HC Deb 24 June 1968 vol 767 cc138-43


Lords Amendment No. 3: In page 3, line 27, leave out with the approval of the Minister".

Read a Second time.

Mr. MacDermot

I beg to move, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

The apparent intention of this Amendment would be to permit the Commission to place the services of its officers, or of consultants engaged by it, at the disposal of a local planning authority or other public body on mutually acceptable terms, but without the need for the Minister's approval to those terms. I should make clear that the Commission will not have a grant in aid, and its accounting and personnel functions will be discharged by the Ministry as is now the case with the National Parks Commission. It will not, for example, have any separate establishment officer.

The officers and servants of the Commission are appointed subject to the approval of the Minister and of the Treasury. That is provided for in Section 2(4) of the 1949 Act. The same applies to consultants engaged by the Commission. Therefore, it would be both illogical and improper for the Minister to abrogate his responsibilities in cases where the staff or consultants of the Commission are to be loaned, possibly for substantial periods. Indeed, it is right that I should make clear to the House that, whether or not the words deleted by the Amendment are present in the Bill, the Minister will retain his responsibility, and in practice his approval would be required.

This is because the funds of the Commission derive from the Ministry's Vote, and the staff of the Commission are civil servants under the Minister's control. The Minister, therefore, has to satisfy himself that the terms of any proposed loan are not to the financial disadvantage of the public purse. It would be misleading to allow the Amendment to be made, because a false impression might be given about how this provision would work in practice. For these reasons, I must advise the House to disagree with this Amendment.

8.15 p.m.

Mr. Channon

I am sorry that the Minister of State has taken this view. The Countryside Commission, as it is to be called, has far too much finicky day-to-day control put upon it by the Government. A small attempt was made in another place to remove some small finicky control requiring the consent of the Minister if the Commission was to lend civil servants to a local authority for a period. If the Commission lends civil servants to a local authority for two days' work, it will have to get Ministerial approval. If we are to set up a Countryside Commission, which has a very important rôle to play for the future of the countryside, and we hope to get important people to serve on it, and serve with distinction, it is ridiculous that it should be given no discretion.

I moved an Amendment on Report, which would have gone further than this dealing with the Commission's finances. It would be out of order for me to speak about it now. We all accept, however, that broad powers of control have to be given to the Minister over the activities of the Commission. The Minister must have power to direct its activities and to give it guidelines to follow. But the Bill goes much further than that. It demands a fantastic degree of control. The Commission cannot lend a member of its staff to a local authority for two weeks without Ministerial approval. The rate of pay cannot be fixed without a Ministerial approval. If the Commission is to undertake important functions it should be given some discretion in these minor matters.

This disagreement with the Lords Amendment is nothing more than a piece of bureaucratic nonsense. If the Government insist on turning down what appears to be a perfectly reasonable Amendment made in another place and demand this fantastic degree of Ministerial day-to-day control, I hope that Ministers will not tell us that they are overworked, because they pile unnecessary work on their own shoulders. If the Government insist on this disagreement with the Lords Amendment, I hope that my hon. Friends will support me in the Lobby in opposing the Motion.

Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)

I share some of the anxieties expressed by the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon). We are all anxious that the new body, which unhappily is to be called the Countryside Commission, should be seen to have a certain amount of independence of action. My hope is that if it is insisted that these words must go in, at least the control should never be used; that is to say, that the practice will develop of allowing the Commission to get on with such minor issues.

Hon. Members on both sides have been anxious to ensure that a certain range of work shall be taken off the Ministry, and in certain cases local authorities are to be given wider powers of discretion. We know that they are elected bodies and, therefore, in a rather different category. But we surely should be anxious to ensure that the new Commission is seen in the country to have some authority of its own. The danger of insisting upon such meticulous control from the centre is that to some extent it inhibits the work of the Commission. It gives the impression that it has less authority than we obviously wish it to have in its dealings throughout the country. This can be damaging.

I therefore ask my hon. and learned Friend, even at this stage, whether he Will not reconsider this point, which, as has been said, is a small one. It certainly does not go to the root of expenditure or any issue where we understand that decisions must be taken at Ministerial level. This is an extremely minor matter of administration. I find it hard to see how the Commission can be regarded as in any way a separate body unless it has some discretion of this kind, or unless I can have an assurance that, even if the words are written in, the control will never be used.

Mr. MacDermot

I cannot give the assurance to my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) that the control will never be used, since the ground on which I am advising the House that the Amendment should be rejected is that, even if we were to accept the Amendment and delete the words, in practice the Commission would still have to come to the Ministry for the practical reason that it does not have its own establishment organisation. If the Commission sent an officer to work with a local authority and it did not arrange this in agreement with the Ministry, the

officer would not get his pay and allowances. The administration work for him will be done through our Ministry. For purely practical reasons it would be misleading for us to accept the Amendment. It would give a false picture.

When it comes to the question of the criteria which we will adopt in deciding whether to approve the terms of an agreement made between the Commission and a local authority, we have overall financial responsibilities, because these matters fall on our Vote, but naturally we shall pay great attention to the Commission's views. After all, this is an Amendment to a provision which we have put into the Bill to enable the Commission to second its officers in this way because we foresee that there may be many occasions on which, under the provisions of the Bill, local authorities and other bodies will need to embark on certain research or the preparation of schemes for which they will require the assistance of an officer who has special expertise which is lacking among their own staff. This will enable them to borrow the staff from the Commission on suitable terms, but, for tiie reasons which I have given, those terms, under the ordinary practice of Departments, must be approved by our Ministry.

Question put, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 120, Noes 79.

Division No. 232.] AYES [8.21 p.m.
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Galpern, Sir Myer Lomas, Kenneth
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Gourlay, Harry Loughlin, Charles
Beaney, Alan Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth) McBride, Neil
Blackburn, F. Gregory, Arnold McCann, John
Blenkinsop, Arthur Griffiths, Will (Exchange) MacDermot, Niail
Booth, Albert Hamilton, James (Bothwell) McGuire, Michael
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Maclennan, Robert.
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Hannan, William MacPherson, Malcolm
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Harper, Joseph Manuel, Archie
Buchan, Norman Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Mason, Rt. Hn. Boy
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Haseldine, Norman Maxwell, Robert
Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James Hazell, Bert Mendelson, J. J.
Carmichael, Neil Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret Millan, Bruce
Chapman, Donald Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.) Miller, Dr. M. S.
Coe, Denis Hoy, James Milne, Edward (Blyth)
Concannon, J. D. Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.) Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)
Davidson, Arthur (Accrington) Hunter, Adam Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Dell, Edmund Hynd, John Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Dickens, James Irvine, Sir Arthur (Edge Hill) Moyle, Roland
Dobson, Ray Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh) Murray, Albert
Doig, Peter Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) Newens, Stan
Dun woody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter) Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) O'Malley, Brian
Eadie, Alex Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West) Orme, Stanley
Ellis, John Judd, Frank Oswald, Thomas
Fernyhough, E. Kenyon, Clifford Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Lawson, George Paget, R. T.
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Leadbitter, Ted Pavitt, Laurence
Ford, Ben Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton) Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Fowler, Gerry Lestor, Miss Joan Pentland, Norman
Fraser, John (Norwood) Lipton, Marcus Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)
Price, Christopher (Perry Barr) Slater, Joseph Wellbeloved, James
Price, Thomas (Westhoughton) Spriggs, Leslie Whitaker, Ben
Rankin, John Summerskill, Hn, Dr. Shirley White, Mrs. Eirene
Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Thomas, Rt. Hn. George Wilkins, W. A.
Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.) Tinn, James Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Robinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.) Urwin, T. W. Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Roebuck, Roy Varley, Eric G. Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.) Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley) Woof, Robert
Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford) Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich) Wallace, George TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Skeffington, Arthur Watkins, David (Consett) Mr. Ernest Armstrong and
Mr. Ioan L. Evans.
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Hornby, Richard Pink, R. Bonner
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n) Hunt, John Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch
Batsford, Brian Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Price, David (Eastleigh)
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Jopling, Michael Pym, Francis
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.) Kershaw, Anthony Rees-Davies, W. R.
Campbell, B. (Oldham, W.) Kitson, Timothy Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn) Knight, Mrs. Jill Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey
Channon, H. P. G. Lane, David Scott, Nicholas
Cooper-Key, Sir Neill Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Sharpies, Richard
Costain, A. P. Loveys, W. H. Silvester, Frederick
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford) Lubbock, Eric Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)
Errington, Sir Eric McAdden, Sir Stephen Smith, John (London & W'minster)
Eyre, Reginald Maude, Angus Speed, Keith
Foster, Sir John Mawby, Ray Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M. (Ripon)
Gibson-Watt, David Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Taylor,Edward M.(G'gow,Cathcart)
Glyn, Sir Richard Mills, Peter (Torrington) Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Goodhew, Victor Monro, Hector van Straubenzee, W. R.
Grant-Ferris, R. More, Jasper Vickers, Dame Joan
Grieve, Percy Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Grimond, Rt. Hn. J. Murton, Oscar Weatherill, Bernard
Gurden, Harold Nabarro, Sir Gerald Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Hall, John (Wycombe) Nicholls, Sir Harmar Williams, Donald (Dudley)
Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.) Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Onslow, Cranley
Hawkins, Paul Osborn, John (Hallam) TELLERS FOR THE NOES
Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel Page, Graham (Crosby) Mr. R. W. Elliott and
Hill, J. E. B. Percival, Ian Mr. Anthony Grant.
Holland, Philip Pike, Miss Mervyn
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