HC Deb 17 March 1965 vol 708 cc1415-26

9.35 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Robert Mellish)

I beg to move, That the London Government (Public General Acts) Order 1965, a draft of which was laid before this House on 10th March, be approved. Those who took part in the debates on the London Government Bill will remember, among other things, that it was a long and detailed piece of legislation. It could hardly have been otherwise, because it was dealing with a subject entirely regulated by Statute in an area containing about 90 separate authorities with very different histories and powers.

The Act established a new pattern of authorities, with the Greater London Council exercising certain functions over the whole of Greater London, and the 32 London borough councils and the Common Council responsible for a wide range of services in their areas. A substantial part of the Act is taken up with the allocation of functions between the new authorities. The powers and duties of the Greater London Council are set out specifically in the Act, and so are most of the major functions of the borough councils. In the case of the boroughs, however, there are two pieces of general machinery through which they may become responsible for other functions without the individual Acts in question all being itemised.

One of these is the fact that each London borough is covered by the expression "borough" where that is used in a Statute dealing with local Government. So where functions are given to boroughs generally they will now be assumed by the London boroughs as well. The other is the general formula, which is contained in Section 4 of the Act, which I will summarise by saying that the London borough councils inherit the powers of county boroughs where these powers are being exercised in the Greater London area.

The London Government Act provides for the possibility, however, that it may be desirable in some cases to give further powers to the Greater London Council or to the boroughs by the amendment of Public General Acts which have not been dealt with expressly in the London Government Act itself or where they are not translated by the general provisions I have mentioned. That is the purpose of the Draft Order before the House tonight.

This is not, of course, the only Order made under the London Government Act. Many have already been made and others will be laid before Parliament between now and 31st March. I would like, at this point, to pay tribute to the staff of my Department—who, I know, because I have been there for about five months and have seen them closely at work—for the tremendous industry and efficiency which they have had to apply to get these Orders laid before Parliament. We are very grateful, at our level, for the work they have done. These other orders deal with consequential and transitional matters and may be annulled by Resolution, but they do not need to be positively approved by the House.

The Order we are considering requires an affirmative Resolution because it gives the new authorities further powers under Public General Acts. I think that it will emerge from my remarks that these further powers amount to no more than a minor tidying-up operation. There are six substantive articles and each deals with a different subject. They are set out in the chronological order of the Acts which they adapt, starting with the Game Act, 1831.

I confess that I did not know until recently that shopkeepers who sell hares, pheasants, grouse and other forms of game, must have a licence. They must, and these must be displayed outside their shops in the same way as licences to sell wines, spirits and tobacco. Throughout the country these licences are now issued by the borough and district councils. The London borough councils in outer London will inherit this function through the general provisions of the London Government Act, but in inner London, the present L.C.C. area, by an historical curiosity, licences are still issued by the justices. The effect of Article 3 is to make the law uniform throughout Greater London, so that all these licences will be issued by the borough councils or, in the City, by the Common Council.

Article 4 deals with the enforcement of the Acts and Regulations relating to the grading and marking of agricultural produce, with particular reference to eggs. In outer London, these enforcement duties will pass from the county councils to the London borough councils, but in inner London the wording of the earlier statutes does not bring the councils within the general formula of the London Government Act. Metropolitan borough councils and the Common Council already have these functions in inner London, and the Order merely transfers the function from the metropolitan boroughs to the inner London boroughs.

Articles 5 and 6 give the Greater London Council functions which local authorities possess generally throughout the country and which are available to the existing county councils in Greater London. The Physical Training and Recreation Act permits local authorities to provide playing fields and centres for athletic clubs or clubs with social or educational objects. Such powers are obviously relevant to the G.L.C.'s functions as a parks authority and as the education authority for inner London. The powers under the Road Traffic Act would permit the G.L.C. to arrange or contribute towards road safety training and propaganda. The Greater London Council is the road traffic authority for Greater London, so this provision, again, seems clearly right.

Article 7 follows on the reallocation of functions in Greater London and also comes within the scope of the Order. The L.C.C. at present appoints one member each to the two training councils mentioned in the Order—one for training health visitors and the other for training in social work. It does so as an authority responsible for services in this field. The health and welfare functions of the L.C.C. will in future be exercised by the London boroughs and the City. Hence, Article 7 provides for the appointments to the two training councils to be made by the London Boroughs Committee, on which all the London boroughs and the City are represented.

The last article of the Order gives to the Greater London Council the new power contained in Section 6 of the Local Government (Financial Provisions) Act, 1963—an Act that was passed by Parliament during the same Session as the London Government Act. This is the power to incur expenditure on purposes not covered by other specific statutory authority where the Council is of the opinion that it would be in the interests of the area or its inhabitants.

The power is limited to the product of 1d. rate in any one year. This is, of course, a large sum in Greater London, but the Greater London Council will be the biggest local authority in the country—possibly in the world—with responsibilities to match, and I am sure that it is right that it should have a reserve power which, in 1963, was given to every other authority in the country. Had the London Government Bill and the Local Government (Financial Provisions) Bill not been before Parliament simultaneously I assume that the G.L.C. would have been given these powers at the time.

To sum up, this Order contains no new or startling proposals. It deals with some minor points that have emerged during the preparations for the changeover to the new system, now only a fortnight away. I do not intend to recall past controversies on London government, although I could take a long time over that tonight if it were in order—we had an echo of it earlier today—but would conclude by extending my good wishes to the new authorities in the tasks that lie ahead of them

9.44 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I would add my good wishes to those of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the authorities which are to undertake the new London government. I would also add my congratulations to his Department for its industry in preparing these very necessary orders to bring that new form of London government into operation.

This is a Statutory Instrument which amends a number of Acts of Parliament. It is made in pursuance of Section 83(2) of the London Government Act, 1963. I commend that Section to the present Government. By reason of that Section, we have to have the procedure tonight of a draft Order to be approved by the House. In too many Bills which have been presented to us this Session the Government have sought to change previous Acts of Parliament merely by Statutory Instrument subject only to an annulment Resolution in the House. This is why I commend Section 83(2) to the Government, which obliges the Government when making an alteration in previous statutes to do so in the form of a draft Order. That is why we have this draft Order before us tonight.

The 1963 Act did, in Section 83(1) and in Schedule 17, amend a large number of Acts of Parliament. This was done in the Act itself, but it had this residuary subsection (2) which said that, if it was found expedient to amend any other Act to bring into operation this new London government, that could be done by bringing a draft Order before the House.

This draft Order deals with a hotchpotch of Statutes—game dealers' licences, grade designations for agricultural produce, recreational facilities, road safety promotion, the transfer of powers of appointing certain members to training councils, and also, in the last article, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, the transfer of the power of local authorities to spend a 1d. rate on matters which are of assistance to their area or to the inhabitants of that area.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary said that it was very necessary for the Greater London Council, because it was such a large body—probably the largest local authority in the world—to have the power to carry out these functions by raising a 1d. rate. I wonder what he had in mind for these powers of the Greater London Council. I cannot quite visualise this from such a large body. These functions were more for local authorities at borough and county district level than for the Greater London Council. I cannot quite visualise any occasion on which such a large body would require to undertake these functions.

Article 3 deals with game dealers' licences. London has always been an anomaly in this respect. Originally, under the 1831 Act, justices had to issue these licences. This job was handed over to local authorities as long ago as 1894, except for London. Dealers in London were still left to go and get their licences to sell game from the justices. Section 4 of the 1963 Act succeeded in transferring that function in respect of the Outer London Boroughs, but failed to do so in respect of the Inner London Boroughs. If I understand it aright, that is why we have to have the Order.

When I first saw this, I thought that the provision had been brought to mind by Goldie the eagle, that the Government had suddenly thought—"Oh, dear, we must have the game licences correct in London". However, the hon. Gentleman mentioned the definition of "game" in the 1831 Act, which I have written down here as hares, pheasant, partridges, grouse, heath or moor game, black game and bustards. which I take it is no reference to the present Government.

It makes one wonder why we need to perpetuate these game laws and give local government employees the job of learning these ancient game laws from 1828 to 1906. Are there to be night courses for local government servants to learn how to issue the licences? The Joint Parliamentary Secretary laughs, but it is no easy matter to issue a game dealers' licence. The person issuing it must be dead certain that it is not being issued to the guard or driver of a mail coach or a stage coach or to a carrier or higgler. I have no idea what a higgler is, but the clerks of the local authorities apparently must now solemnly ask each applicant whether or not he is a higgler before a game dealer's licence is issued to him. I would rather have seen the repeal of these rather stupid game laws instead of perpetuating them in this Order.

Article 4 relates to the enforcement of designation marks for agricultural produce, fish and eggs, which was always in the hands of the Metropolitan boroughs. It is now to be in the hands of the London boroughs, and quite rightly so. But I would have thought that Section 4 of the 1963 Act did this for the Outer London Boroughs. Article 4 is not restricted to the Inner London Boroughs, and it seems to me that so far as the outer London boroughs are concerned it is superfluous; but, at any rate, perhaps it removes doubt in covering all of the London boroughs.

Article 5 deals with the Physical Training and Recreation Act, 1937, concerning the provision by local authorities of gymnasiums, playing fields, holiday camps, camping sites and so on, and by paragraph (b) these powers are extended to the Greater London Council. However, there is no mention here of any of the London boroughs. Ought not the inner London boroughs to be mentioned there? I am not sure whether Section 4 of the 1963 Act places these powers with the London boroughs, and, of course, it is essential that these powers should rest with the London boroughs as well as with the Greater London Council.

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman can give me an assurance that in some other parts of the London Government Act, 1963, the London boroughs have the power which is now given to the Greater London Council under Article 5(b). It is my recollection that many of these powers providing recreational facilities under the L.C.C. were contained in private Acts. I suppose that somewhere in the 1963 Act, or in some Orders, those functions which are contained in private Acts are transferred to the Greater London Council. I would not like to say where that is brought about, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman cannot give me an answer off the cuff, but I am sure there are many recreational powers contained in private Acts.

Article 5(a) is rather peculiar. It refers to Section 4(3) of the Physical Training and Recreation Act, and that provision deals only with swimming baths. Only in this one case in the whole of this Order do we find anything relating to the Greater London Council's education authority. The Inner London Education Authority is brought in to provide swimming baths. I am sure it has more power than that. Should it not have power to provide gymnasiums, clubs and so on—in fact, all the rest of the powers contained in the Physical Training and Recreation Act?

The education authority, of course, is very closely tied up with playing fields and gymnasiums, and, if it is given power merely to provide swimming baths, surely in many buildings there will be gymnasiums and all the rest of the facilities as well as swimming baths. Perhaps I have missed something here, but I have studied Section 4(3) carefully, and the additions which this Order makes to it, and it seems to me that the Inner London Education Authority is being given this very small power and nothing else.

Article 6 is concerned with road safety, a subject very dear to the heart of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary and myself in many debates in the House. Under Section 75 of the Road Traffic Act, 1960, which provides for road safety committees of local authorities and the dissemination of information and advice about road safety, these functions are given to the Greater London Council. I am in no doubt that the London boroughs already have these powers under the other provisions of the 1963 Act. Is it necessary to give these powers to the Greater London Council, and how is it intended to divide this road safety information and advice function between the Greater London Council and the London boroughs?

The Minister has a responsibility here. I am not just asking how the local authorities divide it between themselves, because under Section 75(3) of the Road Traffic Act, 1960, the Minister, if he is satisfied with what a London borough is doing about road safety, can say as he could say to the L.C.C., "Do not put in a county precept on that borough for road safety expenditure. The borough is doing enough for itself". I suppose that the same thing can be said by the Minister to the Greater London Council, but I do not know whether he can indicate what he has in mind for the Greater London Council to do in road safety matters as opposed to what is being done by the London boroughs. If he gets more centralisation in road safety advertising I shall be the first to congratulate him. I have always thought that road safety advertising should be on a national basis rather than be in the hands of so many local authorities.

Article 7 provides for the appointment of representatives to the two training councils, the Council for the Training of Health Visitors and the Council for Training in Social Work. These appointments were in the hands of London County Council, and as the services will now be in the hands of the London boroughs it is right, as the hon. Gentleman has said, that it should now be the London Boroughs Committee which appoints the representatives to these Councils. But why are they only being appointed for six months? This seems a bit niggly. Surely they are appointed for a longer period than from 1st April to 30th September, 1965?

Incidentally, it was the Health Visiting and Social Work (Training) Act, 1962, which we are dealing with in Article 7, that authorised local authorities to promote research into any matter relating to the functions of local authorities under Part III of the National Assistance Act, 1948. Part III of that Act, as the hon. Gentleman knows, deals with the provision of accommodation, something which is very topical at present. Why is that not mentioned in this Order? I doubt whether it passes anywhere else under the Act, and since we are dealing with this 1962 Act could not we make clear that these powers of research into matters connected with Part III—very important functions of local authorities at present—are properly transferred to the local authorities?

I apologise for these piecemeal questions, but it is a piecemeal Order. I wonder how many more such Orders will have to be thought up. I admire the Department very much for its industry in producing them, but I hope that, in due course, these Orders will be consolidated into one, with an index to which we shall be able to turn to find our way about it and really to be able to understand it. With those piecemeal questions, I give the Order my blessing.

10.0 p.m.

Mr. Mellish

I am obliged for the opportunity to reply to the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), who, if I may say so, continues the great effort which he showed when his party was in power. It must be conceded that, whenever there is a debate in the House on almost any subject and the hon. Gentleman speaks, one always feels that he has just come out of the Library with a mass of information, which he promptly throws at whoever happens to be at the receiving end. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I cannot answer all his questions "off the cuff". I shall do my best.

The hon. Member will be interested to hear something in reply to his question about game and the licensing arrangements which are now to be in the hands of the London boroughs. In one respect, I can relieve his mind straightaway. I understand that the bustard has been deleted from the list of saleable game by one of the Wild Fowl Protection Acts. I hope that that makes the hon. Gentleman feel better.

Whenever one examines laws of this kind, one gets bewildered. For example, if the Home Secretary considers the hackney carriage laws really strictly—I hope that I am in order here—he ought not to give a licence for any taxi unless it has a bale of hay in it. That is the law as it now stands. Whether some taxis would be helped by having a bale of hay in them, judging by the way they work, I am not sure. But there are anomalies of this kind, and in this case we have decided that a power which other authorities have had should be given to the inner London authorities.

The hon. Gentleman asked a question about Article 5 and the functions under the Physical Training and Recreation Act. The answer about the borough councils is "yes; they already have these powers under the London Government Act itself". Article 5 gives the Greater London Council functions which local authorities throughout the country possess under this Act. Swimming baths and the like are a public health function of boroughs. The Inner London Education Authority will, as an education authority, be given a measure of power and control in this connection because the Greater London Council will inherit some of these powers.

The hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that he and I have had many debates on road safety in the past. I like to believe that the Greater London Council's function in this will be one of co-ordination. The Greater London boroughs will be small towns, or even large towns, in their own right, with populations of an average of 250,000. They are all in the process of appointing safety officers now. I like to believe that the London Boroughs Committee and the Greater London Council itself will co-ordinate their activities.

If I may say so, the hon. Gentleman's suggestion in this connection was very intelligent. I hope that the G.L.C. will take it up and ensure that the propaganda which is put out will have some uniformity and sense about it so that we do not have the sort of competitive race we sometimes have, some boroughs doing very badly and others doing very well. We should aim at the very best propaganda on road safety, and I believe that this is the sort of thing which the Greater London Council should do.

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question on Article 7 is that the first members are appointed for six months and reappointments thereafter will be for three years. It was felt that there should be this interim period in which boroughs could make their adjustments, but, when September comes, the appointments thereafter will be for three years. I understand that the authorities concerned have been consulted and have agreed to this procedure.

I hope that I have succeeded to a large extent in allaying the hon. Gentleman's genuine fears. I much appreciate the endorsement which he gave to the work of my Department in this matter, which has been very hard and tedious. They have tried as best they can to secure agreement with everyone concerned, and to achieve that among the London boroughs and the Greater London Council is no mean achievement. By and large, it has been done and I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for the support he is giving me in thanking them for what they have done

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the London Government (Public General Acts) Order 1965, a draft of which was laid before this House on 10th March, be approved.