§ (By Order)
§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 7.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Jack Dunnett (Nottingham, Central)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Many of the provisions of the Bill are non-controversial, but I find that since last Thursday, when the Bill was read the First time, there has been a certain amount of controversy so I cannot say that there is now very little of it. Much of the controversy centres on the Amendments put down by hon. Members opposite, and it might assist the House if I go through the Bill briefly, dwelling, so far as I can, on its more controversial Clauses.
Part I requires no comment. Part II is non-controversial. It deals with the proposed taking over by the Greater London Council of an unused cemetery, or an ill-tended cemetery, with provision with proper safeguards for it to be taken over as an open space in due course.
Part III, which I thought was noncontroversial, but which I gather may now not be so, deals with further powers of the G.L.C. to provide amenities on open spaces, in particular the transfer of 10 acres of Hainault Forest for use as a camping site. These 10 acres represent merely part of 1,100 acres of open space there, and they will be used under stringent safeguards.
I thought that Part IV was non-controversial, but I gather that there may be some comment of an adverse nature on it. It deals mainly with public safety. There are a number of measures in force dealing with public safety in public buildings, but there are gaps in the law, and the Clauses in this part of the Bill are designed to fill them. To give one example, public exhibition halls, which are covered by Clause 21, are regulated only when they require licences for 1316 dancing and music. Local authorities have dealt with these safety measures informally, and this Clause is designed to give formal legal sanction for the powers which they have exercised in the past. I believe that some hon. Members are reading more into this Clause than is intended. If this is so, I think that this can be dealt with in Committee. The intention is to do nothing more than fill in gaps in the law and to make law what has been the practice, almost with the force of law.
Part V, which contains the financial provisions, is the part on which there is the most disagreement. Clause 23 deals with the vexed subject of allowances for local government members. At the moment they can claim allowances under three heads. The first is for travelling, and this Clause does not provide for any alteration in that. The other two forms of allowance are subsistence, and what can broadly be called financial loss. It is intended to compound these two allowances into an agreed fixed figure.
Perhaps I might give the House some examples of the allowances which are paid at the moment. Financial loss is fixed at 25s. for up to four hours, and 50s. for over four hours. Subsistence allowance of 12s. 6d. is paid for not less than four hours, and it can go up to 68s. where there is an overnight duty involving a total absence of 24 hours. There was perhaps a time when these allowances were reasonably adequate, but in this day and age they are not.
I think we all recognise that those who seek elective office at local level do not do so for motives of gain. Equally, they should not be compelled to subsidise the public service, and bearing in mind that our methods of local government provide for policy to be made by elected members, if they lose financially as a result of being elected, there is an increasing disinclination on their part to seek elective office.
It is proposed, in Committee, to suggest an Amendment to this Clause to bring in certain safeguards. For example, these allowances will be payable only while an appropriate resolution of the Council is in force, and they will be subject to a maximum figure to be imposed by the Minister. It is true that the Maud Committee is considering this matter. It 1317 might be thought that this part of the Bill is an attempt by the G.L.C. to anticipate the views of that Committee. It is well known that committees tend to take some time to bring forward their recommendations, and that it takes some time after that for suitable legislation to be implemented. If the Measure were passed with this Clause in it, and the Maud Committee's recommendations were to conflict with it, no doubt the Clause could be revoked or amended in the appropriate way. In the meantime, the G.L.C. is concerned that perhaps the most suitable people are not being elected because of the considerable financial loss involved.
The G.L.C. is the largest council in the country. There are 8 million people within Greater London, packed into 616 square miles, with a rateable value of £625 million, and a budget of no less than £400 million a year. I am not suggesting that this necessarily calls for a higher calibre of councillor than that of a parish council—no doubt the degree of devotion to duty would be the same—but it might require someone of perhaps greater ability to deal with such sums.
The present system encourages those who have no other duties or have other incomes to go on the council. It discourages those who work on a normal daily basis for their living and who can claim no more than 50s. for the loss of a whole day. Because of the problems in the G.L.C. and the need to have people of the highest calibre, the G.L.C. felt that this Measure should be brought forward as soon as possible, without waiting for the recommendations of the Maud Committee, always remembering that if the Maud Committee were to report adversely, this could be dealt with in subsequent legislation. Both parties on the G.L.C. support this Measure and this Clause. There is absolute unanimity on it.
I should perhaps tell the House that I have an interest to declare. I am a member of the G.L.C., and if this Measure went through I would, in other circumstances, receive these allowances. In fact, I am not standing for re-election in April, and if these allowances become payable before then I shall not claim them. I mention that merely to put the matter in order.
Clause 24 is another Clause which is opposed by the right hon. Member for 1318 Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), who wishes to delete it in its entirety. The Clause is intended to give the G.L.C. powers to contribute to an individual borough—or boroughs—which incurs expense by providing a service which is of value to people other than those within its boundary. It may not be read by hon. Gentlemen opposite on that basis, but that is the intention.
As at present drawn the Clause is unlimited, and negotiations have been taking place between the G.L.C. and London boroughs in an attempt to reach some agreement. Agreement has been reached with about three-quarters of these authorities to limit the scope of the Clause to four groups of subsidy. If agreement is reached with all the other London boroughs, the G.L.C. will be content to limit itself in Committee to asking for these four forms of ability to contribute. If they cannot reach agreement they feel that the whole subject should be discussed in Committee, and they would go for the whole Clause.
I should like to list the four headings to which the Greater London Council—subject to the qualifications that I have mentioned—would be willing to limit itself. First, there is provison for works. in furtherance of traffic management. The Minister has given specific permission, in view of the urgency of the matter, for certain contributions to be made, on the understanding that legislation to bring the matter into order is brought in, and this Clause is designed to put the matter in order.
Secondly, there is the location of nonconforming industry. This is a matter which concerns more than the inhabitants of an individual borough. It concerns a much larger area, and cannot be other than in the interests of the county as a whole. A number of boroughs have applied for contributions, and the Greater London Council, which has shown great willingness in this matter, has asked the Minister for permission under Section 136 of the appropriate Act. Once again, this Clause, in the proposed amended form. does away with the need for individual application.
Thirdly, it is thought appropriate to be able to make contributions to borough councils which have engaged in housing developments and are willing to accept 1319 nominations for their housing lists from the Greater London Council. This means that an authority with insufficient funds to carry out a scheme can nevertheless do so without the need for the county council taking part ownership. This would be an out-and-out contribution, but on terms that a certain number of places may be made available for the Greater London Council.
Next, there is the provision of additional open space. It may be that a borough has open space available for acquisition within its boundaries. It is well known that if the open space is sufficiently attractive people from far and wide, perhaps even outside the Greater London Council area, would wish to share the amenities. The Greater London Council feels that in those circumstances it would be proper for it to make a suitable contribution.
§ Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)
If I understood the hon. Member correctly, he said that Amendments on the lines that he has suggested would be introduced in Committee if a certain number of further boroughs agreed. Is he aware that the Parliamentary Agents acting for the G.L.C. sent me a letter, which I received this morning, containing the words:The Member speaking on behalf of the Council in the debate"—and I take it that that is the hon. Member for Nottingham, Central (Mr. Dunnett)—on Monday night will be in a position to give an unqualified assurance to the effect that Amendments will be included in the filled-up Bill as presented to the House of Commons to implement this agreement.As it may affect the subsequent course of the debate and, perhaps, the Instruction which stands in my name, could the hon. Member make contact with the Parliamentary Agents in order to make sure whether matters have not advanced rather further than he thinks?
§ Mr. Dunnett
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for making my task easier. I shall seek further instructions before the end of the debate. At the moment I am not in a position to give an undertaking. All that I can say is that if all the London boroughs feel that, within the broad agreement, these four 1320 functions are reasonable in the circumstances, the basic Clause in the Bill would not be pressed, and those four types of contribution would be substituted. I will do as the right hon. Gentleman has asked me. Before leaving this Clause I should point out that it is true that the Local Government Act of 1950 provides for county councils to make this sort of contribution to rural and district councils within their area.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
On a point of order. I hope that it is not disrespectful to ask the hon. Gentleman whether my ears have deceived me. I thought that I heard him use the word "instructions". Is it to be understood that the hon. Member is speaking in this House under instructions or in his capacity as an hon. Member?
§ Mr. Dunnett
The instructions to which I refer are instructions given by the Greater London Council to its officers, concerning the terms in which it would seek to amend this Clause in Committee. I have to discover what instructions have been given to these officers. I have no instructions.
The other Clause which might be deemed controversial because it attempts to exclude the whole of Part V is that which gives the Greater London Council power to raise finances on a temporary basis, through bills. These are analogous to Treasury Bills, and Birmingham, Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester and Bristol already have this power. Although the London County Council used to have it, for some reason when the party opposite drafted the London Government Act it omitted it. It is hoped to restore this power. Neither the Treasury nor the Bank of England has any objection.
Part VI is formal, and I do not think that there is any controversy about it. It was provided that a number of building works and road works must be completed by a certain date. It is unlikely that these dates will be met and the Bill is designed to put the matter in order.
Part VII deals with the suggestion that certain dangerous operations should be made an offence. Clauses 29 to 35 attempt to make it an offence to carry out these dangerous operations. This is not new. Last year the City of London successfully brought in a similar Measure, 1321 and these Clauses are drafted on almost identical lines. These incidents are fortunately not common, but I can give one example. Less than two years ago a coach was passing round the North Circular Road at the junction of Brent Bridge, where building operations were taking place, when a 6½ ton crane mast fell on to the coach, killing seven people and injuring 27 more. There was no provision for any criminal proceedings, or any power to ascertain whether anyone had been criminally negligent. These Clauses are designed to make such an operation an offence, and are on the lines of the City of London Bill. In case any hon. Members have any misgivings, there is specific provision in Clause 31(4) that it will be a defence to show that reasonably practical steps were taken for safety.
§ Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)
The hon. Member has given an example of a crane falling on a bus or coach. Does he realise that such a case is not covered by the Bill? This was considered to be an accident not connected, except indirectly, with building operations.
§ Mr. Dunnett
With respect to the hon. and learned Gentleman, the crane was on the site as a result of road building operations, and it is believed that the Clause is wide enough to cover it. If it is not it can be made sufficiently wide in Committee. The House felt that the City of London Bill last year covered accidents of this character, and that Measure followed three or four incidents in the City of London itself which caused some furore at the time.
They are my comments on the Bill. It will be seen that, subject to the further comments of other hon. Members, the Measure is designed to enable the Greater London Council to fulfil its functions more fully. It is true that a number of detailed points require examination but I respectfully suggest that they should be left for the Committee in due course.
§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call the next hon. Member to speak it would be convenient to the House if I informed it that I have selected the Instruction standing in the name of the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). I have not selected the instruction in the name of the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger). That Ruling does not narrow the debate 1322 on the Second Reading at all, although it would have some bearing on any subsequent debate after the Second Reading.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Does what you have just said, Mr. Speaker, indicate that it would be in order if I were to raise in this debate the issue raised in the Instruction of mine, although this might have consequences in respect of any subsequent debate?
§ Mr. Speaker
By all means. The right hon. Gentleman is quite in order, on a Second Reading debate, to raise any matters which arise out of the Bill, and this Clause is one.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
The House will be very grateful to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Nottingham., Central (Mr. Dunnett) for his careful and full explanation of the contents of this Bill. I oppose its Second Reading because this Private Bill contains much which unjustifiably seeks to alter the general law, and in many cases, some of those mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, the law which was embodied in a Public Act which came into operation as recently as about a year ago.
It is right to recall, first, that by the London Government Act, 1963, the House decided what powers should be invested in the Greater London Council and what powers should be invested in the London boroughs. When a Private Bill is promoted to extend the powers which were granted in a Public Bill so soon after that Public Bill has passed through this House, the onus is on the promoters of that Private Bill to justify its proposals.
Substantial new powers are sought in this Bill for the Greater London Council. Some of those powers, if justified, would justify not only a Private Bill but a reform in the general law, and I should have thought that no Government ought to countenance a jumping of the gun by a local authority when and if there are points of reform in the general law which should be the subject of legislation. It is no compliment to the Government that a local authority should seek to do this, and it is something of an insult to other local authorities. Clause 23, dealing with payments to councillors is an example of the Greater London Council's jumping 1323 the gun in regard to the Maud Committee, and I shall return to that point later.
Some of the provisions of this Bill would justify general reform of the law, and some of them are new powers which are an attempt to get round the 1963 Act. An example of that is Clause 24, whereby the Council, indirectly perhaps, seeks to take on certain functions that were deliberately vested in the London boroughs by the 1963 Act.
This is not just a Bill for granting powers already recognised as precedents. It contains so many new powers that it would not have been right for the House to allow it to go to Committee merely on the nod. It is right that we should have on the Floor of the House an explanation of the new powers which are sought. I will not use the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour and say that it is "All grab" by the G.L.C., but it seems to be very greedy in trying to get further powers. I am not referring to powers such as those in Part II, the taking over of a cemetery—we know these Clauses only too well in Private Bills—but when one comes to Part III, and particularly to Clause 16, it is a very different matter. Here the Council is going into business, on the ratepayers' money, as a "Butlin's" on 10 acres of Hainault Forest.
I will run quickly through the Bill in this way to point out where I think there are objections. Clause 17, in Part III, extends the powers to provide facilities for public recreation. I do not object to this sort of thing, but when one come to Part IV—powers of licensing large public exhibitions—very careful scrutiny should be given by the House. In Part V, allowances to members and contributions to borough councils are somewhat revolutionary in Private Bills.
As to Part VI, the House should know why it is necessary for there to be an extension of the time for carrying out certain compulsory acquisitions for executing works of some national importance, because they concern the streets of London. There is also in Part VI an attempt to repeat for the Council the Clause which was given by the House to the City of London last year on very special pleading that it was a Clause necessary for the City of London but 1324 would not apply to other local authorities.
These are not merely Committee points but matters of substance and of principle: the enclosure of a wide area now available to the public for recreation; the control of national exhibitions; the payment of local councillors; the allocation of functions between the Council and the London boroughs; the whitewashing of the failure to carry out certain works of national importance, and the creation in Part VI of criminal liability in respect of owners of property for the acts of their independent contractors.
Having listed those points in that way, let me deal with them in a little more detail to show those to which we have objection. Going back again to that part of the Bill dealing with Hainault Forest, there is public legislation for the control of camping sites, caravans, and so on. What justification is there for the Council going into business in providing camping sites and avoiding the general law on the subject? I think that the Council recognises that it was not desirable to seek general powers to do this, but is this perhaps the thin end of the wedge for general powers, or is it really concerned with merely the 10 acres of land in Redbridge? It seems an extraordinary function for the Greater London Council—I stress the word "Greater"—to take 10 acres of land in Redbridge to run a camping site——
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell)
If my hon. Friend is referring to the 10 acres proposed to be taken in Hainault Forest, is it really his impression that these are in Redbridge? It is my impression they are in my constituency.
§ Mr. Page
At any rate, it is somewhere in the Greater London Council jurisdiction—down in the forest something must have stirred.
Clause 21 deals with the licensing of public exhibitions. It may come as rather 1325 a shock to hon. and right hon. Members to know that the Council has no power to impose conditions on the holding of some of what I might call national exhibitions. Clause 21 states:No premises described in the schedule to this Act, whether or not licensed for the sale of intoxicating liquor or for any other purpose, shall be used on or after 1st January, 1967, for the purposes of a public exhibition or any other public display of the like kind … except under and in accordance with the terms of a licence … granted by the Council in pursuance of the provisions of this section.This provision refers to such very well known buildings as are set out in the Schedule—Alexandra Palace, Central Hall, Earls Court, Olympia, the Royal Festival Hall, the Royal Horticultural Halls and the Seymour Hall.
We are assured by the Council that it has no power to control the licensing of those halls for exhibitions nor, apparently, has anybody got that power. This is a very grave matter of public safety. I suppose one has under the roof of some of these buildings at any peak time of an exhibition some 30,000 or 40,000 people, and the danger to them if the management of the building is not right is very great. It makes one wonder whether this should be the responsibility of a local authority, or whether it should be put in the hands of a Minister. To some extent that is recognised in Clause 21(3) which says:The Secretary of State may from time to time, after consultation with the Council and with such other persons as he thinks fit, by Order, amend the Schedule to this Act so as to—If in this case this sort of building and this sort of exhibition is to be the responsibility of the local authority, why should it not be so in the case of other local authorities? I immediately think of the gatherings that may occur during the World Cup competition, in Liverpool near my constituency and in other places at that time.
- (i) add thereto premises …
- (ii) alter the description therein of any premises; or
- (iii) remove any premises included therein; …"
Does no one have control over licensing places where these sort of things are happening? If that is so, the general law needs reforming. We should hear from the Government, this having been 1326 brought to their attention by the Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill, what they intend to do under the general, law. If the Government have intentions about the general law, as I think they should have, it would be wrong for the House to pass piecemeal private legislation in advance of public legislation on an important matter of this nature.
I pass to Clause 23, which introduces an entirely new principle to local government—the payment of councillors. The Committee on Management of Local. Government, which briefly is known as the Maud Committee, was set up to consider in the light of modern conditions how local government might best continue to attract and retain people, both elected representatives and principal, officers, of the calibre necessary to ensure its maximum effectiveness. Under those terms of reference the Committee must necessarily consider the payment of councillors and whether or not it is wise to provide for payment for services which councillors give, but here the Greater London Council is trying to anticipate the recommendations of the Maud Committee.
I understand that the Parliamentary Secretary has been encouraging the Council to do so. We hear of informal discussions last June when he finished by telling the Council to put the Clause in the Bill. I hope that he will rise and justify that a little more. Suppose the Maud Committee recommends against payment. Frankly, I hope that it does not, but suppose that it does. Will the Government then support the Greater London Council in its specially favoured position under the Bill? We were told by the hon. Member for Nottingham, Central that this payment to councillors will be prescribed by the Minister. Will the Minister prescribe it if the Maud Committee recommends against it? Generally, many of us think that the payment of councillors is bound to come, for the very reasons which the hon. Member mentioned, in order to secure the best men and women to serve on councils of this sort. I rather hope that the Maud Committee will recommend it.
We recognise, of course, the burden of work upon Greater London councillors, but I doubt if it is greater than the burden on councillors in Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and all the 1327 other big cities. Certainly, it is not greater than the burden on chairmen of committees in the councils of those great cities. I do not know whether the Parliamentary Secretary can tell us when the Maud Committee is likely to report. I should have thought it was quite likely to report before this Bill receives the Royal Assent. Let us wait and have a uniform law on this subject, worked out not on this abbreviated Private Bill procedure in which we have to indulge in this House, but on a Public Bill in proper debate and procedure in this House. It is a matter of the greatest importance that we should get this subject right and that there should not be piecemeal legislation about the payment of councillors by some local authorities and not by others.
The next Clause, Clause 24, looks innocent enough. It deals with contributions by the Greater London Council to the execution of works, to the expenditure by a borough council; but, of course, the contribution by the Greater London Council to any one borough comes from the money which the Greater London Council collects from all boroughs or, to put it in another way, which other boroughs are obliged to pay without any escape. The money collected from all the boroughs is to be devoted at the discretion of the Greater London Council to assisting any one particular borough which the Greater London Council chooses to assist.
The hon. Member for Nottingham, Central, was unable to give any undertaking about the limitations to the Clause. As it stands the Clause is very general. Subsection (1) says:The Council may make any contribution they think fit to expenditure of a borough council or the Common Council.Its effect, in those words would be to nullify the careful division and balance of powers in the 1963 Act. I will leave my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) to develop this point if he is fortunate enough in catching your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Clause 26, which is at the beginning of Part VI of the Bill, provides for an extension of time for compulsory acquisition in order to carry out a number of important works entrusted to the Greater 1328 London Council. The power of compulsory acquisition in order to carry out these works would expire on 1st October, 1966, if it were not for this Clause. Of course it is customary for this House in dealing with private legislation to give a local authority a specific time within which to exercise its compulsory powers. It is not right that there should be a threat of compulsory acquisition hanging indefinitely over property.
Clause 26 deals with the matter by reference to certain Statutes, but I understand that paragraph (a) of subsection (1) relates to the northern approaches to Waterloo Bridge, paragraph (b) to the subways in the Strand and other important central developments of that sort, as well as, in Clause 27, the widening of Finchley Road to admit the M1 traffic to London. These are important matters. It behoves the promoters of the Bill to explain why they have not been carried out, when they are to be carried out, and why these extended powers are necessary, particularly having regard to the literally tens of thousands of individuals who are unable to plan or develop matters in connection with property affected by these compulsory powers without knowing when they are to be used.
I come to the final complaint on the Bill, in Part VII. It seeks to make the owner of property—I underline the word "owner"—criminally liable under Clause 30 for excavation upon his land which threatens to take support away from the highways and under Clause 31 for building operations which give rise to a risk of danger to the public.
The point of these provisions is to make the owner liable. This occurs in subsection (3) of each of the Clauses:the owner of the land on which an excavation is made shall be taken as being the person responsible for the making of the excavationand he escapes only by proving that he took all practicable steps to avoid the danger and if he brings before the court the person whom he holds to be responsible and satisfies the court that the offence was committed without his, the owner's, consent, connivance or wilful default.
This was a Clause which was new to the House last year when it was introduced into the City of London Bill. My 1329 hon. and learned Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve), who put the case for the Bill on behalf of the Common Council of the City of London, said this:It simply is not good enough for my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby to say that if this sort of protection has to be given in the City by the creation of a special criminal offence it will repeatedly be followed throughout the rest of the country. The conditions prevailing in the City can hardly he met by example anywhere else, save perhaps in the most crowded parts of Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow and not even then because nowhere else could the redeveloping of land lead to the speed and sometimes to the sort of recklessness which has resulted in the incidence to which I have referred in the City of London.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd February, 1965; Vol. 707, c. 149.]It was not only that this special pleading for the Clause was put by my hon. and learned Friend from the back benches. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport said again and again in his speech—I refer hon. Members to column 155—that it was special to the City of London.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
I can understand the hon. Gentleman quoting the matter in that way, but why is it different in the City of London from London generally?
§ Mr. Page
It is very different, because the plea when the Clause was first introduced was that it applied to the densely populated area of the City and to the very deep excavations which were going on in order to build very high blocks in the City. It was asserted that there was no other place in the country—this is what we were told at that time; I will not go on quoting from what the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said—where this could be justified.
§ Mr. Page
How on earth can it apply to the far from densely built up districts in some parts of the Greater London Council's area? How on earth can the Greater London Council justify this Clause over the whole of its area? It may have one or two places similar to this in the City of London, but if the Clause is justifiable for the Greater London Council for every area of the Greater London Council it is justifiable for the whole country.
§ Mr. Page
If it is, then is should be the subject of general legislation. This is another case of the Greater London Council taking powers which the Public Act of 1963 did not give it.
To justify that, let me list the powers already vested in the London boroughs to deal with this sort of trouble. The London boroughs have powers of control over dangerous or neglected structures under the London Building Acts. The London boroughs have to deal with dangerous buildings and structures under the Public Health Acts. They have powers under special Acts to deal with the erection of hoardings, demolitions. excavations, the closing of highways when they are in danger from building operations, and the making good of a street which has been damaged by building operations and the charging of the expense to the person responsible for that damage. These powers are already vested in the London boroughs.
The Bill seeks to superimpose on these powers in the Greater London Council to proceed against the owner of property for any act which may occur on his land. The general attitude of seizure of power under the Bill is shown by the extensions which the Greater London Council seeks to make to this very Clause. It has not been satisfied with saying that it shall be an excuse for the owner if he can show that he took all reasonably practicable steps. The Council wishes to leave out the word "reasonably" and oblige the owner to take all practical steps or else suffer criminal penalties.
The Council is not satisfied with saying that these operations shall not be a danger to persons in the street. It extends it to danger to members of the public, and thereby duplicates the provisions of the Factories Acts and of the general law. This is an example of the Council seeking powers already vested in the borough councils to deal with this sort of subject.
§ Mr. Dunnett
Clause 32(2) makes it clear that it is the borough council in the area where the accident occurs which has these powers. This is an amplification of the borough councils existing powers.
§ Mr. Page
In the same Clause the Greater London Council is given the 1331 power to take proceedings. This is extending the powers which were given in the 1963 Act.
I return to what I said at the beginning. Where the powers sought by the Greater London Council in this Private Bill are such as the House feel are justified, then they are justified as a change in the general law and the Government should come forward with proposals for reform of the law on those subjects. Where they are not justified, they are an effort to unbalance the 1963 Act and to claim powers to the Greater London Council which were deliberately left to the London borough councils in the 1963 Act.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)
I should like to give general support to the Bill, but I should like to ask some questions about Clause 16. As I have already stated, the greater part of the Hainault Forest is at present in my Parliamentary constituency. It was part of the borough of Dagenham. It was transferred to the borough of Redbridge under the London Government Act, but until the next General Election comes it remains in my Parliamentary constituency, though it may then be transferred to that of the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) under a redistribution scheme.
I want to speak about Hainault Forest partly from the point of view of people living in the immediate neighbourhood and partly from the point of view of people who live in other parts of my Parliamentary constituency. What does the term "camping place" mean? Does it mean a place for putting up tents of a temporary character, or does it mean a caravan site? There is a great deal of difference between the two. I do not think most people would object to a camping place where tents are erected and are removed after a short time by people who have camped there. There would be a great deal of objection to a caravan site, many of the caravans on which might well remain for a considerable time, if not permanently, on the site.
There is adjacent to the Forest the Hainault Estate of the Greater London Council, part of which is at the moment in my Parliamentary constituency, part in Ilford and part in Chigwell. All the people living in that area greatly enjoy 1332 this open space, and I personally have had a number of petitions objecting to the idea of having a caravan site erected inside Hainault Forest.
Hainault Forest serves as an open space for an enormous number of people from the eastern London area. It was taken over by the L.C.C. in 1902. In recent years a lot of work has been done in planting new trees so that it can be enjoyed by people in the neighbourhood, and it is greatly used. At present from the very crowded areas of my constituency people travel by bus or in their own cars to Hainault Forest where they have picnics and enjoy the open country, with its pleasant scenery, away from the built-up areas. But, very important, youngsters of school age make a point of cycling there—especially in school holidays—and enjoying themselves in the open air. If it is intended to take over a part of Hainault Forest and construct a caravan site there, the whole atmosphere of that open space will be destroyed, as well as the pleasure that people get from it.
It is alleged that it is necessary to have a caravan site here in London where foreigners who come to visit London can put their caravans. Why should they put them in Hainault Forest? It is a long way from central London, and I do not see why these facilities should be provided in that area. I do not think many people in the inner parts of London would wish to travel there and park their caravans. It is too near London for people who want to go holidaying. It is very suitable for picnicking and for people who want to spend an enjoyable day in the open, whether they be grownups or youngsters.
It is right and proper that strong objection should be taken to altering the character of this open space. I do not object to providing a car park there, in some out-of-the-way place where the cars cannot be seen. Most of the large parks have car parks nowadays. I do not object to the provision of refreshment facilities and lavatories. They are necessary if a large number of people are going to use these places.
§ Mr. Doughty
I am seeking information. Can the hon. Gentleman tell me whether Hainault Forest is in the green belt or not?
§ Mr. Parker
It is in a green belt area, I think. There are other open areas around it. I believe they are to remain in agricultural use or to be retained as playing fields. It is not intended to affect them. Hainault Forest is similar to Epping Forest, which was taken over by the Corporation of London in about 1850 and has been well maintained, particularly recently. Perhaps I may say a word or two about it. For a long time it was just left alone, but in more recent years a satisfactory forestry policy has been applied by which some of the older trees are thinned out and young ones allowed to grow. In addition, new trees are planted, and I am happy to say that that policy has been introduced recently in Hainault Forest. It is being maintained as a satisfactory lung for eastern London, and I hope it will be maintained as such.
I have no objection to allowing camping for weekends, and I am in favour of providing all the necessary facilities so that full use can be made of it as an open space, but there is a great difference between a camping site of that kind and a caravan site such as one sees around the coast, which, unfortunately, once they are established, are difficult to get rid of. Very often the wheels drop off the caravans and they then become shanties which are permanently attached to the site.
It may be argued that that sort of thing is not intended in Hainault Forest, but once caravans are there the danger is very great. I should like to know what is meant by a camping place. Is it meant just a place for tents to be erected? If so, I do not object. Neither do I object to the other necessary facilities being provided, but if it is intended to make it a caravan site, I strongly object on behalf of my constituents.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)
At the beginning of this debate, Mr. Speaker indicated that he would be good enough to select the Instruction which stands on the Order Paper in my name to be moved after the Second Reading. He also indicated, in reply to a point of order, that it would be possible also to raise the same issue on the Motion, "That the Bill be now read a Second time." This seems a very convenient procedure because, as hon. Members will gather from my intervention during the speech of the hon. Member for 1334 Nottingham, Central (Mr. Dunnett), the necessity or otherwise to move that Instruction may be affected by whatever assurances the hon. Gentleman is able to give after discussion.
Before I come to that aspect of the Bill on the Motion for the Second Reading, I should like to put one or two points. In the first place, I think this is a rather curious Measure for a Private Bill. Its title is itself a trifle misleading. Hon. Members will see that it is a BillTo empower the City of London and Tower Hamlets Cemetery Company to sell to the Greater London Council the lands known as the City of London and Tower Hamlets Cemetery; to confer further powers upon the Greater London Council and other authorities; and for other purposes.No doubt, "other purposes" cover the very substantial points of public importance which this Bill raises, but anyone casually taking up a copy of this Bill and looking at the Title would not realise what extremely serious public issues of general importance the Greater London Council is seeking to legislate about.
I wish to comment, too, on the Memorandum which that authority circulated to hon. Members in the last. day or two. The second paragraph contains an observation to which, in view of the contents of the Bill, hon. Members may well take exception. It states:It is submitted that there are no provisions of the Bill which do not merit being adequately considered in Committee where any objections can be discussed more conveniently and effectively than on the Floor of the House.That observation would have more validity were we concerned with the normal Private Bill matters which appear in the earlier part of the Bill. But when one is dealing with public issues such as Clause 24, to which I shall come in a moment, and Clause 23, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) referred at some length, it is underrating the function of Parliament to suggest that issues of that public importance can simply be remitted to argument before a Select Committee.
Indeed, this House has been for many years vigilant about attempts in the shape of private legislation to alter the public law. The first occasion for that vigilance arose a very long time ago, before the 1857 Act enabled divorce to be obtained other than by legislation. The House may recall that before that date a Bill 1335 was presented and went before Parliament, which contained, I think in Clause 227, the provision that the town clerk's marriage be dissolved. So lacking in vigilance were our predecessors of that date that that went through, saving the town clerk the expense of a private bill of divorcement, but also—lawyers will, no doubt, argue about this—providing permanently that whenever anybody is appointed town clerk of the city concerned, his marriage automatically comes to an end. That is an illustration of the dangers of leaving these matters solely to Select Committees.
I will come to Clause 23, the payment Clause. The hon. Member for Nottingham, Central—I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby that the House is indebted to him for the clear and helpful exposition that he gave—admitted that this was presented in advance of the Maud Committee, and he said that Committees sometimes take a considerable time to report. That is certainly the experience of us all. But surely what he then said is an argument against proceeding in this Bill to confer these powers. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby, I believe that payment at least for members of major local authorities will come. But when a move of that sort comes, it should come by way of public legislation with the Government of the day responsible for it, and one particular local authority should not attempt to jump the queue.
§ Mr. Dunnett
Would it not be an advantage to the Committee and, in due course, to the Government of the day, to have seen a pilot scheme of this kind in operation?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
No, I do not think that it would; and, if I may say so, the hon. Gentleman's observation shows some lack of appreciation of what is done by our Select Committees on Private Bills. As the House knows, individuals or bodies affected by the Measure are represented properly by learned counsel, and the particular private interests of those affected by the Measure are argued. The issue here before us is a public issue of great importance, and those of us who are involved in local government are concerned that it should be approached in 1336 the proper way. I doubt that there will necessarily be argument on the question in the Select Committee because, apparently, no one's interests are affected adversely. But, be that as it may, I do not consider that argument in the Select Committee is any substitute whatever for public discussion followed by public legislation taken on the Floor of this House.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will appreciate the embarrassment which could be caused by the Clause. If the Greater London Council is given this power, then the Minister of the day, according to the Bill, has either to prescribe payment or not. If he refuses to prescribe, he will, apparently, be flying in the face of a decision of Parliament. If he does prescribe in advance of the Maud Committee, he may well be laying down arrangements which either the Maud Committee itself rejects or which this House or, indeed, the Government of the day reject, on consideration of its report. I can foresee real embarrassment not least to the Government of the day resulting from one particular local authority, at a time when, as everyone knows, the issue is coming forward for decision in the fairly near future, getting ahead and introducing a scheme in advance of a reasoned and reasonable decision on the issue as a whole.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby said, none of us under-rates the very hard work done by members of the Greater London Council. This is certainly true of the distinguished individuals who represent the Royal Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames on that authority. But I do not think they would say, and I do not think anyone would say, that they are necessarily harder worked than members of the councils of the great cities of Birmingham and Liverpool, for example. Indeed, although those cities are smaller than London, their powers are a great deal wider because they are county boroughs with the full authority of local government.
I should have thought that the House would be disposed to take the view that this is an issue which must await the report of the Maud Committee, the advice of Ministers responsible to this House, and the decision of the House itself. The Parliamentary Secretary will be able 1337 to tell us whether, when the Maud Committee reports, the Government will produce legislation in the light of its conclusions. In advance of what the hon. Gentleman may say, I take it that that would be very likely. I imagine that it would be the Government's duty to do so. We shall create quite unnecessary awkwardness for ourselves and, possibly, considerable embarrassment for the Government—not that that is something which normally loses me any sleep—if we agree to what is now proposed at a time when, as I have said, the whole issue is being considered and is about to be reported on by an expert Committee. Suddenly, at this stage, we are asked to legislate in respect of one particular authority in advance of the whole issue being determined.
If there had been no Maud Committee sitting, if the Government had refused to act, and if nothing were happening, I could sympathise much more with the Greater London Council in putting forward this proposal, but, as the matter is being dealt with in the right and traditional way I very much hope that the Greater London Council will not think it necessary to persist in this proposal at this time. Obviously, it is a delicate matter, as hon. Members, with their recollection of our own matters of remuneration, will understand. It is a matter of some embarrassment to members of that authority to have to bring it forward, no doubt. I hope that they will feel that the right course in present circumstances is to let it drop, to let the question be taken up by the Government on a national scale as soon as the Maud Committee's report is available for consideration.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby, I have considerable reservations about Clause 31. The circumstances in which one can impose criminal liability, not civil liability, on individuals in respect of actions with which they have directly nothing to do must be very limited. I rather regret that this House gave these powers to the City of London, but, as my hon. Friend reminded us, this was done on the basis of, literally, special pleading about the very special circumstances of the City of London. We must accept that as having been done. But it is nonsense to say that the circumstances of the famous square mile are 1338 reduplicated over the whole of the Greater London area in which live one-sixth of the population of these islands and which contains still not only many areas of widely dispersed housing but many open spaces. This is going too far and I consider that no case has so far been made for doing it.
I come now to Clause 24.
§ Mr. Dunnett
I promised to try to obtain some information on this point which might assist the right hon. Gentleman in marshalling his argument. I am not authorised to give any such undertaking on the limitation of the Clause as was suggested. This is because the Greater London Council does not meet on this matter till tomorrow.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, but, in view of the letter to which I have already drawn attention, I feel bound to pursue the matter and sketch in the background. The Clause is enormously wide. My hon. Friend read subsection (1) and so will I:The council may make any contribution they think fit to expenditure of a borough council or the Common Council.When one realises that the Greater London Council is not a rating authority, that every penny it spends is raised by precept on London boroughs which themselves have the odium or responsibility of raising the rate from their ratepayers, one realises how enormously important an unlimited power of this sort could be. It alters the whole basis of the London Government Act, 1963.
Many of my hon. Friends accepted that Act not on the basis that it was simply a widening of the geographical area of the London County Council but on the ground that it set up a new pattern of regional government in this country. We accepted it on the basis that the London boroughs would be, to use the jargon, "most purposes" authorities and the Greater London Council would simply conduct those matters which, for practical reasons, have to be conducted on a regional basis. Greater London is, of course, a region. As I said, one-sixth of the population live within it. To transfer so much substantial power as is here suggested would be to alter the whole basis of the 1963 Act.
1339 This is power. Let there be no doubt about that. To be able to say that one can levy a precept on every borough in the region and then, at one's unfettered discretion, hand out the product of that precept to those local authorities one chooses is of the essence of power. I do not say that the Greater London Council, for all its present political majority, would necessarily abuse that power; but we should be giving it power to do so. We should be giving it power to hand money over to only those authorities whose policies or whose politics it approved and to levy the money from the whole of the area. We should be giving it power drastically to affect rate levels in particular boroughs. We should be giving them authority to use the power of the purse to dictate the policy of London boroughs whose electors might wish to see totally different policies pursued.
And we should be doing it not because this was essential but because of some relatively innocuous purpose which is thought to be served. One thing about which I thought hon. Members on both sides were always determined was that they would give to nobody, not even to Ministers whom we could call to account, and still less to outside bodies, any more power over the subject than they could show a definite cause to need for practical purposes. The hon. Member would not pretend that the Greater London Council need this wide power. He said that there are four specific directions in which they need to be able to make grants. None of them, he will agree, except possibly the last in respect of housing, involves any substantial expenditure. Yet in order to do this the Greater London Council are seeking from Parliament the immensely wide power to make any payment they think fit to any borough.
§ Mr. Dunnett
I apologise for interrupting so frequently, but it is only fair to the Greater London Council to say that it is more than likely that they will be content to limit themselves to the four heads which I mentioned. But, to be fair to me, I cannot give that undertaking because I am not so authorised to do.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's difficulties, but it is 1340 hardly for an hon. Member in charge of legislation to ask Parliament to pass a Clause of this kind when he himself says that he does not think it likely that they will want the powers. Is that treating Parliament in the right way? I know that we have all been put in difficulty by the time-table of this Parliament. We on this side of the House have been put in difficulty by this Measure being rushed forward at this stage after only a few days notice. I appreciate that the time-table makes that necessary. All the same, I do not think that it reflects much credit on the Greater London Council that they should come forward with a demand of this sort for these powers and then to say through the mouth of their spokesman that they do not really want them.
The hon. Member said that he is not in a position to give an assurance. As I told him when he was kind enough to give way to me during the course of his speech, I have been in touch with the very distinguished firm of Parliamentary Agents whom the Greater London Council have the good fortune to employ over this Bill. I saw their representative a few days ago and we had some discussion, and in the light of that discussion I received this letter this morning which I propose to read to the House. It is dated 29th April. It is headed, "Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill" and it reads:I am writing to let you know that the London Boroughs Committee had a meeting yesterday when the agreement between the Greater London Council and the London Borough Councils who have petitioned against Clause 24 of the Bill was approved. As a result the Member speaking on behalf of the Council in the debate on Monday night will be in a position to give an unqualified assurance to the effect that Amendments will be included in the filled-up Bill as presented to the House to implement this agreement.I know, and hon. Members know, this very distinguished firm of Parliamentary Agents, and we know that they would not write such a letter without the proper authority of their clients. I say at once that they would not wish to mislead a right hon. Gentleman or the House. I think that it calls for some inquiry in the light of that letter, dated 29th April, that the hon. Member, having taken the trouble to make some inquiries, is not able to give the assurance that that letter quite plainly forecasts.
1341 This is a very unhappy position for the House. I appreciate that it is a very unhappy position for the hon. Member. But I am sure that he and those advising him appreciate that if this attitude is persisted in, it places those of us who have put down this Instruction, and who came to the House in the belief that an acceptable compromise had been arrived at, in a position of very real and very unfair embarrassment, and it may be that we shall have to seek what procedural methods there are to secure that this debate does not terminate tonight and in fact does not terminate until the hon. Member in charge of the Bill or the Parliamentary Secretary are able to give us the assurance quite plainly forecast. I do not think that the hon. Member will dispute the letter. I have read the whole of it. I do not think that this is the proper way to treat the House of Commons, and it is for the hon. Member to suggest how this situation could be dealt with.
§ Mr. Dunnett
I am sorry to interrupt gain. The Parliamentary Agents wrote that letter in good faith. They hoped that their advice would be accepted. All I can say for the time is that their advice has not been accepted. But that is certainly no reflection on them.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
This is an intolerable position. It may well have been, in the light of this letter, that those who like myself were interested in the matter decided that it was not necessary for us to attend tonight or to leave the Instruction on the Order Paper. For that reputable firm of Parliamentary Agents to write this letter—and to the best of my knowledge I have had no contradiction—raises very serious questions of good faith. I am the last man—I know this firm well—to make any charges against them. I must press the hon. Member to put the position right. If assurances are given even to one right hon. Member—and I can tell the House that the assurances were shared with me by those of my hon. Friends who are interested in these affairs—it is not good enough for the hon. Member to say that it was given on the basis that their advice would be accepted but that their advice has not in fact been accepted. As far as I know, no steps were taken to inform me and we were simply left to go into the debate.
1342 The hon. Member may well wish to consider the matter further. He may well wish to consider whether at an appropriate stage, before we come to the Instruction in my name, this debate should be adjourned. He may well feel, and the Greater London Council may feel, that even the inconvenience which might result from some delay in the Bill would be less unfortunate than the atmosphere of suspicion of their future actions which reliance on the present course of events might well produce in the minds of hon. Members on both sides of the House. I appreciate that the hon. Member is in a difficult position. I have been in positions of difficulty myself, and I am not without sympathy with him. But he will understand that what he said raises quite serious questions of the relationship of the House with local authorities outside and with those who speak for, represent and act for those local authorities outside.
Were he to contemplate in these circumstances trying to bulldoze this Bill through tonight without getting the matter properly cleared up, then even if he succeeded—and I do not know whether he would—it would undoubtedly do lasting damage to the relations between this House and the greatest of local authorities in this country. I asked him in all seriousness, and in the interests of all of those for whom he speaks in the House, to give that matter some thought before the debate ends.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. R. J. Mellish)
May I intervene in the right hon. Gentleman's speech to state what my understanding of the position is as a member of the Government? At 6 p.m. today, with the knowledge that this item was to be raised, I was advised that they were almost on the verge of agreement—that is, the Greater London Council and representatives of the 11 Greater London Boroughs who had objected to this Clause for one reason or another. They were confident that agreement would be reached in a matter of days. That is as I understand it, and it was to be part of my speech tonight in reply to the debate. It may well be that since the right hon. Gentleman received his letter there have been these discussions about which I have spoken and which I hope will be 1343 finalised to the satisfaction of all. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman ought to know what I know of the situation as a member of the Government.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I am obliged to the Parliamentary Secretary for his intervention. But he is an old Parliamentary hand and he will realise that this leaves the House in a very unsatisfactory position. If we proceed with the business as arranged, the House will some time tonight have to decide on the Instruction standing in my name. I appeal to him, as an old Parliamentary hand, to appreciate that it is not a satisfactory position in which to leave the House.
If those concerned are not in a position to come to a decision, and yet wish to go on with this Clause regardless of what Parliament says, and unless they are prepared to introduce the Amendment which even their own spokesman has said is reasonable, surely the right course is, at the proper stage, after further discussion, to move the Adjournment of the debate until such time as they are able to give Parliament the answers to its questions.
§ Mr. Mellish
There would be a great deal in what the right hon. Gentleman says if the Bill were to become law tonight with its Second Reading. But in fact it will go to a Select Committee for consideration which will have a chance to ask the questions and consider Amendments in the light of what has been said in this debate. A Select Committee, which will consist of Members of both sides of the House, will take the job over.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I thought that I had dealt with this point in advance. What the hon. Gentleman says is true on the points that are of an ordinary Private Bill legislation character—for example, the point about Hainault Forest, to which the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) referred. But no one challenges the fact that it substantially alters the London Government Act, and effects a major change in legislation, which came into effect only a year ago and that it may or may not be a matter on which individuals may wish to petition. The Act affects the structure of local government covering one-sixth of the population of the 1344 country and it is not good enough to say that this matter must be left to a Select Committee. This is a matter for Parliament itself.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)
Order. I think that the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) has already sat down. Mr. Iremonger.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I was hoping to ask my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) a question before he sat down, because I am not absolutely clear about quite where the London Boroughs Committee came into this very disturbing picture and how the Parliamentary Agents in any case could purport to say that they had confidence that an Amendment would be made after they had, as I understood my right hon. Friend to say, discussed the matter with the London Boroughs Committee.
Surely it is the Greater London Council which is promoting the Bill and it is the G.L.C., and the G.L.C. alone, that could give the assurance which would entitle the Parliamentary Agents to say that an Amendment would be made in Committee. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend is seized of my inquiry and would like to intervene on the point as to where the London Boroughs Committee came into the case, since that Committee is not able to instruct anyone about an assurance in such terms.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
My hon. Friend rightly says that the G.L.C. is promoting the Bill, but I understand—and the hon. Member for Nottingham, Central (Mr. Dunnett) will correct me if I am wrong—that the G.L.C., having entered into an earlier agreement with the London Boroughs Committee, apparently finds some difficulty in accepting an alteration without its consent. I think that is the basis of the problem as the G.L.C. sees it.
§ Mr. Iremonger
It leaves the House in profound difficulty. What looked to me to be a Bill with serious defects turns out to be a scandal. I cannot see how the House could possibly give it a Second Reading in this debate, and I hope my 1345 right hon. Friend will press the point. If the hon. Members supporting the Bill do not ask to adjourn the debate, I hope that we will divide against it on Second Reading so that it can be reconsidered.
I had intended to comment on four Clauses, but the points I wished to make have been referred to already with great persuasiveness and skill. I therefore merely want to support what has been said, first in reference to Clause 16, which concerns the proposed camping place in Hainault Forest. As the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) said, this place may become a direct constituency concern of mine.
This proposition is very unwelcome locally. What the hon. Gentleman said about it is right. People are asking where it will stop. They say that it is not merely the idea of having a camping site that alarms them but the uncertainty as to what sort of place it is to be and what else will come in its wake. They also wonder what useful purpose it can serve as a tourist attraction, since, if one chose the corner of London furthest removed from the Channel ports, it would be the north-east corner. The access which the campers on the site will have to London's main tourist attractions will not be easy.
If the Bill does proceed tonight—and I hope that it will not—I trust that these points will be reconsidered in Committee and given very much more careful consideration and be more closely defined. I myself put down an Instruction to the Committee which would have deleted Clause 5, if the House had agreed with me, but Mr. Speaker said that it would not be called. However, I am happy to make my points seriatim on Part V—Clauses 23, 24 and 25.
On Clause 23, I think that it is presumptuous to anticipate the Maud Committee and pass serious general legislation of this kind simply at the instigation of one local authority. I am surprised that both sides of the G.L.C. seem to have acquiesced to this. It would have been preferable to leave this provision out for it to have been brought before the House in the proper way, and apply to all great local authorities alike.
Clause 24 causes particular misgiving to the borough part of which I represent. It is arbitrary and it will give sweeping 1346 power to the G.L.C. at whim as and when it sees fit to add expense to any borough. It is a "kissing goes by favour" Clause.
It is all very well for the hon. Member for Nottingham, Central (Mr. Dunnett) to say that the G.L.C. would not dream of doing this sort of thing, but we have to look at what is in the Bill, and to let the Bill through in this state would be a scandalous dereliction of our duty. I cannot see how the drafting of the Bill could have gone into this matter at all. The hon. Gentleman's statement makes it all the more extraordinary. Since the G.L.C. seems to have had a good idea of what it wanted to do, I cannot see why it saw fit to enlarge it so greatly. I should myself welcome contributions from boroughs other than my own, because that is what it would be, for the acquisition of nonconforming user industrial premises; but this goes both ways, and other boroughs might not feel so happy about it. Who will choose which non-conforming users are deserving of being subsidised by the rates paid by the electors of other boroughs?
I should have liked to have seen in any Clause which the House was asked to accept in this sense some positive system adumbrated for chooing which borough should have which subsidy and for what purposes. I am surprised that so few hon. Members seem to have been alerted to the very undesirable precedent in this Clause and I hope that upstairs, if the Bill gets further, a very different Clause will emerge if the Bill is submitted to the House for Third Reading.
Clause 25 is not mentioned in the promoters' statement which was circulated to hon. Members—mine reached me only an hour or so ago—is one of the Clauses which the promoters think likely to be objected to, but it is none the less highly objectionable. It provides that the amount which may be raised by London boroughs by bills, which one understands is to aggregate about £30 million, shall be allocated as between individual boroughs and the amounts they may raise at any given time decided by the London Boroughs Committee. It is quite outside the contemplation of those who have taken part in the proceedings of the London Boroughs Committee that it should be employed in any kind of executive capacity like this, let alone 1347 having an arbitrary power of the utmost importance in deciding on the availability of public funds, comparable to the power of the Treasury in giving loan sanction for major public works.
The London Boroughs Committee is only an association of local authorities. Page 3 of the promoters' statement actually says that it is a body representative of the London Borough Councils but whose decisions do not bind its individual members. So modest a rôle is that conceived by the promoters of the Bill for the London Boroughs Committee that they do not paint it in any more pretentious colours, and yet it appears in the Bill as a body which is to have the decisive voice in deciding what boroughs are to have the power to raise these large sums by the issue of bonds.
The House never intended that power of this kind should be put into the hands of this body as it is in this Clause. The alternative, which would be infinitely preferable, is for the allocation to be done by the Treasury on the same basis that it gives loan sanction for the raising of funds for other purposes. I understand that this has been suggested in responsible quarters, and I hope that it will be intended to amend the Clause in that sense in Committee. Otherwise, possibly a scheme might be acceptable which would allow the Boroughs Committee to prepare a scheme of allocation, but to allow the boroughs individually to object if they were not satisfied with the allocation made, with appeal to the Treasury whose decision should be final.
I hope that this will be noted and that at whatever stage in the life of this Parliament the Bill goes to a Select Committee, this may be borne in mind as representing the very serious misgivings of the Redbridge Borough Council, which has been good enough to let me know its feelings in the matter. Those are matters of detail. It is convenient and appropriate that they should be raised on Second Reading. But far more important is what my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames has said about the principle raised in Clause 24.
Apart from putting on record the important matters which I have mentioned, I want to say that I do not think that the House can possibly vote for this 1348 Bill tonight in view of what my right hon. Friend has said. This is a Private Bill, it is not a matter in which the Government are deeply implicated. It is a matter, above all, in which hon. Members in their private capacity have to make their own judgment and have to vote. I hope that it will not be present in the minds of hon. Members opposite that the majority party in the Greater London Council is the Labour Party, that it is a Labour Government who might find it convenient to have this Bill go through, and that it interferes with an Act passed by a Conservative Government. The very sinister centralising powers are certainly not in conformity with Conservative principles.
Those considerations should be put aside and hon. Members should address themselves to the profoundly important constitutional implications to which my right hon. Friend has referred. I certainly do not find it possible to vote for this Bill and I hope that other hon. Members will feel likewise.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)
I want to make one or two observations on the points which have exercised Members in this debate, in particular the question of the proposals for a different arrangement for meeting the expenses of councillors. Before I do so I should say that the creation of the Greater London Council was an act of folly but it was an act of folly which was not committed by this Government. It was an act of folly by hon. Gentlemen opposite and they are now faced with this enormous authority which they have created and which was referred to as something approaching a regional authority.
I would hardly call it a regional authority, because it is not large enough, but it is the nearest thing to a regional authority that we have. It is a bit of a monster because it is a regional authority in size, created without giving a thought to why it was being created. It was created for reasons which aroused some suspicion on this side of the House at the time. It was suggested that certain political aims were involved. If political intentions were there they do not seem to have achieved their object.
But the Government, and, as the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) has pointed out, the Labour 1349 government across the way, have the problem of trying to deal with the baby with which Members opposite have landed them. It is there and they have to do something about it and this is why this Bill is brought before the House.
The position of the Greater London Council in the circumstances is a difficult one. Because of pressure on Parliamentary time, when it asks the House to consider its problems it is bound to do it in one fell swoop. Members are right to say that this is a bit of a mixed bag. It is a bit of a mixed bag because of the pressure on Parliamentary time and this cannot be avoided. It is quite right to say that the question of Hainault Forest and the proposed site is of a different order to the other questions raised here.
On that point I would only say that I understand the feeling of my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker). This is one of those things which no one ever wants, but when those of us who travel abroad by car see the provision which is made for caravanning and camping we may think that it is not altogether wrong that some small reciprocal arrangement should be made on this side of the Channel, if only to encourage some reciprocation in tourist travel and help the balance of payments. This is relatively small item compared with some of the other questions. The same applies to the point of what is to happen to exhibitions.
When I first glanced at the Clause I was horrified. For a moment I thought that the Greater London Council was going to adopt the powers of the Lord Chamberlain, and when I think in terms of the powers of the Lord Chamberlain I think of censorship. I thought for one moment that the Greater London Council proposed to set itself up as a censoring body. If that had been the case, I should have proposed to go into the Lobby with the hon. Member for Ilford, North. But it is no such thing. The proposal is very necessary and urgent. It is that the G.L.C.—which, after all, is the fire authority—shall have legal power to act as a fire authority.
§ Mr. Doughty
Clause 21 says nothing of the sort. It gives a complete licensing power. The Council might forbid the Labour Party conference being held in Central Hall if it so wished.
§ Mr. Jenkins
Indeed. These powers are similar to those powers already exercised by the G.L.C. over the whole range of places of public entertainment, and it seems right and proper that this gap should be plugged. The Bill does just that.
On the question of the payment of councillors, which is dealt with by Clause 23, this seems to me a necessary consequence of the creation of this enormous authority. As a member of the L.C.C., I found that one spent a great deal of time in filling out complex forms which seemed to be designed to discourage members from taking the bother to fill them out so that they would not claim their expenses unless they were absolutely forced to do so. The system is complex and undesirable. If the proposition—which I understand is generally accepted on both sides of the House—is that the expenses of councillors should be paid, then I should have thought that a more simple and better way of paying them would meet with general approval. The G.L.C. is here suggestinig that a more simple and better method should be adopted.
It has been suggested that the consequence of this being adopted by the G.L.C. in advance of any general recommendation on the subject—most people agree that it is desirable that a similar recommendation should be made—would be thoroughly bad. I wonder whether this is true. Is it not reasonable and proper that a pilot scheme should be operated by such an enormous authority as this, which, it could be said, is exceptional, if, as is unlikely, the recommendation of the Committee should not be that for which both sides of the House hope? I trust that on consideration hon. Members opposite will think that the fears which they have expressed may be a little exaggerated and that this is not a question to which should be attached the very great weight suggested by the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page).
The point which exercises the minds of hon. Members opposite is the question of the power which it is proposed to give to the G.L.C. to make contributions to the boroughs. I agree that the Clause dealing with this matter is widely drawn. I am bound to say that I was glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, Central (Mr. Dunnett) say that it was the intention 1351 that the powers should be more closely defined.
What, then, is the conclusion which we should draw? The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) made very great play about this, but I think that he has exaggerated a little. He suggests in his Amendment:That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to leave out Clause 24.This is a proposal to remove the Clause altogether. As I understand what he said, he does not want that to happen. Unless I misunderstood him, he is prepared to accept rather less than what is proposed in the Clause. He does not want to get rid of it altogether.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, Central said that for reasons which he explained he is not in a position to say tonight that this Clause can be revised in precisely the manner about which the hon. Member has heard from the Parliamentary Agents. It is a fairly reasonable assumption that during the Committee stage the discussion will revolve around those lines. Cannot the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, in all the circumstances, bring himself to say that on the basis of the remarks of my hon. Friend, he need not press to get rid of the Clause completely and that it is a matter which can be dealt with in Committee?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Does the hon. Member appreciate that we have no firm assurance that there will be any limitation whatever in the terms of the Clause, which he himself very properly said was very wide? Secondly, does he appreciate that whatever the merits of the precise proposals for limitation may or may not be, there are certain questions of good faith in dealing with a matter when the responsible and authorised agents of the promoting authority have given an undertaking in writing?
§ Mr. Jenkins
This is a matter for the promoting authority, for whom I am not in a position to answer. I understand the right hon. Gentleman's difficulty. What I am saying, however, is that he has played it a bit too hard and that in all the circumstances, it seems to me—it may not appear so to the right hon. Gentleman, in which case he must do as he 1352 thinks right—that in view of the partial assurance which he has obtained from my hon. Friend, he might find it proper to withdraw his Motion. It is a matter which I must leave entirely to the right hon. Gentleman. As the right hon. Gentleman has said, this is a matter for private Members' decisions, and he must make his decision upon it.
That is my view of the Bill. I regard it as a necessary Measure. I hope that the House will give it a Second Reading and that some of the matters that have been mentioned during this debate will be raised by hon. Members, on both sides, during the Committee stage which follows.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin (Wanstead and Woodford)
I was somewhat astonished to hear the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) suggest that the creation of the Greater London Council had political intentions. The hon. Member will remember, as I do, how, after the then Government published their preliminary scheme for implementing the Report of the Herbert Commission, representations were made to the Government by a large number of local authorities, particularly those on the periphery of the area.
The then Minister, now the noble Lord, Lord Hill, successively lopped of large parts of the areas that were within the review area considered by the Commission and thus effectively prevented what at one time appeared to be a permanent Conservative majority on the Greater London Council. As evidence of good faith to show that it was not a political move aimed purely at destroying the former London County Council, one could not have anything more effective and relevant than that.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
It is, of course, true that on that occasion, as on other occasions, the urban Tories triumphed over the rural Tories, but that did not make it any less a political matter.
§ Mr. Jenkin
The hon. Member has a tortuous mind and is obviously able to see conspiracy where none exists. His remarks enable me to lead in and to sound a warning note about the whole progress on which the Greater London Council is engaged.
1353 Following the Report of the Royal Commission, the London Government Act, 1963, was passed. I disagree profoundly with the hon. Member for Putney when he says that it was unwise. I believe that it was a move of great importance and entirely beneficial to London. It was, however, based quite firmly on the rationale which the Royal Commission had spelt out, and many people regarded it as one of the best Royal Commission Reports ever.
The rationale was that the powers of the London boroughs, the Middlesex boroughs and others in the outer London area had been eroded, for a number of reasons. In some cases, their powers had gone to the upper tier authority, in other cases they had gone to the Central Government. For instance, powers for dealing with traffic had to be taken by two or three successive Acts of Parliament passed since 1959 at very short notice in order to keep London traffic moving.
Thus were effectively eroded their rôle and functions as local authorities. This, of course, had happened by a series of unrelated stages. It had happened, as it were, almost inevitably because of the growing complexity of the government of the Metropolis, and, indeed, it had happened almost unwittingly, because as it was over a period of time and was of a piecemeal nature people were unaware of what was going on. It was this process which was highlighted by the Commission which recommended that the borough council should be the primary unit of local government. This was the basis on which the London Government Act was established and passed. It was the bedrock of principle on which we should continue to act. London has made a new start under the new dispensation, and in many circles there is a new enthusiasm for the revival of genuinely local government in Greater London.
I believe, however, that there is a danger of this process of erosion—if, indeed, that is the right word—happening again. Not, this time, in a series of unrelated stages, but by a series of successive—one could almost say, planned—steps. Not inevitably at all, because it need not happen, because the principle is enshrined in the 1963 Act. And certainly not unwittingly, because we are facing, and, it seems, in the future are increasingly likely to face, a planned, pre- 1354 meditated campaign of aggrandisement by the Greater London Council designed to upset that bedrock of principle on which the 1963 Act was founded. One may be excused for saying that this is not eroding the powers of the boroughs: that this is usurping the powers of the boroughs. I believe this is a trend about which this House, which passed the 1963 Act, should be very, very wide awake, and on its guard to prevent, because the whole rationale, the whole theme which underlay the Herbert Commission's Report, was that government in London should, so far as possible, remain local, and that the primary unit should be the borough.
§ Mrs. Freda Corbet (Peckham)
Would not the hon. Gentleman admit that the purposes for which the Greater London Council wishes to have the power to make contributions to the boroughs, the four purposes which have been set out, constitute four very reasonable ones which are for the benefit of the boroughs and not at all for the greater glorification of the Council itself?
§ Mr. Jenkin
I do not deny for one moment that the particular powers—we have not seen them spelt out in legislative form yet—as they were adumbrated by the hon. Member for Nottingham, Central (Mr. Dunnett), may be reasonable, and I am not taking exception to that. In a sense, these are not before the House at the moment. This is a point of which my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) made what seemed to me a legitimate and very powerful criticism. What I am addressing my mind to at the moment and what I am asking the House to give attention to is this threat, as I see it, of the reappearance of the erosion of the powers of the boroughs, this time the powers of the Greater London boroughs conferred on them by the 1963 Act.
We had the abortive attempt to take the children's service away from the boroughs and make it one of the services of the Greater London Council. Fortunately that attempt failed. We had the threat—this will be debated in the House bcause this will require legislation—that the review of the Inner London education authority should not take place, that what was to be regarded possibly as a merely transition stage should, 1355 without further argument and without further examination, become final.
We have the pattern of acquisition—about which I shall say something later—which the G.L.C. is pursuing in all parts of its area. The Bill contains a number of examples of the Council attempting to establish itself as a sort of super local authority, and not what it was clearly intended to be both by the Herbert Commission and the London Government Act, merely a body on a regional scale carrying out only those functions which it is right and proper should be carried out on that scale, and leaving, so far as it could, everything else to the boroughs as the primary units.
I agree with everything that has been said about the Clauses by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames and my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page). The argument which was used by the hon. Member for Putney, with regard to Clause 23, that this was somehow a pilot scheme and therefore justifiable, seemed to be contradicted in his next words when he said that the G.L.C. was, somehow, an exceptional body. What possible virtue is there in running a pilot scheme for something which is admittedly a wholly exceptional body?
I accept the argument that it is not right to anticipate the findings of the Maud Committee. It will be remembered that, in the case of the remuneration of Members of this House, the matter was referred to an independent Committee, the Lawrence Committee, which recommended not only details about the actual remuneration, but a number of other matters, and if that had not been done very considerable embarrassment would have been caused. Here, with this Clause, there is no independent committee. It is left to the Minister to decide what level of allowances shall be paid to members of the Council, and presumably to decide in advance of any recommendations which may be made by the Maud Committee, relating not only to the allowances, but to the circumstances which surround them. This seems to me to put both the Minister and the Council in an impossible position.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
It is a pilot scheme in the sense that it will provide an opportunity for methods of payment to councillors to be explored and to be carried into practice. That is the point of a pilot scheme. The G.L.C. being exceptional in the sense of being so large, the pilot scheme need not necessarily be operated in the unlikely event that the Committee does not recommend it.
§ Mr. Jenkin
The hon. Gentleman's argument leaves me baffled. It is a most extraordinary suggestion, and I feel that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will wish to dispose of the pilot scheme argument and give it short shrift.
With regard to Clause 24, the position in which the House has been placed by the letter written to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames by the agents acting on behalf of the G.L.C. is quite impossible, and indeed poses severe constitutional problems. This is the one Clause on which a number of local authorities—and not all of the same political persuasion—have expressed profound misgivings. The London boroughs of Enfield, Ealing, and Hounslow, all of which have Labour majorities, are among the group on the London Boroughs Committee which has expressed opposition to this Clause. Had it generally been known in the House, on both sides, that a clear and unqualified undertaking was to be given by the hon. Member for Nottingham, Central on behalf of the G.L.C., it is possible that this debate would not have taken place. The purpose of its being set down would have been served, and we should have heard no more about it. Now we find that no such unqualified assurance can be given. Apparently no authority was ever given to the agents to state that an assurance would be given, and, indeed, it could not have been given, because the only body which could give it—the Greater London Council or the appropriate committee—does not meet until tomorrow.
This puts the House in an impossibly difficult situation. This is the Second Reading of the Bill. Is the House to give the Bill a Second Reading on the footing of an assurance which, in general terms, as the hon. Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbet) said, might be very reasonable, but when no such assurance can really be given? I cannot see how we 1357 can do this and, like my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Ire-monger), I would find it impossible to support the Bill unless a reasonable assurance is given at some point.
I support what was said by the hon. Member for Dagenham about Hainault Forest. I sometimes find it difficult to remember that a small part of his constituency forms part of the London borough of Redbridge in which my constituency lies. There is no doubt that these forests—Epping Forest is another—which exist to the north-east of Greater London and just beyond, are regarded as of immense value by the inhabitants of the area, who are extremely jealous of any suggestion of encroachment or development. Since the Act of 1878, Epping Forest has been under the control of the City of London Corporation, who are the conservators They have established an enviable reputation for toughness, by which they resist any form of encroachment by however powerful a body.
When, at the end of last year, I put down a series of Questions to a number of Ministers as to the powers they had exercised over Epping Forest, with one exception—the Minister of Housing and Local Government, who gave a pretty dusty answer—they gave what I could only regard as very reasonable and satisfactory replies. They said that they did not seek to encroach upon Epping Forest. They knew quite well that they would have a tough job fighting the conservators if they did.
Hainault Forest should be under the same protection. There should be no less strict a régime against encroachment on that forest than is the case with Epping Forest. But the two forests are controlled under different Acts, and are in the guardianship of different authorities. I am certain that the Greater London Council ought not to set itself a lower target or lower standards of guardianship of the forest heritage with which it has been entrusted than does the City of London Corporation. The power which is sought to be included in the Bill to establish a camp site in Hainault Forest, may appear at first sight to be innocuous, but one understands that it is proposed to include caravans. As the hon. Member for Dagenham said, a few tents scattered among the bushes 1358 may appear harmless, but the monster caravan parks that one sees in serried ranks spread up and down our coast have done so much to disfigure it, whatever amenity and pleasure they offer to individuals. The thought that that sort of development should intrude into an area like that of Hainault Forest fills me with horror and gloom at the thought that people should have so little understanding of the nature of the environment with which we are now surrounded. I hope that the Clause will be given the most careful consideration in Committee because it requires it.
There is another matter which arises under Clause 24, if amended on the lines suggested by the hon. Member for Nottingham, Central. This is the heading he gave—the power to lay out money in return for being able to nominate tenants in housing schemes. As he will know, the Council has made approaches to all the London boroughs seeking to acquire the right to nominate a specified proportion of tenants in the developments in those boroughs, and no doubt suitable financial arrangements will be made.
The Act of 1963, perhaps unwisely, gave the Council power to build inside the boroughs—of course, only with the consent of the Minister. It might have been better had that power not been given. As it is, I hope that it will be exercised with very great circumspection. The Council is an authority with the resources to be able to establish new towns right outside the London conurbation. That is the direction in which it should seek to exercise its housing powers, not by building inside the boroughs within the perimeter of Greater London.
In the meantime, it is perhaps not unreasonable that the Council should seek to find places for tenants, perhaps displaced by road schemes or other forms of development. But the way it has set about this does not altogether fill one with confidence. A certain amount of ill-feeling has been generated in Redbridge. The Council first suggested that it would, as it were as a lever, acquire any site in the borough that it could get hold of. The borough then offered 10 per cent. of its new housing as it became available but this was rejected by the Council as inadequate.
The borough then offered a further 50 vacancies a year and, bearing in mind 1359 that councils not so very far away, such as Newham, have offered nothing whatever, that was a very reasonable offer on the part of Redbridge, and it was accepted. But Redbridge, I think quite reasonably, would like to make too conditions, or at any rate seek to put two points before the Council—and before the Minister, who is keeping a watchful eye on these developments.
The first condition is that the taking up by the Council of some of the vacancies that come up in the boroughs should be regarded as a temporary expendient only. It should not be regarded as a fixed and permanent part of the administration of Greater London. I understand that it is at present envisaged to last about five years. At the end of five years it should stop, and should not be extended for successive periods of five years.
The second point the borough not unreasonably would like to see is that the new consolidated housing list which the Greater London Council is in the process of compiling, and returns for which the boroughs have already submitted on the form that is agreed, should be compiled so that the true nature of the demand for housing can be known. It is strongly suspected, indeed widely believed, that there is a large measure of duplication between the housing lists of the boroughs and the Greater London Council housing list, and until these duplications have been eliminated it seems quite wrong that pressure should be put on boroughs to give up some of their housing—they all have long waiting lists—to the Council.
There is also the problem—again this is a sort of aggrandisement problem—of the purchasing of land and buildings within the boroughs. There is one in my constituency at the moment, where a good deal of apprehension is being caused at the so-called Snakes Lane development site, of which the Parliamentary Secretary is no doubt aware, where originally the compulsory purchase order was sanctioned on the footing that this was private development and should maintain the character of the area in which the land exists. Yet there are now rumours that it is threatened by purchase by the Council, and this causes dismay and apprehension to a large number of people in the area. I believe that this trend to 1360 aggrandisement, as I have called it, this trend to usurpation, of which some of the powers sought in the Bill are an example, must be resisted.
This Bill should give us a warning of another point. In the last 50 years of the existence of London County Council, between 1916 and 1965, no fewer than 61 Acts of Parliament relating solely to London were passed by this House. That number did not include Acts of which particular parts related to London. Of those 61 no fewer than 40 were general powers Acts. If one examines the Statute Book, one finds that it was the habit of London County Council to bring forward an annual general powers Bill containing an enormous variety of Clauses. This was not like the Finance Bill which has to be renewed annually; London County Council had its Money Act which had to be renewed annually.
This system of having an annual general powers Bill was a source of criticism and London County Council sought by its general powers Acts—[Interruption.]—the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) might find this interesting; it is of some importance. Many of the powers which London County Council sought in those general powers Acts were powers which could perfectly well have been exercised under local government Acts and other general Acts, but it was easier for the great authority just the other side of the Thames to come year after year to seek new powers by Private Act of Parliament.
This is a precedent which Greater London Council must not follow. The Council should regard it as an exception, not the rule, to come to this House asking for special powers. Where possible, it should exercise its functions using the powers which exist under the general law. I hope that if this Bill is passed into law, it will not be followed next year, in 1968, in 1969 and in 1970, by annual general powers Bills. That seems to be a bad precedent which Greater London Council should abandon.
§ 9.22 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Robert Mellish)
I think it will be for the convenience of the House for me to intervene at this moment. Of course, that does not deny to other 1361 hon. Members the right to express their points of view when I have finished my speech. As I understand the time-table, this debate will go on until 10 o'clock and I shall be reasonably brief.
We have had a long and interesting discussion, as we always do on these Private Bills sought by an authority, which in this case is Greater London Council and was formerly the London County Council. I remind the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin) that it was the Conservative Government which passed the 1963 Act giving Greater London Council the right to promote such Bills. Let us be quite frank. The Greater London Council is doing only what the House gave it the democratic right to do in the 1963 Act. If this Bill is given a Second Reading, it will go to a Select Committee composed of hon. Members from both sides of the House. That Committee will have the right to hear from Greater London Council the reasons why it needs the powers in this Bill, and also the arguments of those who petition against the Bill.
I am advised that the individual London boroughs could be heard by the Select Committee if they individually feel that they want to oppose the Bill. That Select Committee will also have before it the views of any Minister, including my right hon. Friend, who is interested in the Bill. If left to itself, the Select Committee will take effective decisions on the Bill after hearing all the detailed arguments and any necessary evidence. Most of the Clauses in this Bill, as is generally agreed, are harmless and quite uncontroversial. Nevertheless, there are three or four Clauses which, since 7 o'clock, have provoked some dispute. I want to say a few words about those.
The first and important one which concerns every hon. Member because of the principle involved, is Clause 23. This Clause will give the Greater London Council power to pay allowances to members of the Council. Those allowances could not exceed the maximum rates which would be laid down in regulations by my right hon. Friend for Greater London Council members. They would be in place of, and not additional to, the payment for personal financial loss and subsistence allowance payable to local authority members under Part VI of the 1362 1948 Local Government Act. The Greater London Council came to my Ministry and discussed the matter with my right hon. Friend. This was a meeting both of the ruling party, the Labour Party, on Greater London Council, and of the Conservative Party.
They were united when they came to see us to discuss with my right hon. Friend the special problems associated here with the G.L.C. My right hon. Friend, having heard their case, felt that in the special circumstances of Greater London, the Greater London Council had a case worth putting to Parliament. I should like to get this on the record because I am sure most hon. Members who have knowledge of Greater London recognise this fact. It is an area with a population of about .8 million, an area of almost 400,000 acres and, in spite of its size, it has fewer elected members than the old London County Council had. Indeed, the Greater London Council is smaller than the City Councils of Birmingham, Manchester or Liverpool and the duties which fall on the G.L.C. members are correspondingly heavy. Also they are involved in a lot of travelling. The present system of financial loss allowances to councillors is tied to lost working time, and actual financial loss has to be proved, not just sustained, but proved. Such proof is much more difficult for some people than for others. We know that the requirement hits self-employed people and professional people. We know that it hits the housewives and retired people, and we believe that these are the sections of the community that certainly ought to be encouraged to do local government work.
The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) and the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) made a very important and relevant point when they asked, "Why is this Clause now in this Private Bill when the Maud Committee is about to issue an interim report, and why give the G.L.C. encouragement to promote such legislation?" True, the Maud Committee is due to make an interim report shortly. But its final report is not expected for some time. The House will know that with a report of this kind it will be necessary to have discussions with all the authorities concerned; and, even when we have the final report, it could well be a period of not less than 1363 two years—I am talking of the period of time between getting the final report and having discussions with the authorities concerned—before any legislation could be brought before the House implementing what I think the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames was concerned about, namely, the provision which the Committee might well recommend of a payment of some kind to councillors.
That is the background. My right hon. Friend thought that, having heard this all-party argument and because of the size of this authority and its duties, it was right that it should be allowed to remit the scheme and argue its case in front of a Select Committee. I put it to the House in no party spirit that there was great validity in what my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) said, that when one comes to implement any scheme appropos of what the Maud Committee may recommend, it could well be, taking into account the experience that has been gained, that this House and the country will be in a better position to judge what ought to happen in the future. At any rate, that is a point of view. I hope the hon. Gentleman will accept that, having listened to both sides, this was done by my right hon. Friend with every good intention, and, in so doing, he wishes to convey the information that the Government will not oppose the Bill on Second Reading.
§ Mr. Graham Page
Could we get this quite clear? If the Maud Committee is not going to report for two years, and if the Bill goes through and becomes an Act, the Minister is thereby empowered to prescribe allowance for pay for Greater London councillors? Will he do so? Will he prescribe that pay and give it for two years ahead of any other local authority in the country?
§ Mr. Mellish
Let me make it clear. I have said that there will be an interim report. We shall have some indication in the report of what Sir John Maud and the Committee are thinking of in the long term. I cannot say when the final report will be made. Nobody in my Department can. But it is the belief of my officers that by the time we get the final report and have had discussions 1364 with everybody concerned—this does not happen overnight on a fundamental issue of this kind—a period of two years could well elapse. This is why, when the Greater London Council promoted, on an all-party basis, the idea that an experiment should be made with regard to allowances, my right hon. Friend gave it at least his partial apostolic blessing. We thought that it would be right to let the matter go to a Select Committee which could then consider the case put before it and give its judgment. Of course, as the hon. Member for Crosby rightly said, it will be for the Minister to decide what the actual amount would be.
I come now to Clause 31, which makes it an offence to carry out building operations in such a way as to endanger public safety. The Greater London Council claims that this is justified by the number of accidents in building operations in London. The City of London obtained similar powers from Parliament last year. There has already been reference to Section 9 of the City of London (Various Powers) Act, 1965. The hon. Member for Crosby, saying that he was one who opposed the giving of this power to the City of London, asked why this power should be given to the Greater London Council over its much wider area.
I can only say again on this point that we believe that the arguments should be carefully considered by the Select Committee. We should not underestimate the intelligence of the members of such a Select Committee. It may well be that the Greater London Council will need these regulations only in relation to one or two of the boroughs. But it should not be forgotten here that we are talking of an area embracing 32 Greater London boroughs many of them with a population of 300,000. The matters dealt with in the Clause could not be dealt with in the Building Regulations issued by my right bon. Friend the Minister of Public Building and Works. They go beyond the scope of Building Regulations, and, whether one likes the Clause or not, I suggest that this is an important matter which ought to be considered by the Committee within the context of the whole Bill.
I come now to Clause 24, which the right hon. Gentleman himself sought to 1365 have deleted by an Instruction. Once again, we believe that the Select Committee ought to be allowed to hear the pros and cons and arrive at a decision on the merits of the case put to it. The Clause will give the Greater London Council power to contribute towards the expenditure of a London borough or the City. It is based broadly on the power already available to county councils under Section 56 of the Local Government Act, 1958, to contribute towards the expenditure of district councils.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The hon. Gentleman is using the same argument as was used by the Greater London Council in the memorandum sent to hon. Members, but is not the snag in it that the relationship under the 1963 Act between the Greater London Council and the London boroughs is widely different from that between a county council and a county district.
§ Mr. Mellish
I am coming to that point. The Clause now promoted by the G.L.C. is opposed by the Common Council of the City and by 11 London boroughs, but I repeat what I said earlier about my understanding of the situation. There has been close discussion and negotiation between the 11 boroughs which do not agree and the Greater London Council on the sort of compromise which should be put before the Select Committee for its approval or otherwise. Again, this is a matter for the Select Committee. I keep repeating this. I was advised late this evening that they were in fact on the verge of reaching such agreement.
I can assure the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford that I have spent the last year and a half doing my best to encourage a happy relationship between the G.L.C. and the boroughs. There can be no future for housing or the solution of any of the other great problems if there is to be a running war, as it were, between these great authorities, the Greater London Council, on the one hand, and the London boroughs, on the other. Anything which we say in this House must be directed to ensuring that that happy liaison continues.
From my knowledge of the matter, I can tell the House quite sincerely that the relationship between the Greater London Council and the Greater London boroughs 1366 has been extremely cordial, and even on this argument there has been a great deal of friendly discussion. I repeat that I am advised that they are on the verge of agreement. The basis of any agreement is not for me, of course. I am merely saying that the Select Committee should at least be able to hear whether such an agreement has been arrived at. If no agreement is arrived at—I put this to the right hon. Gentleman—the boroughs will have the right to go to the Select Committee and argue the matter, giving the reasons why they do not agree. I do not think that we can be more democratic that that, and this is why I was surprised that the right hon. Gentleman worked himself up into such a state. He seemed to be conveying to hon. Members that if the Bill left the Floor of the House, that would be the last that would be heard of it. It would only be the beginning of the story for there is machinery which enables it to be discussed and debated elsewhere. The boroughs will have the chance to oppose it.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
If, as the hon. Member says—and I hope he is right—the boroughs and the G.L.C. are on the verge of an agreement, is not that an overwhelming argument for not pressing the House to take the Second Reading or the Instruction tonight? He referred quite properly to the fact that the Select Committee can discuss this matter, but hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree that this is a major issue of concern to Parliament as a whole. Surely it is not fair to Parliament to ask us to take a decision about a Second Reading or an Instruction when we do not know in what shape the proposition will be when the promoters come forward with it. If the hon. Member suggests that I was in a state of indignation, I can only point out to him that if he had received a firm assurance from the agents for the promoters and had then been told that this was being gone back on, he might have manifested a little indignation.
§ Mr. Mellish
I respect the right hon. Gentleman and I note that he had a letter from the Parliamentary Agents which led him to take that point of view. I know nothing about this. The information which I have given to the House was what I had been told.
1367 I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that it is not the job of the House at this moment to try to act as arbitrator between the objectors and the sponsors. If the arguments are as strong as some hon. Members opposite seem to think they are, then no doubt the Select Committee will take them into account. The relationship between the boroughs and the G.L.C. is paramount, and it would be a disastrous folly, in my view, if the G.L.C. tried to bulldoze the boroughs into doing something which they found objectionable and if, in fact, there were no compromise agreement. Having said that, I ask that the Select Committee be given the chance to listen.
I understand that the G.L.C. have found it necessary to make some contributions in connection with traffic management schemes. My right hon. Friend has made these transactions valid under the power given to him by Section 136 of the Local Government Act, 1948. But this can only be a temporary solution. If the G.L.C. find it necessary to make regular contributions, then my right hon. Friend thinks that it is only right that they should come to Parliament and ask for the statutory power to do so.
There are a number of services where it seems perfectly proper and appropriate for the G.L.C. to make some contribution. Two examples which have already been quoted are, first, towards the cost of relocating industry in the interests of London planning generally and, secondly, towards the cost of housing in cases in which the G.L.C. wish, as they sometimes do, to nominate the tenant for a house built by a borough council. On the face of it these seem to be cases in which a contribution by the G.L.C. would be perfectly fair and proper, but it is a matter for the Select Committee to decide.
We have had a considerable amount of debate about Clause 16 concerning the provision of a camping place at Hainault Forest. This Clause would authorise the council to provide a camping site not exceeding ten acres in Hainault Forest. The Forest is an open space, very popular for recreation and leisure, under the control of the G.L.C., even though more than half its 1,100 acres lie in Essex County Council's area.
The first thing I want hon. Members to understand is that if the Bill is passed 1368 in its present form, and even if the Select Committee do not amend it, that is not the end of the story. The Greater London Council would have to apply for planning permission, and they would have to state where they wanted to place this camping site and in what way they wanted to use it. If there were objections—and if anything like some suggestions which have been made tonight were put forward I am sure there would be objections—there would be a public inquiry. The objectors would have the right to state their point of view, and including the Essex County Council, and hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker), who have spoken on the subject. They could put their point of view at the public inquiry and state their case on behalf of their constituents and otherwise. At the end of the day it would be for my Minister to decide what should be done.
To suggest that if this Clause is passed, then overnight there will be caravans in the middle of this forest, one on top of another, generally desecrating the place, is to misunderstand the situation. There would be nothing like that at all, and there would be much more procedure involved than has been suggested. I hope that that satisfied most hon. Members who have spoken on this subject.
§ Mr. Iremonger
The hon. Member said that all this procedure would be gone through, but in the end it was absolutely implicit that they were going to proceed and there were going to be caravans. It was merely as a temporary measure that we should have these proceedings.
§ Mr. Mellish
I am sorry if that is the general impression. It was not created by anyone from this Front Bench; it is not suggested that this Bill would permit them at once to have a camping site in this splendid forest. The authority will have to state their case at a public inquiry if there are objections. Here again I hope very much that the G.L.C. will have the common sense to discuss this as friends and neighbours of Essex and to discuss it with boroughs which have a special interest in the matter. I very much hope that by these discussions they can avoid a public inquiry. But if only one person objects there must be a public inquiry, and hon. Members on both sides 1369 of the House would be determined to see that the procedure was carried through.
Clause 21 is the part of the Bill authorising the council to carry out, as agents, certain functions of the Lord Chamberlain and to control by licensing, in the interests of public safety, public exhibitions, displays and so on in some premises. If I may have the attention of the hon. Member for Crosby—he initiated the debate; I did not—I remind him that he asked a number of questions on this subject. He asked why powers of this kind are not given to Liverpool, for example, and why London has to seek them. I understand that the background is that for many years the London County Council have been advising exhibitors or organisers about safety precautions in these halls. They have been doing this under the powers to license music and dancing. I understand that the organisers have always welcomed this advice and wish it to continue. The Greater London Council have been advised that as music and dancing is not the main purpose of these exhibitions, the advice which has been given is technically outside their powers to give, and what they are seeking to do is to equip themselves with a power to advise exhibitors in the interests of public safety.
I am advised that other local authorities such as Liverpool have local laws of this kind. The hon. Gentleman raised the fair point as to whether the general law on the subject should not be considered, and on behalf of the Government I undertake that we shall look into this in the light of the discussion tonight to see whether the general law should not be tightened. I see the point. This does seem an odd way of ensuring that public regulations on safety are applied in these great exhibitions where perhaps 20,000 or 30,000 people are crowded into one hall. I have tried to convey the Government's views to the House and I am sorry if I detained it too long. I hope, however, that I have allayed some fears.
§ Mr. Iremonger
The hon. Gentleman has made no reference to Clause 25 in connection with the power of the borough councils to raise money by Bills and the allocation of the amount raised being in the hands of the London Borough Committee.
§ Mr. Mellish
I am advised that this has not caused any controversy among the boroughs themselves and that the London Boroughs Committee does not oppose the provision. I am advised also that neither the Treasury nor the City is opposed to it.
I repeat that, when the Bill receives a Second Reading, which I hope it will tonight, that will not be the end of the story but only the beginning. A number of my hon. Friends are new to this House. They will have to consider a succession of Private Bills but I point out to them now that, at the end of the day, a Select Committee of the House goes into each Bill line by line and that those objecting have the right to come forward and put their case just as the promoters can argue theirs. It is against such a background that the Select Committee, acting in our name, will decide whether or not the Bill should be passed. It is right now that the House should give the Select Committee the chance to do that job.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
Perhaps one day the hon. Gentleman will be a right hon. Gentleman. We all respect him very much. I am grateful for what he said at the end of the speech about Clause 16, which is not, as it stands, as uncontroversial and harmless—to use his own words—as perhaps he thinks. We will consider carefully what he has said and to some extent some fears will have been allayed.
The hon. Gentleman said that planning procedure will have to be fully gone through if anyone protests against the installation of this camping and caravan site in Hainault Forest. As the Government will know, however, many objections have been lodged already. Hundreds of my constituents have signed a petition against the plan so to use ten acres of Hainault Forest.
My constituents have been under the apprehension that the site the G.L.C. has its eyes upon is the very lovely expanse between Lambourn End and 1371 Chigwell Road Primary School. In view of what has been said by the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker), however, perhaps this is not so. In any case, a great deal of doubt and alarm and indignation has been aroused and the three local authorities concerned in my constituency—the Essex County Council, the Epping and Ongar Rural District Council and the Chigwell Urban District Council—have serious doubts and objections about these proposals. I do not want to say any more now. The hour is late and we have noted that the matter is open for objection to be made. This is by no means the end of the story.
§ 9.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)
I thank the Parliamentary Secretary for the soothing words he spoke and the way in which he tried to keep the peace between the borough councils and the G.L.C. That is commendable, but the G.L.C. will not keep the peace long. It keeps on introducing Measures like this to give itself more and more powers which the House some time ago decided to give to the borough councils.
I stand in a white sheet with regard to the London Government Act because I voted against it on Second Reading and fairly consistently after that. Despite that, it became law, and it is not right that wherever the G.L.C. and other Greater London Councils do not like it, they should, by a succession of general powers Bills, try to nibble away the Act. It only became effective law about a year ago. The attitude of the councils will cause considerable suspicion.
§ Mr. Mellish
It is a fair point, but it must be pointed out that, throughout the preparation of this Bill, the G.L.C. consulted the London boroughs. In the main the boroughs are entirely behind the G.L.C. in this matter.
§ Mr. Doughty
To a certain extent, but not beyond that. This is called a general powers Bill. The Preamble states that the Bill is for the purpose of granting… further powers upon the Greater London Council …Let us consider what is behind it all. Because of the time, I shall not deal with the number of Clauses I had intended to but I want to make a general plea on 1372 behalf of open spaces. I do not know the details about Hainault Forest but I listened to those who have spoken about it. We must be careful in dealing with open spaces, whether in the green belt or not, and not be taken in by such talk as, "This will only be a camping site" or "It will only be for foreign visitors". Let us leave our open spaces as they are. I say that only as a general rule. I shall not refer to Clause 23 except to say that it is always awkward when bodies frame legislation for their own emoluments. We have had some embarrassment in the House and there have been lengthy discussions about our own rewards.
A great deal has rightly been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) about Clause 24. We deal with Bills as they are presented to the House, subject to a Minister or other person responsible giving an undertaking about what he will or will not do at subsequent stages. No such undertaking has been given to us tonight. Looking at the Bill as it is, in Clause 24 there is unquestionably and undoubtedly the clearest statement that, having obtained its precepts from some boroughs, the Greater London Council would be able to give them to others. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will refuse to give any council such a power. If the Clause were to remain as it is, I am sure that the House would take an extremely important and fundamental objection and would refuse to give the Bill a Second Reading.
I think that the Parliamentary Secretary will agree with me about Clause 21 that whatever may be the intention of the Greater London Council—and I am sure that its motives are highly commendable—as drawn the Clause has little to do with them. The Clause deals with halls which we all know extremely well—the Albert Hall and Olympia and so on—which have enormous concourses of people and it is only right that their safety should be supervised by someone with a knowledge of safety regulations.
But the Clause would give the Council power to say of any hall in the city, "We do not like the type of entertainment which you propose to put on—we do not approve of boxing matches, for instance—and we shall refuse you a licence". Let that be remembered when it is said 1373 that the Council proposes to use these powers only for safety regulations. Generations come and go and there may soon be a generation of the Council which forgets the Parliamentary Secretary's words and says, "We have power under the General Powers Act, 1966, so to refuse a licence and we intend to do so".
I want to deal with the criminal offences set out in the Bill at greater length, because they have not been dealt with very fully by any hon. Member who has spoken, including the Parliamentary Secretary. I refer to Clauses 30 onwards. It is perfectly right and it has been recognised for a long time that, wherever they may be conducted, building operations are potentially dangerous. People go up high and drop things from a height and there are other reasons why building operations are potentially dangerous.
Over many years, previous Parliaments have made regulations and have passed Acts to see that safety is at a maximum—the London Building Acts, the Public Health Acts and the Building Regulations themselves under the Factory Acts. They have all imposed severe penalties for those who break the law in this respect, but they are directed at the actual breakers of the law. Let us consider what is meant by the so-called offences in Clause 31(2).Any person"—and I shall deal more fully in a moment with who that person is—who … carries out building operations … shall secure that the operations are so carried out as to cause no danger to members of the public, and if in the course of the carrying out of such building operations there is any accident which gives rise to the risk of bodily injury to a member of the public, whether or not such bodily injury is caused thereby … shall … be guilty of an offence….Supposing there is some completely latent factor which no human skill or application could have discovered and which causes a breakage of something a little way from the ground and something drops to the ground, the person concerned is liable for something for which in no circumstances could he be said to be responsible, for the provision speaks of risk of bodily injury and it may be an offence even when no actual bodily injury is caused thereby. That is certainly a matter which is quite contrary to all legal principles. Let us look to see who is the person who is made responsible. It is the 1374 owner of the land, a person who may have nothing to do with those operations, and who may be hundreds of miles away. We are told that these regulations were passed by the House in the case of the City of London last year. I have the appropriate Second Reading debates here but I do not propose to weary the House with them. I can assure the House that it was explained then that it was a special case, because so many high buildings were going up and deep excavations were necessary. That is quite different from the matter which we are now discussing, for the whole of Greater London. I sincerely hope that these Clauses will not be passed into law, remembering always that there is ample power under the present law whereby people who do something wrong and cause or are liable to cause bodily injury can be brought before the courts and liability decided.
Let us take Clause 30(2). The definitions are complicated and if someone thinks that it is reasonably necessary to prohibit the use of the highway by pedestrians or vehicles, then the owner of the land, who as [...] said may be hundreds of miles away, may be summoned before the courts. It is no good saying that in Clause 33 he can bring the real malefactor before the courts by giving notice. It is a most complicated procedure and the onus is thrown upon him to decide who was the malefactor.
Take the case of a crane driver, 200 feet up in the air, who swings his crane round a bit too fast so that a part of it comes off the end and falls to the ground. The owner of the land who has contracted with a firm is summoned. He says, "It must be the crane driver". The crane driver says, "It was my employers who supplied me with a defective crane, without a proper brake". The owner of the land has to decide between the contractors and the crane driver. That is the position in which he is placed under Clause 33.
I ask the Parliamentary Secretary, before the Bill gets to a Select Committee, to look at this most carefully and to consult one of the Law Officers to see whether these penal Clauses, under which people can be heavily fined and have convictions recorded against them, are in accordance with the ordinary practices of the law. Here a person is sought to be made liable for something which 1375 he could not have foreseen. He can be dragged before the courts in respect of an accident when he has had nothing to do with it. If he seeks to pass on the liability to someone else, he has to decide, as in the case of the crane driver or the contractor, or some third person, who is liable.
For these reasons, these penalty Clauses are extremely undesirable.
§ The Chairman of Ways and Means rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.
§ Question put accordingly and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and referred to the Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills.