HC Deb 17 July 1972 vol 841 cc300-3


Mr. Blenkinsop

I beg to move, Amendment No. 769, in page 94, line 1, leave out 'district' and insert 'principal'.

The Amendment seeks to extend to county councils the power to declare certain expenses to be special and therefore chargeable against part only of the county area, a power that is provided for the district but not at present for the county. This matter was raised with me by the Association of Municipal Corporations, and I raised the matter with the Minister in Committee and we have had some correspondence about it since then.

The Association is still somewhat unhappy about the situation. There was some misunderstanding about the attitude of the Association, and I think that it was a genuine misunderstanding. But it is quite clear that the Association wishes to see this change. Indeed, it is the view of the Association that if the change is not made district councils may very well be inhibited from exercising as fully as they should the concurrent powers which they will be given under the Bill.

In spite of the correspondence we have had, I hope that the Minister will be willing to reconsider this matter, if not now, when it goes to another place. There is no kind of party dispute about a matter of this sort, but if we can get a sensible solution which will benefit everyone, naturally we shall all be pleased.

4.15 a.m.

Mr. Speed

I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop), because he moved his Amendment moderately. There was a short discussion in Committee, as he has said, when my right hon. Friend agreed to look at the matter. He has looked at it and consulted the local authority associations. As the hon. Gentleman has said, the only real demand to extend this power has come from the Association of Municipal Corporations.

The Local Government Act, 1933, provides that expenses of county councils incurred under subsequent Statutes are general unless declared to be special by the particular Statute. In addition, some county council expenses are special by virtue of pre-1933 legislation. Of the other authorities, only rural district councils have special expenses which may be either determined by Statute or declared so by order made by the Secretary of State at the request of the council.

The Bill does not seek to depart from the principle that expenditure should as a general rule be charged over the whole area of the authority by which it is incurred. The 1933 Act provisions are carried forward by the Bill, however, save that those applicable to rural district councils are extended to all district councils.

The Amendment as drafted would be far-reaching in its effect, since it would apply to the major services such as education and the personal social services. The Departments concerned with these would be strongly opposed to the idea that expenditure on them might be apportioned between different parts of a county. When one thinks about it, one can see the practical problems which might be involved.

I suspect that the AMCs concern in pressing for the Amendment is with those services for which the new county councils and district councils are to have concurrent powers. Under existing legislation such powers are limited mainly to certain planning functions, sport, recreation, etc. Under the Bill they will be extended to cover wider planning functions, footpaths, public conveniences, entertainments, museums and art galleries, for example.

The AMC obviously feels that where a district council has provided and paid for a facility such as a swimming pool and the county council decides to provide a similar facility elsewhere in the county, the district council should not have to pay towards something that it does not need. However, the Amendment would not achieve this object since it would remain within the discretion of the county council whether to charge the expenditure on part of the county. Sporting and other activities to be provided by the county council are clearly likely to be on a regional basis where it would wish to have a general rather than a special spread.

As only the AMC is pressing for the change, I do not believe that the Amendmen would meet the case. Considerable problems would be involved in extending the provisions of the Clause to education and personal social services. I have to advise the House not to accept the Amendment.

Mr. Blenkinsop

I accept a good deal of what the Minister has said. This is just another example of the maze that the Bill is and, I fear, will prove to be in operation and administration. I appreciate some of the difficulties in this matter and I do not propose to press it.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Speed

I beg to move Amendment No. 645, in page 94, line 24, after 'chargeable', insert 'only'.

This is a drafting Amendment. The language in line 24 is being brought into line with earlier references in the Clause—for example, page 93, line 34.

Amendment agreed to.

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