;
    3. (iii) in the case of an altered county or county borough, the council of the existing county or county borough.

In Schedule 8, page 50, line 16, column 2, to leave out from "borough" to the end of line 22 and to insert: as if references in paragraphs (b) and (c) to the local authority included references to a police authority which is a committee of that council".

In Schedule 8, page 51, line 22, column 2, to leave out from "borough" to the end of line 33 and to insert: any reference in paragraph (a) or (b) of subsection (1) of section 1 of this Act to the authority, and any references in paragraph (a) of subsection (1) of section 2 of this Act to the local authority, shall be construed as including a reference to a police authority which is a committee of that council".

Mr. Brooke

On Second Reading, I referred to a small point arising on Clause 3, the Clause which deals with the constitution of combined police authorities, and I told the House that I knew that the local authority associations felt some concern about certain aspects of the arrangements for administering a combined police authority. I gave a public assurance that I was very ready to consider the matter further in the light of discussions with the associations or debate in the House and in Committee to see whether we could improve the arrangements.

This series of Amendments gives effect to the promise that I then made, and I am glad to say that these have been agreed with the local authority associations, to whom, I understand, they are wholly acceptable. I hope that they may be acceptable also to the House. We discussed the matter for a time in Committee, where an Amendment was moved, if I remember rightly, that arrangements should be made under which a combined police authority could be constituted as a committee of the largest of the combining authorities. I gave reasons why I did not think that was a completely satisfactory solution. Perhaps I may explain the way in which we propose to do it here and for which, as I have said, we have the support of the associations.

The first Amendment No. 17 is purely a paving Amendment. We come to a more substantial one in Amendment No. 23. That adds a new subsection (4) to Clause 3, which will give the constituent council in an amalgamation scheme the option of setting up an authority constituted as a committee of one of the constituent councils instead of setting up a combined police authority as a body corporate under Clause 3 as it stands in the Bill.

It is provided that the option will be exercisable if all the constituent councils agree, and only if they agree. It will be open to them to agree that any one of the authorities concerned should be, what I might call, the parent council, and it differs in that way from the Amendment moved by the Opposition in Committee that it should always be the largest. I remember pointing out that if there were four county boroughs of much the same size it might not be necessarily the case that the one which was marginally the largest of them, although it contained a minority of the population of the whole amalgamated area, would be thought of by everybody as necessarily the one to become the parent council.

That means that if there is agreement among the different bodies which are amalgamating, the police authority can be the committee of whichever of the councils they decide upon. if, on the other hand, any one of the authorities concerned in the amalgamation objects to the setting up of a combined police authority of this particular kind, or if they fail to reach agreement, as they might, as to which of the various constituent bodies should be the parent council, then the amalgamation scheme will provide for the combined police authority to be a body corporate as originally contemplated under Clause 3. That is to say it will be a body corporate as under Clause 3 in the original form of the Bill, as a kind of fall back if the various constituent authorities are not able to agree as to making the new police authority a committee of one of them.

9.0 p.m.

The Amendment in page 12, line 14, is a valuable addition. Its purpose is to meet the wish expressed to me that combining authorities in an amalgamation scheme should have fairly before them the alternative types of combined police authority for which statutory provision is to be made under these Amendments and that their decision should be a fully considered decision. They should have every opportunity to examine and discuss the possibilities and, if possible, reach agreement. Then the police authority will be a committee of whichever council they agree upon. But if it is not possible to obtain agreement among them there is no option but to fall back on the body corporate as originally contemplated in Clause 3.

There are drafting Amendments at the end of the Bill, Amendment No. 43 is a new Schedule. Its purpose is to modify the provisions of the Bill to the extent necessary to apply them to a combined police authority set up as a committee of a constituent council. Its general effect is to establish the same relationship between such a combined police authority and its parent council as the Bill establishes between a watch committee and a county borough council.

I hope that we have reached as acceptable a solution as possible on a difficult problem. Its difficulty was acknowledged in Committee. I have said from the outset that I did not wish necessarily to stand by the wording of Clause 3. I think that we shall have effected a considerable improvement as a result of prolonged discussions if we write these Amendments into the Bill.

Miss Bacon

I thank the Home Secretary for meeting the request which we made in Committee on what I admit is a very difficult matter. I appreciate that, on the one hand, he had to make provision in the case of a very big county authority taking in a small county borough where it would have been most appropriate for the large county to be the authority. On the other hand, I appreciate from some of the letters I have received that in the case of an amalgamation of four or five almost equal county boroughs there are difficulties about one of them constituting the police authority.

While this proposal is perhaps not absolutely ideal because it means that any one of the constituent councils can veto the scheme, it is, perhaps, the best that the right hon. Gentleman could have done in the circumstances. I note that the associations—I take it that that means the Association of Municipal Corporations and the County Councils Association—have, agreed to this.

Mr. O'Malley

I am sorry to introduce a disharmonious note into the discussion. However, I welcome the Amendment because it restricts the possibility of the growth of a large number of joint boards. I tried to make my views on joint boards—single-purpose authorities—known in Standing Committee. I regard them, and I think the country regards them, as unpopular organisations and, to some degree, remote from public accountability and public opinion. There is a real danger of a positive rush of single-purpose authorities at this stage in our historical development.

I welcome the Amendment as a restricting factor on the growth of such authorities. The only doubt I have is whether the Home Secretary has gone far enough in this Amendment. It is always an extremely difficult thing to get local authorities to agree with one another. It is bad enough when there are two concerned, but if there are three or four it is difficult to have any optimism about their agreeing to almost anything, particularly when it involves the pooling or giving up of powers. I think the whole history of local government tends against an optimistic view. Therefore, I would have thought a more suitable Amendment would have been one by which the local authorities could agree to have a scheme whereby there, would be a system set up of two-tier local government authorities. I should have liked the Home Secretary to have had the power to impose that kind of agreement, if he thought fit, upon the local authorities.

My last point is one raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) when she raised this problem—I suppose it is the most difficult one—of what happens when there are three or four or perhaps more local authorities which are very much of a size. Once there are three or four authorities existing after local government reorganisation—and I assume the intention is to try to move concurrently with local government reorganisation—we shall be faced with the old problem, for here we shall have local authority areas which the Commissioners will consider suitable areas for multi-purpose authorities. Obviously, a Government Department can say, "But this is not the ideal area for the administration of the police force." The same kind of objection could be made for practically any function which a multi-purpose authority carries out. It seems to me that this kind of difficulty should not arise if there is a proper policy in considering questions of amalgamations of areas like this.

I conclude by saying that I am happy about this because it will restrict the number of joint boards, but I wish that the Home Secretary had written into the Bill powers by which his Department, if it wished, could impose a settlement of this kind.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 3, line 14, at end insert: (4) If the constituent councils request that the combined police authority to be constituted by an amalgamation scheme should be a committee of one of those councils, the scheme shall constitute the combined police authority a committee of that council instead of a body corporate; and the provisions of Schedule (combined police authority constituted as committee of constituent council) to this Act shall have effect with respect to such a scheme and a combined police authority so constituted.—[Mr. H. Brooke.]